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The Nature of Asymmetric Warfare During The American Revolution

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A historic special operation that lays the foundation of growing nature of asymmetric warfare on a global scale would be the American Revolution. In this essay I will discuss two particular battles, Bunker Hill and the Battle of Saratoga. Throughout the revolutionary war the American insurgents received assistance of Spain and France. The American Revolution took place over seven years between the thirteen American colonies and Great Britain. The colonies wanted independence from Great Britain after the Stamp Act in which they chanted “no taxation without representation”, because the British Parliament’s did not provide the colonies with a proper governing body to represent their interests. Instantly additional mass riots, protests and uprisings trailed declaring the unfair treatment of the colonies from Great Britain.

The American Revolution is a good example to show how insurgency and asymmetric warfare has grown over the years. The American insurgents operated as a rank and file military force with leadership, operational, tactical and strategic plans and an end state. They also had the aid of state actors, which without that assistance it likely the insurgency would have failed. Despite a superior force in the early stages of the conflict, it was the lack of properly using intelligence, making the right assumptions, understanding the geographic layout of the terrain, understanding the population and attempting to win the ‘hearts and minds’, while maintaining the loyalty of the few American’s who wanted to stay under British rule eventually lead to their defeat against the insurgency.

Great Britain had a modest idea of what they wanted to achieve by invading the thirteen colonies; however, there was no clear plan on how to execute stopping the insurgency, knowledge of the enemy’s strengths, geography and public perception or how to restore the thirteen colonies’ loyalty back to Great Britain. Great Britain also assumed that a large naval force joined with a superior ground force would put an end to the insurgency. Great Britain sent three British generals to Boston, Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne to the Americas to suppress the insurgency.

The thirteen colonies, though outnumbered in military strength, capabilities, and weapons, fought an unlimited war and eventually defeated the super power Great Britain. In April British commander Gage called for his troops to stop fortifying Bunker Hill as he estimated the American insurgent forces would not use Bunker Hill to attack British forces in Boston. Clinton and Howe assembled and ordered their British forces to stage an attack on Bunker Hill in order to drive the insurgents from Cambridge and eventually the other combatants from Roxbury. Assessing this strategy would work, the three generals set forth on a three-day campaign against the insurgents. Surprisingly, the American insurgents fortified Breed’s Hill and opened fire on the unsuspecting British adversary, forcing them to retreat. Britain eventually was able to recapture the ground but the gains were not worth the loss they experienced in heavy casualties and time. 

As Sun Tzu put it, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” The Americans were eventually defeated but not without Great Britain suffering more casualties during the battle than the American’s and caused the British to reassess their desire to attack the insurgents head on against positions the American insurgents had already fortified. The center of gravity for Bunker Hill would have been a defensive one to reinforce their position at Bunker Hill and by dividing their troops to prevent the American insurgent forces from taking an advantageous position at Breed Hill.

The Battle of Saratoga was a turning point during the Revolutionary war. British General John Burgoyne attacked the American insurgent forces on October 7th despite being advised to hold his position and wait for reinforcements. A week in a half after the assault General Burgoyne was forced to surrender to the American commander Gates and his insurgents. Weigley noted Burgoyne’s mistake was his own overconfidence and Great Britain’s lack of experience or knowledge in how to fight and counter asymmetrical warfare. These intelligence blunders hand delivered Burgoyne into the hands of the American insurgent force. 

The American insurgents quickly assessed the strength and will of their adversary and were able to engage in a battle on their terms. A lot of the tactical strategy the American insurgents used involved attack, retreat and live to fight another day, which we see in today’s insurgent battles and squirmishes. The British inability to adapt to this new type of warfare they were engaging and failure to adapt to the environment likely played a role in their ultimate defeat.

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The Nature Of Asymmetric Warfare During The American Revolution. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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