Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-26 03:07pm

Thanas wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:How so? Were the Germans contracting their own shipping and supply? If so, this would then turn into another example of Britain committing money as a substitute for committing troops- which it did on a fairly regular basis throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. Look at how many nations they subsidized against Napoleon.
No, but are you at all familiar with the German troops?
To be perfectly honest, I do not. The only things I know about the German mercenaries used during the American Revolution is that they were embarrassingly vulnerable to being ambushed on Christmas night, and that at least a few British commanders claimed that they marched too slowly to participate meaningfully in battles alongside them.

I am inferring from the tone of your question that you would say they were they were fairly inferior mercenaries.

Well, yes. It is tremendously convenient in any military operation to have a firmly allied region in your rear area, from which you can draw supplies at will, and to which you can safely retreat in an emergency. Conversely, it is tremendously inconvenient not to have those things, and greatly limits the amount of military force you can reasonably commit.
What's your point? Those were present in the rebellion as well.
The bases of supply for operations during the rebellion were either less secure than those during the Seven Years' War (because they were surrounded on land by rebel territory and had rebel sympathizers scattered throughout even the relatively loyal territories), or they required a considerable overland journey from a more secure base in Canada (which ended very badly in the Saratoga campaign).
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Thanas » 2015-08-26 07:00pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
Thanas wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:How so? Were the Germans contracting their own shipping and supply? If so, this would then turn into another example of Britain committing money as a substitute for committing troops- which it did on a fairly regular basis throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. Look at how many nations they subsidized against Napoleon.
No, but are you at all familiar with the German troops?
To be perfectly honest, I do not. The only things I know about the German mercenaries used during the American Revolution is that they were embarrassingly vulnerable to being ambushed on Christmas night, and that at least a few British commanders claimed that they marched too slowly to participate meaningfully in battles alongside them.

I am inferring from the tone of your question that you would say they were they were fairly inferior mercenaries.


Well, most of them were pressed into fighting and sold like cattle because the ruler of the small German principality of Hessen-Kassel had an inferiority complex and wanted to build great palaces, castles and great streets to go with them (one example) without having the money to do so. So he had the great idea of lending his standing army and any other able-bodied male he could grab to the British who would pay him a decent sum for them.

Needless to say, besides the regulars this did not result in enthusiastic soldiers or soldiers who could be counted on to face bayonet charges for somebody who they never had seen, in a far away country they did not care about, after being "recruited" from their farms and homes by less than savioury means, in the full knowledge that if they were killed or maimed the British would pay a premium to the Landgrave. This was not only true of Hesse, but also of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

The core of the German auxilliaries was decent, but most of them were lost at Saratoga and the others never amounted to anything more than Garrison troops. Heck, of the surviving troops a quarter of them never went back to Hesse, preferring to stay in the USA. Whether their training was bad is a matter of debate - some sources claim they were highly effective, much more than the British regulars, other claim that they were useless. The truth is probably highly dependent on the individual regiment involved.

Note another thing about the German mercenaries - where are the heavy hitters, the professional cavalry regiments, the Cuirassiers, the lancers, the Hussars?
The Grenadiers performed well, but they were just too few. Very few cavalry, a lot just infantry. If the British had really cared, they would have raised far more regular troops. They also would have had much more and much more competent cavalry.


It is also not as if they did not have other sources available. Heck, for Waterloo alone they quickly assembled ~30k German troops of much higher quality and those are just the ones that were quick enough to reach the battle site. Note that the highly disciplined army of Brunswick-Lüneburg (later Hannover, ruled by none other than George III) never was used in the Americas.

This was done on the cheap.

The bases of supply for operations during the rebellion were either less secure than those during the Seven Years' War (because they were surrounded on land by rebel territory and had rebel sympathizers scattered throughout even the relatively loyal territories), or they required a considerable overland journey from a more secure base in Canada (which ended very badly in the Saratoga campaign).


Look up the British Quebec campaign in the Seven Years War, there they had even stronger obstacles to overcome in that regard.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-30 10:18pm

While I am not going to try to invalidate

I would like to make one point that I feel ties into several of your chosen examples, Thanas. Some (not all) of your comparisons are looking at something Britain did in 1810-15, and comparing it to things Britain did in 1775-80.

Aside from the fact that Britain had undergone 35 years of economic growth during that period (even the Napoleonic Wars did not prevent the British economy from growing)... the 1810-15 period was coming after two decades of intense British commitment to the Napoleonic Wars. The British during that period were also pouring out huge cash subsidies to basically everyone they could find to fight Napoleon, deploying what were for them fairly large field armies on the continent (in Spain in particular), and operating the largest warfleet in British history.

Thus, their bar for what constituted a "large army" or a "significant expense" or a "goal worth fighting for" had been rather significantly raised, I'd expect.

So in my opinion it's sort of like comparing what the US military could do in 1924 to what it could do in 1944. There was such a large difference in capability brought about by the aftermath of an extended period of mobilization that a military deployment which would be tiny by 1944 standards might be a very major part of the total US military's capabilities in 1924.

The comparisons you chose that match up the British commitment during the Revolution to those made during the Seven Years' War a few years earlier are, I think, more appropriate.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Thanas » 2015-08-31 12:53pm

I don't think the objection is a valid one, seeing as how during the war of Jenkins Ear, more than 30 years earlier, the British put ~12k regulars into Colombia of all places and had 30.000 men taking part in a siege there in total. So taking your own argument, after thirty years of nearly unopposed economic growth they should have been able to field considerably more than 30k men on expeditionary armies. But they did not. In fact, the total number of regulars in that one siege of the War of Jenkins ear, surpasses that of the number of British troops in total engaged in the Boston campaign.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-31 08:12pm

Now see, that is also a good comparison. Because, again, it does not precede the buildup of the Napoleonic Wars. So you make a good point there.

On the other hand, it seems fairly clear that the British weren't actively trying to lose the war- they could have saved considerable trouble by ceding independence to the colonies if they had been.

So a part of me cannot stop wanting to look for some logical reason why the British did not deploy as many soldiers to the colonies as they theoretically might have done, other than "on some level they weren't willing to actually fight about it."
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Elfdart » 2015-10-09 10:57pm

Thanas wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:One, maintaining a large land army on the other side of the Atlantic ocean is considerably more expensive than maintaining them at home. The British army underwent a massive expansion during this period, from an initial size somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand men, and large forces were raised at home, but few of them were shipped to the Americas. Does this mean the British didn't want their colonies back? Or does it mean that they did not deem it practical to maintain a much larger force in the colonies?


They maintained a larger force in Canada for the war of 1812, which was at best a sideshow from the real war going on.

Simon_Jester wrote:Two, if you're going to argue that the lack of retaliatory measures is evidence for a lack of British investment in the war, it follows that the British only used such retaliatory measures when they were heavily invested in the war. Do you have evidence for this?


No, it does not follow. The British used retaliatory measures in every war against Guerilla warfare and shot them on the spot. This was standard procedure. Yet they did not do so against the colonists, which suggests that they were unwilling to fight a true war against their cultural brethren. Heck, they used way worse measures against the Scots and Irish. The British conduct of the war was tame.


The Tories made it clear that they regarded the revolutionaries as (figuratively speaking) spoiled children in need of a good spanking, rather than a hated enemy. Whigs and others were even more sympathetic to the wayward colonials. They simply did not want to be harsh towards people they regarded as full-fledged British subjects (even more so than uppity Scots or Irish). The modern term for what those dastardly Redcoats :P were doing is a "police action".

As far as the German mercenaries are concerned, Washington had a lot of success getting many of them to defect and join his army. Not only did quite a few desert, but a large percentage of POWs gladly switched sides when Washington (a) refused to gauntlet them and (b) offered them land grants in Pennsylvania in exchange for joining the Army. So the relatively small British forces didn't just lose men to American rifles, they lost men who gladly picked up American guns and used them against the British.

If Howe was that much in favor of the Revolution, he could have simply switched sides. Why bother with such an elaborate deception where he's still leading British troops that are killing rebels?
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-10-10 09:39am

Yeah.

I can certainly accept, in retrospect and thinking the matter over more clearly, that the British prosecuted the war with limited determination. Certainly it wasn't an all-out, do-or-die operation for the British, and they had a great deal else on their minds (like being at war with France and the Netherlands, who were potentially a direct threat to Britain itself).

That doesn't translate to any British authority figure deliberately throwing the fight, though.

Sure, it seems unlikely that a successful member of the British aristocracy would even consider throwing in with the rebels. Hessian mercenaries turning out to have loyalties that are, well, mercenary... doesn't prove much.

But the British did spend very considerable sums of money and manpower actively trying to suppress the rebellion, and no one who truly opposed it would be likely to actively participate in such a large project as a leadership figure.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Thanas » 2015-10-10 03:39pm

Simon_Jester wrote:That doesn't translate to any British authority figure deliberately throwing the fight, though.


And nobody has claimed so for the last pages of this thread, I certainly did.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-10-12 05:31am

I figured mentioning it was at least topical, since that question is the thread title.

I was also expressing agreement with Elfdart (who also mentioned it), from a different angle- noting that as a general rule, any senior figure who is part of a large operation or project will want the project to succeed. And they will not want disasters to happen to the project on their watch. If nothing else, senior leadership tends to think that way because their reputation is on the line. There are exceptions to that rule but such exceptions are rare- and usually involve some other motive like successful bribery.

Which is an obvious flaw with any conspiracy-like theory such as "Howe wanted the colonial revolt to succeed," "Roosevelt wanted the Pearl Harbor attack to happen," or the like. They're ALL based on the same psychologically unlikely scenario- a powerful person within a hierarchy who actively wants the hierarchy to fail, without any clearly defined motive for having such a desire.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Replicant » 2015-10-12 01:43pm

Thanas wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:That doesn't translate to any British authority figure deliberately throwing the fight, though.


And nobody has claimed so for the last pages of this thread, I certainly did.


I remember reading in more than one book that the Howe brothers did not attempt to "throw the war" at all, but that they did expect diplomacy to end the crisis and they did not want to fight too harshly and create longterm animosity that would make the diplomatic process harder or the peace afterward more strained.

Is this no longer considered a viable thought?

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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Thanas » 2015-10-12 06:35pm

Don't know, last time I read scientific literature on the subject was over 12 years ago.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2015-10-12 10:04pm

Its true. They did not use scorched earth tactics on purpose in the early wars. This was 100% the correct thing to do as Howe correctly assumed he didn't have enough troops to do the job any other way. He needed to win and reinforce local supporters, and Parliament was managing the war on the basis of that being feasible. His replacements had varying opinions about the valve of local support but mostly stuck to this for years afterward. Part of this was a military/recruitment matter, part of it pure diplomacy, but either way the requirements and the goal were the same.

Scorched earth and brutality would only mean that the very large portion of colonials whom were neutral would inherently turn to the rebel side, because it was just a matter of understandable reality that when you start burning farms you will not be discriminate in any useful manner. The problem is the British were so weak on troops huge areas were dominated by the continentals anyway, and they slowly but surely undermined the neutrals and mass imprisoned the Tories via force of arms, or at least their major supporters, and so brought more and more resources against the British anyway. Not much has ever been written about Continental suppression of the Tories but it is known to be considerable. As well in Pennsylvania the Quakers were enormously suppressed after refusing to join the war effort. Being the biggest colony at the time that counted for a lot and all their property and control of the entire colony were eliminated and seized. The British government itself considered Quakers dangerous radicals with good reason. God do I know having been halfway bloody raised as one. They refused even the idea of building a coastal battery to defend the city, so private citizens built it instead during the 7 years war.

By the time of the Virginian campaign the British abandon this pretext in large part and Cornwallis's men were allowed to be much more destructive. The problem was even then the British simply could not apply power over a large enough area to matter, certainly not quickly. They would have had to repeat this campaign five or six more times to be decisive, but instead were completely destroyed at Yorktown, followed quickly by all the garrisons in the Carolinian's being eliminated, an underlooked compoundment of that disaster, which lost the war. The Virginia campaign definitely had a major effect on the moral of the local Continental supporters too, and was very economically destructive but while a number of small forces were defeated, it did nothing about Washington's main army. That army had grown big enough by 1781 that it was actually preparing to attack New York, and might have succeeded, but was then diverted in several waves to Virginia. The earlier parts got chewed up by the British, but the main body, transported through the Chesapeake by sea, and joined by the French inflicted the decisive defeat.

This also points to the way the Royal Navy was never really that effective in the entire war. Sure the French were around by 1781, but even enclosed coastal waters could not by controlled by the British, and never were, even though just one or two major ships ought to have done the job. The British were at war on a budget, while Continental economic power, bolstered by French money and gunpowder was enough to preclude the British from simply treating them as incapable of being an operational threat.

In any case I personally don't think Yorktown actually changed that much. By that point in the war too much of the colonies had been independent for too long, and while the British were chewing up Virginia their situation in the north was worse then ever with absolutely no signs of being reversible. If the war ever was winnable for the British in realistic terms they lost that chance when they withdrew from Philadelphia.

The reality also is one simply cannot trust British opinions before 1814 because the British on a large scale refused to accept or admit why it was they lost the war. The whole war of 1812 was never supposed to happen because the British were so utterly confident that the US was the same bunch of disunited children they'd assumed it was in 1775, and that comically the US would yield to negotiators whom were empowered to concede ever American point except the most important one, the right to impress former British citizens from American ships. The British seem to have simply completely refused to grasp that this point alone was utter denial of an American right to sovereignty, and thus the entire concept of American being a country and not just some colonies the crown had decided to allow self rule.
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Re: Did Howe purposely lose to the Colonials?

Postby Patroklos » 2015-11-04 01:58am

BLUF

Failure /= incompetence.

For whatever reason we have decided that anyone who loses was destined to do so due to some character flaw. Sometimes you are just beaten fair and square. Sometimes the circumstances conspire against you. Sometimes the choices are either or and there is zero information to choose one or the other but you have to chose one.


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