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The Cause of World War I – The shot that started a war – The assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary

October 2007
This year we celebrate the 89th anniversary of the end of the Great War; “The War To End All Wars”; The First World War.
Despite all the major reasons why the war might have started, the actual incident which started WWI, took place in a small corner of Europe called Sarajevo, a city in the Austrian State of Bosnia.

Both Serbia and Bosnia were regions that had just recently broken away form Turkey. Bosnia was immediately taken over by Austria-Hungary and Serbia became an independent state, but both were small and weak, but each looked for help from bigger countries. Serbia found an ally in Russia, and Russia swore to stand by Serbia in times of need.

Serbia also was unfriendly to Austria-Hungary, her neighbor to the north. It’s interesting to note that both Russia (as a member of the Entente) and Austria-Hungary (as a member of the Alliance) were automatically on opposite sides of the fence on most important issues.

On 28 June 1914, the crown Prince of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, paid a visit to Sarajevo to inspect the army. His eventual murders were not much more that teenagers. They knew very little about European politics, and really didn’t realize what their actions would cause. They wanted Bosnia to be part of Serbia, and thought that guns, bombs and terror were the only ways to achieve this goal.

They were all very frightened on that June morning, and because of this, their first attempts at political terror would be failures. Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian member of the terrorist group the Black Hand, had seen his intended target. The Archduke was shopping in the marketplace at Sarajevo. He had not killed him at that time, because Princip wanted the execution of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to be seen by more people. On that fateful day, Princip and his allies were scattered along a road called the Appel Quay, which ran alongside a river. The Appel Quay was to be the road the Archduke would take when coming to visit the town.

The Archduke and his wife, Countess Sophie, arrived at the station just outside of the town at 9:30 am. They did a quick inspection of a military base across the street from the station, then climbed into a limousine for the ride into town. Their limousine was the second car in a motorcade. Also riding in the motorcade were soldiers, town officials such as the town’s mayor, General Potiorek, and the man who owed the limousine, Count Harrach. Countess Sophie was a beautiful woman, dressed in a flowing white ruffled dress with a high collar, wearing a huge white hat on here head. Archduke Ferdinand had on a military uniform, which featured a blue coat; black trousers and a hat topped with large, green ostrich feathers. As the motorcade drove along Appel Quay, spectators who lined the parade route cheered it. In amongst the spectators were two of Princip’s terrorist allies, but these boys were so frightened that they did nothing to harm the Archduke.

As the cars drove further along Appel Quay, they passed a terrorist named Gabrinovic, who had a bomb. He threw it at the Archduke’s car, but the Archduke saw it coming. He stood up and knocked the bomb onto the road. The bomb exploded on the next car in the motorcade, injuring several people. “After I threw the bomb,” Gabrinovic later said, “I noticed how calmly Ferdinand turned towards me and gave me a long, cold glare.” Gabrinovic then swallowed some poison and jumped into the river, but he did not die. He was fished out had arrested. While this was happening, the rest of the motorcade sped on to the town hall where Mayor Potiorek was waiting to greet the Archduke, who by now had become angry and decided to cancel the rest of the tour.

Archduke Ferdinand decided to leave Sarajevo, but before he did, he wanted to go to a military hospital to visit some wounded soldiers. It was decided that, instead of driving along the advertised route, the Archduke’s car would continue along the Appel Quay. Count Harrach decided to stand on the limousine’s running board incase there was another attack. As it turned out, he stood on what was to be the wrong side of the car. In all the confusion, no one told the car’s driver about the change of route.

The car started back along the Appel Quay, but at Franz Joseph Street, the driver turned right instead of going straight. Mayor Potiorek told him to turn around. This was a mistake, although no one knew it at the time. Princip stepped forward and fired two shots form his revolver. The first struck Countess Sophie in the abdomen, killing her instantly.

The Archduke was shot near the heart with the second shot. He uttered only one word, ‘Sofia’, then fell back and collapsed. Within minutes, the Archduke was also dead.

Princip swallowed some poison, but it didn’t work. He was revived by the police, who proceeded to beat him up.

By 10:15 am, only minutes after he had arrived, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie were dead.

Undoubtedly Princip, had no idea what the Archduke’s death would do the rest of the world. It gave Austria-Hungary an excuse to invade Serbia. Russia then declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany declared war on Russia, and attacked France. Britain then declared war on Germany.

With this one small act of violence, Europe was thrust into war.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-shot-that-started-a-war-the-assassination-of-the-crown-prince-of-austria-hungary/

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