Bulgarian Army 1915-18

The Bulgarian Army in World War One from 14 October 1915 to 30 September 1918.
Uniforms, strength, armies, divisions, organization and casualties.

Bulgarian machine-gun teams
Bulgarian machine-gun teams in action use Maxim Model 1908 machine-guns.

Bulgaria gained freedom from Turk control on 13 July 1878. By July 1914 the Kingdom of Bulgaria, ruled by Tsar Ferdinand I., made of around 5,500,000 Bulgarian people along with a Turkish group, including 48,265 square miles involving existing Bulgaria in addition Eastern Thrace (today Greece).

Bulgarian soldiers 1915-18
Bulgarian soldiers 1915-18 (left to right): Infantryman, General, Infantry officer.
Bulgarian territorial demands on Eastern as well as Southern Serbia, Romanian Dobrudja and also Greece Western Thrace convinced Ferdinand to sign up with the Central Powers {versus|in opposition to} hopes of the majority of his historically pro-Russian people.

Ferdinand was C-in-C of the Bulgarian Army, employing the pro-German Major-General Nikola Zhekov as field leader. By 14 January 1904 the military, with approximately 390,000 soldiers, was organized in the 85,000-strong 1st Line Active Army for men aged Twenty one To Twenty-three; 250,000-strong 2nd Line Reserve Army for men aged Twenty-four To Forty; and also 54,000-strong 3rd Line and 4th Line National Militia for men aged Forty-one To Forty-four and Forty-five To Forty-six correspondingly.

Bulgaria was split into 3 Army Areas:

  • 1st (Sofia) – Western Bulgaria;
  • 2nd (Plovdiv) – Southern Bulgaria;
  • 3rd (Ruse) – Northern Bulgaria;
  • 4th (Üskub)- later in Bulgarian-occupied Serbian Macedonia.

15 divisions had been formed: 2 cavalry and Thirteen infantry (1-13) – the 13th transforming into a mountain division in November 1916.

They were organized in 4 armies:

  • 1st Army (Lt. Gen. Kliment Boyadshiev; 1916 Lt. Gen. Dimitri Geshov; 1918 Lt. Gen. Stefan Nerezov) in Central Macedonia under Army Group Mackensen;
  • 2nd Army (Lt. Gen. Georgi Todorow; 1917 Maj. Gen. Ivan Lukov) in South-Eastern Macedonia;
  • 3rd Army (1916 Gen. Stefan Toshev, then Lieutenant-General Nerzezov; 1917 Major-General, later Lieutenant-General Sava Sabov, then Lieutenant-General, later General Todorov) in Northern Bulgaria around the Romanian frontier, incorporating with German and Turk units in September 1916 to create the Danube Army in Romanian Dobrudja;
  • 4th Army (1918 Lieutenant-General Savov, then General Toshev) in Greek Western Thrace.

6 divisions also were included within the German 11th Army in South-West Serbia.

The 24,000-strong infantry divisions – something like a corps within various military – made of 2 inf brigades, each one having 4,583-strong inf regiments made up of 2 1,057-strong battalions each (a battalion made up of 4 263-strong inf companies), an 80-strong machine gun company plus a 180-strong non-combatant labor company; a cavalry battalion (2 squadrons); a single 1,959-strong field artillery regiment (3 three-battery battalions, a single howitzer battery); mounted and dismounted military police companies; an engineer battalion (2 companies); a medical company; along with a supply company.

The cavalry divisions had 2 cavalry brigades, each one having 2 657-strong cavalry regiments with 4 squadrons (a 141-strong squadron including non-combatant labor, machine gun and 3 cavalry platoons); a single horse artillery regiment (with 3 three-battery battalions); signals, medical plus supply companies.

The 1st-3rd Armies each had a heavy artillery, fortress and mountain artillery battalion (3 batteries) as headquarter units.
There have been Forty first-line (1-40) as well as Thirty-five second line (41-75) inf regiments – Forty-eight within the Twelve infantry divisions, Twenty-four on occupation tasks in Macedonia, Morava Area (Eastern Serbia) and Drama Area (Greek Western Thrace).
36 3rd Line National Militia battalions (each one having 4 companies 150-250 strong) additionally carried out occupation tasks, while Thirty-six 4th line militia battalions (each one having 4 companies 100-120 strong) were stationed on protect tasks in Bulgaria.
Army Headquarters possessed a Royal Life Guard Cavalry Regiment (3 squadrons); 21 148-strong frontier-guard companies reassigned coming from area inf regiments; a 534-strong railway battalion (4 companies); a 537-strong bridging battalion (5 companies); a 410-strong signals battalion (3 companies); plus a mixed engineer and signals battalion.

The Army Air Corps manning 2 squadrons (I-II), organized into a wing in July 1916.

The tiny Bulgarian Navy, established at Varna ruled by Maj. Gen. Konstantin Kirkov, approximately 500 men manning the Nadiendja torpedo-gunboat, six Creusot torpedo-boats and a few launches within the Black Sea and Danube Flotillas, didn’t have influence on world war one.

Bulgaria’s status as ‘the Prussia of the Balkans’ had suffered from her defeat in the Second Balkan War (1913), and it demanded direct German command over 1/2 of her units to keep up fighting spirit in Macedonia and Dobrudja in regard to what was an unpopular conflict.

By June 1918 the majority of German units had been removed from the front line to the Western Front, nevertheless, resulting in a breakdown in moral within the war-weary Bulgarians and eventually to the armistice of 30 September 1918.

BULGARIA (October 14, 1915 – September 30, 1918)

  • Soldiers available on mobilization = 300,000
  • Army strength during the war = 400,000
  • KIA Military = 95,000
  • Wounded Military = 155,000
  • Civilian losses = unknown, but low

References and literature

Army Uniforms of World War I (Andrew Mollo, Pierre Turner)
World War I Infantry in Colour Photographs (Laurent Mirouze)
Armies of the Balkan Wars 1912-13 (Stephen Walsh)
Armies in the Balkans 1914-18 (Darko Pavlovic)

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1 thought on “Bulgarian Army 1915-18”

  1. The given data is incorrect. The Bulgarian Army reached a peak strength of around 850.000 men in 1918. Bulgaria, a nationality of 5.5 million possessing a state with a population of 4.5 (4,3 in census 1910 and 4.8 1920, 1 million living under foreign control in 1920) million people mobilized 1.200.000 men during the period 1912-1918. In Bulgarian the period 1877-1945 including 6 wars and 2 organized rebellions is known as “the wars for national liberation and unification”.

    “The exact number of all the mobilized men during the war however remains unclear. Some sources point at a number of 1,200,000 men[18] which seems to be on the high side but still may be close to the truth. When trying to determine the precise number it must be taken into account that towards September 1918 the Bulgarian Army reached a strength ranging between 855,175[Krapchanski p.119] and 877,392[Noikov p.25] men under arms in all branches of the service, or some 18% of the population, and that for the duration of the war the army also used the manpower of the territories it had occupied – some 133,837 men from the Macedonian regions were mobilized.”

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