Why World War One?

The long Failure of Western Arms.

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip - Assassinator of Crown Prince Ferdinand.


Gavrilo Princip was a twenty year old student in 1914. He was a Bosnian Serb and a Yugoslav nationalist, wanting Austro-Hungarian control over the area to end. He was rejected from Black Hand, the official terrorist group, because he was too small and unwell. He linked up with Cetnik, another terrorist group, and was trained in shooting a crude bomb making. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, came to Sarajevo on the 28th June, 1914 by train and were ferried from the station. They were invited by the Austrian authorities and knew it was probably dangerous. 


Princip and five other students were organised to carry out the assassination with bombs and guns. When the cars came past, each of the students failed to do anything effective. One of the conspirators took a cyanide capsule, but even that was not effective. Princip was stationed on the corner near that Latin Bridge over the River Miljacka and he failed to shoot the first time round. One of the conspirators did throw a bomb, but in went off under the fourth car in the parade, injuring two occupants. 


The Archduke's car sped off, but then Ferdinand graciously asked to visit the injured people in hospital. The route was to be back along the Quay to the hospital. Princip was still around, outside Moritz Schiller's Cafe on the corner. the driver mistakenly turned into at the corner to go into Franz Josef's Street, realised that was not the designated route and reversed back round the corner. The Engine stalled and gears locked, and that gave Princip ample time to shoot the Archduke and his wife Sophie who tried to protect him. They both died.


So Princip pushed forward towards the right hand side of the car as it reversed back round this corner and stalled. He fired two shots from a Belgian 9x17mm (380 ACP) Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol made in Liege. Four pistols, serial numbers 19074, 19075, 19120 and 19126 were supplied to the assassins. They were part of the normal European trade in guns and Liege was a major centre for production. Princip used number 19074.


As a result of the attempt Princip was tried. He was just too young to be hanged, but died in 1918 of tuberculosis. Because Princip was a Serbian nationalist, though living in Bosnia, the assassination gave Austro-Hungary the excuse to excite an anti-Serb pogrom in Croatia and Bosnia in which, say, a thousand Serbs were killed, mainly in prison. The impulse behind this partly came from Oskar Potiorek, who had been with the Archduke and his wife in the car when they were assassinated. He declared: "I was spared at Sarajevo, so that I may die avenging it." He led the pogrom and later was in charge of Austro-Hungary's attack on Serbia. That was accompanied by atrocities that are too sickening to mention.  


Austro-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, with whom they had a row over an arms contract with Skoda, their arms manufacturer. The ultimatum was intended to provoke war, because there were things in it to which Serbia could not agree. Austro-Hungary had far superior number of forces and fire power. They tried to be conciliatory in their response, but Austro-Hungary declared war on the 28th July, 1914. 


Sad though the assassination of the Archduke and his wife was, it is generally agreed that it provided an excuse for Austro-Hungary to pursue is quarrel to war.