At what point could Britain no longer win a war against the United States?

As it says on the tin. Had the British not been fighting with two hands behind their back in the War of 1812 thanks to Napoleon, they would have won handily. And this power disparity more or less rang true until the end of the American Civil War. But post Civil War the United States' power grew exponentially. And then by the end of the Second World War they had exceeded the British in terms of military might.

So where in the time frame between 1865 and 1945, where did Britain fall behind and the US surge ahead? Say if the US and UK fought in 1870, or 1880, or 1890, 1900, or 1910, at what point could the UK no longer reliably win said war?
 
Depends on the definition of winning

Obviously the US cannot project power across the Atlantic until after WW1. The UK meanwhile likely cannot win a land war in the American interior after the Mexican American War. The British Army was tactically superior really until Suez in my mind, but the US could mobilize massive internal reserves. The US may or may not be able to take Canada, but either way, neither side likely wins a total victory.

I'd say after 1848 the UK comes out ahead until 1919. From then until 1943 (when the USN really surpassed the Royal Navy once it started churning out carriers), its likely a draw. Afterwards, the US comes out ahead.
 
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1776, evidently.

... that’s a bit of a snarky reply, but it means something. Obviously, as the other posters have noted, it all depends on what their war aims are, but going with the AH favourite - a conflict with several pitched land battles and the goal of some reduction of US territory - Britain didn’t have the force to pull through at any point after Independence. The War of 1812 ended ambiguously, with the scales somewhat tipped in British favour, but actually extracting serious gains from the US at that point without a massive change in British policy is very difficult. The Battle of New Orleans (which, as it turned out, didn’t have any impact on the peace at all - but a huge impact on later American history via Andrew Jackson) showed that there were deep, systematic problems in the UK’s chain of command and land strategy in North America; and after that point, the US was too strong to take on for the investment that the UK could plausibly have made. Britain would rule the waves for another century, but that rule was absolute, not totalitarian; she would have needed a damn good reason to wage an all-out war against the US, and even then would never have made the necessary investment to do so.
 
Depends on the definition of winning

Obviously the US cannot project power across the Atlantic until after WW1. The UK meanwhile likely cannot win a land war in the American interior after the Mexican American War. The British Army was tactically superior really until Suez in my mind, but the US could mobilize massive internal reserves. The US may or may not be able to take Canada, but either way, neither side likely wins a total victory.

I'd say after 1848 the UK comes out ahead until 1919. From then until 1943 (when the USN really surpassed the Royal Navy once it started churning out carriers), its likely a draw. Afterwards, the US comes out ahead.

Can't or just won't? If the Union army wasn't dismantled right after the Civil War would the US have had not had the industry potential to project its power there if it so chose to? Following the Civil War the army was drastically downsized because it went back to its role in protecting settlers from natives.
 
How much time does each side have to prepare? If we're assuming an unexpected, rapidly-escalating crisis which leads to war, meaning that both sides go in with the forces they had at that date IOTL, then I'd say that America would be able to force a draw after WW1, and would be able to win after WW2. OTOH, if the Americans have enough time to build up their military beforehand (which would probably take several years), then I think they could avoid being defeated from the early decades of the 19th century.

(Of course, that's assuming that they actually use the time to build up their military. IOTL, you have American commentators talking casually about conquering Canada even after the War of 1812. If this sort of complacency occurs ITTL, then advanced warning isn't going to help very much, and the calculus is the same as for a sudden crisis.)
 
Britain didn’t have the force to pull through at any point after Independence.

I disagree but not really. I think Britain (at least technically) had the force. But much more importantly they lacked the will to fight and win a total war. I am of the opinion that Britain could win such a war for about the entirety of the 19th century if they had the will. Which they didn't and wouldn't.
 
Iirc the last few times this thread question came up assuming Britain includes the Empire, and one or both sides actually want a war*, the consensus was around 1895-1905. With wars after 1850s becoming increasingly destructive and pyrrhic.

* which is probably a greater factor than most think. For all the talk of imperial restoration or manifest destiny, after 1812 it was more profitable to be friendly than hostile.
 
Iirc the last few times this thread question came up assuming Britain includes the Empire, and one or both sides actually want a war*, the consensus was around 1895-1905. With wars after 1850s becoming increasingly destructive and pyrrhic.

* which is probably a greater factor than most think. For all the talk of imperial restoration or manifest destiny, after 1812 it was more profitable to be friendly than hostile.

Yeah there is a long stretch of time where British Empire can win if they commit to total war however are very unlikely to commit to it as they lack the will. Americans likewise probably lack the will to fight a near equal power to dismantle its worldwide empire in the first half of the 20th century.
 
Victory needs to be defined. Many USAmericans define victory as Britain can't invade US shores, conveniently forgetting that it was well into the 20th century before the US could think about invading British shores/projecting power beyond North/Central America.
 
Victory needs to be defined. Many USAmericans define victory as Britain can't invade US shores, conveniently forgetting that it was well into the 20th century before the US could think about invading British shores/projecting power beyond North/Central America.

Arguably, not even today the US would be able to cross the Atlantic and successfully invade Britain.
 

dcharles

Banned
Depends on the definition of winning

Obviously the US cannot project power across the Atlantic until after WW1. The UK meanwhile likely cannot win a land war in the American interior after the Mexican American War. The British Army was tactically superior really until Suez in my mind, but the US could mobilize massive internal reserves. The US may or may not be able to take Canada, but either way, neither side likely wins a total victory.

I'd say after 1848 the UK comes out ahead until 1919. From then until 1943 (when the USN really surpassed the Royal Navy once it started churning out carriers), its likely a draw. Afterwards, the US comes out ahead.

As others have pointed out, it depends on the "definition of winning." If "winning" means "conquer," then the answer is that the UK would not be able to conquer the US after 1800.

If, by "winning," we only mean that the UK would fight with the US and end the fight with an advantage to the UK, then I think that 1900 is a better date. If we're talking about winning a land war in North America, then I like @Raferty 's suggestion of roughly 1850 as the date.
 
I disagree but not really. I think Britain (at least technically) had the force. But much more importantly they lacked the will to fight and win a total war. I am of the opinion that Britain could win such a war for about the entirety of the 19th century if they had the will. Which they didn't and wouldn't.

Agreed, but I think for AH purposes it’s really important to avoid distinguishing between military force and political will. The Vietnam War is the best example of the two being interrelated in history, and that happened with the full force of scientific warfare and postmodern propaganda at hand. The two aren’t really separable even in politics, and all the less in history.

To say Britain had the military capacity (doctrine aside, which I think - given the Battle of New Orleans - is a big omission; Pakenham was a disaster, but the UK needed badly to reconsider their system of command to address why he was such a disaster) to secure a significant territorial acquisition from the USA at some point in the nineteenth century ignores the fact that conjuring the political will for the war that would involve is ASB - just as ASB as an American invasion of Britain after 1945, which would also be technically possible.
 
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Can't or just won't? If the Union army wasn't dismantled right after the Civil War would the US have had not had the industry potential to project its power there if it so chose to? Following the Civil War the army was drastically downsized because it went back to its role in protecting settlers from natives.

The Royal Navy and Union dependence on British gunpowder, lead and other supplies says otherwise.
 
If we are talking on neutral ground, then economic strength is the main thing that drives success, given adequate time to prepare. The US drew level with the British Empiee in about 1914.


Interesting. Out of curiosity, let's look at the present-day:

Percentage of World GDP Adjusted for PPP (2019)

United States
: 15.1%
People's Republic of China: 19.24%
India: 7.98%
 
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If we're talking straight up Britain vs US, 1776 can't be used as a measure. The AR was Britain vs a coalition of US, France, and Spain, with Dutch financial assistance.

It is extremely debatable whether the patriots could have eked out a victory sans foreign assistance.

What war is ever fought in a vacuum? Could the British fight the land war in America without Hessian Troops? The coalition your talking about didn't form until 1778, after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. After Saratoga the British had almost no chance of conquering the United States.
 
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