The shortest war in history (27 August 1896 – for 38 minutes)

The Anglo-Zanzibar War took place on 27 August 1896, lasting only 38 minutes before Sultan Khalid bin Barghash surrendered.

In 1890 Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty drawing up spheres of influence between the imperial powers in East Africa; Zanzibar was ceded to British influence, whilst Germany was given control over mainland Tanzania.

With this new found influence, Britain declared Zanzibar a protectorate of the British Empire and moved to install their own ‘puppet’ Sultan to look after the region. Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had been a supporter of the British in the area, was given the position in 1893.

After the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwani on 25 August 1896 the British demanded that Hamud bin Muhammed be the new Sultan.  Khalid bin Barghash barricaded himself in the palace when the British sent an ultimatum demanding that his forces stand down and that he leave the palace.

The Zanzibar palace in the 1880s.

The Zanzibar palace in the 1880s.

The ultimatum expired at 09:00 on 27 August, by which time the British had gathered their little navy in the Zanzibar harbour under the command of Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson.  The Zanzibari civilian army was commanded by the First Minister of Zanzibar, Brigadier-General Lloyd Mathews. A bombardment at 09:02 set the palace on fire and disabled Zanzibar’s defences.

The royal yacht, HHS Glasgow, was sunk by the British together with two smaller vessels.  The palace flag was shot down.  Fire ceased at 09:40. There were about 500 Zanzibari casualties and one British casualty.

Sultan Khalid received asylum in the German consulate, and the British placed Sultan Hamud at the head of a puppet government, starting a period of strong British influence.  Khalid was smuggled out of the consultate to modern day Tanzania.  In 1916 Britain invaded East Africa, captured Khalid, and sent him to exile on St Helena.  He was eventually repatriated to East Africa where he died in 1927.

The Zanzibar palace after 38 minutes of British fire.

The Zanzibar palace after 38 minutes of British fire.


About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
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