The military strength of Great Britain was high during the 18th century. Along with France, they were two of the most powerful nations on the face of the Earth with strong armies as well as formidable navies. Taking this fact into consideration, it is interesting that in the final assessment the British were on the losing side of the American Revolutionary War. The American colonies, for the first part of the war, had basically a militia-based guerrilla fighting force with an overlay of a command structure to guide it. So, how is it that this rag-tag group of soldiers is victorious in defeating one of the world’s best armies? Researchers have found that two factors contributed to the eventual downfall of the British Army; poorly handled logistics and an early lack of troops to battle the colonists.
Regarding the British Army’s logistical problems, per the research of Major Eric A. McCoy, U.S. Army, the British logistics architecture had “significant shortcomings” (25). For example, the British never integrated their logistical plans into their strategic and tactical plans which caused some vital supplies to be in short supply exactly when the Army needed them. Additionally, there was the problem of distance in the shipping of goods to the troops in the Colonies from Great Britain. Many problems plagued the shipping of goods and supplies from Britain. The most damaging to the supply chain was the prevalence of bad weather in the North Atlantic. Per McCoy, during the early stages of the war a major logistics convoy ran into a storm after it had departed England and many of the ships were forced to turn back to England. Still others were diverted to Antigua in the Caribbean, and the remaining ships spent weeks sailing up and down the eastern seaboard of North America waiting for the weather to break while their cargoes rotted (25).
The second problem that the British had to deal with during the Revolutionary War was the political wrangling back in London over troop levels, navy strength and other matters that affected the effective use of troops to combat the American colonists. British Army strength at the beginning stages of the war were barely 36,000 officers and men of 48,647 authorized and the British Navy was no better off with only 16,000 sailors (Conway 59). It was not until 1778, that troop levels in the British Army significantly improved. The British Navy also suffered from political control as Lord North, Britain’s Prime Minister “was unwilling to put the Royal Navy on a full war footing in case such a move provoked the French, and because he was keen to limit the rise in public expenditure that such a mobilization would involve” (Conway 59). This move limited the Royal Navy’s effectiveness in the early going and was disastrous for them after the French entered the war on the side of the colonists.
British failures in logistics and political wrangling over troop strength and employment in the early stages of the war were substantial factors in the British not being able to forge a victory in the American Revolution. However, other factors also weighed into the British loss in the war against the American colonies. One of the biggest was the French entry into the war on the side of the colonists which significantly bolstered American fighting strength and improved logistics as the French fleet was able to supply the colonists with most everything they needed operate at efficient levels. Had the French not joined with the colonists, even with the British problems, the outcome of the Revolutionary War may have been much different.
Conway, Stephen. “British Mobilization in the War of American Independence.” Historical Research, vol. 72, no. 177, Feb. 1999, p. 58. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=3253602&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed on March 18, 2017.
McCoy, Eric A. “The Impact of Logistics on the British Defeat in the Revolutionary War.” Army Sustainment, vol. 44, no. 5, Sep/Oct2012, pp. 25-27. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=83301097&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed on March 18, 2017.