In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. His father, Emperor Franz Josef, was 84 years old and in failing health. The Archduke had publicly announced his intention to introduce many reforms once he came to the throne. These reforms, which included the granting of a substantial degree of autonomy to the Slavic minorities within the empire, had the potential to satisfy nationalist sentiments among the Bosnians, Croats, and Slovenians while offering them economic benefits and security within Austria-Hungary. They also promised to seriously undermine the Serbian goal of incorporating these provinces into "Greater Serbia." The last thing the Serbs wanted to see was contented Slavs within the empire.

The Royal Serbian Army's chief of intelligence, Lieutenant-Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, was also a member of a secret terrorist organization, the "Black Hand." With the prospect of the liberal-minded Franz Ferdinand assuming the throne at any time, Dimitrijevic determined that Serbian interests could only be advanced by the death of the Archduke. He dispatched three Serbian-trained Bosnian terrorists, Gavrilo Princip, Trifko Grabez, and Nedjeljko Cabrinovic, to assassinate the Archduke during a state visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the afternoon of 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot and killed both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie as their motorcade passed through the streets of Sarajevo. The initial reaction in Europe was one of universal shock and horror. Four of the five great powers were monarchies, and they saw the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne as an indefensible act of brutality. Strong suspicions of Serbian complicity in the assassination existed throughout Europe, and the German government gave unconditional support to Austria-Hungary for any actions that it might take against the Serbs. If Austria-Hungary had moved quickly to deal with the Serbs, not even Russia would have intervened on Serbia's behalf.

 

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