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Wars of Empire (Cassell History of Warfare) by Douglas Porch

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By Douglas Porch

Wars of Empire

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In London, Paris, St Petersburg, or Berlin, many ministers knew little of the places conquered and cared less. Empires were often appallingly administered, allowing those with energy and initiative a freedom limited only by the ability of indigenous peoples to resist their encroachment. Much of British expansion in India occurred during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars when the British government was otherwise preoccupied. Although the Industrial Revolution gradually closed the communications gap, European capitals were still weeks, if not months, distant.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the advantage in small wars had swung definitively in the invader's favour. Yet it had not always been so. Until the mid nineteenth century, imperial soldiers were seldom more advantaged in technology than Cortes, with his tiny arsenal of firearms, three centuries earlier. Indeed, in the East especially, European invaders were at best only equal to their opponents, and sometimes even inferior in firepower against an indigenous enemy able to produce his own muskets and artillery.

T. Mahan noted in The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 'if Britain could be declared the winner in the imperial race, the credit, or blame, resided with the superiority of the Royal Navy'. A second benefit of naval superiority for COLONIAL WARFARE IN THE PRE-INDUSTRIAL AGE imperialists was security: In the early days when Europeans were on the defensive on land, especially in Africa and the East, they seized coastal enclaves, often islands like Goa, St Louis de Senegal, Hong Kong or Singapore, which they could defend and supply by sea.

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