July 13

This Day in History

World War I

Jul 13, 1914:

Austrian investigation into archduke's assassination concludes

On July 13, 1914, Friedrich von Wiesner, an official of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office, reports back to Foreign Minister Leopold von Berchtold the findings of an investigation into the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife Sophie the previous June 28, in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary had long feared its waning influence in early 20th-century Europe, and was particularly threatened after the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13 confirmed the growing influence and ambition of Serbia, backed by its mighty Slavic ally, Russia. In fact, even before Franz Ferdinand’s death, Berchtold’s office had been preparing a memorandum for the archduke, as well as for Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, proposing an alliance with Bulgaria to shore up Austrian influence and isolate Serbia in the tumultuous Balkans region. When Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb nationalist, shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range in their car in Sarajevo on June 28, Berchtold—along with most in Vienna and the rest of the world—assumed the Serbian government had some complicity in the plot. Two days after the assassination, Berchtold proposed a “final and fundamental reckoning with Serbia” to the Austrian emperor, 84-year-old Franz Josef, who agreed to send a personal note to Kaiser Wilhelm, along with a revised and more aggressive version of the memorandum. On July 5, the kaiser gave Berchtold’s ambassador what has become known as carte blanche or “blank check” assurance that Germany would back Austria-Hungary in any punitive action it chose to take against Serbia.

By July 8, both Berchtold and Conrad von Hotzendorff, the bellicose chief of staff of the Austrian army, had come to believe that a military invasion of Serbia was both desirable and necessary to capitalize on the situation and crush the upstart rival. Even as Austrian investigators worked to sort through the evidence in Sarajevo, then, Austria-Hungary, with German encouragement (in fact, Berlin was pressing Vienna to act more quickly) plotted the next step: the presentation of an ultimatum to Serbia that would be worded in such a way as to make it practically impossible for the other country to accept.

On July 13, Wiesner reported the findings of the Austrian investigation: “There is nothing to prove or even suppose that the Serbian government is accessory to the inducement for the crime, its preparation, or the furnishing of weapons. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that this is altogether out of the question.” The only evidence that could be found, it seemed, was that Princip and his cohorts had been aided by individuals with ties to the government, most likely members of a shadowy organization within the army, the Black Hand. Realizing he would have to go ahead without evidence of Serbian guilt, Berchtold declined to share these findings with Franz Josef, while his office continued the drafting of the Serbian ultimatum, which was to be delivered on July 23 in Belgrade.

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