The Bulgarian armored component in WWII

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

The role of Bulgaria in the Second World War has never been an object of particular interest, at least here in Italy, even if on more than one occasion it represented a precious ally of Hitler's Third Reich and there is no doubt that, from the beginning of the war until 1944, the collaboration between the Armed Forces of the two countries was anything but limited. However, when the tide of the conflict took a decidedly negative turn for Berlin, Sofia didn't think twice about "going to the other side", concluding the conflict as a satellite of the Soviet Union. The birth, expansion and use of Bulgaria's armored force during the Second World War is evidence of this wavering trend by the Balkan country during the last world war.

During the 20s and 30s, Sofia had little funds to allocate to the defense budget and as the backbone of the Bulgarian Army consisted of infantry and cavalry divisions, the purchase of tanks was not a priority.

We had to wait until 1934 before the Bulgarians bought 14 CV33 light tanks (or tankettes) (also called L3/33 - opening photo) from Mussolini's Italy, then reinforced in 1938 by 8 Vickers 6-Ton light tanks of British origin. All these vehicles went to equip two companies around which as many "light/rapid divisions" were formed.

In 1940 Bulgaria was able to reinforce its first armored line through the transfer by the Third Reich of 36 Panzer 35(t), German designation of the Czechoslovakian tank LT vz.35/LT-35 (following photos). The lot in question consisted of 26 second-hand tanks sold by the Germans and equipped with the normal A-3 gun while the remaining 10 were ordered directly from the Škoda factory and were equipped with the new A7 gun.

Shortly after the Germans also surrendered 40 French Renault R35 tanks of war prizes and the Bulgarian army was able to organize its small armored force around the 1a armored brigade, formed by 1o tank regiment and from 1o mechanized infantry regiment.

In 1941 the Bulgarian tanks were used in support of the German offensive and its allies (including Bulgaria itself) against Yugoslavia and Greece and in the subsequent anti-partisan operations but they did not take part in the offensive against the Soviet Union thus saving themselves the massacre of the Eastern Front (unique among all the belligerent allies of the Third Reich, Bulgaria never declared war on the Soviet Union, limiting itself to enlisting units of volunteers who operated both among the ranks of the Wehrmacht and among those of the Waffen-SS).

It was only in July 1943 that the Germans gave their assent to the strengthening of the Bulgarian armored force, giving their Balkan allies 10 Panzer IIIs, 46 Panzer IVs and 25 StuG III assault guns, as well as howitzers, anti-tank guns and other equipment . The Bulgarian armored forces thus reached their maximum numerical level, thus lining up 179 tanks of all types and assault guns.

There was also a plan for the creation of a new tank regiment which was to be organized into three battalions, each consisting of three companies (nine companies in all). Specifically, two companies for each battalion should have been equipped with Panzer IVs (15 tanks per company) while the others would have been equipped with Panzer 35(t) or Panzer 38(t), for a large total of 140 tanks, but such project never saw the light of day.

On 9 September 1944, following the armed attack by the Soviet Union and diplomatic pressure from the allied leaders, Bulgaria surrendered and went over to the anti-German front and immediately placed its Armed Forces under Soviet command so such that they could participate in military operations against their former allies.

La 1a armored brigade Bulgarian therefore participated, for the rest of 1944 and for the first months of 1945, together with the Soviet, Romanian and Yugoslav partisan forces (in the meantime become a real army) in the fighting in Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria, ending its participation in the European war on the occasion of the fall of Vienna (April 15, 1945).

Photo: web