It began at precisely 9.02am with a bombardment of the royal palace. It ended at 9.40am when the flag was shot down and the besieged defenders capitulated.
At 38 minutes in duration, the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 is the shortest conflict in history.
It was fought between a British army, numbering 1050 men, and a force of Zanzibaris numbering 2,800 men.
|British commander Henry Rawson.|
In no mood for nonsense.
But numbers do not tell the whole story. The British were armed with heavy guns and artillery along with a fleet of naval warships.
Their adversaries had rifles and muskets, many of which were outdated. Their heaviest weapon, a bronze cannon, dated from the 17th century.
The war centred on the sultan’s palace in Zanzibar town. It had been seized by Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, an imposing individual who intended to succeed as ruler of Zanzibar on the sudden (and, some say, suspicious) death of his brother.
The British preferred choice as sultan was Hamud bin Mohammed: he, after all, was far more favorably disposed toward the British overlords.
But Sultan Khalid refused to stand down: he barricaded himself inside the palace and prepared for battle.
The British bombardment began at 09:02: the Racoon, Thrush and Sparrow targeted the palace with a blitz of fire. The Thrush's first shot was particularly lucky as it destroyed one of Khalid’s 12-pounder cannon.
|The sultan's harem: the British put an|
end to the fun and frolics.
The three thousand soldiers and slaves defending the wooden palace were hopelessly outgunned; they had built barricades with crates and boxes but these proved no defense against the British high explosive shells.
In the space of 38 minutes, the British commanders Rear Admiral Henry Rawson and Brigadier General Lloyd Mathews fired 500 shells, 4,100 machine-gun rounds and 1,000 rifle rounds.
The palace was steadily reduced to rubble before spectacularly bursting into flames. According to the Reuters correspondent who was there, Sultan Khalid ‘fled at the first shot with all the leading Arabs, who left their slaves and followers to carry on the fighting.’ The erstwhile sultan was later given asylum by the Germans.
The shelling of the palace came to an end at around 09:40, by which time the palace was in ruins, the enemy guns had been silenced and Sultan Khalid’s standard cut down.
|A job well done: the British were delighted.|
The death toll was as unequal as the battle: 500 Zanzibaris dead, among them most of Khalid’s best gunners who were said to be ‘decimated.’ British casualties were rather lighter - one petty officer was slightly injured and soon recovered.
The British installed their choice of sultan on the throne and congratulated themselves on a job well done.
After 38 minutes, the shortest war in history was over.