Accomplishments and Records

Shortest War Raged For 44 Minutes

What can you do with 45 minutes? You might watch an hour-long television program by skipping the commercials. You could walk three miles at an average pace. Your time could be spent whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

You might choose to be truly creative and stage an accurate recreation of the Anglo-Zanzibar War while making your cookies and bring the bloody conflict to an end before it is time to pull the cookies out of the oven.

Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini ruled over Zanzibar from 1893 to 1896. He cooperated with the colonial administration of the United Kingdom, providing a source of stability in that region.

The Sultan died unexpectedly on August 25, 1896. All the evidence suggests that he was poisoned by his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash. Khalid, who was no Anglophile by any means, declared himself to be the new Sultan. This proclamation sent shockwaves all the way back to London, where the British government saw Khalid’s ascendency as a threat to the interests of the British Empire.

The United Kingdom established a protectorate over Zanzibar in 1890. The agreement with local authorities that governed the relationship required the approval of the British consul of any potential successor to the sultanate. Since Khalid did not seek or obtain this approval, the UK drew a line in the sand. Khalid was handed an ultimatum to abdicate his throne and the palace prior to 9:00 a.m., August 27.

Khalid responded to the ultimatum by fortifying the palace and declaring that he would defend it and his crown to the end. He amassed 2,800 Zanzibaris to defend the palace, most of whom were untrained civilians.

Under the command of Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson and Brigadier-General Lloyd Mathews, British forces were reinforced with three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibari soldiers who remained loyal to the British crown.

The appointed time of 9:00 arrived with no indication that Khalid was willing to surrender. Two minutes later, the Anglo-Zanzibar War broke out.

British bombardment targeted the Sultan’s palace, setting it ablaze. The sultan’s forces, armed with a few artillery pieces and machine guns, fought back, but were hardly a match for the well-trained and superiorly-armed British forces.

The Bombed Remains of the Palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar
The Bombed Remains of the Palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought on the seas, as well. The British fleet opened fire on the Sultan’s royal yacht, the HHS Glasgow and two smaller naval vessels, sending them to the bottom of the sea.

When the Sultan’s flag at his palace fell, combat came to an end. The Anglo-Zanzibar War ended on August 27 at 9:46 a.m., scarcely 44 minutes after it started. It holds the record for the shortest war in history.

Despite the brevity of the war, it was far from bloodless. One British sailor was injured, while the Sultan’s forces sustained about 500 casualties.

A few more details remained to be worked out after the fighting ended. One detail was what to do with the deposed Sultan. Khalid sought asylum from the German government at Germany’s consulate. On October 2, he fled the consulate and went into exile in Dar es Salaam. He lived there until 1916, when he was captured by British forces. He was permitted to live out his days in Mombasa, where he died in 1927.

The other detail, which seems a bit petty, under the circumstances, was the issue of paying for the cost of the war. The British government insisted that the Zanzibar government compensate them for the cost of all the shells they rained down on the palace during the battle. The bill was 300,000 rupees.

5 replies »

    • Thanks! I didn’t know that about Freddy Mercury, but a quick bit of research confirmed your memory. Depending on whom you ask, Zanzibar is a semi-independent province of Tanzania that has been moving steadily toward independence for a long time. It is also the locale for the 1941 movie “Road to Zanzibar”, starring the immortal Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.


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