Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Shot Heard Around the World - June 28, 1914

A century ago today, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. Within five weeks, the Archduke's assassination had led to the first world war.

One of the last photographs taken of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie before their assassination

"The Austrians had chosen an unlucky date for their visit. On this day, St Vitus' Day, in the year 1380, Ottoman forces had destroyed a Serb-led army on the Field of Blackbirds (Kosovo), putting an end to the era of Serb empire in the Balkans and creating the preconditions for the later integration of what remained of Serbia into the Ottoman Empire. The commemorations across the Serb lands were set to be especially intense in 1914, because this was the first St Vitus Day since the "liberation" of Kosovo during the Second Balkan War in the previous year. "The holy flame of Kosovo, which has inspired generations of Serbs has now burst forth into a mighty fire" the Black Hand journal, Pijemont, announced on 28th June, 1914, "Kosovo is free! Kosovo is avenged!" For Serbian ultra-nationalists, the arrival of the heir apparent in Sarajevo on this of all days was a symbolic affront that demanded a response.

The Archduke and Duchess, Sarajevo, June 28, 1914
Official security precautions were conspicuous by their absence. Despite warnings that a terrorist outrage was likely, the archduke and his wife travelled in an open car along a crowded and entirely predictable route. The espalier of troops who usually lined the kerbs on such occasions was nowhere to be seen. Even the special security detail was missing - its chief had mistakenly climbed into one of the cars with the three local Bosnian officers, leaving the rest of his men behind at the railway station.

One assassin, the Bosnian Serb Nedeljko Cabrinovic, threw his bomb. Whether the archduke himself saw the bomb and managed to bat it away with his hand or whether it simply bounced off the folded fabric of the roof at the back of the passenger compartment is not clear. At any rate, it missed, fell to the ground and exploded beneath the car behind, wounding several of the officers inside and gouging a hole in the road. The archduke responded with astonishing sang froid. Instead of leaving the danger zone immediately, he saw to the treatment of the wounded and then ordered that the cavalcade should continue to the town hall and then pass back along the Appel Quay so that he and his wife could visit the wounded in hospital. "Come on," he said, "That fellow is clearly insane. Let us proceed with our programme."

Gavrilo Princip
. . . Gavrilo Princip was at first caught off guard. Hearing the explosion, he assumed that the plot had already succeeded. He ran towards Cabrinovic's position, only to see him being borne away by his captors. By this time, Princip could see the Archduke, but the car was moving too fast for him to get a clear shot. Princip stayed calm - an extraordinary feat under the circumstances. Realising that the couple would soon be returning, he took up a new position on the right side of Franz Joseph Street, along the publicly advertised route by which the motorcade was to leave the city.

 . . . Following the bomb attack, it had been s decided by the Archduke's party that the motorcade should proceed from the town hall to the hospital straight back down the Appel Quay rather than up Franz Joseph Street as any further prospective assassin would presumably be expecting. But no one had informed the drivers of the changed itinerary. As they passed the bazaar district, the lead vehicle swung to the right into Franz Joseph Street and the car carrying Franz Ferdinand and Sophie made to follow suit. Potiorek upbraided the driver: "This is the wrong way! We are supposed to take the Appel Quay!" The engine was disengaged and the car (which had no reverse gear) pushed slowly back on to the main thoroughfare.

This was Gavrilo Princip's moment. He caught up with the car as it slowed almost to a stop. Unable to disentangle in time the bomb tied to his waist, he drew his revolver instead and fired twice from point blank range, while Harrach, standing on the running board, looked on in horror from the left. Time - as we know from Princip's later testimony - seemed to slow as he left the shade of the shop awnings to take aim. The sight of the Duchess gave him momentary pause: "as I looked, I saw that a lady was sitting next to him. I reflected for a moment whether to shoot or not. At the same time, I was filled with a peculiar feeling . . ."

At first, it seemed as if the shooter had missed his mark, because Franz Ferdinand and his wife remained motionless and upright in their seats. In reality, they were both already dying. The first bullet had passed through the door of the car into the duchess' abdomen, severing the stomach artery; the second hit the archduke in the neck, tearing the jugular vein. Count Harrach heard Franz Ferdinand speaking in a soft voice words that would become famous throughout the monarchy: "Sophie, Sophie. Don't die, stay alive for our children!" When asked if he was in pain, the archduke repeated several times in a whisper, "It's nothing" and then lost consciousness.

The crowd closed in around Gavrilo Princip. The revolver was knocked from his hands as he raised it to his temple to take his own life. So was the packet of cyanide he endeavoured without success to swallow. He was punched, kicked and beaten with walking sticks by the surrounding mob; he would have been lynched on the spot if police officers had not managed to drag him off into custody.

Sophie was already dead by the time they reached the Konak Palace and the couple were rushed into two rooms on the first floor. Franz Ferdinand was comatose. Kneeling beside the bed, Morsey asked Franz Ferdinand if he had a message for his children, but there was no reply; the archduke's lips were already stiffening. The time was just after 11 am. As the news fanned out from the palace, bells began to toll across Sarajevo."

From The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

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