A fascinating naval perspective on one of the greatest of all historical conundrums: How did thirteen isolated colonies, which in 1775 began a war with Britain without a navy or an army, win their independence from the greatest naval and military power on earth?
The American Revolution involved a naval war of immense scope and variety, including no fewer than twenty-two navies fighting on five oceans—to say nothing of rivers and lakes. In no other war were so many large-scale fleet battles fought, one of which was the most strategically significant naval battle in all of British, French, and American history. Simultaneous naval campaigns were fought in the English Channel, the North and Mid-Atlantic, the Mediterranean, off South Africa, in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, the Pacific, the North Sea and, of course, off the eastern seaboard of America. Not until the Second World War would any nation actively fight in so many different theaters.
In The Struggle for Sea Power, Sam Willis traces every key military event in the path to American independence from a naval perspective, and he also brings this important viewpoint to bear on economic, political, and social developments that were fundamental to the success of the Revolution. In doing so Willis offers valuable new insights into American, British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Russian history.
This unique account of the American Revolution gives us a new understanding of the influence of sea power upon history, of the American path to independence, and of the rise and fall of the British Empire.
In the U.S., the American Revolution is generally seen as a land war, but in this thorough and satisfying account, British maritime historian Willis (In the Hour of Victory) convincingly argues that the colonies' rebellion sparked the "greatest war of the age of sail." Not confined to North America, the war was waged globally by "no fewer than 22 separate navies" across oceans, freshwater lakes, and rivers, as well as on land, where sailors played crucial roles in combat and logistics. None of this was easy: communications were slow, naval strategy as an organized concept barely existed, and navies were expensive to operate and difficult to maintain. What began as a naval war for control of North America's littoral and inland waters churned into a contest of battle fleets in 1778, when France entered the war. Spain and the Netherlands joined shortly after. Initially ineffective, the allied navies learned from mistakes. By 1781, the British "had lost control of the sea," and, Willis states, "the huge, combined, unopposed French fleet set off to change the war." Franco-Spanish cooperation altered the Caribbean balance, and a British army lacking naval support surrendered at Yorktown. "The war taught the British significant lessons," Willis writes, and American readers will likewise learn from this naval perspective on the revolution. Maps & illus.