The birth of the coast artillery (1879 – 1912)



The Bulgarian naval artillery was born on 1 August 1879, when at Ruse 12 little ships of the Russian Danube Occupation Flotilla were transferred to the Principality of Bulgaria. Some of these ships were armed with 65mm guns, while 4 of them had 2 – 4 pdr guns each. For the Black Sea the Russians delivered the schooner Kelasura, armed with 4 – 4 pdr guns, but, since the harbour of Varna was undefended, in 1880 it was given back to the Russian navy in return for the paddle steamer Golubchik. In 1885 the artillery force of the Danube Flotilla, composed by around 10 guns, was reinforced by 5 – 10.66mm ten-barrels Nobel machine guns, taken from the Ruse arsenal. At the beginning of the Serbo-Bulgarian War in November 1885, according with Angel Angelov, the yacht Aleksandar I was armed with 3 – 4pdr guns, the steamer Golubchik with 2 – 4 pdr guns and the small patrol boats Cherepaha and Vychok with 1 machine gun each.

In 1888 the Bulgarian Danube Flotilla raised its first artillery units with 5 – 6cm guns (probably the Broadwell mountain guns) and 5 – 10.66mm ten-barrels Nobel machine guns, both given by the Russian Army in 1879. They were regarded as riverain coast artillery, but if necessary they could be mounted on the deck of the ships.


In May 1897 the Société anonyme des Chantiers et Ateliers de la Gironde at Bordeaux was commissioned to build a little cruiser, classified aviso-torpilleur in France, that would be christened Nadezhda. It was launched in September 1898 and reached Varna on 18 November 1898. The guns to arm this ship were ordered to Schneider-Canet at the cost of 241,396 leva. They were delivered and mounted in 1900, while the first artillery exercises took place the following year. The weapons assigned to the ship were : 2 – 100mm L/50 guns, 2 – 65mm L/50 guns, both in shielded mounting, and 2 – 47mm L/60 guns without sighting devices. They were equipped with rudimentary sight and had not counter recoil mechanism, and this greatly reduced their effectiveness.

In 1899 the French head of the Bulgarian Fleet, captain 2nd rank Paul Pinchon suggested to buy another 2 cruisers of the same model of  Nadezhda, 12 torpedo boats, and 2 heavy coast batteries to protect the harbour of Varna and Burgas. His request was not accepted.

On 23 February 1904, however, the Bulgarian government signed a contract with the French firm Schneider-Canet for another 2 – 100mm guns with 1000 rounds, 3 torpedo boats and 3 floating torpedo batteries, which should be delivered in 1905. The cost of the whole order was 1,900,505 leva. The torpedo boats, christened Drazki, Smeli and Harbi, were built at Toulon in 1905, transferred in parts to Varna, where they were assembled under the supervision of the French engineer Rousseaux, and were launched on 23 August 1907. They were armed with 2 – 47mm L/30 guns, similar to those mounted on the Nadezhda. Also the 2 – 100mm L/50 guns were “ship” type, and were designed to be mounted on the deck of a merchant ship in wartime. They were stored until September 1912, when they, along with the similar guns of the Nadezhda, formed two additional batteries to defend the Varna harbour.

On 14 January 1906 another contract was signed with the firm Schneider-Canet, this time for 3 torpedo boats and a coast battery with 2 – 240mm L/45 coast guns. The torpedo boats, christened Shumni, Letyashti and Strogi, were built at Toulon in 1906, reached Varna on 30 August 1907, were assembled under the supervision of the Bulgarian engineer Ivan Rodev, and entered in service in August 1909. They had the same features and the same armament of the ships of the first batch. The total amount of the entire delivery was 887,000 leva.


The delivery of the coast guns was attended by the new head of the Bulgarian Fleet, captain Mihail Popov, who had not the expertise to deal with such a tricky affair. The guns arrived in May 1909 at Varna and should be put in a specially prepared fixed position. They were so heavy, that a temporary railroad was built to carry them to the emplacement. The firing position chosen for their installation was at Sv. Nikola, 4 km east of Varna, in order to defend the king’s palace at Evksinograd, and to protect the Bay of Varna from enemy fleets’ raids. While the guns were under construction, the Bulgarians begun to built the concrete platform and the dig-out for the crew and the ammunition.

With the beginning of the works for the installation of the guns a lot of mistakes and carelessness, that greatly reduced their fighting efficiency, were noticed :

a)      The firing position was unsatisfactory, since it was placed deeply on the inside of the Bay of Varna, and the heights of Capes Galata and Dvoretza toward Cape Evksinograd limited considerably the field of fire. In addition the little elevation above the sea-level, only 40 m, reduced the range of the guns. A better position should have been the height near Cape Galata, where the elevation above the sea-level was 160 m.

b)      The concrete nest had been badly planned, since the two guns were too close, and their crews might be annihilated by a single enemy shell fallen between the two guns. In addition the concrete wall built on the right and left side of the platform further reduced the field of fire. 

c)      The guns had been built and delivered without the equipment required for a correct fire, since they had not the graduated arcs for traversing fire, the rangefinder to calculate the distance of the enemy ships, and the firing tables, that as a rule were provided by the building firm.

d)      The carriage and the armour of the guns allowed a maximum elevation of only 11°, and so the maximum range could not exceed 10.5 km, while with a different carriage and an elevation angle of 40°, the range should have reach 20 km.

e)      Nobody had taken care to seek and collect the technical and tactical data of the likely enemy fleets (calibre and range of the guns, speed and silhouette of the ships, and so on)

In May 1909 captain Milko Zhelezov was appointed head of the battery to direct the assembly of the gun. He had attended a fortress and coast artillery class at the Russian Officers’ Artillery School at Tzarskoe Selo in 1904-05, and was the only Bulgarian officer able to do it. He tried hard to solve the technical and the tactical hitches, and at the beginning of the war against Turkey the battery, even if not perfect in working order, was ready for fighting.

The role of captain Zhelezov was decisive. He planned and, with the help of some workshops, manufactured the graduated arcs, elaborated the information for the employ of the guns in combat (conduct of fire, firing tables), and organized the training of the personnel and the commanders of the guns. In June 1912, during a mission at Sank Petersburg, he ordered the optical devices for the rangefinders that were manufactured by the Varna arsenal in September, using rails to made the protective shield. He choose the rangefinder with a vertical base built by the Russian colonel Imid von der Launiz, but made some changes in order to make it more suitable for the local conditions.


At first the coast artillery battery was administratively dependant from the Fleet, but from 1 January 1910 it was detached from the Fleet and subordinated to the Artillery Inspection. At the beginning of 1912 it was again attached to the Fleet and subordinated to the commander of the fixed defence. On 12 February 1910 it was published the Status for the conduct of the coast battery in peace, compiled by cp. Zhelezov, who wrote also instructions, descriptions and directions for its employ.

In 1910 the establishment of the coast artillery battery included the battery commander – captain, 2 young officers – 1 captain and a 1 re-enlisted lieutenant, 1 warrant officer, 2 sergeants, 4 corporals, 6 lance corporals and 33 privates.