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 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, that 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, that 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 up front 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 unexpected in front of Megiddo with an advance through the central route via Aruna.

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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)

Bowley, R. L. – Scilly at War (2001)

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

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