May 26

This Day in History

World War I

May 26, 1914:

Gavrilo Princip sets out from Belgrade for Sarajevo

On May 26, 1914, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip sets out from Belgrade on a 10-day-long journey through rough countryside, heading towards Sarajevo and a planned rendezvous with fellow young nationalist agitators.

Born in 1894 in the hamlet of Gornji Obljaj in western Bosnia, near Dalmatia, Princip was a Bosnian Serb who left home when he was 13 to study in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. Slight and frail, he volunteered for Serbian military service in the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, but was turned down by an officer who told him he was too weak. Bitterly disappointed, Princip found refuge in radical nationalism, joining on with the so-called Young Bosnia movement, a loose grouping of students and apprentices with revolutionary aspirations.

When Princip and his comrades learned in the spring of 1914 of the upcoming visit by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to Sarajevo that June, they hatched a plan to assassinate him. Such plots had been attempted before, most recently the previous January, and had failed. As a prominent symbol of the Austrian regime, Franz Ferdinand was a likely target for Slavic nationalists angry over the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and anxious about the possibility of further aggression by the empire in the Balkans; in fact, Franz Ferdinand was the leading advocate for peace and restraint within his country's political and military establishment.

With weapons—including bombs, revolvers and cyanide capsules with which to commit suicide after their murderous work was done—supplied by members of the shadowy Serbian terrorist organization Narodna Odbrana, or the Black Hand, Princip left Belgrade on May 26, 1914, and traveled through secret channels, also facilitated by the Black Hand, for nearly 10 days before meeting up with his fellow conspirators in Sarajevo. Less than a month later, on June 28, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie made their official appearance in Sarajevo to review the maneuvers of the 15th and 16th Corps of the Austrian army. After a bomb thrown by Princip's cohort failed to achieve its deadly objective, rolling off the back of the royal car and wounding an officer and some bystanders, the archduke's procession took a wrong turn. Their car happened to stop on a corner where Princip was loitering; he fired on Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point- blank range, killing them almost instantly and sparking a chain of complicated events that would lead not only Austria-Hungary and Serbia but a host of great and small nations in Europe and beyond into the devastating conflict that would become known as the First World War.

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