The birth of the Bulgarian Artillery



In October 1876 the well-known expert of the Eastern matters and trusted agent of the Slav Charitable Committees, the retired Major General Rostislav Fadeyev, sent to the chief of Russian General Staff, General Adjutant Graf von Heyden, a special note, entitled: “Bulgarian matter in the Turkish war”, in which he stressed the importance of attracting Bulgarian volunteers by means of the Bulgarian committees in the case of a war against Turkey. He intended to collect 15,000 Bulgarians and join to them 5,000 skilful Russian soldiers. To command them he wanted to employ all the Bulgarian officers serving into the Russian Army. He added that to arm this force the Slav Charitable Committees had already at their disposal 20,000 Chassepot rifles and 6 guns.

The proposal was accepted and at the outbreak of the war against Turkey a Bulgarian contingent of six infantry battalions was formed at Ploesti under the command of the Russian Major General Stoletov and directly subordinated to the chieff of Staff of the Russian field Army. It was designed Bulgarian Opalchenie and its main task should be to assist the Russian Army to assure peace and order in the Transdanubian districts, but gen. Stoletov, supported by the chief of the Russian General Staff, obtained that it should be employed also in military operations. So, during the war, the Bulgarian volunteers covered themselves in glory in the battles near Stara Zagora, and in the defence of Shipka Pass.

On 1 May 1877 the theoretic war strength of the Bulgarian Opalchenie was of 112 officers, 6012 NCOs and soldiers, and 204 non-combatants, but at the beginning of the military operations, on 16 May, the fighting strength was of 82 officers, 7206 NCOs and soldiers, and 238 non-combatants. In August 1877 six more battalions were raised, bringing the theoretic war strength to 214 officers, 12,024 NCOs and soldiers, and 396 non-combatants, but this amount remained on paper for a whole year. The Opalchenie reached its establishment only after the end of the war, on 16 May 1878, when it comprised 171 officers, 12,349 NCOs and soldiers, and 302 non-combatants.


The armament of the Bulgarian Opalcenie was mainly provided by the Slav Committee of Moscow, presided by Ivan Sergeevich Aksakov, and by the Charitable Organization of Kishinev, directed by Ivan Ivanov. They bought in Prussia 20,000 – 11mm Chassepot rifles M. 1866 with 10,000,000 cartridges, 12 Krupp guns with a calibre of 4.5 inch or 107mm (actually 4.5 inch is 114.3mm), and other equipment for the artillery (swords, sabres, cartridge-boxes, etc). As for the guns, some sources stated that only 6 Krupp steel guns with a calibre of 3.5 inch or 105mm (again the real calibre is different, 8.9 cm) were bought. I think the most probable hypothesis is that these guns were 106.7mm steel guns, similar to the heavy field guns adopted by the Russian Army. It is also possible that they were 9 cm Krupp not long range guns, whose calibre – 91.5 mm – is close to the 3.5 inch recorded. Anyway no artillery units were raised by the Opolchenie, and the guns stood unused till the end of the war. The weapons were stored in Ungeni, and Col. Dimitriy Nikolaevich Korsakov was appointed head of the depot, with Lt. Stoyanov, a Bulgarian serving into the Russian Army, as head of the artillery depot.


After the treaty of San Stefano, with the creation of the Principality of Bulgaria the establishment of a Bulgarian army begun. The basic principles of the organization of Bulgarian Territorial Army were made on 7 April 1878 in a special conference in the War Ministry with the participation of the general Nikolay Nikolaevich Obruchev and the head of the Russian civil administration in Bulgaria, Prince Aleksandar Mikhailovich Dondukov-Korsakov. At this conference it was decided to convert the Bulgarian militia into the Territorial Army. On 25 April 1878 the Imperial Commissar, Prince Dondukov-Korsakov published the Provisional regulations for forming the Territorial Army of the Principality of Bulgaria, introducing the compulsory military service on a territorial basis for every Bulgarian citizen from 20 to 30 years of age. The army should be composed by 59 foot battalions, 13 cavalry battalions and 17 artillery batteries. Every artillery battery would be composed by 2 companies with 8 guns in all. In addition the technical and local artillery establishments would have another 30 companies. The existing units of the Opolchenie were renumbered and shared among the districts (Sanjaks) of the Principality.

At the same time also the Instructions for the training of the troops of the Territorial Army were introduced. Every district should have a high officer charged of the instruction of the Bulgarian recruits. As for artillery every company would have a Russian cadre of 10 NCOs and lance-corporals, including the aimers, 2 laboratory operators and in addition a trumpeter every four companies. To direct the all the artillery units in Bulgaria an artillery high officer should be appointed as head of the Artillery of the Territorial Army, with the rank of a Division commander and one or two aides-de-camp. To form the Bulgarian cadres of officers and non commissioned officers a mixed training battalion composed by 3 companies (infantry, artillery and sapper) and a cavalry sotnia. In addition every artillery unit should form as soon as possible a training detachment for the instruction of non commissioned officers coming from the local residents.


The fulfilment of this ambitious plan begun on 8 July 1878, when the Imperial Commissar issued the Order on the Territorial Army N° 1, but its goals were never fully achieved, due to the dissolution of the Great Bulgaria at the Congress of Berlin. On 25 August 1878 with the Order on the Territorial Army N° 5 every district raised and artillery battery, bearing the name of its district: 1st Sofiyska (horse artillery), 2nd Vidinska, 3rd Tarnovska, 4th Rusenska, 5th Plovdivska and 6th Slivenska. In addition a mountain artillery battery was raised in Dupnitza and a quick-firing battery armed with Nobel machine guns was formed in Ruse Arsenal. To form these units, entire batteries of the Russian Occupation Army were employed; all the officers and non commissioned officers were Russian, while part of the troops were Bulgarian from the second compulsory levy.

To lighten the work of the head of the artillery, Russian mayor general Lesovoy, who had to direct eight batteries spread out on a broad area and to take care of the formation of the technical establishments and the artillery depots, the Imperial Commissar decided to assign him two assistants. Therefore on 16 September 1878 with Order on the Territorial Army N° 16 the existing batteries were grouped into 2 artillery brigades: 1st brigade, with headquarters in Plovdiv, was composed by the batteries deployed south of the Balkan (1st, 5th, 6th and mountain); 2nd brigade, with headquarters in Ruse, by the batteries deployed north of the Balkan (2nd, 3rd, 4th and quick-firing). Two Russian officers were appointed as brigade commander: cpt. Hamilton, from Guard Horse Artillery, and cpt. Chudinov, from 30th Artillery Brigade. Actually the batteries were independent units, with single administration and direction; the head of the artillery and the brigade commanders took care only of the training of the troops. Advancements were made only by the head of the artillery himself, during his tour of inspection. Food supplies for men and horses were delivered by the civil authorities under the control of the Military Minister, using local resources. Everything was conducted according with the norms and regulations adopted by the Russian Army, also the orders were given in Russian.

The establishment of the batteries was :

    5 officers : 1 battery commander, 2 half-battery commanders and 2 section commanders;

    15 non commissioned officers;

    26 Russian and 247 Bulgarian men;

    175 horses : 9 for the staff, 145 for the artillery pieces, and 21 for the carriage.

At that time all the officers were still Russian, excepting two Bulgarian ensigns serving in the Russian Army, Simeon Vankov, who had served in 26th artillery brigade and was assigned to 8th battery, and Konstantin Nikiforov, who moved from the same brigade to the 1st battery.

On 9 November 1878 maj. gen.  Vasilij Grigorevič Zolotarev, the Russian director of the Military department of the Imperial Commissar, asked the commander of the Bulgarian Territorial Army to select among the troops of the battalions of the District of Ruse 330 men, “tall, strong and healthy”, for the siege company that had been recently raised. They should be dispatched to Razgrad without weapons, but with all their clothing, even if not sewed, and should be temporarily assigned to the battalions quartered there.


As for the armament of the Bulgarian artillery, on 13 July 1878 the Imperial Commissar in a report to the Russian War Minister, Count Dmitry Alekseyevich Milyutin, asked that, in order to raise the first 6 batteries the Russian Army should give 48 – 4 pdr bronze guns M. 1867 fully equipped, with the horse teams and the ammunition wagons required, and another 8 Russian or Turkish mountain guns to raise a mountain artillery battery. In addition the Territorial Army would receive the second group of captured Turkish long range guns (6 batteries) with all their equipment and, if possible, also carriages and ammunition wagons for them coming from the Russian batteries. Finally the artillery depots would deliver as reserve also 12 steel Krupp guns with 2500 rounds that had been acquired by the Slav Committee of Moscow for the Opolchenie.

On 18 September 1878 in another report the Imperial Commissar presented the measures taken during the summer. He had changed his mind about the armament of the field batteries with 4 pdr guns. At first he had choose them, since he did not want to weaken the Russian Occupation Army, before the conclusion of the Berlin Conference. But when it ended its works and the Russian Army begun to leave Bulgaria, he preferred to replace them with the more powerful 9 pdr guns. In fact he had been informed that the Russian artillery itself was replacing all its guns M. 1867 with more modern long range guns M. 1877, and the old 9 pdr would be stored in depots, where they would stay unused. In Bulgaria, even if outdated, they could be still useful, compensating with their longer range the absence of more modern guns. Their weight was not an objection, since during the war against Turkey, even in broken country, the troops had always preferred to be followed by them, although they were heavier and more cumbersome than the less effective 4 pdr guns.

This change had delayed the dispatch of the Russian cadres, therefore the recruits enlisted to raise the first six batteries were sent to the infantry battalions to receive the first common training, awaiting the arrival of their Russian instructors. As for the two additional batteries, their crews would be selected among the recruits, who had already joined the infantry battalions. Furthermore the Imperial Commissar asked the Commander of the Occupation Army, adjutant-general Eduard Ivanovich Totleben, to send to every Bulgarian battery also 6 non commissioned officers and 20 riders to train the Bulgarian recruits in horsemanship and to teach them the correct care and management of their horses.

The Turkish guns captured during the war were stored in the artillery depots in Ruse and Razgrad, where they had been sent in the same state they were on the battlefield. Therefore they were in a bad state of repair, without sights, harnesses and equipment, and they could be hardly utilized again. In fact out of the six batteries of long range guns assigned to the Bulgarian artillery as reserve, the operational guns found was enough only to arm one battery. To make operative the remaining five it was necessary to collect fitting and spare parts coming from the Russian guns and Turkish not long range guns.

To increase the number of modern guns, the Imperial Commissar solicited the delivery of part of the guns at first assigned to Serbia and Montenegro and of all the Turkish long range guns captured by the Russian Army during the war, even if there were not powder and ammunition for them, hoping to obtain what was lacking directly from Krupp. In addition he proposed to give a little number of greater calibre guns to be employed as heavy artillery and to form a special detachment with the cadre to train the Bulgarian in their use.

Thereby the Bulgarian artillery would have in all 20 batteries with 112 field, 14 mountain, 16 quick-fire (machine guns) and 31 heavy guns. Such an amount of guns was regarded as adequate for a “young” army like the Bulgarian one, since it assured a ratio of 4 guns to every infantry battalions, even when the battalions would have been twice as much as those existing at that time. The main defect was the wide assortment of calibres and models that made more difficult the supply of ammunition and the training of the troops.