10 Strange wars that history completely forgot

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Most of us are fairly well versed in the history of the major wars such as the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and our own Border War.

Yet there are some wars that history hasn’t paid much attention to. Wars that we either know nothing about, or our information is sketchy at best.

Let’s take a closer look at ten of those wars.

Canada vs Croatia

Do you remember that time when Canada, despite being outnumbered three to one, knocked the daylights out of the Croatian Army. No? Well that’s hardly surprising seeing as how the Canadian government banned all reports of the incident.

It began in 1991 with the collapse of Yugoslavia. A brutal ethnic war broke out between the new Croatian and Serbian governments.

Reports that the Croatians were massacring civilians forced the United Nations to intervene. In response they sent 900 Canadian troops into the region to act as a peacekeeping force.

Normally the Canadians are a peacefully and friendly bunch. That is until you put them in an ice-hockey rink. Then you will see just how aggressive they can become.

If you really wanted to see an effective fighting force, take the Canadian’s guns away, give them an ice-hockey stick, and tell them the enemy has the puck.

The Croatians made the mistake of thinking that the Canadians would be a push-over and attacked them with a force of 2,500 soldiers. It was a costly error.

Not only did the Canadians manage to hold off the much larger force, they inflicted 87 casualties on the Croatians, including 27 dead, before the Croats retreated in disarray. And to top it all, the Canadians didn’t suffer a single casualty.

Now you would think that the Canadian government would be proud of their troops and hail their bravery. This was not the case.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien actually banned the Canadian media from reporting the incident for nine years.

Supposedly this was to avoid ruining his administration’s peace-loving image or upsetting Canada’s Croatian population.  Although we think it might just be that Canada was too polite to boast about it.

Anglo-Zanzibar War

Most readers will know about the Six-Day War. This took place in 1967 when Israel took on seven countries and defeated them in only six days.

Let’s be honest, six days is a pretty short war. Yet how about a war that lasted a mere 38 minutes. This made it the shortest recorded war in history.

The year was 1896, back at a time when Britain still ruled the waves, and often waived the rules.

Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini ruled the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of present-day Tanzania. The sultan was very pro-British. When Thuwaini died on 25 August, 1896, he was succeeded by Sultan Khalid bin Barghash.

The British authorities were keen on Hamud bin Muhammed becoming the new sultan as he was also pro-British. And the British felt that they had a say in the matter of succession.

In accordance with a treaty signed in 1886, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate obtain the permission of the British consul, and Khalid had not bothered obtaining said permission.

The British considered this a casus belli (Latin expression meaning “an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war”).

They sent an ultimatum to Khalid, demanding that he order his forces to stand down and that he leave the palace. In response, Khalid called up his palace guard and barricaded himself inside the palace. Not a wise move on his part.

When the ultimatum expired at 09h00 on 27 August, the British already had three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 local auxiliary troops in the harbour.

Facing them was the Zanzibar royal yacht HMS Glasgow, two small vessels, and 2,800 of the Sultan’s troops. Most of the Sultan’s troops were recruited from the civilian population.

The defenders had several artillery pieces and machine guns that were set in front of the palace and aimed at the British ships.

At 09h02 the British opened fire. The palace was set on fire and the artillery was disabled. At the same time HMS Glasgow and the two small ships were sunk.

The pro-British Zanzibari troops stormed the palace, the flag at the palace was shot down, and at 09h40 the palace defenders surrendered. A mere 38 minutes after the war had begun, it was over.

The sultan’s forces suffered roughly 500 casualties, while only one British sailor was lightly injured.

By this stage Sultan Khalid had already fled, seeking asylum in the German consulate before fleeing to German East Africa.

The British quickly placed Sultan Hamud in power at the head of a puppet government. The war marked the end of the Zanzibar Sultanate as a sovereign state and the start of a period of heavy British influence.

Van Zandt vs America

After the American Civil War ended in 1865 the people of America got together to form the United States. Well, nearly everyone.

The people of the small county of Van Zandt in Texas were sick of both sides. So in 1867 they decided to secede from the United States and form their own country. They even went as far as drawing up their own Declaration of Independence, based on the American Declaration of Independence.

Not surprisingly the United States was not happy with this upstart country embarrassing them, and sent a cavalry unit to deal with them. Not to be outdone, the Van Zandt gathered their own troops and declared war on America.

The US Cavalry rode in assured of a quick victory. There were two factors that counted against them though.

First of all the Van Zandt were fighting on home ground that they knew like the back of their hand. Secondly the densely wooded conditions of Van Zandt County made cavalry useless.

The Americans were ambushed and defeated, forcing them to pull back. Having achieved the ultimate underdog victory, the Van Zandt did the only sensible thing to do - they held a victory celebration and got blind drunk.

In fact they were  so drunk that the defeated American cavalry marched in and arrested them.

Watched over by only one guard, the prisoners soon escaped and the US Army never bothered chasing them. The country’s Declaration of Independence was never officially repealed, meaning to this day Van Zandt is technically its own nation.

ALL OVER BEFORE TEA: The entrance to the Palace in Stone Town, Zanzibar. This was the scene for the shortest war ever.

Russia vs Japan

When the Russian Army rolled into Berlin and forced the Nazis to surrender, you would have thought that they would have called it a day.

After all, they had lost over 26 million people during the war. But Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was not prepared to sit back and take a breather. Uncle Joe sensed opportunity, and it was knocking very loudly.

After America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945, it became clear that the war would not last much longer.

On 8 August, 1945, the USSR declared war on Japan and launched three separate invasions on Japanese territory in China. This sudden attack took Japan by surprise and they were driven out of China in a matter of days.

Russia’s Allied partners, America and Britain, were probably just as surprised as the Japanese. Since the Yalta Conference in February 1945 they had been pleading with Stalin to declare war on Japan. They felt that this would force Japan to surrender, but Stalin’s answer had been a resounding “het”.

Not done yet, the USSR then began to attack Japanese land in Korea. The fighting lasted three weeks and killed 12,000 Japanese soldiers.

Eventually, on 2 September, 1945, Japan surrendered, bringing to an end World War II.

According to some historians, Stalin declared war on Japan to aid the Allies and bring the war to a quicker conclusion. Others think that Stalin was just out to grab as much land as possible before the war ended.

Netherlands vs Isles of Scilly

When you’re at war for over three hundred years and there hasn’t been a single casualty then either you’re not trying hard enough, or someone is not taking the war seriously enough.

It all started with the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell and his army of royal-hating Parliamentarians were on the verge of winning the war and driving the remaining Royalist forces of the king out of mainland England.

Pushed out of Cornwall, the Royalists settled on the Isles of Scilly. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago off the Cornish coast, in southwest England.

In an act of solidarity with the Parliamentarians, the Netherlands declared war on the 9.5 square kilometre archipelago. The Dutch Navy arrived off the shores of Scilly and demanded money from the Royalist forces.

Receiving no answer from the Royalists, the Dutch packed up and sailed home without firing a single shot. The Dutch quickly forgot about the incident and that, as they say in the classics, should have been that.

There was, however, one small detail that was overlooked - the Dutch had never bothered signing a peace treaty. It wasn’t until 1986 that a historian from the Isles of Scilly pointed out that the area was still at war with the Dutch.

Rather than immediately invade the islands the Dutch did the grown-up, albeit rather tongue-in-cheek, thing and sent an ambassador down to sign a peace treaty.

The ‘war’ lasted 335 years, making it one of the longest wars in history.

Switzerland vs Switzerland

The land of banks, chocolate, and cuckoo clocks is well known for staying neutral. In fact the Swiss haven’t picked a fight with another country since 1815. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t knock the stuffing out of each other from time to time.

In the nineteenth century Switzerland was more a loosely connected collection of regions than a country. There was a move to unite the areas under a single, centralised, government. Seven Catholic regions opposed the move. They distanced themselves from the rest of Switzerland and, ironically, bonded together to create their own nation under a centralised government.

The new country of Sonderbund formed at the bottom of Switzerland in 1847. The largely Protestant Switzerland wasn’t amused with a new Catholic country on their doorstep and declared war on them.

Surprised that Switzerland of all places wanted a war, Sonderbund was caught off guard and they appealed for help from Austria and France. The two countries agreed to help, but then spent so much time discussing the right way to aid Sonderbund that they ended up doing nothing.

With an army 20,000 men stronger that Sonderbund’s, the Swiss forces attacked at the beginning of November and forced a surrender before the month ended.

Mormons vs America

The last people you would expect to get all rowdy and pick a fight would be the Mormons. After all, they are well known for being extremely nice and polite. However, there was once a time when the Mormons were more than prepared to take on the US Army.

Having met opposition to their polygamous lifestyle in the United States, the Church of Latter Day Saints formed their own territory in what is now Utah. While setting up a government there, Mormon leader Brigham Young kicked out all the officials he thought were too corrupt or inept.

This, as it turned out, was not a good idea. The disgruntled former officials returned to the US and started spreading rumours that Young wanted to attack America. President James Bucannan took the threat seriously enough to send a military force of 55,000 troops to deal with the perceived threat.

Yet despite their superior numbers, the US troops kept losing skirmishes to the local Mormon forces. After a series of small battles, one of the Mormon militias attacked a train of civilian wagons. They were hoping that the US would believe that the area was populated by a tribe of bloodthirsty and dangerous Native Americans. 126 innocent men, women and children died in the massacre.

At this point the war had become an embarrassment, and both Bucannan and Young agreed it was best to stop the fighting and pretend it never happened.  Utah would continue to be under Mormon rule for 40 years until it became a US state in 1896.

NA ZDOROVIE COMRADE: The war between Moldova and Transnistria was known as the ‘Drunken War’ by the locals.

The Northern Crusades

Most of you are aware of the Crusades, the repeated attempts by the Catholic Church to capture Jerusalem. But there were other, less famous crusades you’ve probably never heard of.

One of these was the so-called ‘Northern Crusade’, also known as the Wendish Crusade. The object of this 12th century expedition was to wipe out paganism across Europe.

With the Kingdoms of Sweden and Denmark spearheading the campaign, these military forces were also backed up by the Teutonic Order and the Livonian Brothers, which were Christian religious orders.

The crusading armies marched into Northern Germany in 1147. Crushing their pagan opponents and either killing them or forcibly baptising them. By the end of the summer, the Christian forces had forced the largest pagan army, the Wends, to the edge of Europe.

The Wendish leader, Niklot, had little option but to agree to a mass baptism of his army as part of the terms of their surrender.

Moldova vs Transnistria

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, about one third of the citizens of Moldova wanted to remain close allies with Russia and Ukraine. The other two-thirds, however, preferred an allegiance with Romania and the West.

The Pro-Russian side attempted to form their own country called Transnistria on the eastern edge of Moldova. This resulted in Moldova and Transnistria going to war against each other in 1992.

Although the fighting only lasted just over four months, it was bloody. The Moldovans lost 324 men and the Transnistrians over 900. The war came to an end when both sides agreed that Transnistria could effectively operate as their own country, but with no other nations recognising them.

What makes this war unique is that the soldiers weren’t going to let a thing like civil war ruin their social lives. Every evening opposing troops would meet up in no-man’s land to have a few drinks together. Individual soldiers would sometimes form such close friendships with enemies that they would agree not to kill each other if they met on the battlefield.

This rather strange fight-by-day, booze-by-night attitude led to the conflict being nicknamed ‘The Drunken War’ by locals.

Second Congo War

As a continent, Africa has seen far too many wars and conflicts.

Probably the worst conflict the continent has seen was the Second Congo War. Also known as the Great War of Africa, it was the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.

As with many conflicts in Africa, the war was driven by the trade in conflict materials among other things.

The war began in August 1998 and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  took power.

Although a peace agreement was signed in 2002, violence continued in many regions of the country.

Ultimately nine African countries (DRC, Angola, Chad, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi), along with about twenty armed groups became involved in the war. These armed groups included the Lord’s Resistance Army, Mai-Mai, Interahamwe, and Unita.

By 2008, the war and its aftermath has caused 5.4 million deaths, mainly through disease and starvation. Another two million people were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighbouring countries.

GREAT WAR OF AFRICA: The war involved nine countries, 20 armed groups and led to more than five million deaths.

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