Today, June 28, 1914: The Spark That Ignited World War I

Many historians look at Europe from about 1870 to 1914 to set the stage for World War I, but one really needs to go back further to the earlier 1800’s to see all of the changes taking place in Europe and North America to fully understand the volatile world that exploded on this day in 1914.

In 1817, Serbians staged an uprising that led to all of Serbia except Belgrade to withdraw from the Ottoman Empire. They ended up becoming a principality within the Austrian Empire.

In 1818, the US and United Kingdom agreed to set the 49th parallel as the border between the US and Canada.

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1822, Brazil gains independence from Portugal.

By 1825, Spain had lost virtually all of their lands in North, Central and South America.

By 1839, Belgium won their independence from the Netherlands after 9 years of war. In the process, the French half of Luxembourg becomes part of Belgium, leaving the newly independent Luxembourg less than half the size it was. Algiers, a French colony, began a rebellion causing France to invade North Africa. Poland declares independence from Russia only to have the rebellion defeated by Russian troops. Italy tried to rebel against the Austrian Empire only to be defeated by the Austrian army. The Spanish Inquisition ends due to civil war in Spain. The British and Spanish Empires abolish slavery. After years of war, Great Britain controls all of India and pushes into Afghanistan, partially for more territory and to shut down China’s opium trade. Truly the 1830s were a decade of turmoil throughout the world.

In 1845, Ireland was nearly devastated by the Great Irish Famine, largely caused by British policies that set food prices beyond what the millions of poor people could afford. Ireland’s population was decreases by nearly 25% with over million dying of starvation and disease and another million emigrating out of Ireland. The largest percentage of those came to the US.

In 1848, The French Empire banned slavery, resulting in the overthrow of the monarchy which only lasted 4 years, and the Netherlands becomes a constitutional monarchy, establishing a parliament and reducing the powers of the monarchy.

The 1850s were another decade embroiled in turmoil.

In 1853, the Crimean War broke out when France, the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain declared war on Russia. Both sides believed they should control and protect the Christians living in the Holy Land. It basically became a war between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Crimean War lasted for three years, ending in 1856.

In 1857, India rebels against British rule, forcing the end of the East India Trading Company.

In 1859, two principalities within the Ottoman Empire, Moldavia and Wallachia, join to form Romania, which still remained as part of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1860, Italian rebels drive Austria out of northern Italy and Spain out of southern Italy forming an independent Italy.

In 1861, Russia abolished serfdom, freeing millions of serfs to join the workforce throughout the nation.

In 1864, Poland attempts another rebellion from Russia, but is quickly defeated once again. Germany and Denmark go to war over the disputed Schleswig and Holstein regions between the two nations. Germany wins the Schleswig War, adding the two areas to their nation.

In 1866, Prussia defeats Austria in the Austro-Prussian War, giving Prussia the dominant state within the German Confederation, leaving Austria on their own. Adding insult to injury, Italy captured Venice from Austria during the Austro-Prussian War.

In 1867, Austria succumbs to the pressure of Hungary, which is part of the Austrian state, forcing Austria to grant them equal status, forming the Austria-Hungary Empire. The Italian army marches on Rome with the intent to make the Papal States part of Italy.

In 1869, Suez Canal opens in Egypt.

In 1870, Italy conquers the Papal States and makes Rome part of a unified Italy. The Franco-Prussian War ends with France losing territory to Prussia.

In 1871, Prussia and other German states form new unified Germany, controlled by Prussia. Austria is excluded. This was the first time that a unified Germany existed. Germans given equal rights under new Germany, although they are still persecuted and under a number of restrictive laws.

In 1878, Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire after series of wars and tries expanding into eastern Europe. Great Britain prevents Russia from gaining Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles, the Austro-Hungarian Empire gains Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegro and Bulgaria gain their independence from the falling Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria annexes Macedonia and Albania opts to remain part of what was left of Ottoman Empire.

In 1881, the Ottoman Empire loses Romania to independence and Thessaly to Greece.

In 1882, Serbia breaks away from Austro-Hungarian Empire and becomes independent. Due to turmoil in Egypt, Great Britain assumes control of the country in order to protect the Suez Canal. Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy form the Triple Alliance.

In 1884, all hell breaks loose in Africa as European nations scramble to claim territory and exploit the continent after slavery had been banned throughout most of the world. The Berlin Conference is held to discuss the colonization of Africa.

In 1891, France and Russia and react to the formation of the Triple Alliance and form their own alliance.

In 1898, Ottoman Empire loses Crete to Greece. The Spanish-American War erupts and the US gains Cuba, Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain. Germany, under the leadership of Wilhelm II, begins strengthening their navy in response to the stronger British navy.

In 1902, Great Britain and Japan form a naval alliance.

In 1904, France and Great Britain form an agreement which includes helping each other in the case of a military war.

In 1905, Japan defeats Russia in the Russo-Japanese War and nearly destroyed all of Russia’s eastern navy. Norway gains peaceful independence from Sweden. Unrest in Russia results in a labor strike, on which Tsar Nicholas II orders troops to fire upon, killing hundreds. Nicholas II forms a national legislative body known as the Duma.

In 1906, tensions between Great Britain and Germany are heightened when the British launch their new class of battleships with the HMS Dreadnought. Germany responds with building their own new class of battleships.

In 1907, Great Britain and Russia come to a strategic agreement.

In 1908, the fuse was lit that may have exploded in to World War I, when Austria-Hungary supported Germany in the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbia objected to the annexation since there were a number of Serbs living in Bosnia at the time.

In 1909, under pressure, Russia agrees to back Germany in the annexation when they first sided with Serbia.

In 1910, civil war broke out in Portugal. Revolutionaries wanted to establish a republican government. The internal conflict lasts for 16 years and results in the establishment of a dictatorship. Germany becomes the leading manufacturing nation in all of Europe.

In 1912, the Ottoman Empire loses Libya to Italy. First Balkan War erupts between Balkan states and Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia make up the Balkan League and gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, conflict arose with the Balkan League on how to divide themselves up. In the end, Bulgaria lost land back to the Ottoman Empire and Romania.

In 1913 tensions in the Balkan region heated up with Serbia took Macedonia from Bulgari and Romania takes even more land from Bulgaria as does the Ottoman Empire and Greece.

As you can see. Europe, especially the Balkan region, had been in decades of turmoil with everyone trying take control of everyone else while everyone else kept trying to gain their independence. The entire region was a powder keg just waiting to be detonated.

On this day, June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Franz Joseph was visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia with his wife, Sophia. Ferdinand was inspecting the empire’s military forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The royal couple was also there to celebrate their 14th anniversary on July 1.

Riding in an open car, the Archduke and Sophia were attacked by Nedjelko Cabrinovic, a Serbian nationalist, who threw a bomb onto the open car. It rolled off the back and injured some bystanders and a police officer. Later in the day, the royal couple set off to visit the wounded officer when they ended up taking a wrong turn. At that point, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, an accomplice of Cabrinovic, lunged towards the open car and shot Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, at point blank range, killing them instantly. Princip tried to turn the gun on himself, but was stopped by a bystander.

Instantly, the Austro-Hungarian government blamed Serbia for the attack as did many other nations around the world. A chain of events was set off in an already volatile world that could not be stopped. Later that day, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the support of Germany, declared war on Serbia. Within a week, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Russia had sided with Serbia and World War I had begun. Clearly, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie was the spark that ignited World War I.


Sources for the above includes: Build-Up to World War I (1816 – 1914); 1914 : War Erupts; Europe before 1914; World War 1 and the Europe We Left Behind; Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated; Franz Ferdinand Biography; Who’s Who – Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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