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The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Some wars are apparently better than others. The First World War is remembered as the Great War. Obviously, the term refers to the scale of the conflict, and not the level of fun for its participants. The Great War brought a level of carnage unheard of in recorded human history. Roughly 22,000,000 people lost their lives fighting for... something.

Wars start in a variety of ways. Stray rockets, carelessly fired across a border, or a calculated invasion. Sometimes the catalyst for war is more personal. Like the assassination of a prominent political figure.

Saying that the 1st World War was triggered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is slightly reductionist. Europe was no stranger to conflict in the years leading up to the conflict. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had just annexed Bosnia-Herzogovina from the Ottoman Empire.

Sure, the Ottoman Empire was undergoing a revolution at the time, and Bosnia-Herzogovina was taken without bloodshed. But the repercussions of the Bosnian Crisis of 1908 were the true cause of WW1.

Franz Ferdinand

Born the eldest son of Archduke Charles Louis, Franz was the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph. He became the heir, after his father, to the Austro-Hungarian throne at 26, when his cousin Rudolf committed suicide in 1889.

Rudolf had ruined his wife's health by infecting her with gonorrhea three years earlier. He may also have been riddled with syphilis. So he did the only logical thing, and started an affair with a 17-year-old before committing a murder suicide with her in a cabin.

Franz Ferdinand's father died in 1896. This should have put him directly in line for the throne, but due to his poor health, the court favored his younger brother. Franz fought for his place in court.

He fell in love with a minor noble, Sophie, which angered the emperor. Franz's children would suffer from the egregious sin of genetic diversity. That's why he had to renounce his offspring's claim to the throne is he ever wanted to become emperor.

Another sore spot for Emperor Franz Joseph was Franz Ferdinand's ideas about Serbia. The younger royal was planning on forming a Slavic kingdom with its own parliament, under the empire's rule. This could quell future uprisings in the turbulent region.

Franz Ferdinand married Sophie in 1900. His star rose steadily as his uncle's age drained the strength from his rule. By 1913, Franz Ferdinand was the Inspector General of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

During a hunting trip, one of Franz Ferdinand's retinue accidentally fired a rifle that was pointed at the Archduke's head. Franz commented that he could feel the bullet whiz by his ear.

It was on an official trip to inspect the troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1914 that he would run into a group of blundering assassins. His murder would have been easily averted, had it not been for the heavy hand of fate.

Young Bosnia & The Black Hand

Secret societies are actually quite common. Many people think that they are purely the product of crackpot conspiracy theorists, but many conspiracies in history have proven true.

The Black Hand was a secret group of Serbian Nationalists who sought the emancipation of all Serbs. Employing terrorist tactics in both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires in an effort to free their brethren. They were instrumental in creating and nurturing separatist cells within those territories.

One such terrorist plot involved a group called Young Bosnia. Inspired by the success of the Young Turks in overthrowing the Ottoman Government in 1908. They sought to spark a revolution, one that would see a united Slavic country rise from the ashes.

The Black Hand were no strangers to assassination. Having orchestrated the assassination of the Serbian king, queen, prime minister, minister of the army, and the general-adjutant in 1903.

Headless, Serbia appointed a new king, who was a nationalist had close ties to Russia. This was much more in line with the Black Hand's ideology.

They concocted the plan to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and recruited members of Young Bosnia to commit the murder. Franz's plan to create a Slavic kingdom was too dangerous to the revolutionary cause. The Black Hand wanted blood in the streets.

Gavrilo Princip - The First Shot of WWI

Franz Ferdinand announced his visit to and parade through Sarajevo. He wanted it to be a spectacle. The presence of the heir to the throne would do much to bolster local support for his dreams of a Slavic kingdom under Austria-Hungary's control. So, he not only published the date of his visit, but the specifics of his itinerary.

Newspapers gladly published news of the high-profile visit. That would prove to be Franz Ferdinand's final mistake.

Nedeljko Čabrinović, a member of Young Bosnia, was in Belgrade with his friend, Gavrilo Princip. The pair were undergoing training with the Black Hand. Hoping to get the chance to assassinate someone just like the Archduke.

Dragutin Dimitrijević, the leader of the Black Hand, started assembling a team. He wasn't about to get his own hands dirty.

Word reached the pair, and they informed their Black Hand handlers that they wanted to assassinate Franz. Their benefactors provided them with pistols, grenades, and cyanide capsules. Dying a martyr's death was a big part of the appeal to the young glory seekers.

Trifko Grabež was attached to the pair of Young Bosnia members. Gavrilo took up a leadership role early on, and sent word to his associates in Sarajevo that he would need some recruits.

They were smuggled across the border, and made their way back to Sarajevo. Once there, they were met by the three teenagers chosen for the mission, Mehmed Mehmedbašić, Vaso Čubrilović, and Cvjetko Popović.

Together, these six boys would topple the house of cards that was early 20th century Europe. Millions would die as a direct result of their actions, although, the war may have been inevitable anyway.

Oddly, Gavrilo Princip and Franz Ferdinand passed each other just days before the assassination. The Archduke and his wife decided to visit Sarajevo's bazaars one night, and happened to pass within a few feet of Princip.

Failure, Bad Choices, and Success

Sunday, 28 June 1914 was a sweltering day in Sarajevo. The assassins set themselves along the route that Franz Ferdinand's retinue would take. Should one assassin fail, another would take up the challenge.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Countess of Chotek, arrived in Sarajevo by train. They were met by Governor Oskar Potiorek, who ushered them into the third car of a six car motorcade.

Things immediately went awry. Police officers piled into the first car with the Chief of Special Security. The actual security officers being left behind. Leaving Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with subpar protection.

The local general also appealed to have the route lined by his soldiers. He was denied. Heavy military presence would only serve to offend the locals. So they opted for a total of 60 police officers roughly strewn along the route.

Opting for maximum visibility over safety, the royal couple chose to drive with the top down. All the better to see their subjects with. Franz Ferdinand was under no illusions about the adoration of the locals, though. He is quoted as mentioning that he expects a few bullets to be waiting for him in Sarajevo.

The motorcade set off. First visiting a local military barracks for a quick inspection before making their way through Sarajevo. They passed Mehmed Mehmedbašić and Vaso Čubrilović, who failed to act.

Franz Ferdinand's motorcade approached Nedeljko Čabrinović's position at 10:10. He had been trained by the Black Hand, and would not miss his opportunity. Čabrinović threw his grenade at the royal couple's car, but his aim was as bad as his intentions.

The bomb hit the back of the car, bounced off, and exploded underneath the fourth car. Čabrinović saw the car rocked by the explosion, which injured around 20 people. He quickly popped the glass capsule of cyanide in his mouth before leaping over the edge of a bridge.

Not only had Čabrinović failed to kill his target, he also failed to kill himself. The cyanide was old, and had lost much of its potency. He had also misjudged the ferocity of the river, which had been reduced to a muddy trickle by the intense summer heat.

Nedeljko Čabrinovićfound himself vomiting uncontrollably in the mud as a crowd of loyal subjects set about beating him to a pulp. This was not the hero's welcome he was expecting.

The motorcade sped away, passing the remaining assassins. Rushing for the safety of Town Hall. There they were met by the mayor, who obliviously started reciting his prepared speech.

Franz Ferdinand was having none of it, though, and berated the mayor for the attempt on his life. Sophie calmed him, and he allowed the mayor to continue. After which he was brought his own speech, still wet with blood from the people injured in car 4.

The Archdukes attendants suggested that they remain at town hall until soldiers could be brought in to line the streets. This plan was vehemently opposed by Governor-General Oskar Poitiorek, on the grounds that the soldiers were on maneuvers. Their uniforms would be too dirty to appear before the imperial heir. He scoffed at the notion of further assassination attempts.

Franz and Sophie decided to visit those injured in the bombing. The route would take them back through the city, so General Poitiorek decided on an alternative route. He failed to inform the lead driver of the change of plans, though, and the motorcade was soon back on the street where the assassins waited.

Poitiorek realized his mistake just as the third car came abreast of the café where Gavrilo Princip stood. He screamed at the driver to return to the new route, which set the man's nerves on edge. The driver stalled the car just as Gavrilo registered his luck.

This pause, and the delivery of his target as though by the hand of fate itself, gave Princip the opportunity he needed. He strode to the window of the royal couple's car, pulled out his pistol, and fired two shots.

Gavrilo Princip later declared that he had been aiming at Governor General Poitiorek and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He only hit the imperial heir and Sophie. Franz was shot in the neck, and Sophie took a bullet to the stomach.

Franz Ferdinand quoted as saying the following to his beloved Sophie:

“Sophie, Sophie, don’t die—stay alive for our children"

Meanwhile, Gavrilo turned the pistol on himself. He was tackled and arrested before pulling the trigger.

Sophie passed out from her wound and collapsed onto Franz's lap. She was dead by the time they reached the governor's residence. Someone asked Franz Ferdinand how badly he was injured, and simply repeated "It is nothing" several times before violently choking. He followed his wife into death a mere 10 minutes after she passed.



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