The Shortest War in World History, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896
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The Shortest War in World History, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896

In 1896, Britain declared war on Zanzibar as it did not approve of the new sultan Khalid Barghash. This was as per the treaty of 1986, wher the approval of Britain was required for crowning of a Sultan. The war lasted exactly 38 minutes and the Sultan was overthrown. This is the shortest recorded war in world history.

Zanzibar is a small Muslim populated island off the coast of East Africa. It was ruled by sultans of Oman since 1699. In 1858 the sultans of Zanzibar broke from the sultanate of Oman. This was supported by the British.  During this period (late 19th Century) Great Britain and Germany controlled most of East Africa and were rivals for control of trade rights and territory.

 Britain had greater influence and Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1890.  In the same year the on I July 1890 Anglo –German Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty was signed. By this treaty Germany recognized Zanzibar as a British protectorate.

 Britain had earlier in 1886 concluded a treaty with the Sultan Khalifah the Sultan of Zanzibar, which had a clause that any new Sultan appointed in Zanzibar, would be approved by the British,

 Sultan Khalifah died in 1890 and was succeeded by his brother Sultan Hamad bin Thuwani. On 25 August 1896 Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini died suddenly. The British resident suspected that he had been poisoned by his nephew  Khalid bin Barghash bin.

 This man crowned himself as Sultan. The British consul general Basil Cave advised the sultan not to crown himself as they felt that he was not favorably inclined to them. They wished to put on the throne the more amenable Hamud bin Muhammed.

Khalid bin Bargash as Sultan

 Khalid bin Bargash ignored the British advice and on 25 August 1896 at 3pm crowned himself as Sultan. The British considered this an act of rebellion and the seeds were sown for a war between Zanzibar and the British. He also raised the red flag over the palace signifying that a new sultan had been crowned.

 The British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury was apprised of this act of defiance. He authorized the local British agents to act in the best interest of the English and remove Khalid bin Bargash. Earlier Sultan Khalid had attempted to send a message to the queen through the American consul R Dorsey Mohan that he wished to maintain friendship with the British. The message was intercepted by Cave and it never reached the queen.

 Seeds of War

On 27 August 1896 at 7 am acting on the directive of Lord Salisbury, the British naval commander Admiral Harry Rawson sent a message asking the sultan to leave the palace by 9 am.  Sultan Burgash ignored the ultimatum as we learn now on the advice of soothsayers who convinced the sultan that when the British guns open up, they would squirt only water.

 The Force of Sultan Khalid consisted of 2500 volunteer soldiers, who were poorly trained.  In addition he had 4 artillery pieces and one shore battery. He also had a large number of muzzle loading cannons.  The Zanzibar army was commanded by  Brigadier General Lloyd Mathews. The British force consisted of 3 cruisers and 2 gunboats. They a strength of 330 seamen and 120 marines on shore. There over all strength was 1050 with about 500 native troops who were under general Raikes and supported the English. The British warships were docked in Zanzibar harbor.

 As the ultimatum of 9 am approached the British warships trained their guns on the royal palace.

The Shortest War Ever

Britain declared war at 9:00 and at 9:02, the British warships Thrush, Sparrow and Racoon, opened fire on the royal palace Beit al-Hukum. The palace was completely destroyed. Another palace Beit al-Sahel was severely damaged by the shelling.  A third palace the Beit Al-Ajai received minor damage; a light house was completely destroyed.

 There was a small naval action in Zanzibar harbor when HSS Glasgow, a gift from Queen Victoria to Sultan Thuwaini, was sunk with a loss of 9 crewmen, after the ship refused to surrender

During the fighting Barghash fled with some of his senior officers to the German consulate. He entered the consulate at 0935 .The Germans refused to hand over Bargash to the British and granted him asylum  

The End

When the shelling ended by 9:40 the Zsyutan force had suffered approximately 500 casualitiesThe British suffered one wounded. The British promptly crowned Barghash's cousin Hamud bin-Mohamed as sultan. He remained a puppet of the English

 The Fate of Sultan Barghash

 Bergash remained in the German consulate till he was smuggled out of Zanzibar on the German warship 'Seeadler'. He was taken to Dar-Es-Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania on 2 October 1896. In 1916 during the First World War, Great Britain seized Dar es Salaam  and the sultan was captured and exiled to St Helena. He was sent to Mombasa in 1921 and died there in 1927.

 Generally it is accepted that the war lasted 38 minutes. This is calculated  from the time when the actual firing started at 9.02 am and  ended at 0940 when the last shot was fired, making it the shortest war in world history.

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