Sept. 26, 2020

Gavrilo Princips Sandwich

Gavrilo Princips Sandwich

Have you ever pondered on the What if's of history? How the most unlikely series of events could lead to one outcome or another? Or how the most meticulous of plans can be thwarted by fate, only to have fate intervene again and turn those plans around? Gavrilo Princips sandwich is one such tale. A yarn about how a young man, who in 1914, would set the world on a path to Armageddon, aided by a seemingly unlikely turn of events.

Have you ever pondered on the What if's of history? How the most unlikely series of events could lead to one outcome or another? Or how the most meticulous of plans can be thwarted by fate, only to have fate intervene again and turn those plans around? Gavrilo Princips sandwich is one such tale. A yarn about how a young man, who in 1914, would set the world on a path to Armageddon, aided by a seemingly unlikely turn of events.

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Queen Victoria was often called the Grandmother of Europe. Tsar Nicholas, Kaiser Wilhelm and King George, were first cousins. If their grandmother Queen Victoria had still been alive, said the Kaiser, she would never have allowed them to go to war with each other.

Like all families, the royal dynasties of Europe had their share of troubles. Kaiser Wilhelm was considered by King George as nothing more than a bombastic sabre-rattler, lacking in every quality of leadership. And in Russia, the mad monk Rasputin held the Tsarina Alexandra under his spell, and therefore by default held Tsar Nicholas. 

The nation states of Europe existed peacefully on 27th June 1914, that peace though was underscored by the most diabolical system of alliances ever conceived, that, in the event of war, would commit each nation to the defence of another. Germany’s central geographical position between its two powerful neighbours France and Russia made her fearful of being caught in a surprise attack by great powers. And so, a plan was commissioned that would ensure a German victory in the event of a war with either France or Russia. In 1903 German army chief-of-staff Alfred von Schlieffen created a military plan to ensure a swift victory. The problem was, though, that the plan was not very flexible, and once the button was pushed, it would be impossible to stop the multitude of moving parts that would be sent whirring into action. Once the von Schlieffen plan was in motion, the relentless timetables of mobilisation could not be stopped, and the countdown to Armageddon would begin.

Serbia, situated in the Balkans, had gained independence from the Ottomans in the 1800s and was, in 1914, under the dominion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarians viewed Serbia as a nation of troublemakers whose actions could destabilise its fragile empire. Military planners in Vienna spoke openly about crushing its insolent neighbour.

It is at this time that Pan-Slavic nationalist groups began to form and flourish. These groups had two aims: to protect the rights of Slavic people in the region and, in the longer term, to drive Austria-Hungary out of the Balkans. Groups like the Black Hand became more violent in their approach. Though comprised mostly of students and young radicals, these militant nationalist groups enjoyed some support from Serbian bureaucrats, military officers, even members of the royal family.

Gavrilo Princip was born on the 25th of July 1894, he was one of nine children, six of whom died in infancy, his health was poor, and he would later suffer from tuberculosis. He was named Gavrilo at the insistence of a local priest, who claimed that naming the sickly infant after the Archangel Gabriel might help him survive.  At the age of 9, and against his father’s wishes, he started school. He was a bright student, and by the time he was 13 had moved to Sarajevo, to live with his elder brother.

In 1911, Gavrilo joined Young Bosnia, a society that wanted to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and unite it with the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia. The local authorities had forbidden students from forming organizations and clubs, so Gavrilo and other members of Young Bosnia met in secret where they discussed literature, ethics and politics.

In 1912, Gavrilo was expelled from school for being involved in a demonstration against Austro-Hungarian authorities. He left Sarajevo, and walked the 280 Km to the City of Belgrade, where upon his arrival, he volunteered to join Serbian guerrillas who were fighting against the Ottoman Turks. It was here that he met Major Vоjislav Tankosić, a member of the foremost conspiratorial society in Serbia, The Black Hand. Gavrilo joined The Black Hand, but not before being twice rejected because of his weak physical stature. 

The Black Hand had hatched a plot to assassinate the Emperors nephew, the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, when he and his wife Sofi arrived for a state visit to Sarajevo. Young Gavrilo became one of the seven conspirators who lined the route that fateful day, which the Arch Duke & his wife, were scheduled to travel.

The Royal couple arrived by train just before 10:00am, and were met by the Lord Mayor, the city’s commissioner of police and other dignitaries. A six car motorcade would form the procession to the City hall for the official reception. The route had been publicised, and people lined the streets that bright sunny morning to get a glimpse of the Arch duke, heir to the throne of the Austro – Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie.

The motorcade, with the car tops rolled down so that the people could see the Arch Duke, his wife and the other dignitaries motored in a stately procession down Appel Quay alongside the Miljacka River. Gavrilo and his co-conspirators were spread out along the route, each awaiting their chance, each knowing that their attempt would seal their fate, for there would be no mercy for the act they were about to commit. Gavrilo looked nervously towards the direction of the motorcade, straining to see or hear any sign of his coconspirators actions. The first conspirator to see the Royal car was standing outside the Austro – Hungarian Bank, as the car approached, drawing nearer and nearer, his heart pounding in his chest, 28 year old Muhamed Mehmedbašić   reached a nervous sweating hand into his coat pocket he felt the cold steel of the hand grenade, he paused, the car was now right in front of him… he hesitated, he lost his nerve, and the motorcade past him by. Standing outside the police station was the second would be assassin Nedjelko Cabrinovic. Nedjelko was gripped by a fear so intense that it made his blood run cold through his veins. But, as the Arch Dukes car approached, he steadied himself, he did not fail, he hurled his grenade at the car, the driver saw the grenade flying through the air and accelerated, the grenade was an old style and had a delayed fuse, it hit the ground and rolled under the wheels of the fourth car where it exploded in a blinding flash, the cars occupants as well as a dozen or so onlookers in the crowd were injured. Screams and shouts now erupted from the panicked crowd as people started to run in all directions. The cars lurched forward and sped away from the danger towards the direction of City Hall. Nedjelko swallowed the cyanide that that he had been given, and threw himself into the river to make sure that he wouldn’t be captured alive. The river however, was only 4 inches deep; the cyanide was old and didn’t kill him, it just made him sick. He was easily captured by the police, and dragged off to await his fate in a cold, dark prison cell. 

Young Gavrilo, standing at his appointed location awaiting his chance, heard the explosion of the grenade, he saw the ensuing chaos, he couldn’t see quite what had happened, but he knew the game was on. In a flash, before he could work out just what had occurred, the Arch Dukes car thundered into view, it  speed past him at high speed with a mighty roar from the motor.  Gavrilo knew that the plot had failed. First anger, then despair filled him, how could this be, after all the planning, to be so close, and then fail.

To say that the Arch Duke was annoyed, was a serious understatement he complained to the mayor, “So this is how you welcome your guests, with bombs”. He then made preparations to leave Sarajevo immediately, but not before stopping at the hospital to see to the wellbeing of those who were injured in the bombing.

Gavrilo wandered along Appel Quay wondering just what had happened to his cohorts, whether they had escaped or been caught by the police. He wandered into Franz Joseph Street, his mind racing, he looked up and noticed Schillers delicatessen, it was early, he hadn’t eaten, his day was ruined, and he was hungry. He sat at a table looking out onto the street, pondering the events of the morning whilst having a bite to eat.  What was he to do now?  Would his co-conspirators talk if tortured by the police? Should he leave? Should he stay? At that very moment his thoughts were interrupted by a commotion. To his unbelieving eyes, the Arch Dukes, car on its way to the hospital has made a wrong turn into Franz Joseph Street, and is now directly in front of him. The driver of the car realizes his mistake, and stops he wrestles with the cantankerous gearbox to put the car into reverse but only succeeds in stalling the car. Gavrilo stares at the scene in disbelief, here; right in front of him is his target, stranded in the middle of the street, in full view. The driver tries to start the motor; the engine turns over but will not start, people start gather, Gavrilo knows it’s now or never, he gets up from the table, and marches purposely towards the car, his heart racing, his blood pounding in his ears, he sees nothing but the Arch Duke and the Duchess Sofi, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Browning pistol, takes aim, and from less than 5 feet fires two shots.

Four weeks later to the very day, Austria – Hungary declares war on Serbia, Russia mobilises, and Germany enacts the von Schlieffen plan.

The war ended on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, and the armistice was signed.

In a curious twist of fate, the number plate on the car in which the Arch duke was shot was A 111 118 - Armistice 11 11 18