In late June 1914 a visibly irate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Crown Prince of the hallowed Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Duchess Sophie Chotek rode in their open top vehicle through the crowded streets of Sarajevo. This city was the location of the provincial government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small country located on the Balkan Peninsula, and, in 1914, was the recently annexed possession of the empire. The royal couple were in the city on an officially planned visit, but the Archduke’s morning certainly did not go according to plan.
A map of the Balkan states in 1907, one year prior to the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The city of Sarajevo is located near the border with Serbia. (photo: crf-usa.org)
On his way to the residence of the provincial governor, a hand bomb struck the back of his car and rolled underneath the following vehicle, detonating and injuring several people. A piece of shrapnel from the blast had even grazed Duchess Sophie’s neck. The bomb was thrown by a young Bosnian-Serb nationalist named Nedjelko Cabrinovic, who was quickly seized after the assassination attempt and his subsequent failed suicide attempt. He was in Sarajevo that day with the intent of killing the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne as an act of revenge for the 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and as a demonstration against the imperial authority in the Balkans. The attempt was a failure, but unbeknownst to the Archduke and the rest of his officials, Cabrinovic was not working alone that day.
Nedjelko Cabrinovic was actually one of six young men who were chosen to assassinate Franz Ferdinand while he was in Sarajevo. All six were members of the radical nationalist group Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), an organization that had close ties to and was supported by the Serbian nationalist group The Black Hand, also known as Union or Death. The six men were armed with six hand bombs and four Serbian army pistols. They were stationed on the sides of the road along the scheduled motorcade route, hidden amongst the crowd of onlookers. In fact, Cabrinovic was not the first would-be assassin that the Archduke had crossed paths with that day. Two members of the murder squad had their chances to kill Franz Ferdinand earlier on the route, but they had backed off. After the failed bombing attempt the motorcade then sped past the remaining three assassins on the route. At that point, taken as a failed mission, the assassins dispersed into the crowd.
After his near miss with Cabrinovic, Franz Ferdinand decided to make a change to his itinerary and visit the wounded at the hospital where they were taken after the bombing. This seemed the appropriate move for the Crown Prince and he asked his wife to stay behind in case of more possible danger, but she decided to remain with him. After the scheduled stop at the Sarajevo town hall, the motorcade made its way towards the hospital. The lead driver of the Archduke’s procession became confused and continued along the originally planned route, leading away from the hospital. The Provincial Governor, who was seated in the Archduke’s car, noticed this mistake and ordered the driver of the car to stop and turn around. As the driver shifted gears and attempted to turn the vehicle, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princep stepped out of a delicatessenwhere he had just stopped for a bite to eat.
It was only by dumb luck, or maybe fate, that Princep walked outside to see the Archduke sitting inside of his stopped car. He was in-fact one of the six assassins in Sarajevo and he had missed his early attempt at his scheduled post on the original route. When the group decided to back off after the bombing Princip stopped by the delicatessen, which was located away from the planned route of the motorcade. Either way, when he saw the Archduke, Gavrilo Princep drew his pistol and fired two shots into the car from point blank range.
These two shots forever changed the course of history. One of the bullets hit Franz Ferdinand in the neck while the other struck Sophie in the groin. Princip admitted later after his arrest that he felt genuine guilt for hitting Sophie, as the shot he fired went through the door of the car and hit her by mistake. As Sophie bent forward, clearly bleeding from the abdomen, her husband begged her to stay alive for their children’s sake. At the same time, officers scrambled to open the Archdukes jacket to see where he was hit, the only words he could muster were, “It’s nothing, it’s nothing.” Both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie died within minutes.
To the Austrian-Hungarian Empire the assassination was a direct attack on its imperial authority not only by nationalists in Bosnia, but also by the independent nation of Serbia. In response, on July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. What followed was a rapid series of declarations and mobilization in several European nations, including Germany, Russia and France.
On August 2, 1914, a little over one month after the murders of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek in Sarajevo, Imperial German soldiers, allies of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, crossed the border of Luxembourg signaling the beginning of the hostilities of the First World War.
If you wish to learn more about Ohio’s role in World War I you can visit the new World War I-Era Collections, 1914-1919 located at the Ohio History Center, which features items used by soldiers and civilians during the war.
School field trips and group visits to the Ohio History Center can be scheduled through email at [email protected] or call 614.297.2663 or 800.686.1541