The Shortest Wars in History

While most the well-known wars in history dragged on for years, even decades, many wars in the last century were extremely short. Border disputes, tensions over ethnic populations, trade issues, hangovers from the two world wars or long-simmering pent-up hostilities have all exploded into shooting wars - many lasting just a few weeks or even a few days. In one case, the war was over in less than an hour.

Whether these shortest wars were low intensity conflicts with just a few casualties or brutal, bloody wars that were ended before they could get worse, these wars might have been short, but they were all historically important. The shortest wars in history have taken place on all different continents, between many different countries, over many historical eras. A short war is certainly better than a long, drawn-out war, so at least these historical battles and skirmishes were ended quickly.



  • Anglo-Zanzibar War: 46 Minutes
    Photo: Richard Dorsey Mohun / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Anglo-Zanzibar War: 46 Minutes

    Taking place between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on August 27, 1896, the Anglo-Zanzibar War clocked in at anywhere between 38 and 46 minutes. The war broke out after Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had willingly cooperated with the British colonial administration in the tiny island of Zanzibar, died on August 25, and his nationalist nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized power. The British delivered an ultimatum ordering Bargash to abdicate. Bargash refused and ordered his troops to fortify the Royal Palace.

    Britain assembled a fleet, along with landing Marines outside the palace. The Royal Navy ships opened fire on the palace at 9 am, the moment the ultimatum ran out. Zanzibar suffered 500 casualties and surrendered after less than an hour. One British sailor suffered an injury.

  • Fought between the government of the island of Comoros and a small breakaway republic on the island of Anjouan in March 2008, the conflict saw Comoros and African Union troops launch an amphibious invasion of the small island.

    Eleven people were injured before their leader, Mohamed Bacar, escaped via speedboat, and the fighting ended soon after.

  • Kuwait-Iraq War: Two Days
    Photo: United States Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Kuwait-Iraq War: Two Days

    The inciting incident behind the Gulf War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait lasted only two days in August 1990. Iraqi troops, battle hardened and well-equipped from years of war against Iran, crossed the border in the middle of the night, destroyed most of Kuwait’s small army and air force, sacked Kuwait City, and drove the Emir into hiding. The operation lasted about two days. 

  • The 1961 Indian annexation of Goa was a brief war fought between India and Portugal over the exclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu, all held by Portugal as remnants of colonial power grabs. The three exclaves held hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom identified as Indian and were Hindu. India assembled a massive force to take them back, and launched a coordinated air, sea, and land attack on December 18, 1961.

    A day later, Goa was mostly in Indian hands, and despite Portuguese warnings that they would defend their territory to the death, the general in command of the Portuguese forces surrendered.