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Short Rounds

Scorecard: The "French Wars," 1793-1815

The French Revolution of 1789 was generally welcome among Americans, enamored of Republican institutions, and even many Britons, believing it would lead to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy similar to their own. But reactionary machinations, factionalism among the revolutionaries, inept leadership, and naked ambition soon led to the establishment of a tyrannical regime, and by 1793 Europe was plunged into a series of wars that would continue almost unceasingly until 1815.

From 1793 to 1802 there was the "War of the French Revolution", which was followed a short-lived general peace, that broke down in little over a year, so that from 1803 to 1814 there followed the "Napoleonic War," and that followed the very next year by the “War of the Hundred Days.” But in fact, only Britain was consistently at war with France in each period. Although today largely ignored, the series of wars can be broken down further.

  • War of the First Coalition, 1793-1797.
  • War of the Second Coalition, 1798-1802.
  • War of the Third Coalition 1803-1806.
  • War of the Fourth Coalition, 1806-1807.
  • Peninsular War 1808-1814.
  • War of the Fifth Coalition, 1809.
  • War of the Sixth Coalition, 1812-1814
  • War of the Seventh Coalition, 1815, better known as "The Hundred Days," though it actually lasted longer. 

Each of these wars saw France and her allies fighting against Britain and her allies.  The composition of the various alliances of the two major combatants tended to vary from war-to-war, and even from year-to-year, and sometimes month-to-month, as the fortunes of war waxed or waned for one side or the other, so accurately listing the combatants on each side during most of these conflicts would be almost impossible in without reams of paper

Further complicating matters is that this list omits “parallel” wars fought by some of the participants that were not part of the great Anglo-French struggle, yet necessarily affected its course, 

  • Latin American Revolutions, beginning in Haiti in 1791 and lasting until well after the final fall of Napoleon
  • Polish War for Independence, 1794-1795: Polish nationalists vs. Russia, Austria, & Prussia
  • Franco-American Quasi-War, 1797-1800
  • War of the Maltese Succession, 1799-1801: Russia vs. Spain
  • War of the Oranges, 1801: Spain vs. Portugal
  • First Barbary War, 1801-1805: U.S. vs. Tripoli
  • Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812, for part of which both powers were also allied with Britain!
  • Anglo-American War, 1812-1815
  • Second Barbary War, 1812-1815: US vs. Tripoli – usually thought of as only a few months in 1815, but Tripoli declared war in 1812, though the US didn't reciprocate until 1815
  • First Italian War for Independence (1815): Naples & Italian nationalists vs. Austria

 

The U.S. Fails to Meet Its Obligations Under the Washington & London Treaties

Under the terms of the Washington (1922) and London (1930) naval arms limitation treaties – usually wrongly termed “disarmament” treaties – the major navies of the world engaged in a proportional reduction in the size of their fleets, and established a ratio of force that each was to maintain. The British and American navies were authorized a total of around one million tons of warships and auxiliaries, while the Japanese were limited to no more than 60 percent of that figure, and Italy and France to just 35 percent. The point of the treaty was to "balance" the naval forces of each power so that no one fleet could be decisively superior to any other, taking into account each nation's strategic interests and the distances to be traveled. To work, of course, the treaty essentially required that each country maintain its fleet at the appropriate level, so that the balance of sea power would remain the same.

From the signing of the Washington treaty in 1922 until the end of the advent of the Roosevelt administration, in early 1933, the signatory powers all added new vessels to their navies within the terms of the treaties. But some did it better than others.

Navy Laid DownTonnage
France 200 ships 508,330 tons
Italy 147 298,971
Japan 188 483,262
U. S. 74 330,890
U.K. 168 520,845

While Britain strove to maintain it's tonnage limits, replacing older vessels as they became obsolete with newer ones, the U.S., which should have been adding tonnage in rough equivalence to the British, slipped badly. This was due partially to a belief that war was unlikely, but mostly because the fiscal conservatives from both parties who dominated government during the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations believed spending on defense would hamper the economy. Even when, in 1927 President Calvin Coolidge, arguing the necessity of maintaining the fleet at treaty levels, proposed building 71 new warships over the next nine years, to include five aircraft carriers and 25 cruisers, the proposal was cut by Congress to just one carrier and 15 cruisers, for which insufficient funds were provided so that only seven of the cruisers were in commission by the time Herbert Hoover left the White House in 1933.

Superficially, the hands down champions in building to their quota were the French, largely because the French Navy had been very obsolete going into World War I, by the time the treaties began to be signed in 1922 they had to replace most of their existing tonnage. But it was the Japanese who actually added the most to their navy, because the 483,262 tons indicated was actually an official figure. Japanese ships built during the treaty period regularly displaced more than their officially stated tonnage; heavy cruisers, for example, ran nearly 30-percent more. Since the Japanese were building above their tonnage limit, by 1932, the Imperial Navy was at ninety-five per cent of its allotted strength and much of its tonnage was new, whereas the U.S. had allowed much of its fleet to become over aged, and thus stood at just sixty-five per cent of its treaty-limit size. In short, rather than having 60-pecent of the tonnage of the U.S. Navy, the Imperial Navy was about 85-percent.

Naturally, in 1933 the advent of the Roosevelt Administration led to the use of Depression-relief funds to begin building the Navy up to treaty limits. Nevertheless, by 1936 the overall tonnage of the Imperial Navy still stood at 72-percent that of the U.S. Navy, 784,000 tons to 1,078,000.

 


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