The Victoria Memorial in London. Queen Victoria served as the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland between 1837 till her death in 1901. Photo: Pixabay
The Victoria Memorial in London. Queen Victoria served as the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland between 1837 till her death in 1901. Photo: Pixabay

Zanzibar’s 38-minute war with Britain in 1896 – the shortest war in history

By Crispin Adriaanse Time of article published Sep 23, 2021

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Cape Town - The year is 1896, it is August 27 at just past 9am, and the British Royal Navy stands ready with five ships aimed at the sultan of Zanzibar’s royal palace.

The Anglo-Zanzibar 1896 War is known as the shortest war in the history of the world, and sources differ on the length of the war, putting it at either 38 minutes, 40 minutes or 43 minutes, according to the UK Historical Association (HA).

Leading up to the intense 38 minutes

The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty was signed in 1890 between both Britain and Germany, giving the British rule over Zanzibar and the Germans over Tanzania, digital publication Medium reveals.

Zanzibar, now the semi-autonomous archipelago of Tanzania off Africa’s east coast, was therefore declared a protectorate of the British Empire.

The empire installed Hamid bin Thuwani as Zanzibar’s sultan, due to his “respect” for Britain’s imperialism in 1893, digital publication Historic UK states.

Hamid died three years later on August 25, 1896, with some pointing to cousin Khalid bin Barghash as the possible killer.

Khalid assumed power as Sultan of Zanzibar without Britain’s blessing on the same day as Hamid’s death, and British chief diplomat to Zanzibar Basil Cave demanded that Khalid relinquish power, Medium reveals.

To coerce Khalid to comply, Cave sent three Royal Navy ships to take aim at the palace and requested Her Majesty’s permission to engage, while 3,000 men defended the sultan’s palace.

“You are authorised to adopt whatever measures you may consider necessary, and will be supported in your action by Her Majesty’s Government. Do not, however, attempt to take any action which you are not certain of being able to accomplish successfully,” was the response to Cave on August 26, 1896, as he rounded up another two ships.

An ultimatum was issued at 8am on August 27 to Khalid requesting his surrender, and he was given an hour to do so, UK HA states.

D-day for Zanzibar

Khalid, under the assumption the British were bluffing, had no plans to surrender power, and the 38-minute war kicked off at 9am.

The British opened fire on the palace, killing 500 defenders of the sultan, while one British Navy officer was injured, who later fully recovered.

Out of the rubble of the palace, a white flag was raised and the war was over in less time than Khalid was given to surrender.

It is forever known as the shortest war in history.

African News Agency (ANA)

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