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Friday, 27 June 2014

28 June 1914 - The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Saturday 28 June is a very significant date for the commemoration of the First World War. It will be 100 years to the day since the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his Czech wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg.

During that morning a young Serbian militant Nedeljko Cabrinovic, had thrown a small rudimentary explosive device at the royal motorcade. The bomb bounced off the intended target of the limousine carrying the Archduke, and exploded underneath the following car, inflicting only minor injuries to the occupants. Four other members of the gang lost their nerve, and melted into the crowd. They were all members of “Unity of Death”, a secret society that had connections at a high level within the government. Many knew the movement by the more colourful name of “The Black Hand”. The security team responsible for the protection of the Archduke were stranded at the railway station, but protocol demanded the tour should continue. At the next scheduled stop a very shaken Archduke commented “I come here as your guest and you people greet me with bombs”.

They were advised to cut short their schedule, but the couple insisted on a short detour to the hospital to visit those that had been injured during the earlier incident, but nobody told the driver of their limousine. When the car turned into Franz Joseph Street, one of the entourage, Oskar Potiorek instructed the driver to get back on to the intended route. The limousine, a Graf & Stift Double Phaeton, had no reverse gear, so the chauffeur got out and started to push the car backwards. By pure chance, standing only 5 feet away was another member of the Black Hand, Serbian revolutionary Gravilo Pricip. He seized the opportunity and tried to detonate a small bomb, without success. So he pulled out his FN Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol, stepped on to the running board of the Graf, and quickly fired two shots. The Archduke was hit in the neck, and his wife was hit in the stomach - she died almost instantly. The Archduke was heard to shout “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die – stay alive for our children”. Within a short while, he was also dead.

The following six weeks, known as the “July Crisis”, were probably the most complex sequence of political events ever experienced in European history, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914.

The Royal Commission is supporting various initiatives to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Archive records relating to sites connected to the conflict can be searched on-line via our database Coflein, or through the National Monuments Record of Wales enquiry service.

By Medwyn Parry

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