Gavrilo Princip's Arrest
Gavrilo Princip's Arrest
Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand: Spur to World War
By: Milos Oberajger
Date: June 28, 1914
About the Photographer: Milos Oberajger was an amateur photographer who was in the crowd at 11:00 on the morning of June 28, 1914, to greet Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. Oberajger worked as a forestry engineer in Sarajevo, but his avocation was taking photographs. His wife donated this photograph to the Croatian History Museum in 1988.
Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918) was a young Bosnian revolutionary and a member of a secret society called Union or Death, commonly referred to as the Black Hand. On the morning of June 28, 1914, with the knowledge of Serbian officials, he fatally shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austrian Empire, on the streets of the Bosnian capital city of Sarajevo. Princip also killed Ferdinand's wife, the Archduchess Sophie, who was at Ferdinand's side at the time.
In 1914, Europe was a powder keg of mutual alliances, fears, and suspicions. Ferdinand's assassination acted as a match, igniting tensions and ushering Europe into World War I.
The fuse had been laid in 1908 during the first Balkan crisis, when Austria annexed Bosnia. This move infuriated Serbia, which since the nineteenth century had been the center of a movement to form a unified Slavic state made up of Serbians, Bosnians, Croats, and Slovenes. The state that Slavic nationalists envisioned would be independent of the Russian Empire on the east, whose satellites included the Serbs and the Bosnians, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the west, whose satellites included the Slovenes and the Croats. Austria saw Serbia as an adversary that was agitating to lay claim to a piece of its empire. Although the Eastern Orthodox Serbs were allies of Russia, Russia had been weakened by war with Japan and was unwilling to do more than protest the annexation of Serbia.
The second Balkan crisis occurred in 1912–1913, when warfare engulfed the Balkan region. Afterward, Austria—in concert with other European powers—backed the formation of an independent kingdom of Albania to block the Serbs from access to the Adriatic Sea. Again, Serbian nationalism was frustrated and its efforts to create a unified Slavic state were blocked; Russia again declined to intervene.
The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand constituted the third Balkan crisis. Amateur photographer Milos Oberajger caught the moment of Princip's arrest—after Princip's attempt to turn the gun on himself was foiled—in the following dramatic photo.
GAVRILO PRINCIP'S ARREST
See primary source image.
Within little more than a month, Europe was at war. Austria was determined to put an end to Slavic agitation on its southern border. With the support of its major ally, Germany, it issued a sharp ultimatum to Serbia, demanding a roll in the investigation of the assassination and in the punishment of those responsible. Serbia counted on support from its Russian allies. Russia, in turn, counted on the support of France, which maintained strong ties with Russia because it had long been frightened by the prospect of having to fight a war alone against the larger and more heavily industrialized Germany. Just as Germany had backed Austria in its reprisals against Serbia, France—desperate to retain Russia as an ally—expressed support for Russia in its response to the crisis.
When Serbia rejected Austrian demands, Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia made preparations to defend Serbia, and expecting that Germany would join the fight, massed troops on the German border. Accordingly, on August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Believing that France would support Russia, Germany also declared war on France on August 3. The wild card in this system of alliances was Great Britain. At the time Great Britain was bound by no formal ties but, like France, was wary of a growing and increasingly militarized Germany, especially of German naval power in the North Sea and the English Channel. Germany's actions against Russia and France were predicated on its hope that Great Britain would remain neutral. But when Germany invaded neutral Belgium on its way into France, England, in the face of German naval might, declared war on Germany on August 4.
World War I lasted for over four years, at a horrific cost. Ten million men were killed, and another twenty million were wounded. The stalemate in the trenches of western Europe was broken after Russia withdrew from the war and the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. Although American troops fought for only four months in 1918, the increase in Allied troop strength was enough to tip the balance in favor of the Allies against the Central powers of Germany and Austria.
On November 12, 1918, at the close of the war, the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, abdicated; the next day Austria proclaimed itself a republic, and a week later Hungary did the same. The Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, sought to weaken Germany by imposing on it financial reparations that devastated its economy. The resulting political instability in Germany formed the soil in which Nazism would take root and Adolf Hitler would rise to power. In 1939, the European nations were again at war.
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Fromkin, David. Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? New York: Knopf, 2003.
Hamilton, Richard F., and Holger H. Herwig, eds. The Origins of World War I. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
First World War.com. "How It Began." <http://www.firstworldwar.com/origins/index.htm> (accessed May 16, 2005).