The defence of the Aegean seacoast during World War I

 

 

The Aegean Unit of the Bulgarian Fleet was established on 31 December 1914 with Decree N. 96. It was composed by command, sea defence, semaphore observation service and workshop. Its main task was to assure the surveillance and the protection of the seacoast without craft.

The head of the Unit was maj. Nikola Furnadzhiev, who had been previously the head of the semaphore posts, with 1st rank midshipman Velizar Peev as adjutant and Lt. Georgi Antonov as head of the mine defence. The peace establishment was only 74 men, whom 8 assigned to the direction of the unit, 38 to the mine defence, and 28 to the semaphore observation service. They had only four rowboats, three at Dedeagach and one at Porto Lagos.

 

After the mobilization, proclaimed on 10 September 1915, the Aegean Unit reached its war strength, and on 20 September it was composed by 2 Staff officers, 5 senior officers and 237 NCOs and seamen. Its naval equipment was reinforced with the Iskra motor boat, weighting only 12 tons, and five rowboats. On 1 October, when Bulgaria entered war, the defence of the coast of the Aegean Sea was assigned to some units of the 10th Belomorska Division : 37th Infantry regiment at Ksanti, 40th infantry regiment at Dedeagach, and 8th cavalry regiment. On 21 September 1915 in order to defend the Aegean Sea Coast from Makri to the Bujuk-ada island the command of the Artillery of the Dedeagach garrison was raised, with a little number of old guns taken from Sofiyski fortress artillery regiment (4 – 57mm Gruson guns and 18 –87mm Krupp guns). It was split in four sectors: Makri, Ikikurbalar, Dedeagach and Muhadzhirköi. Every sector had two line of trenches : the first line on the coastline itself and the second on the southern slopes of the ridge. The command was attached to the 10th Artillery Brigade. On 10 October 1915 to protect the coastline 4 – 120mm L/25 guns of the Sofiyski fortress artillery regiment were sent to Dedeagach and on 8 December 1915 a temporary artillery park platoon was raised for the heavy guns.

The harbour and the mine companies of the Aegean Unit were put under the orders of the 2nd/10th Brigade  to cooperate with the Army to repel an enemy landing. To protect the bay of Dedeagach at the beginning of March 1916 the mine company laid down three rows of 10 mines each at distance of 10 km from the coast. In August 22 mines were laid down to defend the bay of Porto Lagos. With the help of a German mine command of 33 men, the mine laying continued in 1917, especially after the intense naval bombardments of Kavala and Leftera made by the Anglo-French Fleet at the beginning of the year. From 24 to 29 March 1917 three rows of mines were laid down in the bay of Kavala, and on 1 April the minefield at Dedeagach and Porto Lagos was strengthened. Finally on 14 and 23 April further mines were laid down in the bay of Porto Lagos and Kavala. The main effect of the activity of the mine company was the decrease of the traffic of the enemy ships along the Bulgarian coast.

 

After the victorious offensive of the 2nd Army in Thrace and the occupation of the Greek coast up to Kavala, the area assigned to the Aegean Units increased greatly. Since there were no coast guns to defend the coast, it was necessary to turn to the fortress artillery, using also some guns captured in Greek Thracian fortress.

On 21 September 1916 the order N. 510 of the Active Army established the post of the Head of the Belomorska Otbrana (Defence of the Aegean seacoast) attached to 10th Belomorska Division. The post was assigned to col. Bozho Ikonomov, who was in charge of the Army units deployed between rivers Mesta and Maritza, namely:

–    Infantry: 39th Solunski and 40th Belomorski infantry regiments, 10th March regiment, 8th Opalchenie regiment I, 10th Border Guards battalion with 3 companies, 4th company/9th Border Guards battalion, Harbour company, Bridge company, one company of 20th Opalchenie battalion II;

–    Machine guns: 5 position MG companies with 10 MGs;

–    Cavalry: half Squadron from 8th cavalry regiment;

–    Artillery: 79 guns, namely:

a)    1st and 2nd – 8,7cm not QF position batteries (12 guns) and 1st, 2nd and 3rd – 7,5cm not QF position batteries (12 guns) from 10th complement battery;

b)    1st – 15cm L/30 not QF battery (2 guns), 3rd – 12cm L/28 not QF battery (4 guns), 3rd – 12cm L/25 not QF battery (4 guns), 8,7cm not QF artillery division (18 guns) and 3rd and 4th – 57mm turret guns platoons (4 guns) from 1st heavy artillery regiment;

c)    12th – 7,5cm QF field artillery battery (4 guns) from 14th artillery regiment;

d)    1st and 2nd – 12cm not QF howitzers batteries (8 howitzers), 10,5cm L/35 not QF battery (7 guns), 2nd – 7,5cm QF field artillery battery (4 guns) from 10th artillery regiment;

–    Engineer: searchlight unit (4 searchlights), 3rd company/10th Pioneer battalion.

At the end of August 1916 3rd Brigade of 8th Tundzhanska Division left its positions near Bitolya and took the place of 2nd Brigade of 10th Belomorska Division.

 

From 15 November 1916 the Aegean Sea cost was split in two sectors:

1)    Right sector from river Mesta to Porto Lagos: 4 ¼ battalions (30th Sheynovski regiment), 14 MGs, 21 guns, 1 searchlight and a cavalry platoon;

2)    Left sector from Porto Lagos to river Maritza: 9 ½ battalions (10th Rodopski regiment, 2 battalions of 10th March regiment, of 8th Opalchenie regiment and 10th Border guards battalion), 35 MGs, 52 guns, 3 searchlights and a cavalry platoon;

3)    Reserve at Gyumyurdzhina: 2 battalions (8th Opalchenie regiment) and 2 guns.

On 20 April 1917 in order to reduce the number of the battalions of the infantry regiments, 4th battalions of 10th and 30th regiments and 9th Border Guards battalion formed 85th infantry regiment, that was sent to Metohi at the disposal of the commander of the 2nd Army.

On 3 May 1917 1st/8th Brigade was replaced by 3rd/8th Brigade.

From 2 June 1917 the Belomorska Otbrana became an independent command directly subordinated to the 2nd Army, losing the 10th Border Guards battalion. On 15 June the 4th heavy artillery regiment was raised at Kavala with 2 artillery division mainly armed with Greek trophy guns.

In mid-July 1917 the structure of the Belomorska Otbrana changed: 1st Opalchenie Brigade (1st and 10th Opalchenie regiment) reinforced with 3rd Cavalry Brigade, 10th cavalry regiment and four 57mm turret guns platoons took the place of 3rd/8th Brigade.

At the beginning of August the 87th infantry regiment, along with 2 MG squadrons and 4 – 8,7cm not QF guns  was attached to the Belomorska Otbrana and the 10th March regiment merged into 8th Opalchenie regiment, forming its fourth battalion.

 

With Active Army Order N. 1075, from 25 September 1917 the Belomorska Otbrana was equated to an Infantry Division and its structure changed again:

–    1st Opalchenie Brigade with 1st and 10th Opalchenie regiments (2 battalions and 8 MGs each),

–    8th Opalchenie regiment (4 battalions and 32 MGs),

–    87th Infantry regiment (3 battalions and 20 MGs),

–    6 position MGs companies with 64 MGs (1st and 10th Opalchenie regiments received 3 companies each),

–    3rd Cavalry Brigade,

–    94 guns of various calibres, mainly Greek trophy guns in position batteries,

–    3rd company/10th Pioneer battalion and a heavy searchlight unit with four searchlight,

–    harbour company and mine platoon.

At the same time the Aegean Sea cost was split in three sectors:

1)    Right sector from river Mesta to Porto Lagos: 2 battalions (8th Opalchenie regiment), 36 MGs, 21 guns, 1 searchlight, a cavalry detachment and a German seaplane station;

2)    Central sector from Porto Lagos to Kara-Kush-dag: 2 battalions (8th Opalchenie regiment), 32 MGs, 33 guns, 1 searchlight and a cavalry detachment;

3)    Left sector from Kara-Kush-dag to river Maritza: 4 battalions (1st Opalchenie Brigade), 48 MGs, 32 guns, 2 searchlights, a cavalry detachment, Harbour company and mine platoon;

4)    Reserve at Gyumyurdzhina: 3 battalions (87th Infantry regiment), 20 MGs and 3 QF field batteries.

In October 1917 3rd Cavalry Brigade left the Belomorska Otbrana and replaced by 2nd Cavalry Division.

On 1 December 1917 the Pioneer battalion of the Belomorska Otbrana (2 companies) was raised and on 5 December the police squadron was raised.

 

On 20 December 1917 4th Army was raised: it was composed by 10th Belomorska Division, Belomorska Otbrana and 2nd Cavalry Division. At the same time 1st, 8th and 10th Opalchenie regiment were uniformly composed by three battalions. At the end of December the position batteries of the Belomorska Otbrana were assigned to two new units: 5th heavy artillery regiment and 26th artillery regiment.

On 2 February 1918 the structure the Belomorska Otbrana changed for the last time:

1)    Right sector: 8th Opalchenie regiment, 32 MGs, 27 guns, 2 pioneer platoons and 1 searchlight;

2)    Central sector: 1st Opalchenie regiment, 36 MGs, 33 guns, 2 pioneer platoons and 1 searchlight;

3)    Left sector: 10th Opalchenie regiment, 44 MGs, 30 guns, 1 pioneer company and 3 searchlights;

Reserve at Gyumyurdzhina: 87th Infantry regiment, 24 MGs, half cavalry squadron and 12 guns.

 

The head of the coast artillery of the Aegean Sea was col. Yerotey Sirmanov, who had been the head of the artillery of the 11th Infantry Division during the Balkan Wars, taking part in the siege of Odrin. With the establishment of the 4th Army, he became the head of its artillery, after having been promoted major general.

The head of the artillery of the Belomorska Otbrana was col. Petar Variklechkov.

 

 

 

Dedeagach_1917

The coast defence of Bulgarian coast near Dedeagach in 1917