Bulgarian Land Forces

The Bulgarian Land Forces (Bulgarian: Сухопътни войски на България) are the ground warfare branch of the Bulgarian Armed Forces. The Land Forces were established in 1878, when they were composed of anti-Ottoman militia (opalchentsi) and were the only branch of the Bulgarian military. The Land Forces are administered by the Ministry of Defence, previously known as the Ministry of War during the Kingdom of Bulgaria.

The Land Forces were made up of conscripts throughout most of Bulgaria's history. During World War I, it fielded more than one million troops out of Bulgaria's total population of around four million. Two-year conscription was obligatory during Communism (1946–1990), but its term was reduced in the 1990s. Conscription for all branches was terminated in 2008; since then, the Land Forces are a volunteer force. Bulgarian Land Forces troops are deployed on peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Since 2004, the Land Forces are in a process of continued restructuring. Under the most recent reform, brigades were reduced to regiments, while several garrisons and brigades were disbanded.

Functions

The Land Forces are functionally divided into 'Active" and "Reserve Forces". Their main functions include deterrence, defense, peace support and crisis management, humanitarian and rescue missions, as well as social functions within Bulgarian society.

The Active Forces mainly have peacekeeping and defensive duties, and are further divided into Deployment Forces, Immediate Reaction, and Main Defense Forces. The Reserve Forces consists of Enhancement Forces, Territorial Defense Forces, and Training Grounds. They deal with planning and reservist preparation, armaments and equipment storage, training of formations for active forces rotation or increase in personnel.

During peacetime the Land Forces maintain permanent combat and mobilization readiness. They become part of multinational military formations in compliance with international treaties Bulgaria is a Party of, participate in the preparation of the population, the national economy and the maintenance of wartime reserves and the infrastructure of the country for defense.

In times of crisis the Land Forces' main tasks relate to participation in operations countering terrorist activities and defense of strategic facilities (such as nuclear power plants and major industrial facilities), assisting the security forces in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal armaments traffic and international terrorism. In case of low- and medium-intensity military conflict the Active Forces that are part of the Land Forces participate in carrying out the initial tasks for the defense of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. In case of a military conflict of high intensity the Land Forces, together with the Air Force and the Navy, aim at countering aggression and protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.

History

On 22 July 1878 (10 July O.S.) twelve battalions of opalchentsi who participated in the Liberation War, formed the Bulgarian Armed Forces. According to the Tarnovo Constitution, all men between 21 and 40 years of age were eligible for military service. In 1883 the military was reorganized in four infantry brigades (in Sofia, Pleven, Ruse and Shumen) and one cavalry brigade.

Early years

The Bulgarian unification of 1885 made Bulgaria the largest Balkan state in terms of territory, which immediately sparked dissent in Serbia and Greece, which demanded territorial compensations. While the agitation of the Greek side calmed down, Serbia - backed by Austria-Hungary - launched a military campaign against Bulgaria. The Serbs, expecting a quick end to the war, suffered losses and were pushed back by Bulgarian troops who did not have higher-ranking officers than captains at the time. Owing to its militaristic policy at the time, Bulgaria was labelled as a "Balkan Prussia".

A triumphal arch in Edirne raised in honour of the Bulgarian troops entering the town, 1913

In the early 1900s instability in the Balkans continued, as the collapse of the Ottoman Empire progressed. After an anti-Ottoman rebellion in Macedonia and an Ottoman defeat in the Italo-Turkish War, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro settled their differences and formed a coalition against the Ottoman Empire, known as the Balkan League. In late September 1912, both the League and the Ottoman Empire mobilised their armies. Montenegro was the first to declare war, on 25 September. The other three states, after issuing an impossible ultimatum to the Sublime Porte on 13 October, declared war on 17 October. Bulgaria was militarily the most powerful of the four states, with a large, well-trained and well-equipped army. The peacetime force of 60,000 men was expanded during the war to 370,000 (more than half of the League's total of 700,000 troops), with almost 600,000 men mobilised in total, out of a population of 4,300,000. The field army counted for 9 infantry divisions, 1 cavalry division and 1,116 artillery units. Bulgarian troops marked a decisive victory at Kirk Kilisse and captured Adrianople after a prolonged siege. A British war correspondent of the era compared the determination of Bulgarian troops to kill their enemy with that of the Japanese and the Gurkhas.

The Second Balkan War began shortly after the end of the first one. A dispute between Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece over the division of Macedonia prompted the Bulgarian leadership to attack its neighbours. Bulgarian troops were still exhausted by the first war, and the majority of Bulgaria's forces were deployed along the Ottoman border. During the war, Bulgaria fought against all its neighbours, including Romania, which did not participate in the first war. The 500,000-man Bulgarian army faced a total of 1,250,000 enemy troops from all sides. Supply and coordination problems and the overwhelming numbers of the attackers brought about an end to the war in less than two months.

World Wars

Mobilised Bulgarian troops departing for the front, 1915

The outcome of the Balkan Wars sparked a very strong revanchist sentiment among Bulgarians. In 1915 Germany promised to restore the boundaries according to the Treaty of San Stefano and Bulgaria, which had the largest army in the Balkans, declared war on Serbia in October the same year. In the First World War Bulgaria decisively asserted its military capabilities. The Second Battle of Doiran, with general Vladimir Vazov as commander, inflicted a heavy blow on the numerically superior British Army, which suffered 12,000 casualties against two thousand from the opposite side. One year later, during the Third Battle of Doiran, the United Kingdom, supported by Greece, once again suffered a humiliating defeat, losing 3,155 men against just about five hundred for the Bulgarian side. The reputation of the French Army also suffered badly. The Battle of the Red Wall was marked with the total defeat of the French forces, with 5,700 out of six thousand men killed. The 261 Frenchmen who survived were captured by Bulgarian soldiers. Out of a 4.5 million population, Bulgaria fielded 1,200,000 people in its army. Even this vast expansion of the military could not save Bulgaria from the imminent defeat of its patron Germany. The Allied breakthrough at Dobro Pole and the subsequent soldier mutiny at Vladaya completely disrupted the war effort in 1918. Bulgaria capitulated soon after these events. Bulgarian casualties amounted to 412,000, along with 253,000 refugees created from the lost territories.

Bulgarian CV-33 tankette unit in the 1930s

During the interbellum the Bulgarian military was not allowed to have active combat aircraft or naval vessels, and the army was reduced to about twenty thousand men in peacetime. In the early 1920s army officers participated in repressions during the Tsankov regime as part of paramilitary groups known as shpitskomandi. In 1923 the army, along with shpitskomandi and Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) militia, violently suppressed the leftist September Uprising. Two years later Bulgarian troops stopped a short-lived Greek invasion of southwestern Bulgaria, known as the War of the Stray Dog. By the mid-1930s, the army had begun an expansion in violation of the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, following the rearmament pattern of Nazi Germany. During this period, the Bulgarian government procured combat aircraft from Germany and France, and light tanks from Italy.

During World War II, Bulgarian troops did not participate in either the invasions of Yugoslavia or Greece, but occupied parts of northern Greece and Yugoslav Macedonia after they were conquered by Germany. The army was the main tool in imposing a policy of relocation, and expulsion of the local Greek population in the occupied areas. By late 1941, more than one hundred thousand Greeks had been expelled from the Bulgarian occupation zone. Increasing attacks by partisans in the latter years of the occupation resulted in a number of executions and wholesale slaughter of civilians in reprisal. In September, 1944, a Red Army-backed left-wing coup d'état overthrew the pro-German government and installed a Fatherland Front government. All active Bulgarian troops were incorporated into the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front and began to fight their former German allies. The Bulgarian 1st Army took part in the Yugoslav campaign. During Operation Frühlingserwachen, it fielded 101,000 men. At the end of March 1945, 1st Army led the Nagykanizsa–Körmend Offensive. After defeating the German units, the Bulgarians reached the Austrian Alps and on 13 May they met the British 8th Army near Klagenfurt. The Vienna Offensive was one of the final operations with Bulgarian participation during World War II.

Cold War

By 1947, the Soviet Union began to strengthen the armed forces of its new satellite state. The only armoured formation in the Army of the Kingdom of Bulgaria was the Armoured Brigade, based in Sofia and armed with German equipment. In addition to the Armoured Brigade a new tank regiment was formed in Samokov with 65 T-34 tanks (in 1947) and an armoured troops school was formed in Botevgrad (in 1950). The formation of the 1st Tank Division also started in Kazanlak in 1947 with T-34s, only to be disbanded in 1949 with its four tank regiments to be converted into tank brigades and subordinated to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Army and the General Reserve respectively. The front line infantry divisions started forming tank battalions (one each) and several hundred trophy German tanks were transferred to Bulgaria to form a static fortified defensive line along the Turkish border, unofficially called the "Krali Marko Line". Later, when the T-54 and T-55 started replacing the T-34 in larger quantities, some of the retired Soviet tanks were added.

In 1950 two new tank divisions were formed (in Sofia and Kazanlak), but with the technological advancements and the increase in weight and dimensions of the tanks at that time after an evaluation it was decided, that the predominantly mountainous terrain of Bulgaria was unsuitable for the deployment of tank divisions, and the Bulgarian Land Forces reorganised their tank forces into brigades and regiments.

At the end of 1955 the Bulgarian Land Forces had a peacetime structure of two armies and two independent rifle corps, made up of a total of 9 rifle divisions and 14 other formations. The 16th Mountain Rifle Brigade had been established in 1950 with its headquarters in Zvezdets, being given the old number of the 16th Infantry Division. In addition to that in a case of war five additional rifle divisions and 9 other formations of the different arms would mobilize. With Bulgaria's accession to the Warsaw Pact on May 14, 1955, a new stage commenced. The Land Forces operated 800 tanks and had a formidable artillery corps.

In 1963 the Bulgarian People's Army peacetime strength was set at no less than 100,000 men, with four motor rifle divisions (the 16th Mountain Brigade had been upgraded into the 16th MRD on February 6, 1961) and five tank brigades at full strength within the Land Forces, and additional three motor rifle divisions at reduced strength. By August 1966, the Institute for Strategic Studies in London was reporting that Bulgaria had a total of eight motorized infantry divisions.

333 Т-72s of Soviet and Czechoslovak manufacture were delivered up until the collapse of the Socialist bloc, spread between the 9th and 13th Tank Brigades and training centers. The 5th, 11th and 24th Tank Brigades and the tank regiments had T-55s. The 220 T-62s were put in reserve storage. In 1992 another 100 T-72s and 100 BMP-1s were received second-hand from Russia, went to the 24th Tank Brigade.

The five tank brigades (9th Tank Brigade at Gorna Banya in Sofia, in the 1st Army, 5th and 11th in the 2nd Army and the 13th Tank Brigade at Sliven, and the 24th Tank Brigade at Aytos in the 3rd Army) included three Tank Battalions, with T-72 main battle tanks or T-55; a motor Rifle Battalion, with BMP-23 infantry fighting vehicles or BMP-1; a Self-propelled Field Artillery Divizion, with 18x self-propelled 122mm 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers; a Reconnaissance Company, with BRDM-2 armored cars and tracked BRM "Sova" reconnaissance vehicles; an Anti-aircraft Battery, with 4x Strela-10 air defence missiles; a missile division, with 2x 9K52 Luna-M ballistic missile launchers (Were being replaced with OTR-21 Tochka in the late 1980s); an Engineer Company; and logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, and signal units.

By July 1987, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that the Land Forces were organised in eight motor rifle divisions, five tank brigades; four surface-to-surface missile brigades with "Scud" SSMs; three artillery regiments; three anti-aircraft artillery regiments; a SAM brigade; and a parachute regiment (later identified as the 68th Independent Parachute Reconnaissance Regiment, forerunner to today's 68th Special Forces Brigade (Bulgaria)) and special commando companies. It appears by the late 1980s that a Bulgarian-helmed Balkan Front was active in embryo, which would unfold and direct the three armies after mobilization. After 1987 the motor rifle divisions were reorganised into brigades as well. At that time the IISS estimated that ground units operated a total of 2,100 tanks (200 T-72 and 1,500 T-54/55) though later estimates have raised the figure to 2,550.

There were no Soviet forces present in the country.

Structure and equipment during the Cold War

The eight motor rifle divisions did not all have the same structure. Four had a tank regiment and three motor rifle regiments and four divisions fielded four motor rifle regiments. Also the two training/reserve divisions (18th, 21st) were partially equipped with older equipment.

  • Motor Rifle Division
    • Motor Rifle Regiment
    • Motor Rifle Regiment
    • Motor Rifle Regiment
      • 3x Motor Rifle Battalions, in trucks and lorries
      • Tank Battalion, with T-55 main battle tanks
      • Reconnaissance Company, with BRDM-2 armored cars and tracked BRM "Sova" reconnaissance vehicles
      • Anti-tank Artillery Battery, with towed 100mm T-12 anti-tank guns
      • Air Defence Battery, with a mix of Strela 1 and ZSU-57-2 vehicles
      • Engineer Company
    • Tank Regiment (Replaced by a fourth MT-LB-equipped motor rifle regiment in the 2nd, 7th, 16th, and 17th motor rifle divisions)
    • Artillery Regiment
      • 3x Field Artillery Division, with 18x towed 122mm M-30 howitzers
      • Heavy Howitzer Artillery Division, with 18x towed 122mm ML-20 howitzers (Were being replaced with towed 152mm D-20 howitzers in the late 1980s)
      • Self-propelled Field Artillery Division, with 18x self-propelled 122mm 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers (Not present in training/reserve divisions)
      • Logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units
    • Air Defence Regiment
      • 5x Anti-aircraft Missile batteries, with either Kub or Osa air defence systems
      • Logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units
    • Reconnaissance Battalion, with BRDM-2 armored cars and tracked BRM "Sova" reconnaissance vehicles (Training/reserve divisions fielded a mix of BRDM-1 and BTR-40 armored cars)
    • Anti-tank Artillery Division, with towed 100mm T-12 anti-tank guns and BRDM-2 vehicles in the anti-tank variant with Konkurs anti-tank missiles (Some units fielded older towed 100mm BS-3 or towed 85mm D-48 anti-tank guns)
    • Missile Division, with 4x 9K52 Luna-M ballistic missile launchers (Were being replaced with OTR-21 Tochka in the late 1980s)
    • Multiple Rocket Launch Artillery Division, with 18x 122mm BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers
    • Engineer Battalion
    • Signal Battalion
    • Transport Battalion
    • Supply Battalion
    • Maintenance Battalion
    • Artillery Reconnaissance and Control Battery
    • Chemical Defence Company
    • Commandant's Company (Military Police)
    • Medical-Sanitary Battalion

The only armoured formation in the Army of the Kingdom of Bulgaria was the Armoured Brigade, based in Sofia and armed with German equipment. After the end of the Second World War and the signing of the Paris peace treaty by Bulgaria in 1947, the Soviet Union began to strengthen the armed forces of its new satellite state. In addition to the Armoured Brigade a new tank regiment was formed in Samokov with 65 T-34 tanks (in 1947) and an armoured troops school was formed in Botevgrad (in 1950). A formation of 1st Tank Division also started in Kazanlak in 1947 with T-34s, only to be disbanded in 1949 with its four tank regiments to be converted into tank brigades and subordinated to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Army and the General Reserve respectively. The front line infantry divisions started forming tank battalions (one each) and several hundred trophy German tanks were transferred to Bulgaria to form a static fortified defensive line along the Turkish border, unofficially called the "Krali Marko Line". Later, when the T-54 and T-55 started replacing the T-34 in larger quantities, some of the retired Soviet tanks were added. In 1950 two new tank divisions were formed (in Sofia and Kazanlak), but with the technological advancements and the increase in weight and dimensions of the tanks at that time after an evaluation it was decided, that the predominantly mountainous terrain of Bulgaria is unsuitable for the deployment of tank divisions and the Bulgarian Land Forces reformed their tank forces into brigades and regiments.

333 Т-72s of Soviet and Czechoslovak manufacture delivered until the collapse of the Socialist bloc and spread between the 9th and 13th tank brigades and training centers. The 5th, 11th and 24th tank brigades and the tank regiments with T-55s. The 220 T-62s put in reserve storage. In 1992 another 100 T-72s and 100 BMP-1s received second-hand from Russia, went to the 24th Tank Brigade.

The five active tank brigades (9th in the 1st Army, 5th and 11th in the 2nd Army and 13th and 24th in the 3rd Army) were organized as follows - three Tank Battalions, with T-72 main battle tanks or T-55; a motor rifle battalion, with BMP-23 infantry fighting vehicles or BMP-1; a self-propelled Field Artillery Divizion, with 18x self-propelled 122mm 2S1 Gvozdika howitzers; a reconnaissance company, with BRDM-2 armored cars and tracked BRM "Sova" reconnaissance vehicles; an anti-aircraft rocket battery, with 4x Strela-10 air defence systems; a missile divizion, with two 9K52 Luna-M ballistic missile launchers (Were being replaced with OTR-21 Tochka in the late 1980s); an engineer company; and logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, and signal units.

The three rocket artillery brigades included 3x Rocket Artillery Divisions, with 18x 122mm BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers; a Rocket Artillery Division, with 130mm RM-51 multiple rocket launchers; and logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units.

The three Army Operational-Tactical Missile Brigades - one for each army, plus a Frontal Operation-Tactical Missile Brigade as General Reserve, each had two missile divizions, with 4x R-300 Elbrus (Scud-B) ballistic missile launchers assigned to each of the Army-level brigades, while the frontal brigade was armed with the R-400 Oka, plus logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units

The three army artillery regiments each had 3x Field Artillery Divizions, with 18x towed 122mm M-30 howitzers; a ong Range Artillery Divizion, with 18x towed 130mm M-46 howitzers; a Heavy Howitzer Artillery Divizion, with 18x towed 122mm ML-20 howitzers (Were being replaced with towed 152mm D-20 howitzers in the late 1980s); and logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units.

The three army anti-tank regiments each comprised three Anti-tank Artillery divizions, with 12x towed 100mm T-12 guns and 6x BRDM-2 vehicles in the anti-tank variant with Konkurs anti-tank missiles

    • Logistic, maintenance, chemical defence, medical, security, and signal units

Structure[when?]

Bulgarian Land Forces Structure (click to enlarge)
61 Mechanized Brigade Emblem
61 Mechanized Brigade Emblem
110 Logistic Regiment Emblem
110 Logistic Regiment Emblem
Bulgarian Army 55 Engineer Regiment Emblem
55 Engineer Regiment Emblem
  • Land Forces Command, Sofia
    • 2nd Mechanized Brigade, Stara Zagora
      • Headquarters Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • 31st Mechanized Battalion, Haskovo
      • 38th Mechanized Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • 42nd Mechanized Battalion, Yambol
      • 20th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • 91st Surface-to-Air Missile Battalion, Pleven
      • 78th Engineer Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • Logistics Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • 2nd Military Police Company, Stara Zagora
    • 61st Mechanized Brigade, Karlovo
      • Headquarters Battalion, Karlovo
      • 1st Mechanized Battalion, Karlovo
      • 2nd Mechanized Battalion, Kazanlak
      • 3rd Mechanized Battalion, Karlovo
      • 61st Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion, Kazanlak
      • Surface-to-Air Missile Battalion, Kazanlak
      • Engineer Battalion
      • Logistics Battalion, Karlovo
      • 61st Military Police Company, Karlovo
    • Brigade Command Blagoevgrad
      • 3rd Independent Mechanized Battalion, Blagoevgrad
      • 10th Independent Mechanized Battalion, Vratsa
    • Joint Center for Initial Training (JITC), Pleven
      • 4th Mechanized Battalion, Pleven
      • 29th Mechanized Battalion, Shumen
    • 101st Alpine Regiment, Smolyan - the 68th Special Forces Brigade was transferred from the Land Forces to the Chief of Defence on February 1, 2017. 101st Mountain Battalion detached from it and retained its place within the Land Forces to become their special operations unit with an upgrade to regiment.
    • 4th Artillery Regiment, Asenovgrad
      • Headquarters Battery, Asenovgrad
      • 1st Towed Artillery Gun Battalion
      • Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile Battalion
      • Multiple Launch Rocket Systems Battalion
      • Anti-Tank Battalion
      • Logistics Unit, Asenovgrad
    • 55th Engineer Regiment, Belene
      • Headquarters Company, Belene
      • 54th Combat Engineer Support Battalion, Belene
      • 91st General Engineer Support Battalion, Plovdiv
      • Bridge Construction Engineer Battalion, Stara Zagora
      • Engineer Training Center, Belene
      • Logistics Unit, Belene
    • 110th Logistic Regiment, Plovdiv
      • Headquarters Company, Plovdiv
      • 1st Logistic Support Battalion, attached to the 61st MechBde battalion battlegroups
      • 2nd Logistic Support Battalion, attached to the 2nd MechBde battalion battlegroups
      • other support battalions (repair, supply and storage units)
    • 1st Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Battalion, Svoboda
    • 38th NBC Defence Battalion, Musachevo
    • CIMIC, PsyOps & Geographical Support Battalion, Sofia
    • Land Forces Command Documentation Support Center, Sofia
    • Basic Training Center, Pleven
    • Specialists Training Center, Sliven
      • Drivers and Logistics Specialists Training Center, Ruse
    • Land Forces Training Range "Koren"

The 61st Mechanised Brigade is earmarked for deployment with the Greek NATO Rapid Deployment Corps for exercises, emergencies and for actions alongside NATO. For that reason the corps has a Bulgarian major-general as a deputy commander. In addition to its training tasks the Specialists Training Center, Sliven, is the storage facility of the operational reserve of 160 T-72M1 tanks and many other armoured vehicles.

The plan for the mechanised brigades is for each of them to have three battalion battlegroups. Although the first three battalion battlegroups are already formed the MoD disclosed very little information about their actual structure. What little is known is, that each of them will have three rifle companies and integral fire and engineer support (including EOD disposal). In addition to that, according to the modular principal of actions the structure is optimised to easily integrate additional supporting units tailored to the actual mission, such as tanks, self-propelled artillery, self-propelled missile air defence units, special forces, heavy engineering, CIMIC etc. Contingency plans envision, that one of the brigades will be fully ready to deploy entirely for operations overseas, while the other, alongside the new Mountain Infantry Regiment, assumes the armed forces' paramount mission of defending the territorial integrity of the country.

Equipment

Sources

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Bulgarian Land Forces, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.