Who's Who - Nikola Zhekov

Nikola Zhekov Nikola Zhekov (1864-1949) served as Bulgaria's Commander-in-Chief from 1916-18 during World War One.

Prior to Bulgaria's belated entry into the First World War in October 1915 Zhekov saw service during two earlier conflicts: the 1885 war with Serbia, and the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, where during the latter he served as Second Army's Chief of Staff.

From August-October 1915 Zhekov was Bulgaria's Minister of War, working to prepare his country for its entry into the First World War on the side of the Central Powers (and determined upon an invasion of Serbia).  With the declaration of war Zhekov was consequently appointed the army's Commander-in-Chief on the Balkan Front.

From the very first Zhekov found his own room for strategic manoeuvre markedly limited by the dominating requirements of Bulgaria's senior wartime partner, Germany.  This took the form of the formidable (and invariably successful) German commander August von Mackensen.

Attached to Mackensen's Army Group the Bulgarian First Army liaised with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in crushing the Serbian army at home (albeit at the second attempt); Zhekov's force also served in the successful attack against the port of Kavalla in August-September 1917.

Thereafter the Bulgarian government - and therefore Zhekov - came under pressure to provide troops to take part in Mackensen's Romanian campaign.  Separately, Zhekov was successful in throwing back Allied offensives in Salonika in the autumn of 1916 and the spring of 1917 at the Battles of Florina and Lake Prespa.

Zhekov's concerns were not purely of a military nature however.  In 1917 an anti-government group, aware of Zhekov's own frustrations with Vasil Radoslavov's government (chiefly over limited army supplies), attempted to recruit his help in toppling the Prime Minister.  On this occasion Zhekov spurned the opposition group's advances, reporting its existence to the Prime Minister; he proved less loyal to Radoslavov the following year.

1918 finally saw Zhekov ally himself with the anti-Radoslavov movement, with the consequent fall of the Prime Minister in June that year.  By this stage however Bulgaria was en route to wartime defeat, with collapse imminent during the autumn's hugely successful Allied Vardar Offensive (which Zhekov sat out through illness).  (Click here to read the Allied armistice terms.)

He consequently chose to flee into exile in Germany, emerging only in 1923 to defend his reputation in Bulgaria.  It was not a fortuitous move: he was promptly jailed for three years before emerging once again to exile in Germany, where he later became a Nazi.

He died in 1949.

The Russian war ace Alexander Kozakov claimed 20 victories during the war; his nearest compatriot, Vasili Yanchenko, claimed 16.

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