It’s only fitting that the trigger for the crisis that launched the First World War should happen in such a bloody stupid way. The chain of cock-ups and calamities that left Franz Ferdinand dead has recently achieved the profile it deserves. If the July Crisis had passed without war, and joined Agadir, Fashoda, and the annexation of Bosnia in the lineup of near misses, it’d be one of the great historic comedies.
It didn’t, so it isn’t. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is on an official state visit with his wife to Bosnia, recently annexed into the Empire. Accompanied by General Oskar Potiorek, military governor of Bosnia, they visit the capital city, Sarajevo. The Archduke is heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.
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There are six Serb assassins waiting for Franz Ferdinand on the route of his motorcade. Three of them are Serbians who have crossed the border; three of them are citizens of Bosnia. They’re armed with hand grenades to throw at the royal car. The first one bottles it, and does nothing as the car passes. The second, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, throws his grenade, but misses. It explodes under another car in the motorcade.
Cabrinovic swallows a cyanide pill and disposes of his body by jumping into the River Miljacka. Except the cyanide fails to work as advertised, and the river is only a few inches deep after a hot, dry summer. Vomiting copiously, the would-be assassin is removed from the river and given a good kicking before being turned over to the police. The motorcade subsequently passes three more assassins, but they too lose their nerve.
The Archduke proceeds to a reception in the town hall. After some inconsequential arguing about what to do next, he decides that he would like to visit the wounded in hospital. After some time, the motorcade sets out again. Unfortunately, nobody has told the drivers of the change of plan, and Franz Ferdinand’s car becomes separated. The car has to be stopped and turned around. This is 1914, so it has no reverse gear.
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand
How it was that Gavrilo Princip, one of the assassins, came to be almost at the exact spot that the Archduke’s car stopped to turn round, is a Matter of Some Debate. I’ve seen it described as a masterly piece of on-the-spot reasoning, or as a lucky guess. I’ve even seen it suggested that he was simply trying to console his spirits at failing his mission by buying a sandwich.
Nevertheless, he finds himself in the right place at the right time, and he acts, shooting Franz Ferdinand and his wife with a pistol. They die before medical treatment can be obtained. Princip gets a kicking all to himself before being dragged away by the police.
A few hours later, Princip is being hauled before a judge. He claims to have been acting entirely alone, conscious of the need to protect his backers. Elsewhere, Cabrinovic follows suit, and the police are left with one dead Archduke and what appear to be two lone lunatics.
Meanwhile, the evening in Sarajevo is full of anti-Serb demonstrations, and as the sun falls from the sky, they begin to turn violent. The largest hotel in the city, owned by a Serb businessman, is attacked with serious damage done. The violence soon expands, with many well-to-do Austro-Hungarians joining the mob. Two Serbs are killed, and the situation is only briefly calmed by the intervention of the army.
General Potiorek isn’t waiting for answers. He writes a cable to Vienna, alleging involvement not just by Serbian citizens, but with the complicity of the Serbian government. He’s not the only one who’s quick to point the finger. The ambassador in Belgrade also notes that there is considerable approval for the assassination. We’ll be looking at exactly why that is in the days to come.
There’s a couple of very interesting reactions among the power-brokers of Europe as news of the assassination spreads. The Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II, is on board his yacht near Kiel on a sailing holiday. When he receives the news, he almost immediately has the boat turned about so he can return to Berlin. Meanwhile, the President of France, Raymond Poincare, is at the Longchamps racecourse in Paris for the horse racing Grand Prix. He decides to stay and watch the rest of the day’s racing.
Actions in Progress
Riots in Sarajevo
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)