Organization and training of the antiaircraft units



Employ of the a/a units. Already in 1915 the head of the Bulgarian Air Defence col. Rakovski in a letter to the General Staff of the Field Army emphasized that only a centralized direction could assure the uniformity of the firing procedures and of the training of the cadres. He claimed that the sections should be grouped into batteries, put under the control of the Army a/a artillery commanders, directly subjected to the direction of the Air Defence, charged both of the employ and of the instruction of the troops. Nevertheless his ideas were fulfilled only at the end of the war.

Even if a note of the Artillery Inspection issued on 5 November 1915 established that the a/a batteries, designed “mixed a/a batteries”, should be composed by three two-guns sections, actually during the war their composition varied greatly. The a/a artillery usually acted by sections, spread in order to defend many different targets, placed at great distance one from another. When a target lost its military value, the General Staff of the field Army or the Army commanders choose whether and where redeploy them.

To improve the fighting effectiveness of the a/a sections, later they were tactically and organizationally subordinated to the Army head of artillery defence, established first for the 2nd and then for the 4th Army, while in the 11th and 1st Army the post was occupied by a German officer. Nevertheless the heads of artillery of the Armies contested this decision, whishing a direct control upon all the artillery units assigned to their Army.

Col. Rakovski reasserted his convictions in a report addressed to the Head of the Artillery on 28 January 1918, suggesting to establish a common command for the a/a artillery and the air force, and to divide the a/a artillery into two distinct branches : for the defence of the homeland, and for the units at front. His requests were posed again on 21 August 1918, being partially approved by the General Staff. On 31 August 1918 the Field Army Order Nr. 1635 ordered to raise in every Army an a/a artillery division, including all the a/a artillery batteries, sections and a/a machine guns emplacements of the Army. They were operationally subordinated to head of artillery of the Army, while as for technical, training, line and administrative matters they were under the direct control of the head of the Air Defence. The head of the a/a division was  charged to assure the air defence within the area of its Army, and took care also of the training and the technical matters of the infantry and artillery units temporarily assigned to the air defence.


Education and training. The training of the cadres and of the personnel of the a/a artillery units was a matter of the highest importance. The commanding officers came from the field artillery, usually from the reserve, and were assigned to their units without any special training. This situation affected the effectiveness of the a/a artillery. The troops at front complained that the a/a fire was generally ineffective, since the guns were commanded by acting 2nd lieutenants, who had conduct not even a single fire for effect before. Even if these remarks concerned the field guns detached from their regiments in an a/a role, the situation of the a/a sections was not much better.

During the war the Direction of the Air Defence over and over took measures to improve the preparation of the cadres and to uniform the firing procedure. The first directions for the use of the a/a units was in battle were established with the Инструкция за артилерийските ПА взводове, картечни постове и команди пехота по отбраната срещу въздушен противник (Instructions for the artillery a/a sections, machine guns posts and infantry commands on the defence against air enemy) published on 14 December 1915. During the war they were constantly updated, with additions containing corrections and improvements, according with innovations introduced by the German Army. At the beginning of 1916 they were followed by special instructions for firing against air targets with common field guns. They too were later updated with some additions.

To study the special 76.2mm Russian a/a guns introduced into the Army in 1917 and to learn how to fire with them, from 29 April to 25 May 1917 the commanders of 2nd and 3rd a/a battery, 2nd Lt. Stefan Oreshkov and Lt. Bogdan Bonev, who spoke both German and French, were attended a course at the German FlaK Gunnery School at Blankenberge, in Belgium. During the same year some groups of officers with a few NCOs were successively sent to the Artillery Telemeter School at Gent, in Belgium, to attend an one-month course. At the end of 1917 col. Rakovski himself stood for a month in Germany to know the organization and the firing methods of the German Army. On his return he made many proposals to improve the Bulgarian a/a defences on the basis of the experiences gained during his journey. The most important was the request to organize brief courses to train all the officers and NCOs assigned to the a/a artillery as battery and section commanders.

The courses, lasting 15 days, started on February 1918 under the direction of officers specialized in Germany, and were carried out monthly from February to July. At first they were held in a little hall of the Sofia military club, but from 13 April they were moved to the Sofia casino, and designated Anti aircraft school. On 22 and 23 April at Slivniza some training shots were fired. The Direction of the Air Defence organized also courses for officers and NCOs assigned to the machine guns half companies. Finally a Measurement school was opened, with courses for rangefinders.


The Antiaircraft School. On 31 August 1918 the Field Army Order Nr. 1635 established the Antiaircraft School in Sofia, under the direction of the head of the Air Defence. One of the a/a batteries of the Sofia air defence was assigned to the school as training battery, along with one of the a/a batteries of the 2nd Army, where the students could get some practise firing fighting shots. To manufacture instruments and models for the instruction of the students a workshop was attached to the school.

It should activate five classes:

1)     for officers on a/a artillery firing;

2)     for officers on a/a firing with machine guns;

3)     for officers on the use of optical measurement devices;

4)     for NCOs assigned to the range finders;

5)     for NCOs – layers. 

The courses should last 30 days, 20 for the instruction in the school in Sofia, and 10 with the training battery at front. Every class was composed by not more that 10 officers or 14 NCos. Who had followed unsuccessfully the course, if officer, could not be assigned as battery or independent section commander in antiaircraft artillery, if NCO could not stay in the Air Defence.


Establishment of the antiaircraft school

5 officers

1 major – head of the school,

2 captains – instructors and head of the officers and NCOs units,

1 lieutenant – instructor,

1 technical lieutenant or 2nd lieutenant.

33 men

1 sergeant-major,

3 sergeants – 2 range finder operators, 1 draftsman;

9 corporals – 2 layers, 4 assistant range finder operators, 1 clerk, 1 photographer;

20 lance-corporals and privates – 10 servants, 1 carpenter, 2 smiths, 3 orderlies, 1 cook, 1 provisioner, 1 groom, 1 telephonist.

2 horses

2 draught horses

1 cart

pair horses carts



Military cooperation. Col. Rakovski sought to organize also an effective cooperation with the Turkish Army in order to improve the air defence of the strategical bridges on the rivers Arda and Maritza. On 14 December 1916, knowing that the Turkish artillery defending the strategical bridges at Kuleliburgas had been transferred elsewhere, he asked to the Turkish General Headquarters to send the artillery required for the a/a defence of that area. On 7 January 1917 the head of the Turkish air defence sent a detachment with an officer, 20 men and 2 – 87 mm NQF Krupp guns, that were placed north-east of the bridge. They were soon supported by 2 Bulgarian 87 mm NQF Krupp guns, placed west of the Turkish emplacement.

On 20 January 1918 the Turkish High Command asked to the Bulgarian Army to notify immediately to the Uzunküprü airport every enemy aircraft flying on the Bulgarian territory along the Turko-Bulgarian borders at a distance of 150 km west of it in order to provide an effective a/a defence.

Therefore the Turkish airport at Uzunküprü was connected by phone with the 5th and 6th Bulgarian a/a sections in Kuleliburgas in order to inform each other about enemy air raid coming from both the directions. The sections that were not connected with the Turks were informed about the arrival of enemy aircrafts firing some warning shots. Col. Rakovski fired some demonstrative shots near the bridge on the Arda in the presence of commander of the Turkish a/a battery of the Odrin fortress, to show the Bulgarian a/a firing methods.

Nevertheless the relations between the two allies were not always good, and incidents and misunderstanding did not lack. On 10 June 1918 the head of the 3th a/a battery in Odrin, cpt. Bogdan Bonev, asked the head of the Turkish 15th aircraft company at Uzunküprü, lt.col. Westphal, to take off promptly as soon as enemy aircrafts directed to Odrin and Kuleliburgas were sighted. But the German officer refused, saying that his units had neither the order neither the authorization to defend the Bulgarian bridges.