10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Maria - June 28, 2016

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Ferdinand, and his wife were shot dead by a member of the Black Hand Gang during his visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. The event which is widely acknowledged to have triggered the outbreak of World War I was blamed on Serbia, who by then wanted to rid Bosnia of Austrian rule.

One month later, the ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Serbia delivered an ultimatum to the Serbian foreign ministry – it was a hard-line policy that Austria-Hungary was determined to pursue toward Serbia. While there were only two countries directly involved in the aftermath of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Germany (allied with Austria-Hungary) was determined to contain the effects of the ultimatum diplomatically.

However, the other heavily armed European nations did not see Austria-Hungary as acting alone, and with reason, started the inevitable war of continental supremacy, resulting in the deaths of approximately 10 million people, most of them civilians. While the war could have been stopped, a lack of international diplomatic routines meant there was no chance in the case of an abrupt war, and that is exactly what happened.

So, after thinking through what conspiracy theorists say about the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and how it led to the outbreak of World War I, I present to you ten facts you might not have known about the incident that possibly led to the outbreak of World War I.

10. The first monument to the assassins was erected in 1930

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

The first monument to Gavrilo Princip was unveiled on February 2, 1930. It was a black marble plaque with Cyrillic gold lettering on the wall high above the spot where Princip stood. While the plaque was attacked and vilified and criticized to represent a monstrous provocation, the Yugoslav government made a point of the fact that it was a private memorial to Gavrilo Princip. It read: “Princip proclaimed freedom on St. Vitus’ Day June 28, 1914.” On April 15, 1914, the German troops who entered Sarajevo marched to the site and removed the plaque. It was later presented to Adolf Hitler for his fifty-second birthday on April 20, 1941.

9. Two silent films were showing in Sarajevo the weekend Franz Ferdinand and Sophie visited, and coincidentally depicted the events to come.

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

The day Franz Ferdinand visited Sarajevo coincided with the Feast of St Vitus. It was an occasion to remember the Turkish victory at Kosovo in 1389, which led to the destruction of the Medieval Kingdom of Serbia. Decked with flags, the people of Sarajevo had much to celebrate, and probably much to hope for.

Apart from the celebration, two silent films were showing in town. The two films namely “Shot at Midnight” and “The World without Men” were coincidentally being shown at the Imperial Kino and the Apollo Kino over the weekend Franz and Sophie visited. The titles of the films eerily anticipated the events to come.

8. The Browning FN Model 1910 was the gun used during the assassination.

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Gavrilo Princip, who had gone through military training when he was recruited to the Black Hand organization, killed both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife using the Model 1910 Browning semiautomatic pistol. While other previous sources erroneously mention the FN Model 1900 as being the weapon Gavrilo Princip used, a Jesuit community house in Austria announced the FN Model 1910 after its recovery in 2004.

Labeled as the gun that killed 8.5 million people, the FN Model 1910 was a departure for Browning. Initially, manufactured by both FN in Europe and Colt Firearms of the US (decided not to produce it later on), was introduced in 1910 and used a novel operating spring, which surrounded the barrel. The gun which incorporated the standard Browning striker-firing mechanism also had three safety mechanisms in one package and included a grip safety along with a magazine safety and an external safety lever. The pistol also came chambered in both the .380 ACP with a six-round magazine and the .32 ACP with a seven-round magazine.

The gun was offered to Father Anton Puntigam, a Jesuit priest who was responsible for the archduke and duchess’s last rites. His plan was to place the pistol in a museum but died in 1926 before he could do so. The gun was donated to the Vienna Museum of Military History by the Jesuit community. The car which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife used together with the bloodied pillow, he rested his head on are also found in the Museum.

7. The Russian military attache in Belgrade gave money to the head of Serbia’s military intelligence to finance the assassination

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Before Archduke’s assassination, Danilo Ilić (an editor of a local Serb newspaper) attended the Serbian listening post in Užice to speak to Serbian Colonel C. A. Popović, a captain at the time. Ilić recommended an end to the period of revolutionary organization building and a move to direct action against Austria-Hungary. Popović passed Danilo Ilić on to Belgrade to discuss this matter with Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, known more commonly as Apis. While there are no reports as to what took place between Ilić and Apis, soon after the meeting, Apis’ right-hand man, Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić, called a Serbian irredentist planning meeting in Toulouse, France. The meeting, held in January 1914 discussed possible Austria -Hungarian targets for assassination, including Franz Ferdinand. The first name identified was Oskar Potiorek, the Governor of Bosnia, and only Muhamed Mehmedbašić was dispatched to do the task in Sarajevo.

While traveling to Sarajevo, Mehmedbašić was delayed and couldn’t go forward with the plan. At this time, Illic took a report to Belgrade concerning Franz’s visit to Sarajevo. With that news, Belgrade scrapped the first mission to kill the governor in favor of the murder of Franz Ferdinand and ordered Mehmbedbašić to stand by for the new operation. The operation which was masterminded by Lieutenant-Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević (confessed to the Serbian Court) and funded by the Russian Military attaché in Belgrade, Artamanov went as planned and resulted in the death of both Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

6. Lieutenant-Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević was the mastermind of the Sarajevo Assassination

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Lieutenant-Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, also known as Apis or ‘The Bull’ (because of his large size), played a key role in Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo. Born in Belgrade, Principality of Serbia in the summer of 1876, Dragutin Dimitrijević was the leader of the Black Hand, a Serbian gang comprised of military officers who were planning to overthrow the Serbian government in 1903. Initially, the Black Hand and the Serbian government were on friendly terms and worked together mainly to make sure that Serbia became the dominant power in the region using violence, sabotage, and political murder if necessary. But after a policy disagreement in 1914, Black Hand leaders took control of the organization and didn’t care about official policies from the government.

It is at this time that Dragutin Dimitrijević organized Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. He recruited three young Serbians who were annexed by Austria six years earlier for the job and added four others later on. Gavrilo Princip, a maladjusted yet fanatic nineteen-year-old finally finished the job when he shot Franz Ferdinand together with his wife on their state visit to Sarajevo.

Apart from the Sarajevo incident, the violent conspirator also organized and participated in Belgrade’s 1903 palace coup, which saw King Alexander and his wife Queen Draga not merely murdered but butchered with body parts cast onto the streets.

5. Gavrilo Princip and Nedeljko Čabrinović both swallowed cyanide capsules before being arrested but did not die.

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Gavrilo Princip and Nedeljko Čabrinović were among the conspirators who lined along the Appel Quay, each with instructions to kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator failed to take an action and later said that a police officer was standing behind him and feared he could be arrested before he could throw the bomb. Nedeljko Čabrinović was lined second, and as the six-car procession passed the central police station, he hurled a grenade at Franz Ferdinand’s car. Luckily, the driver managed to swerve out of the way when he saw the bomb. The bomb exploded on the car behind injuring several people. To avoid arrest, Nedeljko Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide capsule and jumped into River Miljacka where he intended to die. Fortunately, the cyanide capsule had expired and instead of killing him, made him sick. River Miljacka was also 4 inches deep and didn’t help him. He was later hauled out and detained by a police officer.

Gavrilo Princip, shortly after shooting Franz Ferdinand and his wife also attempted suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule. The cyanide was past its date, and just like Nedeljko Čabrinović, Gavrilo Princip didn’t die but suffered horrible stomach aches. He was later sentenced to twenty-year in prison where he died after contracting Tuberculosis.

4. The motorcar used by Franz Ferdinand and his wife belonged to Count Franz von Harrach

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Count Franz von Harrach was a military officer stationed in Bosnia and was a member of the Graf and Stift Company. Graf and Stift Company was an Austrian firm founded in 1897 by the brothers Franz, Heinrich, and Karl Gräf. Manufacturing automobiles, trucks, buses and trolleybuses, the company originally started as a bicycle repair company and later was building luxury automobiles for a prestigious clientele including the members of the Austrian Imperial Court.

In 1914, Count Franz von Harrach offered the car to Franz Ferdinand and his wife when the couple visited Sarajevo. It was a brand-new six-seat, open touring car. Powered by a 32-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, the car was shaft-driven, with four-speed gearboxes and power units with T-head cylinders cast in blocks of two and then joined together. Astonishingly, those who owned the car after the horrific moment were involved in a series of ghastly road accidents and head-on collisions. In the end, thirteen people who used the car died.

3. Even after the first assassination attempt Governor Lieutenant General Oskar Pitiorek did not provide extra security for the Archduke

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Having served as a military commander in the Austro-Hungarian army, Oskar Pitiorek became the governor of Bosnia from 1911 to 1914. Born in Bad Bleiberg in 1853, Pitiorek joined the Austro-Hungarian general staff in 1879 and was appointed deputy chief by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1902.

Pitiorek invited Franz Ferdinand to watch his troops on maneuvers scheduled for 26 and 27 June 1914. He was to be responsible for the safety of Archduke Franz Ferdinand during the visit. While being taken to the city hall for the reception and speeches, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, a member of the Black Hand Serbian nationalist secret society threw a grenade at the Archduke’s car. If not for the driver who took evasive action to speed from the scene, then the bomb would have hit the car.

After the scene, Pitiorek would have been wise to arrange for extra security for the Archduke but worried about his own prestige, he resisted calling out the troops that had been on maneuvers in the rain for two days because they didn’t have presentable dress uniforms. What followed did not only cause the death of Franz Ferdinand and his wife but precipitated the outbreak of World War I.

2. The driver was never informed that the motorcade route had been changed.

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Leopold Lojka was a professional chauffeur in the service of Franz. Born on 17 September 1886 in the town of Telč in southern Moravia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Leopold Lojka was a close friend of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When Franz visited Sarajevo, Leopold Lojka was the chauffeur of the car at the point of his assassination.

At the start of his tour in Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand visited the military barracks and inspected the local Imperial garrison. Shortly after leaving, a member of the Black Hand who was part of the assassination plan threw a grenade at his entourage. However, the driver managed to swerve out of the way, and the bomb bounced away, injuring several soldiers in the car behind. Franz changed his mind after the incident as he wanted to demonstrate that his family was in control of Sarajevo. He ordered the driver to change the route so he can visit the injured soldiers.

Unfortunately, Leopold Lojka did not fully understand his instructions and mistakenly took a wrong turn in Franz Josef Gasse. Realizing he was not familiar with the street, the driver decided to reverse. At this time, Gavrilo Princip who was also a member of the Black Hand gang was having a cup of tea after a failed assassination attempt by a member of his team. Luckily, he recognized Franz Ferdinand’s car as it was trying to pull out of the street. Not believing his luck Princip pulled out his gun and shot both Franz and his wife.

1. Assassinations weren’t something new to the Habsburg Royal Family

10 Facts About the Sarajevo Assassination That Triggered WWI

Interestingly, the Habsburg Royal Family members were targets of assassination attempts, and some were also assassinated. Franz Ferdinand was not the only member of the royal family to be killed by an assassin. In 1989, the longest-serving Empress-consort of Austria, Elisabeth was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. Earlier on, Lucheni had missed his chance to assassinate Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans, and swore to kill any member of the royalty he saw. Fortunately, Elisabeth had followed an invitation from the Rothschild family to Geneva, and as she left the hotel where she spent a night incognito, to hurry to the steamship “Genève,” she met her death. The event which was well covered in the coeval press was a shock and left the Austria-Hungarian public in deep mourning.

That’s not all! Emperor Franz Josef was also the subject of two failed assassination attempts, one particularly being on 18 February 1853, when János Libényi, a Hungarian nationalist tried to assassinate him.

With this kind of assassination attempt, one would probably agree that the Habsburg Royal Family knew they were always targets and had to be sensitive. In fact, both Franz Ferdinand and Empress Elisabeth were warned of their visits before their assassinations.