On 28 June 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife, Sophie were visiting the picturesque city of Sarajevo. As Inspector General of the Army, he was attending military exercises in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Franz Ferdinand was also the nephew of the Emperor, and due to the suicide of the crown prince, was heir to the throne as well! The Austro-Hungarian Empire had recently annexed the Balkan provinces, infuriating neighboring Serbia, which also coveted the two territories.
The Young Bosnians, a revolutionary student group of Serbian nationalists, learned of the Archduke’s visit, and secretly plotted his assassination.
Franz and Sophie boarded an elegant open-topped car for a pleasant motorcade ride to the town hall, waving to the populace as they drove by. As the cars passed, one Serb assassin hurled a bomb at their vehicle, watched it bounce off the folded roof top, and roll underneath the wrong automobile! The explosion wounded two army officers and some unlucky bystanders, but not Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.
“I AM FINE!” the Archduke bellowed. And rather than flee Sarajevo, they continued on to town hall. Only upon finishing his royal duties did they drive away, at a higher speed this time to dissuade other potential bombers. Unfortunately, their chauffeur was unfamiliar with Sarajevo and turned off the Appel Quay onto a side street by mistake. At a corner where Serbian Gavrilo Princip was waiting.
As the cars attempted to back up, Princip whipped out his pistol, charged forward and fired two shots at point-blank range!
Bullets pierced the Archduke’s neck and Sophie’s abdomen as she lunged forward to protect her husband. “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die!” he managed to cry out. “Live for our children.”
Gavrilo (Gabriel) was a skinny 19-year-old peasant Serb, barely able to grow a mustache. He and his co-conspirators had been radicalized by the infamous Black Hand society after the army rejected them. Princip was attacked by an angry mob as he attempted to commit suicide. He shouted proudly to the crowd, “I am a hero of Serbia!” The motorcade rushed to a hospital but within the hour, both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had expired. Sadly, it was their wedding anniversary as well. They left behind three young children in Vienna.
Tensions were already running high between Europe’s great allied powers. There had not been a continental war for almost 60 years. Austria-Hungary considered the Serbs thieves, pigs and dogs in no particular order. The Archduke’s assassination set off a rapid chain reaction of events, culminating in our planet’s first ever WORLD WAR:
- Exactly a month later, on 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
- Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, began to mobilize its vast army in Serbia’s defense
- Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary, saw this as an act of war, and declared war on Russia August 1st
- France, bound by treaty to Russia, mobilized its army as well, so Germany declared war on France on August 3rd.
- Germany then invaded neutral Belgium the next day to reach Paris. Britain, allied with Belgium & France, declared war against Germany on August 4th, and by extension Austria-Hungary
- With the British Empire came it many colonies – Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa
- Japan, bound by treaty with Britain, declared war on Germany August 23rd. Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan August 24th. It’s tragic how quick and easy it all was.
- Italy managed to stay out of it for a year, but joined on the side of the Allies in 1915
- US President Woodrow Wilson stated neutrality at first, but finally declared war against Germany and entered the war in 1917
Overall, more than 9 MILLION soldiers on both sides would die in the bloody trenches and battlefields of “THE GREAT WAR TO END ALL WARS.”
A war that introduced such new implements of death like tanks, machine guns, bi-wing airplanes and poison mustard gas for the very first time. Only after millions already perished, and the introduction of American forces tipped the scales. Germany and Austria-Hungary were finally forced to surrender at the Paris armistice, signed in railroad car on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – 11 November 1918.
But it wasn’t over for many as the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 (see related blog post)would bring further death to the world as the surviving troops returned home with the deadly virus. Gavrilo Princip was too young to be hanged, just 20 days shy of his 20th birthday. He was instead given a 20-year sentence, but died in prison of tuberculosis at only 23.