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Usually wars are long drawn out affairs that are heaped with death, anguish and misery. There was one war however, that was over approximately 38 minutes after the first shots were fired (40 minutes after being declared). The war centred on what is now known as the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the east coast of Kenya.

In the late 19th century the Sultanate of Zanzibar was an important ally to the British in the region as it was around the time that Germany had begun its late foray into imperialism. When the pro British Sultan died unexpectedly, his nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized the opportunity to instil himself on the throne. He quickly assembled an army and barricaded himself in the palace. This was quite concerning to the British as they had planned to have Hamud bin Muhammad in power. With Bargash, they would get an unknown and one that could ultimately align himself with the Germans. On the 27th of August at 8am an ultimatum was put out to Bargash to vacate the palace peacefully within an hour. He did not. At 9.02am the British through the leadership of General Lloyd Mathews, bombarded the palace from cruisers in the harbour, thus totally destroying the palace. Bargash escaped to the German consulate – and ultimately would escape Africa altogether. The shelling stopped at approximately 9.40am. 38 minutes of war. 500 casualties.

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The destroyed palace  (Richard Dorsey Mohun)

Ultimately the British got their man, Hamud bin Muhammad in power and stability would return to the region. And while Bargash did survive, he could not entirely escape the British wrath, he was captured in Tanzania in 1916 before being exiled. The Anglo-Zanzibar war is not the most well known of the battles or wars fought by the British during the colonial days but it is a war that is remembered for being the shortest in recorded history. 38 minutes long, me writing of the war, has taken longer than the war itself.

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