Black Hand Kills Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Sarajevo June 20, 1914



Black Hand Kills Archduke Franz Ferdinand

June 20, 1914

   One of the most important families of the Hapsburg territories, von Harrach had been selected to stand bodyguard for Archduke Franz Ferdinand during the ill-fated visit to Sarajevo that day. Yet, not known to his protectors, there was a team of assassins that had been selected by the Black Hand. They recruited their choices from a group of rank amateurs. The Black Hand has recruited them because they avowed their willingness to commit suicide after they completed their job.

   The Black Hand gave the details of the planned route for the entourage. Each member of the group was positioned along the route with guns and grenades. First was the twenty seven year old carpenter and an extreme Muslim called Mehmed Mechedbasic. The motorcade passed him at exactly 10:10 AM. But he couldn’t go through with his action. Later on, when he was caught he muttered to his Black Hand friends that: “My bomb failed to go off and my gun jammed.” He was the only one of the attackers that escaped that day.

   Down the line next was a 17 year old vase Cubrilovic. But he also failed to act. Later on he claimed that he didn’t have his glasses with him that day and he didn’t want to hurt any bystanders. 

   Next up, in the adventure, was a sterner Nedjelko Cabrinovic. As the motorcade came closer to him, he hit the percussion cap of his bomb against a lamp post. He tossed the bomb high in a remarkable inaccuracy. This incredible mistake almost saved the day. 

   Harrach heard the percussion cap explode. He thought the car had blown a tire. He demanded the driver, Leopold Lojka to stop the car, immediately. Lojka saw the bomb in the air, instead of stopping, put his foot to the gas, speeding up the car. Two things resulted, Harrach lost grip of the car and was flung off the running boards. But second, the bomb was then put directly on target. 

   Franz Ferdinand also spotted the flying bomb. He put out a deflective arm. It caused the device to glance off his elbow. It was tossed off the folded-down canvas canopy, and was trampoline off that to detonate under the following vehicle. It caused injuries to quite a few of the occupants and nearby members of the flag waving crowd.

   Then, Lojka crashed into the leading car, which was carrying the Mayor, Fehim Curcic, and Doctor Gerde, Sarajevo’s Commissioner of Police. With some semblance of order everything was restored. The motorcade moved off again at a smarter pace.

   Yet meanwhile the motorcade passed by two more ineffectual assassins 18 year old Cuetko Popovic and 19 year old Trifko Grabez, and then finally Gravilo Princip. Only he stayed his course. He was ready to react; as the cars approached he reached inside his coat. The crowd surged forward for a better view. He was pinned helpless against a lamp post until the motorcade had passed. He was in disarray. He wandered down Franz Joseph Street to Moritz Schiller’s deli-café. He sat at a pavement table eating sandwiches, drinking coffee and brandy, and wondered what to do next.

   By now the motorcade had reached the reception point where the archduke gave the mayor and the commissionaire a berating that they had never heard before. Their minds shivered inside themselves. The civic festivals were cut short by the Duke. He insisted on visiting the hospital to check up on the injured parties, from the blast. The mayor’s car took the lead again. The two car convoy set off back down Appel Quay. 

   Not long into the journey the mayor’s car turned left off the Quay instead of turning right across the Lateiner Bridge. In the fluster, Harrach kept shouting at Lojka to turn left, while in fact meant to say: Turn right!” Lojka not evening realizing that the mayor’s car too had got it wrong.

   The cars sped to the Town Hall and the rest of the conspirators did not interfere with them. After the reception in the Town Hall General Potiorek, the Austrian Commander, was pleading with Francis Ferdinand to leave the city, as it was seething with rebellion. The Archduke was persuaded to drive the shortest way out of the city and to go quickly.

   The road to the maneuvers was shaped like the letter V, making a sharp turn at the bridge over the River Nilgacka. Francis Ferdinand's car could go fast enough until it reached this spot but here it was forced to slow down for the turn.

   “Harrach was still shouting, “I said turn left, you fool.” Lojka did just that; he turned left into Franz Joseph Street. Realizing the error, the mayor’s car had already stopped. It was right outside Schiller’s deli, where Princip sat drop-jawed at his good fortune. 

   As the car came abreast he stepped forward from the curb, drew his automatic pistol from his coat and fired two shots. The first struck the wife of the Archduke, the Archduchess Sofia, in the abdomen. She was an expectant mother. 

   The second bullet struck the Archduke close to the heart. He uttered only one word, 'Sofia' -- a call to his stricken wife. Then his head fell back and he collapsed. He died almost instantly.

   The officers seized Princip. They beat him over the head with the flat of their swords. They knocked him down, they kicked him, scraped the skin from his neck with the edges of their swords, tortured him, all but killed him.

   Count Franz von Harrach rode on the running board of the royal car serving as a bodyguard for the Archduke. After Princip fires his two shots: the Count later reported, "As the car quickly reversed, a thin stream of blood spurted from His Highness's mouth onto my right check. As I was pulling out my handkerchief to wipe the blood away from his mouth, the Duchess cried out to him, 'In Heaven's name, what has happened to you?' At that she slid off the seat and lay on the floor of the car, with her face between his knees.

   Count Franz von Harrach had no idea that she too was hit. He thought she had simply fainted with fright. Then he heard His Imperial Highness say, “Sopherl,  Sopherl,  don't die. Stay alive for the children!”

   At that, he seized the Archduke by the collar of his uniform, to stop his head dropping forward. He asked:  “Are you in great pain?” His Imperial Highness answered the Count quite distinctly, “It's nothing!” The Imperial Highness’s face began to twist somewhat. His Imperial Highness went on repeating, six or seven times, ever more faintly as he gradually lost consciousness, “It's nothing! “ Then, after a short pause, there was a violent choking sound caused by the bleeding. “It stopped as we reached the Konak.", was the last recorded comment of the Count.

    A third party in the vent, Serbia, figured prominently in the plot. Independent Serbia provided the guns, ammunition and training that made the assassination possible.

  The Balkan Region of Europe entered the twentieth century much as she left it: a cauldron of seething political intrigue needing only the slightest increase of heat to boil over into open conflict. The shots that day in Sarajevo pushed the cauldron to the boiling point and beyond.