Previous Post
Next Post

The gun that started World War I (courtesy

“On 28 June 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo,” Wikipedia informs. “A group of six assassins . . . gathered on the street where the Archduke’s motorcade would pass. Čabrinović threw a grenade at the car, but missed. It injured some people nearby, and Franz Ferdinand’s convoy could carry on. The other assassins failed to act as the cars drove past them quickly. About an hour later, when Franz Ferdinand was returning from a visit at the Sarajevo Hospital, the convoy took a wrong turn into a street where, by coincidence, Princip stood . . .

Pincip stepped forward and fired two shots from a distance of about one and a half metres (5 feet) using a Belgian-made 9×17mm (.380 ACP) Fabrique Nationale model 1910 semi-automatic pistol. Pistol serial numbers 19074, 19075, 19120 and 19126 were supplied to the assassins; Princip used #19074.[76] According to Albertini, “the first bullet wounded the Archduke in the jugular vein, the second inflicted an abdominal wound on the Duchess.”

And so began the chain of events that led to World War I, 100 years ago today. As for the gun itself, I’ve got the American version: a .32 caliber Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless. Click here to read my five-star review. (The assassin’s FN Model 1903 pistol was a slightly bigger gun; chambering 9 × 20 mm SR Browning Long cartridge.)

Colt 1903 (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

The diminutive 1903 remains one of John Moses Browning’s major (minor?) masterpieces, perfect for carry and ridiculously easy to shoot quickly and accurately. Now that .380 is acceptable, if someone could build a drop-safe modern version of the Colt 1903 in that caliber (later models were so chambered) I reckon it would sell all day long. Or at least the next 100 years.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. It’s so amazing that such a flawed and Three Stooges-like comedy of errors assassination plot started a war that killed millions. Sometimes fate has a twisted sense of humor.

    • The assassination did not start any war. It was used as a pretext. Prussia (Germany) had fought a war of expansion every generation for 300 years. The last one had been the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71. They nearly started it twice during the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, but decided they weren’t quite ready.

      • And people knew of it well in advance.

        “No war is any longer possible for Prussia-Germany except a world war and a world war indeed of an extent and violence hitherto undreamt of. Eight to ten millions of soldiers will massacre one another and in doing so devour the whole of Eurepe until they have stripped it barer than any swarm of locusts has ever done. The devastations of the Thirty Years’ War compressed into three or four years, and spread over the whole Continent; famine, pestilence, general demoralisation both of the armies and of the mass of the people produced by acute distress; hopeless confusion of our artificial machinery in trade, industry and credit, ending in general bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their traditional state wisdom to such an extent that crowns will roll by dozens on the pavement and there will be no body to pick them up; absolute impossibility of foreseeing how it will all end and who will come out of the struggle as victor; only one result is absolutely certain: general exhaustion and the establishment of the conditions for the ultimate victory of the working class.”

        – Friedrich Engels, 1887

        • My guess would be the Mr. Engels was treated like a cook at the time.

        • Ah Engels, the only thing more ironic is that his writings “The Communist Manifesto” and ideology inspired one of the most destructive systems of governance and economic disintegration in human history.

        • ALL of the older written sources I have read long prior to the internet days state it was a Model 1900 in 7.65mm. I have never heard of anything else until recently.
          The 7.65mm was the most common and popular caliber all across Europe in those days, it would be unlikely to be anything else.

        • According to both FN’s book ARS Mechanica and Anthony Vanderlinden’s book “FN Browning Pistols,” the weapon used in the assassination was a FN Model 1910 (.380 Auto) that wad been delivered and sold in 1913. Previous reports that it was a FN Model 1900 are wrong.

    • In the first newspaper reports, the archduke had been shot with a “browning pistol” which many people and newspaper artists took to be the generic M1900 in .32 ACP. It had actually been an FN M1910 in .380 ACP. I have the American imported version, the Browning M1955.

    • Like I always say–I wouldn’t stand there and let somebody shoot me with one. Nor with a .25, nor a .22 for that matter. And I expect the vast majority of bad guys, looking for an easy mark, feel the same way.

    • When you hit your victim in the jugular it doesn’t matter a whole lot what you shoot him with.

  2. i can only imagine how much different (and likely better) the world would be today if World War I (and all the subsequent events it set in motion) never happened…or at least if we had managed to keep our noses out of it and let it play out differently.. grass is always greener i suppose

    • There was so much pent-up anger against stifling empires that I don’t think the actual assassination mattered much in triggering some massive European upheaval. I suspect the Bolsheviks would have surfaced somewhere soon anyway. Hitler himself was an almost direct consequence of the way the war ended, not how it started or the inevitable pushbacks against dying empires, that I don’t know if he or anything like the Nazis would have occurred otherwise.

      But Europe was bursting at the seams with resentment against obsolete empires, and it was going to fall apart one way or the other.

      • how the war ended and the subsequent rise of Hitler was what i was thinking too. Curious how it would have been different if the US had not gotten involved.

        • I read many years ago that Britain was technically bankrupt within one or two years, sustained only by loans from US bankers, which was one reason for the US entry into the war in 1917. Germany couldn’t get or use loans because of the British blockade, which was a violation of international law.

          If Germany had not marched through Belgium and the British had not entered the war, it would probably have been a repeat of the 1870 war, with France losing yet again. All over within a year or six months, no world-wide repercussions, just a blip.

          There’s a fascinating book, I think called Dreadnought, around 1000 pages of history from Queen Victoria up to the eve of WW I, which gives the strong impression that much of the blame for the war can be laid to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He did not think himself a god, but he did think he had been made Kaiser by God, and therefore could do no wrong, and his actions in European diplomacy were like a bull in a china shop, undoing decades of careful diplomacy to preserve various balances of power. The underlying tensions were only papered over, but it seemed plausible that without the Kaiser blundering about, things might have been solved more peaceably. Still, the pent-up frustrations relating to the Tsar and the Austro-Hungarian empire were going to vent some day, some way, and trying to guess how differently things would have been withotu the Kaiser is anybody’s guess.

      • Another interesting (and somewhat more realistic) question is, what would have happened if the sides were chosen differently? Unlike WW2, in WW1 the alliances that were established were a direct result of heavy diplomatic maneuvering of the few preceding years, and a lot there could go differently. For example, some people argue that it’d have made a lot more sense for Russia to ally with the Central powers rather than Entente; OTOH, that would mean that Ottoman Empire would likely reverse sides, too. But if Germans didn’t have to fight on two fronts (while Russia and Austria-Hungary would keep the Ottomans busy – judging by how the previous Russian-Ottoman wars went, it’d likely be steamrolling all the way), and could concentrate all their forces in the west, the balance of power would be very, very different.

        And, on the other hand, if Russia didn’t get stuck in a grinder, but the tsar was able to claim Constantinople and the straights, Bolsheviks probably wouldn’t get nearly as much resentment to capitalize on…

    • You may want to thank those wars for the subsequent leaps in technology, both firearms and everyday items, that occurred during them. They provided incentive to develop most of the technologies that we use everyday. Would they have been developed otherwise? Perhaps, but not likely. Would I have prefered those wars to have not happened? Yeah, I would. Are we crying over spilled milk by bemoaning their occurrence? Yeah, we are.

      • That’s a common theme, almost universally accepted as far as I know, that wars enhance technology.

        But I wonder.

        Government in the US absorbs $6.5T out of a GDP of $17T. That’s federal, state, and local. Certainly a lot of that is welfare in various forms, but the federal income tax is estimated to require 6B hours from the private sector for compliance, and other estimates say complying with federal regulations costs each person $10K a year. Suppose half that $6.5T is utterly wasted on parasitic overhead. I don’t think it far fetched; occupational licensing, minimum wage laws, business licensing, zoning, and a zillion other regulations make it much hardeer for poor and unskilled people to earn their way and almost force them to rely on government charity. Note I do not mean lazy bums, I mean people who have no skills or are disabled. They could help themselves a lot better if they could drive taxis, cut hair, or cook meals for pay out of their homes.

        That comes to 20% of GDP completely wasted. Imagine how much the economy would boom if that were instead invested by people in themselves, and if all those bureaucrats and compliance lawyers and others had to have productive jobs instead of looking for ways to justify their jobs and expand their bureaucratic empires.

        I have no doubt that such a parasite-free economy would soon outstrip all the technological advances from all the wars.

        Wars have also delayed much technology. TV, for instance, was put on hold by WW II. Replacing steam locomotives with diesel-electrics was delayed by WW II. One of the drivers of replacing interurban railways with buses was the US Navy’s push for better engines for its submarines.

  3. Rest assured that in all the modern countries that were held in the “jail of nations” that was Habsburg monarchy, the day of assacination is very well celebrated, despite all the destruction and loss of life that the war brought.

  4. I think they did build a “modern” version… called it a Colt Mustang. Now it’s called the Sig P238.

  5. I have a pair of those .32 colts one like yours with the oval grip pannels and one with 1920s vintage grips the one like yours has my great grandmothers name engraved on it and it was her carry gun except in the evening when she carries a colt .25 nickel plated with mother of pearl grips in a mouse skin change purse fitted to it.
    The colt .32 was the preferred concealed piece right up to ww2 I think

  6. A lot of serbs wanted him dead. Would’ve happened anyway My grandparents left Austria-Hungary in 1913. And the rest is history. So much for pocket pistols being worthless…and with ball ammo.

    • I’ve read that ball ammo is really the best to use in .32, so you can get adequate penetration. I had rim-lock issues with HP .32s anyway, so when I had a .32 I loaded it with FMJ. Wish I had it back now.

  7. The assassination of the Archduke was the first of the grand conspiracy crimes. Much like the JFK assassination there is a lot of misinformation and pure hokum about it. I give you several links for more info.

    First is the official report of the police on the crime. Note that it specifies a “Browning Revolver” was used….

    Second is a good link on the said 1910 Browning Revolver….

    And finally we have the Zapruder film of the day…sort of …. actual footage of the Archduke arriving in Sarajevo that morning….

        • At the museum in Sarajevo just yesterday Bosnian Serbs dedicated a statue to the assassin Gavrilo Prinzip, just two days before the 100th anniversary of him killing the Archduke & his wife.

          The ceremony included a Prinzip reenactor firing two shots into the air from a pistol. Just a little cheesy in my opinion. Kind of like Muslims celebrating 9-11.

          Serbs in Bosnia want their portion annexed to modern Serbia (which had ceased to exist during the Yugoslavian state). Some things never change.

        • There’s a pretty big difference between celebrating 9/11, and this. For Serbs (and, really, all Slavs) in Bosnia at that time, the person they killed personally represented the oppressive monarchy that subjugated their nation and occupied their land. They didn’t come on foreign soil and killed a bunch of civilians. They were in their homeland, and they did a targeted assassination of the enemy commander in chief in training.

  8. Just traded a Rem 1100 today for a nickle plated colt 1903 in .32 w/pimp grips. Bit ironic it was done today. Likely no U.N.if not for the first great war. (League of Nations).But w/o that war how many of todays Americans would not exist from the war brides. We have had both 1st, 2nd great wars, Korea, Viet Nam. + the assorted U.N. peace keeping & Iraq & Afghanistan. Where will the next Great War be? As we are likely not far off.

    • Hoped I was wrong in what I was thinking & someone had different idea. I got an e-mail from the White House wanting letters on how he could better the country. It would also trigger a town visit & lunch with Obama. Think he’d go non-halal? BBQ pork & chitterlings. Yes that is correct spelling prounounced different.

  9. When I was studying in Vienna, I visited the Austrian Military museum. There, they had the uniform Ferdinand was wearing when shot, as well as the vehicle he was in. The uniform still had his blood on it. I’ve got pictures, somewhere.

  10. I appreciate you calling it a “War-Enabling” assassination. Everyone says the war was “caused” by the death of one man. World War I was caused by strictly milatary alliances cutting up Europe, a two-decades long increase in militarism and nationalism at the turn of the 20th century, centuries old racial tension, and greedy colonial pursuits. The assassination of the archduke was just the excuse that everyone had been waiting for.

    • It was pretty much a family feud. Half the royal houses of Europe were Queen Victoria’s children, grandchildren or cousins of the same. Victoria’s family was German. She sprinkled her descendants throughout Europe to unite it and keep the peace. Alas, alliance by marriage or descent didn’t work. Wilhelm (called “Willy” by his relatives in Russia and England) was Victoria’s grandson and apparently hated his Russian and English cousins.

      • “She sprinkled her descendants throughout Europe to unite it and keep the peace.”

        I can’t believe that didn’t work. Extended families are usually bastions of love and goodwill, with no petty animosities or jealousies to cause friction…

      • >> Wilhelm (called “Willy” by his relatives in Russia and England) was Victoria’s grandson and apparently hated his Russian and English cousins.

        Wilhelm and Nicholas actually liked each other quite a bit (more so than either of them liked George). Even on the very last days of peace, Nicholas was pleading with Wilhelm for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis to prevent hostilities, and his telegrams were rather cordial. Here’s a telegram from July 29, two days before hostilities:

        “Thanks for your telegram, conciliatory and friendly. Whereas official message presented today by your ambassador to my minister was conveyed in a very different tone. Beg you to explain this divergency! It would be right to give over the Austro-servian [sic] problem to the Hague conference. Trust in your wisdom and friendship. Your loving Nicky”

      • Well whatever it was, or however you try to rationalize it, it was a tiny group of psychopathic, power hungry, pompus tyrants playing games with tens of millions of lives.

        Aren’t all wars the same?

        A similar group of psychopaths played such games during the Cold War, setting the stage for the hegelian dialectic between the US and Soviet Union, and the only reason tens of millions didn’t die in another mud slugged european meat grinder was ‘ze bomb. I guess we learned to love it.

        • You have a rather romanticized idea of the powers of a monarch in the old empires. In fact the powers by that time were extremely limited, either by law (seldom) or by the interlocking pressures of the public opinion of the voting elites, and the maneuvering of politicians and bureaucracies. The Russian Tsar could not sue for peace or declare war by himself in the same way that the Japanese Emperor could not a generation later.

  11. A couple of historical footnotes; all the conspirators were terminally ill with tuberculosis and only one was older than 19. They were also all given cyanide capsules, but the cyanide was old and only made them vomit. Čabrinović jumped into the river after throwing the grenade, but the water was barely ankle deep. Princip couldn’t be executed because he was under 20, but he died in prison before the war was over. He rightly never believed he had caused the war.

      • Good link. I’ve always been more interested in WWI than WWII mostly because we’re so inundated with WWII history. People forget that if you add up the military deaths with the civilian deaths and disease the casualties of the first war dwarf the second. 9 million soldiers and nearly that many civilians, add to the 50-100 million who died from influenza, add to that the 20 million people who died in the Russian Civil War and the typhus and famine that went with it, the 2 million Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians murdered by the Ottoman Turks, etc. The bloodiest decade in human history. If they found out how to make the bomb 30 years earlier we’d all be living in a Mad Max world.

        • I think people just don’t see WW1 as the “good guys vs bad guys” kind of conflict… it really didn’t matter who won it in the long term, basically. Whereas WW2 was very much good vs bad, the war to save the world.

        • People only think that way because they’re ignorant of the history.

        • Well, what were the principal ideological differences between Central Powers and Entente?

  12. I enjoy these history writeups. Two Weeks ago I went to the WWI museum in Kansas City, MO. It is a neat facility with too much to see in one day. They go into the multiple causes for the war. If you get a chance to see it, it’s worth it. Also the tower gives you a great view of KCMO.

    • This is way off-topic, but your comment reminded me of how great my visit was to the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX (hometown of Adm. Nimitz) last year. Being a small, out-of-the-way town, I was expecting the museum to be kind of rinky-dink, but it was a very well-thought-out place, with tons of exhibits. A WWII history nerd’s dream, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone living in or visiting central Texas.

  13. I love my 1903 Colt. It was my grandfather’s. Colt should make modern versions of the 1903 and 1908. I’d be first in line.

  14. Not ragging on you Tommy Knocker but Abe Lincoln in 1865 is still debated.( Killing Lincoln). It had enormous fallout on world history. Especially for black folks.

    • 100% correct. You actually make the bigger point how folks can have narrow vision at times. So much of historical “fact ” is shaky at best. I focused on the snippet of film from the day when thinking of the event. Which makes me think of the photo of the child Teddy Roosevelt in the window of NYC apartment watching the Lincoln funeral procession. Wow…I could do this connections thing all day…lol

  15. World War1 set the course for the modern world we live in. No WW1-no Nazi’s( or Adolph, maybe no Russian revolution, no collapse in 1918 the Ottoman empire, no middle eastern made up countries( Iraq). It goes on to infinity. And no partition of Palestine. No Israel, no fulfillment of biblical prophecy( unfolding as I type). No JESUS coming back without ISRAEL. We are there.

    • Ottoman Empire didn’t really need a war to crumble into pieces, it just accelerated the process by a decade or so. If not WW1, then another war with Russia would have finished it (as the one in 1878 almost did). How the partition of Palestine would look then, would be interesting, especially if Russia managed to grab that ahead of Brits. But it doesn’t necessarily mean no Israel.

      • Israel was created because Adolf murdered 6 million Jewish folks. What other circumstance could have possibly, miraculously and divinely reconstituted a nation dead for 2500 years? Especially named ISRAEL. The Jewish Zionists living in Present day Israel called themselves Palestinians. Easy enough to check…unless you’re Helen Thomas.

        • The Jewish Zionists called for a creation of their own nation-state long before WW2 – that’s what Zionism was all about. Irgun was created because of the British policies in Palestine, not in response to any Nazi activities – and they immediately started plotting for an armed revolt. Jabotinsky, who was behind a lot of it, proposed that the future Jewish state would be known as Eretz Israel ha-Ivri.

  16. Lots of people blaming Germany for the war. Almost 100% the faulty of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Look up July Crisis WWI.

    • Wilhelm bears considerable personal responsibility for it. He could have defused the crisis, in fact he was begged to, but he chose to use it as a pretext for war.

  17. Nice try int…after WW2 was the only time in history Jews had any support from the so-called international community. You are speaking of an ” outlaw” state. Not the the nation proclaimed “Israel” in 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, et all. The fact that Jews had been in Palestine for generations is lost on most Muslim Palestinian cheerleaders. Whether you believe GOD gave it to Jacobs children or not.

    • Who cares about the “international community”? Heck, who cared about it in 1948? The State of Israel exists today because Jews declared it their state, and took up arms in a war to claim and secure its existence – and won that war. It was not the “international community” that did it.

  18. “Now that .380 is acceptable, if someone could build a drop-safe modern version of the Colt 1903 in that caliber (later models were so chambered) I reckon it would sell all day long.”

    The pre-Mustang .380 “Colt Government Model” comes pretty close in terms of size, styling, and handling qualities.

  19. “I’ve got the American version: a .32 caliber Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless.”

    Nope, sorry. The FN 1910 and the Colt 1903 are completely different guns. The 1910 is striker fired and has the recoil spring around the barrel and the 1903 is hammer fired and has the recoil spring under the barrel. Those are the two major differences.

  20. And that’s a cautionary tale about the fact that bullet placement (or blind luck) is the only thing that counts. The Archduke was wearing a silk bulletproof vest, but was hit in the neck, above it, and quickly bled to death.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here