Wars are messy affairs, and the stories of those events are usually told from the perspective of the victors. Whether you focus on domestic or international wars, there are some major ones that capture our collective conscience. From the American Civil War in the mid-1800s to both World Wars, typically when we think about armed conflict, we imagine drawn-out events over the course of years. But there are some wars that are so short, so instant, that it’s almost questionable if they should even be called wars at all.
1. The Anglo-Zanzibar War – 38 minutes
Hands down, the shortest war in history occurred in 1896 between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate. The conflict was caused by the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini and his successor, Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, who was anti-British. Barghash ignored a longstanding treaty that required accession candidates to receive confirmation from the British. After ignoring an ultimatum to submit for succession approval, the two nations went to war. The Zanzibari contingent was seriously outnumbered and outgunned, leading to a 38-minute war. As a result, this was the end of the Zanzibar Sultanate.
2. Invasion of Anjouan – 2 days
Countless wars have been waged to overthrow a dictator, and the Invasion of Anjouan is no different. Anjouan is one of many islands within the nation of Comoros. This two-day amphibious assault was a joint effort between Comoros, African Union, and French forces to remove Colonel Mohamed Bacar. After election corruption concerns, Colonel Bacar refused to step down and ran another unapproved election in June of 2007. When the invasion began in March 2008, the island nation was overrun, and Bacar fled to a neighboring island. Eventually, the French extended asylum to avoid persecution if he returned to Anjouan.
3. Operation Desert Sabre – 100 hours
If you remember the first Gulf War, you’ll know that conflict between Kuwait and Iraq was at the heart of it. The air assault lasted for months and came to be known as Operation Desert Storm. But the 1991 land conflict was a short 100 hours and was dubbed Operation Desert Sabre. Iraqi forces found themselves severely outnumbered and overpowered. Coalition forces steamrolled over them, pushing occupiers from deep within Kuwaiti lands that they had captured to just 150 miles short of Baghdad—per coalition orders.
4. The Six Days War – 6 days
Sadly, conflict in the Middle East isn’t a modern phenomenon. The establishment of the Israeli state after the end of World War II has served as a source of conflict for decades. But in this particular scenario, Israel flexed its dominance and proved to its neighbors that not only were they a force to be reckoned with, but they also weren’t one to be underestimated. After back and forth heated talk between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the young nation led a preemptive air strike against Egyptian airfields. In the end, Israel absorbed the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and Golan Heights from Syria.
5. Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 – 13 days
For those well-versed in their Southeast Asian history, they know that India and Pakistan haven’t always been the best of friends. In 1971, Pakistani separatists were pushing for independence in the eastern part of the country. India supported the separatist faction, and Pakistan wasn’t pleased. When Pakistan advanced on their own people to quell the movement, India entered the action to defend the separatists. India had the superior forces, and six days later, Pakistan ceded defeat and land with the Instrument of Surrender and eastern Pakistan became Bangladesh.
6. Serbian-Bulgarian War – 14 days
There’s nothing like a border conflict to incite tensions. The Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885 is one of many conflicts that centers around two countries claiming ownership over the same parcel of land. Serbia was the aggressor this time, and they claimed that the newly unified Bulgaria wasn’t privy to the land they claimed. Even though Serbia had a better military, Bulgaria was far more motivated. The Serbians were performing so poorly that fears grew of other countries joining the fray to support the Serbs. Ultimately, two weeks after the conflict began, an armistice was negotiated, and Bulgaria was formally recognized as a nation.
7. The Georgian-Armenian War – 24 days
World War I led to a number of border skirmishes between formerly occupied nations. The Georgian-Armenian War is one of the shortest ones and centers around three newly liberated provinces occupied by Georgians and Armenians and hot debate over who actually controlled those areas. The lands shifted hands from the Russians to the Ottoman Empire in 1918. But then the Ottomans eventually left, which created an ownership vacuum. Georgians, backed by German officers, swooped in to occupy the land and the Armenians fought back. The 24-day war ended on New Year's Eve with the British presiding over the ceasefire agreement.
So, as the saying goes, “War is hell.” But it doesn’t have to drag on indefinitely. This list doesn’t feature every short scrimmage that was labeled a war, but these are some of the most iconic quick wars in history.