The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. This image was taken minutes before the fatal shots were fired.
Europe on the brink of war
On June 28, 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was inspecting forces in Bosnia when he and his wife were assassinated by a Slavic nationalist, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip. This was the second attempt on the Archduke’s life that day: a bomb thrown into the motorcade earlier in the day detonated, injuring one of the royal entourage, but leaving the Archduke unhurt. In an attempt to detour to the hospital to visit the injured man, the Archduke’s open-topped car stopped unexpectedly beside Princip, later in the day, and he took the opportunity to shoot them. Both died within the hour.
This event is generally believed to have been a key trigger to outbreak of the First World War, although the causes of the tensions between the two opposed imperial powers, Britain and Germany/Austria, were much more complex and of long duration. Fearing Austrian retaliation against Serbia, the Russian monolith confirmed its support for Serbia. On 28 July, Austria declared war on Serbia, and Russian troops began to mobilise. An alliance existed between Austria and Germany. The Germans had been in a process of militarisation for several decades, and quickly declared war on Russia (1 August, 1914). The Russians were allied with France, and Germany made a pre-emptive declaration of war on France and began to move through Belgium on 4 August to attack France, hoping to end this part of the war quickly, so they could concentrate on the Russian front. However, Britain had already warned Germany that any invasion of neutral Belgium would trigger war, so when the German army entered Belgium, that is precisely what happened.
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