News World On This Day: Archduke Franz Ferdinand is killed, triggering World War I

On This Day: Archduke Franz Ferdinand is killed, triggering World War I

Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and his wife Sophie riding in an open carriage at Sarajevo shortly before their assassination. Photo: Getty
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More than 100 years ago, a critical sliding doors moment led to the assassination of a European nobleman, triggering World War I.

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, 50, was preparing to succeed to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

He was the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria and held significant power over the military.

At the time, the Balkans region in south-east Europe was a powder keg of political tensions.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914). Photo: Getty

The intense nationalism of Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians and other groups led to demands for independence after years of control under the Ottoman Empire.

Change was afoot.

On June 28, 1914, at 10.45am, Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, became stuck in traffic in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Earlier in the day, the couple had been attacked by a Bosnian Serb member of the Young Bosnia revolutionary group, who threw a grenade at their car.

However, the bomb exploded behind them and injured the occupants in the following car.

After a short stop at the Governor’s residence, the royal couple insisted on visiting all those who had been injured by the grenade at the hospital.

Crucially, no one told the pair’s drivers their itinerary had changed.

When the error was discovered, the drivers quickly turned the vehicle around and faced a line of stalled cars in traffic.

At that exact time, a 19-year-old Young Bosnia member, Gavrilo Princip, happened to be sitting at a cafe across the street.

The men accused of plotting to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand, including Gavrilo Princip. Photo: Getty

He seized his chance, marching across the street to attack the couple. Sophie was shot in the abdomen and Ferdinand in the neck.

Both of them died within minutes.

One month later, Austria-Hungary retaliated by declaring war against Serbia.

The killings – combined with the arms race, nationalism, imperialism and militarism of Imperial Germany – have been credited with starting World War I.

What happened next dramatically shifted global powers, and eventually gave rise, two decades later, to Adolf Hitler.