The Black Hand | 01 Jul 1915

The police investigation into the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is blown wide open. The July Crisis is well and truly underway.

Danilo Ilic

They’ve managed to arrest Danilo Ilic as a known associate of the men who are already in custody, Princip and Cabrinovic. They know that Ilic is a Serb nationalist, but that’s all they’ve got on him. By contrast, Ilic is well aware that two of his conspirators have been in custody for three days. He’s got no idea why he’s been arrested, but from his perspective it’s very possible that one or both of them have talked.

Ilic decides to save his skin. He tells the investigating judge (this is mainland Europe, where they have an inquisitorial system) that he’s willing to turn King’s Evidence. He names all seven of the conspirators who were in Sarajevo. He describes how he recruited the Bosnian Serb conspirators, and how they joined with Serbians from Belgrade. He also offers educated guesses as to how his other conspirators might be trying to escape.

That in itself would have been a major coup for the investigation. Names and descriptions of the conspirators are quickly circulated through Bosnia. But Ilic goes even further. He also names Voja Tankosic as having supported the conspiracy in Belgrade. Tankosic trained them in shooting and bombing. Tankosic gave them the cyanide and ordered them to commit suicide after the assassination.


Tankosic is a Major in the Serbian military. He works in intelligence, as an aide to Apis. This information quickly works its way back to Belgrade. The police still can’t prove much based on the evidence available. However, Austro-Hungarian diplomats have gathered more than enough information to know who Tankosic is and where his loyalties lie. If Tankosic really is involved with the plot, that raises the possibility of it having official Serbian government backing.

There’s a lot of ifs and ands and uncertainties here, but there’s enough weight behind that reading of events to make it loom heavier on Count Berchtold’s desk. Added to this is that Franz Ferdinand had been a personal friend. And then there’s the weight of history. And then there’s the knowledge of a number of semi-secret pan-Serbian nationalist groups in Belgrade…

The Black Hand

The Black Hand emerged in 1911 out of the mess of several other societies (who helpfully continue their own operations), with Apis leading its executive committee. They’re all radical believers in Greater Serbia, and they’re all convinced of the necessity of taking violent action to create it. They’d helped to set up Young Bosnia, the group that recruited Princip. Most of this is known to Austria-Hungary. Even though it’s probably impossible to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s not a huge leap to blame the Black Hand.

And, with the deeply intertwined nature of the Black Hand in domestic Serbian politics, it’s not a huge leap from blaming the Black Hand to accusing Serbia of having officially sanctioned the assassination.


A quick note from Italy. General Pollio, the head of the Italian Army, has just died. He was a notable and forceful supporter of Italy remaining a member of the Triple Alliance, and his views carried quite a bit of weight. Now he’s out of the way, and one obstacle to Italian neutrality has been removed. He’ll soon be replaced by General Luigi Cadorna, and if the mere mention of his name doesn’t yet strike terror into your heart, you’re lucky. More soon.

Actions in Progress

July Crisis

Further Reading

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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.)

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