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The explosion

The explosion

The catalyst

On 28th June 1914, Franz Josef von Habsburg, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was performing a military inspection in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

His desire to put the people of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia, the Slavic element of the empire, on an equal footing with the Austrians and Hungarians following his accession to the throne was well known among Serbian nationalists, who were opposed to the plan because they wanted to reunite all Southern Slavs (Yugoslavians) of the Balkan Peninsula with the support of Russia.

After an initial failed bomb attack that very morning, François-Ferdinand once again found himself on the streets of Sarajevo visiting one of his entourage who had been injured by shrapnel. A wrong turn on the way to the hospital meant they had to reverse back, giving Serbian terrorist Gavrilio Princip an unexpected opportunity to accomplish what his sidekicks had failed to pull off some hours before. Several shots were fired, catching the archduke in the throat and his wife in the abdomen and killing both quickly before the murderer was arrested. A month later to the day, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. The gears of the various treaties and agreements between countries were set in motion and within a few days two enemy sides had formed. The First World War had begun.

The time bomb

For the German Empire, which was often portrayed as the main culprit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s declaration of war on Serbia having allegedly encouraged it by pledging its unreserved support to the Austrian Emperor, it was all about imposing its hegemony across the whole of Europe, even the world, thus safeguarding its territorial integrity. The almighty Russia thanks to the high number of inhabitants, which was a ‘developing country’ even from a military perspective, was a cause for concern for the Germanic power. The desire for revenge held by the French after 1871 and the loss of Alsace Lorraine was another. Furthermore, France, with the active support of Britain, was thwarting the Germans’ colonial plans.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire hoped that the war would put an end to plans for a great Serbian nation comprising all of the Southern Slavs, a plan also pursued by its great rival Russia, which would consequently gain easy access to the Mediterranean. It was the latter that concerned the Turks, whose power had waned over the course of the First Balkan War, and encouraged them to join forces with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

France would have liked to have put a stop to the growth of the Germanic Empire and would undoubtedly have wanted to seek revenge following the defeat of 1871 having never come to accept the annexation of Alsace Lorraine, the population of which remained francophile. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, ‘the empire where the sun never sets’, wanted to maintain its maritime supremacy so as to preserve the scope of its empire.