Based on his determination to attack Britain in its home waters, Jones also demonstrated a grasp of the strategic importance of naval power projection that was unusual for his time. The importance of his single-ship victories over HMS Drake in the Irish Sea in April 1778 and HMS Serapis off Flamborough Head a year later far exceeded their face value. Indeed, from a strategic point of view, Jones’ victory over the Serapis was a tipping-point of the War of Independence.
Perhaps the least-appreciated period of Jones’ career was his brief service in the Russian navy. Like many officers then who could not find naval employment in their own countries, he agreed to serve in a foreign navy. His service under Catherine the Great was important for two reasons. First, it was Jones’ only opportunity to command a fleet in combat, and in June 1788 he defeated a major Turkish force at the Battle of the Liman. And second, it enabled him to become an admiral, a mark of achievement in the profession. Unfortunately, he was not up to dealing with the intrigues of the Tsarina’s court, and he left the Russian navy.
Jones was a self-taught, professional naval officer, committed to the cause of his adopted country. And, notwithstanding the major challenges facing the Continental Navy, he was an exceptional naval warrior—one whose exploits in combat earned the epitaph carved in his tomb: “He Gave Our Navy its Earliest Traditions of Heroism and Victory.”