Oskar Potiorek

Oskar Potiorek (20 November 1853 17 December 1933) was an officer of the Austro-Hungarian Army, who served as Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1911 to 1914. He was a passenger in the car carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg when they were assassinated in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. In the following World War I, Potiorek commanded the Austro-Hungarian forces in the Serbian Campaign of 1914/15.

Oskar Potiorek
Oskar Potiorek in 1908
8th Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In office
10 May 1911  22 December 1914
Appointed byFranz Joseph I of Austria
Preceded byMarijan Varešanin
Succeeded byStjepan Sarkotić
Personal details
Born(1853-11-20)20 November 1853
Bad Bleiberg, Carinthia, Austrian Empire
Died17 December 1933(1933-12-17) (aged 80)
Klagenfurt, Republic of Austria
Alma materKriegsschule Academy, Vienna
AwardsOrder of Saint Stephen of Hungary
Order of Leopold
Military service
Allegiance Austria-Hungary
Branch/serviceAustro-Hungarian Army
Years of service1886–1915
RankGeneral of the Artillery
Battles/warsWorld War I

Early life

Born in Bad Bleiberg, Carinthia the son of a mining official, Potiorek attended the Imperial and Royal military institute of technology and the Kriegsschule academy in Vienna. He joined the Austro-Hungarian general staff in 1879, appointed deputy chief by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1902. However, the emperor ignored his ambitions, when in 1906 he filled the post of Chief-of-Staff with Feldmarschall-Leutnant Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf at the behest of heir presumptive and deputy commander-in-chief Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Potiorek became Commanding General at Graz, Styria in the rank of a Feldzeugmeister. Serving as Inspector General in Sarajevo since 1910, he was appointed Bosnian governor (Landeschef) the next year, holding both civil and military offices.

In 1913 Potiorek had invited Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie to watch his troops on maneuvers scheduled for 26 and 27 June 1914. An attack on the life of former governor Marijan Varešanin in 1910 and several rumours on future assaults (leaked by Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić) did not keep the archduke from a public appearance in Sarajevo, backed by Potiorek who worried about his own prestige.

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

On 28 June the royal couple arrived from Ilidža by train and went to Philipovic army camp where Franz Ferdinand performed a brief review of the troops. Potiorek was waiting to take the royal party to the city hall (present-day National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina) for the official reception. Franz Ferdinand, his wife and several officials switched into a six-car motorcade driving down Appel Quay along Miljacka River without further security measures. Potiorek was in the third car, a Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton , open six-seater driven by Leopold Lojka, together with the owner Count Harrach and the royal couple. At 10:10, when the vehicles passed the central police station, assassin Nedeljko Čabrinović hurled a hand grenade at the archduke's car. Lojka accelerated when he saw the object flying towards the car, the grenade bounced off the coachwork and exploded under the wheel of the next car, wounding two passengers and several spectators.

A furious Franz Ferdinand, after attending the official reception at the City Hall, asked about visiting the members of his party that had been wounded by the bomb. A member of the archduke's staff, Andreas von Morsey, according to his own accounts suggested this might be dangerous, but Potiorek replied "Do you think Sarajevo is full of assassins? I will take responsibility". Nevertheless, the governor decided that the royal car should travel on an alternative route to the Sarajevo hospital. However, he failed to tell the driver about this decision. On the way to the hospital, Lojka took a right turn opposite the Latin Bridge, where one of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, was standing outside the corner delicatessen at the time. The assassin had already abandoned his plans, but when he saw the driver begin to back up the car right in front of him, he stepped forward, drew his gun, and at a distance of about four or five paces, fired two shots into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen. Neither Potiorek, Count Harrach nor Leopald Lojka were injured.[1] Princip later claimed that the bullet that killed Sophie was meant for the governor.

After Ferdinand's assassination

Following the assassination, Potiorek organized and stimulated Anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo.[2] Potiorek reestablished an auxiliary militia Schutzkorps to implement the policy of anti-Serb repression.[3] Schutzkorps, predominantly recruited among Bosniak population, were involved in the persecution of people of Serb ethnicity[4] particularly in Serb populated areas of eastern Bosnia.[5] Around 5,500 citizens of Serb ethnicity in Bosnia and Herzegovina were arrested, between 700 and 2,200 died in prison while 460 were executed.[6][7] Around 5,200 Serb families were forcibly expelled from Bosnia and Herzegovina.[7]

Despite his responsibility, Potiorek remained in office. When the assassination and the succeeding July Crisis led to the outbreak of World War I, he became the commander of all Austro-Hungarian forces on the Balkans. It is speculated that this "survivor's guilt" led Potiorek to take charge of the Austro-Hungarian army and lead the first mission to "punish" Serbia. He was reportedly very zealous in his actions (multiple times he claimed "I was spared at Sarajevo so that I may die avenging it!"), but was apparently an inept commander. The small Royal Serbian Army remained undefeated in all major battles and after the textbook military disasters at the Battle of Cer and the Battle of Kolubara with huge numbers of casualties, he was removed from command on 22 December 1914 and replaced by Archduke Eugen of Austria, a choice that reportedly made him suicidal.

Death and legacy

Potiorek retired to Carinthian Klagenfurt, where he died in 1933. He is buried in the cemetery of the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.


  1. When Sarajevo Triggered a War Time 30 January 1984
  2. Novak, Viktor (1971). Istoriski časopis. p. 481. Retrieved 7 December 2013. Не само да Поћорек није спречио по- громе против Срба после сарајевског атентата већ их је и организовао и под- стицао.
  3. Ivo Banac (1988). The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Cornell University Press. p. 367. ISBN 978-0-8014-9493-2. Retrieved 4 December 2013. Schutzkorps, auxiliary militia raised by the Austro-Hungarians, in the policy of anti-Serb repression
  4. Tomasevich 2001, p. 485. The Bosnian wartime militia (Schutzkorps), which became known for its persecution of Serbs, was overwhelmingly Muslim.
  5. John R. Schindler (2007). Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad. Zenith Imprint. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-61673-964-5. Schutzkorps units were particularly active in Serb areas of eastern Bosnia,
  6. John R. Schindler (2007). Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad. Zenith Imprint. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-61673-964-5.
  7. Mitja Velikonja (5 February 2003). Religious Separation and Political Intolerance in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Texas A&M University Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-58544-226-3.

Further reading

  • Schindler, John R. (2002). "Disaster on the Drina: The Austro-Hungarian Army in Serbia, 1914". War in History. 9 (2): 159–195. doi:10.1191/0968344502wh250oa.
  • Francesco Lamendola, "La Seconda e la Terza Campagna Austro-Serba" (September–December 1914) (in Italian)
  • Jeřábek, Rudolf. Potiorek: General im Schatten von Sarajevo. Graz: Verlag Styria, 1991. ISBN 3222120676 (in German)
Preceded by
Marijan Varešanin
Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina
May 10, 1911 - December 22, 1914
Succeeded by
Stjepan Sarkotić
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