On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife visited Sarajevo in the recently annexed Balkan province of Bosnia. When his motorcade got caught in the narrow streets, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the archduke of the hated Austro-Hungarian Empire, in response to the repressive and exclusionary Hungarian political system.

Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

On July 23, 1914, Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia demanding an elimination of anti-Habsburg publications, dissolution of nationalist organizations, and purges of officials and officers based on a list supplied by the Austrian. Serbia had 48 hour to comply. Serbia realized that it was in no position to win against the much larger and more powerful Austrian army and to the surprise of most involved, Serbia accepted most of Austria’s demands. The only clause Serbia rejected was the requirement that Austrian representatives had to assist in the investigation of the plot. The ultimatum had, however, sent shock waves through Europe.

By July 25, Russia had confirmation from France and put its army on alert. War preparations were under way in Russia. Therefore, Serbia, confident of Russian support, mobilized its army. With the mobilization and the rejection of one of its demands, Austria also started to mobilize its troops. On July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia because of an alleged attack on Austrian troops on the frontier. On the next day, Austria started to bombard Belgrade. With its ally under attack, Russia mobilized. Both France and Russia demanded action by Great Britain. On July 31, Germany warned Russia to end its mobilization and also asked France about guarantees for its neutrality in case of a German-Russian war. With answers not forthcoming or non-committal, Germany decided on August 1 to mobilize its troops and to declare war on Russia. With a declaration of war against Russia, France had to follow its treaty obligation and support its Russian ally. On August 3, Germany also declared war on France, falsely claiming that the French air force had flow an air raid. German troops then moved into Belgium, violating its neutrality. On August 4, Great Britain entered the conflict. All the major European powers were at war.

By Dr. Niels Eichhorn