The Royal Navy’s American disaster

Britain was the world's greatest naval power, so why did its ships fail to prevent the American revolutionaries securing independence? Sam Willis explores

A Royal Navy battle

Here is a historical conundrum that has fascinated me since the day, as a student, I opened a slim book in my university library that briefly discussed the role of sea power in the American Revolution. The book described how, between 1775 and 1782, a loose collection of colonies, without any standing army or navy, won its independence from Great Britain, the most powerful country in the world, a country 3,000 miles away, which could wield such sea power that it could block out the sun with its sails and hide the surface of the sea with its ships; a country that had so dominated its rivals at sea in a previous conflict, the Seven Years’ War, that it now commanded a maritime empire of unprecedented geographical scale and financial resources.

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