The spark that lit a thousand fires: The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
28th June 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand had an appointment in Bosnia to oversee some army manoeuvres. He didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms on this trip, the Archduke was the heir to the throne of the ruling Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a large percentage of the Bosnian population were unhappy at Austrian dominance, instead favouring a union with Serbia. Despite being royally despised, the Archduke was looking forward to the trip and his party arrived by train at around 10am.
At 10.10am when the six car possession passed the central police station, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, a member of a local terrorist group called ‘Black Hand’ hurled a hand grenade at the Archduke’s car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the grenade exploded under the wheel of the next car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Boos-Waldeck were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb splinters.
The Archduke’s driver, Franz Urban, drove on extremely fast and other members of the Black Hand group on the route were unable to fire their guns or hurl their bombs at the Archduke’s car. After attending the official reception at the City Hall Ferdinand asked about the wounded members of his party, when told they were badly injured and in hospital he insisted on being taken to see them.
General Oskar Potiorek decided that it would be safer if the royal car should avoid the city centre on its way to the Sarajevo Hospital. However, Potiorek forgot to tell the driver, Franz Urban, about this decision. On the way to the hospital Urban took a right turn into Franz Joseph Street. One of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, was standing on the corner at the time. Potiorek immediately realised the driver had taken the wrong route and shouted for him to stop.
Urban stopped and began to back up. In doing so he moved slowly past the waiting Princip. The assassin stepped forward, drew his gun, and at a distance of about five feet fired several times into the car. Ferdinand was hit in the neck and his wife, the Duchess, was hit in the abdomen. Princip’s bullet had pierced the Archduke’s jugular vein but before losing consciousness, he pleaded “Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” Franz Urban drove the royal couple to Konak, the governor’s residence, but although both were still alive when they arrived, they died from their wounds soon afterwards.
To put it mildly, this really upset the Austrians, they wanted retribution, and fast. Exactly one month later on the 28th July 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. Over the next few months a great deal of political pushing and shoving effectively split Europe into two distinct groups of belligerents, each side beating their chest in a show of confidence and military power.
It would only end in tears. And death, lots of death.
Inspired by ‘World War One: A Layman’s Guide’ available now on Amazon.