breach loading rifle

The Bulgarian Army

Prussia in the Balkans

Though the smallest member of the Central Powers in terms of size, population, and military forces, Bulgaria played a vital role in the Great War.  By joining with Germany and her allies, Bulgaria became a critical supply route to the Ottoman Empire.  On the battlefield, Bulgaria’s three armies dealt the coup de grace to Serbia, the same to Romania one year later.  The Bulgarian Army mobilized in September 1915, before the declaration of war on Serbia on October 14.  Two days later Bulgarian soldiers joined their German and Austro-Hungarian counterparts in the invasion of Serbia, overwhelming the outnumbered defenders.

The Bulgarian soldiers who took to the field came mostly from peasant backgrounds.  They were trained and experienced, having fought in the two Balkan Wars.  Altogether 616,680 men were mobilized in October, numbering eleven divisions plus several independent battalions, as well as the militia.  This represented 12% of the total Bulgarian population and left only 20,000 more reservists who had not been called up - still smarting from defeat in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria lacked manpower and material throughout the Great War, and faced a shortage of officers as well.  However, Bulgarian troops were battle hardened and generally stolid fighters; they were particularly famous for their ferocious bayonet charges.  Nikola Zhekov was the commander in chief of the Bulgarian Army throughout the war.  In total Bulgaria’s artillery force amounted to just over 1,200 guns, though ammunition was short.  In addition Bulgaria had a small naval force of riverboats and coastal torpedo craft.

Bulgarian troops wore brown tunics and field caps similar to those worn by the Russians and the British, a cockade bearing the national colors, white, green, and red, pinned in front.   Red shoulder straps and a red stripe on the cap denoted an infantryman, other arms used other colors.  The most distinctive feather of the Bulgarian soldier were his shoes, traditional pieces of footwear called opanak. Most Bulgarian infantry carried the Mannlicher M95 straight-pull bolt-action rifle, the same as used by the Austrians, but, lacking enough to equip every unit, the military issued outdated weaponry to other soldiers, including the Berdan II single-shot rifle, and the breach-loading Krnka Rifle.  Officers used Luger or Smith & Wesson pistols, while the cavalry carried sabres and carbines.  The Maxim gun, adopted in 1908, provided a heavy machine gun.  The Germans also sent supplies to their allies, including ammunition, Mauser rifles, and, after 1916, steel helmets