The Shortest War

August is a month full of anniversaries, the start of World War One in 1914, The first atom bomb in 1945, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the Berlin Wall goes up in 1961 – to name a few.   But an interesting anniversary is the Anglo-Zanzibar War.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar, an island country in the Indian Ocean.  The ‘War’ was fought on 27 August 1896 and lasted for just 38 minutes and is recognised as the shortest war in history.

The cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan two days earlier and the subsequent succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. The British authorities preferred an alternative, Hamud bin Muhammed, as he was more favourable to British interests.

The Sultan's Palace after the bombardment

The Sultan’s Palace after the bombardment

In accordance with an earlier treaty, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate obtain the permission of the British Consul; Khalid had not obtained such permission and the British sent an ultimatum to Khalid demanding that he order his forces to stand down and he leave the palace. In response Khalid mobilised his palace guard and barricaded himself inside the palace.

The British ultimatum expired at 0900 local time on 27 August; by this time the British had gathered a small naval force and a contingent of pro-British Zanzibari troops.

The British bombardment opened just two minutes later at 0902; this set the palace on fire and destroyed a defending shore battery.  Then followed a brief naval exchange as the British sunk the Zanzibari royal yacht and two other  vessels.  Following this the pro-British Zanzibari troops marched on the palace; as they approached they were fired on, but at 0940 the flag over the palace was shot down and fire ceased, ending the ‘War’.