A series of unfortunate events: the almost failed assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

This is the last photo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, before they were assassinated in 1914. The event would be the catalyst that plunged Europe in World War I, but it almost didn’t happen. 

The story does not begin with Bogdan Žerajić, but it’s a good place to start. Žerajić had planned to assassinate Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, who had an impressive moustache sideburn combo, in 1910. 

Žerajić did not go through with the assassination and instead fired five shots at General Marijan Varešanin, the Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a couple days after his planned assassination of the Emperor. All of the shots missed, and Žerajić used the sixth bullet to end his own life. 

Žerajić became a martyr and inspired more Serbian nationalists including the Black Hand, an extremist group with ties to the Serbian military. 

The seven assassins, armed with four Browning pistols and six Serbian Military grenades, set their sights on the Archduke, who was the next in line for the Austrian throne. The assassins also had Cyanide packets to use to end their lives after the assassination. 

The path the Archduke and his wife would be driven on was planned and clear, and the assassins positioned themselves according to the planned path. 

Mehmedbašić was the first in the line of assassins. He was the only Bosnian Muslim in the group and had been a part of the failed assassination of the Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1911. Armed with a hand grenade he waited for the car to approach. A crowd had gathered on the side of the road to watch the parade. The car drove closer, and Mehmedbašić hesitated. He panicked, and the car drove past. 

Vaso Čubrilović was only 17. Armed with a grenade and a pistol, he was the next in line on the route. He saw Mehmedbašić hesitate and he followed suit. Overcome with fear, he watched as the Archduke passed him. 

Nedeljko Čabrinović was dying. He was 19 and had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. He knew that he was going to die, and he wanted to “free” Serbia before he succumbed to his illness. 

He did not hesitate. He threw his grenade at Ferdinand’s car. The driver saw the grenade get thrown and accelerated the car. The grenade bounced off the back and landed on the street, and due to a 10 second delay, it did not explode under the Archduke’s car, instead going off under the fourth car in the line. Shrapnel flew into the crowd and injured 16-20 people, sending the rest into a panic. The Archduke’s car sped away, and the plot had failed. 

Čabrinović, overcome with the emotions of his failure, took his cyanide packet and then threw himself in the river to insure his death. The cyanide had expired and instead of dying, he was overcome with violent vomiting. The river he jumped in was only 13 cm deep, and he was unable to drown himself. He was pulled out by the police and attacked by the angry crowd. 

Ferdinand was taken to town hall, where it was suggested he and Sophie wait until soldiers could be brought to escort them safely out of the building. This suggestion was denied when and instead it was decided the couple would visit the bomb victims in the hospital. 

Gavilo Princip was the only assassin to stick around. He set up at a delicatessen to have a sandwich and wait for Ferdinand to drive past on the return route. This is when either Princip got lucky, or Ferdinand got very unlucky. 

The plan had been to change the route in order to avoid any more incidents. Except, nobody told the driver. The car turned down the road of the original route, and was not able to reverse. Instead, the car had to be pushed backwards, stalling it in front of a delicatessen. 

The same delicatessen, it would turn out, where Princip sat with a pistol. 

The last photo of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie before they were assassinated. Photographer unknown.
A painting done of the assassination. Princip is painted firing at Ferdinand and Sophie.

He fired two shots, one hitting Ferdinand in the neck, the other striking Sophie in the abdomen. “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die—stay alive for our children,” Ferdinand said to his wife. They both died within minutes. 

Philip went to shoot himself next, but the gun was knocked from his hand. He attempted to grab his cyanide, but was surrounded by an angry crowd. At only 19, he was too young to be given a death sentence. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but died of tuberculosis in 1918 at the age of 23. 

World War I would take the lives of around 20 million people, with more than half being civilians. An almost botched assasination, that ended up happening because of miscommunication, was the spark that started the first World War. 

Published by camryncutinello

She/her/hers. Journalism major at Columbia College Chicago. Co-editor-in-chief of the Columbia Chronicle.

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