The visit in June 1914
Bosnia was ‘administered on behalf of the Sultan’ by the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1878 (it had been a Turkish colony for 500 years) and annexed outright 30 years later in 1908. The Austrian conquerors were not universally popular and the Bosnian Serbs, who formed a significant part of the population, tended to look towards Serbia and the Serbs as their natural allies.
The Heir Apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, visited Bosnia in June 1914, on a military inspection. He took his wife the Countess Sophie and left his three children at home.
Colonel Apis and the Black Hand Gang
The role of Colonel Apis in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand has been hotly disputed, and it appears that the true facts will never be known in their entirety. Apis was a colonel in Serbian military intelligence who had planned and taken part in previous assassinations, including that of his own sovereign, King Alexander, in 1903.
He was a leading member of the Black Hand, a Serbian secret society dedicated to promoting Serbia’s interests by terror, and the Black Hand had recruited, equipped and trained a number of Bosnian revolutionaries in order to assassinate one or more perceived enemies of Serbia, such as Franz Ferdinand.
Colonel Apis had contact with Danilo Ilic, a conspirator whose role on the fatal morning remains mysterious. Although a significant member of the plot to kill Franz Ferdinand, by 28 June 1914 Ilic seems to have lost his nerve, and to have been exhorting his fellow conspirators not to carry out their plan. His role on the day was at best a passive one. Nevertheless, he was arrested after the event, and may have betrayed his colleagues under interrogation. Over twenty at the time of the murder, he was tried and executed with other conspirators.
The two young men who actually attacked Franz Ferdinand, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Gavrilo Princip, were both sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment at the same trial, as they were both too young to execute. Both died in prison of tuberculosis, as did their companion, Trifko Gravez. Princip, physically the weakest, was the last to die, in April 1918.
Colonel Apis was executed by the Serbian government-in-exile in Salonika in 1917. He knew too much, and the Serbian Prime Minister stood to gain by his permanent silence.
The Fatal Day – Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination
Franz Ferdinand and his wife stayed just outside Sarajevo. On the fatal morning, they took Mass, had breakfast, and sent telegrams. They embarked in seven cars to motor to the official reception at the town hall. Their route would take them along the Appel Quay, where the assassins were waiting. The Archduke and his wife sat in the second car, with the Provincial Governor, General Oscar Potiorek, and an Austrian aristocrat, Count Harrach.
As they drove along the quay, the assassin Cabrinovic armed his bomb against a lamp-post, and threw it at the Heir Apparent. It exploded under the third car and caused minor injuries. Cabrinovic swallowed his poison, which failed to work, and jumped into the river, where he failed to drown as there was very little water. He was arrested and held for questioning.
The programme at the town hall was completed. On the return journey, Franz Ferdinand’s chauffeur (who had not been briefed as to the revised route) turned into a narrow street leading to the old town. He was ordered to stop the car and go back to the safer Quay. Having missed his earlier opportunity, Gavrilo Princip was lingering where the car stopped outside Schiller’s café, and took his chance.
He fired two shots, probably intending to kill Franz Ferdinand and Oskar Potiorek. In fact, his second shot hit the Countess Sophie, who died almost immediately, without a sound. Princip’s aim may have been deflected by an outraged spectator who saw him fire the first shot and tried to prevent the second. Princip was seized by the angry crowd and nearly killed on the spot. Nevertheless, he managed to take his suicide pill, which failed. He was arrested and taken into police custody.
If you would like to learn more you can now purchase a copy of the first English language biography, Gavrilo Princip – The Assassin who started the First World War directly from the author.