The Anglo-Zanzibar War

When most people think of wars of short duration, they might imagine conflicts that last for several months or just a few weeks. In fact, what is widely considered to be the shortest war in history can be measured in minutes.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War erupted over a dispute in 1896 over who would become the next sultan of Zanzibar. The British had signed a treaty that required whoever ascended to become sultan had to get permission from the British consul. When the Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who was pro-British, died suddenly in 1896 after three years of rule, his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash, immediately moved to take his place. None of this was approved by the British, who wanted a man named Hamud bin Muhammed in this position.

Khalid quickly armed himself in anticipation of a battle. He gathered 3,000 men and a number of weapons, including a guns and a royal yacht, the Glasgow, that had been given as a gift to the previous sultan. The British attempted to negotiate to no avail.

Even as warships assembled in the harbor, Khalid insisted the British would not fire upon his men. He requested a parley, but the British rejected it since he would not agree to the ultimatum. At 9:00 a.m.., the order to open fire was given, and the bombardment began two minutes later. Forty minutes later, the war was over. Khalid’s forces had been destroyed, and he had fled the palace. The British lost one man from a force of 1,000 while Zanzibar lost 500.

Khalid survived the war. He fled to the German consulate where he successfully sought asylum. Meanwhile, Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed went on to rule for six years.