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Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in History

Anglo-Zanzibar War: The Shortest War in History

Mükremin Ümit Gül

In the annals of military history, there exist battles that stretch on for years, decades even, as nations grapple with conflicts that seem to have no end in sight. Yet amidst this tapestry of enduring strife, there exists a singular, almost mythical event – the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896. It stands as a stark contrast to the longest wars in history with its brevity measured not in years, but in minutes.

In the span of less than 40 minutes, this remarkable confrontation between the British Empire and the Sultanate of Zanzibar rewrote the record books for brevity in warfare. How did a war so short come to be, and what lessons can be gleaned from this astonishing historical anomaly?

Anglo-Zanzibar War: Background

On 25 August 1896, the pro-British Sultan of Zanzibar, Hamad bin Thuwaini, died a mysterious death. Some sources claim that it was his cousin Khalid bin Barghash who killed him by poisoning. As a result, Khalid took over the throne and proclaimed himself as Sultan.

The British did not recognise Khalid’s succession as they supported Hamoud bin Mohammed who was more favourable to British interests. On the other hand, according to the agreement of 14 June 1890, Zanzibar was considered a protectorate of Britain. As per the terms of the agreement, the new Sultan was obliged to obtain permission from the British consul, but Khalid did not do that.

British Ultimatum to Khalid

As a matter of fact, Britain considered this a Casus Belli and issued an ultimatum to Khalid to withdraw by 09:00 local time on 27 August. Khalid did not respond and set up to make his defences in the palace. He put his royal guards on the highest alert. Machine guns and small artillery pieces were pointed towards the British ships anchored at sea.

The Fight Begins

At around 09:02 on 27 August 1896, the British Royal Navy started bombarding the Palace and its surroundings. A short naval clash erupted, which resulted in the sinking of the Zanzibari royal yacht HHS Glasgow.

Destroyed Palace and other buildings after the attack in the Anglo-Zanzibar War | Wikimedia

Meanwhile, the bombardment of the Palace continued and British and colonial troops marched towards the Palace. Fighting occurred in and around the Palace. The fighting ceased at around 09:40. Among the rubble lay several hundreds of Zanzibari soldiers and civilians. The British suffered only one casualty.

Khalid is ousted

Khalid bin Barghash, now the ousted Sultan, took refuge in the German consulate. Germany granted him political asylum in Dar-es-Salaam, German East Africa. The British appointed the pro-British Hamoud bin Mohammed as a puppet Sultan and forced the Zanzibaris to pay for the costs of ammunition used in the shortest war in history.

38-Minute War

The lesson gleaned from the astonishingly short Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 is one of diplomacy and imperial power. In this fleeting conflict, the British Empire, with its formidable naval presence, demonstrated its ability to assert dominance swiftly and decisively.


Battle/WarAnglo-Zanzibar War
BelligerentsUnited Kingdom
Sultanate of Zanzibar
Date27 August 1896
LocationIsland of Zanzibar
Leaders/CommandersHarry Rawson (UK)
Khalid bin Barghash (Zanzibar Sultanate)
ResultBritish Victory

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 02:14 am

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