Shortest Wars In Human History

Decimated palace of Zanzibari Sultan Khalid bin Bargash following the ~38-minute long British-Zanzibar War on August 27th, 1896.
Decimated palace of Zanzibari Sultan Khalid bin Bargash following the ~38-minute long British-Zanzibar War on August 27th, 1896.

When tensions escalate into full-fledged war, series of gruesome battles often ensue that sometimes may last for years on end. Some wars, however, are settled much more quickly, whether due to one side's absolutely dominance over their opposition, or lack of enthusiasm and commitment from military leadership on either side to begin with. Each of the wars listed below lasted no longer than a matter of weeks, with the shortest on the list being discussed in terms of minutes.

10. Falklands War, 1982 (10 weeks)

The Falkland Wars took place starting on April 2nd, 1982, when Argentinian forces landed on the Falkland Islands off of the coast of Argentina under the authorization of President Leopoldo Galtieri. At the time, the islands were British territory, and after the Argentinians captured two of the islands, the British responded by dispatching troops into the area. They sent part of their navy for support, as well as an amphibious task force. After ten weeks, on June 14th, the British forces had the Argentinians surrounded on land and barred at sea. During these 10 weeks, the British suffered 258 casualties and 777 wounded, while the Argentinians suffered 649 casualties, 1,068 wounded, and 11,313 captured.

9. Polish-Lithuanian, 1920 (37 days)

Depending on which side is telling the story, the Polish-Lithuanian War in 1920 ranges in length. According to the Polish, the war only consisted of the fight for the Suwałki Region, which took place from September to October of 1920 as part of the Polish-Soviet War. The Lithuanians, on the other hand, argue that the war was fought from the Spring of 1919 until November of 1920 as part of their war for independence. The aftermath of this war saw an uneasy armistice between the two countries in October, followed by a break in diplomatic relations after the events and ceasefire in November.

8. Second Balkan, 1913 (43 days)

Spanning from June 29th to August 10th of 1913, the Second Balkan War took place as a result of unsettled disputes lingering from the First Balkan War. Therein, Bulgaria had had its sights set for the land of Macedonia, but walked away with far less than it had expected. In retaliation, Bulgaria attacked its former allies of Serbia and Greece. The war did not last very long, with Romania, Montenegro, and the Ottoman Empire joining in to add those being attacked, nearly doubling Bulgaria in manpower. The short, but violent, war left a number of places razed. In the face of enemies on all sides, Bulgaria soon surrendered and called for an armistice. This was soon followed by the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest.

7. Greco-Turkish, 1897 (34 days)

Known by a number of other names, including the Thirty Days’ War, the Black ’97, and the Unfortunate War, the Greco-Turkish War was fought between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire. The combatants' immediate concerns were for the possession of Crete, which was then under Ottoman Turkish rule yet considered itself Greek (as shown in the Cretan Revolt that took place from 1866 to 1869). Taking place beginning on April 5th, 1897, the Greco-Turkish War did not last very long. In the end, the Ottoman Empire came through with a decisive military victory, and took parts of Thessaly from Greece as well. However, through diplomacy and the intervention of other European nations, Crete was later given autonomy.

6. Sino-Vietnamese, 1979 (27 days)

Taking place from February 17th until March 16th of 1979 between the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Sino-Vietnamese War was a retaliation to the Cambodian-Vietnamese War of 1978. In that earlier conflict, the Khmer Rouge had demanded land and massacred ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia, and Vietnam had responded by invading and occupying Cambodia and persecuting ethnic Chinese therein. The majority of the fighting took place along the Chinese-Vietnamese border, and both sides claimed to have won the war. There is no exact number of causalities, as both sides downplayed their own losses while exaggerating those of their rivals. Although China eventually withdrew, there continued to be skirmishes on the border until as late as the 1990s.

5. Georgian-Armenian, 1918 (25 days)

The Georgian-Armenian War of 1918 took place between the Democratic Republic of Georgia and the First Republic of Armenia over the border territories of Lori, Javakheti, and Borchalo. Georgian-Armenian relations had already been strained since the time of Russian dominance in the region before the Russian Empire had been overthrown in the Russian Revolution. On December 5th, Armenian troops moved into Borchalo, and two days later war was declared. Both the Armenians and the Georgians living in the borderlands suffered from both of the invading armies, and the war lasted until December 31st, when both sides finally agreed to a British-mediated ceasefire. In the end, the disputed land of Lori became a neutral zone, which was later divvied between the countries when they were Sovietized.

4. Serbo-Bulgarian, 1885 (15 days)

On November 14th, 1885, the Kingdom of Serbia declared war on the Principality of Bulgaria. Although the Bulgarians had a younger, less experienced army, they did not suffer as much division amongst themselves. War was not a popular option in Serbia, but Serbian King Milan mobilized his army anyway, as he was expecting a quick victory. The Serbs expected to occupy Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, but after suffering a decisive defeat at Slivnitsa, they started retreating. They retreated until November 28th, when Austria-Hungary stepped in and threatened Bulgaria with military action if it did not stop its own advances. Winning the war did much to further reinforce the patriotism of the Bulgarians, further solidifying the nationalist bonds of their recent unification.

3. Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (14 days)

One of several conflicts between the two nations since the partition of British India following World War II, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 took place during the same time as the Bangladeshi Liberation War in 1971. This occurred when India supported separatists in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh who were engaged in a civil war and fighting for their autonomy. On December 3rd, as a preemptive attack, Pakistan launched airstrikes on multiple Indian airbases, which led to India joining the civil war. Quickly outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the war came to an end on December 16th, when Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender, which marked the separation of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation. However, as a result of the fighting and violence, millions of civilians were killed, injured, or displaced. Even today, tensions remain high along the Indo-Pakistani border. In fact, even well before the partition and independence of British India, religious and ethnic strife had become well-entrenched between the predominately Hindu populations of what is now India, the predominately Muslim populations of what is now Pakistan, and the ethnically Bengali, religiously Muslim populations of what is now Bangladesh.

2. Six Day War, 1967 (6 days)

The Six Day Way took place between June 5th and June 10th in 1967, when tensions boiled over and Israel nearly wiped out the Egyptian air force by way of preemptive attacks. The war took place on three fronts. Namely, these were the Egyptian Front, the Syrian Front, and the Jordanian Front. Although the war began in June, the conflict between Israel and the other Arab nations can be traced back several decades to even before the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The United Nations immediately began working on ceasefire resolutions to the war as soon as the Israeli army had started to advance, and by the time all of the concerned parties had signed the ceasefire, Israel had captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank.

1. British-Zanzibar, 1896 (38 minutes)

Also known as the Anglo-Zanzibar War, the war is estimated to have lasted for 40 minutes (+/- 5 minutes), occurring in the archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of what is now Tanzania. On August 25th, 1896, two days before the war commenced, the sultan of Zanzibar had died, and his cousin, Khalid bin Bargash, took over the throne. This was despite a treaty that had said all successors had to be British-approved prior to their ascension to the throne. The British saw this violation as a proclamation of war, and gave Khalid until 9:00 am to surrender the throne. Khalid barricaded himself inside his palace, not believing the British would open fire. The British called his bluff, and the palace was decimated. By the time the shelling stopped around 9:45 am, over 500 Zanzibaris were either killed or injured, and Khalid had fled from the palace to the German consulate. Zanzibar would remain a British protectorate until becoming the People's Republic of Zanzibar in 1964, merging with the also newly independent United Republic of Tanzania later that year.


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