The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History

Khalid Elhassan - November 18, 2021

The shortest war in recorded history was fought in 1896, and it lasted for all of thirty eight minutes. For such a brief affair, there was plenty of carnage – even if the losses were decidedly lopsided. By contrast, the longest war in history lasted for more than three centuries, but nobody was killed in that conflict. Following are thirty things about those and other fascinating but lesser-known warfare facts.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Sultan Khalid bin Bargash rallies his men to resist the British. Cultura Colectiva

30. The Forgotten and Brief Anglo-Zanzibar War

In the nineteenth century, the Sultanate of Zanzibar in what is now Tanzania consisted of the islands of Zanzibar off the East African coast, and the mainland across the water from them. In 1890, the British and Germans divided Zanzibar amongst themselves: Germany got the mainland, while the British got the islands. That same year, the sultan of Zanzibar accepted a British protectorate, whose terms included the requirement that his successors had to be preapproved by the British. When the Sultan died in 1893, the British used that provision to install a puppet replacement, Hamad bin Thawani. He ruled for three years, then shortly before noon on August 25th, 1896, he died suddenly. It was suspected that his 29-year-old nephew Khalid bin Bargash had poisoned him.

Whatever his culpability, Khalid immediately moved into the palace in Zanzibar Town, and without British approval, as required by the terms of the protectorate treaty, he declared himself sultan. The British preferred a more pliant successor, Hamoud bin Muhammad. So they rushed three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and 900 African soldiers to Zanzibar Town, and gave Khalid an ultimatum to vacate the palace by 9 AM, August 27th, or else. He refused, gathered a force of about 2800 men, and barricaded himself in the palace. When the ultimatum expired on the 27th, the British ships were ordered to open fire, and they commenced a bombardment at 9:02 AM.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
The bombardment of Zanzibar Town. Wikimedia

29. The Shortest War in History

By 9:40 AM, the palace and the royal harem next door were on fire, the sultan’s flag had been cut down, and the gunfire ceased. A journalist reported that the sultan had “fled at the first shot with all the leading Arabs, who left their slaves and followers to carry on the fighting“, but others stated that he stuck around for a bit longer. However long he stayed, the sultan was not in the palace by the time the British reached it shortly after the bombardment stopped. Khalid, with dozens of his followers, fled to the German consulate, where he sought refuge. By that afternoon, the British had installed their favorite, Hamoud bin Muhammad, as sultan in his place.

In the war, which lasted roughly thirty-eight minutes, the British expended about 500 artillery shells, 4100 machinegun rounds, and 1000 rifle bullets. The Zanzibaris suffered losses of around 500 men and women killed or wounded, while British casualties consisted of a single petty officer, who was injured aboard a warship. The British sought Khalid’s extradition, but the Germans granted him asylum and transported him to German East Africa. He fell into British hands during World War I’s East Africa Campaign, and was exiled to Seychelles and then Saint Helena. He was eventually released and returned to East Africa, where he died in 1927.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Admiral Maarten Tromp, who declared war on the Isles of Scilly. Historic UK

28. History’s Longest War?

The longest war in history reportedly lasted for 335 and pitted the Isles of Scilly off England’s southwest coast against the Netherlands. Its origins date to the English Civil War, when the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist Navy to retreat to the Isles of Scilly. The Netherlands were allied with the Parliamentarians, so the Royalists preyed upon Dutch ships. Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp arrived in Scilly to demand reparations, but the Royalists failed to offer satisfaction. So he declared war on April 17th, 1651. Since most of England was in the hands of their Parliamentarian allies, the Dutch declaration was limited specifically to the Isles of Scilly.

Soon thereafter, the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist fleet to surrender and took over Scilly before the Dutch had fired a shot. The Dutch never got around a peace declaration, so technically, a state of war continued to exist between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly. In 1986, a historian contacted the Dutch Embassy in London to double-check if peace had ever been signed. None had been. So the Dutch ambassador visited Scilly on April 17th, 1986, the 335th anniversary of the declaration of war, to officially end the bloodless conflict.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Dan Bullock. Black Past

27. The Kid Who Desperately Wanted to be a US Marine

Dan Bullock was born in 1953 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he lived until his mother died when Dan was twelve-years-old. So he and his younger sister moved to Brooklyn, to live with their father and stepmother. When Dan was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his top three picks were a cop, a pilot, or a Marine. He eventually decided to give the Marines a try. However, he did not want to wait until he grew up.

In September 1968, fourteen-year-old Dan headed to a United States Marine Corps recruitment center with a doctored birth certificate. The birth year on the document was altered from 1953 to 1949, which made him eighteen – old enough to enlist. Although just fourteen, Dan was big and strong for his age – 5 foot 9, and 160 pounds. He made it through boot camp in Parris Island and became a bonafide Marine. Unfortunately, his tale soon took a turn from the cute to the tragic.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Dan Bullock. The New York Times

26. Dan Bullock Became the Youngest American Killed in the Vietnam War

After boot camp, US Marine Corps Private First Class Dan Bullock was sent to Vietnam, a war whose insatiable maw was ever hungry for more and more bodies. He arrived in South Vietnam on May 18th, 1969, and was assigned to Fox Company, Second Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division as a rifleman. He ended up in Quang Nam Province and was stationed in An Hoa Combat Base, about 25 miles southwest of Danang. By then, he was all of fifteen.

Dan was big for his age, but he was still a boy in every regard. Surrounded by men, he kept to himself, and his comrades noticed. Assigned base security duties, he was in a bunker with three other Marines on the night of June 6th, 1969, when North Vietnamese sappers stealthily crept under the wire that surrounded the base. They got close enough to Dan’s bunker to toss a satchel charge through a slit. The explosion killed all four occupants. Dan Bullock was the youngest American killed in the Vietnam War, or since World War I, for that matter.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Princess Noor Inayat Khan and her mother. Second World War Experience Center

25. A Remarkable World War II Heroine

Princess Noor Inayat Khan, born in Moscow in 1914 into an unusual family, was one of the most remarkable women of World War II. Her father Inayat Khan was a Sufi Master and Muslim noble descended from the royal family of eighteenth-century Indian monarch Tipu Sultan. He earned his living as a musician and teacher of Sufism. Noor’s mother, Pirani Ameena Begum, was born Ora Ray Baker, an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The couple met in New York City and fell in love.

When her guardian forbade her from seeing Inayat, Noor’s mother sailed to London and married him there. When she was still an infant, Noor’s parents left Moscow for London, where they lived during WWI. After the war, they relocated to France. As a child, Noor was described as sensitive, shy, quiet, and dreamy. There was no hint that she would someday join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) – a secret organization tasked by Winston Churchill with “setting Europe ablaze!” – or secretly infiltrate into German-occupied on a clandestine mission against the Nazis.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Noor Inayat Khan with a veena. Medium

24. Raised a Pacifist, This Woman Set Pacifism Aside to Fight the Nazis

Princess Noor Inayat Khan studied music at the Paris Conservatory and became an accomplished harpist and pianist, as well as a virtuoso on the veena – a stringed Indian musical instrument. She also studied child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also became an accomplished poet, wrote children’s stories, was regularly featured in children’s magazines, and was frequently heard on French radio. Noor did all that before she was 25-years-old. When the Germans invaded and overran France in 1940, she and her family fled to Britain.

Although she had been raised a pacifist, Noor and her younger brother Vilayat decided to set their pacifism aside in order to fight Nazism. In November 1940, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and began to train as a wireless operator. It was mind-numbingly tedious work, so to relieve the boredom, she applied for a commission in 1941, in the hope that she might get a more interesting assignment. The assignment she got was extremely interesting.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Noor Inayat Khan. Beco d India

23. The First Female SOE Wireless Operator in Nazi-Occupied France

British intelligence caught wind of Noor Inayat Khan’s requests for a more challenging assignment, and they were more than happy to oblige her. She had grown up in France and was fluent in French. That made her quite a catch for the British, who faced a severe shortage of French speakers. So she was recruited by the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and in early 1943, was sent to train as a clandestine wireless operator behind enemy lines.

The fact that she had been previously trained as a wireless operator gave her an edge and head start over other trainees. Noor was not the first SOE woman sent to France. However, the Muslim princess was the first SOE woman who was infiltrated into France as a wireless operator – the other women sent before she had all been couriers. Noor’s job was to maintain a link between the Resistance in France and the Allies in London and send and receive messages to coordinate activities.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
A Mark II receiver and transmitter, also known as the B2 Radio Set, of the type that Noor Inayat Khan and other SOE wireless operators were trained to operate during the war. Wikimedia

22. The Hazardous Job of a Clandestine Wireless Operator

Princess Noor Inayat Khan’s mission as a clandestine wireless operator in German-occupied France was extremely hazardous. It grew ever more dangerous as the war progressed and the Germans’ ability to detect transmissions rapidly improved. Clandestine wireless operators had to hide as best they could as they tapped out messages in code, and string up aerials disguised as clothes lines in attics. They then had to wait, sometimes for hours, for a reply, or at least an acknowledgment that their message had been received. As they did that, German signal vans were on constant patrol to try and pick up and triangulate the location of clandestine transmissions.

A wireless operator who stayed on the air for too long could lead the Germans straight to his or her location. So wireless operators like Noor had to constantly move around, and flit from transmission site to transmission site as inconspicuously as they could. That was no small feat. German military patrols, the Gestapo, and collaborationist French police frequently stopped and searched people, and back then, transmitters were bulky contraptions that filled a suitcase. In 1943, when Noor accepted her assignment, the life expectancy of a clandestine wireless operator in Nazi territory was just six weeks.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
The SOE used Lysanders to secretly infiltrate operatives at night into Nazi-occupied Europe. Brooks Aviation Art

21. A Princess Infiltrates Nazi-Occupied France

In the dark of the night of June 16 – 17, 1943, Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan, was infiltrated into Nazi-occupied France. Codenamed Madeline and furnished with fake identity documents that named her as Jeanne-Marie Regnier, she boarded a black-painted Westland Lysander. It flew her and two other female SOE agents to a clandestine airfield in the countryside. There, they were met by French SOE agent Henri Dericourt, who coordinated air operations between Britain and clandestine networks on the ground in France.

Dericourt’s service with the SOE was controversial. After the war, accusations were made that he had been a traitor and double agent. It was alleged that he had worked for the Sicherheitdienst (SD), the intelligence arm of the Nazi SS, and that he had betrayed numerous SOE agents and French Resistance members to the Germans. He was tried on the charges and was acquitted. However, suspicions lingered and surrounded him to the end of his life. They included suspicions that he had betrayed Noor Inayat Khan.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Colorized photo of Princess Noor Inayat Khan. Wikimedia

20. The Tragic End of a War Heroine

Although the average life expectancy of a clandestine wireless operator in German-occupied France was six weeks, Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan survived for longer than that. She arrived in mid-June, 1943, and lasted for nearly four months before she was arrested by the SD on October 13th, 1943. She was betrayed to the Germans either by Henri Dericourt, or a female agent named Renee Garry, who was driven by jealousy because her love interest was attracted to Noor. Along with Noor, the Germans captured documents that allowed them to mount a counter-intelligence operation that nabbed three more SOE agents.

Noor escaped her imprisonment twice but was recaptured. After the second attempt, she was classified as a “dangerous prisoner”, and was kept in solitary confinement, with her hands and feet in shackles. Despite harsh conditions and harsher interrogations, Noor refused to give the Nazis anything. After ten months of cruel confinement, she was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp, where she was brutally beaten by an SS officer, before she was shot to death on September 13th, 1944. An inmate who witnessed her death stated that her last words were “Liberte”. After the war, Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the British George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Ancient relics like these inspired Shelley’s Ozymandias. Choice of Games

19. The Real Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land,

Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away – Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh Ramesses II (circa 1303 – 1213 BC), or Ramesses the Great, a title he might have bestowed upon himself, was the powerful ruler whom the Greeks named Ozymandias. Often identified as the pharaoh who clashed with Moses in the Exodus story, this Ramesses was the greatest, most powerful, and most celebrated ruler of the New Kingdom, Ancient Egypt’s most powerful period. A warrior through and through, he battled sea pirates, fought numerous campaigns in the Levant, and led several military expeditions into Nubia.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Ramesses II. Wikimedia

18. A Great Pharaoh’s Preparations for War

Ramesses II fought the Battle of Kadesh in 1274, the earliest battle in recorded history for which details such as tactics and formations are known. 6000 chariots took part, which also made it the biggest chariot clash in history. It occurred against a backdrop of a generations-long rivalry between Egypt and the Hittite Empire of Anatolia, as they jockeyed to control the lands of Canaan between them. Early in his reign (1279 – 1213 BC), Ramesses II decided to finish off the protracted war once and for all. Over a period of years, he patiently assembled a powerful army and built-up supply depots.

When all was ready, he marched north from Egypt into Canaan with four divisions. First was the Amon Division, led by Ramesses in person, followed by the divisions of Re, Ptah, and Sutekh. When he heard the news, the Hittite King Muwatalli II marched south from Anatolia into Canaan, with 3000 heavy chariots and 8000 infantry. In the late spring of 1274 BC, Ramesses emerged from the hills above the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, near today’s Lebanon-Syria border, without having spotted the Hittites. They were far closer than he knew.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh. The Masculine Epic

17. An Indecisive Battle Depicted as a Decisive Victory

The Hittites were hidden behind Kadesh when Ramesses II reached the city, but nomads falsely informed the pharaoh that his enemies were nowhere near. Emboldened, Ramesses hurried with the Amon Division to Kadesh and left the rest of his army behind to catch up. As Ramesses advanced, the Hittites circled around the city, and made sure to keep Kadesh between themselves and the Egyptians as they did so. While Ramesses and the Division of Amon made camp, the Division of Re straggled up the road behind. That was when 2000 massed Hittite chariots charged directly across the Egyptian line of march. They wrecked the Division of Re, then surrounded Ramesses in his camp.

The pharaoh gathered his personal guards and led a desperate charge that drove some Hittite leaders into the Orontes River. Fortunately for Ramesses, the Hittites behind him abandoned their chariots to loot the Egyptian camp. That was when the Division of Sutekh arrived in the nick of time and slaughtered the looters. As the Hittite King Muwatalli sent in the rest of his chariots, the last Egyptian Division of Ptah arrived, and the battle lasted until sunset. After prolonged slaughter, the Hittites finally withdrew into Kadesh, and left the field – and victory – to Ramesses. Upon his return, the warrior pharaoh littered Egypt with monuments and murals that detailed the engagement, and in which he described himself as “Ramesses, the Great, Conqueror of the Hittites” – which is how we know so much about the battle.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Edith Cavell. Heart Christian Newspaper

16. A World War I Heroine

Heroes and heroines in real life, unlike in comic books and movies, seldom wear capes and tight leotards. In the case of real-life heroine Edith Cavell (1865 – 1915), she wore a nurse’s smock and cap. As a middle-aged woman, Cavell saved hundreds of lives early in the First World War. She was not armed with a gun when she did that. Instead, she was armed and armored by faith and a sense of basic decency that compelled her to help those in need.

Also, unlike the fate of heroes and heroines in movies and comic books, her story did not end happily. Because it happened in real life, and in real life, the hero comes to grief more often than not, Edith Cavell’s heroism got her executed by a firing squad. Born in 1865 in a small English village in East Anglia, Cavell was the eldest of four children of a vicar and his equally religious wife. She received an excellent by the standards of her day, and upon graduation, she worked as a governess, including for a family in Brussels from 1890-1895.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Edith Cavell. Delphi Pages

15. An Influential Nurse

Edith Cavell left Belgium and returned to England to care for her father when he became seriously ill. By the time he recovered, Cavell realized that she had discovered what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: become a nurse. So in 1896, she began to train as a nurse and graduated two years later. Her early Christian upbringing instilled in her a sense of duty towards those less fortunate than herself, and that led her to apply for work in hospitals that served the poorer parts of London.

She was invited back to Brussels in 1907 to become the matron, or chief nurse, of Belgium’s first modern school for nurses. By 1910, the energetic Cavell had launched Belgium’s first nursing journal and was training nurses for three hospitals, thirteen kindergartens, and twenty-four schools. When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914 and kicked off WWI in the west, Cavell was in England, on a visit to her mother. She felt that it was her duty to return to Brussels immediately.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
German troops parade in central Brussels in 1914, early in World War I. Pinterest

14. Acts of Mercy, That Also Happened to be Illegal Under the Laws of War

By August 20th, 1914, the Germans had occupied Brussels, and Edith Cavell’s nursing school was transformed into a Red Cross hospital that treated soldiers from all sides, as well as civilians. In September 1914, she was asked to help two wounded British soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. She treated them, then helped smuggle them out of German-occupied Belgium and across the border into the neutral Netherlands. That was the start of her involvement in a clandestine network that sheltered Allied soldiers and Belgian men of military age and arranged for their escape from German-occupied territory.

In the eleven months that followed, Cavell helped over 200 British, French, and Belgian soldiers and civilians. She sheltered them in her hospital, furnished them with false identity papers, and arranged to smuggle them across the border to safety. As she put it: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved“. Her efforts to help others were honorable, but they were also illegal under the laws of war. The Germans suspected Cavell but could find no evidence against her, until she was betrayed by a collaborator. She was arrested on August 3rd, 1915, and imprisoned for ten weeks – the last two in solitary confinement.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Propaganda poster of the execution of Edith Cavell. BBC

13. An Angel of Mercy Who Became a Saint

When the Germans deposed Edith Cavell, she confessed. She admitted that she had sheltered about 60 British and 15 French soldiers, plus over 100 Belgian and French civilians of military age, then helped smuggle them across the border. Her admission that she had helped enemy soldiers escape to countries at war with Germany sealed her fate. She was tried before a military tribunal, convicted, and sentenced to death. Legally, the Germans had every right to execute Cavell – a civilian who helped Germany’s enemies in the midst of a declared war. Her protection as a Red Cross nurse was forfeited when she used it as cover to help Germany’s foes.

Politically, however, the German decision to execute the middle-aged nurse, which was carried out by a firing squad on October 12th, 1915, was a public relations disaster. Nurse Cavell became an iconic propaganda figure in Britain. In the then-still-neutral United States, her execution further sullied Germany’s reputation – a reputation already marred by a German U-boat’s sinking of the Lusitania earlier that year, in which 128 Americans were killed. After the war, Cavell’s remains were returned to Britain for a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. To this day, the Church of England commemorates the date of her execution, October 12th, on its Calendar of Saints.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
A copy of Special Orders 191, displayed at Crampton’s Gap. Wikimedia

12. A Chance Find That Changed the US Civil War

In the long and tortuous course of the US Civil War, the fall of 1862 might have been the lowest point for the federal government and the Union’s cause. The year had started promisingly enough with a campaign that sought to capture Richmond, but a series of mistakes turned that into a fiasco. Then the Confederates under Robert E. Lee dealt the federals a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Second Bull Run in August, and early in September, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland.

Things looked bleak, with Britain and France about to recognize the Confederates’ independence, when the Union caught an unexpected break. On September 13th, as the Army of the Potomac hurried to catch up with Lee’s forces, Union Army Corporal Barton Mitchell arrived at a campsite that had been recently vacated by the enemy. As he rummaged around, he found an envelope with three cigars wrapped in some papers. The papers turned out to be Special Orders No. 191, in which Lee had spelled out his army’s movements.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
The Battle of Antietam. Library of Congress

11. The Bloodiest Day in American History

Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191 were rocketed up the Army of the Potomac’s chain of command until they reached its chief, General George B. McClellan. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Confederate army was spread out, and that fate had gifted him an unexpected golden opportunity to defeat his enemy’s scattered units one by one before they could unite. Unfortunately, McClellan was not the best man to seize golden opportunities, and Lee managed to concentrate his army in the nick of time.

The result was a major battle fought in the vicinity of Antietam Creek on September 17th, 1862. It was the bloodiest day in American history, with a combined tally of over 22,000 dead, wounded, and missing. McClellan had a chance to finish off Lee’s army, but failed to do so. Nonetheless, the horrific casualties ended Lee’s Maryland Campaign and forced him to withdraw and return to Virginia. The Confederates never came as close again to victory in the US Civil War as they did that September of 1862.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Rolando Masferrer. Memorias de Un Cubano

10. War is Good for TV Ratings, So a TV Network Tried to Finance One

A healthy society and government cannot do without free media and a decent dose of investigative reportage. However, investigative journalism is not that easy and requires diligence, persistence, long hours and hard work. Not everybody is a big fan of hard work, so it should come as no surprise that on occasion, unscrupulous investigative reporters have resorted to unethical means and cut corners as they chased a story. Or, instead of bothering to chase a story at all, they decided to simply create one from scratch.

The latter is what happened in 1966, when CBS producers heard of plans to invade multiple Caribbean islands. They were pushed by a man named Rolando “El Tigre” Masferrer, one of the most extreme – and vile – Cubans forced out by Fidel Castro. Head of a paramilitary group of exiles known as Los Tigres, he came up with an ambitious scheme to invade the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as preludes to an invasion of Cuba. CBS figured that it might have ratings hit on its hands, and agreed to finance the invasions in exchange for the exclusive right to broadcast them.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Cuban exiles captured after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. CIA

9. An Unscrupulous CBS Got Scammed Hard by an Even More Unscrupulous Would-Be Warlord

Rolando Masferrer thought up Project Nassau: a multiple-step plan to invade Cuba. American enthusiasm for a Cuba invasion had evaporated after the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, so Masferrer needed another base of operations. He plotted to invade and seize the Dominican Republic as a first step. He would then use the Dominican Republic as a base from which to invade and seize next door Haiti. He would then use Haiti, in turn, as a base from which he would invade Castro’s Cuba. Masferrer approached CBS and offered it exclusive broadcast rights over the multiple invasions in exchange for financial support. The network agreed and paid over $200,000 to fund his schemes.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Rolando Masferrer over the years. The Cuban History

CBS cameras followed Project Nassau for eight months. They filmed smugglers as they brought guns into Florida. They covered training exercises, one of which ended with the explosion of a rifle that took out an exile’s eye. They conducted a weird interview with Masferrer, who for some reason wore pantyhose over his head. CBS eventually pulled out when it realized that it was the victim of a scam, and that the “training” was staged. The plotters were arrested and convicted of arms smuggling and violations of the Neutrality Act, and CBS was investigated and censured by Congress. The exile who lost his eye sued CBS for workers’ compensation, on grounds that he was employed by the network at the time. CBS reached a settlement with him out of court.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
George Washington with some of his hounds. History Network

8. A War That Was Paused Because of a Dog

American presidents have usually been dog people. Even the ones who might not have been that fond of dogs have often found it convenient to keep a mutt or two in the White House for appearances’ sake and to project a wholesome image. However, few American presidents were as fond of Man’s Best Friends as America’s first president. George Washington was a big-time dog lover and had dogs from just about every group recognized by the American Kennel Club today.

Terriers, Spaniels, French hounds, greyhounds, Briards and Newfoundlands were just some of the breeds that Washington kept at one time or another. He housed a pack of foxhounds in a well-maintained kennel, with a spring that ran through it to supply them with fresh water. He personally inspected the kennel twice a day, when he dropped by to check on his beloved hounds. As seen below, Washington’s love of dogs even led him to call an unexpected truce amidst the American Revolutionary War, in order to return an enemy’s lost dog.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
The Battle of Germantown. American Battlefield Trust

7. A Lost Battle, With a Four-Legged Consolation Prize

Although George Washington was a great leader, he was only a so-so general who lost more battles than he won. Fortunately for him, the ones that he won included the conflict’s most important engagement: the Siege of Yorktown, which concluded with the surrender of a British army and effectively brought the American War of Independence to an end. The ones that he lost included the Battle of Germantown, near Philadelphia on October 4th, 1777, in which a British army led by Sir William Howe defeated Washington and his forces.

As they retreated after their loss, the American soldiers discovered that their ranks included an unexpected addition: an unknown but clearly well-kept terrier. When they inspected the dog’s collar, the soldiers discovered that it belonged to Sir William Howe. The British commander’s dog had wandered into the battlefield, and amidst the din, chaos, and confusion, it attached itself to the Americans. The Patriots wanted to keep it in order to taunt Howe and the British, but their commander was too classy to keep another man’s dog.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Sir William Howe. New York Public Library Digital Gallery

6. George Washington’s Classy Gesture

George Washington resisted his men’s calls to keep Sir William Howe’s prized terrier. Instead, he sent a messenger under a white flag of truce, across the lines to the British commander. The messenger delivered the dog to Sir William, along with a note that read in relevant part: “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return to him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe“.

The British commander was impressed by the unexpected gesture from his enemy, expressed his gratitude to Washington, and described the incident as “the honorable act of a fine gentleman“. The episode did not end the war, which continued unabated for years. Nor did it end Howe’s participation in the conflict. However, although he continued to fight and win battles against the Americans, Sir William Howe did so with less enthusiasm than he had exhibited before Washington interrupted the war to return his dog.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo refused to accept Poland’s declaration of war. The New York Times

5. When Japan Refused to Accept a Declaration of War

The Empire of Japan kicked off WWII in the Pacific on December 7th, 1941, when it attacked the US at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, and British and Dutch possessions in Asia and the Pacific. That triggered declarations of war against Japan not only from the attacked countries but also from a slew of allied countries that were already at war with Germany. To demonstrate their solidarity with America and Britain, they rushed to add Japan to their list of formal enemies.

Many war declarations against Japan came from governments in exile, that represented countries conquered by Germany. However, the declaration of one exiled government elicited an odd reaction: when Poland declared war against Japan, the Japanese refused to accept the declaration. As Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo put it: “We do not accept Poland’s challenge. The Poles, fighting for their freedom, only declared war on us under pressure from the United Kingdom”. Despite Poland’s war declaration, Japanese-Polish ties continued, and Japan went so far as to help the Poles against Japan’s own Axis ally, Germany.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
A satirical anti-Russian map made by a Japanese student during the Russo-Japanese War. Cornell University

4. The Romantic Roots of an Unlikely Friendship Between Distant Countries

The Poles and Japanese are not exactly two peas in a pod, but Poland and Japan shared a common enemy: Russia. Russia had participated in repeated partitions of Poland that erased it as an independent country in the eighteenth century. For generations afterward, Russia suppressed repeated rebellions by Polish nationalists who sought to revive and free Poland. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan emerged as a power in the Far East, whose ambitions in the region clashed with Russia’s. The two countries eventually fought the Russo-Japanese War, which ended with an upset Japanese victory over the far bigger Russian Empire. Mutual antipathy towards Russia thus drew the Poles and Japanese together.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Fukushima Yasumasa’s epic horseback journey. Gentlemen’s Military Interest Club

In the late nineteenth century, a Japanese officer named Fukushima Yasumasa made an epic horseback ride across two continents, from Berlin to Vladivostok. He passed through Poland, grew fond of the Poles, and was moved by the tragedy of the partitions that had extinguished their country. When he returned to Japan, Fukushima’s reports struck a chord and inspired The Memory of Poland, a sentimental poem about a country that had lost its freedom. When it was set to music, The Memory of Poland became a smash hit that took Japan by storm and aroused sympathy for Poles. When Poland regained her independence after WWI, Japan supported her admission to the League of Nations. In the interwar years, the two countries cooperated, especially in espionage against Russia’s successor state, the Soviet Union.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
A passport issued by the Polish embassy in Tokyo, which continued to function for two years after Poland was conquered by Japan’s ally, Germany. Our Passports

3. The Japanese Continued to Help the Poles Even After Poland Declared War Against Them

The cooperation between the Poles and Japanese continued even after WWII began with Germany’s 1939 invasion and conquest of Poland. Despite close German-Japanese ties, the fact that they were both signatories of the anticommunist Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 and the Tripartite Pact of 1940, Poland’s embassy continued to function in Tokyo. That strange situation lasted until German pressure forced its closure in October 1941. A Polish espionage network functioned out of the Japanese embassy in Berlin, and Polish agents were supplied with Japanese passports – including diplomatic passports – that allowed them to move freely throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

In an odder twist, even after Poland declared war against Japan, the Japanese continued to cooperate with the Poles. Polish agents continued to move throughout German-occupied Europe with passports that had been provided by the Japanese government. Japanese and Polish intelligence services continued to exchange information about Germany and the Soviet Union throughout the war. It took sixteen years for the strange Polish-Japanese War to come to a formal end when the People’s Republic of Poland finally signed an agreement with Japan to restore formal relations.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Painted relief of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Wikimedia

2. The First Recorded Battle With Relatively Reliable Details in the History of War

As seen above, Pharaoh Ramesses II established his reputation – with the help of a considerable amount of spin – as Ancient Egypt’s greatest warrior. Two centuries before his day, there was another great warrior pharaoh: Thutmose III. His best-known engagement was the Battle of Megiddo, in 1457 BC. It is the earliest recorded battle in the history of war for which relatively reliable details exist. It took place between an Egyptian army led by Thutmose, and a coalition of rebellious Canaanite states that sought to free themselves of vassalage to Egypt. The rebellion was centered in the city of Megiddo, an important hub at the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley, astride the main trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Thutmose III’s choice of routes to Megiddo. History Bytes

Thutmose advanced from Egypt at the head of a strong army to Yaham. From there, he had the choice of three routes: a southern one via Taanakh, a northern route via Yokneam, and a central one via Aruna that would take him straight to Megiddo. The southern and northern routes were longer, but safer. The central route was quicker but risky because it required passage through narrow ravines in which an army would have to advance single file. It would be easy for an enemy to let an army file through the narrow passage, then attack the exit and entrance to bottle it upfront and rear.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Thutmose III at the Battle of Megiddo. Pinterest

1. A Victory Through Reverse Psychology

Pharaoh Thutmose III realized that the central route to Megiddo through Aruna was so obviously dangerous that no reasonable commander would risk his army in its ravines. He also reasoned that the rebels would leave it unguarded because they would not expect the Egyptians to court disaster with such an obviously risky advance. Thutmose was the kind of warrior who did not fear calculated risks if the prize was big enough. So he made a gamble and took the central route. As he had hoped, the path was unguarded, and the Egyptians arrived at Megiddo sooner than expected.

The War That Lasted 38 Minutes and Other Fascinating Warfare History
Destroyed Ottoman equipment and carriages after the 1918 Battle of Megiddo. Imperial War Museums

Thutmose’s sudden arrival caught the Canaanites flat-footed. In the Battle of Megiddo that followed, Thutmose won a decisive victory that secured Egyptian hegemony over the region for centuries. 3375 years later, in the First World War, British General Allenby, an avid student of ancient history, faced the same choice as Thutmose. Allenby led a British army that advanced from the south against Ottomans and Germans entrenched in the Jezreel Valley. He stole a march upon them and burst unexpectedly in front of Megiddo with an advance through the central route via Aruna.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Antietam on the Web – Special Order 191: Perhaps the Greatest ‘What If’ of American Military History

Basu, Shrabani – Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan (2006)

Burns, Patrick – American Working Terriers (2006)

Catton, Bruce – The Civil War, Three Volumes in One (1984)

De Leeuw, Adele – Edith Cavell: Nurse, Spy, Heroine (1968)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Anglo-Zanzibar War

Encyclopedia Britannica – Edith Cavell

First News, The – Strangest War in History? Seventy-One Years Ago Today, Poland Declared War on its Old Friend Japan, and it Lasted for 16 Years

Foot, Michael Richard Daniell – SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France, 1940 – 1944 (2004)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe: Volumes 1 – 7, From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

Hernon, Ian – Britain’s Forgotten Wars: Colonial Campaigns of the 19th Century (2003)

Historic UK – The Shortest War in History

History Collection – WWII’s Crucial Battle of the Atlantic

History Daily – When George Washington Ordered a Ceasefire to Return a Dog

Imperial War Museums – Who Was Edith Cavell?

Japan Forum, 7:2, 285-316 (1995) – Polish-Japanese Cooperation During World War II

Kitchen, Kenneth – Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt (1983)

New York Times, June 7th, 2019 – He Enlisted at 14, Went to Vietnam at 15, and Died a Month Later

Psychology Today – George Washington: President, General, and Dog Breeder

Raphael, Chad – Investigated Reporting: Muckrakers, Regulators, and the Struggle Over Television Documentary (2005)

Redford, Donald B. – The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III (2003)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund – Dan Bullock