Gavrilo PrincipColonel Apis’s organisation had infiltrated Mlada Bosna, the Young Bosnians, a revolutionary group whom they equipped and trained to carry out the Sarajevo Assassination. These young men were far more intellectual than the narrow chauvinistic Black Hand. They wanted to go beyond independence from Austria-Hungary, to change the primitive nature of Bosnian society. They challenged the authority of existing institutions of state, church, school and family and believed in socialist concepts; egalitarianism and emancipation of women. Young Bosnians stood for modernism, intellectualism and a brave new world. [1] They were spurred by revolution, not narrow nationalism, and under different circumstances would have been swept aside by Black Hand aficionados.

Apis knew just the man to organise and lead the assassination team, Danilo Ilić. He had worked as a school teacher and as a bank worker, but in 1913 and 1914 he lived with his mother, who operated a small boarding house in Sarajevo. Ilić was leader of the Serbian Black Hand terrorist cell in Sarajevo, and as such was known to Colonel Apis personally. He provided the perfect link between the two organisations. [2] Ilić was also a close friend of Gavrilo Princip, the student destined to fire the fatal shot.

Apis used three trusted Serb associates in planning the assassination. His right hand man, Major Tankosić, was in charge of guerrilla training, and brought the would-be assassins to a secret location in Serbia where his specific role was to ensure that the Young Bosnians knew how to handle guns and bombs effectively. He was tasked to teach them the art of the assassin and get them back over the border and into Sarajevo safely. The second, Rade Malobabić was the chief undercover operative for Serbian Military Intelligence. His name appeared in Serbian documents captured by Austria-Hungary during the war which describe the running of arms, munitions, and agents from Serbia into Austria-Hungary under his direction. [3] His assessment was that the Young Bosnians were capable of the task. The third Black Hand conspirator was Milan Ciganovic. He supplied the assassination team with four revolvers and six bombs from the Serbian army’s arsenal. Crucially, each was given a vial of cyanide to take after they had murdered the Archduke. Their suicides would ensure that the trail could not be traced back to Apis and Hartwig.

Nikolai Pascic, Serbian prime MinisterCiganovic played an equally important dual role. He was a trusted confidant of the Serbian Prime Minister, Pasic, and was ultimately protected by him from the volcanic fall-out after Sarajevo. Critically, Ciganovic’s involvement meant that members of the Serbian government knew in advance about the proposed assassination. [4] and had time to consider the consequences. Yet in spite of this guilty knowledge, Pasic took no steps to arrest the conspirators or warn Austrian authorities of the impending disaster. [5]

Hartwig was the conduit to Sazonov and Isvolsky for updates on the conspirators. Through them, the Secret Elite were advised of the progress of their plans. Everything appeared to be running smoothly, but Serbian intrigues hit political turbulence at precisely the wrong moment. The unity of Serbia’s political, military and royal leaders, nestling behind the muscle of their Russian minders, had been a feature of Serbian success in the Balkan Wars. Prime Minister Pasic, Colonel Apis and Prince Alexander were all supported by Ambassador Hartwig towards the ambitions of a Greater Serbia. But suddenly, just days before the planned assassination, a power struggle erupted for control of the country. Apis attempted to organise a coup to dismiss Pasic, allegedly over a minor detail of precedence, but found that his power-base in the Serbian military had shrunk.

But the killer blow to Colonel Apis’s aspirations came from two external powers. Russia, more accurately the Sazonov/Isvolsky axis, would not countenance the removal of Prime Minister Pasic and his cabinet. Hartwig slapped down any notion of resignations. At the same time the French president, Poincare let it be known that a Serbian Opposition regime could not count on financial backing from Paris. [6] The King, caught between old loyalties and Russian pressure, withdrew from political life. He transferred his powers to Prince Alexander, a man who resented Apis’s authority in Serbian military circles.

Look again at these events. With the assassination just days away, the last thing that Sazonov, Isvolsky, Poincare and their Secret Elite masters in London would have entertained in June 1914 was a change of government in Serbia that did not owe its very existence to their power and money. Apis, the ultra-nationalist, was not a man to take orders. He had desperately wanted to attack Bulgaria in 1913, but Pasic (no doubt under instructions form Hartwig) had refused to sanction the order. [7] He was neither deferential to Prince Alexander, nor under Hartwig’s thumb. He knew that Pasic was weak and subservient to Russia. It was as if metaphoric scales had suddenly dropped from his eyes, and he understood for the first time that the Russians were exploiting him and his beloved Serbia for their own purposes.

Apis may also have had second thoughts based on his own prospects for survival. He had clearly shaken the ruling cabal in Serbia. Prime Minister Pasic knew about the intended assassination, and in consequence, the Cabinet had closed the borders to known or suspected assassins. Was this self-preservation on their part, an attempt to make it look like the Serbian government had nothing to do with the shooting? Hartwig too knew details of the plans, but never imagined they could be traced back to him. Crucially he did not know that the Austrians were well aware of his intrigues because they had possession of decoded Diplomatic correspondence between Russia and Serbia. [8]

Colonel Apis made a desperate attempt to regain control of events. He ordered a trusted agent to go to Sarajevo and instruct the Young Bosnians to abort the assassination. [Vladimir Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo, p.309 ] It was all too late. Having slipped out of Belgrade on May 28th and been secretly routed across the border by sympathetic frontier guards they were safely ensconced in Sarajevo ready for the appointed day and ill-disposed to accept any postponement. Ciganovic had ensured they had weapons and cash. The senior officer on the border guard at the time, a member of Black Hand, had been placed there on special assignment to see them safely across.

The bullets were safely in the chamber.

[1] Vladimir Dedijer, Road to Sarajevo, p.175.
[2] Luigi Albertini, Origins of the War of 1914, vol.II, pp.27–28, and 79.
[3] Dedijer, Road to Sarajevo, pp.388–9.
[4] Albertini,Origins of the War of 1914, vol.II, pp.282–3.
[5] Fay, Origins of the World War, vol.I, p.27.
[6] MacKenzie, Apis, p.120.
[7] Dedijer, Road to Sarajevo, p.385.
[8] Barnes, ‘Germany Not Responsible for Austria’s Actions’, New York Times Current History of the European War, vol.28 (1928), issue 4, p.620.