Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip fires the bullets that spark the outbreak of the First World War
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
His last words after being shot in the neck were to his wife, who was hit in the stomach by a stray second shot. They were: “Sophie! Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!“. He was asked about his condition on the way to the hospital and kept saying “It’s nothing. It’s nothing“, over and over. Sophie died in the car and he followed 10 minutes after arriving at the hospital.
These assassinations were a spark to the start of World War I. Europe had been boiling for a few years already and was just waiting for a reason to start a war. The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, the man most responsible for the unification of Germany in 1871, was quoted as saying at the end of his life that: “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”. It went as he predicted.
The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908, to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation.
The couple were touring in an open car, with surprisingly little security, when Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic threw a bomb at their car; it rolled off the back of the vehicle and wounded an officer and some bystanders. Later that day, on the way to visit the injured officer, the archduke’s procession took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel Quay and Franzjosefstrasse, where one of Cabrinovic’s cohorts, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, happened to be loitering.
Seizing his opportunity, Princip fired into the car, shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range. Princip then turned the gun on himself, but was prevented from shooting it by a bystander who threw himself upon the young assassin. A mob of angry onlookers attacked Princip, who fought back and was subsequently wrestled away by the police.
The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Slav nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention–which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Britain as well. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.
History.com - Did Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination Cause World War I?
Eyewitness to History - Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
BBC - What if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had lived in 1914?
First World War - Europe plunges into brutal conflict as war is declared between European nations, dragging their Imperial territories into the bloodshed
Convinced that Austria-Hungary was readying for war, the Serbian government ordered the Serbian army to mobilize, and appealed to Russia for assistance. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers quickly collapsed.
Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun
According to an aggressive military strategy known as the Schlieffen Plan (named for its mastermind, German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen), Germany began fighting World War I on two fronts, invading France through neutral Belgium in the west and confronting Russia in the east.
On August 4, 1914, German troops crossed the border into Belgium. In the first battle of World War I, the Germans assaulted the heavily fortified city of Liege, using the most powerful weapons in their arsenal—enormous siege cannons—to capture the city by August 15. Leaving death and destruction in their wake, including the shooting of civilians and the execution of a Belgian priest, whom they accused of inciting civilian resistance, the Germans advanced through Belgium towards France.
BBC - WW1: Was it really the first world war?
History Hit - 100 Facts that Tell the Story of World War One