Naval Operations In The American Revolutionary War
The naval operations of the American Revolutionary War (also, mostly in British usage, American War of Independence), divide themselves naturally into two periods.
The first ranges from 1775 until the summer of 1778, as the Royal Navy was engaged in cooperating with the troops employed against the American revolutionaries, on the coasts, rivers and lakes of North America, or in endeavouring to protect British commerce against the enterprise of American privateers. During the second period, the successive interventions of France, Spain, and the Netherlands extended the naval war until it ranged from the West Indies to the Bay of Bengal. This second period lasted from the summer of 1778 to the middle of 1783, and it included both such operations as had already been in progress in America or for the protection of commerce, and naval campaigns on a great scale carried out by the fleets of the maritime powers.
When the war began, the British had overwhelming naval superiority over the American colonists. The Royal Navy had over 100 ships of the line and many frigates and smaller craft, although this fleet was old and in poor condition, a situation which would be blamed on Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty. During the first three years of the war, the Royal Navy was primarily used to transport troops for land operations and to protect commercial shipping. The American colonists had no ships of the line, and relied extensively on privateering to harass British shipping. The privateers caused worry disproportionate to their material success, although those operating out of French channel ports before and after France joined the war caused significant embarrassment to the Royal Navy and inflamed Anglo-French relations. About 55,000 American seamen served aboard the privateers during the war. The American privateers had almost 1,700 ships, and they captured 2,283 enemy ships. The Continental Congress authorized the creation of a small Continental Navy in October 1775, which was primarily used for commerce raiding. John Paul Jones became the first great American naval hero, capturing HMS Drake on April 24, 1778, the first victory for any American military vessel in British waters.