Article The Shortest War In History


Mi General
MI.Net Member
Feb 29, 2004
The shortest war in history was between England and Zanzibar and it lasted for a full 38 minutes!

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The war, lasting around 38 minutes, is considered the shortest in recorded history. Before an hour had elapsed, the Anglo-Zanzibar war was over.

The story begins with the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty between Britain and Germany in 1890. This treaty effectively drew up spheres of influence between the imperial powers in East Africa; Zanzibar was ceded to British influence, whilst Germany was given control over mainland Tanzania. With this new found influence, Britain declared Zanzibar a protectorate of the British Empire and moved to install their own ‘puppet’ Sultan to look after the region. Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had been a supporter of the British in the area, was given the position in 1893.

The immediate cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the subsequent succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. Although the truth will never be fully known about the causes for his death, it is widely believed that his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash, had him poisoned.

In accordance with a treaty signed in 1886, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate obtain the permission of the British consul, and Khalid had not fulfilled this requirement. The British considered this a casus belli (an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war) and sent an ultimatum to Khalid demanding that he order his forces to stand down and leave the palace. Khalid ignored these warnings and instead started gathering his forces around the Palace and barricaded himself inside.

By the end of 25th August, Khalid had his palace secured with almost 3,000 men and several artillery guns and even a modestly armed Royal Yacht in the nearby harbour. Most of the men were recruited from the civilian population, but they also included the sultan’s palace guard and several hundred of his servants and slaves.


The HHS Glasgow, taken near Zanzibar. Caption given as “The Sultan’s guardship before the Bombardment“

The final ultimatum to Khalid was issued on the 26th August, demanding that he leave the palace by 9am the next day.Khalid refused and the ultimatum expired at 09:00 East Africa Time (EAT) on 27 August, by which time the British had gathered three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibaris in the harbour area.

At 9 am, the order was given for the British ships in the harbour to begin bombarding the palace. A bombardment opened at 09:02 set the palace on fire and disabled the defending artillery. A small naval action took place with the British sinking the Zanzibari royal yacht HHS Glasgow and two smaller vessels. The wooden structure of the Palace had started to collapse. By 09:40 the shelling had ceased, the Sultan’s flag pulled down, and the shortest war in history had officially ended after only 38 minutes.
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Nice! That's gunboat diplomacy right there.

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