Gun that triggered a world war turns up in monastery
THE gun that killed nine million people, destroyed three empires and changed the history of the world has been found in a friary in Austria after being missing for decades.
The automatic pistol was used by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist, to assassinate the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzogovina, in 1914, an event which was to trigger the First World War.
The Austro-Hungarian empire, backed by Germany, demanded compensation for the outrage but in reality both monarchies lusted for war. Throughout the summer of 1914 the alliances gathered together after the "pistol shots heard around the world" until the Great War broke out in August.
The Browning pistol - serial number 19047 - was taken by the Sarajevo police and later given to a Jesuit priest, Anton Puntigam, who administered the last rites to the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire and his wife.
Together with the cartridge cases of the bullets which killed them and the bloodied clothes of the emperor-in-waiting, Father Puntigam intended to start a museum dedicated to the assassination and its consequences.
The uniform and bullets were handed over to a museum in Vienna, which later acquired the car the couple were travelling in and many other artefacts of the doomed empire. But the pistol remained with Father Puntigam.
When he died in the 1920s his possessions - including the murder weapon - were kept by his Vienna-based Jesuit order. It was only recently found during an inventory of the monastery and handed over to the Military History Museum in Vienna.
The museum’s director, Manfred Rauchensteiner, said: "It is a great find, and will be displayed alongside the archduke’s uniform and his car in the coming weeks."
Gavrilo Princip was only 19 when he killed the royal couple. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail but died of tuberculosis in March 1918, eight months before the end of the war that killed millions and swept away the royal houses of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia.
Father Puntigam ran a children’s home in Sarajevo that was financed by the archduke and his wife.
Consequently, when they visited the city on that fateful day - 28 June, 1914 - the priest was in the official motorcade. There were seven members of Princip’s Black Hand Gang on the streets that day, either armed with Browning pistols that had come from Belgium, or bombs stolen from the state armoury in Belgrade.
The gang was a collection of restless students and disgruntled intellectuals who saw the Austro-Hungarian empire as repressors.
A Serbia independent of Vienna and Budapest was what they sought - violence was the means with which it was to be achieved.
The weapon will be restored and checked against court records from Princip’s trial, although the museum director said he has no doubts as to its authenticity.
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