16 Forgotten or Lesser Known WWI Facts

By Khalid Elhassan

November of 2018 will see the centennial of the end of World War I, optimistically labeled by some contemporaries as “The War to End All Wars”. It was history’s first truly global conflict, and a transformative event whose legacy shaped the twentieth century, and helped set up the geopolitical landscape of the world we live in today.

Following are 16 of that conflicts lesser known facts.

A Terrorist Organization Sparked the Conflict

Serbia’s Black Hand was a secret society that employed terrorism in a bid to free Serbs from Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule, and unify them in a Greater Serbia. Austria-Hungary was the Black Hand’s main target, and the group sent terrorists across the border on operations to stir up trouble. Their greatest feat would be the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914.

The Black Hand’s founders first came together in 1903, when junior officers, led by a Captain Apis, launched a coup that culminated in the murder of the Serbian king and queen. Following Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, an act Serbs resented, the 1903 conspirators met with senior Serb officials to found a secret pan-Serbian organization. It aimed to liberate Serbs living under foreign rule via a coordinated campaign of propaganda, sabotage, terrorism, and other clandestine means. A furious Austria-Hungary forced Serbia, under threat of war, to back off.

Logo of the Serbian Black Hand. Wikimedia

The Black Hand was established in 1911 to resume the campaign, oversee its activities, and establish and coordinate nationalist revolutionary cells in Bosnia. The organization trained guerrillas, saboteurs, propagandists, and assassins, and sent them into Austria-Hungary to destabilize it, and stir up nationalist resentment among its Serbian subjects.

Serbia became a full blown state sponsor of terrorism, as the Black Hand’s leadership was composed primarily of high ranking Serbian officials and army officers, including the crown prince. The Serbian government was kept well informed of the group’s terrorist activities. By 1914, captain Apis was a colonel in charge of Serbia’s military intelligence, and was the Black Hand’s primary mover and shaker. That year, he hatched a plot to send assassins to murder Austria’s successor to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.