The Shortest War in History

Lasting just 38 minutes, the shortest war in recorded history occurred in which location?

And the answer: Zanzibar.

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Occurring in 1896, the Anglo-Zanzibar War was a brief conflict between the British Empire and the East African island of Zanzibar. When the ruling sultan died, a prince took his place in the palace, ignoring the British demand for a different successor. The Royal Navy reacted by opening fire on the palace, and the prince escaped, ending the war.

For 160 years, Zanzibar was ruled by the Omani Sultan from thousands of miles away. For the 200 years preceding that, it was Portugal that ruled Zanzibar from afar. Finally, in 1856, Zanzibar was able to gain a level of independence from these forces to form their own Sultanate. Unfortunately, though, this move caught the attention of Britain.

At first, Britain acted with seeming benevolence. After Britain recognized the island's sovereignty, the Sultanate of Zanzibar granted the rights of its Kenyan territory to the British and the rights to Tanzania to Germany. However, both European forces had their eyes set on the island of Zanzibar itself. Britain wasted no time, and declared the island of Zanzibar a British Protectorate.

Under the Protectorate, the British-installed Sultanate banned slave trade. This infuriated much of the community, and a coup attempt installed a new Sultan who was in favor of its reinstatement. Threatened, the British gave the new Sultan a two-day ultimatum to stand down and surrender. He refused.

On August 27, 1896, the British ultimatum expired, and the shortest war in history began. Anticipating the Sultan's refusal, the British had assembled a fleet of three cruisers and two gunboats in the harbor directly adjacent to the palace, inside which the Sultan had barricaded himself. A total of 1,050 men assembled on behalf of the British, while around 3,000 stood for the Sultan. Within minutes of open fire, the palace caught fire and much of the Sultan's defense had been lost. Within 38 minutes, the war was over. While only a single injury was registered for the British side, more than 500 Zanzibarians lost their lives.

Learn more about the world's shortest war here.

Photo credit: Audley Travel.

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