The Browning FN Model 1910: The Gun that Killed 8.5 million People

Over ninety-seven years ago, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot and killed as they were riding through Sarajevo. The assassin was a man named Gavrilo Princip, and his actions that early morning signaled the start of World War I. But questions remain, such as who was Princip, why did those two assassinations ignite a world war, and what happened to that infamous gun?

While the tragic chain of events unleashed by the assassinations led to a conflict that engulfed significant parts of the world, the war’s actual origins went far deeper and involved national politics, economic concerns, cultural diversity, and an intricate and complex web of alliances and counterbalances that had started developing between the various European powers since right around 1870. If there had not been those two assassinations, the inevitable war would more than likely have been ignited by something else.

Gavrilo Princip was born on July 25, 1894 and was a Bosnian Serb. He was a Yugoslavian nationalist and was involved with the Mlada Bosna movement, which literally means “Young Bosnia,” and through these philosophical associations, the “Black Hand“, a secret military society within the Serbian Army.  Both demanded independence from all other European powers of the time. He was also an atheist who did not believe in the existence of God, but only believed that history could be changed through the actions of men. To more fully understand his actions, one must understand that he wanted complete independence for his country, in the wake of annexation.  Bosnia-Herzegovina had been declared a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire by Emperor Franz Joseph on October 6, 1908 and the annexation created a stir amongst the Slavic people of southern Europe, as well as the Russian Czar who vehemently opposed any annexation.

Princip and his five co-conspirators were arrested and soon hanged, but prior to their executions they implicated several members of the Serbian military. That led Austria-Hungary to issue a demarche to Serbia, which was known as the July Ultimatum. The ultimatum was rejected out of hand by the Serbians, hence the start of hostilities that quickly engulfed the world. After millions were cut down in their prime, the war ended on November 11, 1918 with the signing of the Armistice. But what happened to the weapon Principe used?

The weapon was a Browning FN Model 1910, and Princip fired twice at the couple from a distance of only five feet. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie, who instinctively covered his body with her own, was hit in the abdomen.  They both died before 11:00 that morning and the Browning pistol was taken into police custody. Following the trial and eventual hanging of Princip and his five co-conspirators, reports indicate that the pistol was then given to a Jesuit priest by the name of Anton Puntigam. Puntigam had actually administered the last rites to Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The priest had wanted to open up a museum and to display the pistol there, but those plans were put on hold with the start of the war.

The museum was never realized and the priest died in 1926. The Browning, however, stayed in the Jesuit community house in Austria and it was for the most part forgotten about until the 90th anniversary of the assassinations rekindled some interest. It is now believed to be on display in the Vienna Museum of Military History. It is touted as the gun that killed 8.5 million people.

The Browning FN Model 1910 was a departure for the popular gun manufacturer.  Colt apparently didn’t want to produce it, so Browning made the decision to patent and produce the design only in Europe. Before this, his designs were produced by FN in Europe and by the Colt Firearms Company in the United States.  It was introduced in 1910 and used a novel operating spring, which surrounded the barrel.

That location led to other unique designs, such as those found in the Russian Makarov and the extremely popular German Walther PPK. The weapon incorporated the standard Browning striker-firing mechanism, as well as a grip safety along with a magazine safety and an external safety lever. It was known as the “triple safety” mechanism, all in one complete package. The pistol came chambered in both the .380 ACP with a six-round magazine, and the .32 ACP with a seven-round magazine. Those two calibers remained in production until 1983.

The actual weapon used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife held the serial number of 19074, and it was chambered for the .32 ACP round. The weapon was available for sale in 1992 and could have been obtained for just a few hundred dollars.

The year should hold some significance for those of you who remember your history and, on a side note, many of these “long-forgotten” political and ethnic issues remain in the consciousness of many who live in the Balkans to this day, as do the unfortunate military actions taken by the Serbians during the mid-1990s. After thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed over the course of the Serbian war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, those unsettling emotions are still present, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility to see violence once again rear its ugly head in the not too distant future.

The guns value in today’s auction market however would literally take it into the high six-figure category and well beyond the reach of most people.