The shortest war in history lasted 38 minutes.

  • Anglo-Zanzibar War
Anglo-Zanzibar War
CPA Media Pte Ltd/ Alamy Stock Photo

While many wars are waged for years, the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted a mere 38 minutes, making it the shortest war in recorded history. The conflict occurred on August 27, 1896, between the United Kingdom and the Sultanate of Zanzibar. Tensions began in 1890, when the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty granted the British a sphere of influence over the East African island of Zanzibar. Three years later, Britain installed Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini to protect British interests in the region. However, Hamad died in 1896, and was succeeded by his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash, without British approval. Khalid became sultan on August 25, 1896, but was ordered to stand down by British diplomat Basil Cave. Rather than concede, Khalid amassed around 3,000 soldiers to defend the palace using all available artillery. Britain issued an ultimatum to Khalid, demanding that he leave the palace by 9 a.m. on August 27, and when that time passed, war broke out.

The war was over almost as soon as it began, as three British warships — the HMS Racoon, Thrush, and Sparrow — fired on the palace, destroying the majority of Khalid’s artillery within two minutes. Still, the bombardment continued for 38 minutes before stopping, during which Khalid escaped and was eventually smuggled into modern-day Tanzania. The British reclaimed the palace and installed a new sultan; in 1916, British forces captured Khalid in East Africa and he was exiled to the island of Saint Helena.

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