World War 1 History: The Assassins of June 28, 1914

Updated on September 13, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Heir to the Throne

WW1. Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Circa 1914.
WW1. Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Circa 1914. | Source

Princip Was Not Alone

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1869 - 1914), next in line to succeed the aging Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28, 1914. His death set in motion a chain of events which led to the start of World War I a month later on July 28. Princip did not act alone. A total of seven conspirators lined the archduke's route that day and they had been supported by others in the assassination planned by the leader of the Black Hand.

Leader of the Black Hand

Dragutin Dimitrijevic. Black Hand leader who ordered the assassination. Circa 1900.
Dragutin Dimitrijevic. Black Hand leader who ordered the assassination. Circa 1900. | Source

The Black Hand

When Dragutin Dimitrijevic, head of Serbian Military Intelligence and leader of the secretive Black Hand, heard that the archduke would be visiting Sarajevo after observing Austrian military maneuvers in Bosnia, he started planning. The Black Hand, with about 2,500 members at that time, was dedicated to using violence to create a Greater Serbia that would encompass lands that once belonged to Serbia centuries before or had significant Serbian populations. The archduke was seen as a threat because he advocated increased autonomy for several restive lands under Austro-Hungarian rule and Dimitrijevic believed this would pacify the Bosnians enough to resist joining Serbia. The archduke also wanted to ease relations with Serbia, going against the Austrian hardliners. He feared a war with Serbia would mean the Russians would come in against Austria-Hungary. Eased tensions would make it more difficult for Dimitrijevic to stir up trouble.

The Assassins' Handler

WW1. Danilo Ilich, who ran the assassins. Circa 1910s.
WW1. Danilo Ilich, who ran the assassins. Circa 1910s. | Source

Six Assassins And Their Handler In The Crowd

Three Bosnian Serb youths, members of the Black Hand living in Belgrade, Serbia volunteered for the mission. They were full of idealistic dreams and all had terminal cases of tuberculosis. Serbia's prime minister learned of the plot and ordered them arrested at the border. Despite this, Gavrilo Princip, Trifko Grabez and Nedeljko Cabrinovic were successfully smuggled into Bosnia and its capital, Sarajevo. Once there, they met with Danilo Ilic, another Bosnian Serb, who would handle the whole operation. Ilic already had three other assassins lined up in Sarajevo: Muhamed Mehmedbasic, a Bosnian Slav and two Bosnian Serb students, Vaso Cubrilovic and Cvjetko Popovic.

Ilic, with the help of others, provided bombs, pistols and money to the assassins-- as well as cyanide pills they were to take if they were arrested. Black Hand leader Dimitrijevic wanted no witnesses.

On the morning of June 28, 1914, crowds lined the Appel Quay awaiting the archduke's motorcade, including the six assassins spaced along the route. Ilic was also in the crowd, going from man to man, providing encouragement and calming nerves.

Frozen in Fear

WWI. Muhamed Mehmedbasic froze and later escaped to Serbia.
WWI. Muhamed Mehmedbasic froze and later escaped to Serbia. | Source

The Archduke's Motorcade Appears

The procession of six cars appeared, slowly motoring along the Quay. The archduke and his wife, Duchess Sophie, were in the back of the third car, a convertible with its top down. As the cars passed Mehmedbasic, he froze. He would state later that he couldn't throw his bomb because a policeman was right behind him. The motorcade continued, approaching Cubrilovic, waiting with a pistol and a bomb. He too failed to act. The motorcade passed him by. The next in line was Cabrinovic, armed with a bomb.

Bomb Thrower

World War I. Nedeljko Cabrinovic. His bomb missed its target. Circa 1910s.
World War I. Nedeljko Cabrinovic. His bomb missed its target. Circa 1910s. | Source

First Attempt Fails

Cabrinovic threw his bomb, but the archduke's driver saw it and swerved. The bomb bounced off the convertible's folded-back cover and exploded under the following car, severely wounding two passengers and hurting 18 onlookers in the crowd. Following his training, Cabrinovic swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the nearby river. Unfortunately, the cyanide pill didn't do its job and the river was only four inches deep. When he was dragged from the water, the crowd beat him severely.

Failed to Act

Trifko Grabez. Failed assassin. Circa 1910s.
Trifko Grabez. Failed assassin. Circa 1910s. | Source

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Decides To Visit The Wounded

At this point the motorcade sped off, whisking the archduke past the remaining assassins, Popovic, Princip and Grabez, who failed to act against the speeding cars.

Understandably shaken, Archduke Ferdinand nonetheless met with the mayor of Sarajevo and gave his speech, though he complained of the reception they'd received. Afterward, despite Sophie's protestations, the archduke decided to visit those wounded in the attack and the motorcade headed off toward the hospital. Unfortunately, the driver wasn't familiar with the city and made a wrong turn.

A Failure and Then a Second Chance

WW1. Gavrilo Princip. Shot the Archduke and his wife.
WW1. Gavrilo Princip. Shot the Archduke and his wife. | Source

Princip Succeeds

Gavrilo Princip, having failed his mission, was eating a sandwich in a cafe when he saw the archduke's car pass by. The driver, realizing he'd taken a wrong turn, stopped and attempted to back up, but the car stalled and its gears locked up right in front of Princip, who stepped forward and fired two shots from five feet away. The archduke was struck in his jugular vein and Sophie was hit in the stomach, both mortally wounded. Princip was immediately arrested while the victims were driven away for medical treatment, but the duchess was dead on arrival and the archduke died minutes later.

16 Million Dead

The archduke's assassination lit the fuse leading to the powder keg that was Europe. Tensions, which had been building for decades, exploded a month later when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. More than 16 million people, including nearly 10 million soldiers, would die before it ended on November 11, 1918.

Sentences

Austria-Hungary put the assassins, except for Mehmedbasic who managed to flee to Serbia, and all who aided them on trial in October, even as the warring armies were tearing each other apart. Five of the assassins in custody were under the age of twenty, and as such could not be executed. They were given sentences ranging from 13 years to 20 years; Princip, Cabrinovic and Grabez each received the maximum of 20 years. Ilic and two other adults who had aided the assassins, were sentenced to death. Other conspirators were sentenced to three years to life in prison.

Princip Arrested

The arrest of Gavrilo Princip. 28 June 1914.
The arrest of Gavrilo Princip. 28 June 1914. | Source

Death By Execution, Disease and Murder

Danilo Ilic, who ran the operation in Sarajevo, was hanged in February 1915.

Nedeljko Cabrinovic, the assassin whose bomb bounced off the archduke's car, died in prison in 1916 of tuberculosis. Before he died, he received a letter of forgiveness from the archduke's three children.

Dragutin Dimitrijevic, Serbian leader of the Black Hand, was executed by firing squad in June 1917, possibly as part of a secret deal between Serbian leaders who wanted to get rid of him and Austria-Hungary who demanded his execution in return for allowing the return of the Serbian Government in exile.

Gavrilo Princip, the successful assassin, died in prison in 1918 of tuberculosis.

Trifko Grabez, failed assassin, died in prison in 1918 of tuberculosis.

Muhamed Mehmedbasic, the failed assassin who escaped to Serbia, returned to Sarajevo in 1919 and was pardoned for his role in the assassination. He died at the hands of the Ustase, a Croatian fascist movement that promoted genocide against Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, in 1943, during World War II.

Failed Assassin Lived Until 1980

WWI. Cvjetko Popovic. Failed assassin. Circa 1910s. Cvjetko lived until 1980.
WWI. Cvjetko Popovic. Failed assassin. Circa 1910s. Cvjetko lived until 1980. | Source

Failed Assassin Lived Until 1990

Vaso Cubrilovic. He froze. Circa prior to World War I. Vaso lived until 1990.
Vaso Cubrilovic. He froze. Circa prior to World War I. Vaso lived until 1990. | Source

One Assassin Lived Until 1980, The Last Died in 1990

Cvjetko Popovic, failed assassin, lived long enough to see Ronald Reagan become president. He died in 1980.

Vaso Cubrilovic, failed assassin, lived long enough to see the Russian Revolution that created the Soviet Union and the revolutions that would tear it apart in the late 1980s. He died in 1990.

The Chain of Friendship

A comic depicting the web of alliances of WWI published in the American newspaper the Brooklyn Eagle in July 1914. The caption reads: "If Austria attacks Serbia, Russia will fall upon Austria, Germany upon Russia, and France and England upon Germany.
A comic depicting the web of alliances of WWI published in the American newspaper the Brooklyn Eagle in July 1914. The caption reads: "If Austria attacks Serbia, Russia will fall upon Austria, Germany upon Russia, and France and England upon Germany. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Hunt

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      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Thanks UnnamedHarald. Here is a link to my hub:

        https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/More-Amaz...

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for the flattering comment, Jodah. By all means, feel free to link to it. One of my concerns (as an English speaker) was whether the many names of the conspirators would prove confusing, but I decided to use all the names. I felt it was too important historically not to. Naming them brought them to life for me and personalized them as well as fleshed out some of the details behind the assassination. I remember being quite surprised when I learned there were so many conspirators.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 years ago from Queensland Australia

        UnnamedHarald, this is the best account of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the the background to the cause of WWI that I have read. If you have no objection, I am including a link to this hub on an article in one of my hubs, "More Unexplained Coincidences". Voted up.

      • profile image

        5 years ago

        nice

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Robert, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope your dad didn't have long-term effects from the gassing. Both my grandfathers served in the war in the British Army. They both made it, unlike so many others.

      • ROBERTHEWETTSR profile image

        rOBERT hEWETT SR. 

        5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

        Very interesting, I don't recall much of this from history as our focus seemed to be on Germany. My dad was gassed and wounded by shrapnel in WWI in the Argonne Forest. Thanks for postingthis useful hub.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Much appreciated, PDXKaraokeGuy. I tried to keep in mind how difficult it is to follow an article with foreign, unfamilar names, which many English speakers can barely pronounce-- but I still had to name the conspirators. With so many, it can be quite a mind-full, so thanks for the "easy to digest" comment-- and the sharing.

      • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

        Justin W Price 

        5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

        UP useful interesting and shared. I don't know as much about world war I and I'd like, and you laid this out in an interesting and easy to digest way. Well done!

      • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

        Greensleeves Hubs 

        5 years ago from Essex, UK

        I think you're right. It's probably true that war was almost inevitable, and the assassination was just the spark that lit the fuse, but I guess one will never know for sure how the course of events might have changed if the attempt had failed. Even if the start of fighting might have only been delayed by a year or two, the effect on the eventual outcome might have been significant.

        Always interesting to speculate on these things isn't it? Alun.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Greensleeves, thanks for your great informative comment. Yes, I've often wondered what Princip thought about the consequences of his act. Personally, I think the beligerents (on all sides) were waiting for an excuse but none of them thought in their worst nightmares the horror that they unleashed. Just my humble opinion.

      • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

        Greensleeves Hubs 

        5 years ago from Essex, UK

        I saw a documentary about this event on British TV, and it struck me as one of the most fascinating and critical days in the 20th century. Isn't it strange how chance events such as Princip buying a sandwich and the Archduke's driver taking a wrong turning, can change history so dramatically? And isn't it also sad - as your cartoon shows - how an event can escalate out of all proportion? In this case into a war which killed millions.

        I do wonder how the assassins who survived the war reflected on their actions and the extraordinary consequences later on, and whether they felt any burden of guilt for indirectly precipitating a World War, or whether they felt that that was not their responsibility?

        Good page full of interesting information. Thanks. Voted up.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        I'm glad you enjoyed it, iamaudraleigh. The cartoon really works, doesn't it?

      • profile image

        iamaudraleigh 

        6 years ago

        Great history lesson and cartoon! Well done!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for the vote up, CWareham. I hope all the names didn't throw you too much-- I find that unfamiliar names can throw readers out of context until they become familiar and I try to only use those that are central to the article. In this case, every one of them had to be named. I puposely did not include those who aided the assassins, except for their handler and the big boss.

      • CWareham profile image

        CWareham 

        6 years ago from Lakewood, Colorado

        Voted up, very interesting and an essential aspect of WW1 history, thanks for putting it out there!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thank you very much, Anne. Glad you like the cartoon. I was looking for something to put at the end and I stumbled upon that cartoon, which I thought conveyed the perfect ending. And you are right, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Do you ever wonder at all the intrigue and power plays going on in the world-- just waiting for their archduke to drive by?

      • Anne Harrison profile image

        Anne Harrison 

        6 years ago from Australia

        What a great hub - the cartoon at the end just sums it up beautifully. C'est plus ça change, c'est la même chose... Voted up, well done

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thank you, Jade, for reading and commenting. One thing that fascinated me was the fact that one of the assassins died only 22 years ago.

      • profile image

        Jade0215 

        6 years ago

        Excellent hub, voted up!

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

        Hi UH. 'a great writer like yourself' you flatter me. You have made an excellent job of it.

        Graham.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Old Albion, I very much appreciate you reading and commenting. Geez, I forgot you'd just written on the same subject-- and I even commented on it. I'm usually very careful about doing that-- especially a great writer like yourself. Sometimes hubs seem to swirl in my mind. I got so caught up in the anniversary of the assassination, which is tomorrow, and I was determined to sort the whole mess out in my mind. All those foreign names kept me tied up for hours getting it all straight. It was one of the hardest hubs I've written. You're a great sport and I'm glad we follow each other.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        mattdigiulio, thanks for the comment and the vote up. I'm glad you liked it.

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

        Hi UH. Another excellent hub. Much more research and presentation than my effort and it shows. We all know of course what happened after this event. As I have said before, it led to a lost generation.

        Graham.

      • mattdigiulio profile image

        mattdigiulio 

        6 years ago

        Very interesting up. Thanks for sharing! Matt

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