9 Chapters
Medium 9780253354525

6 The Erosion of the Bulgarian Army

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

At the beginning of the war Bulgarian morale was largely positive. While the Bulgarians were not enthusiastic to be at war again so soon after the Balkan Wars, they were grimly determined to rectify the injustices they perceived to be the consequence of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest. Nevertheless, after a year of military success the mood in Bulgaria remained fairly good. A German report from June 1916 noted:

Undoubtedly public opinion in Bulgaria, which at the beginning of the war was for the most part pro-Russian, has changed. It has become clear to countless observers, who over the past two years here from informal conversations with all strata of people, from soldiers’ letters, from political literature indicate that the majority of the people are convinced of the correctness of the policies of the Central Powers.1

Even so there was dissension in the Bulgarian ranks from the start. At the beginning of the war several instances of antiwar activity had occurred within the army, and a military court sentenced at least seventeen soldiers to death.2 From the beginning of 1916 to 1 July 1917 the Entente command in Salonika counted 11,370 deserters from all the Central Powers forces on the Macedonian Front, including Austro-Hungarians, Bulgarians, Germans, and Turks.3 Bulgarians undoubtedly were the majority of these soldiers. Probably many of these Bulgarians were from the mixed ethnic areas overrun the during the autumn 1915 campaign. This meant they were from Macedonia, but had been drafted into the Bulgarian Army after 1915. For many of these soldiers national identity had little to do with their efforts to escape the fighting.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253354525

5 The Lull

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

For the Bulgarians, the results of the 1916 campaign in Macedonia were decidedly mixed. They had advanced in eastern Macedonia, and they had, despite considerable losses in territory and manpower, managed to hold on against a strong Entente offensive in central Macedonia. Their position north of Bitola was less than ideal. The Entente forces were well established across the Cherna Bend. The Bulgarians had noted, however, rumors that the British wanted to withdraw from Salonika.1 The prospect of a British withdrawal and the ending of the Salonika operation was more than merely rumor. The British were pressing their French allies to abandon the Bitola salient, and even to end the Salonika operation.2 Yet the Central Powers had no plans to take advantage of the Entente discord. Because manpower and material resources were limited, they adopted a defensive stance along the Macedonian Front in 1917.

Adding to the Bulgarian material burden were significant numbers of prisoners of war. By the summer of 1917 the Bulgarians had at least 12,000 Serbs and 2,000–3,000 pro-Venizelos Greeks.3 There were also British, French, Romanians, and Russians among these prisoners. The Bulgarians employed many of them in agricultural and mining activities throughout Bulgaria. Their exact number remains obscure. Another distraction during in February and March was an uprising in the Morava region of Serbia, occupied by Bulgarian soldiers. This Serbian revolt forced the Bulgarians to transfer temporarily some units from the Macedonian and Romanian Fronts.4 By the end of March, the Bulgarians, together with some Austro-Hungarian and German troops, had suppressed the Morava revolt.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253354525

9 Conclusion

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

The First World War continued the cycle of war that had begun in southeastern Europe as the inhabitants of the region attempted to form national states on the western European model. The fighting during this cycle grew to include not only the peoples of southeastern Europe themselves, beginning in 1912, but by 1914 also forces from all of the Great Powers.

At the center of much of the fighting was Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s defeat in the Balkan War caused great frustration. Especially galling was the failure to secure the main goal of Bulgarian irredentia, Macedonia. Greece and Serbia had divided the Macedonian spoils. When the Great Powers became involved in the fighting in 1914, Bulgaria’s strategic location, astride lines of communication for the Central Powers and proximate to Constantinople and the Straits for the Entente, made it a valuable potential ally for both sides. Hoping to realize the nationalist objectives thwarted by their defeat in the Balkan Wars, the Bulgarians entertained proposals from both sides. Those from the Central Powers, which promised the immediate occupation of Macedonia, proved to be the most appealing. This provided the most direct means to rectify the injustice of the 1913 Bucharest Treaty. The Bulgarians eagerly entered the war on 11 October and joined the Austro-Hungarian and German offensive against Serbia. They quickly overran Macedonia. To their astonishment and dismay, the Bulgarians found that the conquest of Macedonia involved them in fighting not only the anticipated Serbian enemy but also Great Power forces from France and Great Britain. The previous spring these same powers had attempted to offer Bulgaria at least a portion of Macedonia as an incentive to join the Entente. The Bulgarian army commander, General Zhekov, insisted in the fall of 1915 to his German allies that they should eliminate the threat posed by the Entente armies in Salonika. The Germans, however, preferred to contain the Entente armies to prevent their use elsewhere. Also the Germans did not want to undercut the neutral policies of Greek King Constantine. By the summer of 1916 the balance of forces had tipped in favor of the Entente. Additional troops arrived from Italy and Russia. Also the Serbian army, after being refurbished, joined the Entente forces. Anticipation over the entry of Romania into the war on the side of the Entente was the catalyst to provoke simultaneous initiatives from both sides at the end of the summer of 1916. The Bulgarians advanced from the western and eastern flanks into northern Greece. In the east they occupied western Thrace against little Greek and Entente resistance. In the west they reached Florina. The Entente offensive, launched in support of Romania, pushed the Bulgarian western flank back as far as Bitola. Both sides had made gains and sustained losses. During 1917 both sides remained relatively quiet. The Entente lost effective use of the Russian contingent due to the turmoil of the Russian Revolutions. It gained, however, the use of a united Greek army after ousting King Constantine and imposing a Greek unity government on Athens. Circumstances for the Bulgarian soldiers on the Macedonian Front began to erode. In the summer of 1918 the Entente prepared again to achieve a settlement on the Macedonian Front.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253354525

2 Balkan Wars

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

The Balkan coalition decided to begin the war against the Ottoman Empire in the fall of 1912. The allies wanted to start the war before the Ottomans could end their war with Italy and bring additional troops to southeastern Europe. Each member of the Balkan coalition conducted a separate action against the Ottomans with particular aims. The Balkan allies had considerable forces at their disposal. The Bulgarians called upon 350,000 men, the Greeks 100,000, and the Serbs 230,000.1 The Montenegrins had little more than a militia of around 50,000 men. The Greeks alone had a navy of some strength. The Ottomans also had a navy. Ground forces amounted to 280,000 men, but potential could grow to 450,000.2

The first of the Balkan allies to act was Montenegro. King Nikola opened the First Balkan War on 8 October 1912. The Montenegrin declaration of war alerted the Ottomans to the pending conflict in the Balkans. They hurried to conclude the war with Italy. The Italians and Ottomans signed the Treaty of Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, on 15 October.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253354525

7 Breakthrough

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

By the end of the summer of 1918, conditions on the Macedonian Front had worsened considerably for the Central Powers. The great influenza epidemic had caused some physical and morale problems among the Bulgarian soldiers.1 Much to the dismay of the Bulgarian command, the Germans had withdrawn considerable numbers of troops and weapons to use in the great offensives on the Western Front. At the same time, the material condition of the Bulgarians deteriorated to an appalling degree.

The morale problem in the Bulgarian army did not escape the notice of the Entente forces in Macedonia. A French report dated 15 September noted, “the Bulgarian people and army are overcome with a desire for peace, increased by a determined hatred of the Germans and Turks.”2 Deserters reported that many soldiers believed that the Bulgarian government would make peace on 15 September. This was the anniversary of the initial mobilization in 1915. Nor were the Germans oblivious to the morale problems in the Bulgarian army. A German report of 10 August indicated that the influence of Aleksandŭr Stamboliski’s antiwar Agrarian Party had grown very strong at the front. The same report noted, however, that despite the overwhelming war weariness, neither the tsar nor the government intended at that point to seek a separate peace. The reported cautioned, “The picture could change, if the Tsar and government, despite their good intentions, face opposition and lose courage to continue the war. Unfortunately we need to keep such an eventuality in mind, so that we do not have to reorient our affairs at the last possible moment.”3 The war-weary situation on the Macedonian Front and throughout Bulgaria was obvious to the Germans. The report implied that an Entente military effort could knock Bulgaria out of the war. By the end of the summer of 1918 Bulgaria, like all the other Central Powers, was at the end of its ability to wage war.

See All Chapters

See All Chapters