Conspiracy Theory: Who ordered the hit on Franz Ferdinand?

Was the assassination sanctioned by the Serbian Secret Service?
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Who ordered the hit on Franz Ferdinand?

There are two basic schools of thought about the origins of the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. The first is that it was ordered by Colonel ‘Apis’ Dimitrijevic, the head of Serbian Intelligence, to stop Austro-Hungarian interference in the Balkans and allow Serbian expansion. The assassination was organised by his deputy Major Vojislav Tankosic; who recruited the assassins, trained and armed them and provided safe passage to Sarajevo.

The second theory is that the assassination was the idea of the assassins themselves who planned to assassinate Franz Ferdinand as an act of revenge for the suffering imposed on the South Slav people by their colonial rulers. They also intended to spread fear amongst the ruling class and ignite a revolution that would ultimately unite the South Slav people into a Yugoslav state. Lacking the means to carry out the assassination they went to Tankosic for help, he in turn asked permission from Apis who sanctioned the assassination on a whim. There is also some debate as to whether or not Apis tried to stop the assassination, when he’d had a chance to reconsider his decision.

The version of events depicted in my novel The Assassins is an amalgam of the two theories.

A new argument has been put forward by John Zametica in Folly and Malice: The Habsburg Empire, the Balkans and the Start of World War One, suggesting that Major Tankosic trained and armed the assassins on his own initiative, without the knowledge or permission of Apis. Apis had little to gain by assassinating Franz Ferdinand. At the time he was locked in a power struggle with his own government. The last thing he wanted was to fight a war with the numerically superior Austro-Hungary.

A strong case can be made that Tankosic helped the assassins without consulting Apis. Tankosic had a history of reckless behaviour and insubordination and Apis apparently described him as a ‘drunkard and a good for nothing’. Tankosic is even said to have disobeyed orders and initiated the First Balkan War in 1912.

By 1914 he was building a force of irregular partisans to infiltrate Austro-Hungarian territory and had given weapons to other would-be assassins.

Gavrilo Princip

Therefore rather than changing his mind about the assassination, Apis could have found out about a rogue operation and tried to stop it. An envoy was sent to Bosnia who met Danilo Ilic the assassin’s fixer in mid-June 1914. It isn’t known for sure what they discussed, but Ilic began to express doubts about the assassination after the meeting. He spent the second half of June 1914 trying to persuade Gavrilo Princip not to carry out the assassination. Apis’s master spy, Rade Malobabic, was also sent to Sarajevo during the archduke’s visit and supposedly went to see Ilic. It is possible that he was trying to stop the assassination.

Ultimately it is impossible to prove any of the theories. Tankosic was mortally wounded in 1915 and died without leaving any record of the events leading up to the assassination. Apis took the credit for the assassination, but it has been suggested that he did this to save himself when he finally lost his power struggle with the Serbian prime minister and was put on trial for treason, in 1917.

Alan Bardos is the author of The Assassins.

Who ordered the hit on Franz Ferdinand