Who's Who - Oskar Potiorek

Photograph of Oskar Potiorek Although Oskar Potiorek (1853-1933) served as a military commander in the Austro-Hungarian army, and was responsible for the first (unsuccessful) invasion of Serbia in 1914, he is chiefly remembered today as the man responsible for the safety of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the day the latter was assassinated in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

Serving as inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian army from 1911, Potiorek was also the military governor of Bosnia from 1912 onwards.  He was made directly responsible for security arrangements for the forthcoming visit of Ferdinand to Sarajevo in late June 1914.

Franz Ferdinand arrived in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, a Sunday, and was met at the railway station by Potiorek, to be taken on to the city hall for the reception and speeches.

Seven members of the Black Hand Serbian nationalist secret society lined the route due to be taken by the Archduke's cavalcade along Appel Quay, planning to assassinate Ferdinand (and who had planned to kill Potiorek himself earlier in the year).

One of the men, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, threw a grenade at the Archduke's car.  The driver took evasive action and quickly sped from the scene.  The grenade bounced off the back of the Archduke's car and rolled underneath the next car, exploding seconds later; two of its occupants were severely wounded.

Ferdinand attended the reception at the city hall and complained vociferously about his reception at the city.

"What is the good of your speeches?  I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me.  It is outrageous!"

Archduke Franz Ferdinand interrupting the Mayor's welcome speech at Sarajevo's city hall, 28 June 1914.

Following the reception the Archduke determined to visit those injured in the grenade explosion at the city hospital.  Potiorek decided that the motorcade should take an alternate route to the hospital, avoiding the city centre altogether.  However the driver of Ferdinand's car, Franz Urban, was not informed of the change of plan and so took the original route.

Turning into Franz Joseph Street, Potiorek, who was a passenger in Ferdinand's car, noticed that the altered route had not been taken.  He remonstrated with the driver who in turn slowed the car and then began to reverse out of the street.

Gavrilo Princip - another of the Black Hand members - who happened to be in Franz Joseph Street at a cafe, seized his opportunity, and took aim at Ferdinand from a distance of five feet.  His bullets struck the Archduke in the neck and his wife, Sophie, who was travelling with him, in the abdomen.

Urban drove the car to the governor's residence at Konak; the couple died soon afterwards.

Following the presentation of an ultimatum to Serbia three weeks following the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war with Serbia.

Once war had been inevitably declared Potiorek was tasked with spearheading the invasion of Serbia, to which end he was given command of Fifth and Sixth Armies.  An opportunity perhaps to retrieve something of his battered reputation, the invasion was poorly led with the Serbs not only successful in the defence of their country, but managing also to expel the Austro-Hungarian army itself from Serbian territory.

Following a series of such defeats, at Jadar, Drina and Kolubara, Potiorek was forced into retirement with his replacement as commander by Archduke Eugen on 22 December 1914.

A 'Toasting Fork' was a bayonet, often used for the named purpose.

- Did you know?

Who's Who