The Naval Advantage in 1776
This past week has been the anniversary of the British landing on Long Island and the battle of the same name. As most readers of this blog know, the invasion and the events following it provide the background for my novel, The Patriot Spy. I thought I would use this blog to discuss the role of naval power in the campaign. The American Army under General George Washington had essentially no knowledge of what the British intentions were after General William Howe withdrew his besieged army from Boston. However, it did not take a stretch of genius to know what the overriding British advantage was in the war: the Royal Navy.
|1776: British fleet at Staten Island|
Early success, defeat and triumphs
|Destruction of the Spanish Armada|
|William III of England, Prince of|
Orange and Dutch Staathoulder
|Dutch burn the British fleet at Chatham|
Britannia rule the waves!
|1759: Royal Navy landing General Wolfe's forces at the|
Plains of Abraham, Quebec
The Royal Navy of 1776 had a swagger built on achievement. Part of that achievement included what would later be called "combined arms" actions. That is the use of Royal Marines for small sea-land actions, and cooperation with the Royal Army for major actions, mostly transporting forces and protecting the supply lanes of those forces. This had been developed during the Seven Years War (French and Indian) in North America. With the onset of the rebellion, the Royal Navy was Britain's biggest advantage over the rebellious string of coastal settlements poorly connected by a handful of bad roads. America relied on the sea and control of it was central to any strategy to suppress the colonies. Trade could be cut off, starving the rebellious colonies who relied on the mother country for so many finished goods. That this policy was one of the grievances leading to rebellion is ironic. And Britain's decisive edge at sea was a factor in some Loyalists sympathies, or at least antipathy to the cause of rebellion. To many, it appeared insane to take on the greatest global (read naval) power the world had ever seen. And those concerns were well founded for most of the war. America had no navy in comparison, and was urgently building a semblance of one more as a show of national pride than to gain strategic advantage. In fact, the American advantage at sea was its force of privateers, many from merchant vessels re-purposed because of British control of the seas - another irony. The effective use of naval superiority got Howe out of a tactical trap in Boston and enabled him to effect a well executed envelopment from the sea and sweep into New York harbor and changing the venue and tempo of the war to Britain's advantage.
Invasion, they're coming!
|British landing at Gravesend on Long Island|
(near the site of Brooklyn's Verazano Bridge)
|"Black Dick" - Admiral|
|British landing at Kips Bay exemplifies the initiative provided|
by an experienced naval-land force