Reading time: 7 minutes
The story of the shortest war in history begins with a treaty between colonial powers. In 1890, Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty which secured spheres of influence in East Africa. Germany was given control of mainland Tanzania, while Zanzibar fell under British control.
Zanzibar received protectorate status and along with it, a new ‘puppet’ Sultan to take care of the region. The sultan position was given to Hamad bin Thuwaini, a supporter of British imperial control. His assassination ultimately led to the Anglo-Zanzibar war.
By Madison Moulton
Before the Anglo-Zanzibar War
Before Zanzibar fell under British rule this small island country off the coast of Tanzania was ruled by the Sultans of Oman. The Sultans had expelled some Portuguese settlers in 1698. In the mid-1800s, Zanzibar was declared independent by SultanMajid bin Said. The British Empire recognized this independence and respected the sovereignty of its sultanate, for the most part.
The rising German interest in East Africa led to the two powers contending for trade route rights and territory. In an attempt to prohibit slavery in East Africa, Sultan Khalifah granted Britain land rights to Kenya, while Germany was given Tanganyika. Tensions arose, namely among the Arab ruling classes, who were angered by the disturbances of invaluable trade as a result of the land rights. Making matters worse was Germany’s refusal to fly the flag of the Zanzibar Sultanate. Their refusal to do so and mounting tensions led to several deathly clashes between the local population and German authorities.
Despite the bloody clashes, Khalifah granted extensive trading rights to the Imperial British East India Company (IBEIC). The IBEIC, with the help of Germany, set forth to block the continuing slave trade.
When Khalifah died in 1890, Ali bin Said succeeded him. Sultan Ali banned the sale of slaves (not the ownership of them) and declared Zanzibar a British protectorate, which gave the British veto over any future Sultan. 1890 was the same year that Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty, which established set areas of interest in Zanzibar. Germany relinquished all their rights to the United Kingdom, giving the British even more influence and control over the country.
Hamad bin Thuwaini succeeded Sultan Ali in 1893. His pro-British stance led to many calling him an imperial puppet. Many were concerned over the increasing British control and the loss of the valuable slave trade.
Sultan Hamad died suddenly on 25 August 1896. His nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, quickly succeeded him, accompanied by rumours of assassination. The new Sultan moved into the Zanzibar town palace without British approval. This was a direct contravention of the treaty between Ali and the British authorities. Further, the British preferred a different candidate for Sultan.
Khalid ignored warnings from the British authorities and advisers, gathering an army of loyal followers. Among the many civilians were 700 Zanzibar Askari soldiers. His artillery was just as impressive, consisting of several Maxim machine guns, a Gatling gun, a 17th-century canon and two 12-pounder field guns. These were aimed directly at the harbour holding British ships. They topped off their military power by taking possession of the Zanzibar navy.
In return, the British assembled their own force consisting of 900 Zanzibar Askaris, 150 sailors and marines. A portion of the naval party were to control any riots started by civilians. Another smaller group was tasked with guarding the British citizens who had gathered at the British consulate. The boats on which they arrived were military-grade too.
In-between amassing armies, Sultan Khalid continued to ignore messages of warning from the British authorities, declaring that his official proclamation as Sultan would take place at 15:00. This, as the authorities attempted to reiterate, was an act of rebellion against the crown. Nevertheless, a mere 30 minutes after Sultan Hamad was buried, Khalid was proclaimed the new Sultan of Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the British authorities couldn’t act without government approval. All they could do was insist that all flags should be flown at half-mast (which Khalid refused to do) and to instruct the consuls to not recognise Khalid as Sultan. They agreed.
On 26 August, two more British protected cruisers arrived on the shores of Zanzibar. Onboard were even more marines and soldiers. With the reinforcements came the much-awaited approval telegram from Britain. It stated that the British authorities were authorised the use whatever force and means necessary to remove Khalid from power.
Before they attacked, the authorities attempted to negotiate one last ultimatum – Khalid was to lower his flag and leave the place by 9am the next morning, or they would open fire. Sources say the night that preceded the war was eerily quiet.
The 40-Minute War
An hour before Khalid’s deadline, he sent out a message wishing to parley. However, the consuls declared that his only salvation would be to surrender to the terms of the ultimatum. To which, of course, Khalid stated that he would not, calling the British authorities’ bluff on their threats.
As 09:00 struck, the British ships were ordered to bombard the palace. Two minutes later, two ships simultaneously opened fire on the palace. Almost 3,000 slaves, defenders, and servants were in the palace at the time. Despite the barricades, there were several casualties. Some reports say that Khalid, along with several of his high-class followers, fled the palace the minute the first shot hit. Others state that he remained in the palace for some time before fleeing.
Shelling ceased at approximately 09:40. The palace was in flames, the Sultan’s artillery silenced, and his flag removed.
Approximately 500 Zanzibar civilians were killed or wounded. Most of the dead were from the palace. Exact numbers aren’t known, but Khalid’s artillerymen were apparently decimated. Chaos erupted once more when several townspeople partook in opportunistic looting. 20 more people died as a result, causing the British authorities to send 150 British Sikh troops to restore order.
Khalid and a few of his followers sought refuge in the German consulate, which was heavily guarded. British troops were stationed outside and nearby to capture Khalid and his supporters the minute he left. Meanwhile, the authorities sent extradition requests, but the German Consul refused. He stated that the treaty between Germany and Britain specifically excluded political prisoners. He promised that Khalid would be removed from the country without ever stepping on Zanzibar soil.
The German consul upheld his promise, by bringing a small boat to the edge of the consulate’s gate at high tide. Sultan Khalid stepped directly onto a German boat and was taken to Dar es Salaam in German East Africa. However, he didn’t evade arrest forever.
In 1916, he was captured by British forces during World War I and the East African Campaign. Khalid was exiled to Seychelles and Saint Helena. Afterward, he was allowed to return to East Africa, where he lived out the rest of his life.
Khalid’s civilian supporters weren’t as lucky. The British forced them to pay reparations covering the cost of the short war and for the damage caused by the looting. All of which amounted to 300,000 rupees.
Despite this war being the shortest in history, lasting approximately 38-45 minutes, it was still very bloody.
Articles you may also like
How the Thirty Years’ War Weakened Spain
Reading time: 5 minutes
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) wasn’t a conflict as much as a vortex that sucked every major European power into it only to spit them out battered and bruised a few years later. We have talked about how it started in Prague and how Sweden got involved; in this article, it’s Spain’s turn.
A Cuban Catastrophe: The Bay of Pigs Invasion
Reading time: 11 minutes
The 1959 Cuban Revolution resulted in rule by a communist regime under Fidel Castro. This period also saw counter-revolutionaries forming anti-Castro movements, complicating the already tumultuous political landscape. In 1961 the United States would intervene with a force made up of Cuban exiles, the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion.
The fall of Singapore
THE FALL OF SINGAPORE The Land Campaign Nothing in history is inevitable but the fall of Singapore Island after the defeat of British forces in Malaya came close to it. In December 1941 the Japanese established complete air and naval dominance in the region, sinking the British capital ships thePrince of Walesand theRepulseon 8 December […]
The text of this article was commissioned by History Guild as part of our work to improve historical literacy. If you would like to reproduce it please get in touch via this form.
The British issued an ultimatum to Khālid: either relinquish the throne by 9:00 am on August 27 or be at war with Great Britain. Khālid did not stand down, and the Anglo-Zanzibar War followed. Having lasted less than an hour before Khālid's forces surrendered, it is considered the shortest war in recorded history.Was Zanzibar the shortest war in history? ›
It was over in less than an hour. The Anglo-Zanzibar War is remembered as the shortest war in history, taking place entirely over a period of about 40 minutes on the morning of August 27, 1896.Is the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 the shortest war in history it lasted about 45 minutes? ›
The Anglo-Zanzibar war was fought on August 27, 1896 between the British Empire and the Sultanate of Zanzibar (an island off the coast of Tanzania that was under British dominance) that lasted for only 38-45 minutes, making the war the shortest one ever recorded.What was the shortest war in history lasted 38 minutes? ›
On 27 August 1896, the British Empire went to war with the Zanzibar Sultanate for approximately 38 minutes! It is the shortest war in history. It came about after the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini and his replacement by Sultan Khalid bin Barghash who favoured German interests in the region.What is the shortest war in American history? ›
THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR in 1898 was America's shortest war lasting just 10 weeks. Fought between The United States and Spain, it was sparked by the sinking of the battleship, USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba.What is the world smallest war in history? ›
The British issued an ultimatum to Khālid: either relinquish the throne by 9:00 am on August 27 or be at war with Great Britain. Khālid did not stand down, and the Anglo-Zanzibar War followed. Having lasted less than an hour before Khālid's forces surrendered, it is considered the shortest war in recorded history.What is the deadliest war in history? ›
World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China.What was the longest peaceful war in history? ›
The 335 Year War (as it is now known) was a bloodless conflict between the Netherlands and the tiny Isles of Scilly which began as far back as 1651 during the English Civil War.Was there a war that lasted 100 years? ›
The Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) was a series of conflicts fought between England and France over succession to the French throne.Was the 100 Years war the longest? ›
The struggle between France and England called the Hundred Years' War was the longest war in recorded history. It lasted, with some interruptions, through the reigns of five English kings (Edward III to Henry V) and five French kings (Philip VI to Charles VII). The underlying cause of the war lay in the feudal system.
War is defined as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives. Has the world ever been at peace? Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.What caused the shortest war in history? ›
The conflict lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest recorded war in history. 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.Which battle lasted for almost 11 months the longest of the war? ›
The Battle of Verdun becomes World War I's longest single battle. It lasts nearly a year as the French Army fends off a surprise German offensive that causes mass losses on both sides, with more than 600,000 total casualties.What is America's most forgotten war? ›
The Korean War: 'The Forgotten War'
American troops were sent to support the South and by the time a ceasefire was proclaimed in 1953, over five million soldiers and civilians had died. To this day, a formal peace treaty has not been signed.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 was the shortest and easiest of all American wars.What was the worst war in America? ›
The American Civil War is the conflict with the largest number of American military fatalities in history. In fact, the Civil War's death toll is comparable to all other major wars combined, the deadliest of which were the World Wars, which have a combined death toll of more than 520,000 American fatalities.What is the oldest war in the world? ›
The first war in recorded history took place in Mesopotamia in c. 2700 BCE between Sumer and Elam.What is the oldest war? ›
Historians believe the first war in recorded history took place in Mesopotamia in 2,700 B.C. between the forces of Sumer and Elam. Enembaragesi, the King of Kish, led the Sumerians to victory over the Elamites in that war.What country has won the most wars? ›
According to historian Niall Ferguson, France is the most successful military power in history.What war killed the most humans? ›
Table ranking "History's Most Deadly Events": Influenza pandemic (1918-19) 20-40 million deaths; black death/plague (1348-50), 20-25 million deaths, AIDS pandemic (through 2000) 21.8 million deaths, World War II (1937-45), 15.9 million deaths, and World War I (1914-18) 9.2 million deaths.How many Americans died in ww2? ›
|Country||Military Deaths||Total Civilian and Military Deaths|
Since 1776, the U.S. has been at peace for just one out of every 20 years. Why is the U.S. always fighting?What war lasted 400 years? ›
|War or conflict||Start date||Duration|
|Byzantine–Arab wars||780||400 years|
|Yaqui Wars||1533||396 years|
|Yemeni–Ottoman conflicts||1538||373 years|
|Moroccan–Portuguese conflicts||1415||354 years|
The Roman-Persian Wars lasted an astonishing 681 years, during which time the Romans fought two successive Iranian empires, the Parthian Empire and the Sasanian Empire. The warfare began around 54 B.C.E., when Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus led an invasion of Mesopotamia.Who won more France or England? ›
England have won 17 of their 31 international matches against France, dating back to May 1923. The two teams have met twice in the World Cup, with England winning both encounters: the first a 2-0 victory during England's glorious 1966 campaign, and the second a 3-1 group-stage win over Les Bleus at the 1982 World Cup.How did England lose Normandy? ›
In 1204, in the face of a French invasion, King John of England was obliged to abandon his lands in northern France. After 150 years of Anglo-Norman government, England was severed from Normandy.When did England lose its land in France? ›
In 1337, Edward III had responded to the confiscation of his duchy of Aquitaine by King Philip VI of France by challenging Philip's right to the French throne, while in 1453 the English had lost the last of their once wide territories in France, after the defeat of John Talbot's Anglo-Gascon army at Castillon, near ...Who basically won the 100 Years War? ›
Yes, the French eventually won the Hundred Years' War. Following their defeat at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French soon recovered and won several battles and finally fully defeated the English at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.Which country lost the 100 years war? ›
The addition of cannons to the French army had been a major blow to the English. After 116 years, the Hundred Years' War was over. England lost all its continental possessions except Calais, and France emerged as a strong, centralized state.
You may have noticed that France isn't part of Britain. But at one time the Kings of England ruled enormous chunks of what is now France. The French Connection all began when Duke William of Normandy became King William I of England in 1066.How many wars did America lose? ›
America fought five major wars after 1945 including Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan in addition to some minor wars in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. Except for the Gulf War in 1991, America lost all other wars.How long has America gone without a war? ›
Only 15 Years of Peace In The History of the United States of America.What country never went to war? ›
Sweden and Switzerland are independently of each other famed for their armed neutralities, which they maintained throughout both World War I and World War II. The Swiss and the Swedes each have a long history of neutrality: they have not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 and 1814, respectively.What was the fastest war? ›
It's generous to call the Anglo-Zanzibar War a "war." The entire conflict lasted less than an hour and the victory was ludicrously one-sided, yet this 1896 standoff between the British Royal Navy and a stubborn sultan is commonly cited as the shortest war on record.Did Britain ever lost a war? ›
In 1942, around 100,000 British and Australian troops surrendered to Japan in Singapore despite having a much larger army. Japanese forces took advantage of good intel and poor command on the British side, securing an easy win in what would be remembered as one of the most humiliating defeats in British military ...Is Zanzibar its own country? ›
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous territory in a political union with Tanzania. It has its own parliament and president. 1.3 million people live on the islands.Why did the US have the least amount of casualties in ww1? ›
American losses in World War I, though significant, were modest compared to those of other belligerents. The United States lost comparatively few men because it did not enter the war until 1917, was slow to build a large army in France, and fought in only thirteen major battles.What was the no man's land in ww1? ›
"No Man's Land" was a popular term during the First World War to describe the area between opposing armies and trench lines. How it came to exist and how far it might extend was influenced by a variety of military and topographic factors.What is the secret war in real life? ›
The CIA-organized group of Hmong tribesmen fighting in the Vietnam War is known as the "Secret Army", and their participation was called the Secret War, where the Secret War is meant to denote the Laotian Civil War (1960–1975) and the Laotian front of the Vietnam War.
The last time America declared war was during World War II. The Korean War, the War in Vietnam, and the extended campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were never stamped with congressional declarations of war.How many wars has America seen? ›
This is a list of wars and rebellions involving the United States of America. Currently, there are 105 wars on this list, 4 of which are ongoing.What is the most famous war in American history? ›
World War II (1939-1945)Which was the deadliest single battle of the American Revolution? ›
The bloodiest battle by the number of deaths in the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Camden where 68 British soldiers lost their life and between 800 and 900 Americans lost theirs. The battle was one of many the British won shortly after the Siege of Charleston that ended on May 12, 1780.What was the most important war for America? ›
The Revolutionary War was a war unlike any other—one of ideas and ideals, that shaped “the course of human events.” With 165 principal engagements from 1775-1783, the Revolutionary War was the catalyst for American independence.What was the bloodiest day in American history? ›
Regardless of what you call it, the Civil War battle that took place on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1862, remains the bloodiest day in American history. The most accurate estimate comes in at 22,717 casualties — 12,401 Union soldiers and 10,316 Confederates.What soldier has the most kills? ›
Charles Benjamin "Chuck" Mawhinney (born 1949) is a former United States Marine who holds the Corps' record for the most confirmed sniper kills, having recorded 103 confirmed kills and 216 probable kills in 16 months during the Vietnam War.What was the most deaths in one day in history? ›
The day with the most deaths in human history was 23 January 1556. That was the day of the Shaanxi earthquake in China, which killed about 830,000 people.How long did the Zanzibar Revolution last? ›
To understand the Zanzibari Revolution, one must first understand Zanzibari history, something that is highly contested on the islands. for independence. The period is often defined as 1957 – January 12, 1964 (the Revolution), although some more broadly define it as the post-WWII era.What is the quick history of Zanzibar? ›
In 1963, Zanzibar was granted independence as a member of the Commonwealth with a ruling Sultan. However, in 1964, the government in Zanzibar was overthrown by a revolution led by 600 Zanzibaris. The Sultan was deposed, and a new People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba was proclaimed.
They proceeded to loot Arab and South Asian-owned properties and businesses and then rape or murder Arab and Indian civilians on the island. The death toll is disputed, with estimates ranging from several hundred to 20,000. The moderate ASP leader Abeid Karume became the country's new president and head of state.How long did England and Zanzibar last? ›
It's generous to call the Anglo-Zanzibar War a "war." The entire conflict lasted less than an hour and the victory was ludicrously one-sided, yet this 1896 standoff between the British Royal Navy and a stubborn sultan is commonly cited as the shortest war on record.How many slaves went through Zanzibar? ›
Every year, about 40,000-50,000 slaves were taken to Zanzibar. About a third went to work on clove and coconut plantations of Zanzibar and Pemba while the rest were exported to Persia, Arabia, the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.What language do they speak in Zanzibar? ›
Swahili is the principal language in Zanzibar and Pemba. The classical dialect is Kiunguja.What is Zanzibar known for? ›
Zanzibar is the home of idyllic beaches, balmy weather & warm tropical waters. This archipelago is renowned for clear warm waters, coral reefs and rich marine diversity making it a perfect under-water destination for snorkelling and diving.When did slavery end in Zanzibar? ›
e last permanent slave market in East Africa was in Zanzibar (Tanzania) and was closed in 1873. In 1879, British missionaries built Christ Church Cathedral at the site, and today it is the most significant marker of what occurred at this place.Which country owns Zanzibar? ›
The Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous province of Tanzania.What nationality is Zanzibar? ›
Today, Zanzibar is inhabited mostly by ethnic Swahili. There are also a number of Arabs, as well as some ethnic Persian, Somalis, and Indian people.Where did the slaves from Zanzibar go? ›
The Slaves were brought to the coast and from there to the spice island of Zanzibar and many were sold further to the Arab countries, Persia, and India, Mauritania and Reunion.Who brought Islam to Zanzibar? ›
Some suggesting that Islam was brought through Arab traders from the southern part of the Arabic peninsula, others consider the spread was initiated by groups of Zaidites from Ethiopia and Somalia, and a third group suggest that Islam came via Persia.
By the 19th century, the Zanzibar Sultanate stood out for being the main slave market in Eastern Africa due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. It is estimated that between 1830 and 1873, around 600,000 people were sold as merchandise and thousands of other people visited the place temporarily.Why did Britain bombard Zanzibar? ›
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. The British authorities preferred Hamoud bin Mohammed, who was more favourable to British interests, as sultan.What happened in Zanzibar in 1964? ›
The Zanzibar Révolution of 1964, the most violent outbreak of anti-Arab violence in postcolonial African history, led to the demise of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his Arab government and the merging of the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba with the then-British colony of Tanganyika into the nation of Tanzania.Did Britain own Zanzibar? ›
The island of Zanzibar, now a part of Tanzania, was a nineteenth century East African trading empire that fell under the domination of the British who controlled it until the mid-twentieth century. Zanzibar is the leading producer of cloves in the world, which earned it the nickname “Spice Island.”