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Habsburg lands divided
Thirty Years' War
Austria and the Turks
18th century
Wars against France
1875 - 1918
     Bosnia, Hercegovina and Serbia
     Assassination in Sarajevo
     War in the east

To be completed

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Bosnia, Hercegovina and Serbia: 1875-1878

An insurrection against Turkish rule begins in Hercegovina in 1875, spreads rapidly to neighbouring Bosnia and by the summer of 1876 becomes part of a wider Serbian war against Turkey. The European powers, alarmed as ever by unrest in the Balkans, attempt to mediate but without success. In July 1876 the emperors of the two powers most closely involved in the region, Austria-Hungary and Russia, meet in Reichstadt and come to a secret agreement for a mutual settlement after the war.

Austria is to take control in Bosnia-Hercegovina, while Russia will gain Turkish territory in Bessarabia and Georgia.


The situation subsequently escalates to the point where Russia herself joins in Serbia's war against Turkey from April 1877. The terms of the eventual peace settlement, agreed at an international congress in Berlin in July 1878, include the occupation and administration of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Austria-Hungary.

The region is to remain nominally part of the Ottoman empire. This has advantages from the Austrian point of view. The unruly Slavs of Bosnia-Hercegovina can be kept under control by Austrian troops, but their number will not be added to the Slav population of Austria-Hungary - avoiding any change in an already uneasy pattern of ethnic rivalries.


Bosnia-Hercegovina: 1908-1914

The anomalous position of Bosnia-Hercegovina, administered since 1878 by Austria-Hungary but part of the Ottoman empire, is dramatically emphasized after Turkey's revolution of 1908. The Young Turks insist that the region must be represented in the new parliament in Istanbul. Nationalists in Bosnia welcome this demand, seeing the chance of an international forum in which to air their grievances and undermine the grip of Austria-Hungary.

The Austrian response is brisk. Bosnia-Hercegovina is annexed before the end of the year. A separate constitution is provided for the provinces so that they need not be incorporated in either of the two monarchies, Austria or Hungary.


This development, intensely unpopular in Bosnia and among Slavs in all parts of Austria-Hungary, turns out to have repercussions very much wider than the local issue.

There is a strong indication of danger when the emperor Francis Joseph makes a state visit to Bosnia in 1910. During it, at the formal opening of the diet, a student makes an assassination attempt on the governor of the province. In spite of this another royal event is planned for 1914. The archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, takes part in military manoeuvres in Bosnia in June. Towards the end of the month he visits Sarajevo with his wife.


Assassination in Sarajevo: 1914

Hearing that the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand is to visit the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, some young Serb nationalists lay plans to assassinate him. They have the support of the head of Serbia's military intelligence, who is also the leader of a secret terrorist group known as the Black Hand. He provides them with weapons and spirits them across the border from Serbia into Bosnia.

The day of the archduke's visit, June 28, demonstrates two things - the incompetence of the six conspirators, and the extraordinary incaution of the Austrian authorities. The visit is taking place against the advice of the Serbian foreign ministry, which has urged that Serb nationalism makes Sarajevo too dangerous.


On the day itself the Austrians prove positively foolhardy.The archduke and his wife are on their way to the town hall when a bomb is thrown at their car. They are unhurt but an officer, wounded by the blast, is taken to the local hospital. After the official visit, the archduke decides to visit the injured man in hospital. As he leaves the town hall, another bomb is thrown at him but fails to explode. In spite of this he and his wife continue through the streets in their car.

The chauffeur, uncertain where the hospital is, takes a wrong turning and reverses. By sheer chance the car stops beside one of the conspirators, a 19-year old Bosnian Serb student, Gavrilo Princip.


Princip draws a pistol and fires twice at the car. The two shots mortally wound the archduke and his wife. This disaster, depriving the aged Austrian emperor of his heir, is interpreted in Vienna as a conspiracy by the Serbian government. In fact Serbia's rulers are bitterly opposed to the activities of the Black Hand. And the Serbian prime minister, hearing of a possible plot at Sarajevo, has even sent a veiled warning to the Austrian authorities - too veiled and of no avail, as it turns out.

Over the next five weeks this bungled and accidental sequence of events becomes the flashpoint for Europe's most destructive war.


Sections are as yet missing at this point.


War in the east: 1914

Russia mobilizes rapidly in August 1914, in an attempt to relieve the German pressure on France. As a result early gains are made, with Russian armies advancing into east Prussia and into Galicia (the northeast corner of Austria-Hungary). This move has the desired short-term effect, causing the Germans to withdraw four divisions from Belgium for the eastern front. But events soon suggest that Russia has entered the field unprepared. Disaster strikes before the end of the month.

Several factors contribute. The large Russian army in east Prussia is ill-fed and exhausted. And Russian commanders incautiously send each other uncoded radio messages which are intercepted by the Germans.


The result is that a much smaller German force is able to effect a devastating pincer movement during August 26-28 to encircle the Russians at Tannenberg (the site also of a famous medieval battle). About half the Russian army is destroyed, including the capture of 92,000 men. The Russian general, Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Samsonov, shoots himself.

Further south the Russians have slightly more lasting success in their invasion of Austria-Hungary. By the end of 1914 much of Galicia is still in their hands. Further south again, the Austrians prove ineffective in their attempts to crush their tiny neighbour Serbia (in the regional dispute which sparked the wider conflict).


The local campaign begins in mid-August when an Austrian army invades Serbia, but within a fortnight - and with a loss of some 50,000 men - they are driven back by the Serbs. Another invasion is more successful, three months later, when the Austrians succeed in occupying Belgrade for two weeks (from Nov. 30). But by the end of the year the Serbs have again recovered all their territory.

Although there is more movement on the eastern front, particularly on the open plains between Germany and Russia, the outcome at the end of the first calendar year of the war suggests that here too there will be no easy or quick victory. Both sides begin to look for new allies.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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