Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

The Assassination of Archduke Franz FerdinandTension had been rising between the European powers for many years.  The events that took place in Sarajevo in 1914, unleashed a series of events that finally lighted a fuse which would explode into the First World War.  The key event, which started this chain reaction was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Source A:  Archduke just before he was assassinated, 1914.

The large Austro-Hungarian Empire contained many different nationalities, including millions of Slavs.  Many of these Slavs wanted to break away from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and set up their own country.  Their fellow Slavs in Serbia encouraged this unrest.  A secret terrorist organisation called the Black Hand was set up in Serbia with the aim of freeing all Slav people.  In order to achieve this it was decided to assassinate the Archduke.  They decided the best time and place to do this was when he visited Sarajevo with his wife Sophie on the 28th June 1914.

From the beginning of their visit the royal couple were cheered everywhere they went.  They were visiting Sarajevo to celebrate their wedding anniversary.  Security was lax as there were no soldiers on duty and only a few police.  At 10.10 am a tall man wearing a long black coat and hat threw a hand grenade and at the Archdukes car.  The driver saw the bomb coming and accelerated his car so it missed him.  The bomb bounced underneath the next car in the procession and injured about 20 people.  The damaged car was pushed onto the pavement.

Source B: The last photograph of Franz Ferdinand taken shortly before his death.

Even though someone had just tried to kill him, the Archduke decided to carry on with his royal visit.  Unknown to him there were at least two other men waiting to try and assassinate him.  One man failed because he could not get the bomb out of his pocket. The people next to him  were jammed against his side.  However, the third assassin was lucky enough to succeed in killing the Archduke.

During the two failed attempts to kill the Franz Ferdinand another young assassin called Gavrillo Princip, a 19 year old Serb, was waiting for his chance to kill him.  He was a member of the Black Hand and at first he thought that his other friends had been successful.  When he saw the Archduke’s car go flying by he felt depressed and decided to have a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe .  In his pocket was a revolver.  He had fired a few practice shots the day before, but had missed the target.  Besides, he had never been taught at a moving target.At 10.45 am the Archduke decided to cut short his reception at the town hall and decided to visit a policeman injured in the bomb attack on his car.  During the journey to the hospital the car with his bodyguards took a wrong turning.  The Archduke’s driver slammed on the brakesto try and catch up with the other car.  However, the car engine stalled outside the cafe where Princip was having his cup of coffee.  Princip could not believe his luck.  He pushed through the crowd and pulled out his revolver.  A policeman saw him and tried to stop him but was hit by someone behind him.  Princip jumped onto the car’s running board and fired at point blank range.  He missed the Archduke and shot his wife.  He tried again and finally succeeded.  As he died the Archduke cried to his wife ‘Sophie, Sophie don’t die.

Source C: ‘The Habsburgs’ by McGuigan published in the 1970s.

Franz Ferdinand cried out. ‘Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Stay alive for the children!’  His plumed hat had fallen off, and now as his attendant tried to prop him upright he slumped over his wife’s dead body and died.

Source D: Princip’s statement at his trial, 1914.

The main motive which guided me in my deed was the avenging of the Serbian people … I am a Nationalist.  I aimed to free the Yugoslavs, for I am a Yugoslav … As far as Serbia is concerned, it is her duty to free us … I aimed at the Archduke … I do not remember what I thought at that moment.  I only know that I fired twice or perhaps several times, without knowing whether I had hit or missed.

Princip later died in prison after he had been badly treated by the authorities.  His actions lead to a chain reaction that exploded into the First World War.

Source E:  The bloodstained tunic, hat, gloves and plumed hat worn by the Archduke on the day of his assassination

First World War Homepage
Causes of the First World WarAssassination of Franz Ferdinand
Schlieffen PlanPublic Reaction to the Outbreak of War
British Expeditionary ForceInteractive Timeline of the First World War
Simulation: Life in the TrenchesStatistics
Changing role of WomenWar Poetry
British Contribution to Western FrontDevelopment of New Weapons
Creeping BarrageWestern Front in 1918

 First World War Homepage
Causes of the First World War – Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Schlieffen Plan – Public Reaction to the Outbreak of War
British Expeditionary Force –  Interactive Timeline of the First World War
Simulation: Life in the Trenches – Statistics
Changing role of Women – War Poetry
British Contribution to Western Front – Development of New Weapons
Creeping Barrage – Western Front in 1918
Home Front in the First World War
Timeline Infographic: Causes of World War OneLudendorff and the Spring Offensive