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Bulgaria - Land Forces - Early History

From the earliest years of her existence the rapid development of Bulgaria as a military Power attracted the attention not only of military men but of outside observers, who realised that the youngest army in Europe may still become a factor of no little importance in the Near Eastern Question. In South-Eastern Europe two important armies had arisen: on the south of the Danube that of Bulgaria, organised on Russian principles; on the north, that of Rumania, has been framed on a German basis.

The army of Bulgaria may be classed as one of the most efficient, if not the best of the armies belonging to the smaller European countries; it surpasses all expectations, and it was vastly superior to what it was believed to be by those who have never seen it. The organization of the military forces of the principality was undertaken by Russian officers, who for a period of six years (1870-1885) occupied all the higher posts in the army. In Eastern Rumelia during the same period the "militia" was instructed by foreign officers; after the union it was merged in the Bulgarian army.

After the Liberation of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Territorial Troops were established by order #1 dated from July 15th 1878 and issued by the Russian high commissioner to Bulgaria, Price Alexander Dondukov-Korssakov. Its core was the Bulgarian volunteer force, and it was established as a permanent army with obligatory military service. At a later stage, the latter becomes one of the basic principles underlying the Constitution of Turnovo. Within a short period of time four branches of services were formed: infantry, artillery, cavalry and sapper troops, and in 1879 the bases of the Navy were built.

At the end of 1878, the Bulgarian territorial troops includes 31 400 servicemen, equipped with arms, materials and munitions from the Russian army. In November 1879, a military school was founded in Sofia, in which 255 Bulgarian cadets enrolled. Apart from them, 132 Bulgarian young men were sent to study at Russian military schools, and in the town of Veliko Turnovo an educational team was constituted with the goal to prepare officer-candidates.

After the Constitution of Turnovo was adopted, Prince Alexander I Battenberg was promulgated as a ruler of the state, and the Bulgarian government was constituted, the independent life of the Principality of Bulgaria started as a separate state. By Decree ? 23 from July 17th 1879, the Ministry of war was established. On December 17th 1879, “The Provisional Rules of the Bulgarian Troops” came into force, and played the role of the first law of the armed forces, which instead of “territorial force” were called “Bulgarian troops”.

After the formation of the Bulgarian Principality in 1878, Russian officers held all the higher posts, and were responsible for the training of the army until 1885. In this year, however, they were withdrawn by the Tzar of Russia, after the quarrel between Bulgaria and that country. The army was thus founded on good principles, and these foreign officers worked well for the good of Bulgaria as long as they remained responsible for the training of the troops. In 1885 the war between Servia and Bulgaria took place. Although the Russian officers had been withdrawn from Bulgaria on the very eve of hostilities, the Bulgarian troops, notwithstanding the fact that they were for the most part led by young subalterns, fought well.

Bulgaria at the end of the 19th Century was divided into six districts, each of which would in time of war supply a division to the active army and another to the reserve. Infantry was recruited territorially, other arms throughout the country. In peace there were in Bulgaria and East Roumelia 234 companies of infantry, twenty-three squadrons of cavalry, forty-five batteries of field artillery, and five of fortress artillery, six train companies, six medical companies, about twenty-five companies of the pioneer brigade; amounting in all to 2,600 officers, 42,000 men, and 7,600 horses. The war strength of the active army and its reserves was put at a doubtful 270,000 men and 624 guns. The state budget consisted of a revenue of £3,382,000 and expenditure of £3,379,000, of which the Army Expenditure was £934,000.

Military service was popular by the end of the 19th Century. Every man was supposed to serve two years in the active army and eight years in its reserve ; but cavalry, artillery, engineers, and the Medical Corps serve three years in the active army and six years in its reserve. All arms served seven years in the reserve army, a force distinct from the reserve of the active army, and passed into the militia, which is divided into two bans; the infantry served four years in each, other arms serve four years in the first ban, five years in the second.

In peace the recruit entered the army on completing his twentieth year, in war on completing his eighteenth year. He was available up to his forty-fifth year. By the year 1900 the population of Bulgaria was about 3,300,000. There were 2,600,000 Christians, 600,000 Mohammedans, and 28,000 Jews. The Mohammedans lived chiefly in the northern and eastern provinces. Their numbers were decreasing, but the whole population was increasing. Mohammedans could claim exemption from military service on payment of a fine of £20, which few could afford to pay.

Uniforms were dark green tunic and pantaloons. Artillery had dark blue pantaloons. Officers wore metal or silver shoulder-straps, with distinctive marks on epaulettes or shoulder-straps. The armament was the Mannlicher magazine rifle and short bayonet for infantry, the Mannlicher magazine carbine and sabre for cavalry. The guns were twelve-pounder and seven-pounder Krupps.

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