28-Jun-1914 - Assassination in Sarajevo

The Archduke and Sophie arriving in Sarajevo

28-Jun-1914 Sarajevo

"Some damn foolish thing in the Balkans,"

This was Bismarck's prophecy as to what would set off the seemingly unavoidable European war. He had hit the nail directly on the head. The Balkans of 1914 were a hotbed of nationalistic intrigue. The Bosnian Serbs inhabiting the southern Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia-Herzogovina wanted to be united with their brothers living across the Drina (Dunav) in Serbia proper. Austria-Hungary, having officially annexed Turkish Bosnia-Herzogovina in 1908, was not about to let go of it. Maybe an act of supreme defiance would convince Vienna otherwise; maybe the dream of a greater Serbia could be realized by such an act.

An assassination of Emperor Franz Josef was out of the question. He was well respected throughout the empire and his heir's politics were even worse for Serbian cause than his own. The heir to the Hapsburg throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was in favor of giving an equal voice to the Slavs of the empire - a belief counter to the very core of the Serb cause.1 The Archduke was also Inspector General of the Austrian army. The summer maneuvers would bring him into the area and diplomacy would ordain a visit to Sarajevo on June 28th, St. Vitus Day, a Serbian holiday. It seems fate had decided the act.

1 While this may sound contradictory, it should be noted the common belief was that if the Slavs within the Austro-Hungarian empire were appeased, the chance of an insurrection would be greatly reduced, and consequently, the goal of a greater Serbia would never be realized.
28-Jun-1914 in Sarajevo was a typical summer day in the Balkans - blistering. For the Serbs it was St. Vitus day. It memorialized the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 where the Serbs were defeated by Turkey. The Serbs would mark the day with a feast.

It was also a special day for Archduke Franz Ferdinand - it was his 14th wedding anniversary. He would make it a special day for his wife Sophie. In Vienna she, not being of royal enough blood, was not allowed to ride in the same car with her husband during high affairs of state. But this was Sarajevo. Here, on their anniversary, she would be afforded all the royal treatment of which she was deprived at home. The Duchess of Hohenburg would most certainly ride in the car with her husband today.

To seven tubercular Bosnian Serb youths, 28-Jun-1914 would be the day they made their mark for the Serbian cause - a mark that would ultimately be left on the entire world.
The Assassins

"The Narodna Odbrana proclaims to the people that Austria is our first and greatest enemy."

ø Exerpt from "Narodna Odbrana" pamphlet

The group of seven ranged in age from 19 to 27. Only one had a police record which was only for striking a teacher. They were all members of the secret Serbian nationalist movement Mlada Bosna ("Young Bosnia"). All had tuberculosis, a death sentence in 1914.
  • Nedjelko Cabrinovic
  • Vasco Cubrilovic
  • Trifko Grabez
  • Danilo Ilic
  • Mohammed Mehmedbasic
  • Cvijetko Popovic
  • Gavrilo Princip
Their training and arms came from Belgrade's "Union or Death" terrorist league. This faction of the Serbian "Black Hand" was under the leadership of a "Colonel Apis" (the bee), whose real identity was Colonel Dragutin Dimitrievitch, no less than the head of Serbian military intelligence. The assassins returned to Sarajevo on Jun-3 with pistols, bombs and cyanide to await the visit of the Archduke.

See also:
ø Information on "Ujedinjenje ili Smrt"
This is the Serbian "Black Hand". Link provides full background info including their constitution listing Colonel Dimitrievitch (Apis) as a member.
ø Information on "Narodna Odbrana"
This is the Serbian secret patriotic society of which "Mlada Bosna" was a splinter group..
Security Arrangements
The diplomatic teletype had been busy clicking out warnings from consulates all over the world. The messages were clear: the Archduke would be wise to cancel his planned visit to Sarajevo. In Vienna, Serbian ambassador Jovan Jovanovic (acting on orders from Prime Minister Pasic) visited Austrian finance Minister Bilinski to warn that if the Archduke should visit then:

"some young Serb might put a live round instead of a blank cartridge in his gun, and fire it."

Belinski replied:

"Let us hope nothing happens,"

Jovanovic's warning was never passed on.

For some reason, despite all of these pleas and warnings, the Archduke not only insisted on going to Sarajevo, but he also put the city off-limits to the nearby Austrian army for the day. This same army could have been used to provide a much needed security presence on the crowded streets. Perhaps he didn't want any trace of Vienna to ruin his anniversary.
The Act
The motorcade consisted of four cars; the Archduke and his wife rode in the second car. On their way to city hall they were to cross the Miljacka river at Cumuria Bridge. Mehmedbasic and Cabrinovic were waiting. Mehmedbasic did not throw his bomb, later stating that a policeman was blocking his way. Cabrinovic's path was not blocked and he threw his bomb at the second car. It was a good shot but the Archduke, protecting Sophie, deflected it onto the street. A fragment from the explosion hit Sophie in the face and others wounded passengers in the third car - Count Boos-Waldeck, Colonel von Merizzi and Sophie's attendant, Countess Lanjus. About a dozen onlookers were also injured.

Cabrinovic swallowed his cyanide and jumped into the Miljacka but he vomited up the poison and found that the river was only a few inches deep. He was taken into custody.

The first two cars continued on their way to city hall. Franz Ferdinand joked that the would-be assassin would probably be given the Medal of Merit in Vienna. The mayor of Sarajevo, Fehim Effendi Curcic, rode in the first car and was unaware of what had transpired at the bridge. The noise of the motorcade had drowned out the bomb. The motorcade now passed Cubrilovic, Popovic, and Ilic who did nothing. There were only two chances left and they were Grabez and Princip.

When they arrived at City Hall the furious Archduke interrupted Curcic's welcome speech, seizing him by the arm:

"One comes here to visit and is received with bombs. Mr. Mayor, what do you say? It's outrageous! All right, now you may speak."

The Archduke calmed down during the mayor's speech and gave the diplomatic closing words:

"I assure you of my unchanged regard and favor."

Franz Ferdinand announced he would like to go to the hospital to check on the other bomb victims. He begged Sophie to stay behind but she insisted on accompanying him. Oskar Potiorek, Military Governor of the province, assured the angry Archduke:

"Your Imperial Highness, you can travel quite happily. I take the responsibility."

And with that they were off. The Archduke's chauffeur was following the mayor's car. They passed the sixth assassin, Grabez, at Imperial Bridge. He merely watched as the car sped by. The mayor's driver made a wrong turn. Where he should have taken the Appel Quay, he turned onto Francis Joseph street, a street named for the Archduke's uncle. Potiorek, riding with the Archduke and Sophie, cried out:

"What's this? We've taken the wrong way!"

The driver applied the brakes and the car came to a stop not five feet from Gavrilo Princip. Unlike his cohorts, Princip acted quickly and precisely, drawing his pistol and firing twice before the car could complete its turn. The shots made little noise and the car sped off. Potiorek looked at the couple and, at first, thought that they were unhurt. In actuality, the Archduke had been hit in the neck and Sophie in the stomach. The Archduke opened his mouth and a stream of blood poured out. Sophie cried:

"For heaven's sake, what's happened to you?"

She was in shock and unaware that she too had been shot. She then lost consciousness. Franz Ferdinand turned to his wife with the words:

"Sophie dear, Sophie dear, don't die. Stay alive for our children."

He then keeled over whispering:

"Es ist nichts, Es ist nichts..." (It is nothing, It is nothing...)

They were both dead by 11:30 that morning.

Meanwhile back at Francis Joseph Street, Princip had tried to kill himself first with his gun and then with cyanide. The gun was knocked from his hand, and the cyanide, as was the case with Cabrinovic, only made him retch. The throng closed in on him and roughed him up. He was, astonishingly, taken into custody alive.
Princip and Cabrinovic both held their tongues under police interrogation. It was Ilic, caught by chance in a suspect roundup, who broke and exposed the identities of his co-conspirators. By July 5th all were apprehended with the exception of Mehmedbasic, the only member to escape. The inquest lasted through July but was left to Sarajevo by Vienna and, to say the least, was grossly mishandled. The only fact that was established was that the weapons had come from Serbia. The complicity of the Serbian government was never proven. Friedrich von Wiesner, an Austrian official sent to investigate the proceedings in Sarajevo, wired his findings back to Vienna:

"There is nothing to indicate that the Serbian government knew about the plot."

This wire would not spare Serbia.