The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 has the odd distinction of being the shortest war in the history of the world: it was over in under an hour, with some estimates placing it at 38 minutes. Quite a different span of time when compared to the likes of the Thirty Years’ War or the Hundred Years’ War.
The conflict arose when the sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini died in August 1896, with his successor being a non-British choice. The British harked back to an earlier peace treaty from a decade previously in which the agreement of the empire was needed in order to appoint the next sultan. This was the period when the British Empire was in full-swing, and it wasn’t about to be over-powered by a smaller nation. An ultimatum was sent to the sultan’s successor, Khlaid bin Barghash, to stand down and end his reign; Khalid decided to ignore the British requests and subsequently barricaded the palace with his supporters.
Under the command of Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson the British gathered together a force of three cruisers and two gunboats and began to bombard the barricades shortly after the ultimatum ended at 9 A.M. Such was the success of this barrage that the palace surrendered a mere forty minutes later.
Despite this short space of time, there were casualties. Although only one British sailor was injured, the sultan’s causalities are estimated at five hundred. Khalid scarpered and made for German East Africa, whilst the British got their way by placing their own candidate as the new sultan.
The Anglo-Zanzibar War rarely gets a mention in the history books, but it is an interesting case study of providing yet another example of Britain throwing its weight around and ignoring the motives and desires of the peoples they controlled. Of course, it could do this during the 19th Century when it ‘ruled the waves’, but come post-1945 the game would noticeably change. Eventually, the Empire found that it was unable to dampen the strength of nationalist waves across the world, with the Suez Crisis of 1956 acting as a counter-point to the Zanzibar war incident.