The Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in Recorded History (2023)

It was over in less than an hour.

By

Lee D'Amato | Published Jan 19, 2023

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. Even though it was over quickly, it had wide-ranging consequences, resulting in hundreds of deaths and changing the face of the Zanzibari government.

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The island of Zanzibar, which is now part of Tanzania, was by 1896 a small nation of its own. It had won its independence from Oman in 1858, and was thereafter ruled by a sultanate from a large palace complex in its capital city of Zanzibar Town. Despite its recognition of Zanzibar’s independence, the United Kingdom disapproved of the continued legality of slavery there. In 1873, they used threat of force to convince Zanzibar’s second sultan, Barghash bin Said al-Busaidi, to abolish the slave trade—although slave ownership remained commonplace.

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(Video) The Anglo Zanzibar War - The Shortest War in History

At the same time, European governments and commercial enterprises alike were scrambling for control of Africa. Rich in not only useful natural resources like rubber, tin, and tea, but also luxury goods like ivory and diamonds, Africa’s coastal cities could serve as profitable trading posts for the squabbling European merchants. The United Kingdom already controlled large swathes of Africa by the late 1800s, but Germany, too, was interested in claiming Zanzibar for its own.

In 1890, this dispute ended with the signing of the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty and the ascension of Sultan Ali bin Said. Per the treaty, Britain granted Germany some small territories and the right to conquer the coastal city of Dar es Salaam undisturbed by the British. In turn, Britain received the protectorate of a region called Wituland along Kenya’s coast, and Germany’s promise not to interfere in British actions in Zanzibar. The newly appointed sultan was soon made to accept the British protectorate over Zanzibar.

When Sultan Ali bin Said died in 1893, the British considered Barghash’s son Khalid for the sultanate. Amid concerns over Khalid’s quick temper, they chose the level-headed, pro-British Hamad bin Thuwaini instead. Khalid, believing he had been denied his birthright, attempted to storm the palace and take the sultanate for his own. He was immediately arrested, but his ambition would not end there.

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Sultan Hamad ceded further control to the British over his three-year reign, allowing them direct control over the Zanzibari military and police force. This proved an unpopular decision, so Hamad worried for his safety. The British government made provisions for Zanzibari sultans to establish a bodyguard force of 1,000 men. Although they protected Hamad, his bodyguards provoked further violence, often getting into scrapes with the British-appointed police.

(Video) Anglo-Zanzibar War: History's Shortest War

The sultan died without warning on August 25, 1896. Although it can’t be proven, many suspect he was poisoned by the envious Khalid. The British nominated Hamoud bin Mohammed, the son of an Omani sultan, for the Zanzibari sultan’s throne. Khalid, likely still bitter from his failed 1893 coup, made his move. He strode boldly into the palace complex, and announced that he was to declare himself sultan.

Immediately, Khalid received warnings from two British officials. Basil Cave, the British Consul to Zanzibar, and Lloyd Mathews, Brigadier-General and First Minister of Zanzibar, advised him to take back his proclamation. Undeterred, Khalid began mustering his forces. He banded together some 2,800 supporters, drawing from the palace guard and sympathetic civilians. Khalid holed himself up in the palace complex, armed with a handful of machine guns, field guns, and one antique cannon, most of which had been diplomatic gifts. He also commandeered the Zanzibari navy, which consisted of a single sloop: the HHS Glasgow.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in Recorded History (1)

Cave and Mathews responded in kind. Their fighting force was smaller: just 900 locals on the ground, 150 British sailors and marines in the harbor, and a handful of smaller contingents scattered around the town, charged with guarding the British consulate and harbor. Their greatest strength would prove to be their access to more ships than Khalid, including two cruisers and three armed-to-the-teeth gunboats.

Cave sent a second warning to Khalid, who responded by swearing to declare himself sultan by 3:00 PM. When Khalid made good on that promise, Cave telegraphed London, requesting permission to use force if diplomatic negotiations failed. He received it on August 26, 1896, and sent Sultan Khalid an ultimatum: his flags must come down and he and his men vacate the palace by 9:00 AM the following morning, or the British ships would open fire.

At 8:00 AM on the morning of August 27, Khalid sent a messenger to Cave asking to resume negotiations. Cave refused unless Khalid agreed to honor his terms, which Khalid would not.

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The moment the clock struck nine, Brigadier-General Mathews gave the order to fire. The ships in harbor waited an additional two minutes to see if Khalid would emerge but, when he didn’t, rained hell upon the palace complex. With the very first shot from the gunboat HMS Thrush, one of Khalid’s sparse cannons was destroyed. Khalid fled the palace early in the fighting—some sources say at the first shot. Soon the palace, which was occupied by some 3,000 servants, bodyguards, and slaves, began to burn.

Some of Khalid’s men struck at the British land forces, but to little avail. The HHS Glasgowengaged the HMS St Georgein the harbor, but return fire from the St Georgealmost instantly wrecked the Glasgow. Since the water off the harbor was so shallow, the Glasgowonly sank halfway. Her crew was able to survive by climbing the masts and awaiting rescue.

Khalid arrived safely at the German consulate, which agreed to shelter him. As Germany’s sole sphere of influence in the British protectorate of Zanzibar, Cave and Mathews had no jurisdiction there. However, Mathews posted men just outside the consulate’s grounds so he could arrest Khalid the moment he stepped on Zanzibari soil.

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(Video) The Shortest War in History: The Anglo-Zanzibar War

Khalid never did, however. The Imperial German Navy dispatched the SMS Seeadler to Zanzibar Town, instructing her crew to pull in close to the consulate grounds during high tide. Khalid managed to step directly from German territory onto a German ship, so he never again set foot in Zanzibar and couldn’t be arrested for his coup. He fled to Dar es Salaam, by then the capital of German East Africa, where he lived until he was captured by British troops during World War I and exiled from the continent. Khalid spent the rest of his life petitioning the British government to allow his return. In 1927, Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State to the Colonies, granted his wish and allowed him to live out his remaining days in Mombasa.

When Khalid fled, his supporters in Zanzibar were left to foot the bill, to the tune of 300,000 rupees in reparations. 500 died from the heavy shelling, most of them in the ensuing palace fire. The destruction of the palace’s fortifications led to opportunistic looting; a further 20 were killed by the British troops sent to deter this.

Shortly after the war, Britain officially crowned Hamoud bin Muhammed the sultan of Zanzibar. Zanzibar would remain a protectorate, although Britain had more control over its government than ever. It was less expensive that way; allowing Zanzibar to remain nominally independent meant that Britain wouldn’t have to fund it as they would a colony. Shortly after his coronation, Hamoud finally abolished slavery in Zanzibar.

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(Video) The Shortest War: The Anglo Zanzibar War. - Military History Animated.

While many in Zanzibar were punished, Basil Cave and Lloyd Mathews benefited greatly from their actions in the 40 minutes’ war. Cave was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, and soon promoted to consul-general. Sultan Hamoud appointed Mathews to Zanzibar’s Grand Order of Hamondieh, and went on to become the nation’s First Minister and Treasurer.

There would never be another rebellion against British rule in Zanzibar—they quietly ended the protectorate in 1963. The following year, Zanzibar’s majority Black African population rose up to overthrow the majority Arab ruling class. The revolutionaries deposed the final sultan, Jamshid bin Abdullah, establishing the People's Republic of Zanzibar. Within the year, Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form the nation of Tanzania, of which it remains part today.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was caused by one man’s unchecked ambition butting up against colonialist entitlement. It lasted just 40 short minutes, but directly caused an end to slavery in Zanzibar. It also resulted in Britain tightening its grip on the small island nation—only now it was hidden behind a puppet regime. The Anglo-Zanzibar War was brief and bloody, but its effects would be felt for generations to come.

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(Video) The Shortest War in History, The Anglo-Zanzibar War

FAQs

The Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in Recorded 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.

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 the shortest war in the history lasting less than 45 minutes? ›

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The conflict lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest recorded war in history.

What happened in the Anglo-Zanzibar War? ›

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 quickest war in history? ›

The little known Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 is generally considered to be the shortest war in history, lasting for a grand total of 38 minutes. The story begins with the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty between Britain and Germany in 1890.

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 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.

What was the shortest war in history how long did it last? ›

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.

What is the longest war in English history? ›

Some historians consider England's Scilly conflict to be the longest war in known history, dragging on for a staggering 335 years. Yet one side was not a country in its own right, there were no casualties for the entire duration, and not a single shot was fired.

What was the longest war in ancient history? ›

The longest war in history is believed to be the Reconquista (Spanish for Reconquest), with a duration of 781 years.

Who won the Anglo war? ›

England declared war in March 1665 and won a decisive victory over the Dutch off Lowestoft in June.

Why was Zanzibar important to the British Empire? ›

The United Kingdom's early interest in Zanzibar was motivated by both commerce and the determination to end the slave trade. In 1822, the British signed the first of a series of treaties with Sultan Said to curb this trade.

What caused the Zanzibar Revolution? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Zanzibar Revolution was the result of ethnic tension. Zanzibar was ruled by an Arab Sultan and had an Arab minority elite, but a strong majority of the country were ethnic Africans. The ruling party in Zanzibar was the Arab-led, Zanzibar Nationalist Party.

Who won the shortest war in history? ›

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.

When was the worst war ever? ›

Wars and armed conflicts
EventLowest estimateEnd
World War II70,000,0001945
Mongol invasions and conquests30,000,0001405
Taiping Rebellion20,000,0001864
European colonization of the Americas8,400,0001691
44 more rows

What is the fastest war in the US? ›

U.S. War and Peace

The period of time between wars has varied, with the longest being between the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War (about 45 years), and the shortest being between the Korean and Vietnam War (only one year).

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.

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.

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 Zanzibar called now? ›

In 1964 Zanzibar, together with Pemba Island and some other smaller islands, joined with Tanganyika on the mainland to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

What is Zanzibar also known as? ›

Zanzibar is popularly known as the "spice islands.” Zanzibar is located about 30Km off the coast of mainland Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is actually an archipelago with the two main Islands of Zanzibar (also known as Unguja, the larger one) and Pemba (the smaller of the two).

What was Zanzibar formerly known as? ›

In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains an autonomous region.

What is the shortest war in the world list? ›

Shortest Wars In Human History
  • Falklands War, 1982 (10 weeks) ...
  • Polish-Lithuanian, 1920 (37 days) ...
  • Second Balkan, 1913 (43 days) ...
  • Greco-Turkish, 1897 (34 days) ...
  • Sino-Vietnamese, 1979 (27 days) ...
  • Georgian-Armenian, 1918 (25 days) ...
  • Serbo-Bulgarian, 1885 (15 days) ...
  • Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (14 days)

When did the Anglo-Zanzibar War end? ›

What if Zanzibar won the Anglo-Zanzibar War? ›

Khalid bin Barghash would remain in power as Sultan of Zanzibar, at least for the moment. Given that he probably murdered the previous sultan (his cousin) in order to seize power, it's not unlikely that there would be a coup or civil war in Zanzibar, perhaps led by Hamoud bin Mohammed.

What war took 100 years? ›

The Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) was a series of conflicts fought between England and France over succession to the French throne. It lasted 116 years and saw many major battles – from the battle of Crécy in 1346 to the battle of Agincourt in 1415, which was a major English victory over the French.

Is there a war that lasted 100 years? ›

The Hundred Years' War (French: La guerre de Cent Ans; Picard: Dgère d'Un Chint An; 1337–1453) was a series of armed conflicts between the kingdoms of England and France during the Late Middle Ages.

Which country has gone the longest without war? ›

Sweden has not been part of a war since 1814. This makes Sweden the nation which has had the longest period of peace. Has adapted policy to protect its interests.

What war lasted 600 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.

What is the longest consecutive war in history? ›

The longest war which could be described as continuous was the Thirty Years War, between various European countries from 1618 to 1648. It ended with the Peace of Westphalia and, as a result, the political map of Europe was radically changed.

Who almost won the war in 1776? ›

Americans: The Americans had limited resources and little chance of winning the war in 1776. They survived the year, gained experience, and surprised the British at year's end.

Did Britain beat America in a war? ›

The American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783), also known as the Revolutionary War or American War of Independence, was the military conflict of the American Revolution in which American Patriot forces under George Washington's command defeated the British, establishing and securing the ...

How many Anglo wars are there? ›

Anglo-Afghan Wars, also called Afghan Wars, three conflicts (1839–42; 1878–80; 1919) in which Great Britain, from its base in India, sought to extend its control over neighbouring Afghanistan and to oppose Russian influence there.

Which country owns Zanzibar? ›

The Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous province of Tanzania.

Who controlled Zanzibar? ›

Sultanate of Zanzibar, 19th-century East African trading empire that fell under the domination of the British, who controlled it until the mid-20th century.

Is Zanzibar African or Indian? ›

Zanzibar, Swahili Unguja, island in the Indian Ocean, lying 22 miles (35 km) off the coast of east-central Africa. In 1964 Zanzibar, together with Pemba Island and some other smaller islands, joined with Tanganyika on the mainland to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

How did Zanzibar end? ›

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.

Who helped the revolution in Zanzibar? ›

The leader of Zanzibar's revolution was a Ugandan called John Okello who had been living in Pemba. The local African population supported Okello with great enthusiasm, and went on a rampage through the islands, during which more than 17,000 Arabs and Indians were killed in one night.

Is Zanzibar still a 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.

Who is the undefeated war? ›

Sher Shah Suri - (1486 – 22 May 1545), born Farīd Khān, was the founder of the Suri Empire in India, with its capital in Sasaram in modern-day Bihar. In this seven years of his reign he never lost a battle.

What killed the most humans in history? ›

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.

Who was responsible for the most deaths in history? ›

But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people—easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

What war killed the most people? ›

World War II

The war pitted the Allies and the Axis power in the deadliest war in history, and was responsible for the deaths of over 70 million people. Known for its genocidal campaign against the Jewish people, the war was also responsible for the deaths of more than 50 million civilians.

Why is the US the hardest to invade? ›

Geographic feasibility. Many experts have considered the US practically impossible to invade because of its well-funded and extensive military, major industries, reliable and fast supply lines, large population and geographic size, geographic location, and difficult regional features.

When was the US military at its strongest? ›

Here are how the numbers of active duty military personnel have fluctuated over the past 60 years. The numbers for all services spiked in 1968-69 as U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War reached its peak. All dropped dramatically as that war drew down.

How long has America been at peace? ›

In an almost unbroken stream of wars and fighting, the U.S. expanded from 13 colonies to 50 states. The U.S. has also annexed or conquered five territories. It has military bases in about 80 foreign countries and territories. Since 1776, the U.S. has been at peace for just one out of every 20 years.

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.

How many Arabs died in Zanzibar Revolution? ›

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.

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.

What was the result of the Zanzibar Revolution? ›

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.

What caused Zanzibar revolution? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Zanzibar Revolution was the result of ethnic tension. Zanzibar was ruled by an Arab Sultan and had an Arab minority elite, but a strong majority of the country were ethnic Africans. The ruling party in Zanzibar was the Arab-led, Zanzibar Nationalist Party.

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.

Who brought slaves to Zanzibar? ›

In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultan of Oman. The Portuguese were expelled and a lucrative trade in slaves (started decades earlier by the Portuguese to supply the West Indies), and ivory thrived, along with an expanding plantation economy centring on cloves.

Are people from Zanzibar Arabs? ›

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.

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.

What was the longest war ever? ›

The Battle of Verdun, 21 February-15 December 1916, became the longest battle in modern history.

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.

Has the US ever been at peace? ›

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 is the longest war in US history? ›

Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, outlasting the Civil War, Spanish‐​American War, World War I, World War II, and Korean War combined.

What war lasted 400 years? ›

List of conflicts by duration
War or conflictStart dateDuration
Byzantine–Arab wars780400 years
Yaqui Wars1533396 years
Yemeni–Ottoman conflicts1538373 years
Moroccan–Portuguese conflicts1415354 years
116 more rows

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