The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century

Stephanie Schoppert - March 5, 2017

There have been times throughout history that have proven that war does not always have to be a long, drawn out battle that mobilizes entire countries. Sometimes a war is just something that happens when people within a country get a little too worked up, but then after a few days cool off and realize things just got a little out of hand.

Other times a war is short because the two sides are so mismatched that it doesn’t take long for one side to dominate the other. The 20th century had a few wars that didn’t even last a week, and several that didn’t even make the one month mark. Below are some of the shortest wars of the 20th century, the reasons why they started, and the reasons why they ended so quickly.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
Two U.S. – built Israeli Super Sherman patrol East Jerusalem in June 1967.

The Six-Day War – 6 Days

The Six-Day War stemmed largely from the fact that the Arab-Israeli War had not normalized relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Tensions continued over border disputes and border clashes, especially between Israel and Syria. In November 1966, Syria signed a mutual defense agreement with Egypt hoping for protection if the aggression with Israel escalated. The Palestine Liberation Organization carried out guerrilla activity in Israeli territory, and in response the Israelis attacked the Jordanian-occupied West Bank.

Egypt failed to come to the aid of Jordan and faced criticism. In May 1967, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser received false reports from the Soviet Union that claimed the Israelis were massing on the Syrian border. In response, Nasser began massing troops in the Sinai along the Egyptian-Israeli border and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping on May 22-23. This was considered to be an act of war by the Israeli government.

On May 30, Egypt and Jordan also signed a defense pact and Jordan invited the Iraqi army to deploy troops and armored units in Jordan. Egypt also sent their own contingent of troops into Jordan as protection. The build-up of forces around them and the closing of the straits led Israel to decide to go to war on June 4. The following day, Israel launched a surprise air attack against Egypt. Egypt was caught completely off-guard by the attack, and the Egyptian Air Force was completely overwhelmed. A similar assault was performed on the Syrian Air Force.

The following day, the Israelis planned a surprise ground attack, coming at the Egyptian forces from a direction that was unexpected and poorly defended. Jordan was reluctant to enter the war but Nasser convinced King Hussein that the Egyptians were dominating. Israel, despite fighting on two fronts, was able to push both the Egyptians and the Jordanians back. On June 7, the UN called for a cease-fire that was accepted by Israel and Jordan immediately. Egypt accepted the next day. Syria held out until June 10.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
Photo taken on July 24, 1971 that destruction on the streets of Madhabpur.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 -13 Days

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was the third war between India and Pakistan. This war had very different origins from the other wars between the two countries. This war stemmed from a refugee crisis that put millions of refugees in West Bengal, India. The Pakistani government was using violence to curb the independence movement in East Pakistan in March 1971 and that led to refugees fleeing the country.

The Indian government realized that Pakistan had no plans to allow the independent country of Bangladesh to form and give the 10 million refugees now living in India a place to go. This led to the Indian government coming to the conclusion that they needed to support the efforts of East Pakistan to become independent Bangladesh. In August 1971, India signed a Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation for the next 20 years with the Soviet Union. The treaty called for each nation to support the other if there was a threat to national security. At the same time, India began providing support to the East Pakistan resistance fighters, providing training and sanctuary.

Pakistan tried to stop India’s support of East Pakistan diplomatically but failed. Therefore, on December 3, 1971, Pakistan launched an air attack on a number of Indian airfields. The attack did not cause substantial damage, but it gave the Indian air force the excuse to retaliate the next day. The Indians quickly achieved air superiority and moved their ground forces in swiftly. Nine infantry divisions had attached armored units and close air support.

The Indian forces rapidly made their way to the East Pakistan capital, Dhaka. The Indian Navy blockaded East Pakistan, the air force destroyed the Dhaka air strip, and the ground forces quickly defeated the Pakistan army. Pakistan officially surrendered on December 16, 1971. As a result of the war, East Pakistan gained their independence and the nation of Bangladesh was formed.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
Armenian Army in 1918

Georgian-Armenian War of 1918 – 24 Days

In March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, which returned the territories that Russia had taken during the Russo-Turkish War back to the Ottoman Empire. However, these territories had not been under the control of the Russian central government, but rather they were controlled through the Transcaucasian Sejm, which was made up of Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis. The Ottomans wanted to control the territories themselves and started a military campaign.

The Armenians, Georgians, and Azerbaijanis quickly declared themselves independent states. On June 4, 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Batum, which brought an end to the fighting. However, the borders of the countries were not clearly defined. The southern half of the ethnically-Armenian Lori Province was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. The Georgians wanted to make sure that the Ottomans did not have a direct route to Tbilisi, so they took possession of northern Lori and created outposts along the Dzoraget River.

Things took a turn for the worst when the Ottomans pulled back from southern Lori in October 1918. The Armenians quickly moved in and eliminated the buffer that was once between Georgia and Armenia. Border clashes started immediately and both sides began mobilizing greater border security. The Georgians began tightening their control over Armenian groups within their borders, disarming them and confiscating their property. The Armenians in Georgia rose up against the oppressive regime in December 1918, and this was enough to escalate the tensions between Georgia and Armenia into war on December 7.

The war continued between the two parties until December 31, when the British were able to broker a ceasefire between the two countries. Both Georgian and Armenian troops left the disputed areas as per the peace agreement. The Lori district then became a neutral zone under the administration of both Armenia and Georgia.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
A Kuwaiti M-84 main battle tank. Wikipedia

Kuwait- Iraq War – 2 Days

The Kuwait-Iraq war was born out of the Iran-Iraq war in which the two sides had cooperated with each other. Kuwait sent $14 billion to Iraq as a loan to help the war effort. This loan made Kuwait a target of Iran and there were small reprisals from Iran in 1984 and in 1988. Despite suffering the wrath of Iran, Kuwait continued to help Iraq, even operating as the country’s major port once Basra had to shut down due to fighting.

Once the war was over, things between Kuwait and Iraq did not stay friendly. Iraq was unable to pay back the money that Kuwait had lent for the war effort, and Iraq wanted Kuwait to forgive the debt. Iraq believed that Kuwait owed them for keeping Iran from becoming a regional hegemony and a threat to Kuwait. The two sides were unable to reach an agreement and the relationship deteriorated even further when Kuwait continued to produce oil at rates above its mandatory OPEC quota. Iraq had asked for a reduction in oil production from OPEC members in order to increase the price of oil and therefore help Iraq get out of its $60 billion in debt.

Kuwait never decreased its oil production and Iraq’s economy suffered as the price of oil continued to drop. Iraq then accused Kuwait of slant drilling across the border into their Rumaila field, an accusation that was widely dismissed as false. Iraq claimed that they had lost $2.4 billion to Kuwait’s drilling and demanded reparation. Iraq began a massive military build-up near the border and continued demands for debt forgiveness and a decrease in oil production.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq launched an invasion against Kuwait. Kuwait was caught off-guard and had done nothing to prepare, despite the increasing tensions between the two countries. By the following day, the Kuwaiti military was all but defeated and Iraq officially took control of Kuwait. Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait led to the Gulf War seven months later.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
President Anwar El Sadat inspecting installations of Russian-made SAM missiles near Suez.

The Libyan-Egyptian War – 3 Days

Following the Yom Kippur war, tensions between Egypt and Libya deteriorated. In 1976, the Egyptian government claimed that they had uncovered a plot by the Libyans to overthrow the government in Cairo. In response, the Egyptian government revealed that they intended to exploit the internal problems in Libya to promote actions against Libya. By July 22, 1976, the Libyan government publicly announced that they would break all diplomatic ties to Cairo if the subversive acts did not stop.

Problems continued in August when 14 people were injured by an explosion in the bathroom of an Egyptian government office. The Egyptians blamed the Libyans. Later that same month an Egyptian plane was hijacked and again the Egyptians blamed the Libyans. Libya responded by closing the Egyptian consulate and claiming to have found an Egyptian espionage network within Libya.

The Egyptian government began concentrating troops all along the Libyan border and had the support of the United States government. Tensions only worsened in April and May 1977 when demonstrators attacked the embassies of each other’s countries. In June 1977, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered all Egyptians out of the country by July 1 or they would be arrested. That same month Libyan protesters headed for the border of Egypt but were stopped by border guards.

On July 21, 1977, Libyan forces carried out a raid on Sallum. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sent three divisions to the Libyan border. The divisions were able to stop the Libyan advance on Egypt. The Egyptian Air Force and the 3 divisions made their way across the Libyan border and captured several border towns. President Sadat then forced Libya into a ceasefire and withdrew on July 24, 1977. Even though the armistice was declared, the rift between the two states and their allies remained.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
Soldiers fighting during the 4 day Football War.

The Football War – 4 Days

Despite the name of the war, the actual cause of the war was economic in nature. Honduras became home to more than 300,000 Salvadorans who left their homes in El Salvador in search of more land and a better future. However, land reform in Honduras took the land away from immigrants and squatters from El Salvador and gave it over to native-born Hondurans. Thousands of Salvadoran laborers were forced out of Honduras and the tensions between the two countries began to escalate.

The tensions came to a head when Honduras and El Salvador faced each other in the 1970 FIFA World Cup qualifier. The first game was won by Honduras and was followed by violence. The second game was won by El Salvador and even greater violence followed. The playoff match took place on June 26, 1969, and was won by El Salvador. The very same day, El Salvador severed all diplomatic relations with Honduras over the crimes committed against Salvadorans and demanded reparations for the land that was taken from them.

On July 14, 1969, military action began against Honduras. The Salvadoran Army launched major offenses along the two main roads that connected the countries and invaded Honduras. At the start of the conflict, rapid progress was made by the Salvadoran army. The managed to push the Honduran army back 8 kilometers by July 15. This meant that the Salvadoran army was close to striking the Honduran capital.

On July 16, the Honduran bombers attacked for the first time, striking Ilopango and its oil facilities. The bombing campaign was enough to disrupt the logistical efforts of the Salvadoran army. On July 18, a cease-fire was arranged but it did not take effect until July 20. It was not until July 29 that El Salvador fully pulled out of Honduras, and it would be more than ten years before the two countries finally agreed on a peace settlement.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
War of the Stray Dog. Rotary Photo

War of the Stray Dog – 11 Days

Greece and Bulgaria had been in a tense relationship since the beginning of the 20th century. The two countries were rivals over the possession of Macedonia and Western Thrace. Even though the two regions came under the control of Greece after the Balkan Wars and World War I, Bulgaria still believed the land was rightfully theirs. There were revolutionary groups in Bulgaria that launched raids and terrorist attacks in Greek and Yugoslav territories.

There are two versions of what escalated the tensions between the two countries. In the first version, on October 18, 1925, a Greek soldier was chasing after his dog and ran over the Greek border. One of the Bulgarian sentries guarding the border shot the Greek soldier. In another version, the tensions escalated when Bulgarian soldiers crossed the Greek border on October 18. The Bulgarian soldiers attacked a Greek outpost and killed a Greek captain and sentry.

In response to the incident, the Greek government gave Bulgaria 48 hours to respond to three demands: Punish those responsible, give an official apology, and give two million francs as compensation to the victim’s family. On October 22, Greece sent soldiers in to Bulgaria in order to occupy Petrich with orders to make sure that the Greek demands were met. Bulgarian and Greek forces started fighting, and Bulgaria sought the help of the League of Nations to intervene.

Bulgarian forces and volunteers mounted a defensive line near Petrich to stop the Greek advance. The Greeks made it clear that they had no intention of taking Bulgarian territory, but that they wanted compensation for the dead soldier. The League of Nations did intervene and ordered a ceasefire that demanded Greek troops withdraw and pay £45,000 to Bulgaria. Both sides agreed to the terms. By the time Greece withdrew, over 50 people had been killed, most of them Bulgarian citizens.

The 8 Shortest Wars of the 20th Century
Slovenian soldier and a tank seized from the Yugoslavian National Army.

Ten Day War/Slovenian Independence War – 10 Days

After the death of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in 1980, tensions between the different regions of Yugoslavia surfaced. Tensions grew until 4 of the 6 regions of Yugoslavia decided to secede. Slovenia was one of the republics that sought their independence. In April 1990, Slovenia held the first democratic elections that was won by the DEMOS coalition.

On December 23, 1990, Slovenia held a referendum that passed with 88.5% of the electorate in favor of independence. The Slovenian government knew that the federal government in Belgrade might be opposed to Slovenian independence. In response to the elections, the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) announced that the territories would no longer be responsible for their own defense. All the republics would be disarmed and made subordinate to the Yugoslav People’s Army.

The Slovenian government resisted and kept the majority of the Slovenian Territorial Defense equipment out of the Yugoslav People’s Army. From May to October 1990, 21,000 Slovenian defense forces were mobilized under a new command structure that the federal government was unaware of. By November 1990 the Slovenian forces had created a plan of attack against the Yugoslav People’s Army. They believed that using guerrilla style warfare was their best chance against the YPA’s superior firepower.

On June 25, 1991, Slovenia passed the act of independence and the next day the Yugoslav People’s Army mobilized toward Italy. Fighting officially began on June 27, and continued for ten days. With the Brioni Accord, Yugoslovia officially recognized Slovenian independence and the Slovenian police and armed forced were recognized as sovereign. Yugoslavian forces retreated out of Slovenia and both sides suffered only minimal casualties.