(ORDO NEWS) — The shortest war in history began at 9 am on August 27, 1896. It ended in less than three-quarters of an hour with a shocking 501 soldiers killed and wounded. This is the story of the little-known Anglo-Zanzibar War.
The story begins in 1890 with the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty between Great Britain and Germany. Germany gained control of Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania) and Zanzibar was placed under British influence.
One of Britain’s big plans for Zanzibar was the abolition of slavery, but this angered wealthy merchants and the ruling class, and the Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Ali ibn Said, resisted these orders until his death in 1893.
This was a chance for Britain to install a sultan, Hamad bin Tuwayni, who would be more submissive to imperial rule.
On August 25, 1896, Hamad died suddenly in his palace, which may have been due to his cousin’s order to poison him. A few hours later, this cousin, Prince Khalid bin Barghash, took over as sultan and settled in the palace.
Khalid was a symbol of resistance to European interference in the affairs of the region, and about 3,000 of his soldiers and supporters joined him in the palace.
The British ordered him to yield the throne to his cousin Hamud bin Mohammed. Then, to prove their strength, they mustered a force of 900 men and stationed five ships of the Royal Navy in the harbor near the palace.
Rear Admiral Harry Rawson sent an ultimatum to the Sultan, ordering him and his troops to either leave the palace and surrender their weapons by 9 a.m. the next day or face a declaration of war. Khalid considered this an empty threat and refused.
At 09:00 on August 27, 1896, Rawson ordered the ships to open fire on the palace, which was soon engulfed in flames. In just 38 minutes the war was over, the British had destroyed the defensive guns and killed or wounded 500 of the Sultan’s men.
One British soldier was also wounded in action. On the same day, the British installed their chosen ruler, Hamud bin Mohammed, on the throne.
As for Khalid bin Barghash, he fled the palace and asked for asylum in the German consulate. The Germans helped him leave the country, and he was captured by the British only in 1916, during the First World War.
Renouncing his claim to the sultanate, Khalid received permission to live in Mombasa. There he died in 1927. Slavery was abolished in Zanzibar in 1897.
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