The Shortest War in History Lasted Just 38 Minutes
Throughout history, there have been a lot of very foolish wars, often started over petty things. For instance, we told you all about the pettiest wars ever – one of which was started over a pastry shop. Now we’re bringing you the tale of the shortest war in history: The Anglo-Zanzibar War, which lasted a mere 38 minutes. Here’s what happened…
In the late 1800s, Europe was on a mission known today as the Scramble for Africa. In 1890, Great Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, which gave the two nations claims over different parts of East Africa. More specifically, Zanzibar went to Great Britain. Nowadays Zanzibar makes up part of what is now modern-day Tanzania, but at the time it was an island nation under the control of the Sultans of Oman, and had been since 1698.
In the wake of the Scramble for Africa, Zanzibar became a protectorate of Great Britain, who then placed a pro-British puppet sultan named Hamad bin Thuwaini (pictured, above) into power as a way to allow the British to carry out their ever-growing imperialistic aspirations. However, when the Sultan died suddenly on August 25, 1896, things started to go very awry. The British expressed their preference for Hamoud bin Muhammed to take power, as they viewed him as being more amicable to British interests, but Khalid bin Barghash (Hamad bin Thuwaini’s cousin) quickly moved into the palace and declared himself the new sultan before anyone could object.
The British very much did not approve of Khalid as Zanzibar’s new leader. When the top-ranking British diplomat in Zanzibar, Basil Cave, heard about the news he ordered him to step down, but instead of doing that, Khalid fortified his palace and called for 3,000 men to help protect him from the British. On August 26, Great Britain sent a telegram to Cave stating that he was authorized to use force against Khalid and his men if they did not comply. And so Cave gave Khalid until 9 am the next day to leave the palace, or risk being attacked.
Instead of leaving the palace, Khalid assumed that the British were not being truthful and that they wouldn’t actually attack, so he stayed put. Only, the British certainly weren’t playing around, and they gathered up three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines, and 900 Zanzibaris in preparation for battle. Not long after 9 am came around (9:02 to be exact), British ships in the harbor nearby began open-firing, and the palace was set on fire. Khalid’s defending artillery was quickly rendered useless, so it wasn’t long before he fled the scene through a back exit.
After approximately 38 minutes of firing, Khalid’s flag at the palace was shot down and the Zanzibari people were forced to admit defeat to the British. And so the British were finally able to place their preferred puppet leader, Hamoud bin Mohammed, into power. This very short war marked the end of the Zanzibar Sultanate as a sovereign state, and the beginning of a period of heavy British control.
So, whatever happened to Khalid bin Barghash, you ask? Well, he was able to seek asylum at the German consulate, and then escaped to German East Africa (what is present-day Tanzania), somehow managing to avoid being captured by the British until World War I.
So what did we learn from the story of the shortest war in history? Firstly, That an enemy of your enemy is your friend, and secondly, that you should pretty much always assume that the British are prepared to destroy everything around them in their quest for imperialism.