What Was The Shortest War In History?: A Look at History’s Shortest Skirmish

Have you heard of a war lasting less than an hour? Surprisingly, history records the shortest war ever fought, lasting just 38-45 minutes!

It’s called the Anglo-Zanzibar War, showcasing colonial power struggles and quick resolution. Let’s dive into this strange but true story!  


The Anglo-Zanzibar War – The Shortest War in History

War usually means long battles and serious effects. But sometimes, history surprises us with short conflicts.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War is one such event, the shortest war known. This article looks into this strange war, discussing why it happened, the losses, and how it affected both sides.

We’ll also see why there was no official peace treaty and if there were more fights later on.

A Brewing Conflict: Seeds of Discord

During the late 19th century, European powers competed for control in East Africa. Britain had a big influence in Zanzibar, strategically placed on the spice trade route.

They had treaties like the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890 that made their control clear.

But inside Zanzibar, there were power struggles. When Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who supported Britain, died in 1896, it caused issues.

Britain wanted Hamoud bin Mohammed to take over, but Khalid bin Barghash, who didn’t like colonial control, staged a coup and became the sultan.

The British, not wanting to give up control, gave Khalid an ultimatum to step down within 48 hours.

When he didn’t, there was a tense standoff that led to the shortest war in history.

What Was The Shortest War In History: A Whirlwind Conflict

At 9:02 AM on August 27, 1896, a British naval fleet attacked the Zanzibar Palace and forts with three cruisers and gunboats.

Despite their brave efforts, the Zanzibari forces were no match for the superior British firepower due to outdated weapons and limited training.

The bombardment lasted just 38 minutes, though some sources mention up to 45 minutes because of differing start and endpoints.

By 9:40 AM, the Zanzibari resistance had collapsed, leaving the iconic palace in ruins.

Casualties and Aftermath

The Anglo-Zanzibar War heavily favored the British. Surprisingly, they had minimal casualties, with only one marine injured by a stray bullet.

In contrast, Zanzibar suffered significant losses, with over 500 soldiers and civilians killed in the bombardment.

After the war, Sultan Khalid bin Barghash fled to the German consulate, while Hamoud bin Mohammed, supported by the British, became the new Sultan swiftly.

Zanzibar lost its autonomy and became a British protectorate, No formal peace treaty was signed after the war.

Zanzibar’s quick defeat and total control by Britain made the treaty unnecessary. British dominance was clear due to their strong military.

Did Further Conflict Erupt?

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was unique; there were no more fights or long conflicts after the quick British win. Their total control kept Zanzibar quiet.

Impact on Both Sides: What Was The Shortest War In History?

For Britain, the Anglo-Zanzibar War showed their power and control over Zanzibar, securing their position in the East African spice trade.

However, they faced criticism for using too much force against a weaker opponent. For Zanzibar, the war was a disaster, ending their independence and starting British colonial rule.

It changed their economy and politics, giving the British a lot of influence.

What Was The Shortest War In History?: Pros and Cons

Looking at the Anglo-Zanzibar War today, we see a mix of good and bad points:


The war was short, so there were fewer casualties and less damage. For Britain, it helped them control an important trade route.


The huge difference in power between Britain and Zanzibar made people question colonial cruelty. Zanzibar lost its independence and was ruled by Britain after the war.

Beyond the Battlefield

The Anglo-Zanzibar War had immediate effects: Britain became dominant, and Zanzibar lost its freedom. But it also led to long-term changes:

Trade Routes Changed: The spice trade declined, so Zanzibar’s importance decreased.

Nationalism Grew: The short war sparked anti-colonial feelings in Zanzibar and other African countries.

Today’s Zanzibar: Zanzibar gained independence in 1963, but British influence remains in its buildings and culture.

Further Exploration

  • Historic UK: The Shortest War in History:
  • Britannica: Anglo-Zanzibar War

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