|Gavrillo Princip, Franz Ferdinand's murderer|
WHAT HAPPENED 100 YEARS AGO?
100 years ago, on the 28th June 1914, the heir to the Austrian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, was murdered in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, while he was visiting the city.
Bosnia was in the very south-east corner of the Austrian empire and some people there wanted to be independent from Austria and set up their own state which could run itself.
WHY DID THIS MURDER LEAD TO THE WW1?
Serbia was blamed by Austria for this murder. Serbia was near to Bosnia and it had encouraged the Black Hand Gang and given the gang weapons. Serbia hoped that both herself and Bosnia would unite to form a new Balkan state.
Austria decided that Serbia must be punished and planned to invade her. Serbia called on her old friend Russia to help her. Now the alliance/entente came in to play. One country from each was involved on opposite sides. The situation could only get worse.
Serbia would have been easy for Austria to crush but Russia was a different issue. She had a huge army and Austria would not have coped with a Austro-Russian war. Austria called on Germany for help. The German government agreed to this and their response provoked the French government.
However, unknown to anybody other than the German government, the German army had created a plan called the Schlieffen Plan. Schlieffen was a senior German army officer and he believed that the German army was superior to any army in Europe but that it could not fight a war on two fronts - France and Russia.
However, he calculated that the vast Russian army would take 6 weeks to get itself organised - called mobilisation - and that in that time, the Germans could attack the French, beat them and then send their army across Europe to fight the Russians. The German High Command accepted this plan. But it had one problem. It relied on what the French or Russians did and the actions of one would provoke a German response and not the other way round. In other words, the Germans had to react to a situation as opposed to controlling it.
When France called up her army, Germany had no choice but to carry out the Schlieffen Plan. This plan involved an attack on France via Belgium.
Britain had given Belgium a guarantee in 1839 that if anybody attacked her, Britain would attack the attacker.
Therefore, within weeks of the murder at Sarajevo, five out of the six countries that had signed the two treaties were on the verge of war.
On August 4th, 1914, Germany invaded Belgium. Britain declared war on Germany. France and Russia supported Britain. Austria supported Germany. Only Italy did not get involved - yet.
Every country concerned was convinced that the war would last only from August to Christmas 1914 but it lasted until 1918 and millions of people died in what was later called the Great War.