Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Anglo-Zanzibar War

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on 27 August 1896. With a duration of only 45 minutes, it holds the record of being the shortest war in recorded history.

The war broke out after Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had willingly co-operated with the British colonial administration, died on 25 August 1896, and his nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized power in what amounted to a coup d'├ętat. The British favoured another candidate, Hamud bin Muhammed, who they believed would be easier to work with, and delivered an ultimatum ordering Bargash to abdicate. Bargash refused, and instead assembled an army that consisted of about 2,800 men and the Sultan's former armed yacht H.H.S. Glasgow anchored in the harbour. While Bargash's troops set to fortifying the palace, the Royal Navy assembled five warships in the harbour in front of the palace (three modern cruisers, the Edgar class armoured cruiser HMS St George, the Pearl class protected cruiser HMS Philomel, the Archer class cruiser HMS Racoon, and two gunboats HMS Thrush; HMS Sparrow). The British also landed parties of Royal Marines to support the "loyalist" regular army of Zanzibar, numbering 900 men in two battalions led by General Lloyd Mathews, formerly a Royal Navy lieutenant.

Despite the Sultan's last-minute efforts to negotiate for peace via the U.S. representative on the island, the Royal Navy ships opened fire on the palace at 9 am on 27 August 1896 as soon as the ultimatum ran out. The Glasgow was soon sunk, and, with the palace falling down around him and escalating casualties, Bargash beat a hasty retreat to the German consulate where he was granted asylum. The shelling stopped after 45 minutes.

The British demanded that the Germans surrender the erstwhile Sultan to them, but he escaped to sea on 2 October 1896. He lived in exile in Dar es Salaam until captured by the British in 1916. He was later allowed to live in Mombasa where he died in 1927.

As a final act, Britain demanded payment from the Zanzibar government to pay for the shells fired on the country.