The Last Joint American-French Military Operation Was During the Revolutionary War

The two countries are currently considering a military option in Syria.

John Trumbull, The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781 (1787-ca. 1828)
National Journal
Aug. 30, 2013, 8:33 a.m.

If France de­cides to join the United States in a strike against Syr­ia, it would be the first time Amer­ic­an and French forces have con­duc­ted a joint mil­it­ary op­er­a­tion since the Siege of York­town at the end of the Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion­ary War.

France and the U.S. have had their fam­ous dis­agree­ments over mil­it­ary ac­tion, most not­ably the Ir­aq war and France’s de­cision to leave Afgh­anistan be­fore NATO and U.S. troops planned their draw­down. The two coun­tries have also had some near-misses on joint op­er­a­tions. For ex­ample, in 1954, U.S. forces pro­posed an op­er­a­tion that would have saved French forces in the Battle of Dein Bi­en Phu against Com­mun­ist mil­it­ants in Vi­et­nam. Amer­ic­an planes would have taken off from bases in the Phil­ip­pines. But the polit­ic­al risks of get­ting in­volved in the fight were too much for Pres­id­ent Eis­en­hower, and he nixed the op­er­a­tion, called Op­er­a­tion Vul­ture.

In­deed, the United States and France have been al­lies in dif­fer­ent con­flicts throughout his­tory. But the two na­tions have not gone after a tar­get alone to­geth­er since the War of In­de­pend­ence. And it just so hap­pens to have been at the fi­nal de­cis­ive vic­tory at York­town, Va.

France came to the side of the Amer­ic­ans dur­ing the Re­volu­tion­ary War fol­low­ing the co­lo­ni­als’ vic­tory at Saratoga. The French, at­tempt­ing to be­come the mil­it­ary power of Europe over Bri­tain, signed the Treaty of Al­li­ance in 1778, ushered through by Ben­jamin Frank­lin.

The French navy be­came a vi­tal as­set to the Amer­ic­ans in the fight against the Brit­ish to­ward the end of the Re­volu­tion. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Comte de Grasse, the French de­feated a Brit­ish fleet in the Battle of the Ches­apeake in 1781, giv­ing Franco-Anglo ground forces an ad­vant­age go­ing in­to the Siege of York­town.

Those forces, after unit­ing in New York City dur­ing the sum­mer of 1781, headed down to Vir­gin­ia and met the Brit­ish for battle at York­town. The Amer­ic­ans, led by Gen. George Wash­ing­ton, and the French, led by Comte de Rocham­beau, total­ing near 19,000 troops, over­came the 9,000 Brit­ish sol­diers.

Fol­low­ing the battle, the Brit­ish sur­rendered to Amer­ic­an and French forces. Lord Corn­wal­lis, the Brit­ish com­mand­er, fam­ously “be­came ill” and did not at­tend the sur­render ce­re­mony, hand­ing the task to one of his aides. The Treaty of Par­is came two years later in 1783, end­ing the Re­volu­tion­ary War.

And, in­ter­est­ingly, this was the last joint op­er­a­tion between these two peoples, al­though the United States and France have con­duc­ted sev­er­al joint mil­it­ary prac­tice op­er­a­tions in re­cent years.

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