Wars are often seen as conflicts over land or freedom which last for long periods of time, inflicting huge suffering and damage. However every now and then, wars have been fought which don’t fit in the usual mould, and stand out in history as being unusual and even bizarre.
Here are my choices for 5 of the weirdest and most unusual wars in history.
5. The Anglo Zanzibar War
Wars are often lengthy drawn out conflicts fought over years, costing billions of dollars, and inflicting thousands or even millions of casualties. The Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 bucks the trend however, and lasted a mere 38 minutes making it the shortest war in history.
On August the 25th 1896, the pro British Sultan of Zanzibar died suddenly, and was replaced by his nephew Khalid bin Barghash who was widely suspected of having assassinated his uncle, the previous Sultan. This turn of events greatly displeased the British government, who wanted to install a Sultan who was more favourable to their interests. Their choice for the job was Hamud Bin Muhammed, and in accordance with a treaty signed ten years earlier, all candidates for Sultan had to be approved by the British consul for the appointment to be legal.
The rise of Khalid bin Barghash was seen as a violation of this treaty, and justification for war. An ultimatum was issued, ordering the new Sultan to lower his flag and remove himself from the palace by 9am the next day. Should he refuse to do so, British ships stationed in the harbour would open fire.
Khalid’s response was to gather a force of 2,800 troops armed with artillery, firearms and machine guns, and barricade himself inside the palace. At 8.30 on the morning of 26th August, Khalid sent a message back to the British, stating “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us”. This proved to be his first and last mistake as Sultan of Zanzibar. At 09:02 British ships opened fire on the palace, to devastating effect. The palace complex was largely made from timber, and was not designed to be a defensive structure. The high explosive shells inflicted terrible casualties, and started a blazing fire.
The Sultans artillery was destroyed, and British troops marched on the burning palace. By 09:40 the Sultans flag was removed from the palace, and the bombardment ceased. 500 Defenders had been killed or injured in the 38 minute war, with the British suffering just 1 injured sailor during a small naval battle in the harbour during which the Zanzibari ship Glasgow was sunk after it had fired upon the British ship, St George.
Khalid fled the palace and was given asylum at the German consulate, where he was later transported to German East Africa, however he would later be captured in 1916 and exiled.
The British swiftly installed Hamud bin Muhammed as the new Sultan, at the head of a puppet government with severely reduced powers. In a final act of humiliation, supporters of the defeated Khalid were forced to pay for the ammunition the British had fired at them during the 38 minute war.
4. The War of Jenkins’s Ear (1739-42)
During the 18th century, wars between Britain and Spain were common, however this particular war stands out from the others due to the unusual circumstances under which it started.
At that time, a treaty existed which guaranteed the right of British merchants to trade up to 500 tons of goods per year in Spanish colonies, as well as the right for British slavers to sell an unlimited number of slaves in the colonies. In return for these trading rights, Spanish forces would be allowed to stop and search British ships to ensure that no smuggling was taking place.
Spanish authorities had long believed that the British were not sticking to the agreement, and began boarding and seizing British ships involved in smuggling activities, and rumours about crews being tortured were rife. These events soured relations between the two countries, and tensions were running high.
The event that gave the war its name took place eight years earlier in 1731 during a Spanish inspection of a British merchant ship. The captain of the British ship was Robert Jenkins, who was a well known smuggler. The Spanish commander carrying out the inspection exacted swift retribution, unsheathing his sword and cutting off Jenkins left ear.
At the time, the incident passed relatively unnoticed, however years later Jenkins was called into parliament and ordered to testify. The story goes that he even produced the severed ear, showing it to outraged MP’s. The whole spectacle was part of a plan to fuel public outrage against Spain, and cause a war. Many in positions of power believed that a successful war against Spain might improve British trading opportunities in the Caribbean, with the side effect of making rich men even richer.
Coupled with other perceived slights and ill treatment of British subjects by the Spanish, the removal of Jenkins ear was considered reason enough for war, and on October 23rd 1739, war was officially declared. The series of operations that followed were largely uneventful and failed to accomplish much for either side, and the conflict later became part of, and overshadowed by, the war of the Austrian succession, which would engulf much of Europe.
3. War of the Bucket
Wars are often started over lofty ideals, political causes, or simply human greed, however this 14th century war was fought over something far more mundane and unusual – a wooden bucket.
Throughout the middle ages, Northern Italy had been divided between two rival factions. On one side were those backing the pope, on the other was those backing the Holy Roman Emperor. This divide tended to be a major part of wars fought between Italian city states during this period.
In 1325 two of these rival city states, Bologna and Modena, were already experiencing high tensions. Modena was aligned with the Holy Roman Emperor’s faction, while Bologna was in league with the pope. The situation exploded when soldiers from Modena sneaked into the centre of Bologna and stole a bucket filled with loot from the city well in the centre of the city. The thieves returned to their hometown and proudly displayed their trophy for all to see.
The theft of the bucket was the last straw, and the insult to the honour of the humiliated Bolognese was more than they could bear. When their demand for the bucket to be returned was refused, they declared war on Modena.
Bologna raised a giant army of 32,000 men, to face down an army of just 7,000 from Modena. The two armies met at Zappolino, where the outnumbered Modenese pulled off a stunning victory in just two hours. A total of 4,000 men lost their lives during the battle, which would be the only battle of the war, and victorious Modena retained possession of their prized trophy. The disputed bucket is said to still be kept in the bell tower of the Cathedral of Modena to this day.
2. 335 Years War
Not all wars are bloody and costly affairs. The 335 years war between the Netherlands and Isles of Scilly resulted in zero casualties, and no shots were fired. So how could a state of war exist for so long without any battles being fought? The answer lies in the English Civil war, when royalists fought parliamentarians for nine years between 1642 and 1651.
Oliver Cromwell led the parliamentarian faction against the royalists, achieving a series of victories before pushing the royalists back to Cornwall in the South West of England. The Royalist navy was forced to retreat to the Isles of Scilly, which lay off the coast of Cornwall.
At the same time the Netherlands allied with the parliamentarian faction, backing the side most likely to win the civil war so as to maintain good relations with their neighbour across the English Channel. The down side of this arrangement was that the Royalist navy based in the Isles of Scilly was still a functional fighting force, and was able to inflict heavy losses on the Dutch navy.
On March 30th 1651 Admiral Tromp led a fleet of Dutch ships to the islands to demand reparations from the royalist forces based there for the losses he had suffered. After no payment was forthcoming, he took the decision to declare war on the islands, which although officially a part of England, was in Royalist hands and as such the declaration of war was on the islands only, rather than on the whole of England.
Not long after his declaration of war on the islands, the royalist fleet surrendered to the parliamentarians, and the Dutch fleet sailed home without firing a shot. The state of war that existed between the Netherlands and the isles of Scilly seems to have quickly been forgotten, and as such no official peace settlement was signed.
This historical oddity slipped into the mists of history until 1985 when the Chairman of the Isles of Scilly council wrote to the Dutch embassy in London aiming to dispel the myth that the war had ever occurred, asking for confirmation that it was simply a myth, which many historians believed it to be. He was shocked when embassy staff found that the war was in fact real, and that no peace treaty had been signed.
The Dutch ambassador was hastily invited to visit the islands where an official peace treaty was declared on April 17th 1986, an incredible 335 years after the war began. It was later established that Admiral Tromp had declared war without proper legal authority, and so legally the bloodless and second longest war in history, never actually happened.
1. The Emu War
In the years after world war one, many veterans began a new life by setting up farms in Western Australia. The problem they faced was that much of the land yielded low profits, a problem made worse by the arrival of the great depression in 1929. The farmers were finally pushed over the edge by the arrival of 20,000 emus who were migrating to the coast from inland regions. Unfortunately for the farmers, their cultivated land was seen as the perfect habitat for the emus, and they began roving through farms, eating and destroying the precious crops.
The farmers demanded action from the government, and with their past experiences in the war, these men knew how deadly machine guns could be. They asked the government to provide them with the guns, and ministers agreed on the condition that only serving soldiers would use the weapons.
Major Meredith was dispatched to the area with 2 soldiers armed with 2 Lewis guns, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. The Great Emu War had begun. On 2nd November 1932 the soldiers travelled to Campion, where 50 emus had been sighted. The emus were engaged, however quickly split into small groups, making targeting them with the machine guns difficult. Two days later, the men set up an ambush near the local dam, where 1,000 emus were reported to be heading towards them. Learning from their mistakes two days earlier, the soldiers waited until the emus were close before opening fire. Unfortunately for them, one of the guns jammed, and the emus were able to quickly scatter resulting in just twelve kills.
In desperation, Major Meredith mounted one of the guns on the back of a truck, hoping that the increased mobility might help in chasing the emus down. This move failed however, as the emus were simply too fast for the trucks to keep up, and the terrain was so rough that firing the mounted weapons proved impossible. Six days after the war had begun, 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been used, with as few as 50 emus killed.
With negative coverage in the media growing, the war was abandoned with a technical victory for the emus. Major Meredith later compared the emus with Zulu warriors due to their incredible manoeuvrability, and ability to scatter even when wounded.
With the soldiers gone, the emu menace continued, and farms continued to suffer damage from the flightless birds. Under pressure from the farmers, military operations were resumed on November 12th, and Major Meredith was once more dispatched to the front. This time he had more success, and by December 10th he had claimed 986 kills and used 9860 rounds, with a further 2500 emus likely to die from wounds.
So those are my choices for 5 of the most unusual wars in history, I hope you enjoyed the video, let me know what you think in the comments below, and I’ll see you again next time.