The last best chance - French invasion of Britain, 1779

In an effort to distance myself from the flamewar-ridden quagmire "Latest Successful invasion of Britain" thread*, I have decided to post my thoughts on the so-called "Armada of 1779" here. It was originally posted in the aforementioned thread, and I received enough positive feedback on the initial post to warrant a new thread.

The initial WI:

How about 1779? It was one of the few times in history where the French navy outnumbered the British in the Channel itself. The invasion failed due to a combination of factors - malnutrition and sickness amongst the men, military indecisiveness from the aging Comte d'Orvilliers, and inclement weather all played their parts.

But what if things had gone differently? This seems to be the best opportunity for the French: they have 40,000 men ready to land and outnumber the British fleet in the area almost 2:1. So how could it go better for the French?

Say the 1778 Battle of Ushant goes a little bit better for the French, although it is still an indecisive encounter. But ITTL François-Joseph de Grasse decides to remain in the European fleet under d'Orvilliers, instead of going to the Caribbean to command under d'Estaing. He is able to negotiate with the Spanish (with whom the French were cooperating with against Britain) to obtain supplies for the transport ships waiting to sail. This keeps the men in better condition, so they sail immediately when the Spanish fleet arrives on July 22, 1779.

The last thing needed is the cooperation of the wind, which can be achieved with some hand-waving. So let's assume that the rest of July is calm enough for the fleet to sail across the Channel. On July 31, the French fleet engages the British while French soldiers capture the Isle of Wight to use as a forward base. From there 40,000 men are landed on Britain itself, while the French fleet keeps the Channel open so supplies can continue to arrive. An unprepared London falls to the invaders, and things go downhill from there. With Britain under French rule, Louis XVI can dictate peace to George III and his cabinet at the point of a sword. Thus ends the supremacy of Britain.

Thoughts?
(See following post for speculation on American developments ITTL.)

EDIT: found some earlier speculation in a previous thread. here, and here.

*In my opinion, this forum has far too many British and American nationalists, and not enough French or Quebecois nationalists. :p
 
Decided to put this response in a new thread because my answer was a little long. :D

I really like the 1779 scenario with de Grasse. What, I wonder, would the reaction be over in North America? It would massively discredit the USA cause, I think. "Look what Congress did. They got mixed up with the god-damnable French, and now look what happened. Britain and America cannot stand disunited!" The Crown is now in a position of weakness, to put it incredibly mildly. Why not agree to American demands for representation, etc?
Ben- I have been thinking about the effects of the invasion on the Revolutionary War. And it is actually quite interesting. Your post actually sums up the French opinion of the Americans - they cared nothing for the rebels and their dangerous republican ideology. But Vergennes saw in the Patriots a golden opportunity to divert British attention and avenge the French loss in the Seven Years' War.

But with Britain itself under French occupation, what purpose do the Americans serve? A very important thing to note is that the French expeditionary force under Rochambeau was not authorized until after the failure of the Armada of 1779. IIRC, it was because of this failure that the French sought to launch the Expédition particulière. One butterfly I can think of would come in July 1781. Washington wanted to attack New York, but Rochambeau demurred in favor of attacking Virginia instead. But without the Frenchman, Washington will attack New York and he will probably fail. Cornwallis thus might have time to secure his hold on Virginia and isolate the Carolinas. Thus there is no Siege of Yorktown and the Revolutionary War drags on.

But I think eventually France will turn its attention to America, once the British Isles have been subdued (by no means an easy feat). But I don't really know how things would progress from there... any thoughts?
 
Washington wanted to attack New York, but Rochambeau demurred in favor of attacking Virginia instead. But without the Frenchman, Washington will attack New York and he will probably fail.

rcduggan,

What I've read about the proposed New York attack is that Washington thought it would be possible with French help and suggested the plan when Rochambeau arrived. The French however scouted the British defenses and wisely determined that the effort was beyond the Allies abilities. It was then that the operations against Cornwallis were considered.

Staying in North America, with Britain occupied in 1779 why would British forces still be operating in the colonies as late as 1781? A Franco-British treaty would have been negotiated before then and American independence would have most certainly been part of it. I also believe it very plausible that France would regain Canada.


Bill
 
Hooray! This thread is much better.

I don't think the French can be doing much in Canada, when they're now concerned with occupying England!

I see a couple of possible scenarios:
--> What I said: the invasion of Britain galvanizes the loyalists in America, badly hurting the USA movement, which it was at that point.
--> What Bill said: the British almost totally withdraw from North America, leaving Washington to mop up the little remaining garrisons in the name of Congress.

Whatever happens, the end of the war will be as OTL: the militias for both sides in the Americas will keep fighting until the final treaty, which won't happen until France and Britain reach a good stopping point.
 

Germaniac

Donor
What about Ireland. How does she fare in all of this. With the British Isles being conquered wouldnt it seems logical to break the Island off. An Ally in Ireland is a much more effective and logical ally than say the USA.
 
Would they even talk to George and cabinet, though?

Dictating an unfavourable and humiliating peace while leaving their powerbase intact would allow George and cabinet and the Whig gentry behind them to rearm and prepare for revenge.

Carrying out a political and social revolution in Britain, however...

It was 33 years after Culloden. Charles III was very much alive (he´d die in 1788) and married, but with no legitimate children. Henry II and IX was Bishop of Frascati. Scottish Highlands still had some punitive laws in force, and Ireland suffered from Protestant ascendancy.

In 1689-1691, James II had led Catholic revolution for autonomy of Ireland. French conquest of Britain could easily lead to violent overthrow of Protestant ascendancy of Ireland, wide autonomy of Ireland and Irish regiments occupying England to uphold King Charles III.

What would the policies of Charles III be? And what terms would the French offer to Charles, to prevent undermining their ally by making him appear too much their puppet?
 
I still have my doubts on a successful French invasion of England in this period. Remember that there are 130,000 English militia to deal with.

But anyway. If Britain had been occupied, wouldn't this cause a reevaluation of the point of the ARW? Especially if you think the French are going to try to swoop in and retake Canada...After all, the colonists did tend to think themselves British, and their identity had been forged from colonial warfare, largely against the French.

If the French stay away from the Americas, I'd be expecting to see something like a split in the revolutionary leadership, half of them wanting to push for a quick resolution to the war and half of them actually feeling threatened and wanting some kind of cooperation with the British, probably in exchange for their autonomy i.e. the Galway Plan of Union. If the French actually do come in to try to grab back Canada and other places, I wouldn't be surprised if the rebel militias started deserting to volunteer to fight the French under the British - again, probably hoping for an agreement on Colonial autonomy afterwards.
 

Hecatee

Donor
Another question to think on is the effect of the war on the french themselve. Does this successfull war empty the treasure chest of the french crown, does it enrich it, does it lead to new taxes and popular discontentement, does it lead to the french revolution, ... ?

Also what would be the consequences on the southern USA ? In the far-east ? In Africa ? In the Antilles and Caraibes ?
 
I still have my doubts on a successful French invasion of England in this period. Remember that there are 130,000 English militia to deal with.

Falastur,

This is the pre-Napoleonic era remember. The "logical" warfare of the Age of Enlightenment is still the paradigm. At the governmental level there's no concept of the "nation in arms", guerrilla warfare, prolonged resistance, or any of the rest. If the French make and maintain a sustained presence in Britain, negotiations almost immediately begin.

But anyway. If Britain had been occupied, wouldn't this cause a reevaluation of the point of the ARW? Especially if you think the French are going to try to swoop in and retake Canada...After all, the colonists did tend to think themselves British, and their identity had been forged from colonial warfare, largely against the French.
I don't think an actual French invasion of Canada would take place. France would regain her North American lands at the negotiating table instead. Remember, during the negotiations that ended the Seven Years' War Britain seriously proposed trading all of Canada for two sugar islands in the Caribbean.

And, yes, having France again to their north and west on the continent would give the American rebels pause.


Bill
 

67th Tigers

Banned
Reaching for my copy of Mackesy's "War for America", the British have a force of about 41,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry in South Britain to oppose the invasion, exclusive of about 3,000 men of the recruiting companies and another 5,000 infantry in North Britain.

It spells out the French invasion plan;

Firstly, 20,000 men would seize the Isle of Wight, then shell Portsmouth and land a force at Gosport to gain a toehold on the mainland. Meanwhile, smaller subsidery forces would land at Bristol, Liverpool and Cork (totalling about 10,000 men). 10,000 men would reinforce in the 2nd lift, either at Portsmouth (if successful) or in another attack, this time at Plymouth if Portsmouth failed.

Armherst's response was to concentrate everything available into a single striking force astride the Thames, leaving substancial garrisons at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham (about 4-5,000 in each). While everyone expected a repeat of previous French invasion plans (Sussex and Kent), Armherst had only a cavalry screen committed to the area, the French had not fooled him.

In some ways the plan is very good, but Armherst isn't likely to disperse his striking force to deal with the pinpricks of Bristol and Liverpool (which may well fall), and certainly not Ireland (especially when another striking force at Dublin can easily deal with intrusions there). I suspect they'll get the Isle of Wight and several lodgements on the coast but be unable to advance inland.
 

67th Tigers

Banned
rcduggan,

What I've read about the proposed New York attack is that Washington thought it would be possible with French help and suggested the plan when Rochambeau arrived. The French however scouted the British defenses and wisely determined that the effort was beyond the Allies abilities. It was then that the operations against Cornwallis were considered.

Staying in North America, with Britain occupied in 1779 why would British forces still be operating in the colonies as late as 1781? A Franco-British treaty would have been negotiated before then and American independence would have most certainly been part of it. I also believe it very plausible that France would regain Canada.


Bill
Washington estimated he needed 30,000 French troops as reinforcements to attack NYC. The French had sent 4 Regiments (about 4,000 men) and some guns. At Yorktown the French temporarily landed an additional 3 Regiments.

If Britain was occupied (something I regard as highly unlikely, but a campaign for Britain is very possible) then the collapse of the logistics base for British forces overseas is certain. It's not a coincidence that the 3 subsidery attacks the French would make on GB and I were the 3 main supply bases for the overseas forces. Even in the event the French are repelled, the British ability to support forces in the Caribbean etc. are undermined (although not perhaps at NY).
 
Falastur,

This is the pre-Napoleonic era remember. The "logical" warfare of the Age of Enlightenment is still the paradigm. At the governmental level there's no concept of the "nation in arms", guerrilla warfare, prolonged resistance, or any of the rest. If the French make and maintain a sustained presence in Britain, negotiations almost immediately begin.
I'm aware of that. But the 1757 Act of Militia was passed to give the country a single, home army in case of defending the motherland. There was no levee en masse, but this wasn't levee en masse. This was a group of volunteer and selected men, made to train every so often and used as the local police force. They had no battlefield experience, but that's not the issue here. They were trained in combat tactics, and even if every 5 militiamen were as good as one single French regular soldier, that's still a numerical advantage that they can gain. Also, there were some regular British regiments to augment them, so the militiamen wouldn't be unsupported. Indeed, the militia tended to be filled with the kind of dandy gentry who liked to sit around on their estates all day long but given any opportunity would want to show off - the kind of men who gave Britain a tradition in this era for having some of the strongest cavalry regiments around, but cavalry regiments who tended to turn one enemy unit and then become so high on success that they would keep charging into the enemy lines in follow-up attacks until their unit was quickly overrun and rendered useless. If London fell, the militia wouldn't just capitulate. Units would march across the country to attempt one last death or glory attack to recapture London, seeking a way to prove their heroism or guided by old retired regular army officers with an unconquerable duty to their state. If the French split their forces to try to capture other cities, their units would be overrun and beaten down, a la the way that a Roman Legion "went missing" while traveling across hostile England to meet up for the Battle of Watling Street when facing down Boudicca. London wasn't even a defensible location in this era - the old city walls were mediaeval and decrepit, and they only surrounded part of the city. If the French wanted to defend themselves, they would have to march out for a battle outside the city. I'm not saying the French would have no chance, but the result of the battle would not be a formality and they could well just get overwhelmed by the militia and forced to surrender.

That's what I meant. No guerrilla tactics, no prolongued resistance (the militia would probably stage an attack on London around a week after the French landing, and that would probably be the end of the fighting in England, one way or another), and no levee en masse. Just established militia regiments doing what they were raised by Act of Parliament to do.

This may not be the Napoleonic Era, but this isn't Empire: Total War either. If you land an army in England then England doesn't automatically flash French-blue on the tactical map with all resistance gone. The British had militia units in England, and the French would have to face them before they secured the country. Claiming any different, to me, is just as illogical as claiming that the England-Cong would go to hide in the English jungles and have to be napalmed out over the course of the next decade.
 

67th Tigers

Banned
I'm aware of that. But the 1757 Act of Militia was passed to give the country a single, home army in case of defending the motherland. There was no levee en masse, but this wasn't levee en masse. This was a group of volunteer and selected men, made to train every so often and used as the local police force. They had no battlefield experience, but that's not the issue here. They were trained in combat tactics, and even if every 5 militiamen were as good as one single French regular soldier, that's still a numerical advantage that they can gain. Also, there were some regular British regiments to augment them, so the militiamen wouldn't be unsupported. Indeed, the militia tended to be filled with the kind of dandy gentry who liked to sit around on their estates all day long but given any opportunity would want to show off - the kind of men who gave Britain a tradition in this era for having some of the strongest cavalry regiments around, but cavalry regiments who tended to turn one enemy unit and then become so high on success that they would keep charging into the enemy lines in follow-up attacks until their unit was quickly overrun and rendered useless.
You're overestimating the size of the Militia. The July 1779 state puts them at 33,573 R&F. The Militia of ca. 1803 is much larger (with the volunteer force added England had 600,000 troops for home defence, so many it didn't immediately have muskets for all of them).
 
If London were to fall, negotiations would most certainly begin right away. That's the way things were done in those days. The Londoners wouldn't like it. But it is what would happen. The militia would probably be called out sooner - if the French plan involved taking Wight first, then maybe while they are there.
 

Thande

Donor
If London were to fall, negotiations would most certainly begin right away. That's the way things were done in those days. The Londoners wouldn't like it. But it is what would happen. The militia would probably be called out sooner - if the French plan involved taking Wight first, then maybe while they are there.
I don't know, 120 years earlier the kingdom held out for years while London was in Parliamentary hands.
 
If London were to fall, negotiations would most certainly begin right away. That's the way things were done in those days. The Londoners wouldn't like it. But it is what would happen. The militia would probably be called out sooner - if the French plan involved taking Wight first, then maybe while they are there.
I don't know, 120 years earlier the kingdom held out for years while London was in Parliamentary hands.
In the plan devised by the brothers Victor-François and Charles-François de Broglie (I just spent around ten minutes trying to determine which member of the de Broglie family I am talking about... :eek:), the main forces would be directed against Rye, Winchelsea, Hastings, and Pevensey. This would be accompanied by diversions in the west (including John Paul Jones's squadron in Ireland) to divert the small presence of the Royal Navy. Meanwhile the bulk of the French fleet would protect the landings, and subsequently seek out and engage the British in a pitched battle. The original objective was to march on London and take the city as quickly as possible. Once this was accomplished, Portsmouth could be taken either by land or by another amphibious landing. IIRC the original plan then called for negotations in which London would be traded for India, and Portsmouth for Canada. Later revisions voiced the idea that either Portsmouth or Wight should be retained as a "French Gibraltar." But in my TL idea, the de Broglie plan would be used and not this later revision.

Another question to think on is the effect of the war on the french themselve. Does this successfull war empty the treasure chest of the french crown, does it enrich it, does it lead to new taxes and popular discontentement, does it lead to the french revolution, ...?
Ending the war a few years early cannot be a bad thing for France. I am reading Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, and from what I have gathered from that the Armada of 1779 succeeding could help delay the revolution.
In 1689-1691, James II had led Catholic revolution for autonomy of Ireland. French conquest of Britain could easily lead to violent overthrow of Protestant ascendancy of Ireland, wide autonomy of Ireland and Irish regiments occupying England to uphold King Charles III.
Hmm. I think by 1779 even the French had realized how stupid it would be to put the Stuarts on the throne. Louis and de Broglie were not interested in a restoration - they just wanted good bargaining chips to avenge 1763. And nothing is better than your enemy's capital and most vital port city.
 

Hecatee

Donor
IIRC the original plan then called for negotations in which London would be traded for India, and Portsmouth for Canada. Later revisions voiced the idea that either Portsmouth or Wight should be retained as a "French Gibraltar." But in my TL idea, the de Broglie plan would be used and not this later revision.
Were they any plan concerning Gibraltar and Malta ? For it would be the right time to get the british out of the mediteranean instead of talking about India, and this would especially please the spaniards to get those two strategic locations back in their hands.
 
The Knights Hospitaliter still held Malta in 1779. It didn't become British until 1799 to 1800 (I'm fuzzy on the exact date).
 
Hmm. I think by 1779 even the French had realized how stupid it would be to put the Stuarts on the throne. Louis and de Broglie were not interested in a restoration - they just wanted good bargaining chips to avenge 1763. And nothing is better than your enemy's capital and most vital port city.
true, in the case of Great Britain, not so true in Ireland, where the Protestant-only Parliament of Ireland rules over the 90% Catholic Kingdom, and most of the 10% Protestants aren't really Irish, so needless to say Ireland would be more than happy to have a Catholic King, the French are likely to send Charles III with some money and ships to start a Revolt in Ireland to cover the French's true plan of an Invasion of Great Britain, also a puppet Kingdom right next to Great Britain would be useful
 
Were they any plan concerning Gibraltar and Malta ? For it would be the right time to get the british out of the mediteranean instead of talking about India, and this would especially please the spaniards to get those two strategic locations back in their hands.
I have wondered if the Great Siege of Gibraltar would be altered ITTL. With key British cities under occupation, would the resupply convoys be disrupted or otherwise prevented from reaching Gibraltar? Potentially the Rock could fall ITTL, and thus would be returned to Spain in negotiations.
And Malta was not British yet in OTL, so you must be thinking of Minorca. I think that island in all probabilty will be captured by Spain AIOTL.

true, in the case of Great Britain, not so true in Ireland, where the Protestant-only Parliament of Ireland rules over the 90% Catholic Kingdom, and most of the 10% Protestants aren't really Irish, so needless to say Ireland would be more than happy to have a Catholic King, the French are likely to send Charles III with some money and ships to start a Revolt in Ireland to cover the French's true plan of an Invasion of Great Britain, also a puppet Kingdom right next to Great Britain would be useful
France did not want to destabilize Britain that much though. De Broglie was disinterested in splitting up Britain and Ireland, and anyway I don't see how an independent Kingdom of Ireland would benefit France.
 
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