Bulgaria in World War 2

Map of Bulgaria during World War 2

Map of Bulgaria during World War 2. [Source: Gotsev D. sp. Macedonian Pregled, br.3 / 2004 (or. Гоцев Д. сп. Македонски преглед, бр.3/2004]

Even though Germany was the most powerful country in the Axis, many other countries formed the coalition. Bulgaria was one of them. The Tsardom of Bulgaria did not participate in the Great Patriotic War (they only sent a medical unit, as we will see) but they use many troops against partisans, so we can say that it did participate on it indirectly, as it freed many German units that were send to the Eastern Front. This is the summary of Bulgaria in World War 2.

Background

Bulgaria had a population of 6.319.000 inhabitants and its area was 103.100 square kilometres in 1938. From October, 1918 on Tsar Boris the III was the Head of State and in 1939 Georgi Kyoseivanov (1940-9/9/1943: Bogdan Filov; 9/9/1943-14/9/1943: Petar Gabrovski; 14/09/1943-1/6/1944: Dobri Bozhilov and 1/6/1944-2/9/1944: Ivan Ivanov Bagryanov) was the Prime Minister. Despite Kyoseivanov was the Prime Minister, his government was little more than Tsar’s puppet. The regime has inclination towards fascism, especially when Filov was in charge.

After World War I, Bulgaria lost some territories as it was Germany’s ally and they lost the war. Bulgaria wanted those territories back and that was one of the reasons of the future Bulgarian Pro-Axis politics.

Neutrality

Just before the start of the war, Bulgaria was in a very difficult position. The war was about to start and, as the other countries in the region, Bulgaria had to decide which country to support. Elites and the military command wanted to support Nazi Germany while people preferred to support the Soviet Union. The Tsar would choose the fascist if he would be forced to support one or the other.

When Germany launched its offensive in Poland, Great Britain and France pressured Bulgaria, as they wanted a neutral Bulgaria. The Tsar declare neutrality on September 16th. France was defeated in June, 1940 and, then the Allies stopped pressuring Bulgaria, but pressure appeared from the other side.

Bulgarians entering Southern Dobrudzha

Bulgarians entering Southern Dobrudzha, 1940

That month, Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Miniter, requested the return of the areas Romania got in 1919. It is important to notice that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) in August 1939, so the relations between them were not hostile at that moment. Finally, on September 7th, 1940 Hitler forced Romania to sign a treaty (Treaty of Craiova) in which Bulgaria got Southern Dobrudza, the same area Bulgaria lost in 1919.

In October 1940, Italy attacked Greece and, from the very beginning, it was a disaster. Even though Bulgaria was not part of the Axis yet, it allowed the entrance of some German engineers and Luftwaffe personnel. Eventually, Bulgaria acceded to the Axis Tri-Partite Treaty (Hitler demanded this some times before, but Boris did not agree) on March 1st, 1941, allowing the use of its military facilities and railway.

Bulgaria as belligerent

Using Bulgaria as a springboard, Nazi Germany quickly conquered Yugoslavia and Greece. Bulgaria, as it become an Axis member in March, was awarded with almost the entire Yugoslavian Macedonia, a little Serbian area and Greek Thrace (Bulgarian called it Belomorie). Even though the country did not take part in the offensive, Bulgarian Army entered both countries as soon as the clashes finished, as occupation unit.

Bulgarian Army

Bulgaria lost World War I and due to that, its army was limited to 20.000 men, including internal forces and border guards. But as well as Germany, it started rearming from 1934 on. During the spring of 1941, the Bulgarian Armed Forces were composed by 230.000 men divided in:

  • 16 infantry divisions
  • 2 cavalry divisions
  • 1 motorized brigade
  • 7 air regiments (in 1940: Around 300 combat aircrafts, 10 seaplanes, 9 airfields; Some German and French aircrafts were received during 1941).
  • Special and service units
  • 4 old torpedo-boats
  • 2 motor torpedo-boats
  • 2 training sailing-ships

When Macedonia was given to Bulgaria, the manpower was used for the creation of the 5th Army. When its formation finished, the Armed Forces grew to:

  • 21 infantry division.
  • 2 independent cavalry brigades
  • 2 brigades of border guards
  • 1 armoured brigade

Repression and anti-Semitism

Bulgarian invasion of Macedonia

Bulgarian invasion of Macedonia (Yugoslavia), April 1941

When the Army entered Macedonia, at the beginning most of the people welcomed them, but the conquerors started a brutal policy of Bulgarization, so they lost people’s confidence. In Belomorie (Greek Thrace) the occupation was even more savage. Bulgaria started a Bulgarization there too, but people who did not accept it were deported or murdered. Many businesses and lands were confiscated and Bulgarians were sent to take charge of them. When the Greek revolted, the occupation forces executed as many as 15.000.

During the occupation, Hitler pressured the Tsar to apply some anti-Semitic laws. 11.000 Jews were sent from Macedonia and Greek Thrace to Treblinka, one of the Extermination camps used by the Nazis. Most of them were killed there. When the German asked for Bulgarian Jews, the Tsar sent them to labour camps but he did not deport them to Germany. Some sources stat that the Tsar and his wife Princess Goivanna of Savoy avoid any deportation, saving 50.000 Jews.

Fighting against Partisans

When Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, Bulgaria did not. The Germans wanted a Bulgarian legion to be used in the Eastern Front but the Tsar denied, as well as the joining of Bulgarian to the SS, but finally he sent a medical unit. Anyway, Bulgaria did not fight against the Soviet Union because the Tsar knew that people would revolted, as they have a good impression of Soviet people.

As soon as the Soviet-German War started, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party (the Communist Party of Bulgaria) started organizing the partisan movement to fight against German occupation forces and Bulgarian regime. On June 26th, 1941 the First Bulgarian Partisan Detachment was formed in Upper Dzumaya. In June 1942 the Fatherland Front (it stipulated the relations with the Axis, the start of co-operation with Soviet Union and the Allies, the abolition of Bulgaria’s monarchist-fascist regime and the proclamation of popular-democratic rule) was founded, been crucial in the Liberation. From June 1941 to December 1942, the partisans carried out 520 actions.

The defeat of the 6th German Army in Stalingrad and the good job carried out by the Yugoslavian Army of National Liberation were the turning point of the partisan movement. The movement was reorganized into 12 partisan operational zones and a Partisan General Staff was created. The power of the movement grew and in mid-1944 its strength was: 20.000 partisans, 20.000 resistance members and 10.000 fighters of separate groups.

Of course, Bulgarian regime tried to destroy these partisan units but they were unable to do it even though the government rewarded for the heads of partisans. The Bulgarian Armed Forces fought against partisans not only in Bulgaria but in Yugoslavia too, participating in the repression. For example, two Bulgarian army regiments were used during Operation Schwarz (also named Fifth Enemy Offensive or Battle of the Sutjeska) to try to destroy the main Yugoslavian partisan units, but they were unable to achieve their goal.

Between 1941 and 1944, 9.150 Bulgarian partisans and over 20.000 members of the resistance were killed, 31.540 people were sent to concentration/extermination camps. From 1942 until September 9th, 1944 60.345 resistance/partisans-related Bulgarians were arrested and 12.461 were sentenced to death.

Fighting against the Allies

Bulgaria declared war on USA and Great Britain on December 13th, 1941 but the German defeat in Stalingrad changed governors mind quickly. Several diplomats started offering peace to the Allies but among the conditions to sign it, they wrote that Bulgaria would keep its territorial gains. Obviously, the Allies rejected the offer.

In 1943, the Allies started with the Strategic Bombing of Romanian oilfields. Bulgarian Air Force was too weak for attacking allies air raids but Bulgarian anti-aircraft units help Luftwaffe.

On August 28th Tsar Boris died when he was 49 years old, and his son Simeon replaced him as Tsar Simeon II. The bombing of Sofia started in late 1943. Those bombings threatened people and Bulgarians started to blame on the government for joining the Axis while the partisans continue growing. Bulgaria started again with the peace offers, but the Allies wanted an unconditional surrender, so they did not agree nothing.

On August 26th, 1944 the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party issued a directive explaining the armed uprising that had to be done. The Red Army was near the border and on September 2nd the Soviet Union sent an ultimatum ordering Bulgaria to kick out German troops from its country. The government collapsed.

Red Army entering Sofia

Red Army entering Sofia, September 9th, 1944

Three days after the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and three days after it, September 9th, 1944 the Fatherland Front took-over the government and established the first popular-democratic government with Kimon Georgiev as Prime Minister (that was the second time Georgiev was Prime Minister of Bulgaria; the first one from 19/05/1934 to 22/1/1935). Finally, one day after, September 10th, 1944 Bulgaria declared war on Germany. Later, it signed an armistice with the Allies on October 10th, 1944 but it lost all the occupied territories except Southern Dobruja, the territory Romania got in 1919 but was returned to Bulgaria in 1940.

Fighting against Axis

Bulgarian paratroopers entering Kumanovo

Bulgarian paratroopers entering Kumanovo, November 1944

The new rulers purged Nazis from the military and reorganized the army, including the incorporation of political officers. They fought against the German troops and their collaborators that where in Bulgaria and its occupied territories of Macedonia and Greek Thrace. On September 19th-20th, a general mobilization took place, mobilizing 450.000 soldiers (40.000 volunteers) that were distributed in: 16 infantry divisions, one cavalry division, 2 cavalry brigades, one armoured brigade and two brigades of border guards. On September 9th, Bulgaria had 196 tanks: 88 Panzer IV, 36 Škoda, 10 Praga, 20 light Horch armoured cards, 40 Renault T35s, 9 Vickers E and 14 Fiat CV-3. The Soviet Union gave some tanks to the Bulgarian Army want it took control of it (more information regarding Bulgarian Army tanks in (2)).

Since September 17th, the 1st, 2nd and 4th Bulgarian armies fought against the German troops that where retreating from Greece and the rest of occupied countries in the area. They liberated, among others, Kumanovo and Skopje. Bulgarian Air Force and Navy also took part in the actions against Germany. By the end of 1944, when the Red Army and the rest of Soviet allies were fighting along the Danube, a brand new 1st Army was formed. Before the end of the war, it participated in the liberation of Slovenia and finish its way in Austria in May 1945. Combating the Axis, 31.360 Bulgarian soldiers were killed or wounded.

After the World War 2

After the war, on September 15th, 1946 Bulgaria became People’s Republic of Bulgaria. In June 1990, the Bulgarian Socialist Party won the elections and one year after the country adopted a new Constitution, becoming a capitalist country again, even though the change did not improve the quality of people during 1990s.

Gallery

Sources

(1) “Bulgarian Armed Forces of WWII”. Bulgarian Armed Forces of WWII. 26 Aug. 2018 <http://members.tripod.com/~marcin_w/index-bul.html>.

(2) “Bulgarian Tanks in World War 2”. Tank Encyclopedia. 26 Aug. 2018 <http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/bulgaria/bulgarian-tanks-in-world-war-2>

(3) Hans Johnson. “Bulgaria in WW2.” Armchair General. 26 Aug. 2018 <http://armchairgeneral.com/bulgaria-in-world-war-ii.htm>.

Last cavalry charge in History

Last cavalry charge in History

Italian cavalry charge in Izbushensky

Cavalry charges were very usual from Ancient history until 19th century, but with the appearance of some modern weapons like the machine gun and the motorization and mechanization of the armies, their power went down very fast until they disappeared during 20th century. Even so, some cavalry charges took place after The Great War, some of them even after the start of World War 2, the war that changed the War Theory drastically.

On August 24, 1942 (some sources place the action on August 23), about 600 Italian cavalrymen from the Savoia Cavalleria Italian cavalry regiment charge, with sabres drawn, charge towards 2.000 infantrymen from the 812th Siberian Rifle Regiment (part of the 304th Rifle Division). It is known as the Izbushensky charge due to the location where it took place, and it is known as the last cavalry charge in History even though some charges may have taken place after this one during World War 2 (including a charge conducted by the 1st Italian Cavalry Division Eugenio di Savoia) and even after.

That day, the Italians charge towards the Soviets and using hand grenades and sabres bring about many casualties on the defenders.  Italians suffered casualties too, including 32 dead (the commanders of the 3rd and 4th squadrons among them), 52 wounded and 100 horses dead. Even though the action was a quite small skirmish, Italian propaganda used this action widely. That is the story of the ‘last cavalry charge in History’.

Sources

Jesse Greenspan. “Remembering History’s Last Major Cavalry Charges.” History. 23 Aug. 2012
<https://www.history.com/news/the-last-major-cavalry-charge-70-years-ago>.

“Charge of the Savoia Cavalleria at Izbyshensky”. Wikipedia. 19 Jul. 2018 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_of_the_Savoia_Cavalleria_at_Izbushensky>.

#ADayLikeToday in 1943, Kharkov was definitely liberated

Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev

Map of the Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev

A day like today in 1943, Kharkov was definitely liberated by the Red Army after two years been captured by both sides. The city and its nearest region was a very active war zone during those first two years of the Soviet-German War. If we look at the German terminology, there were four battles for the city, named First Battle of Kharkov, Second, etc.

The last one (named Fourth Battle of Kharkov by the Germans and Belgorod-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviets) finished on August 23rd, 1943. The city was captured the last day of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, one of the Soviets’ operations carried out after Operation Citadelle. The Operation was performed by the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts and was commanded by Ivan Konev. In addition to the capture of the city, the German 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf were seriously damaged.

Besides the capture of Kharkov, on August 23rd the Battle for Kursk came to its end. It started on July 5th and after one month and a half, the Soviet Union regained control of several cities along with several thousand square kilometres. The Red Army suffered incredible casualties but the German Armed Forced would never recover from this defeat.

Defense of Brest Fortress

During the first months of the Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union suffered some of the worst defeats in History. That is a fact we perfectly know. For example, during the Battle of Bialystok-Minsk or the Battle of Kiev many Soviet soldiers were killed or captured. But during those first weeks, some Soviet units did a great job, not winning battles but stopping German infantry and tanks. One of those actions was the Defense of Brest Fortress.

The Brest Fortress

Brest and its Fortress were located on the shores of Bug river, just in the border between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. They were part of Poland but the Soviets annexed them thanks to Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The Brest Fortress was a classic fortress of the 19th century. It was composed of four different islands due to Bug and Mujávets rivers. The headquarters and the barracks were located in the inner part and they could accommodate up to 12.000 soldiers. The fortifications around it were 1,5 meters’ width.

The Battle

On the 21st of June, just one day before the start of Operation Barbarossa, German spies and recon troupes reported that the Soviet did not expect an attack. Luckily for the Soviets, the command sent by Semion Timoshenko and Georgy Zhukov that night (they ordered all the units to be ready for action) did arrive to the garrison of the Brest Fortress (it did not arrive to many other units).

Map Operation Barbarossa

Map of Operation Barbarossa. The Brest Fortress is located in the cuadrant B3.

7 battalions belonging to the 6th “Orel’ Red Banner” Division and 42nd Rifle Division and some units belonging to the 17th NKVD Border troops and the 132nd NKVD Independent Battalion formed the garrison. In total, close to 3.500 soldiers.

On the 22nd of June, the German 45th Infantry Division assaulted the fortress after a heavy shelling, but they were unable to win the battle as the shelling was not even near to destroying the fortifications. Furthermore, the Soviets were mentally prepared, maybe due to the presence of NKVD troops and they did not follow Moscow’s guideline (not to ’provoke’ the enemy), as they used everything they had to defend the fortress from the very beginning.

Major Piotr Gavrilov

Major Piotr Gavrilov

On the 24th, the Soviet resistance was almost non-existent in the western part of Brest, but the Fortress still resisted. The attackers reported that on the 30th of June, after throwing 1.800 kilogram of bombs just the day before, they capture the fortress. That report is not 100% correct, as there were some Soviet groups still fighting inside the Fortress. Some of them fought until the 20th of July. Piotr Gavrilov, commander of the 44th Rifle Regiment of the 46th Rifle Division, was among them. He was able to prepare a jailbreak, but the Germans surrounded them and, after heavy fighting, he was captured.

The Brest Fortress was the first place where the Soviet resistance was really hard. The 45th Infantry Division suffered 319 kills (29 officials and 290 soldiers) during the first the of the battle. On the 30th of July, their casualties were 40 officials and 442 killed and 1.000 injured. At the end of June, the division reported to have fought against really prepared (military and morally) soldiers.

References

Chris Bellamy. Absolute War. Barcelona: Ediciones B, 2011. P. 207-209 and 239-242.