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Bulgarian participation in World War One

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BerichtGeplaatst: 08 Nov 2006 23:14    Onderwerp: Bulgarian participation in World War One Reageer met quote

READING ROOM: Bulgarian participation in World War One
09:00 Mon 06 Nov 2006 - Richard Larkin

November 11, now celebrated as Remembrance Day (Australia, Canada, the UK and Ireland), Veteran’s Day (US) and Poppy Day (South Africa), was originally and still is commemorated internationally as Armistice Day, which marks the end of World War 1 (1916-1918). The sight of people wearing of a paper poppy – the flowers characteristic of the war fields in Belgium and northern France – is not uncommon.

The spark that set off the series of events and decisions that resulted in the biggest war that had been was a Balkan event; the roots can be traced back to the simmering discontent felt by the Serbs following the settlement of the Second Balkan War (1913).

The unstable state of the enfeebled Ottoman Empire had led to the First Balkan War in 1912, when Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece joined forces against the Turks in an effort to gain territory. Istanbul narrowly avoided capture by the Bulgarians, who did win back some of Thrace and Macedonia, but tensions between the three allies over the rest of Macedonia resulted in the Second Balkan War in the following year in which Serbia and Greece defeated Bulgaria and took away more land, although Bulgaria retained the Pirin region of Macedonia as well as Thracian land all the way to the Aegean.

Heavy decisions
It has been argued that the Bulgarian participation in the war with the declaration of war against Serbia and the Entente powers on October 1 1915 after a year of weighing the pros and cons of either side in the world war was in many ways a continuation of the preceding Balkan Wars and a hope to remain left alone by the great powers as much as possible so that old scores could be settled. The plan of Bulgarian prime minister Vasil Radoslavov was to make an alliance that would involve as little fighting and would yield as much land as possible.

“Finally, we must hold to that group of the powers which will win the victory in the present war, since only so can the important territorial extensions and further developments be insured. From the developments of the operations in the various theatres of the war, on the front against France and Belgium as well as the fronts against Italy, Russia and Serbia, one recognises more clearly day by day that victory is inclining on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary,” he said on October 11 1915, regarding the decision, as recorded in Source Records of the Great War, Vol III.

As World War 1 unfolded in the Balkans, the pro-German tsar Ferdinand together with Radoslavov led Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central Powers, even though the general popular opinion was with Slavic relation Russia and its allies, Britain and France. By mid-1915 the Central Powers gained control on the Russian and Turkish fronts and were able to improve their offer of land to Bulgaria. Now a victory for Bulgaria would yield part of Turkish Thrace, substantial territory in Macedonia and monetary compensation for war expenses. In October 1915, Bulgaria made a secret treaty with the Central Powers and invaded Serbia and Macedonia.

Bulgaria’s entry
Catching the Entente by surprise, Bulgarian forces pushed the Serbs out of Macedonia and into Albania and occupied part of Greek Macedonia by mid-1916. British, French and Serbian troops landed at Thessaloniki and halted the Bulgarian advance; however, this operation took 500 000 allied troops from other fronts and poured them into a slow and atritional battle that lasted well into 1917. While this went on, Romania had entered the war on the Entente side in 1916. Bulgarian and German forces pushed the poorly prepared Romanians northward and had taken Bucharest by the end of 1916. The Bulgarians then found themselves facing Russia on a new front in Moldavia.

Low approval ratings
Once the swift Bulgarian advance into Romania and Greece halted, conditions at the front deteriorated rapidly and political support for the war in the country eroded. By 1916 poor allocation of supplies created shortages for both civilians and soldiers and a number of attempts by the government and the forces to reorganise matters were unsuccessful.

In 1917 the news arrived of a revolution in Russia and this, combined with the military stalemate and miserable living conditions for all Bulgarians, began to provoke unrest within Bulgarian society. The agrarians and socialist workers intensified their antiwar campaigns, and soldiers’ committees formed in army units as they had in the Imperial Russian Army before the recent revolution.

Bolshevik anti-war propaganda was widely distributed in Bulgaria, and Russian soldiers began to fraternise with their fellow Slavs in the Bulgarian army along the Moldavian front. On the home front in December 1917, Dimitur Blagoev, founder and head of the Social Democratic Party, led a meeting of 10 000 in Sofia, demanding an end to the war and overthrow of the Bulgarian government. A wave of unrest and riots, including a women’s revolt against food and clothing shortages, swept through the country in 1918 and weakened any remaining resolve to continue the war.

The government position, already vulnerable, was weakened further when the Treaty of Bucharest, which divided the territory of defeated Romania among the central powers, left part of the disputed Romanian territory of Dobrudja outside Bulgarian control. Having failed to secure even the least-important territory promised by its war policy, the Radoslavov government resigned in June 1918.

Attempts to rectify
The new prime minister, Aleksandur Malinov, tried to unite the country by appointing the agrarian Aleksandur Stamboliiski to his cabinet. But Malinov had vowed to fight, and Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU) leader Stamboliiski refused the post as long as Bulgaria remained in the war. By September, the Bulgarian army was thoroughly demoralised by anti-war propaganda and harsh conditions. A battle with the British and French at Dobro Polje brought total retreat, and in 10 days Entente forces entered Bulgaria. On September 29, the Bulgarians signed an armistice and left the war.

The grim retreat from Dobro Polje provoked a mutiny that was harshly ended by German troops near Sofia. But the parties in power forced Ferdinand to abdicate at the end of September and to leave the country as Bulgaria exited the war because they feared a revolution and blamed the tsar for the country’s chaotic state. Ferdinand’s son Boris was named tsar, becoming Boris III. The immediate cause of social upheaval ended with the armistice, but food shortages and discontent with the Bulgarian government continued. A weak coalition government presided for the next year, after which a general election took place.

Results of war
Meanwhile, Bulgaria was again left far short of the territorial goals for which it had declared war. In the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (November 1919), Thrace was awarded to Greece, depriving Bulgaria of access to the Aegean Sea. The newly formed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later to be known as Yugoslavia) took Macedonian territory adjoining its eastern border, and even southern Dobrudja went to Romania.

The treaty limited the postwar Bulgarian army to a small volunteer force; Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece were to receive reparations in industrial and agricultural goods; and the victorious Entente Powers were to receive monetary reparations for the next 37 years. On the other hand, the payment schedule was significantly improved in 1923, and Bulgaria’s loss of 14 100 square kilometres was much less than the territorial losses of its wartime allies. The cost of the war for Bulgaria, though, was huge, and by the autumn of 1918, approximately 900 000 Bulgarian men, nearly 40 percent of the male population, had been conscripted. The army suffered 300 000 casualties, including 100 000 killed, the most severe per capita losses of any country involved in the war.

In addition, the population was forced to suffer, and bad weather and the absence of adult male labour in the fields halved grain production, while those in the towns suffered from not only shortages of food and fuel but also from inflation. “Women’s riots” for food began early in 1917 and continued to the end of the war.

Given the enormous mobilisation of Bulgarian troops it is perhaps a little surprising that there are so few memorials. However, the ones that do exist are impressive and none more so than the memorial in Plovdiv to fathers that died in the wars in 1912-1913 and 1916-1918. The sculpture representing the mothers or wives of these unfortunates, the memorial is a rare focus on the hardships faced by families of casualties who faced a daunting and bleak future.

Bron: Sofia Echo (online):
"‘Shotvarfet. Shotvarfet.’ " - "It's not worth it."
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