How a Teenage Boy Started World War I

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo

On 28 June 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife, Sophie were visiting the picturesque city of Sarajevo. As Inspector General of the Army, he was attending military exercises in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Franz Ferdinand was also the nephew of the Emperor, and due to the suicide of the crown prince, was heir to the throne as well!  The Austro-Hungarian Empire had recently annexed the Balkan provinces, infuriating neighboring Serbia, which also coveted the two territories.

The Young Bosnians, revolutionary students and Serbian nationalists, learned of the Archduke’s visit, and plotted his assassination.

Franz and Sophie boarded an elegant open-topped car for a pleasant motorcade ride through Sarajevo to the town hall, waving to the populace as they drove by.  As the cars passed, one of the Serb assassins hurled a bomb at their vehicle, watched it bounce off the folded roof top, and roll underneath the wrong automobile! The explosion wounded two army officers and some unlucky bystanders, but not Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.

I AM FINE!” the Archduke bellowed.  And rather than flee Sarajevo at that point, they continued on to town hall. Only upon finishing his royal duties there did they drive away, at a higher speed this time, to dissuade other potential bombers. Unfortunately, their chauffeur was unfamiliar with Sarajevo and turned off the Appel Quay onto a side street by mistake.  It was at a corner where teenage Serbian Gavrilo Princip was waiting.

As the motorcade attempted to back up, Princip whipped out his pistol, charged forward, and fired two shots at point-blank range!

Bullets pierced the Archduke’s neck and Sophie’s abdomen as she lunged forward to protect her husband. She collapsed onto the car seat. The Archduke clutched his neck. Sophie, Sophie, don’t die!” he managed to cry out.Live for our children.”

Gavrilo Princip, Serbian assassin
19 Year old Gavrilo Princip, Serbian assassin

Gavrilo (Gabriel) was a short, skinny 19-year-old peasant Serb, barely able to grow a mustache.  He and his co-conspirators had been radicalized by the infamous Black Hand society after the army rejected them.  Princip was instantly attacked by an angry mob as he attempted to commit suicide with his pistol. He shouted proudly to the furious crowd, “I am a hero of Serbia! The motorcade rushed the pair to a hospital as they bled profusely. Within the hour, both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had died. Sadly, it just happened to be their wedding anniversary as well.   They left behind three young children in Vienna. Gavrilo was arrested and thrown in jail.

Tensions were already running high between all of Europe’s great allied powers. There had not been a continental war for almost 60 years.  Austria-Hungary considered the Serbs thieves, pigs and dogs in no particular order. Gavrilo Princip’s assassination set off a rapid chain reaction of events, culminating in our planet’s first ever WORLD WAR:

  • Exactly a month later, on 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
  • Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, then began to mobilize its vast army in Serbia’s defense
  • Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary, saw this as an act of war, and declared war on Russia on August 1st
  • France, bound by treaty to Russia, then mobilized its army as well, so Germany declared war on France on August 3rd
  • Germany then invaded neutral Belgium the next day, to reach Paris.  Britain, allied with Belgium & France, declared war against Germany on August 4th, and by extension Austria-Hungary as well
  • Japan, bound by treaty with Britain, declared war on Germany on August 23rd.  Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan August 24th.  It’s really tragic how quickly and easy it all was to cascade globally out of control
  • The Ottoman Empire invaded Russia in October and the Russia Empire declared war against the Turks
  • With the British Empire came the armies of its many colonies in AustraliaCanada, India, and South Africa
  • Italy managed to stay out of it for a year, but joined on the side of the Allies in 1915
  • US President Woodrow Wilson tried to stay neutral at first, but finally declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary and entered the war in 1917

More than 9 Million soldiers on both sides would die in the bloody trenches and battlefields of the 4 year “GREAT WAR TO END ALL WARS.”

World War I introduced new implements of death for the very first time, like tanks, machine guns, bi-wing airplanes and poison mustard gas . Four long years later, after millions of young men perished in the French and Belgian trenches, the introduction of American forces tipped the scales. Germany and Austria-Hungary were finally forced to surrender at the Paris armistice.  It was signed in railroad car outside the capital on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month11 November 1918.

But it wasn’t over for many, as the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 would bring further death to the world. The surviving troops returned to their homes with the deadly influenza virus in their lungs. 50 Million more would die from the pandemic.

And what of teen Gavrilo Princip?  He was too young to be hanged, being just 20 days shy of his 20th birthday.  He was instead given a 20-year prison sentence.  He died in a Bohemian prison of severe malnutrition and tuberculosis four years later, at only 23.  In Serbia today, Princip is remembered as a national hero and a freedom fighter, who fought to liberate his people from Austrian imperial rule.

For future posts, click FOLLOW below.  For more by historical writer Paul Andrews, click BOOKS in the menu.

Similar posts: Both Sides used Poison Gas in World War I

In Flanders Field World War I Poem

Published by andrewspaulw

LOST IN HISTORY Blog/Podcast about key forgotten history still relevant in today's world. Paul Andrews also has 5 historical adventure novels, all available on Amazon.

9 thoughts on “How a Teenage Boy Started World War I

Leave a Reply