By Sal Paradise
The Black Hand was a movement, a military group and sometimes a secret society. They existed, not only in Serbia where they became most famous, but also in Palestine during the 1930’s. But the main focus of the Black Hand at the time World War One began was Serbian Liberation.
The Black Hand was founded on 6 September 1901, as a Serbian liberation group. The conspirators’ first meeting was in the same year. In attendance: captains Radomir Aranđelović, Milan F. Petrović, and Dragutin Dimitrijević, as well as lieutenants Antonije Antić, Dragutin Dulić, Milan Marinković, and Nikodije Popović. They wanted to free Serbia from the Royal Family of Serbia in the early 1900’s. King Alexander I Obrenovic and Queen Draga were murdered in May of 1903 by the members of the Black Hand.
In 1908, the Serbian and Bosnian territories were annexed by the government of Austria-Hungary. The Black Hand once again would be concentrating on liberating Serbia from an oppressive monarchy. At this same time, there were other slavic countries being controlled by the Austrian-Hungarian army and other liberation groups formed in these countries as well. For instance, there was “Young Bosnia” in Bosnia, but also groups formed in Herzegovina, Istria and Slovenia. Young Bosnia, however, may be credited with having the biggest influence of all in Europe in the early years of war.
In Serejevo, the capitol of Bosnia at the time, the crowned prince of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were on a visit. There were two attempts on the life of the crowned prince while in Serejevo and the second one was successful. A member of Young Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip, ran out into the street next to the car that was carrying Franz Ferdinand and his wife and Gavrilo shot them both dead. A satellite group of the Black Hand, Young Bosnia, had produced a young man with the courage to fight for the liberation of the slavics and serbs from the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
Though a young Bosnian was the one who killed the crowned prince, Austria-Hungary blamed Serbian nationals. They were to go to war with Serbia, but more important was the complicated network of allies Austria-Hungary had, including perhaps most importantly, Germany. Lead by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany had been developing it’s mighty military for years and by 1914 had an intimidating force. On land as well as at sea. Though, at this point in time, Europe still did not quite realize that there would be such a large conflict. A conflict indirectly influenced by the Black Hand of Serbia.
Austria-Hungary, after the death of Franz Ferdinand , has directly threatened Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and old Ottoman Empire, so Serbia asked Russia for help. Russia was a neighbor and ally of the Serbs, but this prompted the Austria-Hungarian Empire to turn to Germany for help. When Russia realized they would be fighting a war as allies of the Serbs and Slavs against Germany and Austria-Hungary, they decided to involve other world powers and allies, Britain and France. With the Germans fighting a war on two fronts, one in the east and one in the west, there was need to invade France. The Kaiser saw no direct way through France’s front lines, so they decided to invade France using a route that lead them through Belgium.
In the east, at the beginning of the war, Germany and Austria did a decent job of repelling the Russians and so the fighting on the western front intensified. It was the birth of trench warfare when the French, Belgians and British fought the Germans in World War One. Canada was also involved in World War One, because they were allied with the British Empire, so they gave troops and aid to Britain throughout the war. Poland was not an official country during World War One, but there was much death in the area that became Poland in later years. In the British Union of South Africa, there was an order to attack the German Annexed territory of Western South Africa or “German Western South Africa.” This was due to their proximity to the coast of Africa. When war was declared by Britain in 1914 against Germany, India, a British ally, also rallied to the cause and fought in the trenches along side the British army during much of the war, though their part is often overlooked by historians. The “India Corps” was even awarded medals of military valor by the Queen. Along with India and Canada were New Zealand and Australia, also giving aid to Britain. Needless to say, many world powers had a stake in World War One in 1914. Italy, as well, was involved, but in World War One they fought for the allies, mostly with an interest in gaining territory from Austria-Hungary. Though, America would not find an interest until 1917, which is when America entered the war, however they did send aid to the allies throughout the conflict taking place. In fact, it was the Kaiser’s desire to cut this aid that would involve America in World War One at all.
The slaughter in the trenches continued on the western front and a term called “going over the top” was coined by the soldiers. Basically, the pattern of battle was the same on the western front. The artillery would bombard the enemy on the other side of what was called “no man’s land” and then the infantry would “go over the top” of the trenches to fight one another and almost certainly die. Either by being shot, being gassed, being hit with shrapnel from artillery or hand to hand combat with the enemy. Millions died.
At sea, the German “U-Boat” or submarine controlled the waters and threatened shipping and trading throughout most of the war. They would sink military vessels and commercial vessels alike and this had a terrible affect on trade and commerce. Germany and England had had a naval arms race leading up to World War One, but there were very few naval battles fought between actual battleships on either side. The use of the U-Boat to sink American commerce ships is what prompted then President, Woodrow Wilson, to convince the American people it was time to enter the war and that Germany was threatening democracy and the world economy through their attacks on the shipping industry of the Atlantic ocean. It took America’s involvement in the war at Sea, as well as dropping endless amounts of mines in the Atlantic and having military escorts for commercial vessels traveling in convoys to help control the u-boats. Then there was the advantage of looking for them from the air, because u-boats had to stay surfaced most of the time in the early 1900’s. These planes would not only be used to detect the submarines, but also to drop bombs and mines on the surfaced u-boats and destroy them. As soon as the u-boat problem was under control, which was around 1917 or early 1918, American troops began to be ferried across the Atlantic to the aid of the allies. The allies, needless to say, were glad for the reinforcements from the Americans as well as being happy to have their supply routes back in their own hands at sea.
On the Eastern front, in 1914, Austria-Hungary had invaded Serbia, which prompted Russia to invade both Germany and Austria. The fighting on the eastern front was just as bloody as the fighting on the western front or the fight to control the Atlantic. The Russians had a large army, but their early losses in the war convinced the Germans that Russia would be easily defeated as well as quickly. The Russians were fighting a war on two fronts, with Germany and with Austria and their army was weakening and was badly in need of reinforcements and supplies. The Russian losses prompted the Kaiser to invade Poland and begin to expand his empire to the east, but the Russian army was able to hold the Polish capitol of Warsaw and despite their terrific losses, went on the offensive after holding out against the Germans. Over a million Russian casualties were sustained in 1914 alone and the Germans thought of the Russian army as “throwing men at them.” More Russian losses prompted Austria and Germany to look for a quick victory on the eastern front, while being at a virtual stalemate on the western front and they decided to attack. The cold had a terrible effects on the Austrian troops. Germans, Russians and Serbs alike seemed to be wondering what they were doing out in the cold as well as the Russians becoming desperate. The situation became even more desperate in 1915 when Turkey joined the war on the side of Germany and the Russians were now fighting a war on three fronts.
Eventually, the Russians were re-enforced by the allies and another development took place to lessen the beating they were taking on the eastern front. In 1915, Italy joined the war on the side of the allies and sent their army north toward mountain territory held by Austria and so troops were diverted from the eastern front to defend against the Italians. The Turks were eventually beaten back by the Russians at about a year into the war, but Germany still believed they were on a path to a quick victory in the east. After the winter of 1915, the Russian army was desperate and depleted and seemed close to retreat back into Russian territory.
By 1916, frustrated, Tzar Nicholas of Russia declared himself supreme commander of the Russian military and appointed a new man in charge on the eastern front. This man was General Alexander Bruselov, and he planned an attack across the 200 mile long eastern line. An attack that would take place first against the Austrians and afterwards against the Germans, the Russians won a bitter victory against the Austrians and captured much of their territory. By that winter, Germany desperately needed to reenforce the Austrian lines or else lose the eastern front.
At this point, in the west, there was a stalemate between the allies and Germany. There was fierce fighting for territory and the usual terrible winter on the eastern front. In the south, Italy was fighting in the mountains against the Austrians and seemed to be winning, but it was hard for many to tell. Civilians back at home and away from the front were beginning to feel the effects of the war due to lack of food and foreign invasions. Russia was on the verge of revolution and it seemed the Tzar would finally be overthrown. In late 1916, a provisional government took over in Russia and the Tzar was ousted as eel as his family. The Russian soldiers felt they were now truly fighting for their homeland and no longer felt so desperate, but it was not looking as though the Russian troops would fight. It looked as though they were going home to a free Russia and it did not matter to them what happened to the country politically. Eventually, Germany and Austria no longer had an army to fight on the eastern front and by late 1917, Russia was in full on revolt and the people had laid waste to the Tzar’s palace. The allies did not have a favorable situation in front of them and at this point, were hoping that the help form America would be enough to turn the tide on the western front.
America entered the war late in 1917, but mainly in 1918 and saw combat mainly on the western front. The American troops were enthusiastic and ready to face the German army, but they had little experience in true combat, which worried commanders on the side of the allies. After all, the allies had seen millions of casualties, full on mutinies in France’s military and the Russian Revolution. europeans were tired of war, all except Germany, who were sure they would win the war by 1918. They had effectively won the war in the East, though Russia would keep it’s territory and itself become a new country after the Russian Communist Revolution. The eastern territories would never look the same after World War One. Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Austria, Hungary, The Ottoman Empire, the Slavics, the Balkans and Turkey would all look very different. Some of these countries would no longer exist or would exist in new territories and with new names and governments. In late 1917, the Italians were in full retreat and had to re-group and would not be able to counter-attack until 1918, which is what Italy did. Italy successfully saved itself from Austria-Hungary and pushed them out of Italian territory, which would eventually lead to the end of Austria. However, in 1918, the western front would take center stage in the first world war.
By the summer of 1918, there were a million American soldiers on the ground in Europe. By September of 1918, the allies were on the attack and were gaining more and more ground against the Germans. Bolstered by the Americans, the allies were almost winning through sheer numbers that autumn. At eleven o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, being November eleventh, 1918 an armistice was signed and the war was over. The artillery on the western front had all of a sudden fallen silent for the first time in nearly four years. The Kaiser had gone into exile and the supreme commander of German forces had been fired just days before the war was over. But, now that the war was over, what was to become of Europe, Germany, Belgium, Austria and other countries who’s fates had not yet been decided. The German army was in full retreat back to Germany as long as they remained with their own colors and were not prisoners of war. The German navy officially surrendered on November 23rd, 1918 and their ships were commandeered by the British Royal Navy. Later, those same German ships would be sunk. The war was truly over for everybody involved.
In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed between Germany and the Allied powers and many hoped this would result in worldwide peace. A predecessor to the United Nations was born to police the world and keep this peace, so there would never be another world war. But we all know that europe would quickly fall apart once again and the rise of Facism and Adolf Hitler would result in a Second World War within 30 years of the Versailles Treaty. There were countless revolutions and civil wars that took place, borders were re-negotiated and country’s names and governments were changed. Mussolini would soon take power in Italy and America would soon become isolationist, while facing the great depression and internal issues. There would be yet another war before Europe was truly brought into peacetime and other focuses took center on the world stage.
But let’s not forget, these events began because of the decision of one young man. Call him a community organizer or a protester, call him a terrorist or an anarchist, even call him a political agitator or a murderer, but he changed the world forever. He changed the fate of his own country and the countries surrounding his country. He changed the fate of his people, one young Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand, the crowned prince of Austria-Hungary. He shot him and his wife in the name of freedom, liberty and revolution. He did it for anyone who has been oppressed by theirs or a foreign government and anyone who has ever desired freedom from said oppression. One man, no matter how young, can truly change the world and the story of Gavrilo Princip reminds us of that, though he is often overlooked in the history books as an overzealous teenaged rebel. Those of us who protest now, what are we? But overzealous teenaged rebels, even if it is on the inside and not on the outside. If you believe in freedom and you believe in the revolution, those ideals have the ability to keep one forever young and forever protesting, but most importantly, forever seeking a better world for us to live in.
A man can stand alone, and change everything by taking one single action. It gives someone like me hope, that maybe someday I’ll be a hero and a villain to history all at the same time, but that I will matter to history.