A Wrong Turn, a Holy Cause and Two Bullets: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand


“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.” Barbara Tuchman

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was eager to leave Sarajevo. He had opposed the empire’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina when it occurred in 1908 as a “needless provocation of the South Slavs” and their Russian supporters, he knew that the action was “a diplomatic time bomb that could go off at any time.” He had come to Bosnia to help win over the loyalty of the resentful populace and in a sense to consecrate Austrian rule over Bosnia-Herzegovina.



Franz Ferdinand 

The visit included military maneuvers in the western part of the province away from Serbia to be less provocative, as well as motorcades and official visits to political officials and cultural venues. The Archduke brought with him his beloved wife, Sophie. His marriage to her was looked upon with scorn by hie father Emperor Franz Josef I and the royal family. Sophie, though a child of obscure Czech nobility she and her family were too impoverished for the Hapsburgs, likewise the relationship was scandalous because Sophie had been the lady in waiting to the Hapsburg archduchess who Franz was supposed to marry. He was forced to sign an “Oath of Renunciation” in which he declared that their children would be excluded from imperial succession.

Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo


Last Meeting with Sarajevo Mayor and Religious leaders 

The final day of the royal visit to the region was Sunday June 28th. The date coincided with the signature of the oath of renunciation as well as a Serbian holy day, the anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. In that battle the Turks had destroyed independent Serbia. However, that it was and still considered a symbol of national pride and resistance for Serbians, as a Serbia knight had killed Ottoman Sultan Murad I during the battle. Likewise, June 28th 1914 was the celebration of St Vitus day, or Vidovdan, the day set aside by Serbian government and religious authorities as consecrated to all those who sacrificed their lives for the faith and the fatherland. For Serbian radials and nationalists the establishment of a Greater Serbia and the liberation of Bosnia from Austria was a holy cause, that they were willing to give their lives to achieve.

The visit and itinerary had been planned and published for months, and some Serbs began planning to assassinate the Archduke. Members of the militant-terrorist group the Black Hand and its Bosnian offshoot Narodna Odbrana assisted by Serbian military officers developed plans assisted three conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, Nedjelko Chabrinovitch and Trifko Grabezh with travel, weapons and training to accomplish their mission. Once across the border and in Bosnia they linked up with other conspirators where they planned the assassination attempt.

By the final night Franz was ready to leave, and was heard to say “thank God this Bosnian trip is over.” He would have left with the Austrian Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf, but stayed because he was “warned that breaking off the Sunday program would damage Austria’s prestige in Bosnia.”

The next morning was uneventful until the Archduke’s motorcade was attacked by a local conspirator who threw a bomb which deflected off the Archduke and his car and blew up under the next car in the motorcade at 10 a.m. The Archduke stopped to check on the wounded and proceeded to city hall mayor and Christian, Moslem and Jewish religious leaders. It was an awkward meeting considering the attempt on his life and following it, he and his party left first to visit the military hospital where the wounded had been taken and then to a final luncheon, a last minute change to the itinerary, skipping a museum visit. However, the word of the route change did not reach the first two vehicles made a wrong turn, and in the confusion as the motorcade attempted to reverse course the Archduke’s vehicle stopped for a few seconds, not more than 8 feet from Princip just after 11 a.m. The Bosnia was surprised by the sudden opportunity and quickly fired two shots from his Browning FN Model 1910 pistol, one which struck Franz in the neck and the other which struck Sophie in the abdomen and by 11:30 both were dead.


Gavrilo Princip after his arrest

In the days and weeks that followed the nations of Europe, each for their own reasons negotiated, threatened and finally mobilized for war, a war that would destroy the political order of Europe that had existed since the end of the Napoleonic wars, kill nearly 17 million people and wound 20 million more. The peace that followed was fraught with peril and followed by a second even more destructive world war in which and estimated 50 to 80 million people were killed, and millions more wounded.

The consequences of those wars, and the Cold War that followed are with us even today. Among the empires that died in the First World War was the Ottoman Empire, whose remains were divided between the English and French in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. That agreement’s arbitrary and indiscriminate redrawing of national boundaries is a large part of the reason for the current unrest in the Middle East, especially the civil war in Syria and the Sunni-Shia war in Iraq.

A wrong turn and two bullets, followed by the and the rest is a century of war, desolation and carnage. Otto von Bismarck had said that “If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans.” The results of the war caused by “some silly thing in the Balkans” are still felt, including the psychological and spiritual effects on peoples and nations. Barbara Tuchman wrote of the period after the First World War: “An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.”

It is sobering to think and reflect on how a wrong turn, a holy cause and two bullets can bring about so much death, destruction and instability.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, News and current events

7 responses to “A Wrong Turn, a Holy Cause and Two Bullets: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

  1. Pingback: Padre Steve’s Year in Review | Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate

  2. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padre Steve's World…Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World

    Well it has been a busy day combining my nursing duties at home with a couple of trips in to work, the last where I did my last lecture before the Gettysburg Staff Ride which I lead on Friday.

    That being said, though I have some things I am working on, including a little piece about the part of health care that no-one wants to pay for, that what happens when someone is discharged from the hospital still needing a pretty significant amount of care. I can tell you about that first hand. But I digress…

    Tonight since I am too tired to put anything new out I will re-post an article from about 13 months ago about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, an act which triggered the First World War. The assassination, an act by radical Serbian nationalists killed the only man in the Austro-Hungarian Empire who might have prevented the war, and even been favorable to the Serbs. But then such is the mindset of fanatics, and don’t we have a lot of them in our world today, including non-Moslem Americans.

    So anyway, I hope you like this. Have a great night.


    Padre Steve+

    • Jeff Bailey


      You are to be commended for publishing one of the most even-handed commentaries on the Sarajevo Assassination, on the web. Regretfully, I must also say that it is still woefully inadequate. Allow me to point out some of the most glaring weaknesses in your posting, along with some points that I think you did exceptionally well.

      First, by omission, you imply that the Austrian annexation of Bosnia was intentionally and needlessly provocative. You neglect, entirely, the fact that the annexation was the direct product of the third Russian promise to support the incorporation of Bosnia Herzegovina into Austria Hungary. Please refer to the Budapest Accord of 1877, and the Drei Kaiser Bund of 1881 (See item 1 in the Annex). Further, in the Summer of 1908, Izvolsky, the Russian Imperial Foreign Minister, on his own initiative, proposed, for a third time, the approval of the Bosnian Annexation, in return for Austria-Hungary’s support for Russian maritime access into the Mediterranean. In this more accurate and detailed perspective, Austria-Hungary’s singular offense devolves to the egregious sin of insisting that the Russians keep their word, for once.

      As an aside, I am going through your article, paragraph by paragraph and directing my comments in the order in which you originally wrote your posting. I must say, in passing, that you were commendably even handed in your observations on the Austrian Military exercises, in Bosnia, pointing out the pains the Austrian government went to, in order to avoid provocation of Serbia, little good that it did Austria-Hungary.

      Second, you make the Sarajevo outrage sound like a traffic accident. You focus your attention on Princip, the shooter, the only conspirator you mention more than once. It was Nedjelko Chabrinovitch who threw the “bomb”, not a local conspirator, as you indicated. Surely he deserved to be mentioned twice.

      More important, however, is what Chabrinovitch threw – not a “bomb”, but Kragujevac, M-12 (for 1912) SERBIAN ARMY ISSUE HAND GRENADE. The Austrian authorities captured 5 more assassins carrying these grenades. (By the way, try finding a picture of the Kragujevac hand grenade online. Good luck with that. It took me over a year of searching to find one. Just to give you a leg up that I didn’t have, it was developed by Colonel Vasic of the Royal Serbian Army in 1903, and he added improvements to the second model of 1912. If and when you do find find a picture, I will be fascinated to read your assessment of the weapon. It is, without a doubt, the most extraordinarily shaped grenade in the history of warfare.)

      Which brings us back to Serbia. Princip and Chabrinovitch were pawns, on the order and magnitude of Mary Surrat or David Herold in the Lincoln murder. You utterly failed to mention the mastermind of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the Chief of Military Intelligence of the Serbian Army General Staff, and head of the Black Hand. You also did not mention his little minion, Major Voja Tankosic, who organized the training, arming and funding of the assassins. That was most unfair of you, since even the Austrians mentioned Major Tankosic, by name, in their demarche of 23 July 2015.

      As a result of this lack of specificity, and despite your best efforts at even-handedness, your account of the attack comes off sounding like a home-grown revolutionary action. It was nothing of the kind. It was a willful, intentional, planned, and organized military assault by the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Above all, I submit to you that the Black Hand was not a terrorist organization at all. Every Serb I have mentioned, Tankosic, Vasic, and Dimitrijevic, all senior members of the Serbian Royal Army, were also senior members of the Black Hand. There were also many other unmentioned senior officers, including the Army Chief of Staff, who belonged to that organization. I contend that the Black Hand was nothing less than the black operations group of the Royal Serbian Army, and the use of the expression, terrorist, is unsupportable

      Finally, I cannot, in fairness, close without commending your precision, brevity, deftness and perspicacity, in relating the results of the assassination. It was a most excellent summation of the post WWI world.

      • padresteve

        You are right, there is so much more detail that can be included. On this one because it is not one of the areas I spend most of my time on, I tried to be accurate, concise and fair, simply I want to get my readers interested enough to pick up books and read.

        Great comments

        Thank you!

  3. Jeff Bailey

    Actually, I envy you, and your field of expertise – The US Civil War – or – The War Between the States -or – The War of Northern Aggression. Everything is open to discussion and debate, up to and including what to call the darn thing. On the other hand, the First World War became extraordinarily doctrinaire in the 1940’s, for a number of reasons (The eastern front is ignored, the western front was tactically boring and, finally, it is devilishly hard, old chap, to sell war bonds for the second world war, while postulating if the allies started the first.)
    Obviously, this rigidity and unwillingness to question the status quo, is tremendously frustrating. Virtually every historian, writing on the assassination and subsequent diplomatic crisis, dismiss the 1910 browning semi automatics as “revolvers”. Do you see anything that revolves on the darn thing?
    Likewise, The Austrian Hungarian government, in the appendix of the demarche, which was presented to Serbia on July 23, and every major capital in Europe on July 24, 1914, clearly states that the assassins had or used Kragujevac hand grenades, manufactured by and for the Serbian Royal Army. Yet I have never seen a book that calls them anything else, other than the conveniently nondescript term bombs

  4. Jeff Bailey

    PS – Can you imagine the furor in Civil War circles, if someone called Boothe’s derringer a revolver?

  5. Pingback: Digital Storytelling – Microcomputer Systems in Education

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