November 03, 2011
By Garry James
With a total of 35 million casualties, there is little doubt that the First World War was one of the costliest conflicts in history -- and it was all started by just two well-placed 7.65mm (.32 ACP) rounds from a John Browning-designed auto pistol.
This is not to say that the Great War wasn't imminent, anyway -- it had almost begun almost a decade earlier for other reasons -- but when Bosnian nationalist Gavril Princip assassinated heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, with just two shots from his Model 1910 FN Browning (pictured here), the juggernaut towards war began its irrepressible journey.
In brief, it happened like this:
On June 28, 1914, Princip and five other conspirators placed themselves along the rout of Ferdinand's motorcade in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Austrian archduke was attending the opening of a hospital in that city.
As the royal car and its entourage proceeded, one conspirator threw a hand grenade towards the archduke's car. The driver, seeing the threat, sped up and the bomb went off beneath the third vehicle in the procession, gravely wounding the occupants.
After a delay, Ferdinand decided to continue on to the hospital using a different rout. Unfortunately, his driver mistakenly turned up the wrong street, where Princip just happened to be standing. Thinking the plot was ruined, he had given up and wandered towards a café.
Upon seeing the royals' car, Princip pulled out his pistol and at a range of about five feet and fired at the Archduke, hitting him in the neck. Sophie threw herself across her husband and was hit in the stomach with the second shot. They were substantial people, but still the relatively anemic 7.65mm round had done the job. Both died after a short time.
Princip was captured, tried and because he was under 20 -- the age at which he could be executed -- ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died on April 28, 1918.
Today, Princip's 1910 FN, serial number 19074, is on display at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, along with Ferdinand's Graf und Stift touring car and the couch on which he died.
The 1910 FN was an excellent pistol -- one that was made for a number of years and then improved in 1922. Many thousands were sold for military and civilian use. Too bad it was such a great design. If it hadn't been, perhaps things might have turned out quite differently.
OK, so we can't exactly state this handgun is the deadliest ever, but we can say it indirectly led to over 35 million casualties.
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