Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

From New World Encyclopedia
A new plaque commemorating the location of the Sarajevo Assassination

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead (while traveling in an open-topped car) in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break Austria-Hungary's south-Slav provinces off so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. The assassins' motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as "Young Bosnia". Serbian military officers are believed to have played a part in organizing the attack. The bombing and murders of June 28 led to the outbreak of World War I a month later. The Austria-Hungarian empire had been wrestling with the demands of various nationalities within its multi-cultural, multi-linguistic space since the middle of the nineteenth centuries. As a result of its defeat in World War I, these provinces gained independence in various forms. Bohemia with its mainly Czech and Slovakian people became independent Czechoslovakia, the union with Hungary came to an end, some territory went to Romania, some to Poland, some to Italy and indeed the Serbian speaking provinces became part of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later Yugoslavia. A Serb-led union, this was seen by many as a revival of the ancient Serbian Empire, which had been one of the largest states in Europe.

The price Austria paid for suppressing nationalism in its provinces was not only the death of the heir to the throne but the end of the throne itself. Ironically, Franz Ferdinand's uncle, the reigning Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria had over the years allowed the development of greater democracy. He and his ministers, though, were unable to satisfy the demand for more autonomy from the regions. The collapse of the empire, precipitated by Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination, saw a larger multi-cultural empire disintegrate into smaller, more culturally homogeneous nation-states. This raises the question whether, if more freedom and devolved power had been vested in regional assemblies, the larger polity might not have survived. In an increasingly pluralist and multi-cultural world, finding ways of living together peacefully and of ensuring that no community dominates at the expense of others due to race, creed or to privilege built into the system, is a challenge to which humanity must respond, or face the bitter consequences of inter-civilizational conflict. Neither of the two unified states survived either; both have subsequently split along mainly ethnic-linguistic lines into smaller entities although several are now members of the European Union.[1]


Gavrilo Princip
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

Under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary received the mandate to occupy and administer the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Ottoman Empire retained official sovereignty. Under this same treaty, Serbia was at last recognized by the Great Powers as a fully sovereign state, as the Kingdom of Serbia. Initially Serbia was content to live within its small borders, which encompassed only a fraction of the ethnic Serbian population.

This changed in 1903 when Serbian military officers led by Dragutin Dimitrijević stormed the Serbian Royal Palace. After a fierce battle in the dark the attackers captured General Laza Petrović, head of the Palace Guard, and forced him to reveal the hiding place of King Alexander and his wife Queen Draga. The King and Queen opened the door from their hiding place. The King was shot 30 times; the Queen 18. MacKenzie writes: "The royal corpses were then stripped and brutally sabred."[2] The attackers threw the corpses of King Alexander Obrenović and Queen Draga out of a palace window, ending any threat that loyalists would mount a counter attack. General Petrović was then killed too (Vojislav Tankosić organized the murders of Queen Draga's brothers; Dimitrijević and Tankosić in 1913-1914 figure prominently in the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand). The conspirators installed Peter I of the House of Karađorđević as the new king.

The new dynasty was more nationalistic, more friendly to Russia and less friendly to Austria-Hungary. Over the next decade, disputes between Serbia and its neighbors erupted as Serbia moved to build its power and gradually reclaim its fourteenth century empire. These disputes included a customs dispute with Austria-Hungary beginning in 1906 (commonly referred to as the "Pig War" as pigs were Serbia's major export to Austria-Hungary), the Bosnian crisis of 1908–1909 where Serbia assumed an attitude of protest over Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and finally the two Balkan wars of 1912–1913 where Serbia conquered Macedonia and Kosovo taking these provinces from the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.

Serbia's military successes and Serbian outrage over the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina emboldened nationalistic elements in Serbia and Serbs in Austria-Hungary who chafed under Magyar rule and whose nationalist sentiments were stirred by Serbian "cultural" organizations. In the five years prior to 1914, lone assassins—mostly Serbian citizens of Austria-Hungary—made a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina against Austro-Hungarian officials. The assassins received only sporadic support from Serbia. Perhaps the most famous of these failed efforts was Bogdan Žerajić's attempt on June 15, 1910 to kill the iron-fisted Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Marijan Verešanin. Žerajić was a 22-year-old orthodox Serb from Nevesinje, Herzegovina who made frequent trips to Belgrade.[3] Just 12 days before the attempt on Verešanin, Žerajić had made an aborted attempt on the life of Emperor Franz Joseph.[4]

General Verešanin went on to become a particularly hated figure to Serbs as he used the army to crush the last Bosnian peasant uprising in the second half of 1910.[5] The five bullets Žerajić fired at Verešanin and the fatal bullet he put in his own brain made Žerajić an inspiration to future Serbian assassins, including Princip and Princip's accomplice Čabrinović. Princip said that Žerajić "was my first model. When I was 17, I passed whole nights at his grave, reflecting on our wretched condition and thinking of him. It is there that I made up my mind sooner or later to perpetrate an outrage."[6]

In late June 1914, Franz Ferdinand visited Bosnia to observe military maneuvers and open the state museum in Sarajevo in its new premises, accompanied by his wife.[7] As a "Czech countess [she] was treated as a commoner at the Austrian court."[8] Emperor Franz Joseph had only consented to their marriage on condition that their descendents would never ascend the throne. The 14th anniversary of the morganatic oath fell on June 28 and they were happy to celebrate it far from Vienna. As historian A. J. P. Taylor observes:

[Sophie] could never share [Franz Ferdinand's] rank … could never share his splendours, could never even sit by his side on any public occasion. There was one loophole … his wife could enjoy the recognition of his rank when he was acting in a military capacity. Hence, he decided, in 1914, to inspect the army in Bosnia. There, at its capital Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife could ride in an open carriage side by side …. Thus, for love, did the Archduke go to his death.[9]

Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and widely believed to favor trialism, under which Austria-Hungary would be reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom could have been a bulwark against Serb irredentism and Franz Ferdinand was therefore perceived as a threat by those same irredentists. (Princip later stated to the court that preventing Franz Ferdinand's planned reforms was one of his motivations.)

The day of the assassination, June 28, is June 15 in the Julian calendar, the feast of Saint Vitus. In Serbia, it is called Vidovdan and commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans at which the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a Serb; it is an occasion for Serbian patriotic observances.


Planning direct action

In late 1913, Danilo Ilić came to a listening post at Užice to speak to the officer in charge, Serbian Colonel C. A. Popović, who was a captain at the time. Ilić recommended an end to the period of revolutionary organization building and a move to direct action against Austria-Hungary. Popović passed Danilo Ilić on to Belgrade to discuss this matter with Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, known more commonly as Apis.[10]

There are no reports as to what took place between Ilić and Apis, but soon after their meeting, Apis' right-hand man, Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić, called a Serbian irredentist planning a meeting in Toulouse, France.[11] Amongst those summoned to the Tolouse meeting was Mehmed Mehmedbašić, a carpenter by trade and son of an impoverished Muslim noble from Herzegovina.[12] Mehmedbašić was (here quoting Albertini paraphrasing Mehmedbašić) "eager to carry out an act of terrorism to revive the revolutionary spirit of Bosnia."[13] During this January 1914 meeting, various possible Austro-Hungarian targets for assassination were discussed, including Franz Ferdinand. However, the participants decided only to dispatch Mehmed Mehmedbašić to Sarajevo, to kill the Governor of Bosnia, Oskar Potiorek.

On his way to Bosnia-Herzegovina from France, police searched Mehmedbašić's train for a thief. Thinking the police might be after him, he threw his weapons (a dagger and a bottle of poison) out the train window. Once he arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina he had to set about looking for replacement weapons.

Franz Ferdinand chosen

Mehmedbašić needed to replace the weapons he had lost when his train was searched. This delayed his attempt on Potiorek, and before he was ready to act Ilić summoned him to Mostar. On March 26, 1914,[14] Ilić informed Mehmedbašić that Belgrade had scrapped the mission to kill the governor. The plan now was to murder Franz Ferdinand, and Mehmedbašić should stand by for the new operation.[15] (Apis confessed to the Serbian Court that he ordered the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in his position as head of the Intelligence Department.[16])

Ilić recruited the Serbian youths Vaso Čubrilović and Cvjetko Popović shortly after Easter (Orthodox Easter as given by Dedijer: April 19, 1914), for the assassination, as evidenced by the testimony of Ilić, Čubrilović, and Popović at the Sarajevo trial.[17] Three youths – Gavrilo Princip, Trifun Grabež, and Nedjelko Čabrinović; Austro-Hungarian Bosnian Serbs, living in Belgrade, testified at the Sarajevo trial that at about the same time, (a little after Easter) they were eager to carry out an assassination and approached a fellow Bosnian and former guerrilla fighter known to be well connected and with access to arms, Milan Ciganović, and through him Major Tankosić, who by this time was in charge of guerrilla training, and reached an agreement to transport arms to Sarajevo and participate in the assassination.

Agreement in principle was quickly reached, but delivery of the weapons was delayed for more than a month. The assassins would meet with Ciganović and he would put them off. At one point, Ciganović told Grabež: "Nothing doing, the old Emperor is ill and the Heir Apparent will not go to Bosnia."[18] When Emperor Franz Joseph's health recovered the operation was a "go" again. Tankosić gave the assassins one pistol to practice with.

The rest of the weapons were finally delivered on May 26.[19] The three assassins from Belgrade testified that Major Tankosić, directly and through Ciganović, not only provided six hand grenades, four Browning automatic pistols and ammunition, but also money,[19] suicide pills,[20] training, a special map with the location of gendarmes marked, knowledge of contacts on a special channel used to infiltrate agents and arms into Austria-Hungary, and a small card authorizing the use of that special channel.[21] Major Tankosić confirmed to the journalist and historian Luciano Magrini that he provided the bombs and pistols and was responsible for training Princip, Grabež, and Čabrinović and that he (Tankosić) initiated the idea of the suicide pills.

Travel to Sarajevo

Route of the assassins from Belgrade to Sarajevo

Princip, Grabež, and Čabrinović left Belgrade by boat on May 28 and traveled along the Sava River to Šabac where they handed the small card to Captain Popović of the Serbian Border Guard. Popović, in turn, provided them with a letter to Serbian Captain Prvanović, and filled out a form with the names of three customs officials whose identities they could assume and thereby receive discounted train tickets for the ride to Loznica, a small border town.[22]

When Princip, Grabež, and Čabrinović reached Loznica on May 29, Captain Prvanović summoned three of his revenue sergeants to discuss the best way to cross the border undetected. While waiting for the sergeants to arrive, Princip and Grabež had a falling out with Čabrinović over Čabrinović's repeated violations of operational security. Čabrinović handed over the weapons he was carrying to Princip and Grabež. Princip told Čabrinović to go alone to Zvornik, make an official crossing there using Grabež's ID card and then go on to Tuzla and link back up.[23]

Route of the weapons from Belgrade to Sarajevo

On the morning of May 30 Prvanović's revenue sergeants assembled and Sergeant Budivoj Grbić accepted the task and led Princip and Grabež with the weapons by foot to Isaković’s Island, a small island in the middle of the Drina River that separated Serbia from Bosnia. They reached the island on May 31. Grbić passed the terrorists and their weapons to the agents of the Serbian Narodna Odbrana for transport into Austro-Hungarian territory and from safe-house to safe-house. Princip and Grabež crossed into Austria-Hungary on the evening of June 1.[24] Princip and Grabež and the weapons were passed from agent to agent until they arrived in Tuzla where they left the weapons in the hands of the Narodna Odbrana agent Miško Jovanović and rejoined Čabrinović.[25]

The Narodna Odbrana agents reported their activities to the Narodna Odbrana President, Boža Janković, who in turn reported to the then Serbian Caretaker Prime Minister Nikola Pašić.[26] The report adds the name of a new military conspirator, Serbian Major Kosta Todorović (the Austro-Hungarian Redbook lists him as Boundary Commissioner and Director of Serbian Military Intelligence Services for the frontier line from Rada to Ljuboija in 1913). Pašić’s handwritten notes from the briefing (estimated by Dedijer to have taken place on June 5) included the nickname of one of the assassins ("Trifko" Grabez) and also the name of Major Tankosić.[27] The Austrians later captured the report, Pašić’s handwritten notes, and additional corroborating documents.[28]

From Tuzla, Grabež and Čabrinović went on to their parents’ homes to lie low until Franz Ferdinand’s arrival. Princip stayed at Ilić’s mother’s house in Sarajevo and there met Ilić. On June 14 Ilić went to Tuzla to bring the weapons to Sarajevo. Miško Jovanović hid the weapons in a large box of sugar and on June 15 the two went separately by train to Doboj where Jovanović handed off the box to Ilić.[29] Later that day, Ilić returned to Sarajevo by train and hid the weapons in a suitcase under a sofa at his mother’s house.[30] With the exception of Ilić's trip to Brod (a point of unresolved controversy), the conspirators spent the next eleven days quietly in Sarajevo or nearby towns.

Eve of the attacks

Ilić began handing out the weapons on June 27. Until June 27 Ilić had kept the identities of the assassins from Belgrade secret from those he had recruited locally and vice-versa. Then, that night, as Mehmedbašić told Albertini: "On the eve of the outrage Ilić introduced me to Princip in a Sarejevo café with the words 'Mehmedbašić who to-morrow is to be with us.'"[31] The three sent a postcard to "Black Hand" Provincial Director for Bosnia-Herzegovina Vladimir Gaćinović in France.

The following morning, June 28, Ilić walked on the street from assassin to assassin encouraging them to bravery.


Note: The exact course of events was never firmly established, mostly due to inconsistent stories of witnesses.


A map of where the Archduke was killed

After mass, on June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his party proceeded by train from Ilidža Spa to Sarajevo.[32] Governor Oskar Potiorek met the party at Sarajevo station. Six automobiles were waiting. Due to a mistake, three local police officers got into the first car with the chief officer of special security; the special security officers who were supposed to accompany their chief got left behind. The second car carried the Mayor and the Chief of Police of Sarajevo. The third car in the motorcade was a Gräf & Stift open sports car with its top folded down. Franz Ferdinand, Sophie, Governor Potiorek, and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach rode in this third car.[33] The motorcade's first stop on the preannounced program was for a brief inspection of a military barracks. According to the program, at 10:00 A.M. the motorcade was to leave the barracks for the town hall by way of the Appel Quay.[34]

The bombing

The motorcade passed the first assassin, Mehmedbašić. Danilo Ilić had placed him in front of the garden of the Mostar Cafe and armed him with a bomb.[35] Mehmedbašić failed to act. Ilić placed Vaso Čubrilović next to Mehmedbašić, arming him with a revolver and a bomb. He too failed to act. Further along the route, Ilić placed Nedeljko Čabrinović on the opposite side of the street near the Miljacka River arming him with a bomb.

At 10:10 A.M. Franz Ferdinand's car approached and Čabrinović threw his bomb. The bomb was blocked with Franz Ferdinand's hand and was later proved by the powder burn on his hand. There were also many eyewitnesses who said he blocked it with his hand. The bomb's timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car, putting that car out of action, leaving a one-foot diameter and 6.5 inches deep crater, and wounding a total of 20 people according to Reuters.[36]

Čabrinović swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka to make sure he would die. Unfortunately for him, the cyanide was old, so only induced vomiting, and the river that he had jumped into was only four inches deep. Police dragged Čabrinović out of the river, and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody.

The procession sped away towards the Town Hall leaving the disabled car behind. Cvjetko Popović, Gavrilo Princip and Trifun Grabež failed to act as the motorcade passed them at high speed.

The 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was riding at the time of his assassination.

Town Hall reception

Arriving at the Town Hall for a scheduled reception, Franz Ferdinand showed understandable signs of stress, interrupting a prepared speech of welcome by Mayor Curcic to protest "Mr. Mayor, I came here on a visit and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous." Duchess Sophie then whispered into Franz Ferdinand's ear, and after a pause, Franz Ferdinand said to the mayor: "Now you may speak."[37] He then became calm and the mayor gave his speech. Franz Ferdinand then had to wait as his speech, wet with blood as it had been in the damaged car, was brought to him. To the prepared text he added a few remarks about the day's events thanking the people of Sarajevo for their ovations "as I see in them an expression of their joy at the failure of the attempt at assassination."[38]

Officials and members of the Archduke's party discussed how to guard against another assassination attempt without coming to any coherent conclusion. A suggestion that the troops outside the city be brought in to line the streets was reportedly rejected because they did not have their parade uniforms with them on maneuvers. Security was accordingly left to the small Sarajevo police force. The only obvious measure taken was for Count Harrach to take up a protective position on the left hand running board of the car. This is confirmed by photographs of the scene outside the Town Hall.

Shot dead

After the reception at the Town Hall, Franz Ferdinand decided to go to the hospital and visit the wounded victims of Čabrinović's bomb. Sophie abandoned her planned program to accompany her husband. At 10:45 A.M. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie got back into the motorcade, once again in the third car.[39]

After learning the truth - that the assassination had been unsuccessful - Princip had gone to a nearby food shop (Schiller's delicatessen) to get a sandwich. Emerging, he saw Franz Ferdinand's open car reversing after having taken a wrong turn as it drove past, near the Latin Bridge. The driver, Franz Urban, had not been advised of the change in plan and followed the first two cars who, for whatever reason, had continued on a route that would take the Archduke and his party directly out of the city. Pushing forward to the right hand side of the car, Princip fired two shots from a Belgian-made 9x17mm (.380 ACP) Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol. Pistol serial numbers 19074, 19075, 19120 and 19126 were supplied to the assassins; Princip used #19074.[40] According to Albertini, "the first bullet wounded the Archduke in the jugular vein, the second inflicted an abdominal wound on the Duchess."[37] Princip later claimed that his intention was to kill Governor Potiorek, not Sophie.

Both victims remained seated upright, but dying while being driven to the Governor's residence for medical treatment. While Franz Ferdinand's last words, moments after being shot, are famously reported by Count Harrach as "Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder!" ("Sophie, Sophie! Don't die! Live for our children!") Harrach made plain that upon being asked "Leiden Eure Kaiserliche Hoheit sehr? - Is Your Imperial Highness suffering very badly?" the Archduke's true final words were "Es ist nichts - It is nothing," which he said a number of times throughout the car ride before their arrival at the Governor's residence.[37] The duchess died 15 minutes later, followed shortly by the archduke.


All of the assassins were eventually caught. Those in Austro-Hungarian custody were tried together with members of the channel who had helped deliver them and their weapons to Sarajevo. Mehmedbašić was arrested in Montenegro, but was allowed to "escape" to Serbia where he joined Major Tankosić's auxiliaries, but in 1916 Serbia imprisoned him on other false charges (see criminal penalty section below).

Anti-Serb rioting broke out in Sarajevo in the hours following the assassination until order was restored by the military.

Trials and punishment

Sarajevo trial (October 1914)

Austro-Hungarian authorities arrested and prosecuted the Sarajevo assassins (except for Mehmedbašić who had escaped to Montenegro and was released from police custody there to Serbia[41]) together with the agents and peasants who had assisted them on their way. The top count in the indictments was conspiracy to commit high treason involving official circles in the Kingdom of Serbia. Conspiracy to commit high treason carried a maximum sentence of death which conspiracy to commit simple murder did not. The Trial was held from October 12 to October 23 with the verdict and sentences announced on October 28, 1914.

The adult defendants, facing the death penalty, portrayed themselves at trial as unwilling participants in the conspiracy. The examination of defendant Veljko Cubrilović (who helped coordinate the transport of the weapons and was a Narodna Odbrana agent) is illustrative of this effort. Cubrilović stated to the court: "Princip glared at me and very forcefully said 'If you want to know, it is for that reason and we are going to carry out an assassination of the Heir and if you know about it, you have to be quiet. If you betray it, you and your family will be destroyed.'"[42] Under questioning by defense counsel Cubrilović described in more detail the basis of the fears that he said had compelled him to cooperate with Princip and Grabez. Cubrilović explained that he was afraid a revolutionary organization capable of committing great atrocities stood behind Princip and that he therefore feared his house would be destroyed and his family killed if he did not comply and explained that he knew such an organization existed in Serbia, at least at one time. When pressed for why he risked the punishment of the law, and did not take the protection of the law against these threats he responded: "I was more afraid of terror than the law."[43]

The court listened to this argument. In the case of Veljko Cubrilović the court was not persuaded that his acting out of fear justified acquittal or a lighter sentence, but the acting out of fear argument may have contributed to the acquittal of several peasants with minor roles.

In order to refute the grand charge, the conspirators from Belgrade, who because of their youth did not face the death penalty, focused during the trial on putting blame on themselves and deflecting it from official Serbia and modified their court testimony from their prior depositions accordingly."[44] Princip stated under cross examination (here quoting Albertini): "'I am a Jugoslav nationalist and aim at the union of all Jugoslavs, whatever the political form, and their deliverance from Austria', to be achieved 'by terrorism', i.e. 'by killing leading personages, and eliminating those who stand in the way and harm or hinder the idea of union'. Serbia 'as the free section of the Jugoslav people' had 'a duty to devote herself to this union and to play the same part as Piedmont for Italy'."[44] Cabrinović, though, began placing some blame on people in Serbia. The court did not buy the defendant's stories attempting to hold official Serbia blameless.

The verdict, quoting Albertini, ran: "The court regards it as proved by the evidence that both the Narodna Obrana and military circles in the Kingdom of Serbia in charge of the espionage service, collaborated in the outrage."[45] Although true, this part of the verdict is accused of being politically influenced.

Prison terms, death sentences and acquittals were as follows:[46]

Name Sentence
Gavrilo Princip 20 years
Nedjelko Čabrinović 20 years
Trifun Grabež 20 years
Vaso Čubrilović 16 years
Cvjetko Popović 13 years
Lazar Djukić 10 years
Danilo Ilić Death by hanging (executed February 3, 1915)
Veljko Čubrilović Death by hanging (executed February 3, 1915)
Nedjo Kerović Death by hanging; commuted to 20 years in prison by Kaiser Franz-Joseph based on Finance Minister recommendation
Mihaijlo Jovanović Death by hanging (executed February 3, 1915)
Jakov Milović Death by hanging; commuted to life in prison by Kaiser Franz-Joseph based on court and Finance Minister recommendation
Mitar Kerović Life in prison
Ivo Kranjcević 10 years
Branko Zagorac 3 years
Marko Perin 3 years
Cvijan Stjepanović 7 years
Nine Defendants Acquitted

At trial Čabrinović had expressed his regrets for the murders. Following sentencing, Čabrinović received a letter of complete forgiveness from the three young children the assassins had orphaned.[47] Čabrinović and Princip died of tuberculosis in prison. Those under the age of 20 years at the time of the crime could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years under Austro-Hungarian law. The court heard arguments regarding Princip's age, as there was some doubt as to the prompt and accurate registration of his birth but concluded that Princip was under 20 at the time of the assassination. Due to Bosnia's unique status, the Austro-Hungarian Finance Minister administered Bosnia and had responsibility for recommending clemency to the Kaiser.

Salonika trial (Spring 1917)

In late 1916 and early 1917 secret peace talks took place between Austria-Hungary and France. There is circumstantial evidence that parallel discussions were held between Austria-Hungary and Serbia with Prime Minister Pasić dispatching his right hand-man Stephan Protic and Prince Regent Alexander dispatching his confidant Colonel Živković to Geneva on secret business. Kaiser Karl laid out Austria-Hungary's key demand for returning Serbia to the control of the Serbian Government-in-exile: that Serbia should provide guarantees that there be no further political agitation emanating from Serbia against Austria-Hungary.

For some time Prince Alexander had planned to do away with Apis and the officers loyal to him as they represented a political threat to his power. The Austro-Hungarian peace demand gave added impetus to his plan. On March 15, 1917 Apis and the officers loyal to him were indicted, on various false charges unrelated to Sarajevo (the case was retried before the Supreme Court of Serbia in 1953 and all defendants were exonerated),[48] by Serbian Court Martial in French-occupied Salonika. On May 23 Apis and eight of his associates were sentenced to death; two others were sentenced to 15 years in prison. One defendant died during the trial and the charges against him were dropped. Prince Alexander commuted six of the death sentences. Amongst those tried, four of the defendants had confessed their roles in Sarajevo and their final sentences were as follows:[49]

Name Sentence
Apis Death by firing squad, (executed June 26, 1917) and 70 dinar court fee and additional witness fees
Colonel Ljuba Vulović Death by firing squad, (executed June 26, 1917) and 70 dinar court fee and additional witness fees
Rade Malobabić Death by firing squad, (executed June 26, 1917) and 70 dinar court fee and additional witness fees
Mehmedbasić 15 years prison (commuted and released in 1919) and 60 dinar court fee and additional witness fees

In justifying the executions, Prime Minister Pasić wrote to his envoy in London: "…Dimitrijević (Apis) besides everything else admitted he had ordered Franz Ferdinand to be killed. And now who could reprieve them?"[50] It should be noted that Vojislav Tankosić died in battle in late 1915 and so was not put on trial.[51]

Controversy about responsibility

Serbia's "warning" to Austria-Hungary

Following the assassinations, Serbian Ambassador to France Milenko Vesnić and Serbian Ambassador to Russia Spalaiković put out statements claiming that Serbia had warned Austria-Hungary of the impending assassination.[52] Serbia soon thereafter denied making warnings and denied knowledge of the plot. Prime Minister Pasić himself made these denials to Az Est on July 7 and to the Paris Edition of the New York Herald on July 20.[53]

As Serbian Education Minister Ljuba Jovanović wrote in Krv Sloventsva, in late May or early June, Prime Minister Pašić reviewed the plot of the impending assassination with members of his cabinet.[54] On June 18 a telegram completely lacking in specifics ordered Serbia's Ambassador to Vienna, Jovan Jovanović, to warn Austria-Hungary that Serbia had reason to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia. On June 21 Ambassador Jovanović met with Austro-Hungarian Finance Minister Bilinski. According to Serbian Military Attaché to Vienna, Colonel Lesanin, Ambassador Jovanović, spoke to Bilinski and "…stressed in general terms the risks the Archduke heir apparent might run from the inflamed public opinion in Bosnia and Serbia. Some serious personal misadventure might befall him. His journey might give rise to incidents and demonstrations that Serbia would deprecate but that would have fatal repercussions on Austro-Serbian relations." Jovanović came back from the meeting with Bilinski and told Lesanin that "…Bilinski showed no sign of attaching great importance to the total message and dismissed it limiting himself to remarking when saying goodbye and thanking him: 'Let us hope nothing does happen.'”[55] The Austro-Hungarian Finance Minister took no action based on Jovanović's vague and misleading remarks.

In 1924 J. Jovanović went public stating that his warning had been made on his own initiative, and what he said was that "Among the Serb youths (in the army) there may be one who will put a ball-cartridge in his rifle or revolver in place of a blank cartridge and he may fire it, the bullet might strike the man giving provocation (Franz Ferdinand)." J. Jovanović's account changed back and forth over the years and never adequately addressed Colonel Lesanin's statement. Bilinski did not speak openly on the subject, but his press department chief confirmed that a meeting had taken place including a vague warning, but there was no mention of an ethnic Serb Austro-Hungarian soldier shooting Franz Ferdinand.[56]

In the days leading up to the assassination, Pašić was caretaker prime minister because during this period the Serbian Government briefly fell to a political alliance led by the Serbian Military. The military favored promoting Jovan Jovanović to Foreign Minister,[57] and Jovanović's loyalties one might expect to have been divided and his orders therefore carried out poorly. By choosing a military loyalist to convey the message, and by not including any of the specifics such as the conspirators' names and weapons, Pašić, a survivor, hedged his political bets against the various possible outcomes and consequences of the impending assassination.

Rade Malobabić

In 1914, Rade Malobabić was Serbian Military Intelligence's chief undercover operative against Austria-Hungary. His name appeared in Serbian documents captured by Austria-Hungary during the war. These documents describe the running of arms, munitions, and agents from Serbia into Austria-Hungary under Malobabić's direction.[58]

Due to the suppression by Serbia of Apis' confession and of the Salonika trial transcripts historians did not initially link Malobabić closely to the Sarajevo attack. Apis' confession, however, states that "I engaged Malobabić to organize the assassination on the occasion of the announced arrival of Franz Ferdinand to Sarajevo." At the Salonika trial, Colonel Ljubomir Vulović (head of the Serbian Frontiers Service) testified: 'In 1914 on occasion of my official trip from Loznica to Belgrade, I received a letter at the General Staff [signed by Marshal Putnik{Serbia's top military officer}] noting that agents of Malobabić would come and a teacher whose name I don’t recall (Danilo Ilić was a teacher but it is unclear if the teacher in question was Ilić as Ilić can be placed in Brod but not Loznica) so I could sent (sic) them into Bosnia.’ Because of that ‘I went to Loznica and either that day or very soon afterwards sent Rade and that teacher into Bosnia.' Soon thereafter occurred the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.”[59] at which point the Serbian prosecutor cut him off as it was forbidden to speak of the Sarajevo attack during the trial. On the eve of his execution, Malobabić told a priest: “They ordered me to go to Sarajevo when that assassination was to take place, and when everything was over, they ordered me to come back and fulfill other missions, and then there was the outbreak of the war.”[60][61] Vladimir Dedijer in The Road to Sarajevo presented additional testimonial evidence that Malobabić arrived in Sarajevo on the eve of the Sarajevo attack and gave the final go ahead for the operation to Danilo Ilić.[62] Soon after their confessions, Serbia executed Malobabić, Vulović, and Apis on false charges. Serbia published no clarifications of their confessions with regards to the Sarajevo attack.

"Black Hand" or Serbian military intelligence?

An alternative theory to the Sarajevo attack being a Serbian Military Intelligence Operation was that it was a "Black Hand" operation. The "Black Hand" was a shadowy organization formed in Serbia as a counterweight to the Bulgaria-sponsored Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO).

The "Black Hand" became moribund due to the death of its president and the failure to replace him, an inactive secretary, casualties, broken links between its 3-man cells, and a drying up of funding.[63] By 1914 the "Black Hand" was no longer operating under its constitution but rather as a creature of the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Apis, and its active ranks were composed mostly of Serbian Military Officers loyal to Apis. The overlap in membership between the Serbian Military and the "Black Hand" makes most evidence ambiguous for the purpose of determining which organization was responsible for the Sarajevo attack.

Apis' confession to ordering the operation that begins with the phrase: "As the Chief of the Intelligence Department of the General Staff," the fact that the military chain of command was invoked, the moribund nature of the "Black Hand" and the fact that under the "Black Hand" constitution such an assassination could only be ordered by a vote of the Supreme Council Directorate, the President or the Secretary and no such order was made are factors in favor of assigning responsibility to Serbian Military Intelligence. The fact that Milan Ciganović was involved, that the key officers involved were "Black Hand" members, that "Black Hand" Provincial Director for Bosnia-Herzegovina Vladimir Gaćinović was consulted and that there was no official budget for the operation favors assigning responsibility to the "Black Hand."

The newspaper clipping

At trial, it was noted that the three assassins from Belgrade tried to take all blame on themselves. Čabrinović claimed the idea of killing Franz Ferdinand came from a newspaper clipping he received in the mail at the end of March announcing Franz Ferdinand's planned visit to Sarajevo.[64] He then showed the newspaper clipping to Princip and the next day they agreed they would kill Franz-Ferdinand. Princip explained to the court he had already read about Franz Ferdinand's upcoming visit in German papers.[65] Princip went on to testify that, at about the time of Easter (April 19), he wrote an allegorical letter to Ilić informing him of the plan to kill Franz Ferdinand.[66] Grabez testified that he and Princip, also at about the time of Easter, agreed between them to make an assassination of either Governor Potiorek or Franz Ferdinand and a little later settled on Franz Ferdinand.[67] The defendants refused or were unable to provide details under examination.

On March 26 Ilić and Mehmedbašić had already agreed to kill Franz Ferdinand based on instructions from Belgrade, so although a newspaper clipping may have indeed been sent to Čabrinović, it arrived too late to have initiated the plot.

Narodna Odbrana

Serbian Military Intelligence – through remnants of the "Black Hand" – penetrated the Narodna Odbrana, using its underground railroad to smuggle the assassins and their weapons from Belgrade to Sarajevo. In the June 5, 1914 report by the President of the Narodna Odbrana Boža Milanović to Prime Minister Pasić one can sense the frustration of the President over the hijacking of his organization in the final sentence dealing with Sarajevo: "Boža has informed all the agents that they should not receive anyone unless he produces the password given by Boža."[68]

Milan Ciganović

Prime Minister Pasić received early information of the assassination plan. The information was received by Pasić early enough, according to Education Minister Ljuba Jovanović, for the government to order the border guards to prevent the assassins from crossing. This places the cabinet minister discussions in late May and the information release to some time before that. Albertini concluded that the source of the information was most likely Milan Ciganović.[69] Bogiĉević made a more forceful case.

The circumstantial evidence against Ciganović includes, his no-work government job, his protection by the Chief of Police and Serbia's failure to arrest him (Austria-Hungary demanded Serbia arrest Major Vojislav Tankosić and Ciganović but Serbia arrested only Tankosić and lied saying that Ciganović could not be found), Serbia's protection of Ciganović during the war, and the government's provision for Ciganović after the war. In 1917, all of the Sarajevo conspirators within Serbia's control were tried at Salonika on false charges except Ciganović. At the trial, Ciganović gave evidence against his comrades.

Russian military attaché's office

Apis' confession to ordering the assassination of Franz Ferdinand states that Russian Military Attaché Artamonov promised Russia's protection from Austria-Hungary if Serbia's intelligence operations became exposed and that Russia had funded the assassination. Artamonov denied the involvement of his office unconvincingly in an interview with Albertini. Artamonov stated that he went on vacation to Italy leaving Assistant Military Attaché Alexander Werchovsky in charge and though he was in daily contact with Apis he did not learn of Apis' role until after the war had ended.[70] Werchovsky admitted the involvement of his office and then fell silent on the subject. [71] The article, "Rossiiskaia Kontrrazvedka I Tainaia Serbskaia Organizatsii'Chernaia Ruka'" which may be thought of as Russia's current official position on the subject, denies that Werchovsky ever worked for the Military Attaché's Office and denies that Russia had one single agent in Serbia at the time.

There is evidence that Russia was at least aware of the plot prior to June 14. De Schelking writes "[On June 1, 1914 (June 14 new calendar)], Emperor Nicholas had an interview with King Charles I of Roumania, at Constanza. I was there at the time … yet as far as I could judge from my conversation with members of his (Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov’s) entourage, he (Sazonov) was convinced that if the Archduke (Franz Ferdinand) were out of the way, the peace of Europe would not be endangered.[72] At the time of publication, Entente apologists argued that "out of the way" might not necessarily mean assassinated.


The murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife produced widespread shock across Europe, and there was initially much sympathy for the Austrian position. Within two days of the assassination, Austria-Hungary and Germany advised Serbia that she should open an investigation, but Gruic, speaking for Serbia, replied "Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government" after which "high words" were spoken on both sides.[73] The Austrian government now saw this as a chance to settle the perceived threat from Serbia once and for all.

The Museum of Military History, Vienna

After conducting a criminal investigation, verifying that Germany would honor its military alliance, and persuading the skeptical Hungarian Count Tisza, Austria-Hungary issued a formal letter to the government of Serbia. The letter reminded Serbia of its commitment to respect the Great Powers' decision regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to maintain good neighborly relations with Austria-Hungary. The letter contained specific demands aimed at preventing the publication of propaganda advocating the violent destruction of Austria-Hungary, removing the people behind this propaganda from the Serbian Military, arresting the people on Serbian soil who were involved in the assassination plot and preventing the clandestine shipment of arms and explosives from Serbia to Austria-Hungary.

This letter became known as the July Ultimatum, and Austria-Hungary stated that if Serbia did not accept all of the demands in total within 48 hours, it would recall its ambassador from Serbia. After receiving a telegram of support from Russia, Serbia mobilized its army and responded to the letter by accepting points #8 and #10 in entirety and partially accepting, finessing, disingenuously answering or politely rejecting elements of the preamble and enumerated demands #1–7 and #9.[74] Austria-Hungary responded by breaking diplomatic relations.

Serbian reservists being transported on tramp steamers on the Danube, apparently accidentally, crossed onto the Austro-Hungarian side of the river at Temes-Kubin and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off. This incident was blown out of proportion and Austria-Hungary then declared war and mobilized its army on July 28, 1914. Under the Secret Treaty of 1892 Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance mobilized. Soon all the Great Powers (except Italy) had chosen sides and gone to war.

It could be argued that this assassination set in motion most of the major events of the twentieth century, with its reverberations lingering into the twenty-first. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War is generally linked to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II. It also led to the Russian Revolution, which helped lead to the Cold War. This, in turn, led to many of the major political developments of the twentieth century, such as the fall of the colonial empires and the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union to super-power status.

However, if the assassination had not occurred, it is very possible that European war would still have erupted, triggered by another event at another time. The alliances noted above and the existence of vast and complex mobilization plans that were almost impossible to reverse once put in motion made war on a huge scale increasingly likely from the beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of the War, the Slav provinces in the South were ceded to Serbia, which became part of the Serb led unified Kingdom of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The bullet fired on that fateful day, June 28, 1914 ended up making the assassin's political aspirations become a reality.

Museum exhibits

Princip's weapon itself, along with the Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton in which the Archduke was riding, his bloodstained light blue uniform and plumed cocked hat, and the chaise longue on which he died, are on permanent display in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Museum of Military History) in Vienna, Austria.

The bullet fired by Gavrilo Princip, sometimes referred to as "the bullet that started World War I," is stored as a museum exhibit in the Konopiště Castle near the town of Benešov, Czech Republic.


  1. Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Both belong to the EU. Yugoslavia has split into Slovenia, Bosnia (with Croatian, Serb and Bosniak republics), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro while the status of Kosovo remains unresolved. Slovenia is a member of the EU. Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia are candidates for membership.
  2. David MacKenzie. 1995. Black Hand On Trial: Salonika 1917. (New York, NY: Eastern European Monographs. ISBN 0880333200), 22.
  3. Vladimir Dedijer. 1966. The Road to Sarajevo. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster), 243.
  4. Dedijer, 1966, 240-242.
  5. Dedijer, 1966, 203-204.
  6. Luigi Albertini. 1953. Origins of the War of 1914, vol. 2. (London, UK: Oxford University Press), 50.
  7. Dedijer, 1966, 9.
  8. Hew Strachan. 2001. To Arms. Vol. 1, The First World War. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199261911), 58.
  9. A.J.P. Taylor. 1963. The First World War: An Illustrated History. (London, UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140024816), 13.
  10. Albertini, 1953, 27–28, 79.
  11. Albertini, 1953, 76–77.
  12. Dedijer, 1966, 282.
  13. Albertini, 1953, 78.
  14. Dedijer, 1966, 283. It should be noted here that Dedijer places the meeting in Sarajevo, not Mostar.
  15. Albertini, 1953, 78–79. Please note the date error, July 25 should read June 25)
  16. Dedijer, 1966, 398.
  17. W.A. Dolph Owings. 1984. The Sarajevo Trial. (Chapel Hill, NC: Documentary Publications. ISBN 0897121228), 117–118, 129–131, 140, 142.
  18. Albertini, 1953, 56.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Owings, 1984, 59.
  20. Owings, 1984, 41, 46.
  21. Owings, 1984, 40, 59.
  22. Owings, 198, 36–38.
  23. Dedijer, 1966, 296-297.
  24. Dedijer, 1966, 298.
  25. Owings, 1984, 61–64.
  26. Dedijer, 1966, 388-389.
  27. Dedijer, 1966, 503.
  28. Dedijer. 1966. pages 390, 505.
  29. Owings, 1984, 185–186.
  30. Owings, 1984, 118–119.
  31. Albertini, 1953, 49.
  32. Dedijer, 1966, 9.
  33. Dedijer, 1966, 11.
  34. Dedijer, 1966, 9, 12.
  35. Dedijer, 1966, 313.
  36. Dedijer, 1966, Chapter XIV, footnote 21.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Albertini, 1953, 36-37.
  38. Dedijer, 1966, 13-14.
  39. Dedijer, 1966, 15.
  40. Belfield, 2005, 237.
  41. Documents Diplomatiques Francais III Serie 1911-14,3, X Doc. 537. This document notes that the diplomatic cable was forwarded to the Secret Service of the National Security Department to investigate the matter of the January 1914 irredentist planning meeting in France but the Secret Service did not report back.
  42. Owings, 1984, 159.
  43. Owings, 1984, 170.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Albertini, 1953, 50-51.
  45. Albertini, 1953, 68.
  46. Owings, 1984, 527-530.
  47. Dedijer, 1966, 345-346.
  48. MacKenzie, 1995, 2.
  49. MacKenzie, 1995, 329, 344-347.
  50. MacKenzie, 1995, 392.
  51. Magrini, 1929, 95.
  52. Albertini, 1953, 100-101.
  53. Albertini, 1953, 99.
  54. Albertini, 1953, 90.
  55. Magrini, 1929, 115-116.
  56. Albertini, 1953, 102-103.
  57. Albertini, 1953, 106.
  58. Dedijer, 1966, 388-389.
  59. MacKenzie, 1995, 241-242.
  60. Dedijer, 1966, 399.
  61. MacKenzie, 1995, 391.
  62. Dedijer, 1966, 394.
  63. MacKenzie, 1995, 133-134, 137, 143, and in entirety.
  64. Dedijer, 1966, 289.
  65. Owings, 1984, 57.
  66. Owings, 1984, 65.
  67. Owings, 1984, 89.
  68. Dedijer, 1966, 390, 505.
  69. Albertini, 1953., 282-283.
  70. Albertini, 1953, 84.
  71. Louis Trydar-Burzinski. 1926. Le Crépuscule d’une autocratie. (Florence, IT: Rossi), 128.
  72. de Schelking. 1918. pages 194-5.
  73. Albertini, 1953, 273.
  74. Albertini, 1953, 364. The shortcomings of Serbia's response were published by Austria-Hungary and can be seen beginning here with the Austrian complaints placed side-by-side against Serbia's response.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Albertini, Luigi. 1953. Origins of the War of 1914, vol. 2. London, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Belfield, Richard. 2005. The Assassination Business: A History of State-Sponsored Murder. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0786713437.
  • de Schelking, Eugene. 1918. Recollections of a Russian Diplomat, The Suicide of Monarchies. New York, UK: McMillan.
  • Dedijer, Vladimir. 1966. The Road to Sarajevo. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
  • Fay, Sidney Bradshaw. 1930. Origins of the World War. New York, NY: Macmillian.
  • MacKenzie, David. 1995. Black Hand On Trial: Salonika 1917. New York, NY: Eastern European Monographs. ISBN 0880333200.
  • Magrini, Luciano. 1929. Il Dramma Di Seraievo. Origini e responsabilita della guerra europa. Milan: Athena Press.
  • Owings, W.A. Dolph. 1984. The Sarajevo Trial. Chapel Hill, NC: Documentary Publications. ISBN 0897121228.
  • Ponting, Clive. 2002. Thirteen Days: The Road to the First World War. London, UK: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0701172932.
  • Stoessinger, John George. 2007. Why Nations Go to War. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0495097071.
  • Strachan, Hew. 2001. To Arms. Vol. 1, The First World War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199261911.
  • Taylor, A.J.P. 1963. The First World War: An Illustrated History. London, UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140024816.
  • Treusch, Wolf Sören. 2004. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und seine Gemahlin werden in Sarajevo ermordet. Berlin, DE: DLF.
  • Trydar-Burzinski, Louis. 1926. Le Crépuscule d’une autocratie. Florence, IT: Rossi.

External links

All links retrieved August 18, 2023.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.