Oskar Potiorek

Oskar Potiorek

Oskar Potiorek was born in 1853. He became inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1911 and the following year was appointed Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This made Potiorek a target for Serbian nationalists. In early 1914, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, head of the Black Hand group, recruited Muhamed Mehmedbasic to kill Potiorek with a poisoned dagger. However, Mehmedbasic returned to Belgrade after failing to carry out the task.

In early 1914 Potiorek invited Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Inspector of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and his wife, Sophie von Chotkovato, to watch his troops on maneuvers in June, 1914. When Dragutin Dimitrijevic heard the news he decided to have Ferdinand assassinated.

Just before 10 o'clock on Sunday, 28th June, 1914, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato arrived in Sarajevo by train. Potiorek was waiting with six cars to take the royal party to the City Hall for the official reception.

Unknown to the Sarajevo police force, seven members of the Black Hand group lined the route. They were spaced out along the Appel Quay, each one had been instructed to try and kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car was Muhamed Mehmedbasic. Standing by the Austro-Hungarian Bank, Mehmedbasic lost his nerve and allowed the car pass without taking action. Mehmedbasic later said that a policeman was standing behind him and feared he would be arrested before he had a chance to throw his bomb.

The next man on the route was Nedjelko Cabrinovic. At 10.15. Cabrinovic stepped forward and hurled his bomb at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the bomb exploded under the wheel of the next car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Boos-Waldeck were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb splinters.

After throwing his bomb, Nedjelko Cabrinovic swallowed the cyanide he was carrying and jumped into the River Miljacka. Four men, including two detectives, followed him in and managed to arrest him. The poison failed to kill him and he was taken to the local police station.

Franz Ferdinand's driver, Franz Urban, drove on extremely fast and other members of the Black Hand group on the route, Cvijetko Popovic, Gavrilo Princip, Danilo Ilic and Trifko Grabez, decided that it was useless to try and kill the archduke when the car was going at this speed.

After attending the official reception at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand asked about the members of his party that had been wounded by the bomb. When the archduke was told they were badly injured in hospital, he insisted on being taken to see them. A member of the archduke's staff, Baron Morsey, suggested this might be dangerous, but Potiorek, who was responsible for the safety of the royal party, replied, "Do you think Sarajevo is full of assassins?" However, Potiorek did accept it would be better if Duchess Sophie remained behind in the City Hall. When Baron Morsey told Sophie about the revised plans, she refused to stay arguing: "As long as the Archduke shows himself in public today I will not leave him."

In order to avoid the city centre, Potiorek decided that the royal car should travel straight along the Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. However, Potiorek forgot to tell the driver, Franz Urban, about this decision. On the way to the hospital, Urban took a right turn into Franz Joseph Street. One of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, happened to be was standing on the corner at the time. Potiorek immediately realised the driver had taken the wrong route and shouted "What is this? This is the wrong way! We're supposed to take the Appel Quay!".

The driver put his foot on the brake, and began to back up. In doing so he moved slowly past the waiting Gavrilo Princip. The assassin stepped forward, drew his gun, and at a distance of about five feet, fired several times into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie von Chotkovato in the abdomen. Princip's bullet had pierced the archduke's jugular vein but before losing consciousness, he pleaded "Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!" Franz Urban drove the royal couple to Konak, the governor's residence, but although both were still alive when they arrived, they died from their wounds soon afterwards.

Several members of the Black Hand group interrogated by the Austrian authorities claimed that three men from Serbia, Milan Ciganovic, Dragutin Dimitrijevic and Major Voja Tankosic, had organised the plot. On 25th July, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian government demanded that the Serbian government arrested the men and send them to face trial in Vienna.

On 25th July, 1914, Nikola Pasic, the prime minister of Serbia, told the Austro-Hungarian government that he was unable to hand over these three men as it "would be a violation of Serbia's Constitution and criminal in law". Three days later Austro-Hungarian declared war on Serbia.

Poitorek was sent to the Balkan Front where he was given control of the Fifth and Sixth Armies. He won some early victories but in December 1914 was forced to retreat after defeats at Jadar, Drina and Kolubara. Poitorek was relieved of his command in January 1915 and retired from the Austro-Hungarian Army. Oskar Potiorek died in 1933.

© , September 1997 - April 2014