early years of the 20th century this Mannlicher design was modified and
improved by Bulgarian experts. This was the Model 1903 Mannlicher.
A contract was given to the FEG plant in Hungary for production of the
improved BG Mannlicher, but it seems that many are found marked "Steyr"
indicating that actual production for many of the rifles was at the Austrian
arsenal, at that time the largest small arms factory in the world, or that
Steyr supplied FEG with parts such as the receiver which were then made
into rifles by FEG at Budapest.
Agitation for union
with the Bulgarian state smoldered in parts of Macedonia peopled by Bulgarians
still under Ottoman control. A revolutionary organization was formed,
the "IMRO", or Internal Macedonian Resistance Organization. It organized
resistance to Turkish rule, began forming a militia system, purchased and
smuggled in arms, conducted agitation and propaganda and engaged in active
measures to bring in money and bring the population under the control of
its committees. It assassinated police and Ottoman officials and
committed acts of sabotage as it plotted an uprising.
At the 20th Century
dawned, the Bulgarians decided that force was the only recourse. Bulgaria
had developed one of the finest armies in Europe. It was well trained
and armed with excellent magazine rifles using the modern, smokeless 8x50mmR
cartridge. Its soldiers were well motivated with a patriotic zeal
to liberate their Bulgarian brothers still under Ottoman rule. Bulgaria
began a search for allies to take on the dying Ottoman Turk Empire.
In 1903 an uprising
broke out in Macedonia against Ottoman rule. The IMRO and other revolutionary
groups were involved. There are many different ethnic groups in Macedonia.
Bulgarians and Macedonians (a group closely related to the Bulgarians and
at one time virtually indistinguishable from them to many observers...this
is a very loaded political issue today) constituted the major ethnic groups
involved. Most Greeks, Serbs, and Vlachs (Romanian ethnics) did not join
in the revolt, but some did. The ethnic Greeks were armed mainly
with the French designed, Steyr made 11x59mmR M1874 Gras rifles used by
the Greek Army before the adoption of the 8x50mmR M1894 Mannlicher by Greece.
The shock force was
said be called the "Death Squads". According to Bulgarian sources
these were armed with about 4,000 rifles. A small number were modern
Mannlichers, the rest were various black powder rifles of types mentioned
in this article, and even included muzzle loaders from the Crimean War
of 1856. The revolt was put down with great severity.
In 1908, taking advantage
of the "Young Turk Revolt" which deposed the Sultan in Istanbul, Bulgaria
declared its full independence and became a kingdom. From 1878, it
had been an independent principality under the Ottoman Empire's suzerainty,
although the throne was occupied by the "CZAR", an old Bulgarian term for
Russia would seem to
be Bulgaria's natural ally. However, Russia did not want war with
Turkey at this time. It wanted an alliance with the Orthodox Balkan
States directed against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Additionally,
Serbia and Greece had claims on large areas of Thrace and Macedonia which
Bulgaria felt were hers. The population of these disputed lands contained
many ethnic groups and were united only in the desire to throw off Turkish
control. Of course the Moslem residents and even other groups such as the
Jews did not share this goal.
The First Balkan
War: Despite this, an alliance was concluded with Serbia, Montenegro,
and Greece. A general mobilization of the Bulgarian army was decreed
on the 30th of September 1912. Some 30,000 men from Macedonia whom
had served in the Bulgarian army went to their assigned military units.
Other Macedonia Bulgarians were formed into a volunteer corp. The Balkan
League, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro went to war with the Ottoman
Empire on 18 October of 1912. In a grave strategic error, the Bulgarian
army began a costly frontal attack toward Istanbul, the Ottaman capital.
The Serbs, Greeks and Montenegrans launched their campaign against weaker
forces in areas which contained disputed lands and thus at the successful
conclusion of the war would control on the ground the actual spoils.
On Feb. 7, 1913 the Turks lost 5,000 men in a battle with the Bulgarian
army in Gallipoli. By December the Turks were beaten. At a
peace conference in London the Balkan Allies demanded that Turkey withdraw
from all lands in Europe, with the exception of a narrow strip along the
Bosporus. The Turks declined, but after the Bulgarian army seized
the fortress of Edirne, the Turkish government sued for peace accepting
the demands for most of its European lands. The ORIM had provided
valuable help during this conflict.
The Second Balkan
War: The Serbs and Greeks held most of the lands that the Bulgars had
wanted at wars end. They announced that the spoils should be divided
based on whom had captured what. The Bulgarians asserted that the
land should be divided on the basis of ethnic affinity. Macedonia was a
focal point of conflict. The Greeks and Serbs had their own quarrel
over spoils, but stood united against Bulgaria. The Serbs and Greeks
hoped that Romania would side with them to satisfy her claims against Bulgaria
on the northern border. On 16 June 1913 the Second Balkan War broke out.
The Czar of Bulgaria ordered an incident to provoke the erstwhile allies.
At first the Bulgarians did well, but then the Romanians attacked from
the north and the Turks from the southeast, the Bulgarians were done.
By the treaty of August 1913, Dobrudja, to the northeast of Bulgaria was
given to Romania and other land was lost. Bulgaria was allowed to
retain only small sections of Thrace and Macedonia which it had won as
spoils in the previous war. Two million Bulgarians would have to
remain under foreign rule.
WW1: At the
outbreak of war, Bulgaria maintained a neutral stance while it considered
its options. The"Entente", ("the Allies") England, France and Russia
were allied to Serbia and would not promise any redress to Bulgarian losses
in the Second Balkan War. The "Central Powers, Germany and Austro-Hungary
promised to award all Bulgarian claimed lands to her and some additional
spoils as a bonus. It was a difficult decision for a nation which
had lost so much in men, arms and land as a result of the last war.
The wrong choice now would have awesome consequences. Bulgaria was
extremely short of serviceable rifles after the two Balkan wars.
The Central Powers provided large numbers of captured Mosin Nagant M91
Rifles in 7.62x54mmR.
In the fall of 1915
Bulgaria attacked Serbia, causing the collapse of Serbian resistance to
Austro-Hungary. The Serb Army retreated across the mountains southward
to a haven offered by her Allies. Marching on Thessaloniki, the Bulgarians
swept away French and British divisions sent to help the Serbs. Thessaloniki,
the major Allied base in the Balkans was facing collapse. Invoking
its desire to respect Greek neutrality, the German High Command ordered
the Bulgarian advance halted. Bulgarians have since pointed out that
by halting the advance and possible destruction of the Allied foothold
in the Balkans and the remnant Serbian Army, the Germans kept almost a
1,000,000 Allied troops tied up in southeast Europe and away from the critical
Western Front and the Bulgarians holding the line from the Aegean Sea to
Albania against them.
The initial successes
in the war netted the Bulgarians large numbers of booty rifles and fair
stocks of ammunition for them. Included were British SMLE Mk.3 Enfield
Rifles in .303 calibre, French M07 and M07/15 Mannlicher-Berthier Rifles
in 8mm Lebel calibre, all types of Serbian rifles in 7x57mm such as the
Mauser M99C, M99/8C, M10C, older Mauser Koka M78/7C, rifles Russia had
supplied to the Serbs such as the Berdan 2 M70g in 10.66mm and Mosin Nagant
M91 in 7.62x54mmR, various Turkish rifles, Mausers in 7.65mm captured by
Serbia during the Balkan Wars such as the, the M90, M93, M03 and M05, the
older Mauser M87 in 9.5x60mmR, Snider rifles and carbines in .577, Martini
and Peabody rifles in .450, the Winchester M73 in .44-40, as well as former
Bulgarian and Austro -Hungarian Empire Mannlichers which the Serbs had
previously captured including the M88/90, M90, and M95 in 8x50mmR.
Now, however, the war
bogged down into a positioned, trench style struggle. The French
rebuilt the Serbian Army and re-equipped it with French rifles, chiefly
the M07/15 model. The Bulgarians held on despite the fact that the Allies
were better armed and supplied. Romania entered the war against the Central
Powers in the fall of 1916. The Bulgarians, faced with a war on two
fronts, had to move the crack Third Army to meet the threat from the northeast.
In addition to the Romanian troops armed with the Mannlicher turnbolt rifle
M1893 in 6.5x53mmR, Russia committed several divisions armed with the M91
Mosin Nagant and captured M95 Austro-Hungarian Mannlichers in 8x50mmR.
Despite the odds, within
two months the Bulgarians smashed the new opposition, once again gaining
valuable booty in the form of rifles and ammunition. Early in December,
the Bulgarians, and several German units, took Bucharest, the Romanian
capitol, and advanced to the line of the River Seret before digging in
to face the Russians on the defensive. The war would last almost
two more years, but the Central Powers would decline more rapidly in strength
due to the Allied blockade of vital imports, and food shortages due to
mobilization of so
many men for war service that farm production declined disastrously.
Over 900,000 men were
mobilized for the Bulgarian forces during the war. Arming them all
was not an easy task and captured rifles had to be used whenever possible.
On September 27, 1916 Greece declared war on Bulgaria. In 1917, Greece
entered the war on the Allied side, and so Mannlicher Schonauer Model 1903
and M1903/14 rifles and carbines in 6.5x54mm Greek were captured by the
Bulgarians. Additionally, Greek Mannlicher M94 (M88/90) rifles were
taken and re-issued. During the course of the war, Mosin Nagant M91
rifles were the chief type acquired by Bulgaria. In addition to rifles
of this type captured from Russia and Serbia directly, both Austria and
Germany supplied rifles and ammunition they had captured to their Bulgarian
ally. The French M07/15 Mannlicher Berthier was the next most numerous
By September 1918 Bulgaria
was still holding out, but grave social unrest similar to that which caused
revolution in Russia 11 months before was boiling. Hunger was stalking
the land. The Allies launched a major double envelopment attack against
the Thessalonika front, but the Bulgarian Army smashed the wing composed
of Greek and British troops. A planned counter attack led to a mutiny
of some Bulgarian troop units in Macedonia. Whole division left the
front and marched on Sofia, the Bulgarian capitol to overthrow the government
In the meantime, the
government a sought truce with the Allies. An armistice was concluded
in Thessaloniki on On 29 September 1918 as the revolutionary troops were
marching on the capitol, an armistice was arranged with the Allied powers.
The Bulgarian Army had to withdraw to its prewar positions. The mutineers,
poorly organized and disciplined, were defeated by loyal troops and German
divisions on 2 October 1918. The Czar Ferdinand was forced to abdicate
in favor of his son Boris. A peace treaty was imposed in November
1919 at Neuille, outside Paris. Once again, Bulgaria lost land, was
forced to deliver most of its livestock, pay huge reparations and limited
to a volunteer army of 30,000 men. An armed national police/ border
guard force of 3,000 men was allowed. No more than 33,000 rifles were permitted.
Many rifles were hidden
away, along with other small arms in the postwar period. The Bulgarian
Mannlichers remaining in serviceable condition were issued to the volunteer
army. A "Trudovaks" (Compulsory Labor Corp) was established as a
form of national service to train manpower without arms and various other
schemes initiated to enhance the defense potential. As the 1920's
and 30's advanced, the military strength was built up until, by 1936, the
army was up to 10 divisions. The "Balkan "Entente", that was those
Balkan nations allied with France: Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia,
agreed to this in 1938 in the Treaty of Salonika. The Bulgarian Army
followed the German pattern as a model, in so far as was possible given
the limited resources available. In 1939, 8 more divisions were formed.
Arming all these new soldiers with small arms was a problem.
In 1927, the M27 Madsen
LMG in 8x50mmR was purchased to provide a mobile platoon automatic weapon.
In 1938 and 1939, Germany sold the Bulgarians ex-Austrian 8x56mmR Mannlicher
rifles which had been reworked in the early '30's for the former Austrian
Army ( now incorporated into the Wehrmact). Apparently two patterns
were purchased designated the M38 and the M39. Bulgaria reworked
many of its remaining M95 type Mannlichers to the new 8x56mmR cartridge
and may have included these under the M38 and M39 designation. I
have no details on the exact configuration of each of these models, but
these rifles are currently for sale on the U.S. surplus market.
The M1907 and M1909
DWM 8x50mmR Maxim Gun and the Schwarzlose M07/12 gun in 8x50mmR as well
as captured .303 Vickers gun converted to 8x56mm around 1940 were issued
as tripod machine guns. The ZB M39 LMG in 8x56mmR, as well as some
Steyr-Slothurn 8x56mmR LMG, were also purchased from Germany to give those
troops with 8x56mmR Mannlichers automatic weapon support. There was
still a shortage of rifles, and captured French MO7/15 Mannlicher-Bertier
8mm Lebel rifles were widely issued. Large stocks of Moisin Nagant
were also available.
Bulgaria did not want
to enter the Second World War, but had to choose a side. Reluctantly, she
sided with Germany, but tried to limit her role. She refused to go
to war with Russia. Her troops occupied Macedonia and part of Yugoslavia
where they engaged in anti-partisan warfare. Technically at war with
the western Allies, there was no ground conflict with them, but she suffered
major damage from bombing raids on her cities. Booty rifles captured
in the course of the war include all previously mentioned in this article.
By 1944, it was clear that Germany was losing and a Bulgarian division
in Yugoslavia defected to the Communist Partizans. The Red Army invaded
Bulgaria and a left wing coup overthrew the government. The Bulgarian Army
was compelled to attack German and Axis forces in the Balkans. In
the course of which they acquired many tens of thousands of German and
Yugoslav small arms, including many Mausers in 7.92mm as well as MG34 and
MG42 as well as 7.92mm ZB-26 and ZB-30 LMG. The Russians supplied
some small arms, the PPSh41 in 7.62x25mm being the most significant.
At the close of the
war, information from reliable Bulgarian sources indicates that M1903 Mannlicher
remained the rifle most widely used by Bulgarian forces. Huge stocks
of 7.92mm Mausers of various models were held in reserve stock along with
other types of rifles.
In the post-war period,
"Russification" of the Bulgarian Army was undertaken by Soviet advisers
and by 1948, Bulgaria was reported to have the best army of all the new
"Peoples Democracies". The switch over began with Soviet style uniforms
and equipment, although it would be a long time before standardization
of small arms on the Soviet pattern was achieved.
In the period 1956
to 1958 the Soviet Union set up a plant to manufacture the Kalashnikov
AK47 in 7.62x39mm at the Arsenal at Kazanlak. The SKS rifle was not
issued to Bulgarian forces on the scale of neighboring Communist Roumania
and Yugoslavia. The Bulgarian Army made the transition from bolt
action rifles and carbines over a period of time directly to AK selective
fire rifles, bypassing the use of a semi auto rifle or carbine. In
the late 1950's and 1960's Moisin Nagant carbines converted from various
models of Moisin Nagant rifles such as the M91 and M91/30 were issued to
some troops. Details differed, but general appearance was similar
to a M44 Soviet carbine without the bayonet assembly.
The Bulgarian Air Force
used the SKS to supplement bolt action rifles and carbines at platoon and
company level in order to increase fire power. Early in WW2, the
RED Army of the Soviet Union had used the SVT rifle in a similar manner
when squad automatic weapons were in short supply.
During the Communist
era, the Labour Forces were conscripted from members of the minorities
and those considered disloyal to the regime, serving here instead of the
Armed Forces. They had a 45 day military training course of limited
scope. Minimal military skills such as drilling, running with gas
masks on, and rifle familiarization were taught before recruits were sent
to join construction units. The M95 Mannlicher rifle was used by
these recruits. They were in use there till the early nineties when
these forces were abolished.
Dummy rounds with wooden
bullets were issued for practice. During the training recruits were
given clips of 5 dummy cartridges to load, dry fire, extract and reload.
At the end of the training regimen, the men were taken to the shooting
range and allowed to fire three rounds. The long Mannlicher rifle
was used not the carbines. The live ammo available was of both the
round nosed and the pointed bullet type. Each clip of 5 was wrapped
in oil paper, 20 of them packed in gray-green carton boxes, the boxes went
in soldered tin cans, 2 cans were put in a wooden box.
Bayonets were issued
with the rifles, one side sharpened, with longitudinal blood grooves, a
muzzle ring on top of the cross guard, fitted in a steel scabbard, with
coarse leather frog attachment which hooked on the belts. The rifles
had leather slings.
Large quantities of
the M95 were sold off in the 1980's and went to Canada where they remained
for several years while Century Arms attempted to get them classified as
antiques so that they could be sold direct to the American public.
Unfortunately this was not possible and they were eventually imported as
curio and relics and sold through dealers for the past several years.
Large quantities of Mannlichers are still available in Bulgaria.
A sporterized version
of the Moisin Nagant called the Mazalat is made in Bulgaria. It is
available to licensed members of the population. The license is quite
hard to obtain, first one must go through the procedure for obtaining a
hunting license, and only after that can one apply for the weapon's permit.
Today the AK-47 and
its various improved forms remains the main rifle of issue to the Bulgarian
Armed Forces. It is widely exported and is renowned for its quality.
The Bulgarian made AK-47 and further modifications are considered much
better than the original Russian manufactured models; for instance they
are guaranteed for 15000 shots, the Russian ones for 10000. In the
visitor's book of the factory in Kazanlak Mr. M. Kalashnikov wrote personally,
"My dream is to see the Soviet Forces, armed with Bulgarian made AK's".