Tactical employment of large military units






The General directives for the tactical employment of large military units (Общи упътвания за тактическото употребление на големите войскови единици) were published with Army Order No. 63/19 February 1905, to provide a support to the reforms introduced into the Bulgarian Army in 1903. They were the first attempt to outline the strategic direction of the army and were written according with the main principles of the French School and with of the Italian Rules for the general employment of the large units in war (Norme per l’impiego generale delle grandi unità in guerra), published on 3 April 1903.

Besides the explanatory texts and the plates related with them, it comprised five main sections :

1.    terminology of the principal strategic concepts : operative bases, intermediate bases, line of the operations, theatre of the military operations (theatre of war), area of the operations, lines of communications, area of assembly (area of the strategic deployment), strategic advance guard, strategic front, marching front, strategic objective;

2.    orientation;

3.    march and manoeuvres;

4.    dispositions for the rest and the defensive cordon;

5.    combat.


According with the Temporary state for the field direction of the army and the organization of the rear (Временно положение за полевото управление на армията и устройството на тила), translated from the Russian at that time, the existing infantry divisions should expand into corps and their brigades into divisions. In wartime an army corps would be composed of 2 infantry divisions, 2 squadrons of cavalry, one battalion of pioneers (3½ companies), 6 field hospitals with 45,355 men in all; each infantry division of 4 infantry regiments with 4 battalions each, one artillery regiment with 9 field batteries (54 guns), the divisional supply train, the infantry park company, the artillery park half company, the field hospital and the divisional ambulances with 21,725 men. In addition the Army would include an independent cavalry division and the mountain and fortress artillery units.

The principles laid down by the General directions were based on the existence of 9 Army Corps and an independent cavalry division. The distribution of such a force during the various phases of the military operations was fully described in the text and explained by a great numbers of plates. Actually these directives had not great influence upon the operational employment of the Bulgarian Army since the corps organization remained only on paper and was never really implemented.


As for the employment of the artillery the General Directions assigned great importance to the artillery duel that was the initial phase of the combat: infantry started to advance only when the hostile artillery had been destroyed or suppressed. This rule was a legacy of the old European artillery regulations, adopted when the artillery was usually placed into the open; with the new quick firing guns deployed in covered positions the artillery duel could not get good effects. The Instructions for the employment of the field quick-firing artillery in combat, published the same year, corrected this point, stating that duels between concealed artillery batteries were almost useless, and that guns were better employed supporting friendly infantry.


Command. With the expression “direction of the troops” the text meant the entire action of the commander and of the general staff for the accomplishment of the task assigned to the troops. Its basic principle was the “will of one man”, the commander, to reach the full agreement in the action of every member of the chain of command in order to achieve the common objective. The subordinates had only to obey to the order taken previously without any discrepancy. Nevertheless they should be also enterprising, especially when it was not easy for the high commander to give orders, or when he fixed only the general objective and the means to achieve it, while the ways were left to the initiative of the subordinates (“delegated direction”). Lastly it was demanded a strict observance of the directions established in the regulations.

The duties of the commander were the following :

    during the preliminary phase of the combat, he examined the information received and decide whether the fight should be accepted;

    during the preparatory phase, he elaborated the plan of the action, choosing the point and the direction for the attack and setting the distribution of the troops, and issued orders and directives;

    when he thought that the preparation had been fully developed, he gave the signal for the decisive attack.

The task of collect the data required to evaluate accurately the situation was assigned to the chief of the staff. The information were collected from the general command, the reconnaissance, the military formations, the observatory posts, the local residents, the prisoners, the deserters, the foreign press etc.


General rules. The Army was regarded as the strategic force and was charged to fulfil the main tasks of the war that could be closed after one or two general battles or operations. Its aim was to inflict the most decisive defeat to the enemy. The annihilation of the enemy forces could be obtained only by means of an offensive tactic. For this purpose, however, an absolute superiority was not necessary. The enemy should be attacked everywhere, but the decisive strike should be conducted with superiority of means, choosing the most favourable time and place. Therefore, all forces should meet in the decisive point at the desired moment.

The aim of the combat was to break the will of the enemy, imposing his own will. For this purpose, all the enemy means – animate and inanimate – should be entirely destroyed. The main way to obtain a decisive victory was the coordinate action of every units and arms: the basic rule was the mutual support. The inaction was regarded as the bigger mistake for commanders at all levels.

The offensive started from distant starting point, the troops being deployed during the approaching march, and the military operations began without having occupied the starting positions. The strategic deployment of the Army should be carried out under the cover of troops placed near the border, called advance guard or covering units. A key role during the march and the reconnaissance was assigned to the cavalry.

The military operation included the following phases :

    the approaching march;

    the preliminary actions of the independent cavalry division and of the advance guards;

    the deployment of the troops;

    the fight with the main body of the Army.

The basic methods to defeat the enemy were the frontal attack, the encirclement and the flank attack. At first the frontal attack should be avoided since it caused heavy losses and, even if it was successful, its effect was not decisive. Nevertheless an attempt to envelop both the flanks of the defender could be made only having a great moral and numerical superiority on the enemy.

The battle consisted of four distinct phases :

    the preliminary phase, composed of the initial contact and the actions of the advance guards;

    the artillery duel, aimed to annihilate the hostile artillery;

    the preparation of the attack, where infantry massed and occupy the preparatory positions;

    the decisive attack and, if it was successful, the pursuit of the enemy.


The march. In broken mountainous country inhabited by a sympathetic population, like Macedonia, the service of reconnaissance should be assisted by small local guerrilla detachments (чети). A strategic advanced guard should be employed to cover the march of the several columns composing an army and should be one day’s march in front of the enemy, when the army was more than three days’ march distant from it.

When it was marching in a single column from one to three day march from the enemy, an army corps should be deployed as follows. The first line transport (военна обоз) followed immediately behind the unit to which it belonged; the regimental supply train was joined to the corps baggage train, forming the first portion of the corps transport (административна обоз), whereas the second portion was subdivided into 3 echelons :

    1st echelon : 2 half companies of the divisional infantry ammunition column, 2 half companies of the divisional artillery ammunition column, the first section of both divisional supply columns and both divisional ambulances;

    2nd echelon : the remaining 2 half companies of the divisional infantry and artillery ammunition columns, the second sections of both divisional supply columns and both divisional field hospitals;

    3rd echelon : the 3rd and 4th section of both divisional supply columns.

When within one day’s march from the enemy the breadth of front occupied was calculated at 100 m of front to 6-10 men, therefore a corps of 45,000 men had accordingly a front for action of about 5 km, thus indicating an inclination towards narrow extension and the massing of troops. The roads were as far as possible left for the march of guns and the first line transport. Owing to the thinly populated character of the country bivouacs were preferred to cantonments. The general reserve for bodies of strength up to and including a corps should be from ¼ to ½ of the total strength and should include a specified number of batteries. Counter attacks were the best means for covering a retreat. According to the plate showing the distribution of an army of 4 corps in action very strong reserves of all arms were placed in many lines, one in rear of another behind the centre of the army and not in echelon on the flanks.


The attack. The attack was the most decisive way to obtain a victory and should be preferred to the defence that was regarded as a temporary kind of combat. It was the most cautious way to get ready and should be adopted only waiting to take the offensive with the best chances to obtain a decisive victory.

At first the advance guards of both armies, mainly composed by cavalry, came into contact, strongly supported by their artillery. They should seize and held critical strongpoint until relieved by the infantry. In order to make more effective the reconnaissance, the head of the various advancing columns might support their cavalry not only with some batteries, but also with part of their infantry. Furthermore they might advance up the first line, in order to watch the combat personally.

While the troops of the main force was deploying and manoeuvring to approach the enemy positions, the artillery quickly went ahead, joining its forces with the artillery of the advance guard, and started the artillery duel with the enemy. Its aim was to destroy or at least to weaken the fire of the defender and facilitate the running out and the attack of the infantry. During this phase of the combat the artillery played the main role and the infantry should give up the best positions and the best approaches. The initial artillery position should be 3-4 km away from the enemy, but it might be even closer, if the place allowed it.

The success of the duel relied on the skill of the head of the artillery, who should seek to concentrate the greatest number of guns against the fire of the defender, taking advantage of every accident of the ground to occupy the positions covertly and rapidly, and to adjust the fire as quickly as possible. The concentration of the fire should not result from massing a great number of guns in a single place, but from a correct distribution of the tasks assigned to all the batteries deployed on battlefront and from a clever direction of the fire. The power of fire reached the peak only when the attacker moved its guns to the advanced artillery position, 2-2½ km away from the enemy.

When the artillery of the defender was sufficiently weakened, infantry, always under the cover of the artillery fire, resumed its advance, adopting a thin formation and taking advantage of the grounds features. In this phase of the combat, infantry took again priority over artillery, which should adjust its fire on the advance of the troops trying to make it easier. When the defender moved its fire against the advancing troops, the artillery of the attacker should seek to sweep away all the units that might hamper the advance with their fire. If it was not able to do it from its present positions, it should follow the troops, even coming into the range of infantry fire, if necessary.

The preparation of the decisive attack began when infantry came within the effective zone of rifle fire, at 1000-1200 paces from the enemy. All the batteries kept in reserve until then went into action and the whole artillery directed an overwhelming fire at the point chosen for the attack, seeking to destroy the hostile batteries which were still firing and the infantry units that might impede the attack. Often the artillery of the defender, being weaker, stopped its fire during the duel, to save it up for repelling the decisive attack. The artillery of the attacker should be always ready to redirect its fire against the artillery of the defender, as soon as it opened fire again.

When the proper preparation had been made, the heads of the main units suddenly launched the assault, seeking to carry it as much as possible without interruption and simultaneously up the last firing line. During this phase of the combat the artillery of the attacker keep up a strong fire at the points chosen for the attack, ceasing its fire only to avoid to injury its own troops. In this case, the fire was moved to the enemy units deployed near or behind the point of attack. Once the point of attack had been captured, part of infantry and artillery stopped and strengthened its position, pressing the enemy only with its fire. During the pursuit the main role was assigned to the cavalry and only secondarily to the most fresh infantry units and the lightest and most moving artillery.


The defence. The defensive position had to fulfil specific requisites :

    to block the most probable directions of advance of the enemy;

    to assure a good field of view and a good field of fire;

    to have no obstacle that might hinder the advance of the reserve;

    to have such ground features that made possible to arrange a hard defence and to hide from the enemy the rear and the concentration of the reserve;

    to have an extension conformed with the troops on hand;

    to cover the flanks;

    to facilitate the direction of the combat and the mutual support.

The line on which the artillery was to fight the decisive action formed the framework of every defensive position, therefore in deploying the troops, the best places should be always assigned to the artillery and infantry should line up in concert with artillery. As far as possible the troops should be placed in covered positions to protect better themselves from the hostile fire and come into action suddenly. In order to assure an effective defence both infantry and artillery should be largely supplied with ammunition from the very beginning of the combat.

Since the attacker was obliged to bring his forces into action gradually, at first the artillery of the defender fired at the various units of the enemy as they occupied their positions. This did not mean that it had to shoot as soon as a target appeared on the battlefield, since the attacker usually tried to entice the defender to open fire in order to locate the hostile positions. Therefore it was advisable that the defender kept its artillery concealed until he discerned a target worthy of his attention, like unlimbering artillery and thick columns of infantry or cavalry.

Afterwards the artillery of the defender should act in order to support constantly its infantry, directing its fire against hostile batteries, whose fire had become most annoying. If the hostile artillery was very much stronger numerically and could annihilate the artillery of the defender, it was advisable that the defender ceased fire temporarily, concealing his artillery, and reopened fire later to repeal the decisive attack of the enemy. When the hostile troops were so close that they prevented their artillery from firing, all the batteries of the defender should come into action and fire to the very end, taking no care of losing their guns. During the decisive attack all the batteries should leave the secondary targets and concentrate their fire upon the assaulting infantry.


The night combat. Even if the night combat was not an effective way to annihilate the enemy, it often could facilitate the victory, allowing the attacker to approach the enemy positions, that would be seized at the daybreak. In the event of a withdrawal, it could facilitate to disengage the troops from the enemy.

Launching an attack, the army should make a deep reconnaissance of the enemy and of the ground. The orders should be simple, the task clear and definite, and the movement straight and short. The troops approached the enemy in little columns (not more than 2 battalions), preceded at a short distance by the advance guard, and connect by a dense line of patrols carrying light signals. The attack should be sudden and abrupt. The troops should not shot, but assaulted with the bayonets, moving in silence.

In defence, the army should remain in close contact with the enemy to avoid any surprise and should enlighten the field of fire, to facilitate the cooperation with the artillery. Infantry was deployed in a thin line, 20 or 30 paces behind the trenches, and was supported by many little contingents of supporting troops. The reserve should be more numerous than in daytime, the artillery should be well protected and the cavalry should stay behind. To slow down the enemy advance, the ground should be covered by every kind of obstacles, beaten by the machine-guns. Fire was opened only at short distance.