* World War I -- Bulgaria








World War I: Bulgaria


Figure 1.--This Bulgarian boy wears what looks like a school uniform. I think the writing is the boy's name and his grade/form. The portrait was taken in Setember 1918, just before the end of the War. Bulgaria did not begin to develop a modern school system until indepenene (1878). And at the time of World War I, mamy peasant families were still not sending their children to school. Apparently not all closed. Conditions in Bulgaria had deteriorated badly in Bulgaria after several years of war, begiining with the Balkan Wars (1912-13). Many schools closed during the wars. Basic school operations were not fully resumed until the mid-20s. Click on the image to see the short message on the bavk.

Bulgaria believed that it had a right to Macedonia. Nationalists were upset with thecsmall part of Macedonia it received in the First Balkan War (1912-13). As a result it largely caused the Second Balkan War (JuneľAug. 1913). This time Bulgaria not only fought Turkey, but its former Christian allies as well. Not surprisinly Bulgaria lost the War and substantial territory, primarily to Serbia. The territory gained by Serbia made it a growing threat to Austria-Hungary which had a Slavic minority in its southern provinces, especially newly annexed Bulgaria. The desire to destroy Serbia as a threat to the Empire was why Austrian authorities made such onerous demands on Serbia following the assasination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand (June 1914). With the outbreak of the World War I (August 1914), Germany courted allies. One of the few countries to respond was Bulgaria. German diplomats promissed Bulgaria territories it lost during the Balkan Wars if they joined the Central Powers. And Bulgaria was still intent or obtaining Macedonia. Even before Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, the Bulgarians allowed the German to ship pontoon bridges to the Ottomons to be used in crossing the Suez Canal in an attack on Egypt. Bulgaria participated in the attack on Romania after that country joined the Allies (1917). A new front opened up when Greece entered the War on the Allied side (1917). Although Romania was defeated, the Bulgarians had to face a new front opened from Greece with Greek, Serbia, and British troops. The demise of Austria-Hungary and the defeat of Germany on the Western Front ended the War. The defeat of Germany on the Western Front (1918), With his failures to obtain Macedonia in the Balkan WSars and World War I, King King Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son (1918). Bulgaria was punished by the victorious Allies in the the Peace treaty of Neuilly (1919). Bulgaria had to cede southwest Thrace to Greece and much of Macedonia to Serbia which became Yugoslavia. Bulgaria as a result lost access to the Aegean Sea. Bulgaria also had to ceed territory to Romania.

Bulgarian Monarchy

The Bulgars invaded and soon dominated the Balkans in the 7th century. They accepted Christianity under Tsar Boris I in the 9th cetury. Tsar Simeon greatly expanded Bulgarian territory in the 10th century. The Christian kindoms in Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans were conquered by the Ottomon Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Bulgarian royal dynasty was restablished in the 19th century after the decline of Ottomon rule. A member of the German royal family was selected for the Bulgarian monarchy.

Bulgarian Foreign Relations

Bulgaria had a German monarchy. This was not a decisive factor, as so did Romania and Greece which joined the Allies in World War I. There were also close cultural and ethnic ties with the Russians. Bulgaria's primary treaty relationship before the War was with Russia. A military convention was signed by the two countries (1902). That treaty, however, lapsed (1913). We are not sure why, but probably was related to expansive territorial claims during the Balkan Wars. Bulgarian claims also alientated all its neighbors and resulted in the Second Balkan War in which Bulgaria faced a coalition of its neighbors. Here Serbia was a major foe. Thus as the Balkan crisis unfolded with the assaination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was the Central Powers which could offer the Bulgarians the most in terms of territorial gasins. The Nulgarians were also impressed with the success of German arms in the firstyear of the War.

Balkan Wars (1912-13)

The Balkans Wars are very complicated and involved extensive assaults and killing of civilians by all sides. Italy began the assault on the Ottomon Empire by declaring war in this case to secure a new colony in North Africa--Libya. The Turko-Italian War (1911-12). While fought outside the Balkans, it further weaked Ottomon troops. In this case the Ottomons largely ceeded to Italian demands because of the worsening situation in the Balkas. The First Balkan War (1912) was essentially a continuation of the wars for independence from the Ottoman Empire. This meant by the 20th century dividing up the spoils of the Ottomon territories in Europe. The new Balkan states (Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia) combined to drive the Ottomans from Eastern Roumelia (Lower Thrace and Macedonia). Unfortunately for the people of Macedonia and other Balkan lands, there was no agreed plan for partitioned the territory liberated from the Ottomans. Which lead to the Second Balkan War (1913). Bulgaria believed that it had a right to Macedonia. Nationalists were upset with the small part of Macedonia it received in the First Balkan War (1912-13). As a result it largely caused the Second Balkan War (JuneľAug. 1913). Romania joined this war to get a slice of Bulgaria--Southern Dobrud×a. Even the Ottomns attacked Bulgaria which had occupied areas desired by its neighbors. The First Balkan War had been fought by the Balkan states obstensibly to liberate Christian peoples from Muslim Turkis rule. This time Bulgaria not only fought Turkey, but its former Christian allies as well. The Second Balkan War was largely fought among those Christian states and involved attrocities and ethnic cleaning that still affect the people of the Balkans today. Not surprisinly Bulgaria lost the War and substantial territory, primarily to Serbia. While not active participants, the Wars also involved Russia and Austria-Hungary. The rivalries involved were probably a factor in the ability of the two Emoires to contain the escalating conflict after the assasination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which finally led ton World War I. In the end, Bulgaria was outraged by the territories that it had to surender. In particular it had to renounce its claims to Macedonia and cede Southern Dobrud×a back to Romania. This left an embittered Bulgaria, once World War I (1914) broke out, willing to join the Central Powers to regain these territories. As did the Ottomons. The Greeks, Serbs, and Romanians joined the Allies.

Balkan Crisis (July 1914)

Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia (1908) intensified ethnic tensions in the Balkans. The territory gained by Serbia in the Balkan Wars made it a growing threat to Austria-Hungary which had a Slavic minority in its southern provinces, especially newly annexed Bosnia. Serbian nationalists assassinatied Archduke Francis Ferdinand (June 28, 1914). The desire to destroy Serbia as a threat to the Empire was why Austrian authorities made such onerous demands on Serbia following the assasination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand (June 1914). There is no evidence that the Serbian government was directly responsible, although Government officials did support terroist groups. Austro-Hungarian officials were concerned with the rising demands of Slavic national groups and decided that reducing Serbia which had made substantial gains in the Balkan Wars (1912-13) would help to control the Slavs and Pan-Slavism. Count Berchtold persuaded the Emperor to wage a punitive campaign against Serbia. Austria issued a an ultimatum with a list of demands (July 23). Serbia wished to avoid the War. The Serbs were exhausted by the two Balkan Wars. War with the much larger Austria-Hungary Army was a ausome threat. The Serbian Government thus accepted all of the Austrian demands, except the demand for Austrian officials to participate in Serbian courts.

Outbreak of War (August 1914)

It was Serbian terrorism that actually precipitated World War I although many other forces were at work that led to the War. It was these forces that prevented mediation of the Balkans incident. The Serbs held out as a result of Russian pledges to support Serbia in case of Austrian attack. The Germans supported the Austrians rejected efforts by the British (Sir Edward Grey) to negotiate. Audtria-Hungary declared war on Serbia (July 28). Russian mobilization resulted in a German ultimatum (July 31). When the Russians continued to mobilize, the Germans declared war on Russia (August 1) and on France (August 3). Thus launching World War I.

Neutrality

Bulgaria when War I brike out had no treaty obligations to the belgerant countries. Both King Ferdinand and the Government headed by Prime Minister Vasil Radoslavov declared Bulgaria neutral. Bulgaria especially after the Ottoman Empire entered the War (October 1914) was neutrak, but surrounded by the waring countries. The Government was not especially committed to neutrality, but rather wanted time to assess if the Central Powers or Allies were most likely to prevail as well as what Bulgaria could gain from the War. Both the Central Powers and the Allies attenpted to vonvince the Bulgarians to join their side, offering territorial concessions. Europeans expected the war to be quickly decided. The Bulgarians were no exception. Ferdinand and his ministers temporized, watching the military developments to determine which side was more likely to emerge victorious.

Declaration of War (October 1915)

Bulgarian officials differed as to the appropriate course of action. The Radoslavov government wanted to join the Central Powers. The more important opposition parties preferred the Allies (Entente). The Agrarians and Socialists objected to entering the War. The Central Powers although stopped on the Western Front reported major gains on the Eastern Front, taking Warsaw as well as most of Poland (1915). The Ottomons also demonstrated at Galipoli that they were a capable military power (1915). After the outbreak of World War I, both sides courted Allies. The Allies were much more successful. Few other countries joined Germany and Austro-Hungary. Both sides courted Bulgaria. One of the few countries to respond to the Cental Powers was Bulgaria. ia. German diplomats promissed Bulgaria territories it lost during the Balkan Wars if they joined the Central Powers. And Bulgaria was still intent or obtaining Macedonia. Even before Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, the Bulgarians allowed the German to ship pontoon bridges to the Ottomons to be used in crossing the Suez Canal in an attack on Egypt. In the end the Central Powers had more to offer. Much of the territory that the Bulgarians wanted was in Greek and Serbian hands. And Serbia was a member of the Allies. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians already at war woth Servbis, had no problrem with offering the Bulgarians Serbian territitory. Not only did the Germans look like they were winning the War, but they has more to offer Bulgaria. The Cental Powers offered Bulgaria territory (part of Turkish Thrace as well as a substantial part of Macedonia) as well as financial assistance for war expenses. Bulgari as a result negotiated a secret treaty with the Central Powers formalizing the relationship. Bulgaria than invaded Serbia (Sptember 6, 1915). At the time the country's other borders were with neutral countries (Romania and Greece) or other menbers of the Central Powers (Ottomans). Bulgaria formally entered the war with an invasion of Serbia (October 14).

Bulgarian Action

Bulgaria was involved in several campaigns.

Serbia (1915)

Austria had planned to quickly punish Serbia in 1914 and end Serb irendentism in its southern provinces. What happened, however, was that not only did the Serb Armny repulse the Austrians, but the comflict spiraled into a general European war involving Austria in a bruising battle with the Russians on the Eastern Front in Galicia. The Serbian war plan was to rapidly double the size of the army from 5 to 10 divisions. Unlike Austria-Hungary, the small Serbian Army was battle tested, having participated in a series of Balkan wars. Although the War began in the Balkans, the campaign there is the least reported campaign of World war I. Austria began the campaign by launching three offensives against Serbia (1914). All three failed. The Austrian failure in 1914 had been embarassing. The Central Powers planed a larger offensive for 1915. Bulgaroan participation in the War became increasingly important. The Ottomons did not manufacture advanced armaments. Ottomon military action would require arms shipments from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Thus rail connections thriugh Bulgaria were essential. The Royal Navy made sea transport impossuible. The Central Powers planned a new offensive against Serbia in 1915. The Central Powers launched their massive invasion of Serbia with an attack in ther north. The Austrians this time backed by the Germans attacked across the Danube (October 6). The Bulgars a weekl lster attacked in the south, into both eastern Serbia (October 11) and Macedonia (October 14). The Bulgarian attack in the south surprised the Serbs. Already reeling from ther Austrian-German attack in the north, the Serbs were pushed out of Macedonia and Serbia itself. The Serbian Army, however, was not destroyed. The Serbian Army facing destruction executed a terrible winter retreat west over the Albanian mountains. They were accompanied by the King and many civilians. They sought refuge on the island of Corfu. Allied naval power made it impossible for the Astrian-German forces attack them. This meant, however, that Serbia was finally occupied by the Central Powers. I have no information at this time on the Austrian-German occupation. Serbian sources report that Croats and Muslims commited atrocities on Serb civilians. This is a highly politicized topic. I am not sure just what occurred in the wake of the Astrian-German advance. The Bulgarians occupied most of Macedonia, including Greek Macedonia, although Greece did not declare war.

Greece--Salonika/Macedonian Front (1915)

The Greek Government was still undecided about the War. Even when the Bulgarians occupied Greek Macedonia, Greece did not enter the War. The western Allies attempted to assist Serbia. Greece was neutral, but Prime Minister EleuthÚrios VenizÚlos favored the Allies and made the port of Salonika available. The Allies diverted troops from the Gallipoli campaign. Commanded by French General Maurice Sarrail the Allied troops arrived at Salonika (October 5). VenizÚlos under pressure from King Constantine resigne. Nevertheless the Allies pressed forward north up the Vardar into Serbian Macedonia. Bulgar forces, however, prevented them from linking up with the Serbs. The Allied forced fell back to Salonika (mid-December 1915). The Allied action while failing to save the Serbs, stopped the Bulgarian advance, but the Allies were unable to break through to liberate Serbia. The Allies in the end committed a substantial force, about 0.5 million men which were badly needed on the Western Front. The British and French were reinforced with the Serbs (1916). Fighting and losses continued through 1916 into 1917. There were not major changes to the front until the Allies lsunched their Great Offensive (September 1918).

Romania (1916)

The Romanians liked the Bulgarians and Greeks temporized about entering the War. Especially tempting for the Romanians was Transylvania, at the time in Austro-Hungarian hands. When a Russian offensive looked like it might knock Austria-Hungary out of the War, the Romanians invaded. German attacks left the Russians unable to take advantage of their gains. The Central Powers then prepared an offensive against the Romanians. Bulgaria participated in the attack on Romania after that country joined the Allies (1916). Although Romania was defeated, the Bulgarians had to face a new front opened from Greece with Greek, Serbia, and British troops.

Russia

Although Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915, there was no serious fighting with the Russians because Romania which separated them was neutral. This changed in 1916 whenb the Romanians entered the War. After the defeat of the Romanians a front was established with the Russians. By this time, however, discipline in both the Russian and Bulgarian Armies was declining and a result there were no massed battles. In fact soldier committes were organized and there was extensive fraternizing.

Home front (1916-17)

After the victories in Serbia and Romania the Bulgarians were unable to achieve victory against the Allied force at Salonika. The front there stabalized into a costly war of attrition. Conditions deteriorated for the soldiers at the front. Gradually the popular support that the Government had enjoyed from the public began to deteriorate. Food and other shortages developed in 1916 further eroding support for the War. Ministerial shuffles occurred, but the Government was unavle to address the problem. One of the major difficulties that mobilization and proteracted fighting had reduced the wiork gforce, impsiring agricultural output. This only got worse in 1917. The Russian Revolution further destabilized the situtation. Both Agrarians and Socialist-oriented workers began to increase their demands and intensify their opposition to the War. Soldiers began to organize committees and the army became politically unreliable. The Bolsheviks were activev in Bulgaria. There were instances of fraternizarion between Bulgarian and Russian soldiers on the Moldavian front.

Air Force

The Bulgarian military like other Europeaan militaries showed an interest in aviation even before the Wright Brother's flight (1903). The county did not, however, have the technological pt industrial capability to design or build military aircraft. Thus they at first turned to Russia and France. At first for baloon tevhnology. Bulgaria had a lomg term orientation towars Russia, in part because of Russian anti-Ottoman orintation. Thus the initial technology and aircraft obtained were French amd Russian. (France and Russia had a security treaty relationship.) The Bulgariann Aviation Corps plyed arole in the capture of Odrin/Adrianople from the Turks in the First Balkan War (1912). Serbian foreign policy changed as Russian supportnof Serbia changed Bulgaria's orientation. Bulgaria and Serbia foughtbeach other in the Second Balkan War (1913). As a result, Bulgria joined the Central Powers in the First World War and invaded southern Serbia (October 1915). And the aircraft and support available tp the Bulgarians became increasingly German. The Allies opened the Salonika/Macedonian Front in a failed effort to assist the Serbs. The Bulgarians were the primary Central Powers force on this front. Newly acquired German LVG aircraft were pressed into action Bulgarian military aviation supplied by the Germans steadily increased in both numbers and quality of planes. The Germans, however, were unable to match the Allies on the Western Front so were limited in their ability to support Bulgaria. The Bilgarian First Aeroplane Section (the only aircraft formtion) was attached to the Second Bulgarian Army on the Salonika Front. It reported 255 sorties compared to the 397 sorties flown by by the four Allied squadrons on the front.

Liberation of Serbia

The Allies planned a new offensive. The Allies forces at Salonika were reinforced by the Serb Army transported from Corfu and more British and French troops as well as some Russians. What followed was a sea-saw battle with the Bulgars in Macedonia. The Allies were eventually reinforced by the Greek Army when Greece entered the War (June 1917). Greek and Serbian troops eventually proved decisive in breaking the Bulgar lines. This then opened up the liberation of Serbia.

Defeat

Dimitur Blagoev, founder of the Social Democratic Party (Bulgaria's most important Socialist party) organized a rally attracting 10,000 perople in Sofia (December 1917). Blagoev demanded an immediate end to the war and the creation of a news government. This set the stage for 1918. Civic disorder spread. Riots and strikes spread around the country. A "women's revolt" protested food and clothing shortages. country in 1918. The Government was severely impaired when the details of the Treataty of Bucharest were announced. The Treaty divided Romania among the vocvtorious Central Powers. One of Bulgaria's main war objectives was the Dobruja, but most of the province was not awarded toBulgaria. This meant that all of the suffering and sacrifice of the War had not even brought Bulgaria Dobruja. The Bulgarian public was outraged. The Radoslavov government resigned (June 1918). Aleksandur Malinov replaced him as prime-minister. Malinov tried to divide the opposition by bringing the agrarian Aleksandur Stamboliiski into the government. Malinov was, however, committed to the War and Stamboliiski was committed to ending the War. The conditions at the front and anti-War opropaganda had throughly undetrmined the morale and didscipline of the Bulgarian Army. A British and French offensive at Dobro Pole routed the Bulgarian Army which retreated in disaray. The Allies entered Bulgaria 10 days later.

King Boris

The defeat at Dobro Pole and retreat resulted in a soldier's revolt. This was crushed by German troops leaving Sofia in the Government's hands. The political situastion, however, was untenable as the reign of King Ferdinand. He had overseen two wars (Second Balkans War and World War I) which had proven disatrous for country. The Government fearing open revolution, forced the King to abdicate (Late September). King Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his son who was crowned Boris III (1918).

Armistice (September 1918)

The Bulgarian Government signed an armistice (September 29).

Aftermath

The Armistice and the end of the War quited the political situation for a time. The situatution was still unstable. There were widespread shortages. An unstable government ruled (1919). A general election was called.

Peace Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (November 1919)

Bulgaria was punished by the victorious Allies in the the Peace treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (1919). Bulgaria had to cede southwest Thrace to Greece and much of Macedonia to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes which became Yugoslavia. Bulgaria as a result lost access to the Aegean Sea. Bulgaria also had to ceed Southern Dobruja to Romania. The Treaty limited the Bulgarian Army to a small volunteer force. Conscription was prohibited. Bulgaria had to pay reparations of industrial and agricultural goos to Yugoslavia, Romania, and Greece. The country also had to make monetary reparations to the Allies for 37 years. The payment scheduled was subsequently moderated (1923). Compared to the other membetrs of the Central Powers, Bulgarian territorisal losses were relatively small. The Treaty left Bulgarian nationalists frustrated. Many Bulgarian natioinalists because of the war time partnership and the mutual self view of agreeved nations left a lingering attachment with Germany. This resentment was more directed to the British and French, however than the Russians. And it was complicated by the fact that King Noris had deeop reservations with the NAZIs who seized power in Germany (1933).






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Created: 4:15 AM 4/14/2006
Last updated: 6:59 PM 1/18/2020