A plaque commemorating the location of the Sarajevo Assassination

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead (while traveling in an open-topped car) in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six Bosnian Serb assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić. The political objective of the assassination was to break Austria-Hungary's south-Slav provinces off so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. The assassins' motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. Serbian military officers stood behind the attack.

At the top of these Serbian military conspirators was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević, his right hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and Masterspy Rade Malobabić. Major Tankosić armed (with bombs and pistols) and trained the assassins, and the assassins were given access to the same underground railroad that Rade Malobabić used for the infiltration of weapons and operatives into Austria-Hungary.

The assassins, the key members of the underground railroad, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted and punished. Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914. The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian kangaroo court in French Occupied Salonika in 1916-1917 on unrelated false charges; Serbia executed the top three military conspirators. Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.

Assignment of responsibility for the bombing and murders of June 28 is highly controversial because the attack led to the outbreak of World War I one month later. An evidenciary approach must be taken to weed through the various claims and counter-claims concerning responsibility.


Further information: History of Serbia and History of Modern Serbia

Franz ferdinand

Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria

Under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary received the mandate to occupy and administer the Ottoman


Gavrilo Princip

provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Ottoman Empire retained official sovereignty. Under this same treaty, Serbia was at last recognized by the Great Powers as a fully sovereign state, as the Kingdom of Serbia. Initially Serbia was content to live within its small borders, which encompassed only a fraction of the ethnic Serbian population.

This changed in 1903 when Serbian military officers led by Dragutin Dimitrijević stormed the Serbian Royal Palace. After a fierce battle in the dark the attackers captured General Laza Petrović, head of the Palace Guard, and forced him to reveal the hiding place of King Alexander Obrenović and his wife Queen Draga. The King and Queen opened the door from their hiding place. The King was shot thirty times; the Queen eighteen. MacKenzie writes: "The royal corpses were then stripped and brutally sabred." [1 ]The attackers threw the corpses of King Alexander and Queen Draga out of a palace window, ending any threat that loyalists would mount a counter attack. General Petrović was then killed too (Vojislav Tankosić organized the murders of Queen Draga's brothers; Dimitrijević and Tankosić in 1913-1914 figure prominently in the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand). The conspirators installed Peter I of the House of Karađorđević as the new king.

The new dynasty was more nationalistic, more friendly to Russia and less friendly to Austria-Hungary. Over the next decade, disputes between Serbia and its neighbors erupted as Serbia moved to build its power and gradually reclaim its 14th century empire. These disputes included a customs dispute with Austria-Hungary beginning in 1906 (commonly referred to as the "Pig War" as pigs were Serbia's major export to Austria-Hungary), the Bosnian crisis of 1908–1909 where Serbia assumed an attitude of protest over Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ending in a Serbian climb-down in March 1909), and finally the two Balkan wars of 1912–1913 where Serbia conquered Macedonia and Kosovo taking these provinces from the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.

Serbia's military successes and Serbian outrage over the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina emboldened nationalistic elements in Serbia and Serbs in Austria-Hungary who chafed under Magyar rule and whose nationalist sentiments were stirred by Serbian "cultural" organizations. In the five years prior to 1914, lone assassins – mostly Serbian citizens of Austria-Hungary – made a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina against Austro-Hungarian officials. The assassins received only sporadic support from Serbia. Perhaps the most famous of these failed efforts was Bogdan Žerajić's attempt on 15 June 1910 to kill the iron-fisted Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Marijan Verešanin. Žerajić was a 22-year-old orthodox Serb from Nevesinje, Herzegovina who made frequent trips to Belgrade. [2 ]Just 12 days before the attempt on Verešanin, Žerajić had made an aborted attempt on the life of Emperor Franz Joseph. [3 ]

General Verešanin went on to become a particularly hated figure to Serbs as he used the army to crush the last Bosnian peasant uprising in the second half of 1910. [4 ]The five bullets Žerajić fired at Verešanin and the fatal bullet he put in his own brain made Žerajić an inspiration to future Serbian assassins, including Princip and Princip's accomplice Čabrinović. Princip said that Žerajić "was my first model. When I was seventeen I passed whole nights at his grave, reflecting on our wretched condition and thinking of him. It is there that I made up my mind sooner or later to perpetrate an outrage." [5 ]

In late June 1914, Franz Ferdinand visited Bosnia to observe military maneuvers and open the state museum in Sarajevo in its new premises, accompanied by his wife. [6 ]As a "Czech countess [she] was treated as a commoner at the Austrian court". [7 ]

Emperor Franz Joseph had only consented to their marriage on condition that their descendents would never ascend the throne. The 14th anniversary of the morganatic oath fell on 28 June and they were happy to celebrate it far from Vienna. As historian A. J. P. Taylor observes:

[Sophie] could never share [Franz Ferdinand's] rank ... could never share his splendours, could never even sit by his side on any public occasion. There was one loophole ... his wife could enjoy the recognition of his rank when he was acting in a military capacity. Hence, he decided, in 1914, to inspect the army in Bosnia. There, at its capital Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife could ride in an open carriage side by side ... Thus, for love, did the Archduke go to his death.[8]

Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and widely believed to favor trialism, under which Austria-Hungary would be reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom could have been a bulwark against Serb irredentism and Franz Ferdinand was therefore perceived as a threat by those same irredentists. (Princip later stated to the court that preventing Franz Ferdinand's planned reforms was one of his motivations.)

The day of the assassination, 28 June, is 15 June in the Julian calendar, the feast of St. Vitus. In Serbia, it is called Vidovdan and commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans at which the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a Serb; it is an occasion for Serbian patriotic observances.