The Shortest War in History
Flag of the Sultanate of Zanzibar

The Shortest War in History

By Zirbo | World Wide Stories | 22 Jan 2021

War, war never changes, but then again sometimes it does! When we think of war, we usually think of a violent conflict that lasts months or years, fought between two or more sides. Some wars have lasted decades or even over a century! But the Anglo-Zanzibar War definitely doesn't fit this profile.

The island of Zanzibar has historically had a lot of trouble staying independent. First it was ruled by the Portuguese for about 200 years, after that the Omani empire took over for 160 years, and when it finally gained its independence in 1856 as the Sultanate of Zanzibar, the British Empire got curious about the country.


At first Britain acted friendly towards the new nation by recognizing its sovereignty, but they were worried about Germany entering the region and competing there for influence.

The third sultan of Zanzibar eventually granted the rights over his Kenyan territory to the British, but granted the rights over his Tanzanian territories to the Germans. But what both empires were really after was the grand prize of Zanzibar island itself!


The British acted quickly, and in 1890 just simply declared that Zanzibar was now officially a British protectorate. By 1893 they had installed a pro-British sultan to head their puppet government, who made the unforgivable mistake of banning slavery!


The British had already mostly banned the ownership and trade of slaves across the empire at this point in time, but a lot of people in Zanzibar were very upset by this decision.

They were so angry that they formed an underground resistance of slave masters and owners, which began planning a rebellion to take back the island. Then in 1896, after a few years of plotting, the sultan unexpectedly died. Most likely this was due to a poisoning, and it's widely believed that his cousin Khalid is responsible for this.

The British had already picked the next successor to the previous sultan, but before they could act, the sultan's cousin took his chance and barricaded himself inside the palace, together with 3000 of his loyal followers.


Part of the problem with this was that when Zanzibar became a British protectorate, one of the rules was that whoever became sultan needed to get approval from the British consulate first.

The sultan's cousin obviously didn't care for that, and then demanded the total freedom and independence of Zanzibar. But before you think that Khalid is the hero of this story, he mostly wanted Zanzibar to become independent so he could reinstate slavery and the slave trade!

The British took this as an act of war, and gave him a two day ultimatum to stand down and surrender. Khalid of course refused this, and on the 27th of August 1896, the ultimatum expired and the war had begun.

The British expected Khalid to reject their ultimatum from the beginning, so they had assembled a naval force of three cruisers and two gunboats, right in front of the sultan's palace, where Khalid had barricaded himself inside.


The British side consisted of 150 British marines and sailors, and 900 pro-British Zanzibari troops. On the other side Khalid had amassed a force of 3000 men, which sounds impressive, but this army was mostly made up of slaves, peasants, servants, and the palace guard.

They also had some artillery pieces and machine guns, and also a yacht which ironically had been donated earlier to Zanzibar by the British, that had been converted into a makeshift gunboat.


Just two minutes after the ultimatum had expired, at 9:02 am, the British ships began a bombardment of the wooden palace, which quickly set it on fire. All the outdated artillery pieces were quickly destroyed, and the Zanzibari yacht attempted a suicide run on one of the British ships. However it was sunk before it could reach any of the ships, and the survivors were rescued by the British fleet.

After the bombardment basically destroyed the entire palace, the pro-British Zanzibari troops stormed the palace and took it back with minimal fighting. Just 38 minutes after the first shot had been fired, the war was already over!


The Zanzibari side suffered about 500 casualties, dead and wounded, mostly from the bombardment. While on the British side only one person was injured.

Khalid had fled from the palace the moment the first shells were fired, and found refuge in the German consulate. From here he escaped to German East Africa, but the story doesn't end there!

He was eventually found and captured by the British during the first World War. After which he was exiled to Saint Helena, the same island that they had exiled Napoleon to a century earlier.

After the war the British installed yet another puppet ruler as the sultan, and Zanzibar remained a British protectorate for the next 67 years.


Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this story!


I'm interested in anything crypto and I want to help people explore cryptocurrency!

World Wide Stories
World Wide Stories

Interesting stories from all over the world!

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.