Military of Bermuda

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The defence of Bermuda remains the responsibility of the National (British) Government, rather than of the Bermudian Government, which is effectively a local authority. Despite this, the Bermuda Government was historically responsible for maintaining Militia for the defence of the Colony. As Bermuda became the primary Royal Navy headquarters and dockyard in the Western Atlantic, following American independence, there was a parallel build-up of military defences to protect the naval base. Seeing the militia as having become superfluous, with the large number of regular soldiers then present, the Colonial Government allowed it to lapse after the American War of 1812, however, it did raise volunteer units at the end of the Century to form a reserve for the military garrison.

Following the loss of Britain's ports in thirteen of its former continental colonies after the American War of 1812, Bermuda assumed a new strategic prominence for the Royal Navy. When Hamilton, a centrally located port founded in 1790, became the seat of government in 1815, it was partly resultant from the Royal Navy having invested twelve years, following American independence, in charting Bermuda's reefs. It did this in order to locate the deepwater channel by which shipping might reach the islands in, and at the West of, the Great Sound, which it had begun acquiring with a view to building a naval base. However, that channel also gave access to Hamilton Harbour. The Royal Navy had originally invested in property around St. George's, but slowly moved all of its operations to the West End once the channel had been charted. In addition to serving as a naval base and coalling station for its North America & West Indies Squadron, the Royal Navy developed Bermuda as its only dockyard between the Canadian Maritimes and the West Indies where major repairs to large vessels could be made. It was initially the winter headquarters of the Admiralty based in the Maritimes, but became the year-round headquarters during the course of the century. The blockade of the southern US Atlantic Seaboard, as well as the sack of Washington D.C., carried out during the American War of 1812 was orchestrated from the Admiralty House in Bermuda, then located at Mount Wyndham, in Bailey's Bay [1].

Prior to the American War of Independence, the only Regular Army unit in Bermuda was an Independent Company, based in St. George's. With the buildup of the Royal Naval establishment in the first decades of the Nineteenth Century, a large number of military fortifications and batteries were constructed, and the numbers of regular infantry, artillery, and support units that composed the British Army garrison were steadily increased. The investment into military infrastructure by the War Office proved unsustainable, and poorly thought-out, with far too few artillery men available to man the hundreds of guns emplaced. Many of the forts were abandoned, or removed from use, soon after construction. Following the Crimean War, the trend was towards reducing military garrisons in colonies like Bermuda, partly for economic reasons, and partly as it became recognised that the Royal Navy's own ships could provide a better defence for the Dockyard, and Bermuda. Still, the important strategic location of Bermuda meant that the withdrawal, which began, at least in intent, in the 1870s, was carried out very slowly over several decades, continuing until after the Great War. The last Regular Army units were not withdrawn until the Dockyard itself closed in the 1950s. In the 1860s, however, the major build-up of naval and military infrastructure brought vital money into Bermuda at a time when its traditional (cedar- and sail cloth-based) maritime industries were giving way under the assault of steel hulls and steam propulsion. The American Civil War, also, briefly, provided a shot-in-the-arm to the local economy. Tourism and agricultural industries would develop in the latter half of the nineteenth Century, however, it was defence infrastructure that formed the central platform of the economy into the Twentieth Century.

The Colony's prominence as a naval station was underlined during both world wars thanks of its location in the North Atlantic Ocean, its naturally-protected waters, and the presence of the Royal Naval Dockyard and its military defences. With the US, the primary threat to Bermuda in the Nineteenth Century, becoming an ally in both wars, US forces began to make use of Bermuda also.

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