Sunday the 28th of June, 1914, dawned sunny and clear. Franz Ferdinand had spent the previous two days slogging through the mud with the troops of the XV and XVI Corps near Tarčin, southwest of Sarajevo. Both Corps contained the famed fez-wearing “Bosniaken” mountain regiments, recruited locally in Bosnia-Herzegovina, from among its Serb, Croat, and Muslim residents.
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie’s fourteenth wedding anniversary lay only three days away. Serbs celebrated the day as Vidovdan (St. Vitus’ Day), the anniversary of the legendary 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, immortalized in myth and epic poetry, in which the Serbian principality won a valiant but Pyrrhic victory against the Turks that marked the beginning of the end for medieval Serbia.
They royal couple departed Ilidža for Sarajevo at 09:25 am on a special train for the Filipović barracks (today’s U.S. Embassy, National Library, and University of Sarajevo campus), arriving 25 minutes later. Feldzeugmeister (Lieutenant-General) Oskar Potiorek and General Appel briefly escorted Franz Ferdinand around the barracks, where he reviewed the troops. Then he and Sophie sat in the second motorcar of a six-vehicle motorcade, a 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton that belonged to Count Franz von Harrach, a member of the Volunteer Automobile Corps.
The motorcade followed the tracks of Sarajevo’s streetcar eastward along Bahnhofstrasse towards Sarajevo’s center, accompanied by the thunder of artillery salutes from the fort on the hill overlooking Kovačiči to the south and from the White Bastion perched high on a rock above Bendbaša to the east.
The parade route had been published in advance, and crowds lined the sidewalks on both sides of Appel Quai, which ran along the Miljacka River. Many sought shade under trees. The motorcade drove slowly as Franz Ferdinand and Sophie admired the facades of the many new buildings. They stopped briefly in front of the enormous new Military Post Office building, whose director Präsident Gaberle handed a telegram to Sophie from her children.
As they passed the Austro-Hungarian Bank and approached the Čumurija Bridge, Nedeljko Čabrinović struck the percussion cap of a grenade against an electric pole supporting the streetcar wires and hurled it at the Archduke’s vehicle. The bomb bounced off the rolled-up top of the Archduke’s convertible and fell into the street, where it exploded under the fourth car in the motorcade, injuring a passenger and several bystanders. Čabrinović jumped over the low retaining wall into the ankle-deep Miljacka River and swallowed a cyanide capsule. He was quickly arrested. Franz Ferdinand displayed unusual bravery and ordered the driver to stop, got out, examined the damage and returned to his vehicle, after which the car raced to the City Hall.
Upon being greeted by Mayor Fehim Efendi Ćurčić on the front steps, Franz Ferdinand’s temper momentarily got the best of him, and he upbraided Ćurčić for the bomb attack. Sophie calmed her husband and the two continued their program of official meetings inside the City Hall. Due to the bomb attack, events were behind schedule, and the royal couple left the City Hall five minutes late at 10:45 with a modified plan. Count von Harrach jumped on the left running board of the car to shield the royal couple against any more would-be assassins.
Rather than drive to the Landesmuseum as called for by the official itinerary, Franz Ferdinand decided to visit those wounded in the bomb attack, who were now at the military hospital near Marienhof. This meant a rapid return down Appel Quai, the most direct route. But no one had informed the drivers of either the first or second vehicles, who followed the original plan and turned right from Appel Quai into Franz Josef’s Gasse.
Immediately after making the turn, Potiorek ordered a halt; the driver stopped the car and began to back up.
As the vehicle moved slowly in reverse, Gavrilo Princip stepped from the crowd in front of Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen on the corner of Appel Quai and Franz Josef’s Gasse, approached the car from the right side, pulled out a pistol and shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie from close range. Chaos ensued. The crowd and police grappled with the assassin. Potiorek ordered the driver to hastily reverse across the Latin Bridge and then race to Potiorek’s nearby official residence, the Konak, less than a hundred meters distant from Schiller’s. En route it became apparent both Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were hit. Franz Ferdinand’s last words to Sophie were: “Sophie dear, don’t die. Stay alive for our Children.” Sophie was dead on arrival at the Konak, and Franz Ferdinand died approximately fifteen minutes later, shortly after 11:00.
Telegraph and telephones quickly spread the news of the assassination throughout the Empire, along with an additional piece of important information: the two assassins were Serbs.
The shooter, Gavrilo Princip, was an unemployed student from Bosnia. He had spent the previous two years in Belgrade finishing his education after having been expelled from school in Sarajevo due to participation in nationally motivated student demonstrations and poor grades. The bomber, Sarajevo-born Nedeljko Čabrinović, favored anarchist literature and had bounced around the South Slav areas of the Dual Monarchy organizing strikes and demonstrations, which usually ended in his expulsion from different cities. He had finally settled in Belgrade, where he worked in a print shop. Both were in police custody with serious stomach pains from swallowing old cyanide. Both quickly revealed they had not acted alone. Five other would-be assassins had lined the parade route, but all had chickened out except Princip and Čabrinović.
Realizing the serious implications for them, Sarajevo’s leading Serb citizens held an emergency session of the Serbian Orthodox Church School Board under the leadership of its president, prominent Serb businessman and industrialist Gligorije Jeftanović at 18:20. The minutes of the meeting show that the Board composed an official telegram of condolence to His Majesty the Emperor, who was holding summer court in Bad Ischl, in which they expressed “our deepest sympathies with expressions of unwavering faithfulness and loyalty to the most glorious throne and the entire ruling house”. The meeting adjourned after thirty minutes and no further entries were made until after 1918. The head of the Serb National Party in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dr. Milan Hadži Ristić, also sent his official condolences to the Emperor. But by then it was too late.
James Lyon is author of Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of the Great War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). He has a Ph.D. in Balkan History, is founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Heritage, and an Associate Researcher at the University of Graz.