Assassination at Sarajevo

The Murder of Franz Ferdinand


1         Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary wanted to marry the beautiful Countess Sophie von Chotkowa und Wognin (Sophie Chotek).   Emperor Franz Josef forbade the marriage; Franz Ferdinand was heir of a noble royal family.   He was supposed to marry royalty.   Sophie was only a commoner.   The two eloped and married secretly, anyway, on 28 June 1900.   Then they returned to face the music.   Franz Josef ruled that they could not be seen together in public, since an Archduke could not appear with a mere Countess as his consort.   She was raised by Franz Josef to Princess of Hohenberg when she married Franz Ferdinand in 1900, and to Duchess of Hohenberg in 1907.   But Franz Josef disliked Sophie, and she was continually insulted and slighted in Vienna.

                   Franz Ferdinand was hurt by the ban on public appearances, until he found a loophole: as Field Marshall of the army he could appear with his wife (for a Field Marshall could be seen with a commoner as his consort).   It was this that led Franz Ferdinand to go to more and more army reviews, and was to lead to his death.


2         In 1914, Austria-Hungary was a world power, but its rulers were afraid.   They feared nationalism.   Many different races lived in the Austrian Empire; fifteen different languages were spoken within its borders.   If nationalism caught on in Austria-Hungary, the Empire would fall apart.


3         The small nation-states in the south-east of Europe (`the Balkans') were very nationalistic.   Serbia was the worst.   In Serbia, there was a group called Union or Death (nicknamed the `Black Hand').   It was the Balkan equivalent of the IRA.   It was dedicated to uniting all Serbs.   Many Serbs lived in the Austrian province of Bosnia, and after 1908 the Black Hand waged a terrorist war there, with bombings, shootings and poisonings.   The Austrian Army wanted to destroy the Black Hand by attacking Serbia.   Between January 1913 and June 1914 the Austrian Army chief-of-staff recommended war with Serbia 25 times.   In the summer of 1914, Austria sent 70,000 troops on military manoeuvres in Bosnia to try to scare the Serbian government.


4         On 28 June 1914, the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, to review these troops.


5          It was a sunny Sunday morning.   It was the Archduke's wedding anniversary.   But the Archduke could not have chosen a worse day to go to Sarajevo.   It was also Serbia's National Day - the anniversary of the battle, in 1389, when Serbia had been conquered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, yet at which a Serb hero, Milos Obilic, had assassinated the Ottoman Sultan.   The day was inextricably linked with Serbian nationalism, and with the assassination of foreign rulers.

                   Waiting for Franz Ferdinand, lined up along the Appel Quay, Sarajevo's main road, were six young men.   They were armed with pistols and bombs supplied by the Black Hand.   They were going to try to murder Franz Ferdinand.


6         Austrian spies in Serbia had reported that there was going to be an assassination attempt.   Pasic, the Prime Minister of Serbia, had also told the Austrian government that there was going to be trouble.   Franz Ferdinand ignored these warnings.   Only 120 policeman were on duty in Sarajevo, and they were so excited that they forgot to watch the crowds, and looked at the procession instead.


7         Franz Ferdinand was dressed in the ceremonial uniform of an Austrian cavalry general, with a blue tunic, a high collar with three stars, and a hat adorned with pale-green feathers.   He wore black trousers with red stripes down the sides and around his waist a Bauchband, a gold-braided ribbon with tassels.


8         To reach the Town Hall the procession had to drive along the Appel Quay.   The six conspirators had posted themselves along the route; the Appel Quay was `a regular avenue of assassins.' As the procession moved along the Appel Quay there were a few shouts of Zivio! ('Long may he live!').

                   At 10.10 am, as the procession drew near the Cumuria Bridge.


9        The order of conspirators as the procession passed down the Appel Quay was (as cited in Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo):


          Near the Cumuria bridge:

1st        Mehmed Mehmedbasic: told a friend that he could not get a clear opportunity; told Albertini in 1937 that a policeman had approached him just as he was to throw the bomb.

2nd       Vaso Cubrilovic: told investigation that felt sorry for the Duchess; told Albertini that he was badly placed.

3rd       Nedeljko Cabrinovic: threw a bomb.   Wearing a long black coat and a black hat, he asked a policeman to tell him which car the Archduke was in; seconds later he had knocked the cap off a hand grenade against a metal lamp-post and aimed it at the Archduke seated in the open car.   Franz Ferdinand later claimed that he had knocked away the bomb with his hand; witnesses at the trial, however, all agreed that the bomb had bounced off the folded-back hood of the Archduke's car.   It blew up the car behind, killing two officers and injuring about twenty people.   Cabrinovic swallowed poison, but it failed to work.   After stopping to see what had happened, Franz Ferdinand's car sped to the Town Hall.

4th       (landward side) Cvetko Popovic: told a friend that could not sec which was FF because he was short-sighted; told the trial the lost his nerve.


Near the Latin bridge:

5th      Gavrilo Princip: At his trial, said that the Archduke's car sped past him on its way to the Town Hall after Cabrinovic's bomb, while he went to see what was happening


At the Imperial Bridge:

6th      Trifko Grabez: Told the investigation that he could not bring himself to do such a thing.   At the trial stated that two policemen were behind him.   Told his friend that he did not want to wound innocent bystanders.


10        On arriving at the Town Hall, Franz Ferdinand brushed the Mayor aside and furiously cancelled the rest of the tour.   Potiorek (the Austrian Governor) suggested that they should return by a different route to the one advertised (back along the Appel Quay where - he said - no one expected the procession to pass).   However, he forgot to tell the chauffeurs.   On the journey, therefore, the front car took a right-hand turn into the narrow Franz Joseph Street.   Potiorek told the driver to turn round and go back.   The driver stopped (in front of Schiller's Store) and began to reverse.   Standing there, on his way home, was Gavrilo Princip.   He stepped forward and fired two shots at Franz Fcrdinand at a distance of four to five paces.   The first bullet struck the Archduke, the second - aimed at Potiorek - hit the Duchess.


11       At first nobody moved.   People thought that the assassin had missed.   Then the Duchess slumped forward.   The bullet had gone through the side of the car, her corset and her right side.   'Sopherl! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!' cried the Archduke, but she died as he spoke.   Franz Ferdinand outlived her a short time.   A bullet had pierced the right side of his coat collar, cut the jugular vein and lodged in the spine.   It was 11.30 am, June 28, 1914.


Another account  


Original documents:

  Count Harrach

  Eyewitness account

  film footage of Franz Ferdinand arriving at the Town Hall