Part I – http://ftr.wot-news.com/2013/07/15/b...-armor-part-i/ Part II – http://ftr.wot-news.com/2013/07/16/b...armor-part-ii/ As it was mentioned in Part II, the arming process effectively ran until the end of 1943. As the re-arm program (also known as “Barbara”) ran, the Bulgarian army – ever wary of the traditional Turkish danger – did run some excercises and improved its structure and training. By the order no.37 from 29.9.1943 of the ministry of defense of Bulgaria (literally “Ministry of War” – Ministerstvo na vojnata), the armored regiment (estabilished earlier from the armored companies) was re-formed into the Armored brigade (Bronirana brigada). The SPG batallions of SO-75 (StuG) vehicles were also incorporated into this new unit. In the meanwhile, the motorization of the Bulgarian army continued – the army bought 40 tracked Austrian Steyr RSO tractors and 40 2-ton “Maultier” (“mule”) German haltracks of the 3000S/SSM type (those were manufactured in Cologne by Ford-Werke AG, based on the Ford V3000S vehicle) – this is how this interesting conversion looked: Finally, out of the earlier-ordered 97 Panzer IV’s (46 Panzer IV Ausf.G were provided until December 1942), the German army sold the Bulgarians the second half – 51 additional Panzer IV Ausf.H – in February 1944: It’s worth noting that Bulgaria was probably the only nation, that was still using Panzer 35t for “frontline” service by early 1944. But at this point, the situation was already quite different, both politically and military wise. On 28.8.1943, Bulgarian Tsar Boris III. died from “heart attack”. At this point, Bulgaria was still not really active in the war, save for some borderline skirmishes around Yugoslavia. Needless to say, Hitler was not happy about his and he “requested” Bulgarians to send 100 thousand men to the Eastern front. Tsar Boris III. did not comply to that “request”, but he died only days after the negotiations with Hilter, leading to many speculations that he was in fact murdered by Germans to have someone… more compliant sitting on the Bulgarian throne. His 6-year old son (Simeon II.) formally succeeded him, but the power stayed with the pro-German council of regents, who ruled in his stead and the prime minister Dobri Bozhilov was effectively a German puppet. By 1944 however, it was clear to a lot of people that Germany is not doing well in the war. Catastrophic German losses on the Eastern front and triumphs of the Red Army did make many German allies question their loyalty. Such was the case of Bulgaria, where a resistance pro-Soviet organization, called “Fatherland front”, led by communists. The Front gained power and support throughout 1943 and 1944 and on 9.9.1943, there was an anti-nazi coup, conducted by many elements, mostly leftists communists, but also democrats. It succeeded, partially also because its supporters were well estabilished in the army units (including the armored brigade). The units managed to quickly secure Sofia and on 11.9.1944, Bulgaria declared war on Germany. Bulgarian units would finally see some action. By the time of the coup, the armored brigade was at full strength – at least formally. The soldiers were relatively well trained, rested and well motivated to fight the Germans. The reason for this – apart from being tired of being German puppets – was also the dominant point of view, that (according to my own experience) still exists now in Bulgaria: the Russians were regarded as liberators (from the Turks) and as friends. In fact, I do believe that out of all the Slavic European nations, Bulgarians have the most positive relationship with Russia. If there was a weakness in the Armored brigade combat capabilities, it would be the shape of older vehicles. While the German Panzers and StuG’s were in relatively good shape thanks to the spare parts from Germany, it was gradually more and more difficult to find spare parts for LT-35′s and LT-38′s (let alone the CV33′s and Vickers tanks) and these older light tanks were often in very bad condition. Nevertheless, when the order came to defend the homeland from Germans, the brigade sprang into action. Armored Brigade composition In early 1944, the Armored brigade was situated in the Sofie-Bozhuriste-Slivnitsa area. The brigade consisted at that point of the HQ unit, one tank regiment, one motorized infantry regiment, one artillery regiment, a batallion of scout armored cars, an anti-tank batalion, a batallion of engineers, an anti-aircraft unit, a transport unit and repair/rearm unit with workshops – altogether, the brigade counted 9950 men. The recon batallion consisted of 238 motorized units, of which 133 were recon motorcycles and 26 were Sdkfz 222 and 223 armored cars. The motorized infantry regiment had 369 trucks, 206 of which were Steyr 440/640. The artillery regiment had 190 motorized units, 30 of which were the heavy halftrack 8 ton German Sdkfz 7 tractors. The main force of the Brigade however was the armored regiment. It consisted at that point of 3 tank batallions (in Bulgarian “druzhina”). On 14.9.1944, the first batallion had 37 tanks and 11 trucks, the second batallion also had 37 tanks and the third had 35. 12 tanks were held in reserve and 13 were attached to the regimental HQ unit. The Brigade HQ itself had up to 9 tanks available. As mentioned above, there were spare parts problems – that’s why the Brigade repair workshops actually manufactured some spare parts on the spot, often in field conditions. Action against Germans After the coup, the brigade (commanded by general Stoyan Trendafilov) recieved orders to protect the capital city of Sofia from German attack from northwest from the Pirot-Nish area (Serbia). In the night, it was joined by the armored regiment under the command of colonel Marin Dikov, who was earlier stationed with his tanks near the center of Sofia, to prevent any nazi counter-coup attempts. The order was given to advance on Pirot-Nish (direction west on Bela Palanka) in order to drive the Germans out. One of the first losses of the unit was the Škoda Š-35, lost after being hit by German AT cannon, when performing recon around the Pirot area. One of the Panzer IV tanks was also knocked out, but its crew was saved and it was successfully recovered and moved to workshop. On 17.9.1944, the tank regiment was ordered to support the Bulgarian 35th Infantry regiment, because the infantry itself didn’t have the strength to push thru the German lines in the Bela Palanka-Nish-Pirot direction. The regiment got into some heavy fighting in that area. Due to poor recon in the Milin Kamyk area, the tank regiment (spefically 2nd Batallion under the command of lt.col.Alexander Bosilkov and 3rd Batallion under capt. Ivan Gyumbabov) ran into a minefield and the 7th company, armed with Panzer IV tanks, Continue reading →

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