The Bulgarian antiaircraft artillery




The Bulgarian Air Defence (ПАО) was born on 9 October 1915 when, with the Order n° 31, the first a/a Battery (ПАБ) was raised, according with a plan elaborated by the head of the artillery commander of Sofia fortress, col. Atanas Rakovski. It was composed by three a/a Sections (ПАВ): the first one had the two 75mm Bak seized as trophies at Odrin in 1913, the other two had each two 87mm Krupp not QF field guns on improvised mounting. This unit was established in order to protect Sofia, and on 27 October 1915 it took up its positions in the capital : the 1st section was placed in the area of Lozenech, the 2nd section in Slatinski Redubt and the 3rd section at Konyovitza. Besides these six guns, the Bulgarian Air Defence had seven machine guns (five Madsen and two Hotchkiss). They were used to protect some important military target in Sofia: the Vrana Palace, the airport, the military arsenal, the railway station, the “Balkan” Company, the gunpowder depot and the firearms depot. They have telephone connection with each other, and were supported by one to three infantry platoons, ready 24 hours to fire on the enemy planes with regular infantry weapons. The alarm should be given by the a/a battery with rockets.


The first directions to protect the fighting troops against enemy aircrafts were introduced with Order on Field Army Nr. 48, published by the Supreme Commander of the Bulgarian Army, maj. gen. Nikola Zhekov on 18 October 1915 at Kjustendil. This text, nevertheless, regarded aircrafts not as true weapons, but only as reconnaissance means. Therefore the rules contained in it were directed more to instruct the troops about the way to deceive the enemy air observation, than to react to an air attack and to fire at the aircrafts.


On 27 October col. Atanas Rakovski was appointed head of Bulgarian Air Defence. His first task was to provide the capital, the General Headquarters and the strategic bridges on river Arda and Maritza at Kuleliburgas and Fere-Dedeagach with air defence. He sent the 2nd a/a section and 2 Madsen machine guns to Kyustendil, where the headquarters were based, and the 3rd section to Kuleliburgas. The 10th Belomorska Division was charged to provide for the air defence of the bridges until the arrival of the guns dispatched from Sofia. Therefore 2 – 87mm slow firing guns and a platoon of infantry were sent at Kuleliburgas, while other 2 – 87mm guns of the same division were placed at Fere-Dedeagach.


On 30 October the anti-air defence of Bulgarian strongpoints along the bank of the Danube was organized employing old slow firing field gun on improvised mounting :

-     Ruse : six guns with an infantry detachment;

-     Svishtov : six guns with an infantry detachment;

-     Somovit : two guns with an infantry detachment;

-     Lom : eight Krupp guns with a cavalry squadron.


During the month of November col. Rakovski coped with the problem of the defence of the bridges on river Arda and Maritza. After a careful inspection, thinking that the existing defences were inadequate, he decided to send the 1st section to Kuleliburgas. It left Sofia on 5 November, where it temporarily was replaced by 4 – 75mm Schneider QF field guns, but two weeks later, on 17 November, it was called back in the capital. The same 5 November, to strengthen the defence of Sofia, a new 2nd a/a battery was formed with 6 – 80mm not QF De Bange guns, taken to the Serbians. To defend the bridges the 1st – 87mm  slow firing battery of the 3rd Heavy Artillery Regiment coming from Pirot was renamed 3rd a/a battery, and deployed the 1st section near the bridge on the river Arda, the 2nd section at Kuleliburgas and the 3rd section at Fere.

The fighting units at the front and the troops of the strongpoints along the bank of the Danube and the coast of the Black sea had to provide for the air defence with their own means, and used common field guns, usually of old pattern.


On 15 December the Bulgarian Air Defence was composed by :

1st a/a battery – Cpt. Bogdan Bonev (Sofia)

         1st a/a section - Cpt. Bogdan Bonev (Lozenech) - two 75mm Krupp BaK

         2nd a/a section – Act. 2nd Lt. Stefan Balabanov (Kyustendil) - two 87mm Krupp not QF guns

         3rd a/a section - Act. 2nd Lt. Todor Shishkov (Kuleliburgas) - two 87mm Krupp not QF guns

2nd a/a battery (formed on 5 November 1915) – Lt. Stefan Oreshkov (Sofia)

         1st a/a section - Srg. Georgi Balabanov (Konyovitza) - two 80mm De Bange not QF guns

         2nd a/a section - Srg. Georgi Nestorov (Slatinski Redubt) - two 80mm De Bange not QF guns

         3rd a/a section - Srg. Petar Petrov (Telegraph Battalion) - two 80mm De Bange not QF guns

3rd a/a battery (formed on 1 November 1915) – Cpt. Ivan Marinov (Kuleliburgas)

         1st a/a section - (bridge on Arda river) - two 87mm Krupp not QF guns

         2nd a/a section - (Kuleliburgas railway station) - two 87mm Krupp not QF guns

         3rd a/a section - (Fere) - two 87mm Krupp not QF guns

There were also seven MG half companies :

-     five were placed in Sofia : at the “Balkan” Company, the railway station, the Vrana Palace and the airport;

-     two at Kuleliburgas : on the bridge on Maritza river and at the railway station.




During 1916 new a/a units were raised in order to protect the most important military targets in Bulgaria. In March the 1st battery was reformed at Kyustendil, adding to the two sections already deployed there, a third section coming from Kuleliburgas.

Great care was taken to effectively defend Sofia against possible enemy raids. In May a 4th battery was raised with 4 – 75mm Schneider QF guns, while in August three new batteries were raised with old Krupp guns taken from the garrison of the capital :

-     5th bty. with two 75mm guns, taken from the battery assigned to the Military School, was placed in the courtyard of the school;

-     6th bty. with four 87mm guns, taken from the replacement battery of 4th artillery regiment, was placed in courtyard of the regiment;

-     7th bty. with four 87mm guns, taken from Sofiyski Fortress Regiment, was placed at Slatinski Redubt.

They were supported by 4 more machine guns emplacements, placed to protect the mint, the military club, the War Ministry and the railway station.


In March, to protect the troops in Macedonia against enemy air raid, the General Staff of the Bulgarian Army obtained from the Mackensen Army Group a little number of 37mm guns to be used to fire against aircrafts. They were assigned to the 2nd Army and put immediately in action.

In addition the field artillery guns of the Infantry Division along the front were trained to antiaircraft fire.


On 25 April 1916, after the first air raids on Sofia, the head of the Air Defence, col. Rakovski, with Secret Order Nr. 441 turned the attention of the head of the three batteries existing at that time to some mistakes in the conduct of fire against the enemy planes.

1.    after the announce that enemy aircrafts were coming, the head of every a/a unit (batteries, sections) should open fire at every aircraft flying within the range of its guns, without waiting an additional order or signal;

2.    the take-off of Bulgarian or allied aircrafts that would fly within the range of the a/a guns of the strongpoints should ever communicated in time, in order to keep from firing against them, since at high altitude the national marks were not recognizable;

3.    the battery and section commanders should be at any time at their posts, without leaving them without a written license, otherwise they were regarded as guilty of unwarranted absence in presence of the enemy;

4.    after the announce that enemy aircrafts were coming, communication by phone should be allowed only from higher ranks to lower ranks, that is from battery commander to section commanders or from the head of the Air Defence to battery commanders;

5.    the battery should not advise the population that an enemy aircraft was coming : as soon as the a/a artillery opened fire, everybody should go under cover, to avoid to be hit by bombs or shell splinters, in Sofia nevertheless a signal would be given ringing the bells the of the church of Saints Cyril and Methodius;

6.    firing on aircraft with rifles was strictly forbidden, since it was fully ineffective;

7.    in order to direct a quick fire, every battery should have at least 10 shrapnel with fuzes at different set at 1000 m.

On 1 May, however, the Head of the Artillery asked col. Rakovski to allow to fire with rifles against aircrafts flying at less than 1000 m, and with machine guns against aircrafts flying at a greater distance.


The entry into the war of Romania forced the Bulgarian Army to strengthen the air defence of Northern Bulgaria: therefore on July and August one a/a platoon was deployed at Kaspichan and Razgrad, and two at Dryanovo and Gorna Oryahovitza. Some months later, however they were moved southward, to defend the seashore of Thrace, where also eight independent a/a sections numbered 21st to 28th had been raised and deployed.




During the first half of 1917 the Bulgarian a/a artillery saw no major increase. Two more batteries were raised, but they remained without weapons, waiting for the delivery of the new antiaircraft guns ordered in Germany.

On 1 July the Bulgarian Air Defence was composed by :

-     a staff with 2 officers and 4 men,

-     9 a/a batteries armed with 35 a/a sections armed with 57 guns;

-     3 machine guns half companies with 27 MG emplacements;

-     19 officers, 6 NCOs and 614 privates.

In addition during July every a/a sections received one Schwarzlosе MG for its close-defence : in all 20 machine guns were delivered to the fighting units.


On 25 July 8th and 9th batteries were armed with special anti-air guns sent by German Army (76.2mm Russian guns seized as trophies). Every battery had 3 two-guns sections, and was equipped with 2 binoculars and a 1.25 m base clinometer for measuring the angle of slope and the azimuth of the enemy planes. The two batteries were used to protect the troops at the front : the 8th a/a battery was assigned to the Bulgarian 2nd Army, while the 9th a/a battery to the Bulgarian 1st Army, with its 34th a/a section attached to 5th Dunavska Division, and to the German 11th Army, with the 32nd a/a section attached to 2nd Trakiska and the 33th a/a section to 3rd Balkanska Division).


During the second half of 1917 three more batteries were raised, using guns of various kinds, and at the end of the year the Bulgarian a/a artillery could deploy altogether 12 batteries. The coast of the Black Sea were protected by the German Army, that dispatched to Varna and Burgas 4 – 88mm L/45 K-FlaK M. 1917. The German Navy sent another 3 – 88mm L/45 K-FlaK to the hydroplane station of Ksanti on the Aegean Sea.




Although only a little number of new units was raised, the last year of the war saw a significant qualitative improvement of the Bulgarian antiaircraft artillery. As soon as modern QF guns became available and special a/a guns came from Germany, the existing sections were rearmed with more effective guns. In January 1918 the 11th a/a battery was rearmed with 76.2mm special Russian a/a guns, while an a/a section in Kyustendil exchanged its 87mm slow firing guns with 75mm QF Krupp guns.

In order to improve the air defence of the capital and of the General Headquarters, on 11 February the barrage fire was organized at Sofia and Kystendil. Every a/a section had a distinct sector 2 km/2.5 km in length, where it had to open a rapid and uniform fire at an altitude of 1500 m/2000 m. Some sections had to fire at two sectors.


During the second quarter of the year the 12th a/a battery was rearmed with 75mm Schneider QF guns, while the 14th section received 75mm Krupp QF and was moved from Konovitza to the airport of Bozhurishte. A new 49th a/a section with a single 75mm gun replaced it at Konovitza. At the same time the 1st and 11th a/a sections, assigned to the air defence of the capital, were reunited to form a new 13th a/a battery, and the 1st a/a battery at Kyustendil received a third section armed with 87mm not QF Krupp guns. Also the sections deployed at Kuleliburgas were rearmed, receiving 75mm QF Krupp guns.

Finally to defend the main towns of Southern Bulgaria 3 independent a/a sections were formed and deployed at Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Sliven.


On 1 August, on the eve of the allied offensive, the Bulgarian Air Defence was composed by :

-     a staff with 3 officers and 5 privates,

-     13 a/a batteries with 49 sections;

-     5 a/a machine guns half companies;

-     18 officers, 7 acting 2nd lieutenants, 243 NCOs and 679 privates.


On 31 August a reorganization of the Air Defence units was established with the Order on Field Army Nr. 1635, introducing one a/a artillery division in every Army, and reasserting that all the a/a batteries should be composed by at least three sections. In addition the a/a machine guns half companies, introduced in 1916, were replaced by companies, each with 20 machine guns emplacements. The number of the a/a batteries and a/a machine guns companies should be fixed according with the number of the existing sections and emplacements. Nevertheless, the offensive of the Armée d’Orient and the end of the war prevented the full achievement of this project.


The last unit raised by the Bulgarian Army during the World War was 50th a/a section, formed on 11 October 1918 to defend Ohrid. In addition during October every firearms depot received a machine guns emplacement, in all 22 machine guns.