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Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
28th June 1914
Franz Ferdinand, aged 51, was heir to the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. He was married to Sophie Chotek von Chotvoka
and had three children. Franz Ferdinand was, however, very
unpopular because he had made it clear that once he
became Emperor he would make changes.
This map, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, shows
that Bosnia/Herzegovnia was controlled by Austria. Austria
had annexed (taken by force) Bosnia in 1908, a move that
was not popular with the Bosnian people.
Franz Ferdinand decided to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and
Herzegovnia, to make an inspection of the Austro-Hungarian troops there. The
inspection was scheduled for 28th June 1914. It was planned that Franz
Ferdinand and his wife Sophie would be met at the station and taken by car to
the City Hall where they would have lunch before going to inspect the troops.
A Serbian terrorist group, called The Black Hand, had decided that the Archduke
should be assassinated and the planned visit provided the ideal opportunity.
Seven young men who had been trained in bomb throwing and marksmanship
were stationed along the route that Franz Ferdinand's car would follow from the
City Hall to the inspection.
The first two terrorists were unable to throw their grenades because the streets
were too crowded and the car was travelling quite fast. The third terrorist, a
young man called Cabrinovic, threw a grenade which exploded under the car
following that of the Archduke. Although the Archduke and his wife were unhurt,
some of his attendants were injured and had to be taken to hospital.
After lunch at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand insisted on visiting
the injured attendants in hospital. However, on the way to the
hospital the driver took a wrong turn. Realising his mistake he
stopped the car and began to reverse. Another terrorist,
named Gavrilo Princip, stepped forward and fired two shots.
The first hit the pregnant Sophia in the stomach, she died
almost instantly. The second shot hit the Archduke in the neck.
He died a short while later.
Gavrilo Princip was not executed
because he was under 20 years, but
The bodies of
was sentenced to twenty years in
Franz Ferdinand
prison. He died of TB in 1918.
and his wife
One Thing Led to Another
So then, we have the following remarkable sequence of events that led inexorably to the
'Great War' - a name that had been touted even before the coming of the conflict.
• Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum (which in the event
was almost entirely placatory: however her jibbing over a couple of minor clauses gave
Austria-Hungary her sought-after cue) declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.
• Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilization of its vast army in her defense, a
slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.
• Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilization as an act of
war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1
• France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on
Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August. Germany was swift in
invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.
• Great Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty, which placed a "moral
obligation" upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August. Her
reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend
neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty. With Germany's invasion of
Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King's appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain
committed herself to Belgium's defense later that day. Like France, she was by extension
also at war with Austria-Hungary.
 With Britain's entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered
military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand
and the Union of South Africa.
• United States President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality, an
official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany's policy of unrestricted
submarine warfare - which seriously threatened America's commercial shipping (which
was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britain and France) forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on 6 April 1917.
• Japan, honoring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August
1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.
• Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the
fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both. In short, Italy was
committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a 'defensive'
war; arguing that their actions were 'offensive' she declared instead a policy of neutrality.
The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies
against her two former allies.