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Thread: Why is the British Military so good? ?

  1. #31
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
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    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

  2. #32
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    You have to wonder sometimes what they were thinking. I know it was the style back then, but walking around the green wilderness of North America in the 18th century in red tunics?

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Laconia View Post
    You have to wonder sometimes what they were thinking. I know it was the style back then, but walking around the green wilderness of North America in the 18th century in red tunics?
    Perhaps something about the maximum effective range being about 100m, so who gives a ****?

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Yet when they were would shoot and run. Then do it again. (American troopers) It proved pretty effective

    Life is short... We should then cherish every sec of it.

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilroy View Post
    Yet when they were would shoot and run. Then do it again. (American troopers) It proved pretty effective
    Hardly unique to American troops - the British had their Light troops and the Rifle regiments, the French had the Voltigeurs, etc. There are however two simple reasons that this could never be more than skirmishing/harassment tactics:
    1) Cavalry. Infantry who can't form a square to see off cavalry - or who aren't in terrain so bad cavalry can't operate - are dead. The Americans got away with it on occasion, but had they tried it somewhere like Saratoga they'd all be dead.
    2) Rate of fire/range at which it can be applied - which is related to (1). Until the rifled musket came along infantry might get two effective volleys against an oncoming column before it hit them, and maybe one against cavalry. Therefore, tactics relied heavily on the shock effect of massed volleys and upon the bayonet. Dispersing your troops in a skirmishing formation loses all shock effect from the volleys and means you will probably lose any bayonet attack you launch against formed troops.

    As for red tunics, that dates back to Cromwell and the New Model Army. You need bright colours to see your own troops amid the thick powder smoke of a 18th and 19th century battlefield, and red was the cheapest bright colour available.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    A number of very good points in the last few posts - not so much about the effectiveness of British forces, but more regarding the very uneven evolution of musketry between the late-17th and late-19th century. I believe that this is a major subject in itself - perhaps for its own thread ? Best regards, JR.

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    For me the British didn't get the aftermath of Revolutionary wars. They still relied on massed volleys of gun fire from lines of muskets. War is evolving, and they don't keep in touch with advancement of gun technology and tactics. US generals constantly encouraged their men to practise their shooting and backwoods skills, and always advised them to shoot to officers. This deeply unsporting concept was not embraced by the British who believed that the specific targeting of officers should not be normal practice for the common soldier in battle, being against the principles of common etiquette required to conduct gentlemanly warfare. Also skirmishing tactics of Americans are viewed by most high officers British as cowardice. British tried to adopt the new type of gun, the rifle, and a new type of uniform, a green one, but when the only direct supporter of this advancements, Patrick Ferguson, died in the battle of Kings Mountain the British generals briefly drop out any attempt to modernise their infantry. Remnants of
    this attitude remained very much in the British military mind until well into the 20th century. That for me explains serious losses, like in the Boers Wars and against Zulu.
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by burp View Post
    For me the British didn't get the aftermath of Revolutionary wars. They still relied on massed volleys of gun fire from lines of muskets.
    So did other successful armies in their range of tactics, such as Napoleon until he encountered more successful massed volleys from the British squares at Waterloo (although Napoleon also used squares) and the Union Army in the American Civil War which by then was using largely rifled bores rather than smoothbores as the main infantry weapon which allowed engaging the enemy at significantly greater ranges than in the Revolutionary War, but the problem remained that reloading single shot rifles took time and that two or more ranks allowed one rank firing while the other rank(s) reloaded, thus putting a good deal of fire into the advancing enemy. Fire and movement in anything vaguely like the modern form was impossible until the advent of repeating rifles.

    If your criticism of British failure to learn from the American Revolutionary War is correct, then it follows that the French were equally guilty of the same fault as they also had ground troops fighting with the Americans.

    Quote Originally Posted by burp View Post
    That for me explains serious losses, like in the Boers Wars and against Zulu.
    The Boer and Zulu wars were quite different.

    The Boer War demonstrates the difficulty conventional armies always have in fighting irregular forces.

    The Zulus were defeated at Ulindi, and the Zulu War concluded, by a British force which used a mixture of tactics which included decisive massed rifle fire from a large force using fluid movement tactics in a large defensive square, which I think was a tactic not used and which may have been unknown as a tactic in the American Revolutionary War because of the limited range of muskets in that era.

    The British, like all armies, have their share of failures and refusals to adapt to changed circumstances, but the expansion and defence of the British Empire between the American Revolutionary War and WWII demonstrates that the British were generally better than their opponents.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 03-20-2014 at 08:48 AM.
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  9. #39
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    The American Continental Army was only on occasion able to defeat the British Army on a field of battle and hold it at the end of the day. When they did so at places like Saratoga, Yorktown, and The Cow Pens, those victories could be pretty dramatic and detrimental to the British cause in key strategic areas of significance. Saratoga thwarted the British strategy of dividing the Northern New England colonies from the rest of North America while The Cow Pens pretty much destroyed the most mobile parts of the British forces in the South eliminating their ability to forge and gather intelligence, resulting in their siege at Yorktown. But it should be noted that there were few illusions about defeating the British Army everywhere because the well trained Continental Army was always in short supply and fundamentally unreliable and panicky militia had to be relied on for numbers and to create the notion of a 'peoples' war'. The Americans, like Gen. Washington, knew they simply won by not being destroyed and remaining a cohesive fighting force. If that meant avoiding engagements or running from them so be it. That's where the American penchant for using riflemen as snipers, pickets, and harassment came from --the inability to field a European style army that could hold the field until very late in the war and the unreliability of state militias to stand for very long after volleys of fire had blooded them or they saw Redcoats charging them with cold steel. As the Continental Army gained experience, funding, professionalism, etc - they were bucked up with the presence of well trained and funded French regular Army and significant French monies coinciding with an increasing unpopularity of the Crown and diminishing numbers of Loyalist volunteers pledging allegiance to it.

    As far as snipers targeting officers, the British Army certainly responded in kind. In fact, one British sniper whose name escapes me had shot several Continental officers in a single engagement when, being weary of the fatigue of battle, he had a "most gallant" officer on horseback in his sights almost presenting himself as a trophy. He was tall and noble looking and the sniper felt he had already taken his pound of flesh that day and decided not to kill this older, distinguished looking gentleman on horseback he took for a middling, overage commander. That gentleman was none other than General George Washington.

    The British also fielded large elements of American Loyalist militias and formal units that often fought unconventionally and of course their Native allies and adversaries also played a significant part in the fighting. Suffice, I think it's a tad over simplistic to say the Americans waged a guerrilla war while the British fought back unsuccessfully using ridged conventional tactics. Both sides fought a conventional European style land war as well was engaged in unconventional guerrilla and terror tactics. The British certainly had much experience in this type of mixed warfare dating from the French and Indian Wars. In the end, it just wasn't worth their while to hold the United States original 13 colonies as they still would have access to goods via trade without occupation costs...

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    I agree that the American War of Independence can mainly be profiled as a conventional war of the period. Naturally, in the circumstances prevailing, there was much irregular activities on both sides. Nevertheless, the war was basically conventional for the period, and the key issue, for a long time, was the ability of the Continental Army to survive. They were lucky to do so, as they suffered many serious disadvantages. Apart from the lack of fully trained manpower, the Americans had a severe supply issue. A most important aspect of this was their lack of gunpowder. The Brits had plenty of the stuff. They had ample access to the critical raw materials, and the product could easily be shipped to them from British powder mills. The Americans, by contrast, had limited access to the raw materials, and limited production facilities. Before the war, they would have relied substantially on British imports to meet the normal demands of a frontier state; they had a very great difficulty in increasing production to meet the demands of a conventional shooting war, especially in the early stages. This is, in fact, the origin of the contemporary maxim of holding fire "until you can see the whites of their eyes" - whether by musket-rifle, musket or (particularly) cannon, powder could not be wasted by whanging away on a hope and a prayer. In the end, the Americans only got by through raids by irregulars on local British powder magazines - and even then, powder supply was tenuous, to say the least.

    It is not clear that the Brits fully appreciated this. Their leadership does appear to have been afflicted by a combination of excessive caution, arrogance and complacency. Had a more forceful British command launched a determined campaign against the Continental Army early in the war, they would very probably have run the American forces out of gunpowder, and left the Americans in the situation of finding out how effective the "queen of the battlefield" (the bayonet) was effective in the absence of any realistic firepower. A guess - the British artillery would have found an occasion to wipe them out. Thanks to British bumbling and French intervention, it did not work out like that. Yet more "might have beens ...".

    By the way - the notion that Britain was slow to respond to the potential of the rifle in military use does have some basis in terms of their military thinking - but not in practice. Looking forward to the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars, they were actually pretty advanced in practice. That, however, is not saying much. However, there were very good reasons why conventional armies were reluctant to adopt rifled muskets as a weapon of common use, and this reluctance was far from confined to the British. This is really an interesting topic in itself, worth a thread of its own. I will start one soon - not today. Best regards, JR.

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Not sure where this - the British were slow to adopt rifles - they were one of the first armies to adopt muzzle loading rifles when the Baker rifle was introduced, equipping whole regiments with them from 1800.

    Previous attempts were made to adopt rifles but with a lack of robustness for general issue and rapid training of recruits they tended to be issued in small numbers to Battalions.

    The British Forces themselves were at the time spread out round the world protecting various interests in Africa and fighting several wars in India, as well as a one over several years against the Dutch, insurrection's in Ireland.

    France, Spain and Russia were seen as major enemies and a lot closer to vital British interests (and Britain) than the 13 colonies of the United States (who tried to invade and take Canada if memory serves but were defeated). So British power was spread thin and not as some seem to imply that the US (with alot of help from the French) beat the might of the British Empire in a vacuumn.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    Had a more forceful British command launched a determined campaign against the Continental Army early in the war, they would very probably have run the American forces out of gunpowder, and left the Americans in the situation of finding out how effective the "queen of the battlefield" (the bayonet) was effective in the absence of any realistic firepower. A guess - the British artillery would have found an occasion to wipe them out. Thanks to British bumbling and French intervention, it did not work out like that. Yet more "might have beens ...".
    There is supposedly a Russian saying "Infantry is the Queen of the battlefield, and Artillery is the King of War. And we all know what the King does to the Queen." That seems rather apt in such a situation.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    Had a more forceful British command launched a determined campaign against the Continental Army early in the war, they would very probably have run the American forces out of gunpowder, and left the Americans in the situation of finding out how effective the "queen of the battlefield" (the bayonet) was effective in the absence of any realistic firepower. A guess - the British artillery would have found an occasion to wipe them out. Thanks to British bumbling and French intervention, it did not work out like that. Yet more "might have beens ...".
    There is supposedly a Russian saying "Infantry is the Queen of the battlefield, and Artillery is the King of War. And we all know what the King does to the Queen." That seems rather apt in such a situation.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

  14. #44
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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Regarding the Baker rifle - the Baker muzzle-loading rifle was adopted by the British early in the French Revolutionary Wars, but on a very limited basis. Its use was confined to specialist rifle units and skirmishers - I do not believe there was any question of extending its use to general line infantry. This was a forward-looking move - but it responded to a particular situation thrown up by the fighting methods of the early French Revolutionary armies, which tended to attack in fairly undisciplined "massed columns". This proved surprisingly effective but, to get the best out of the method, an unusually large number of junior officers and senior NCOs had to be deployed forward to exercise some control over the charge. This made these commanders vulnerable to skirmishers and riflemen - even if the range of the Baker was not great by later standards. The Baker was a difficult weapon to load and reload (at least by smoothbore musket standards). To use it effectively, a rifleman required a considerable investment in training - not to mention considerable natural ability as a marksman. Since training costs time and money, and considerable natural ability to shoot a tricky weapon like the Baker was actually rare enough among British (or any) males, and setting off the limited advantages over the smoothbore "Brown Bess" in terms of range in particular against the lower rate of fire, it is hardly surprising that it was not regarded as a suitable weapon for general use. The French Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars were over for over two decades before technological advances produced muzzle-loading rifles suitable for general use by line infantry.

    An interesting question is whether even the limited adoption of the Baker would have occurred had the future Duke of Wellington been influential at the top of the British military at the outset of the French Revolutionary wars. Wellington was, in a number of respects, an advanced thinker and practitioner of infantry tactics, and battlefield tactics in general. However, in some respects, he was very cautious and traditionalist, believing in the virtue of the well-established bayonet charge in attack and close-range massed musket fire, followed by a bayonet melee in defence. By the time he arrived as a significant figure on the scene, specialist rifle units were already part of the scene in the British Army (as well as the small armies of some of Britain's allies). To be fair, Wellington made good use of them. Best regards, JR.

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    Default Re: Why is the British Military so good? ?

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    Regarding the Baker rifle..... it responded to a particular situation thrown up by fighting methods of the early French Revolutionary armies, which tended to attack in fairly undisciplined "massed columns".
    Allowing that I'm not a student of those wars, my understanding is that the column advance under Napoleon was a very effective tactic for getting a large number of troops to the front anticipating or under fire compared with trying to assemble a line facing the enemy, and that this tactic was used by, among others, the Americans in their Civil War at times and the British elsewhere.

    As with most tactics, the same ideas can be found in classical armies ranging from columns to phalanxes etc, but with different weapons and on different scales applied to relevant cirsumstances.

    Massed volley fire resisting cavalry and infantry assaults isn't that different to classical spear fronts blunting the assault in an earlier era, any more than Guderian's drive around the French fortifications in WWII is different to earlier flanking and enveloping sweeps.

    There are only so many ways that infantry can advance, with or without artillery and air support, but they all come down to a few basic ideas which revolve around frontal assaults; flanking assaults; envelopment; and infiltration (in the last two of which the Japanese excelled in WWII, without the Allies ever achieving any comparably effective skills in those areas).

    Sometimes an army becomes proficient in a range of tactics which surprise and defeat their enemies, as the Japanese did in WWII in their advance phase from Malaya onwards, but as wars are rarely (if ever) won in the first battle the victory or defeat is usually related to a range of other factors, notably logistics and everything that involves the many factors behind the troops in the field of a given nation.

    I can't think of any major conflict in which Britain, or for that matter America, were defeated because their admittedly run down armies at the start of the conflict were overwhelmed and defeated by massed volley fire or other battlefield tactics which overcame their ability to produce materiel and munitions to sustain a long war in which they prevailed.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 03-21-2014 at 09:15 AM.
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