10 shortest wars in history that had a devastating human cost

Contrary to popular belief not all wars took years to come to a conclusion. In fact some took minutes, days and even a month to come to an end. These were the shortest wars in history. Yes you might be surprised at some of the reasons why the war happened but it happened and there were consequences.

Wars have being part of human civilization as we fight for resources or land and most wars do take a lot of time to end. They sometimes drag forever that you just wish for them to end now.

But some were pretty short that you’ll be surprised that it actually happened. In this article you’ll find out more about history’s shortest wars.

10. Anglo-Zanzibar war – 38 minutes

Anglo-Zanzibar war

This 38 minute war on 1896 was fought between the British and Zanzibar. The story goes like this, Zanzibar was part of the British Empire in East Africa and the British had their own man at the helm of power in Zanzibar.

This man was Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini (Sultan of Zanzibar) who was a supporter of the British. But on 25th August 1896 he died and his nephew Sultan Khalid bin Barghash immediately took power. He was never appointed by the British therefore he wasn’t favored as the ideal successor.

The British assembled their 5 warships to set sail to the island; they had already landed troops ashore the island. Ultimatums and requests’ were sent for the sultan to stand down and move out of the palace. But the sultan did the opposite and fortified the palace with his own troops and artillery guns.

On 26th August 1896 a final ultimatum was sent to the sultan to leave the palace by 9am the following day. The sultan didn’t heed the ultimatum and ignored the British warnings.

At 9.02 am 27th August 1896 the British royal navy started bombarding the palace mostly wooden and by 9.40am the shelling seized. The palace was badly ruined but Sultan Khalid bin Barghash had managed to escape and it was a victory for the British.

This short, 38 minute war resulted in about 500 Zanzibar citizens killed or wounded, and one British soldier wounded. 

9. Libya-Egypt war – 3 days

Libya-Egypt war

A 3 day border war that started on 21st July 1977, the Libyan army attacked Egyptian border posts with artillery and mortars. These two states were actually allies when Arab states sought the ouster of Israel from the Middle East. During the Arab-Israeli wars they supported each other with arms and logistical support.

But this closeness ended when President Sadat of Egypt sought peace with Israel. This didn’t go well with Libya’s new leader Muammar Gaddafi who had seized power via a coup in 1969. This peace treaty sought by the Egyptian president was considered a sought of a betrayal to the Arab world.

Muammar Gaddafi ordered all 200,000+ Egyptian nationals to leave Libya. He also organized the March on Cairo which was headed to the Egyptian border. When the Libyans reached the border the march was stopped by Egyptian border guards. This was where things escalated.

The Libyans launched an artillery attack against Sallum, an Egyptian border town. The Libyan troops and air force crossed the border launching attacks against the Egyptians. The Egyptian army and air force launched a counter strike pushing them back to Libya. Libyan military bases and training camps near the border were destroyed and the Libyan army retreated.

A ceasefire was announced on 24th July 1977 where hostilities ended. The president of Egypt didn’t want to invade Libya and create a full scale war. This 3 day war deserves the shortest wars in history label but it led to 400 Libyan troops dead and injured while 100 dead and injured Egyptian troops.

8. Armenia-Azerbaijan war – 4 days

Armenia-Azerbaijan war

This 4 day war that occurred on 2nd April 2016 when the Azerbaijani Army took military action on the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which is supported by Armenia.

The Nagorno-Karabakh frontline has always been a hotspot between Azerbaijan and Armenia with clashes experienced occasionally. Tensions between these two states have always been there since the 1992-1994 conflict that led to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic being formed. Azerbaijan has always considered this territory as occupied territory while Armenia considered it as an independent territory.

During this war both sides used all types of weapons from tanks, heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and air power. The war didn’t actually have a clear winner as the Azerbaijan army didn’t take Nagorno-Karabakh while Armenia repelled the Azerbaijan army.

But on the afternoon of 5th April 2016 an agreement was reached for cessation of hostilities between the two sides. A tense relationship still exists between the two sides but this short war resulted in at least 60 soldiers and several civilians dead as admitted by both sides. But it’s possible that the number might be high due to lack of accurate information from the front line.

7. Georgia-Russia war – 5 days

Russo-Georgian War

This 5 day war happened in August 2008 when Georgian troops launched an offensive on the breakaway region of South Ossetia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are two provinces in Georgia that always sought autonomy/independence from the country.

Their independence quest has always been supported by Russia and this created tension with Georgia. There was a peacekeeping mission of both Georgian and Russian troops in the two provinces that was part of the 1992 agreement.

When Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was elected he wanted to bring the South Ossetia region to be part of Georgia. But in 2006 South Ossetia rejected this plan in a referendum.

As all this was happening Georgia was strengthening ties with the European Union (EU) and NATO and was planning to join. While on the other side South Ossetia was strengthening its ties with Russia. Of course neither side liked what the other was doing therefore accusations and small clashes erupted between South Ossetia militia and Georgian troops.

But on 7th August 2008 the Georgian president ordered his troops to take the South Ossetia capital of Tskhinvali. The Georgian troops managed to control most of the city because they were nearly 7,500 troops with tanks and armored personnel carriers compared to 2,500 Ossetia militia.

The tide turned on 8th August 2008 when the Russian army crossed the border into South Ossetia and battled the Georgian troops. The Russians used their air power to their advantage bombing Georgian military installations and vehicles. The Russian ground and air offensive pushed the Georgian army out of South Ossetia and its capital.

The Russian army also stationed its troops in Abkhazia and continued pushing forward and only stopped 45 kilometers from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. A cease-fire on 12th August 2008 ended the Russia-Georgia War. It was a clear win for Russian and south Ossetia and Abkhazia provinces. The war had a devastating effect with100, 000+ civilians displaced during the war. Also during the five-day conflict nearly 850 people were killed.

6. Six day war/June war – 6 days

Six day war

This 6 day war happened on 5th June 1967 between Israel and Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan). Since the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the expulsion of Palestinians most Arab states considered Israel a threat.

There was always tension between Israel and Arab states like Syria but tensions were high when Egyptian president Nasser banned Israeli ships from the Straits of Tiran on 22nd May 1967. This led to an Arab military buildup at a tense time.

But on 5th June 1967 the Israelis launched an aerial assault called Operation Focus that was to target the air force of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The Arab states lost more than 400 airplanes; whereas Israel lost 20. This was a devastating loss as the Israelis now controlled the airspace.

The ground offensive begun on the same day as Israeli troops and tanks crossed the border into the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. They fought the Egyptian forces that later started retreating as the Israeli forces pushed them back.

But when Jordan started shelling the Israeli troops due to false claims of an Egyptian victory, the Israelis responded with an attack on East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Jordanian forces suffered serious losses and setbacks and by 7th June the Old City of Jerusalem was under Israeli control.

While on 9th June the Israelis began an offensive against the Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. It was a difficult battle but Israel took control of it as the Syrians withdrew.

On 10th June 1967 the shortest wars in history came to an end due to a United Nation brokered ceasefire between the warring sides. They all accepted the ceasefire and by the end of the war Israel had captured new territories. Israel now had the Golan Heights, the Gaza strip and the area between the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal. But Israel later returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 and then withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

This war had an effect and still has an effect on the geopolitical nature of the Middle East. The six day war changed the Middle East landscape with countless refugees who were affected by the war still wanting to go back to their lands. The conflict created 350,000 refugees.

Although it was only a 6 day war some 20,000 Arabs and 800 Israelis died in the fighting.

5. El Salvador-Honduras war – 4 days

football war

This was a 4 day war that started on 14th July 1969 between the two Central American states. It’s mostly known as the football war /soccer war/100 hour war. In reality football wasn’t the real reason this two states went to war but it was a launching pad for war.

Honduras and El Salvador had a host of issues between them and these issues led to a tense relationship between the two neighbors. El Salvador is a small country with a high population therefore opportunities for Salvadorans was low in the 1960s. But Honduras was much bigger compared to El Salvador so the potential to find opportunities like work was highly possible.

Most Salvadorans opted to migrate to Honduras and find work and stay there. These migrants were either illegally or legally in the country. The high influx of Salvadorans into Honduras did make most native Hondurans develop hatred/animosity towards the other community (Salvadorans).

When a controversial land reform program was implemented in Honduras that led to Honduras expelling all El Salvador migrants, legal or illegal, tensions were pretty high.

During the 1970 World Cup qualifications rounds which would be held in the countries, fights and riots would occur between the two spectators/fans. When Honduran fans destroyed and attacked Salvadorans homes and shops with most fleeing back to El Salvador. El Salvador demanded action and the perpetrators arrested but nothing was done. Diplomatic ties with Honduras were broken.

On 14th July the El Salvador air force attacked catching the Hondurans by surprise. The army then invaded Honduras with tanks and armored vehicles moving quickly as they approached the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

A ceasefire was immediately called for by The Organization of American States (OAS) at the request of Honduras. But El Salvador wanted safety guarantees for their citizens in Honduras and compensation for injuries and damages.

On 18th July 1969 a ceasefire was announced making it a four day war. Although it was a brief war, it led to 900 Salvadorans and 2,100 Honduran killed. The war highlighted how animosity between two communities can lead to wars and consequences.

4. Second Arab-Israeli war – 9 days

Second Arab-Israeli war

This 9 day war happened on 29th October 1956 when Israel, France and Britain launched an attack on Egypt. Tensions were high between Israel and Egypt because Egypt allowed Palestinian militants to launch attacks from Egyptian soil/territory. Also the loss of Egypt to Israel during the June war made relations between them toxic and unfriendly.

While for the British, Egypt was a colony that they still wanted to have control of because some of their troops were still in Egypt, specifically the Suez Canal. For France the support the Egyptian President Nasser gave to Algerians in their independence quest wasn’t ideal for them.

This war is mostly referred to as the Suez crisis or Suez war because the Suez Canal was the main driver to war happening. You see the Suez Canal was still in control of the French and British companies. It was so vital because it was the gateway to transportation of goods and resources to the Middle East and Africa.
But when President Nasser decided to nationalize the canal, it didn’t go down well with the west especially French and British. So on 26th July 1956, Egypt took over the Suez Canal.

Therefore on 29th October Israel, British and France launched an attack against the Egyptians. First the Israeli troops invaded Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, and then British and French forces bombed Egyptian air bases, leading to Egyptian troops withdrawing from Sinai to protect the canal. By 5th November 1956, the French and British had taken over the Suez Canal area.

The USA had been caught off guard by this war and didn’t want any further escalation as the Soviet Union threatened to come to the aid of Egypt. A ceasefire was agreed and the Israeli, French and British troops had to withdraw. The Suez Canal was handed back to the Egyptians while Israel withdrew from the Sinai. Hostilities stopped on 7th November 1956.

From the war Egypt was considered the winner as it got what it wanted (Suez Canal) and managed to remove British troops from Egypt. Although it was the shortest wars in history it led to causalities with Egypt suffering greatly. There were about 1,650 Egyptian troops killed. 4,900 injured, and 6,000+ missing in action or captured.

3. Bulgaria-Greece war – 10 days

Bulgaria-Greece war

This 10 day border war started on 19th October 1925. It’s most famously known as the War of the Stray Dog because a dog straying away from its owner had something to do with this war.

But before the dog strayed away friction and tensions dominated the relationship between Greece and Bulgaria. During World War 1 Bulgaria was on the losing side with the Germans while Greece was on the winning side with the Allied forces. Therefore after the war, Bulgaria was punished for siding with the Germans. They were forced to give up Western Thrace to Greece therefore they didn’t have access to Aegean Sea.

This left a bitter taste on Bulgaria and tensions continued between the two states. They were occasional border skirmishes and clashes. Things deteriorated when a Greek’s soldier dog ran towards the Bulgarian border. The Greek soldier immediately chased it towards the Bulgarian border.

A soldier on the Bulgarian side took aim and shot the Greek soldier. Both sides immediately started exchanging fire, a Greek captain and a private waved the white flag as they moved into Bulgarian territory to appeal for calm. The Bulgarians shot them both.

Things didn’t end there as the administration in Greece had changed through a coup and Lieutenant General Theodoros Pangalos was in charge. Pangalos heard of the clashes and gave Bulgaria an ultimatum of 48-hours. They were to offer an apology and compensate fallen Greek soldiers families with 2 million French francs.

Bulgaria refused and the general ordered his troops into Bulgaria where they took over towns and villages near the border. The Greeks were formidable compared to the Bulgarians as they didn’t lose territories they had captured. Bulgaria requested the newly formed League of Nations to help out. The League did this diplomatically ordering the Greeks to withdraw and cease hostilities. By 29th October 1925 the war was over.

The general was reluctant to the League’s requests but was forced to adhere to this when troops from France, Britain and Italy were sent to oversee the withdrawal. The League also ordered Greece to pay Bulgaria £45,000 as compensation. This humiliation of Greece led to Lieutenant General Theodoros Pangalos being deposed in a coup by his own soldiers replacing him with the man he previously deposed.

In this war you can’t know who really won, as both sides lost something. Although Greece was formidable militarily, Bulgaria managed to inflict a blow to Greece using the League of Nations. Sometimes military strength can’t win alone, it’s who you know/convince that can influence outcome of a situation.

The war resulted in less than 100 dead from both sides. As for the dog that led to all this happening, it’s still a mystery as there is no historical information as to what actually happened to it. Hope it had a wonderful life.

2. First Franco-Moroccan war – 11 days

First Franco-Moroccan war

This was an 11 day war that started on 6th August 1844. France was a powerful military force in the 1840s that had managed to conquer vast lands/areas and Algeria was one of those places. But they had a constant threat from the Algerian resistance led by Abd al-Qadir.

During a battle between the French and Abd al-Qadir supporters, the resistance leader managed to escape to Morocco. The French chased him into Morocco and requested the leader of Morocco, Sultan Abd al-Rahman to stop supporting Abd al-Qadir and strengthen his border to avoid further incursions.

Among the people that supported the Algerian resistance leader were Alawi tribesmen from Morocco. The French didn’t like this and interpreted it as a statement that Morocco was defying them.

France set up a base for the troops in Lalla-Maghnia. Alawi tribesmen attacked the troops but were repelled by the superior French army. A sense of jihad started spreading across Morocco against the French.

When the French navy bombarded the city of Tangiers, the war had started against Morocco. But when the sultan’s son Sīdī Mohammed assembled a large Moroccan force to fight the smaller French force and lose, the war was almost over.

By 17th August 1844 the French had won this short war and Morocco had no choice but to accept French demands. Sultan Abd al-Rahman outlawed Abd al-Qadir and established a tighter border with Algeria. This war led to 34 French and 870 Moroccans killed.

1. India-China war/Sino-Indian war – 32 days

India-China war

This was a 32 day border war fought in 1962. China and India were relatively new states as China was coming out from a civil war that led to the communists winning; while India had just gained independence from Britain.

They were all concerned about internal issues and foreign policy was the last thing they needed to deal with. Tensions and confrontations between the two states were about the border in the Himalayan Mountains. Britain had created the Indian border without consulting China therefore this border became a controversial issue.

India laid claim to Aksai Chin region which had been administered by China while the Chinese lay claim to Arunachal Pradesh in India. When China invaded Tibet and annexed it as part of China, India provided a safe haven for Tibet’s exiled leaders like the Dalai Lama. This greatly angered the Chinese administration with tensions continuing to flare up.

Border skirmishes and clashes were always there between the two states. But when India found out that China had built a road in Aksai Chin to connect Tibet and the western province the Indian administration was furious.

Border clashes became more frequent and India managed to enter the Aksai Chin region. But India had no idea that the Chinese army had amassed along the border. Therefore on 20th October 1962 the Chinese army launched an attack with the goal of driving out the Indian army from Aksai Chin. They accomplished this but that wasn’t the end of the story. India launched a counter-strike on a Chinese position at the disputed border.

The war was mostly fought in the mountain regions and this was difficult because it was 14,000 feet. The war eventually ended when the USA threatened to intervene and support India. A ceasefire was called and both forces withdrew to their original positions at the border on 21st November 1962.

The shortest wars in history led to many dead not only from the gunfight but also the harsh conditions they had to endure. There were 1,383 Indian and 722 Chinese military personnel killed. It was a clear win for China and it showed its military strength. Although air and naval power weren’t utilized, the Chinese ground troop’s numerical strength was a great advantage to defeating India.