how long was the shortest war in history
If you thought wars were drawn out and bloody, you’d be shocked to find out that the shortest war ever only lasted a mere 38 minutes! That was the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896- a dramatic battle between the British Empire and the Zanzibar Sultanate. Crazy, right?
What caused the Anglo-Zanzibar War?
When Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini passed away on August 25, 1896, it caused a succession dispute. He had been a good friend of the British, and when they had made Zanzibar a protectorate in 1890, they had made it so that the next sultan would need to get the approval of the British consul.
Hamad’s cousin, Khalid bin Barghash, saw his chance and jumped right on it – he announced himself as the new sultan without even checking with the British first. He quickly made his way to the palace and got a bunch of his supporters- around 2,800 – to form his army. He also had several artillery pieces and machine guns, as well as a royal yacht and two smaller boats in the harbor.
Basil Cave, the British consul, was super mad at Khalid and told him to scram from the palace. He sent a telegram to London asking if he could get permission to use force if he had to, and the British government said yes and told him he had to get it sorted out by 9am on August 27.
Cave gave Khalid a deadline of 9:00 am to give up or else face battle. Khalid wouldn’t bow down and barricaded himself in the palace along with his entourage. He was counting on help from other European nations, specifically Germany, who had a stake in East Africa. But Germany didn’t step in and instead told Khalid to accept the British demand.
How did the Anglo-Zanzibar War unfold?
As the deadline approached, Cave prepared his forces for action. He had at his disposal four warships (HMS St George, HMS Philomel, HMS Racoon and HMS Sparrow), three gunboats (HMS Thrush, HMS Sparrowhawk and HMS Widgeon), 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibari troops loyal to Britain. The naval contingent was commanded by Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson and the Zanzibari troops by Brigadier-General Lloyd Mathews.
At 9:00 am sharp, Cave ordered Rawson to open fire on the palace. The British ships unleashed a barrage of shells and bullets that quickly set the palace on fire and disabled Khalid’s artillery. A small naval engagement also took place between the British gunboats and Khalid’s yacht and boats, which were sunk or captured.
Khalid’s forces tried to return fire but were ineffective against the superior British firepower. Some shots were also fired at the British consulate and at the advancing Zanzibari troops, but without causing much damage or casualties.
The bombardment lasted for about 40 minutes until Cave saw that Khalid’s flag had been lowered from the palace roof. He then ordered a ceasefire at 9:40 am. The war was over.
What were the consequences of the Anglo-Zanzibar War?
The Anglo-Zanzibar War was a decisive victory for Britain and a humiliating defeat for Khalid. The British estimated that about 500 of Khalid’s men were killed or wounded in the fighting, while they suffered only one minor injury among their sailors.
Khalid himself managed to escape from the palace through a back door and sought refuge in the German consulate. He later fled to German East Africa (now Tanzania), where he lived in exile until his death in 1927.
The British installed Hamoud bin Mohammed as the new sultan of Zanzibar with their approval. Hamoud agreed to pay an indemnity of £200,000 for the cost of the war and to disband his army. He also granted Britain more control over Zanzibar’s foreign affairs and trade.
The Anglo-Zanzibar War marked the end of Zanzibar’s independence and sovereignty as a sultanate. It also demonstrated Britain’s dominance and influence in East Africa at the time.
The war is still remembered today as an example of how wars can be short and decisive if one side has overwhelming superiority over