1914: Then Came Armageddon

War Begins in Austria and Serbia

“It would be necessary for Austria to make war on Serbia!”

The Dawn of Armageddon, 1917

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The immediate spark beginning the war was the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Francis (Franz) Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. He was murdered by an operative from a Serbian paramilitary group called the Black Hand which desired to unite all the Balkan Slavs under the Kingdom of Serbia.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie exiting a building
The Archduke and his wife, Sophie, “Departure from city hall five minutes before the attack.”
Gavrilo Princip escorted by police
Gavrilo Princip

“The Dawn of Armageddon”

Ferdinand was in Sarajevo to tour the recently acquired territory of Bosnia, which contained many ethnic Slavs – people the Black Hand wanted to be included in a new pan-Slavic state. Austria, however, took pains to suppress ethnic nationalism in the region because nationalism provoked division within the Empire. Due to alliances and hardline diplomacy, this Balkan dispute expanded into a regional conflict, eventually consuming the continent and launching into a world war. As some contemporaries noted, Franz Ferdinand’s assassination was the “Dawn of Armageddon.”

Austrian and Serbian Response

Nationalist demonstrations in Serbia in response to the assassination displeased the Austrians. In a letter to Austrian Foreign Minister Count Berchtold, Austrian Secretary of Legation Ritter von Storck wrote, “According to eye-witnesses people embraced each other in de-light and jubilant remarks were heard, such as: ‘Serves them right!’ ‘We expected it for a long time!’ ‘That’s the revenge for the annexation.’” Serbians saw Austrians and the Austrian press as blaming their entire nation for the actions of the Black Hand. The two nations attempted to calm tensions over the course of a month, but Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia on 23 July 1914. Serbia, sensing that its response would not prevent an Austrian attack, mobilized its forces and responded to the ultimatum by accepting all but one of the terms, one which would have given Austro-Hungarian law enforcement power in Serbian trials. Indeed, Austria found this to be inadequate, and the war began.

Kaiser Wilhelm and family
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916). His nephew was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne.

Perceptions of Serbia