Assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand

Last Updated: 13 Apr 2020
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Was the outbreak of general war in 1914 inevitable after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand? Various different factors led to the outbreak of the first World War- a war which incorporated all human, economic and military resources available to achieve total victory over the enemy. Roughly, the causes can be classified into long term (Franco-Prussian War, Imperialism, Alliance System, Anglo- German Naval Arms Race, etc. ), short term (Morrocan Crisis, Agadir Crisis, Bosnian Crisis, Balkan Wars) and the immediate cause of World War I: The assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Although all of the causes added to the outbreak of World War I, the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand made the war inevitable for the European Powers. It took the last chance of a peaceful solution to the European conflict and can be classified as the most important immediate cause of the war. The assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand is seen as the most important immediate cause of World War I. On the 28th of June, Franz Ferdinand was shot by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Slavic nationalist group “Black Hand Movement”, in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The Arch Duke had been on a good-will mission to Bosnia in order to calm the situation and bring peace to the region. Directly after the assassination, the Serbian Government was blamed by Austria-Hungary as being responsible for Franz Ferdinand’s death. This assumption may have been made because there were some few connections between members of the Serbian government and the “Black Hand Movement”. On the same day, Serbia denied any responsibility for the assassination.

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After this, the Austrian-Hungarian government assured itself of German Support on the 5th of July 1914 through the diplomat count Hoyos by sending a letter to Berlin which stated that it was almost sure that the Serbian Government was involved in the assassination. It also implied Austria-Hungary’s will to crush Serbia militarily in order to prevent a strong bulwark of Slavic nations under the leadership of Serbia. To the letter, Kaiser Wilhelm II answered that Austria-Hungary could “rest assured that his Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship”.

After the German reassurance, Austria-Hungary proceeded by setting an ultimatum to Serbia on the 23rd of July with the following terms: 1. Officially condemn anti-Austrian publications and propaganda 2. Suppress anti-Austrian societies 3. Ban anti-Austrian teachers and books from their schools 4. Dismiss any government officials that Austria might name 5. Accept help from Austria in checking obnoxious propaganda 6. Allow Austrian officials to assist in the investigation of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Serbia accepted all terms except the one that allowed Austrian officials to further investigate the murder of Franz Ferdinand on the 25th of July. This marks the final trigger for the outbreak of World War I; on the 28th of July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and a fatal chain reaction began. One reason for the outbreak of World War I being inevitable after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was that this assassination was the long awaited chance for Austria-Hungary and the other European Powers to begin a war. For Austria-Hungary, war was favorable because it aimed to gain power in the Balkan region.

This was only possible if Serbia was in a weak position without the chance to interfere with Austrian-Hungarian interests. Furthermore, Austria-Hungary feared that a strong Serbian state would lead to a unified Slavic empire under the leadership of Serbia. Therefore, a military intervention to crush Serbia was in the interest of Austria-Hungary. For Germany, war was favorable because of the Weltpolitik principle, according to which Germany wanted to seize a more important role in the World by territorial expansion and military power.

Also, Germany was obliged to its alliance with Austria-Hungary and had to stand with its ally in case of war. Various German generals, e. g. von Moltke, believed that the July crisis was a good time for Germany to go to war in order to prevent being crushed by the entente powers and to preempt Russian mobilization in order to be able to fulfill the Schlieffen plan. Also, war was a good means of distraction from domestic problems in Germany, like the rise of socialist movements.

For the Entente Powers Russia, France and Great Britain war was favorable because it gave them the possibility of weakening Germany, which had grown to a big threat for these powers. According to Pearce and Lowe, Great Britain had shown its will for war through the naval talks with Russia in 1914. Nonetheless, there is some ambiguity about Great Britain longing for a war of this scale. For Russia, war was favorable because it had to show strength after some weak responses to the Balkan Crises. Through the general mobilization, Russia reinforced this will.

Only France did not really want to get involved in a large scale after the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. Nonetheless, France had to mobilize after the German side took up the Schlieffen Plan. Another reason for war becoming inevitable was the Alliance System that was set up during the various European disputes before World War I. Austria-Hungary and Germany as well as Italy were connected in a Triple Alliance. On the other side, there was a Triple Entente between France, Russia and Great Britain. After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, this took full effect.

After the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary on the 28th of July, Russia mobilized in order to protect Serbia. This brought Germany having to declare war on Russia on the 1st of August because of its guarantee to protect Austria-Hungary. In order to be able to fulfill the Schlieffen Plan (this plan was meant to quickly defeat France and to then focus on the Eastern Front in order for Germany not having to fight a two front war against France and Russia), Germany declared war on France shortly afterwards on the 3rd of August.

This brought Great Britain into the war on the 4th of August because it had to declare war on Germany in order to hold its alliance with France. Lastly, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on the 6th of August in order to support Germany. So in only 9 days, all European powers were at war with each other. According to AJP Taylor, “World War I was a war by time table. ” Through the alliance system, war was being made inevitable simply by the obligations of the European Powers towards each other.

On the one hand, powers like France and Britain were not completely committed to beginning a world war; on the other hand they had to adhere to the clauses of the Triple Entente in order to stay under protection themselves and to not lose credibility while facing disputes around Europe. Overall, the Alliance System was one of the main reasons that made the outbreak of war inevitable after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. One other reason for the outbreak of war becoming inevitable was the military preparation that had already taken place and that made it easy to act and easy to step into a war.

Firstly, all of the European powers had increased their spending on military goods drastically. From 1872 to 1912, Germany’s armament spending increased by nearly 350 per cent, Russia’s by around 250 per cent and Britain’s by around 175 per cent. This shows, that all European Powers were already planning for war time. In 1914, the alliances had a strong military force and were about equal in their weaponry. Secondly, the European Powers all had finished war plans ready to be taken up very quickly. Germany had the Schlieffen Plan, France had Plan 17 and Austria-Hungary had Plan R.

These plans included tactical movement and a detailed procedure of how to quickly outmaneuver the enemy. Through the existence of the plans, the European powers felt strong because they knew that they were prepared for a quick transition into war. This lowered the barrier for an outbreak of war very much. Through the war plans that were ready and the high military spending the outbreak of war was facilitated very much. Another reason that made war inevitable was the reliance of Austria-Hungary upon Germany. Had Austria-Hungary acted immediately, according to John Keegan, the war could have stayed only in the Balkan regions.

Furthermore, according to Keegan, more communication could have prevented the First World War. Had all the European Powers communicated clearly their goals, negotiations and local wars could have been the consequence instead of a massive world war. Austria-Hungary lacked the courage to act independently in the Serbian Crisis. Germany wanted a diplomatic success but was not totally interested in taking part in a World War. Russia did not want the outbreak of a world war but did know that their support for Serbia would increase the probability of the outbreak of a world war.

France had not yet mobilized but feared that Germany wanted to trigger a World War. Great Britain was reluctant to a war but would not leave France in danger of a German attack. Had all of these aims and thoughts been communicated clearly between the nations, then a war could possibly have been prevented. Through the Russian mobilization and the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary with German support, the war was triggered before negotiations and peace talks could have taken place. Overall, war became inevitable after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand for various reasons.

Firstly, many European Powers saw the assassination as the chance to get involved in a war to strengthen the own position. Secondly, the alliance system made it very hard to evade a war breaking out. Thirdly, the European powers had already done a lot of preparation for the war. This made the outbreak of war easier. Lastly, the lack of communication and negotiation between the European powers took the last chance of a peaceful solution. In my opinion, after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the outbreak of World War I became inevitable.

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Assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. (2018, Jul 03). Retrieved from

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