The growth of the Bulgarian Artillery : 1886 - 1891

 

 

In 1885, at the beginning of the war against Serbia, the Bulgarian artillery was mainly composed by old Russian guns reinforced by a handful of short range guns of various patterns taken from the Turks in 1877-78. The only available modern guns were 18 – 87mm and 29 – 75mm long range guns, manufactured by Krupp. They were assigned to the three first batteries of the two existing artillery regiment, while the other three batteries were armed with the old 9 pdr Russian steel and bronze guns M. 1867.

The 9 pdr guns, however, were regarded as unfit for field service. They were too heavy, weighting twice as the 75mm and one time and a half as the 87mm field gun, whereas the topographical conditions of the Bulgarian borders required that artillery was light and mobile. In addition the muzzle velocity of their shells was too small, and consequently the slope and accuracy of their fire were inadequate. If their range was sufficient and their blasting charge was great – twice as the 87mm and even three times as the 75mm gun – their effectiveness was inferior, since the shell exploding produced fewer fragments that scattered in a more little area. Being weighty, slow and unable to operate in the probable theatres of operations of the Bulgarian Army, the 9 pdr guns could be effectively employed only as fortress and siege guns, where their powerful fire could be still useful. Actually they were removed from the line units, but were used as position guns even during World War I.

 

The replacement of the outdated Russian artillery with modern guns became a priority for the Bulgarian Army. Already at the end of August 1885 a contract with the German firm Krupp had been signed to provide 48 – 87mm field guns with 24,000 shells (500 per gun) and the equipment required to form 6 new batteries. Unfortunately they were not received in time to take part in the war against Serbia. Part of the shells arrived on 10 November, while the others only after the armistice. The first batch of the guns (16 pieces) arrived in Ruse on 17 February 1886 and were employed to form 3rd artillery regiment, using as cadre the half-battery of the Eastern Rumelia and the 4 pdr battery raised at the beginning of the war against Serbia under the command of cpt. Veliko Kardzhiev. At that time 3rd artillery regiment, whose garrison was in Plovdiv, had only 4 batteries, 2 armed with 87mm Krupp guns and 2 with Russian guns. The remaining Krupp batteries arrived only in August 1886 and were used to replace the 9 pdr Russian guns of 1st artillery regiment and to rearm the 4 pdr batteries of 3rd artillery regiment, which delivered its old guns to the Ruse Arsenal. Waiting the arrival of more Krupp guns, the batteries of 3rd artillery regiment were temporarily composed by only six guns.

After the war the Bulgarian Army ordered another 6 field and 3 mountain batteries, with 80 Krupp guns in all (6 – 87mm and 50 – 75mm field and 24 – 75mm mountain guns), which were delivered in 1886-87. They were used to re-equip the 9 pdr batteries of 2nd artillery regiment and to raise the remaining 3 batteries of 3rd artillery regiment. Consequently the Russian guns, both 9 pdr and 4 pdr, were assigned to the fortress artillery. After the delivery of the last guns, the Bulgarian artillery was composed by 3 regiments, each with 6 eight-guns batteries. In peace however only 4 guns were horsed. In every regiment 1st, 2nd and 3rd battery were armed with 75mm guns, while 4th, 5th and 6th battery with 87mm guns.

 

The decision to adopt German guns can be easily explained. After the Franco-Prussian war, the Imperial German Army was regarded as the most powerful army in Europe and Krupp, taking advantage of this favourable situation, became the most important exporter of guns and heavy weapons. At that time almost all the Balkan countries choose Krupp guns for their artillery : Turkey already in 1873, Greece in 1878 and Romania in 1881. Only Serbia preferred the French 80mm guns system De Bange.

Among the powers that adopted Krupp field guns there was also Russia, that in 1877-78 had seen its bronze artillery outraged by the steel Krupp breechloaders employed by the Turks. Already in 1877, at the beginning of the war, it was decided to change the system from bronze to steel and 1500 guns were ordered from Krupp’s factory, while preparations were made to construct the same guns at the Obuchov factory, near Sankt Petersburg. The Bulgarians, that had received their first Krupp guns in 1884 by the Russian Army, decided to follow the example of their liberators.

 

All the long range guns were manufactured by Krupp and were very similar; nevertheless there were some minor differences among them. The old guns, dating back to the Russo-Turkish war, were “built-up guns” (Ringkanone) made of several layers of forged steel. They were composed by the liner, the tube, the jacket and the hoops. The liner was a single piece which extended the length of the bore and was intended to contain the rifling and the powder chamber. It was enclosed by the tube, which was too in one piece, surrounding the liner throughout its length. On the outside of it there was the jacket, made in two pieces and shrunk on the tube. Over the jacket lied six hoops, which, like the jacket, were shrunk on. The trunnions were carried on one of the hoops.

The new guns, bought from 1885 onwards, were known as Mantelkanone. The tube without reinforce, was encircled by a single band or mantle (Mantel, in German) shrunk on and carrying trunnions and fermature. The object of this was to substitute for the thick walls of the old models, thinner metal, susceptible of compression by the mantle, thus increasing its strength, and obtaining greater resistance with less weight. The shot chamber of the 75mm gun was rifled and conic, while the chamber of the 87mm gun was smooth and cylindrical.

Both the models were provided with a round backed wedge, which was pushed in from the side of the breech, and forced firmly home by a screw provided with handles. The face of the wedge was fitted with an easily removable flat plate, which abutted against a Broadwell ring, let into a recess in the end of the bore. A friction primer placed in a vent on the top of the ring ignited the propellant charge. On firing, the gas pressed the ring firmly against the flat plate, and rendered escape impossible as long as the surfaces remained uninjured. When they became worn, the ring and the plate could be exchanged in a few minutes.

There were other minor differences between the two models of gun, introduced according with the lesson learned of the Russo-Turkish War, and present also in the Krupp guns adopted by the Russian Army. The breech-block and the sight were improved; the elevating gear had a wheel divided into 16 graduations, connected with the sighting gear in order to allow changing the sigh simply working on the hand-wheel. The back of the carriage was reinforced and its link with the limber changed. The gun was hooked through a trail eye fixed by two screws and it could be easily removed and replaced when it was damaged. Previously when the trail eye wore and its diameter increased owing to the continuous friction, it could be replaced only in the Arsenal.

 

The first modern mountain guns were purchased in 1886. Initially they were provided with a carriage similar to those of the 75mm Krupp mountain guns M. 1877 adopted by the Swiss Army. The weight of barrel and shell was almost the same, but the muzzle velocity of the Bulgarian gun was greater (294 m/s against 256 m/s), so it was unable to withstand the force of the recoil to such a degree that sometime it overturned. Therefore in 1892 these carriages were removed, sent back to Essen, and replaced with more strong ones. To be more stable they had longer trails and a low wheelbase.

In order to arrest the recoil both the old and the new carriages used a rope brake. On the recoil, the rope was tied between the brake beam and the hub and the brake beam were thus pressed against the wheels. When the gun moved forward, the rope running from the hub was relaxed and arrest stopped. In such a way the recoil, that in a flat and solid ground was more than 10 paces, could be reduced to only 2-3. But the recoil strength had another negative effect. After the shot, the elevating screw fell down owing to the recoil, and the aimer wasted much time to lift up it again at the same position where the shot had been fired.

As a consequence of all these disadvantages the rapidity of fire of these guns was not very great. They were however employed during the Balkan Wars and even in the early stage of the First World War, when 24 of them were still on duty. With these guns the artillery regiments raised one pack artillery section, and at the end of 1888 they were expanded into half batteries.

 

During troubled years of the regency the development of the Bulgarian Army suffered a temporary setback, and in 1888, after the arrival of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Bulgarian artillery was in a great disadvantage compared to its neighbours, since Serbia had recently ordered 270 field 80mm guns system De Bange, while Romania had 300 Krupp field guns and Turkey, not including the artillery placed in Arabia, Libya, and in the islands, had 1068 Krupp field guns, 642 of them deployed in Europe. To fill the gap and reach the right ratio between guns and bayonets, which at that time was fixed in about 3 guns every 1,000 bayonets, the Bulgarian Army should double the number of its guns. Therefore in 1889 three new artillery regiments were raised. The problem was how to arm them. In fact at that time the modern guns available were enough only to equip the 4 horsed guns assigned to the batteries in peacetime.

The best thing seemed to adopt only the 87mm gun. In fact Turkey and Romania had the same Krupp guns of Bulgaria and in the same proportion – half of the light and half of the heavy model – so it was desirable to have the most powerful guns in greater proportion. As for the Serbian guns, they were heavier and less moving of both the Bulgarian field guns, but their fire, although inferior to the 87mm, was more effective than the 75mm. Furthermore the light gun was not only less powerful, but its shell was also so light (4.3 kg) and its blasting charge so small (100 g), that even at the distance of about 1000 m, the explosion could be hardly observed, since the smoke and the dust raised by the fall of the shells could not be clearly see for their small size.

But to arm six artillery regiments entirely with 87mm guns, Bulgaria had to bought roughly 250 guns, with all their attachments : ammunition wagons, tool carts, field forges, spare carriages, ammunition, and so on. Such an amount of military hardware could not be purchase in a single settlement with the restricted budget of the Bulgarian War Minister. The only effective solution was to advance by degrees. In 1888 major Konstatin Nikiforov, who had been War Minister in 1885-86, proposed to reduce the number of the guns in the battery from 8 to 6 and to assign 2 batteries armed with 75mm guns to every artillery regiment, while the remaining 4 batteries should be equipped with the more powerful 87mm guns. In this way with only 72 guns, the Bulgarian Army would have six artillery regiments with 36 guns each. Major Nikiforov thought that such units would be more powerful not only than the Serbian ones, armed only with 80mm guns, but also than the Turkish and Romanian ones, having a higher proportion of 87mm guns (66% against 50%).

The proposal of major Nikiforov nevertheless was not entirely accepted : the contract signed in 1891 with the German firm Krupp provided for the delivery of 72 – 87mm guns, but the batteries remained with 8 guns, and the new guns were uniformly shared among the existing units