The shortest war in history – just 40 minutes!

The shortest war in history was between the British Empire and the sultanate of Zanzibar. A David and Goliath struggle in which Goliath won – in just over 40 minutes. It was enough time for the British to inflict 500 dead on the enemy while only sustaining a single casualty on their side.

The reason for the shortest war in history was a dispute over the appointment of a new sultan. The previous holder of this title and ruler of the idyllic island off the east African coast had died in rather suspicious circumstances. His nephew then took power. But the local British consul took the view that no new sultan could be appointed until Queen Victoria’s local representative said so.

However, the newly enthroned sultan thought different. He told the British to mind their own business. However, the British felt they were indeed minding their own business. Zanzibar was a protectorate. And the British were intent on protecting Zanzibar from German expansion in Africa. The new sultan wasn’t trusted on the German issue and so had to go.

Neither side was prepared to back down. And so the British embarked on what is euphemistically termed ‘gunboat diplomacy’. That meant positioning three cruisers, two gunboats and 150 marines in the harbour of the sultan’s capital and then bombarding his palace. That kind of diplomacy!

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The sultan responded by firing back with a Gatling gun that – ironically – had been a present from Queen Victoria. He also mustered a 17th century cannon and a couple of field guns. Needless to say, he couldn’t match the firepower of the British Empire.

The war kicked off at 9am and was over by 9.40am – making it the shortest war in history. And it’s the theme of an episode in my new YouTube series, Weird History Facts. Do please watch and enjoy!

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