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1896 Anglo-Zanzibar War -The Shortest War in History

Five ships of the Royal Navy, according to many online publications, following an ultimatum by Admiral Harry Rawson of HMS St. George , bombarded the Royal Palace and Harem in Zanzibar (an island region of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean), on 27 August 1896.

The British Empire’s Extension

The extension of Britain has reached over East Africa and Zanzibar particularly in the late 19th century. Zanzibar’s regional holdings and wide mercantile significance, in the first half of the century, had been expanded by Sayyid Saʿīd ibn Sulṭān, but Barghash, his successor, was compelled to bend to European powers and share his land among the British and the Germans; “later sultans followed suit.”

With this bombardment, the Anglo-Zanzibar war started but briefly came to end after thirty-eight minutes “when the white flag of surrender was raised over what was left of the palace” While a British marine was injured, more than five hundred defenders lost their lives. Therefore, ended what is popularly referred to as the shortest war in history.


By 1890, there were moves to cede the mainland of the sultanate’s mainland territories to Germany while allowing the British Empire to become the protector of the island. Britain made an agreement to preserve the sultanate as an institution, although with nominal power of the sultan

When Britain became the protector of Zanzibar, its outlined key policy goals included the abolition of slavery and the restoration of the strong mercantile economy of the island.

Merchants of Zanzibar were angered because of the policies, especially that of the abolition of slavery. Slavery had become part and parcel of their life, fortunately for them, there was increase in spice plantations in value throughout the 19th century.

Immediate Cause of the War

“Sayyid Ali ibn Saʿīd resisted Britain’s directives until his death in 1893”, and, upon choosing successor; Britain was very concerned about the personality. She wanted someone that will be very submissive to the Royal order.

The death Sultan of Zanzibar was the immediate cause of the war. Khalid bin Bargash, his nephew, seized power, “but he was regarded by the British as far too independent”. They rather had a preference for Hamud bin Muhammed. An ultimatum, giving Khalid an hour to surrender and leave the palace, was issued.

As the ultimatum expired, the bombardment began with HMS RacoonThrush, and Sparrow opening fire on the palace. Khalid bin Bargash fled the palace and sought safety in the German consulate, and he was secretly shipped out of the country.

End of the War

When order was restored, Hamud bin Muhammed, Britain’s preferred ruler was installed as Sultan of Zanzibar. Bin Muhammed ruled as the sultan with the British aids until 1902 when he died. This event also evidenced how Britain was always concerned about her interest. Britain was able to sustain her interest, though against the interests of the Zanzibar ruler.

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Faforiji Tadese

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1896 Anglo-Zanzibar War -The Shortest War in History

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Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.