Articles

This is why everything about history's most infamous assassination was dumb

The dark and mysterious Black Hand gives weapons and aid to a small group of revolutionaries. One of these men — with two shots — kills two people to set off the powder keg that forever changed the world.


This is history-book speak about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. To be fair, the gravity of the aftermath is immense. However, everything from the preparation, the target, the assassin, the attempts, the killing, and the initial response of Austria-Hungary was very stupid.

The Preparation

Captain Dragutin Dimitrijevic, also known as Apis (after a sacred bull worshiped in Ancient Egypt), led the secret military society known as the Black Hand. Years prior, the group had organized the May Coup in Serbia in an attempt to unify the ethnic Serbian territories free from the other Balkan states.  Within years, they had become the most feared terrorist organization in the region.

Apis of the Black Hand. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Apis greenlit the operation to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He gave the mission to a smaller group within the organization, Young Bosnia. He did this without the sanction of the full Executive Committee and then left for Sarajevo to meet all the conspirators.

When they arrived, they sat around for about a month. This was because they couldn't get the weapons, explosives, suicide pills, or funds. They scraped together six grenades and four FN Model 1910 pistols. They would use what little ammunition they had to practice with...in the middle of a city park.

The Target

The first target was Oskar Poiorek, the governor of Bosnia. They scrapped this because of the lack of weapons. (Spoiler alert: Poiorek would ride in the same car as Ferdinand that fateful day and would make it out unharmed.) So they turned their attention to Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo moments before their assassination. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

He was not popular as a political leader. He was extremely prejudice against Hungarians, viewed Slavs as "less than human," and called Serbs "pigs." Yet, he felt that autonomy for the Czechs in Bohemia and the southern Slavic peoples in Croatia and Bosnia would strengthen the empire.

He had goals of turning the Bipartite state of Austria-Hungary into a tripartite state to include the union of the Slavic peoples. Franz Ferdinand was also absolutely against any confrontation with Russia and helped maintain peace between the two nations.

The Assassins

Coordinated by Danilo Ilic, the group Young Bosnia consisted of ten members who thought they were ready. None of them had formal training and they all had faulty gear — if they even had gear. The leader constantly bickered with Apis of the Black Hand.

Group Photo of Young Bosnia. Most would die by execution or in prison. But not the guy in the top right. That is Ivo Andric. He would later win a Nobel Prize for Literature. (Photo via LSE Blog)

Young Bosnia largely consisted of young men with diseases who weren't afraid to die. They were all ready and willing to die during their missions, or even  take cyanide pills to prevent capture and execution. Too bad the pills were expired...

The Attempts

On Sunday, June 28th 1914, the Archduke and his wife died by an assassin's bullet. But the events that lead up to Princip pulling the trigger were ridiculous.

First, Ferdinand's car overheated. He said, "Our journey starts with an extremely promising omen. Here our car burns and down there they will throw bombs at us." Which they did.

Assassins lined the bridges the Archduke was sure to cross. The first attempt on the his life was by Nedeljko Cabrinovic. He threw a grenade at the vehicle as it toured the city for their wedding anniversary. The grenade had a ten second delay, causing it to roll off the hood and explode under another car wounding bystanders, but not the royal couple.

Cabrinovic took one of the cyanide pills and jumped into the river below to ensure his death. The pill expired the month before and only got him sick. Also, the river was only about 4 inches deep.

He was immediately detained by police.

Arrest of Nedeljko Cabrinovic (Photo via Smithsonian)

Franz Ferdinand was to leave Sarajevo but changed that plan in order to visit the people wounded by the first attempt. General Potiorek urged that if they were to go, they should take a different route to arrive safely. No one told the driver, so they went down the same route that the assassins were still on.

Gavrilo Princip, who left his post to grab a sandwich, noticed the vehicle with the Archduke of Austria and the Duchess of Hohenberg.

And it stopped.

Five feet away from where Princip was eating.

He pulled out his pistol and took two shots. One hitting Franz Ferdinand in the jugular. The second shot, intended for General Potiorek, hit Sophie in the abdomen. They both died shortly after.

The Fallout

Princip attempted suicide, but he, too, had an expired cyanide pill. He then tried to shoot himself, but police wrestled the pistol from him before he could do it.

Both Princip and Cabrinovic refused to speak, but Ilic, the leader, cracked. Ilic told authorities everything about the operation and gave up everyone else involved. Both men active in the assassination were too young to die by execution according to Habsberg law. Instead, they did from tuberculosis while in prison.

They feared Princip's bones would become relics of Slavic nationalists, so they buried him in an unmarked grave. A Czech soldier assigned to his burial gave the location away, and the remains were then placed beneath a Sarajevo chapel "to commemorate for eternity our Serb Heroes" in Sarajevo.

An actor reenacting the assassination in front of Princip's statue in Sarajevo unveiled on the 100th anniversary. So as you can tell, not making him a martyr totally worked... (Photo via Baltimore Sun)

The nation honored the one man who called for peace with Russia by launching a chain of events that started the first World War.

To learn more about the assassination and World War I, check out the series "The Great War," which details week by week the events of the first World War as it occurred one hundred years later.

(YouTube, The Great War)

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