Feature Articles - The Minor Powers During World War One - Bulgaria

Bulgarian Tsar Alexander Bulgaria had been secretly wooed by both Germany and the Allies, hoping for an ally in the Balkans.

Bulgaria decided in favour of the Germans and declared war on Serbia on the 11th October 1915, hoping to annex the Serbian province of Macedonia.  By the 21st, Bulgarian troops had taken the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and had made contact with French forces on the Salonika Front.  3 days later, the Bulgarian army had driven a wedge between the Allied forces in Greece and the Serbian army they were trying to reach.

Despite the presence of allied troops on her soil, Greece was determined to remain neutral, so gave the key fortress of Rupel to the Bulgarians in the summer of 1916.  Soon the Bulgarian army had occupied a 40-mile strip of Greece, and on the 17th August, Bulgaria mounted a major offensive against Greece.  Although the offensive initially went well, capturing the town of Florina two days later, it soon ground to a halt under British Naval and aerial bombardment.

On the 24th April 1917, and again on the 8th May, British attacks against the Bulgarian trenches at Doiran were beaten off by Bulgarian artillery and machine-gun fire.  As the summer arrived, the British cautiously withdrew across the river Struma, but the Bulgarians, glad of the respite, did not pursue.

Bulgarian artilleryIn fact, the 1918 Bulgarian summer offensive had to be cancelled when desertion and mutiny immobilised the Bulgarian army.  Then the allies mounted their own offensive in September.

Doiran finally fell to British and Greek forces on the 18th, and the Bulgarian army was ordered to retreat on the 20th.

The defeat in Macedonia led to unrest and mutiny in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.  Several Bulgarian towns set up Soviets along the Russian model, and, as at Petrograd the previous year, loyal officer cadets were called in to disperse the mutineers.  They were helped in this by a German division which had just arrived from the Crimea.

On the 25th of September, British forces entered Bulgaria.  Two days later, a Bulgarian Republic was proclaimed at the small town of Radomir.  The leader was Alexander Stamboliisky (who was to become Prime Minister in 1919), but despite having 15,000 troops at his command, he was defeated by loyal forces in a three-day battle at Vladaya.

On the 28th September, Bulgaria began armistice talks with the Allies and hostilities ended on the Bulgarian front at noon on the 30th.

After the war, Bulgaria signed the Treaty of Neuilly, similar to the treaty of Versailles in its terms.  Bulgaria's armed forces were cut to the bone - only 20,000 men, no planes, no submarines - and she was forced to pay reparations over a 35-year period.  This would have taken her up until 1957 to pay off.

The Bulgarian army lost 90,000 soldiers during World War I, more than much larger countries like Canada and Australia.

In WW1 an "ace" was a pilot who scored five confirmed "kills".

- Did you know?

Minor Powers