What was the shortest battle in history
The shortest war in world history
Sayyid Khalid put himself on the throne of the Sultanate of Zanzibar 120 years ago. The British ended the interlude with a victory in 38 minutes.
“The silence that hung over Zanzibar was terrifying. Usually you could hear drums and babies screaming, but there was no sound that night. ”A British official's account dates back to 1896 and heralded the shortest war in history.
It was Hamad ibn Thuwaini ibn Said who was then on the throne in Zanzibar. His authority, which was based in particular on slavery, was limited: the 1,600 square kilometer East African island off the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean had been under British protectorate since 1890, and his actions were tolerated. But not of all: His cousin Sayyid Khalid ibn Barghash secretly sought after ibn Said's death in order to gain power himself. Even his uncle, ibn Said's predecessor, he had not allowed the rule and in 1893 tried to take over the sultan's palace. But he was arrested by British marines - and the British, whom he hated, appointed his cousin and brother-in-law Hamad ibn Thuwaini ibn Said as sultan instead.
The latter had almost three years of rule. He was found dead on the morning of August 25, 1896. It is still unclear what he died of. The suspicion that Sayyid Khalid might have poisoned him, but immediately made the rounds. Even the “Neue Freie Presse” wrote about the incident and voiced suspicions: “(...) At that time Sultan Said Ali ruled in Zanzibar, who bowed his neck silently under the English yoke. He died suddenly three years ago like his two predecessors, like his successor Hamed ben Thwain now. All these rulers leave the world so young, and it has never been known what illness carried them away. One would almost believe that in Zanzibar the succession to the throne is sometimes regulated by a cup of black coffee. "
A sultan for three days
Sayyid Khalid's behavior reinforced the suspicions: Surrounded by around 60 men, he stepped in front of the palace and proclaimed himself Sultan. The “Neue Freie Presse” stated: “No sooner had Hamed ben Thwain closed his eyes than Sayyid Khalid, who managed to win over most of the well-armed bodyguards trained by English officers, seized the palace and proclaimed himself himself to the sultan. However, his government was one of the shortest that has ever existed. "
The British consul in Zanzibar, Sir Basil Shillito Cave, immediately threatened Sayyid Khalid with military action if he did not surrender. The new sultan, who had received German help in his putsch, did not allow himself to be intimidated. Cave then contacted the London Prime Minister, Robert Cecil of Salisbury, who replied, "You are entitled to take whatever action is necessary and will be assisted in every way by Her Majesty's Government." In other words, a war was granted.
On August 26th, three British cruisers and two gunboats took up position off the coast of Zanzibar. Sayyid Khalid fought for support. Within two days he was able to raise about 2,800 men who were ready to die in an outbreak of combat on his side. They positioned themselves, armed with old handguns, on the fortress of the capital and the palace.
Ultimately, early in the morning of August 27, 1896, Cave issued the obvious ultimatum: renunciation or fire. At first the sultan did not react, then he thought of a compromise and asked the US consul Richard Mohun to mediate. Now it was the British who did not allow themselves to be appeased: at 8.55 a.m., Admiral Rawson gave the order “Ready for action!”. Shortly after 9 a.m. his ironclads began to fire on the fortress and palace.
38 minutes of fight
After 38 minutes the sultan gave up. The shelling cost the lives of around 500 soldiers and civilians. On the British side, on the other hand, depending on the source, there should have been between one wounded sergeant and 70 dead. Khalid, on the other hand, had long since fled - he had sought refuge in the German consulate, which refused to extradite him to the British.
After the successfully fought battle, the British installed a cousin of Khalid as sultan, the Omani prince Hammud ibn Muhammad ibn Said. A choice that was owed to pure calculus: "Hamud will be a shadow prince, like his predecessors since Said Bargasch, and the real ruler of Zanzibar remains the English agent," commented the "Neue Freie Presse" 120 years ago. Meanwhile, Khalid withdrew with German help: On October 8, 1896, the “Seeadler” took the three-day ruler on board and brought him to Dar es Salaam in what was then German East Africa. In 1927 he died in exile in Mombasa.
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