1911: Before the Great War

The Webley self-loading .455 pistol. It is not as awkward as it appears, but it certainly is not a paragon of simple design

The Webley self-loading .455 pistol. It is not as awkward as it appears, but it certainly is not a paragon of simple design

Princep looked up to see the missed opportunity coming right at him, again, so he rushed out of the shop. The eye-witness accounts are a mess, and apparently everyone saw something entirely different. Some say he ran to the car; others, that he jumped on the running board of the car. In any case, Princep fired two shots. The Archduke and his wife Sophie were both mortally wounded, and Franz died within a minute. The car sped to the Governor’s residence while the mob beat Princep nearly to death. The Archduke’s wife died ten minutes after arriving at the residence.

All of Europe was spoiling for a fight, and the mass of interlocking treaties almost ensured that everyone would be dragged into it. Most rushed willingly to the conflict. The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, the Russians stepped up to defend Serbia, and when the Russians mobilized, Germany did so too.

What pistol touched off the first World War? For a long time here in the US it was commonly held that the pistol Gavrilo Princep used was an FN M-1900, in .32 ACP. It was not. It was an FN M-1910, in .380 Auto. The pistol he used is in a Jesuit church in Austria, along with the police reports, transcripts of the trial, and other items associated with the truly history-making incident.

Thus the Model 1911, which played an important role in ending WWI, was created by the same man who designed the pistol that started it: John Moses Browning.

This article is an excerpt from Patrick Sweeney’s 1911: The First 100 Years. Click here to order your hardcover copy.


Recommended 1911 Resources

1911: The First 100 Years

Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World

1911 Series Disassembly-Reassembly DVD

Gun Digest 2011

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