Britain and the Challenge of War

Graham Goodlad assesses the success of British governments in responding to the demands of war, from the French Revolutionary conflict to the 1914-18 struggle.

Britain was a global power for 200 years, from the mid-eighteenth century. Throughout this period, the armed forces were called upon to uphold British interests in a variety of different contexts. To the navy fell primary responsibility for the defence of the United Kingdom itself. It was also expected to protect the sea routes upon which the country’s trade and communications depended. The navy maintained the capacity to engage foreign fleets and to mount sea-borne blockades and expeditions against enemy powers. The army’s role was outlined by Edward Stanhope, Secretary of State for War, in a memorandum in December 1888. In order of priority, its duties comprised support for the UK’s civil authorities, garrison duties in India and the colonies, defence of the homeland and an ability to make a limited contribution to war in continental Europe.

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