CHAPTER XI. MARITIME WAR IN EUROPE, 1779-1782.
If this be true, military wisdom and economy, both of time and money, dictate bringing matters to an issue as soon as possible upon the broad sea, with the certainty that the power which achieves military preponderance there will win in the end. In the war of the American Revolution the numerical preponderance was very great against England; the actual odds were less, though still against her. Military considerations would have ordered the abandonment of the colonies; but if the national pride could not stoop to this, the right course was to blockade the hostile arsenals. If not strong enough to be in superior force before both, that of the more powerful nation should have been closed. Here was the first fault of the English admiralty; the statement of the First Lord as to the available force at the outbreak of the war was not borne out by facts. The first fleet, under Keppel, barely equalled the French; and at the same time Howe's force in America was inferior to the fleet under D'Estaing. In 1779 and 1781, on the contrary, the English fleet was superior to that of the French alone; yet the allies joined unopposed, while in the latter year De Grasse got away to the West Indies, and Suffren to the East. In Kempenfeldt's affair with De Guichen, the admiralty knew that the French convoy was of the utmost importance to the campaign in the West Indies, yet they sent out their admiral with only twelve ships; while at that time, besides the reinforcement destined for the West Indies, a number of others were stationed in the Downs, for what Fox justly called "the paltry purpose" of distressing the Dutch trade. The various charges made by Fox in the speech quoted from, and which, as regarded the Franco-Spanish War, were founded mainly on the expediency of attacking the allies before they got away into the ocean wilderness, were supported by the high professional opinion of Lord Howe, who of the Kempenfeldt affair said: "Not only the fate of the West India Islands, but perhaps the whole future fortune of the war, might have been decided, almost without a risk, in the Bay of Biscay." (1) Not without a risk, but with strong probabilities of success, the whole fortune of the war should at the first have been staked on a concentration of the English fleet between Brest and Cadiz. No relief for Gibraltar would have been more efficacious; no diversion surer for the West India Islands; and the Americans would have appealed in vain for the help, scantily given as it was, of the French fleet. For the great results that flowed from the coming of De Grasse must not obscure the fact that he came on the 31st of August, and announced from the beginning that he must be in the West Indies again by the middle of October. Only a providential combination of circumstances prevented a repetition to Washington, in 1781, of the painful disappointments by D'Estaing and De Guichen in 1778 and 1780.
- - 1. Annual Register, 1782. - -