Artillery delivered by Germany during WW1

 

 

In 1915 Bulgaria had practically no war industry. Only the manufacture of explosives, cartridges, and hand grenades of the Odrin type had been mastered. At the artillery arsenal in Sofia and in the ordnance factory in Kazanlyk, some repairs of artillery pieces, machine-guns, and rifles were carried out. To obtain weapons and ammunition Bulgaria had to rely on its allies.

The military convention between Bulgaria, Germany and Austria-Hungary signed by col. Dimitar Gantchev, gen. von Falkenhayn and gen. Conrad at the German headquarters in Pless on 6 September 1915 should have regulated the mutual wartime duties and obligations of the allies, but their haziness and ambiguity led to considerable misunderstanding and friction between the Bulgarian and the German headquarters.

The seventh article of the convention stated that “Germany declared to be ready to deliver to Bulgaria war material of all kind as far as this is possible depending on the German own needs of supplying. The Chief of the General Staff of the German Army have the final decision if here any differences of opinion should result.”

Just after the signature of the convention, during the first meeting with the German head of the General War Department of the Prussian War Ministry, col. Ernst von Wrisberg, col. Gantchev, as head of the Bulgarian delegation, demanded the most urgent requirements for the Bulgarian Army : infantry weapons, artillery, ammunition, optical devices, entrenching tools, signal equipment, cars and lorries, field bridges, aircrafts, medical materials, but also clothing and equipment for the troops and harnesses. The total amount of the first Bulgarian order was around 300 000 000 gold marks. It was followed by further request, and, according with col. von Wrisberg, the total of the military hardware delivery by Germany to Bulgaria during the World War amounted to more than 1 billion of gold marks.

With the beginning of the military operations, col. Gantchev was attached to the German Great General Headquarters as Bulgarian plenipotentiary, but the Bulgarian delegation remained in Berlin to work with the Prussian War Ministry, was even then subordinated to him. At first this delegation was composed only by col. Yonkov and lt.col. Stoenchov, but during the war the number of its members increased greatly, and in 1917 it formed a separate bureau, under the direction of col. Marko Nikiforov. This made more difficult the relationships between the two allies, because col. Wrisberg, who had a great respect for col. Gantchev, regarded his successor “der Typus eines politischen Offiziers”, and considered his arrival not favourable to the negotiations, that until then had been frank and correct.

 

Germany too felt the necessity to make easier the relationship with its allies. Therefore at the beginning of 1917 the Allied Armies section of the Prussian War Ministry (Abteilung für verbündete Heere, A.11) untill then under the direction of maj. Theodor Duesterberg, was subdivided into three different departments : Referat 1 for Turkey, Persia and Transcaucasia, Referat 2 for Bulgarian and the Greek troops interned at Görlitz, Referat 3 for Austria-Hungary and, after the peace of Bukarest, Romania. They were directed by majors von Ramsay, Jansen and von Bülow, under maj. Duesterberg supervision.

In Bulgaria at first the task of examining the requests of the Bulgarian War Ministry was entrusted to the German military attaché, col. Ewald von Massow. But he was so loaded down with political-military tasks that he was not able to pick over personally the great amount of orders that came to him, and could not correct their amount according with the requirements of the German industry. To free him from this demanding task, the Prussian War Ministry sent to Sofia an officer acting as its own plenipotentiary, at first maj. von Weller, and then maj. Kämmerling. Working in close collaboration with the military attaché himself they could understand the mechanisms of the Bulgarian bureaucracy and in a short time they were able to fulfil their task effectively.

 

A collecting area for all the supplies assigned to Bulgaria was established at Ober-Leschen (Silesia). All the delivery facilities of the Reich – both government departments and private companies – should inform it whenever a delivery was finalized. The shipment could take place only after Ober-Leschen had commanded the delivery. The collecting area, to which some Bulgarian officers were assigned, received the orders from the Bulgarian General Intendant through the Plenipotentiary General Staff Officer of the Direction of the Field Railway Service assigned to the Railway Transport Section South-east. The supplies were delivered to Sofia almost entirely via Beograd – Nish, and in the capital they were re-directed to the Field Army operating in Macedonia. This diversion meant a great waste of time, and the Bulgarian Command itself asked to send the most urgent supplies directly from Nish. This change, even if functional, met considerable opposition could be introduced only with great difficulties.

 

Germany begun to fulfil its obligations after the defeat of Serbian Army, when direct communications with Bulgaria were established via Beograd. But the priority accorded to Turkey during the last phase of the fighting at Gallipoli and the lack of artillery of German Army at that time slowed down the supplying of Bulgarian Army.

Actually in late 1915 German Army had no enough guns to equip its new Divisions. The number of guns of a Division decreased from 72 at the beginning of the War, to 48 at the beginning of the 1915, to only 24 in spring of 1915. In mid 1915 four units were designed brigades – even if they had 9 infantry battalions like a Division – because they had only a division – Abteilung – of field artillery (12 howitzers) each. This lack of artillery ended up in the second half of 1916. Therefore in 1915-16 Germany could ship to Bulgaria only a little number of guns.

The situation was further worsened by the poor railroad system of the Balkan that delayed the delivery of the weapons ordered by the Bulgarian Government. The Bulgarians often thought that the Germans were failing to fulfil their alliance obligation. For instance on 25 April 1917 a report denounced that since the beginning of the war only 680 of the 1150 machine guns ordered in Germany had been actually delivered.

 

How many guns did Germany give the Bulgarian Army during First World War? I was not able to find an answer in western sources and I hoped that Bulgarian sources can solve this problem. Unfortunately although it is relatively well known what was the inventory of the Bulgarian army in 1915, so far I have not been able to locate much information on what was available as quantities of military hardware throughout the years up to 1918.

 

However we can make some suppositions. In October 1915 Bulgarian Army had 1231 guns. In September 1918 it had 1395 guns in the field (British Official History : 1597 – 202 German guns). According with История на служба "Артилерийско въоръжение", p. 97, on 15 September 1919 the Bulgarian Army had 1956 guns. This means an increase of 725 artillery pieces. To them we must add the guns that were lost during the war because destroyed due to faulty ammunition, worn out and captured or destroyed by the enemy. In 1921 the Interallied Military Control Commission found in Bulgaria 1468 guns of different calibres and patterns (История на служба "Артилерийско въоръжение", p. 102 says 3400 guns, but it is certainly a misprint).

According with Кратък обзор на бойния състав, p. 118, the Central Powers delivered to Bulgaria 3127 heavy machine guns, 284 light mortars, 162 medium mortars, 1932 grenade launchers, 8 flame-throwers and 528 artillery pieces. For a comparison, during WW1 Germany gave to Turkey 557,000 rifles, 100,000 carbines, 559 guns, 30 flame-throwers, 1570 light and 30 heavy machine guns (Erickson). Since Austria-Hungary sent to the Bulgarian Army at least 144 mountain guns, Germany may have delivered approximately 380 guns. This amount is very close to the data furnished by col. Wrisberg, who stated that during World War 1 Germany gave to Bulgaria 80 field batteries, 13 heavy batteries and 31 individual field guns.

 

Usually Germany did not give to his allies the most modern weapons it had. In addition Germany usually did not give the heaviest guns. During the war in Macedonia there were a little number of heavy guns, but they were under the direct control of German Army.

However the Bulgaria was not satisfied with old guns discarded by the German Army. General Kalin Naydenov, who during the whole conflict was the Minister of War, stated that some heavy guns ordered in Germany were not accepted, although ready for the shipment, since they were not of the last model. Therefore the German factories had to manufacture new guns, which met the expectations of the Bulgarian purchasers. Unfortunately this slowed down the delivery of the guns, so much that they could not arrive before the truce was signed (Снабдяването на армията въ време на война, p.80)