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Bulgaria - Land Forces - Great War

During the twentieth century, persistent territorial disputes and dissatisfaction with borders determined Bulgaria's position in four wars. In 1912 Bulgaria entered the Balkan League, a military alliance with Serbia and Greece, to eliminate the last vestiges of Turkish rule in the Balkans and to expand its own territory in the process. Fielding approximately 180,000 troops, Bulgaria provided the bulk of the military personnel for operations against Turkish forces in the First Balkan War. Bulgarian armies besieged Constantinople in November 1912, but they were driven back temporarily by the Turks. When the key city of Adrianople fell to Bulgarian and Serbian forces in March 1913, Turkey capitulated. It surrendered its European possessions under the Treaty of London in May 1913.

A dispute over the spoils of the First Balkan War led directly to the Second Balkan War. Bulgaria asserted that Serbia occupied more of Macedonia and Thessaloniki than it was allowed by the prewar agreement. In June 1913, Bulgarian armies attacked Serbian forces in Macedonia and another army advanced into Thessaloniki. After checking this offensive, Serbian and Greek forces pushed the Bulgarians back into Bulgaria in July. Romania then declared war on Bulgaria and advanced unopposed toward Sofia, while Turkey capitalized on the situation to retake Andrianople. Bulgaria sued for peace and lost territory in Macedonia, Thrace, and Southern Dobrudja to Greece, Serbia, and Romania respectively in the Treaty of Bucharest (August 1913).

Bulgaria's rivalry with Serbia and Greece defined its participation in World War I. Bulgaria avoided involvement in the war until 1915 when it mobilized 1.2 million soldiers and joined the Central Powers in attacking Serbia. Bulgaria took this action in the expectation that a victory by the Central Powers would restore Greater Bulgaria. In October 1915, two of Bulgaria's armies drove west into Serbia while allied Austro-Hungarian and German armies drove south. Bulgarian forces blocked British and French troops in Thessaloniki from linking with Serbian forces.

During the Great War the motor truck revolutionized transportation for the Bulgarian army - each truck used by that army has been doing the work of 500 oxen and 250 wagons each day. In the past the Bulgarian army had depended entirely upon the ox wagon for the transportation of its food supplies and ammunition. The truck carried a crew of two, was able to transport 6,000 pounds at an average speed of 15 miles per hour and ran 16 hours a day if necessary. This meant that each truck replaced, at a 16-hour run, 180 ox wagons, 360 animals and about 200 men, as the ox wagon was in charge of one driver, and carried an average load of 600 pounds and moved at a speed of about 2 miles per hour for 8 hours each day. Considering that the truck, with a capacity of more than 2 tons was by no means rare at the Macedonian front, and taking into consideration the length of the various lines of supply, the average for each truck was, 250 wagons, 500 animals and about 300 men. These figures indicate that only about 120 trucks are necessary to permit the Bulgarian general staff to restore to the farms the 60,000 oxen which were furloughed earlier. The change also liberated for the military service 30,000 men who had been drivers.

In mid-1916 over 250,000 British, French, and Serbian troops prepared for an offensive from Thessaloniki northwest along the Vardar River. Although the Germans and Bulgarians preempted the offensive and drove this force beyond the Struma River by late August, the war then settled into a long, costly stalemate along the Vardar. Seriously weakened by a poor military supply system and widespread unrest among the soldiers, Bulgaria collapsed and surrendered in 1918. The country suffered greatly during the war. Mobilization disrupted food production, and German requisitioning of grain and other foodstuffs taxed stored food supplies. About 100,000 Bulgarian soldiers were killed in combat, and 275,000 noncombatants died as a direct result of the war.

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