The 38-Hour Anglo-Zanzibar War

The world's shortest war, a conflict between the United Kingdom and the Sultanate of Zanzibar, lasted just 38 hours and 45 minutes.

Zanzibar (Now a Semi-Autonomous Region of Tanzania)

The basis of the Anglo-Zanzibar War was related to the death of pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on August 25, 1896 and the succession of his nephew, the less-accommodating Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. The British preferred a more pliable replacement-Sultan in the person of Hamoud bin Mohammed. The Treaty of June 1890 established British dominion over the Zanzibar Protectorate. A key provision of the treaty gave the British Consul the right of approval over any succession plans. The British considered failure to seek their approval to be casus belli (a cause for war).

The British consul, Basil Cave, and Lloyd Matthews, the British-born Brigadier General and First Minister of Zanzibar, ordered the forces of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash to stand down and to vacate the palace. The Sultan's Palace is one of the main historical structures of Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is a three-story building located on the water front and exposed to naval gunfire from the harbor.

The British ultimatum was delivered with a deadline. When it expired without a response, the British forces under command of Rear Admiral Harry Rawson, consisting of two cruisers (HMS Philomel and the heavily-armed flagship, HMS St. George), two gunboats (HMS Thrush and HMS Sparrow) and the small cruiser (HMS Raccoon), 180 British marines and 900 pro-British Zanzibaris, led by Lloyd Matthews, were assembled in the harbor. The pro-Kahlid forces numbered 2,800 poorly-armed Zanzibaris, primarily civilians, and several small artillery pieces. At 0900 on the morning of August 27, 1896 the British ships Thrush, Sparrow, and Raccoon opened fire simultaneously, setting the palace ablaze and disabling the small artillery pieces. As the British bombardment commenced, the Zanzibar yacht, Glasgow, opened fire on the St. George and was immediately sunk by return fire along with small two steam-launches. At 0946, British troops took down the Zanzibar flag flying over the palace and the war abruptly ended.

The Sultan's Palace (August 27, 1896)

Overall, the Sultan's forces suffered 500 casualties, while only one British petty officer onboard the Thrush suffered a non-fatal wound. Sultan Khalid bin Barghash sought refuge in the German Consulate before eventually escaping to German East Africa (modern day Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Kionga Triangle later incorporated into Mozambique). The British moved quickly to place Hamoud bin Mohammed in power. For all practical purposes, the war marked the end of the Sultanate and ushered in a period of heavy British influence.

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