The growth of the Bulgarian Artillery : 1891 - 1904

 

 

In 1891 the Sixth Ordinary National Assembly passed the Law for the organization of the Armed Forces of the Principality of Bulgaria prepared by the War Minister, colonel Mihail Savov. It lay the foundations of the Bulgarian Army and provided a remarkable strengthening of the artillery, that should be composed by :

-     6 artillery regiments with 6 four-guns field batteries in peace, and 6 eight-guns batteries in wartime (six guns for the mortars batteries);

-     6 mountains half batteries in peace, that should be expanded to 6 six-guns batteries at the mobilization;

-     3 fortress artillery battalions with 3 companies each in peace, and 4 in wartime;

-     6 reserve artillery batteries with 4 sections each, that should be expanded to 4-6 six-guns batteries at the mobilization;

-     6 four-guns reserve mountain batteries, that should be raised at the mobilization;

-     6 four-sections field replacement batteries, that should be raised at the mobilization;

-     2 mobile artillery workshops and 2 mobile artillery depots.

This plan was ambitious, but the trained men available at that time were not enough to raise so many units. Supposing 200 men on average for every battery, the Active Army would require 12,000 men and the Reserve Army another 5,700 men. In fact on 1 October 1894 the men serving in the Active Army (1884-1893 levies) were only 8,300, in the Reserve 5,730, 14,030 men in all.

As for the materials in wartime the Bulgarian artillery would have all together 78/90 batteries with 504/576 guns (408/480 field, 60 mountain, and 36 mortars), not counting the fortress artillery. All the field batteries of the active army should be armed with 87mm guns, while the 75mm guns should be assigned to the reserve batteries (2nd, 3rd, 5th), along with the old 9 pdr Russian guns (1st and 6th) and the short range 9cm Krupp guns (4th). Later all the reserve batteries would be re-equipped with modern guns. They brought the number of the Infantry Division at whom they were attached, and not that of the relative artillery regiments. In order to have also some artillery pieces that could fire at high elevations with the curved trajectory, one battery in every regiment should be armed with 120mm field mortars.

 

Some changes were introduced by the law passed by the Tenth Ordinary National Assembly in 1897, when the War Minister was colonel Nikola Ivanov. The reserve artillery regiments were disbanded, and gave their gun to the active regiments, that were then composed by 3 active and 1 reserve divisions, each with 3 six-guns batteries. Only the active batteries, however, were horsed in peace. Finally, after a debate lasted many years, the batteries were reduced to 6 guns, and new units were raised with the surplus guns.

The mortars, now designed howitzer, were attached to the fortress artillery. A 5th company was added to each fortress artillery battalion. The mountain batteries were detached from the artillery regiments and formed 3 independent divisions, with 3 six-guns batteries each, garrisoned respectively at Berkovitza, Vratza and Samokov. Later with an Order of 3 June 1899 they were administratively grouped into a mountain artillery brigade with headquarters at Sofia, the divisions keeping their previous garrison.

 

In order to arm the new units, the Bulgarian War Ministry should purchase a great number of artillery piece. In 1891 an order was planned for 192 – 87mm field guns (24 batteries), 30 – 75mm mountain guns (5 batteries), and 36 – 120mm mortars (6 batteries). But it was not made in a single settlement, since the military Budget did not allow a so considerable expenditure, especially because at the same time it was necessary to modernize also the heavy artillery, required to attack the fortress of Odrin, in the event of a war against Turkey. Therefore such order was divided between different financial years.

In 1891 a contract was signed for 72 – 87mm field guns with 24 ammunition wagons, 18 – 120mm mortars, and 12 – 75mm mountain guns. The same year two other orders were made : to Krupp for 14 – 150mm siege guns, and to Gruson for 30 – 57mm light quick-firing guns in armoured housing (Fahrpanzer). All the guns were delivered between 1892 and 1893.

In 1892 another 64 field guns, 12 – 120mm mortars, and 12 – 120mm siege guns were ordered in Germany. It seems that at least one field battery was armed with 75mm guns that should be assigned to the 1st battery of the 4th artillery regiment at Sofia, to be attached in wartime to the Cavalry Division as horse artillery. The last mortar battery, that should have been assigned to the artillery regiment was never bought, and was replaced by another field battery. In 1896 in order to reduce the number of the guns in the batteries to eight to six and to increase the number of the batteries from 26 to 36, 8 more field guns were ordered.

The last big order before the introduction of the quick-firing artillery came in February 1897, when 90 – 87mm guns with 23,000 shrapnel were ordered to Krupp at a cost of 2 135 000 leva, while an order for 18 mountain guns and 48 heavy artillery pieces had been signed with the French firm Schneider-Canet only a few days before. This was the first time that the Bulgarian artillery purchased French guns, and it happened after a long debate, and under the conflicting pressure of the French and German governments.

In fact the Bulgarian War Ministry was not satisfied with the Krupp mountain artillery adopted in 1886 regarded the Schneider guns superior to the Krupp ones. In addition the French diplomacy threatened to refuse the loan of 30 million franks, vitally important for the Bulgarian economy. Above all the Bulgarian Army was trying to free itself from the dependence on the factories of a single country, thinking that it could be very dangerous if it adopted a hostile politics towards Bulgaria. On the other end, the pro-German party, supported and endowed by the Krupp agent at Sofia, Kaufmann, was still very powerful within the Bulgarian officer’s circles. In February Friedrich Krupp himself wrote to Prince Ferdinand emphasizing that an order given to a French firm should be regarded as an attack against his own reputation.

The solution was a sort of compromise. The main order was directed to Krupp, to keep the uniformity of the field artillery batteries. In fact Schneider equipped its guns with a different breech mechanism, and at that time had not an 87mm gun, therefore adopting French weapons the Bulgarian Army should change entirely the features of its artillery matériel. The heavy artillery, regarded as more moveable than the Krupp ones, and the mountain guns were purchased in France, also because Schneider made significant concessions to the Bulgarian Government with regard to the price and terms of payment of the weapons.

 

The field guns were the standard Krupp 87mm Mantelkanone adopted already in 1885, with only little changes and updates. The Schneider mountain gun was similar to the Krupp ones, bought after the war against Serbia. The calibre, weight and ballistic performances were almost the same, and they could fire the same ammunition of the Krupp guns. The only difference was that were fitted with a screw breech block with a plastic obturator, instead of the cylindro-prismatic wedge breech mechanism, peculiar to the German guns.

The 120mm field howitzers, at first designed mortars as in the Russian Army, had been intensely tested in the Krupp proving ground at Meppen in 1886-1888 with positive results, popularized by the official report of the firm Krupp Nr. 80 published in 1890. Besides Bulgaria, also the Turkish Government was favourably impressed by this piece and ordered 72 howitzers to arm two artillery regiments, with 6 six-guns batteries each, attached to the II and III Army Corps, both deployed in Europe, at Odrin and Monastir.

These howitzers however were regarded as poorly mobile, both for the excessive weight and the peculiar features of the piece in marching order. This fault clearly appeared during the march that the mortars of the 3rd artillery regiment without ammunition wagons made from Plovdiv to Shumen and back in 1893. The movement of the whole battery, equipped with all the carts and wagon required in wartime was even more difficult.

 

In 1903 the Thirteenth Ordinary National Assembly passed a new Law for the organization of the Armed Forces of the Principality of Bulgaria that envisaged a radical reform of the Bulgarian Army. On the basis of the Russian Provisional state for the field direction of the army and the organization of the rear, the Army Corps was adopted as main battle unit. Therefore the infantry divisions should expand in army corps and the brigades in divisions. As for artillery, in peace every infantry division should have an artillery regiment with 6 six-guns batteries, while in wartime it should add a third artillery division with 3 six-guns batteries. With the introduction of the quick-firing gun, instead of a regiment with 54 not quick-firing guns, the infantry divisions should receive two artillery regiments, each with 6 four-guns batteries. In addition the law planned the formation of a mountain artillery brigade with 18 six-guns batteries grouped into six independent divisions, and 3 fortress battalions with 8 companies each.

Unfortunately a great number of the units planned in 1903 remained only on paper. In 1907 a new government, leaded by Aleksandar Malinov, resolved to reduce the military budget. This resolution not only made impossible to raise the all the artillery units planned in 1903, but also imposed to cut the establishment of the Army. Therefore infantry would be 75% of the whole Army, cavalry and the technical troops 13%, artillery 12%. This meant the formation in wartime of only 114 batteries with 30,000 men in all. The Army Corps were never established and the Corps organization envisaged in 1903 was finally abolished with Order on the military administration N° 204/31 May 1908. Both in the Balkans wars and in World War I the main battle unit of the Bulgarian Army remained the Infantry Division, which, although composed by only three brigades, had as many infantry battalions as the army corps of most of the great powers (France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain).

Especially the artillery could develop very slowly, both for the restrictions on the budget of the War Ministry, and the need of replacing the existing artillery pieces with new quick-firing guns. Therefore in 1904 only 3 artillery regiment were raised, and, instead of 9 brigades with 18 regiments, the Bulgarian artillery could deploy only 9 regiments, of whom 6 with 9 (6 horsed), and 3 with only 6 batteries, while the mountain artillery had half of the planned artillery divisions (3 instead of 6). Still at the beginning of the War against Turkey every Bulgarian Infantry Division could mobilize only one quick-firing artillery regiment, while the second was armed with the outdated not quick-firing Krupp guns.

 

 

 

Cost of artillery matériel in 1891

 

87mm

field gun

75mm

mountain gun

120mm

field howitzer

battery fully equipped

194 615 leva

 

 

barrel

4200 leva

1855 leva

6210 leva

carriage with limber

9385 leva

7625 leva

13 585 leva

ammunition wagon

7565 leva

 

 

store wagon

3975 leva

 

 

store wagon N. 1 with tools

7005 leva

 

 

store wagon N. 2 with tools

5525 leva

 

 

common shell

10 leva

 

 

shrapnel

30 leva

 

 

Remarks :

for an ammunition wagon manufactured in Bulgaria the estimated cost was around half the price of the Krupp made ammunition wagon.