The Gun That Killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand: FN M1910
Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand is perhaps one of history’s best known assassinations. It catalysed the political, bureaucratic and martial wranglings which saw Europe’s slow descent into the Great War.
For centuries Bosnia had been a Turkish territory however, the Ottoman Empire receded during the latter half of the 19th Century and in 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire formally annexed the region after occupying it for several decades. Bosnia was just one of the many regions that made up the heterogeneous Austro-Hungarian Empire. In June 1914, elements of the Austro-Hungarian Army were scheduled to carry out manoeuvres near Sarajevo, the regional capital. Emperor Franz Josef had ordered that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the dual crown of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would observe the manoeuvres. While in the region the Archduke’s itinerary included meetings, dinners and the opening of a museum. On 28th June 1914, the Archduke and his wife Sophie arrived in Sarajevo by train, escorted by the region’s governor the royal party took a convoy of cars to the town hall after a brief inspection of some local barracks. The route of the royal procession had been made public and that morning some crowds had gathered.
Manchester Guardian reports the Assassination, 29th June (source)
Franz Ferdinand was well regarded by many of the people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was seen as a moderate and a force for reform. One of his stated hopes was to combine the Slavic regions of the Empire into a third crown-state. This was a move opposed by the Serb radicals who saw this as another impediment to Serbia’s influence in the region and their hopes that Bosnia might unite with Serbia. It was also one of Princip’s stated motivations.
On the way to the town hall the convoy was attacked by Serbian assassins of Young Bosnia - an anti-Austrian revolutionary group. Young Bosnia had been established in 1911 and was affiliated with the Black Hand, a state-sponsored Serbian paramilitary force intent on uniting ethnic Serb territories. It was the support of the Black Hand which enabled the assassination. They provided the assassins with training as well as six grenades, four Browning automatic pistols and a map of the motorcade’s route through Sarajevo marked with the likely positions of police and security.
The six assassins were positioned along the route however, as the Archduke’s car passed the first two assassins failed to act. However, at about 10:15am the third assassin, Nedeljko Čabrinović, did act throwing his hand grenade at the Archduke’s car. It struck the car’s folded roof glancing off and exploding beneath the car behind injuring over a dozen people. Čabrinović then took a cyanide capsule and jumped into the Miljacka River which ran parallel to the road. The cyanide had lost its potency and failed to kill Čabrinović, the Miljacka was particularly low due to drought and Čabrinović was quickly apprehended. The remaining assassins were unable to act as the Archduke’s car sped for the town hall. Despite the assassination attempt little was done to increase the security protecting the Archduke and the reception at the town hall went ahead as planned. The rest of the day’s programme was cancelled however, and it was decided that the royal couple would visit those injured in the bomb attack.
Map showing the route, assassins positions and the locations of the first attempt and second successful assassination attempt (source)
At approximately 10:45am the motorcade set off for the city’s hospital however, the driver had not been advised of the change of route and inadvertently turned right onto Franz Josef Strasse rather than back down Appel Quay. The driver was advised of the change of plans and began to turn around outside Schiller’s delicatessen opposite the Latin Bridge (see image #6). At this moment the Archduke’s car was spotted by Gavrilo Princip, armed with his FN-Browning M1910 he stepped forward and opened fire.
The Archduke’s eventual assassin was a 19 year old Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip came from a kmets/serf family but was an educated man having been enrolled at a merchant’s school in Sarajevo for several years before he was expelled when he was 17 for taking part in anti-Austrian demonstrations. Throughout his adolescence Princip had admired fellow Serbs who fought against the Austro-Hungarians. In 1914, he was recruited into the Young Bosnia by Danilo Ilić to take part in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
Princip’s first round entered the Archduke’s neck piercing his jugular, cutting the vein and lodging itself in his spine. The .380 ACP projectile mushroomed as it struck Franz Ferdinand’s neck tissues losing its momentum before lodging in his spinal column, probably somewhere in his Cervical vertebrae.
After shooting Franz Ferdinand, Princip attempted to shoot Oskar Potiorek, the Austrian Governor of Sarajevo, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. However, as he fired the members of the public and police wrestled Princip knocking him and his shot hit Sophie in her abdomen instead. She slid off her seat next to the Archduke and fell to the floor of the car, with her face between his knees. The car immediately made for the Governor’s residence where it was hoped the Archduke would be treated. However, their wounds were too severe with Sophie dead on arrival and Franz Ferdinand dying several minutes later. An eyewitness claimed that his last words to his wife were “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die. Stay alive for the children!” Followed by “it is nothing” when asked how he was by his bodyguard.
Princip immediately was set upon by a crowd and briefly beaten, he too took his cyanide pill which like Čabrinović’s also failed to kill him and he was arrested by the police.
Franz Ferdinand’s blood soaked tunic (source)
Tragically the visit to Sarajevo was one of the few public occasions when the royal couple were able to appear together as Emperor Franz Josef had forbidden Sophie from appearing with her husband as she was of Czech royalty and was considered a commoner by the imperial court court.
The pistol which Princip used was a FN Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol chambered in the 9×17mm .380 ACP round. The .380 ACP cartridge is light and compact, ideal for pocket pistols and while its stopping power may be less than that of a full size 9mm Parabellum round at short ranges it has adequate penetrating power and the projectile can mushroom and flatten to almost 16mm - almost twice its fired diameter, once it strike a target.
The Model 1910 was designed by John Browning and was manufactured by Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal of Belgium. It entered full production in 1912 and was later revised in 1922. Overall some 572,590 M1910s were made but in June 1914 they were a relatively new pistol. The pistol’s design and calibre made it an ideal pocket pistol with the small .380 ACP cartridge and the mainspring placed around the barrel rather than above or below it in earlier Browning pistols. The M1910 had a 4 inch barrel but was just under 7 inches overall. It fed from a 6 round single-stack box magazine and had magazine, grip and thumb safeties.
Cutaway of a FN M1910/22 (source)
Immediately following the assassination a pogrom against the Serbs of Sarajevo began, largely instigated by the region’s Governor Potiorek and the Austrian authorities.It is estimated that 5,000 Serbs were arrested with nearly 1,000 being killed while in custody or were executed.
In Vienna the assassination was met by a combination of horror and what might almost be described as relief. Franz Ferdinand public hopes of reform for the Empire and the formation of a third Slavic crown were widely disliked by much of Emperor Franz Josef’s court. The funeral of the Archduke and his wife contained many snubs aimed at Sophie and the couple’s children. However, while the Austrian court was relieved that the reform-minded heir apparent was no longer a threat to the status-quo Austria’s closest ally Germany saw the assassination as an opportunity.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia laying in state, July 1914 (source)
Germany pushed Austria into issuing an ultimatum to Serbia, the country suspected of instigating the assassination, in the knowledge that this might provoke war with Russia - Serbia’s ally. For Austria the assassination became little more than a pretext to settle old scores in the Balkans and expand Austrian territory while removing Serbia which was seen as a destabilising force in the region. However, Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia on the 28th July 1914, eventually had the domino effect that Germany had anticipated. Before long all of Europe was at war, but it was not the war Germany had hoped for.
The assassins themselves were almost all captured in the weeks following the assassination. Their trial took place in October 1914, three months into World War One. Despite many of the defendants testifying that they acted independently of Serbia the court regarded “…it as proved by the evidence that both the Narodna Odbrana (a Serbian nationalist group) and military circles in the Kingdom of Serbia in charge of the espionage service, collaborated in the outrage.”
The majority of the defendants were found guilty with three hanged however, Čabrinović who had thrown the grenade and Princip could only be sentenced to 20 year in prison, the maximum prison term which could be given to defendants under 20 at the time of their crime. However, both men would later die of TB while in prison.
The assassins and their accomplices on trial in October 1914 (source)
Once Princip had been apprehended it is believed that the pistol used was, for unknown reasons, given to a Jesuit priest who administered the last rites to Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The pistol was retained by the Jesuits until it was placed on display at the Vienna Museum of Military History (see image #1).
The Archduke’s death while the catalyst for war it was not the cause. The assassination merely sparked the fuse to a powder keg which had been systematically filled by power plays, slights of reputation and losses of face between the great powers of Europe over the preceding decades. The result was Europe’s slow descent into a general war.
Image One Source
Image Two Source
Image Three Source
Image Four Source
Image Five Source
Image Six Source
Eyewitness accounts of the assassination (source)
Archduke Ferdinand Is Murdered in Sarajevo (source)
Vienna Museum of Military History (source)
‘The Browning FN Model 1910: The Gun that Killed 8.5 million People’ (source)
John Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1987)
Click here for earlier entries in the ‘Gun That Killed…’ series