The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand on June 28th 1914, is widely believed to have precipitated the start of the First World War, bringing into play a complex and extensive series of alliances that drew all the big European nations, and then their allies, into the deadly vortex.
In itself the event was comparatively minor – but it took place in an environment that was already primed for conflict and acted as a trigger that finally unleashed the dogs of war.
In June 1914 Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austro Hungarian Empire, embarked on a tour of the Balkans to inspect military establishments in the area that had been annexed by the Empire in 1908. This annexation had outraged Serbian nationalists who had been agitating for an independent nation ever since.
On June 28th the Archduke and his wife Sophie visited Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and toured the city in an open car – a dangerous venture in view of the volatile situation.
The Archduke and his wife emerging from the Sarajevo Town Hall and about to enter their car. The photograph was taken only a few minutes before the assassination. (Image form Wikipedia Commons)
A Serbian nationalist, 19 year old Gavrilo Princip was waiting with a gun and seizing his chance fired at the car, hitting both the Archduke and his wife. He then attempted to turn the gun on himself but was wrestled to the ground by other onlookers and was taken away by police.
The car carrying Ferdinand and his wife lying critically wounded inside, sped away from the scene seeking medical assistance. However both died of their wounds soon after.
This set off a rapidly escalating series of events – Austria and Hungary accused the Serbian Government of being behind the assassination and declared war on Serbia in July. Russia and its allies, France and Britain, supported Serbia, and Germany came down on the side of Austria/Hungary.
The fragile peace that had held Europe together over the previous decade collapsed like a house of cards and the world was plunged into the greatest global conflict ever seen up until that time. The First World War had begun.
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