The shortest war in history between England and Zanzibar lasted not more than an hour.
To refer to the conflict between England and Zanzibar as a “war” is stretching things a bit. This 1896 standoff between the British Royal Navy and a stubborn sultan is commonly cited as the shortest war in recorded history. Despite the fact that the entire conflict lasted less than an hour and the victory was ridiculously one-sided, this conflict is still considered to be the shortest war in history.
The Shortest war in history
In the 19th century, the Sultanate of Zanzibar was a powerful trading empire in East Africa. Today, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. Ships would leave the ports of Zanzibar with goods from the African mainland such as ivory and spices, and they would return with goods such as textiles and firearms. But the trade in enslaved Africans was Zanzibar’s most profitable business venture.
According to research published in The Historian magazine, as late as the 1880s, Zanzibar was the destination for the sale and transportation of an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 enslaved people. Even as the British attempted to put an end to the practise by conducting raids on suspected slave ships in the Indian Ocean, the Sultan of Zanzibar, who ruled from the royal palace, grew rich off of the slave trade. He did this while the British were trying to end the practise.
Zanzibar was designated as a British “protectorate” in 1890, following the signing of a treaty between Great Britain and Germany that established distinct “zones of influence” in Africa for each of the two imperial nations. Although it was not technically a colony, Zanzibar was still subject to the authority of the British government and military.
This may be Shortest war in history but do you know which are the Top 10 Deadliest wars in history?
The concept of “Gunboat Diplomacy”
Barghash was standing still and doing nothing. He positioned heavy artillery guns and thousands of defenders, the majority of whom were ordinary citizens and slaves, around the walls of the palace. On August 26, at eight in the morning, he conveyed the following message to Basil Cave, the British consul: “We do not believe you would open fire on us, and we do not intend to take down our flag.”
Cave, ever polite, responded that the British would prefer not to attack, “but unless you do as you are told, we will certainly do so.” Cave was very respectful in his response.
The promise that the British had made was kept as soon as the clock struck nine in the morning. The warships immediately began firing on the palace, relentlessly shelling it. It only took 38 minutes (or 42 or 45 according to some accounts) for the sultan’s defences to be completely eradicated from the battlefield. At that point, Barghash had long since vanished from the scene. After the bombardment had been going on for two minutes, he made his way out of the palace and sought refuge in the German consulate. (The German navy eventually managed to smuggle Khalid out of the country and take him to what is now Tanzania.)
For a conflict that lasted for such a short amount of time, there were a disproportionately large number of fatalities. Shelling resulted in the deaths of approximately five hundred Zanzibari fighters, but only a single British sailor was injured.
After the death of Barghash, the British installed a new sultan in Zanzibar in 1897, who promptly made it illegal to engage in the trade of slaves. It would appear that he witnessed what took place with the previous individual. Thus the Shortest war in history ended.
Please subscribe to our Youtube channel and support us build a community of fun facts.