The Black Hand Gang
The ‘Union of Death’ or the Black Hand gang formed in 1911 with the single purpose of liberating and unifying Serbia. Army officers, headed by Colonel Dragutin ‘Apis’ Dimitrijevic, formed the gang but by 1914, its ranks had swelled. Membership now numbered around 2500 people, consisting of government officials, intellectuals, and ordinary Serbians.
Members were organized in isolated cells of only 3-5 members to protect the overall structure of the organization, and all swore oaths to kill- and be killed for their cause. These measures were essential as the gang’s campaign of terror was in full swing, and they could not afford to have it brought down. It began by exerting pressure by terrorizing government officials. However, in 1914, the group’s focus was on one, critical target.
Apis had learned that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was planning to offer concessions to the Serbs. If this had gone ahead, the Black Hand Gang’s much longed for Serbian revolution would not occur. So a plan was hatched. Franz Ferdinand was visiting Sarajevo in June of that year. If the gang assassinated him, a war would break out between Serbia and Austria. Russia, Apis believed would side with the Serbs, and the outcome would be a liberated Serbia.
Three young Bosnian members: Gavrilo Princip, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, and Trifko Grabez, were secretly transported into Sarajevo to carry out the assassination. After learning the route of the archduke’s motorcade, the operatives were distributed along its route so that at least one of them would succeed. The authorities, although aware of the plot were unable to apprehend the men beforehand. However, at first, it seemed the assassination would fail as the assassins initially failed to carry out their mission. Yet, as the archduke began the return leg of his journey through Sarajevo, Princep killed both him and the Archduchess.
The assassins were arrested, and the ringleaders identified, and the Austro-Hungarian government demanded the Serbians hand them over to stand trial in Vienna. When the Serbian government refused, Austria declared war. However, after that, the outcome was not quite as the gang had planned. The intricate network of treaties between the various European states meant that more and more countries were drawn into the conflict, resulting in a war that went far beyond the Balkans: the First World War.
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