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Anglo-Zanzibar War: Shortest Conflict in History


Anglo-Zanzibar War: Shortest Conflict in History

The Sultan's Palace after the bombardment, August 27, 1896

Photograph Source: Public Domain



The Anglo-Zanzibar War consisted of one battle lasting approximately 45 minutes.




Believed to be the shortest war in recorded history, the Anglo-Zanzibar War began at 9:00 AM on August 27, 1896, and lasted for 37 to 45 minutes.


Armies & Commanders:


Royal Navy & Loyalist Zanzibar Army


  • General Lloyd Matthews, Zanzibar Army
  • HMS Philomel, HMS Thrush, HMS Sparrow, HMS Racoon, HMS St. George
  • 900+ men


Sultan of Zanzibar


  • Khalid bin Bargash
  • Armed Yacht Glasgow
  • 2,800 men



Conflict Summary:


The Anglo-Zanzibar War commenced after the death of the pro-British sultan of Zanzibar, Hamad bin Thuwaini, on August 25, 1896. Following his death, the sultan's nephew, Khalid bin Bargash seized power in a coup d'état and quickly assembled an army of 2,800 men to defend his new position. This move displeased the British who sought to place Hamud bin Muhammed on throne. On August 26, Bargash and his men fortified the palace while the sultan's armed yacht was anchored in the harbor nearby. To counter his moves, the British quickly assembled five cruisers in the harbor near Bargash's position.



After making contact with the regular Zanzibar Army, commanded by General Lloyd Matthews, a former Royal Navy Lieutenant, the British landed several parties of Royal Marines. At 8:00 AM on August 27, an ultimatum was issued to Bargash ordering him to vacate the palace within one hour or hostilities would commence. Having received no response, the British ships opened fire on the palace at 9:02. Quickly sinking Glasgow, they pounded the palace forcing Bargash to retreat. Fleeing from the palace, he sought asylum in the German consulate. After approximately 45 minutes the shelling stopped.


Aftermath & Impact:


With Bargash removed, Hamud bin Muhammed was able to take power. Largely a British puppet, Hamud ended slavery in Zanzibar and ruled until his death in 1902. After the fighting ended, the British insisted that the Germans turn over Bargash. An international incident was avoided when Bargash escaped to sea on October 2. He was later captured by the British in 1916.

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