From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked the Great War to an armistice signed in a railroad carriage in the forest of Compiegne… A history of the First World War in one hundred blogs ! No. 1. The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

 

On 28th of June 1914, standing along side of local delicatessen, near the site of the Latin Bridge that stretched over the Mijacka River, a young Serbian nationalist named Gavrillo Princip, couldn’t believe his luck. Only meters away from him sitting in a black Graf and Stift Double Phaeton was the Archduke Franz Ferdinard and his wife. The nineteen year old Princip was one of a handful of assassins charged with the extraordinary act of killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Princip would go onto fatally wound the Archduke by shooting him in the neck and also his wife in the stomach. No one could have envisaged the consequences of Princips actions that followed. What could have so easily just been another new regional Balkan’s war, was in fact the beginning of a greater conflict. It was in many ways the defining moment that pushed the world to war. Some argue it was likely the excuse the great powers needed to start a new war in the power struggle for supremacy?

Earlier during the day, before Princip had the Archduke in his sight, the Archduke was on his way to a reception in his honour and a review of military manoeuvres on the outskirts of Sarajevo organized by the Bosnian governor. However, fate had a different idea in mind. What was supposed to be a cordial drive turned into scenes of fear and trepidation. The Archduke managed to survive a failed attempt on his life when a bomb was thrown at his vehicle, by one of Princip’s fellow conspirators, bouncing off and exploding next to another car behind him. In a panic the driver sped off to the safety of Savajevo’s town hall. The town hall was the site of the official reception for the controversial Archduke. It also stood as a short reprieve of what was still to come.

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The Latin Bridge is the landmark near where Archduke Franz Ferdinarnd was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip.

Following the tension filled reception, where the Archduke angrily protested to his hosts about his treatment of being welcomed by bombs, the Archduke and his wife decided to visit those who were wounded from the bombing at Sarajevo’s hospital. Lets pause here for one moment to consider what ultimately was a bad decision. Being the heir to the throne would it not have been much wiser to leave the city with a heavy escort rather than hang around giving his assassins another chance ? In my opinion the town hall reception should have been the point where he made his escape, not a sympathetic visit to the hospital. Nevertheless, along the way to the hospital the next error that occurred would change the course of history. The royal’s driver would make a fateful wrong turn. As shouts of ‘this is the wrong way !’echo along the route, the royal vehicle comes to a stop. The driver tries in vain to reverse the vehicle but stalls it. It is here that the royal couple are brought face to face with the young Princip. Drawing a pistol from his coat, he fired several shots from close range killing the royal couple.

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The Archduke and his wife, in the rear of the Graf & Stift Double Phaeton.

Notes and Further Reading

Paul Ham, 1914: The year the world ended, Doubleday, 2014.

John Keegan, The First World War, Hutchinson, 1998.

Greg King and Sue Woolmans, The Assassination of the Archduke, Macmillan, 2013.

 

Photo Credit:  The header image is an Italian newspaper portraying the events surrounding the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Drawing by Achille Beltrame. The Latin Bridge image is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. Uploaded by Baumni.