Home » History » My fascination with the First War will only grow as we approach the 100th Anniversary – here is one day to remember

My fascination with the First War will only grow as we approach the 100th Anniversary – here is one day to remember

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Fig 1.  The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife the Duchess Sofia with his daughter Sophie and son Max. c1907

I plan to select a few hundred days that to my mind mark key moments running up to, through and beyond the First Word War – in each case looking for how events still touch our lives today. Reading this I think of how the Serbs a hundred years ago were fighting to create a national identity free of both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires – I wonder where the similarities lie with with the Kurds having any national ambitions for a people divided between Turkey, Syria and Iran and Iraq?

Researching events such as this I am shocked at how much passes as truth and how little is told of what was going on.

I have some questions

  • Why were they in an right hand drive car ?
  • Were the streets cleared of other traffic that morning?
  • It was a Sunday so had this Roman Catholic family attended mass?
  • After one attempt on his life did the Archduke not question the risk of going back out onto the street?
  • How many people knew what was going on even after this first attempt on the Archduke’s life and willed the assassins to have a second attempt?
  • There were many opportunities to step back from the abyss in the following weeks but the sides seemed to will it to happen – having put the pieces on the board it was as if the powers wanted to let the game go into play.
  • What lessons have we learnt a century on? That human nature condemns us to repeat this kind of folly?

SUMMARY

At 10.10am on the morning of 28th June 1914 on the way to the Sarjevo Town Hall from the railway station, would-be assassin and Bosnian-Serb nationalist, Nedeljko Čabrinović hurls a bomb at the car carrying the 51 year old Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir  to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bomb bounces off the open hood of the right-hand drive 1911 Gräf & Stift and blows up under the vehicle behind wounding several.

Less than an hour later, and back in this open top chauffeur-driven tourer, the Archduke wants a change to their planned itinerary in order to visit the injured from the earlier bomb explosion.

Simply being in Sarajevo was a provocation that the Archduke had been warned about so to carry on after the first assassination attempt appears like folly.

As the entourage leaves the Town Hall, the car’s owner, Count Harrack, gets up on the running board by the Archduke as if to offer a modicum of protection, though what protection this affords to a hand-thrown bomb or gun-shots from determined assassins is doubtful. The chauffeur turns off the Quay D’Appel following other vehicles into Franz Josef Street as per the original itinerary but is advised, presumably by the front seat passenger Count Potoirek and perhaps Count Harrac or the Archduke himself to stop the car and reverse back onto the Quay D’Appel to go to the hospital.

It is 10.55am.

19 year old Gavrilo Princip, one of the seven armed assassins spread out on the route that morning, sees his opportunity, pulls out a pistol, steps forward from the pavement to the driver-side of the vehicle, aims and shoots at point-blank range. The first bullet hits the Archduke in the neck piercing one of his jugular veins and presumably exiting  the other side of his neck and missing the spine while the second bullet hits his wife the Duchess, Sofia of Hohenberg in the abdomen.

Had Princip meant to shot both to kill? Probably – there was a pattern of established regicide in the group he belonged to.

The car stops.

Men grab the assailant.

The car carrying the Archduke and Duchess heads off again, this time to the safety of the Governor’s House and we assume as part of the convoy of three.

En route the Archduke’s mouth falls open and blood squirts onto Count Harrack’s right cheek.

The Duchess Sofia asks her husband  ‘Was ist mist dir passiert?’

As the Archduke turns his head it topples forward and his plumed hat falls into the car-well; he sees that the Duchess has been hit too and implores that she stay alive for the sake of their three children.

‘Sofia, Für unsere Kinder sterben nicht’.

Sofia dies before they reach the Governor’s house while Franz Ferdinand dies ten minutes later.

Fig.2.  On the right,  Dragutin Dimitrijević with associates – the mind behind this and other successful as well as failed assassinations of royals that got in the way of the creation of a Greater Serb Nation that had support from a pan-slavic notion of shared ‘nationhood’ that took in Russia – their ally in the World War these machinations provoked.

EXTENDED COMMENTARY ON THE EVENTS

To provoke war not only had Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary to die on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 but it had to be seen to be the act of a people, not just a lone assassin. This was the case, there was a desire by nationalist Serbs to extricate all Serb land from the Austro–Hungarian Empire just as they had successfully ceded land from the Ottoman Empire in the previous five years. The aim was to create a Greater Serbia – for some violence was the only way to achieve this. Even an assassination attempt, whether successful or not, could have been enough to oblige the Austro-Hungarian Empire to mobilise and send an army into Serbia. The danger was how this would be perceived and interpreted amongst the ‘Great Powers’ of the day given the accords they had troubled over and signed between each other over the previous couple of decades.

The planned itinerary through Sarajevo from the station to the Town Hall was common knowledge.

To increase the odds in favour of success the leadership of the assassination-attempt placed several trained and armed men along the route ready to take their best chance.  Six of the seven armed men : Mehmedbasic, Cabrincvic, Cubrilovic, Princip, Grabez and Illic positioned themselves along the Appel Quay by the River Miljacka, as if planning to hit their target on the way to the Town Hall, while Popovic was on the other side of the road. Any one of them would take a chance from their position if and as it arose whether using a hand thrown bomb with a ten second fuse or a revolver. One of them, Illic, had a roving brief to reposition himself as he felt appropriate. There would be crowds. Movement on the street might be restricted by a throng of people. Traffic, other than the entourage of four vehicles, is likely to have been restricted on the morning. Each of them also had a cyanide pill so that they could, to evade capture and giving away details of the network of their support, commit suicide. This was a conspiracy, never the lone work of a single assassin, it was a well planned plot, involving a network of Serbian support, not least by the Serb Chief of Police,

A convoy of four vehicles left the station at around 10.oo am  – the Archduke and his wife the Duchess Sofia in the third vehicle, an open top tourer.

The streets were busy with onlookers but perhaps not such a throng as to slow the vehicles down and so offer an opportunity for someone to push, then jump forward with a bomb or pointed revolver. Mehmedbasic, the first would–be assassin did nothing as the entourage approached the Cumburja Bridge, then Cabrinovic, the second took armed Serb nationalist assassin took his chance – pushing forward he hurtled a bomb into the open topped tourer – it missed, bouncing off the canopy cover and ending up under the car behind where it exploded, badly wounding the occupants. Cabrinovic tried to evade capture by taking a cyanide pill and jumping into the River Maljacka. The lack of thorough preparation is telling – at the height of summer the river is only a few inches deep and the cyanide pill only made him ill. He was easily caught. Informed of this outcome did the party representing the Austro–Hungarian Empire believe the actions of a lone assassin had been foiled? Little action was taken to indicate that anyone thought there was any further risk. In age of assassination of Royals there is a stubborn inability to accept that circumstances have changed or are changing. Here as we see in the World War that follows, there is considerable inertia that requires things to be done in a certain, prescribed way rather than responding flexibly to changing circumstances.

At 10.10 the Archduke and his wife the Duchess reached the Town Hall as planned.

Not in the mood for pleasantries from dignitaries the Archduke interrupted the Mayor to say that having a bomb thrown at him was hardly what he’d call a friendly welcome. The Duchess pressed her husband to allow the man to go on. Before they left the Town Hall the Archduke demanded a change to his itinerary so that he could visit the wounded from the bomb attack in hospital.

Leaving the Town Hall at around 10.40 the revised route to the hospital should have taken the Imperial visitors straight along the Quay D’Appel

As perhaps the instructions had not been passed down the chain of command further along the Quay D’Appel instead of continuing on the entire entourage turned instead onto the Rue Franz Joseph opposite the Latina Bridge as originally intended. Quickly corrected the chauffeur stopped to reverse back onto the Quay d’Appel – by chance this was exactly the spot where the would-be assassin Princip was standing having crossed from one side of the Quay D’Appel to the other – in position, as planned.

Had he crossed the road to take up a second position expecting the entourage to come this way as per the original plan? It looks like it.

He happens to be outside a pastry store – Schiller’s. It is artistic licence put into a TV drama reconstruction in 2008 that suggests that Princip, knowing he had a good half-hour to go that he went in to for refreshment and sat down to eat, of all things, a sandwich. After the earlier failed attempt on the Archduke’s life it would also be reasonable however to consider the view that the six remaining would–be assassins believed that their chances had now gone – that heightened security or a change in the route back through town would mean that they would have no second chance. On the other hand, knowing how officials behaved, they may have understood that plans once set in motion are rarely altered. In any case, Princip and the  others were acting on orders –  with the Serbian government and security forces tangential to their enterprise.

Fig. 3.  Map of Assassination attempt and assassination of  Archduke Francis Ferdinand and Duchess Sofia 24 June 1914

It is now 10.45 am.

Princip sees the Archduke for the second time, his vehicle static or reversing slowly back onto the Quay d’Appel from Rue Franz Joseph – Princip takes the opportunity that presents itself and acts – he takes out a revolver, steps forward and aims at the Archduke. Nerves, lack of skill with a handgun or the vehicle being put into reverse means that even at less than 6ft a bullet meant for the Archduke’s head hits him in the neck while a second shot, almost certainly meant for the Archduke, hits the Duchess Sofia in the abdomen. Perhaps someone has already grabbed Princip forcing his arm down as he fires the second shot.

As Princip is bundled away, another change is hastily made to the itinerary – this time instead of the hospital, which under the circumstances would have been the better choice, the vehicle heads for the known safety Governor’s mansion.

Still sitting bolt upright in the back of the tourer no one is immediately aware that both the Archduke and Duchess are mortally wounded.

Count Harrac, who still riding on the running board at the Archduke’s side, feels warm, wet blood on his right cheek. Turning to the Archduke he sees that blood is spurting from the Archduke’s open mouth. The Count reaches for a handkerchief which he places on the Archduke’s neck. Sofia speaks to her husband to ask in horror what is wrong. The Archduke turns to his wife and as he slumps forward is shocked to see that she too has been hit. He mutters something about her staying alive for the children.

Princip and the cell or cells acting on the 24th June 1914 did not act alone.

They were part of a secret Serbian military liberation movement that had been formed out of a group calling themselves the ‘Unification of Death’ that had been founded on 6 September 1901 with the aim of shaking off the yolk of the Austro–Hungarian Empire to create a Greater Serbia that united Serb speaking people – assassinating heads of state at a time and in a part of the world where monarchs ruled – was the modus operandi.

Fig.4.  King Alexander of Serbia and Queen Draga

A royal assassination was the aim of the ‘Unification of Death’ from the outset, indeed with such a name results through violence were clearly how they expected to achieve their aims.

For example, one of the group’s founding members, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known as ‘Apis’ – possibly funded from Russia, broke into the Serbian Royal Palace on 11th June 1903 with some junior officers, found the autocratic 26 year old King of Serbia, Alexander and his wife Queen Draga and took part in their murder – if there is any substance to the suggestion that the bodies were mutilated and disemboweled then ‘Apis’ already had more than just royal blood on his hands when a little over ten years later he plotted the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Duchess Sofia. At the time of the murders of Alexander and Draga the Serbian parliament hailed Apis as their saviour and appointed him Professor of Tactics at the Military Academy.

There followed in 1980 a  failed attempt by the same group to assassinate the Montenegrin King  and in 1909 to overthrow the Montenegrin government.

Around this time, ‘The Black Hand’ formed as the group within the ‘Unification of Death’ that would continue to seek an end to Austro-Hungarian rule of Serb people through violent means as others began to think of a slower, negotiated solution. In 1911 Apis plotted the assassination of Emperor Franz Josef, when this failed he turned his attentions to his successor Archduke Francis Ferdinand, not least because he planned to make concessions to Slavs living in the south of the Austro–Hungarian Empire which may have appeased their desires for separation.

When at the start of 1914 Apis turned his attention to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he began by recruiting three young Bosnian–Serbs as would–be assassins and had them trained.

Not all got behind this plot, knowing that these actions could invite war between Austria and Serbia at a time when Russian support wasn’t as yet a certainty. The Black Hand had supporters in the army and government. They used murder against opponents. Vocal or actual opposition was minimal. In any case, Apis was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence. Several people in authority in the Serb government, not least the prime minister Nikola Pasic and in the army knew that would–be assassins were in Sarajevo for a full month awaiting the visit of the Archduke – no efforts were made to apprehend them or alert the Austrians of their presence.

Fig. 6. The Archduke and Duchess left three orphaned children, Sophie age 13, Max age 10 and Ernst age 7.

Shunned by their family, as their mother had been shunned by the court during the lifetime of Sophia, the children were  care for by a close friend of Franz Ferdinand. Their properties were confiscated at the end of WW1 and they moved to Austria. A staunch Austria nationalist and against the Nazi’s Max and Ernst were sent to the concentration camp Dachau. Sophie had three sons and a daughter – one son died on the Eastern Front towards the end of the Second World War, while a second died in a Soviet POW camp in 1949.

In 2000 a granddaughter of the Archduke filed to have their ancestral home returned.

 

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