The Russo-Japanese War and Bulgarian Artillery



The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) had a significant impact on the Balkan states Armies. The Bulgarian General Staff had sent a special military mission to Manchuria in order to become acquainted with special features of the conduct of military operations. Moreover a number of Bulgarian officers accompanied the Russian forces as volunteers. May be interesting to remember that Lt. Dimitar Dobrev, who in 1912 commanded four Bulgarian torpedo boats in the attack that damaged the Ottoman cruiser Hamidje in Black Sea, was present at the naval battle at Tsushima in May 1905.


The Russian defeat caused great concerns among the Balkan states because of concerns about their territorial aspirations and national security. They realized that Russian help might not be available to reach their aspirations against Ottoman Empire. But the Russo-Japanese War had not only a political and diplomatic influence. The military repercussions of the war were based upon Japanese success. This placed the Bulgarian Army in a bad situation, since it owed its formation and much of its doctrine and character to the Russian Army. Many senior Bulgarian officers had received their military education in Russia. In front of the defeat of its military model, they began to deviate from Russian military systems and to adopt some ideas from the winner Japanese Army.

Already in 1905 the Bulgarian War Ministry with the Order 374/20 June 1905 introduced some changes in the tactical employment of infantry in combat in order to test them during the summer training and maneuvers. They were inspired by the notes published by the Russian War Ministry in 1905 to emphasize the growing importance of the infantry and artillery fire and their consequences on the action of the troops.


As a result of the experiences gained in the Russo-Japanese War, artillery tactics seemed to need rethinking. For the first time modern quick-firing guns were employed in large quantities, being often deployed under cover and firing indirectly, despite their design as flat-trajectory guns. Large artillery concentrations were formed, particularly during offensive operations, but at the same time single batteries with short surprise fire proved very effective during the phase of operational standstill. In 1905, such reports were sent to the heads of military administration and the general staff. Shrapnel fire gained a growing importance, not only for its effect upon the troops, but also for its tactical use.

All these impression coming from various European military observers were noted by the Bulgarian artillery officers and eagerly discussed in numerous articles published in military periodicals. Among them we can mention the analysis of the Japanese artillery at Port Arthur by col. Kalin Naydenov and the remarks on the lessons learned about the employment of the artillery in combat by may. Yordan Peev, both published on the Военен журнал in 1911. But only in 1911, at the eve of the Balkan War, five of the seven articles on artillery published by this review were dedicate to analyze its tactical employment during the war in Manchuria. As for the tactical aspects of the war, the research on the battle of Liaoyang published by the deputy chef of the General Staff, col. Ivan Fichev, in 1906 and based upon Japanese and Russian official sources, is particularly interesting.


The experience of the Russo-Japanese war demonstrated to the Bulgarian staff the importance of the entrenchment by each infantry soldier, the decisive role played by the machine guns and the efficacy of the employment of new communication techniques, like field telephone, telegraph, wire telegraph and heliograph.

The assimilation of the lessons of the war was not easy. Still on 21 February 1912 the Army Command issued the Order N 86 where it affirmed that, as a result of an inquiry of the War Ministry on some Bulgarian units, appeared that the trench warfare and the new ways of transmitting orders and dispatches were not regarded with the right care. Therefore it was ordered that all the commanding officers should take special care to the engineer art and that should act in order to train the troops in trench warfare. These directions were enforced in the Military School only five days later, with the School special order N 27, signed by the chief of the Military school, col. Ivan Pachev, on 25 February 1912.

The great interest of the Bulgarian Army in the role of field fortification is clearly shown by a series of texts on this subject, published after the Russo-Japanese War, the most detailed among them being Field fortification, seven books written by may. Simeon Dobrevskij in 1906 1909, and Handbook on military engineer works in field, published by may. Rusi Ludogorov in 1909.


However the most important acquisition for Bulgarian Army was the cult of bayonet attack that would make famous Bulgarian infantry during Balkan Wars, but caused also many casualties. The experiences of the Russo-Japanese War were also very instructive in tactical use of artillery. The Bulgarian General Staff issued new instructions in 1905-1909 for field and fortress artillery that incorporated some lessons taken from the Russo-Japanese War.

First, instead of taking open positions and shooting directly towards the target, field artillery had to take deep masked positions which already had special and improved means for fire towards the target. This was of great importance because of the irregular topography of much of the Balkan Peninsula, and especially of the Bulgarian borders with Serbia and Turkey. Besides the experience of Manchuria also demonstrated to the Bulgarians that angle measurement required a new method of firing, firing from covered positions.


Another important lesson was the demonstration that siege artillery could be used not only against fortress and fortified positions, but also against field positions. For this purpose Bulgarian Army began to buy heavy artillery. Before the Russo-Japanese War, the Bulgarian Army had acquired only 30 120mm Krupp howitzers, received about 1903. They were mobile and were distributed for war in five batteries assigned to first line troops. However at first they were attached to the fortress artillery and not to field artillery. Another 24 150mm Schneider howitzers were received in 1904. But in order to increase their rate of fire, in 1907 some accessories were ordered. They too were attached to fortress artillery. In order to provide field army with a modern mobile heavy howitzer, Bulgarian General Staff in 1907 ordered 36 120mm Schneider quick-firing howitzers. They were formed into 9 batteries of 4 guns and 12 ammunition wagons and were attached to field artillery. Every Army Inspectorate received a division composed by three batteries. In wartime they should support field army, especially in order to destroy enemy batteries with indirect fire. Nevertheless in 1912 Bulgarian Army too few howitzers and fortress artillery was too little in quantity and outdated (although in 1912 it was planned to buy 360 fortress guns).


From 1904 Bulgarian Artillery began to buy quick-firing guns. Taking into account the broken terrain of great part of its future theatre of war, the Bulgarian General Staff paid great attention to mountain artillery. After having bought 56 75mm Krupp quick firing guns, it ordered another 36 more modern Schneider quick-firing guns of the same caliber. In October 1912, At the beginning of the War against Turkey, Bulgarian Army had 23 batteries of modern pack artillery, more that twice the number of the batteries owned by Serbian (9) or Greek (8) Army. Balkan Wars, fought mainly in the hills and mountains of Thrace and Macedonia proved the usefulness and the power of the fire of pack artillery.


One idea stemming from the Russo-Japanese War ignored by Bulgarian army was the efficient use of cavalry. In fact during the war the Japaneses failed to use their cavalry to harass the disorganized retreat of their enemy. They especially failed to utilize the cavalry as a source of firepower. The admiration for the Japanese Army and the progressive adoption of its tactics may explain why Bulgarian Army did not provide its cavalry with artillery. This was a great weakness for the Cavalry Division during the war against Turkey.