A special note from the translator: As a Bulgarian, I have translated in good faith and on a goodwill basis from Russian to English the following brief article, as a small example on the topic of Bulgarian-Russian friendship underlined by the complex events in our mutual history.
Let this also serve as a warning to all those external and internal forces and opportunist elements who might try to sully our good brotherly relations and try to apply the divide and conquer doctrine. No amount of propaganda and spin stints, and petty actions can accomplish that. On the contrary – it will only lead to eventual pain and loss to their perpetrators.
Four Myths About Bulgaria During the Second World War
by Vyacheslav Bondarenko
translation by Veleslav Grivov for The Saker Blog
Over the past few years, at the slightest deterioration in the relations between Bulgaria and Russia, the Russian-language segment of the Internet, as a rule, explodes with indignation. Moreover, this indignation is very standard: “We liberated them, and they betrayed us”, “both in the First and Second World Wars they fought against us” … All this is said without a shadow of doubt, and each of those couch experts, without noticing, drives in a wedge into the kinship of the Bulgarian and Russian peoples.
This material is intended to debunk some of the most popular myths on the Internet about the “betrayal” of Bulgaria and the Bulgarians in World War II and recall several forgotten facts.
So, the first myth is that Bulgaria fought against the USSR together with Hitler’s Germany and its other allies (translator’s note: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or simply The Soviet Union).
Not true. Bulgaria was indeed an official ally of Nazi Germany from March 1, 1941, when she joined the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo axis, but unlike Italy, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia, she did not declare war on the Soviet Union. From December 13, 1941, she was at war with the United States and Great Britain – but not with the USSR.
Why did this happen? Because the tsar (king) of Bulgaria, Boris III, knew perfectly well that his people simply would not go to war against the Russians. A good attitude towards Russia has been in the blood of the Bulgarians since the days of the Russo-Turkish Liberation War of 1877-78, when the Russians and Bulgarians together shed blood on Shipka¹ (translator’s note: Mount Shipka Pass is a scenic mountain pass through the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria – where a Bulgarian-Russian contingent of approximately 7,500 men defended the Shipka Pass against a Turkish Army of approximately 40,000). Therefore, the decision to enter the country in a war with the USSR would cause massive protests and indignation in the country, and real chaos could begin.
The fact that the Bulgarians had a massive sympathy for Russia, albeit Soviet, is evidenced by the so-called “Sobolev’s rally”, which took place in November of 1940. Then the USSR, represented by the diplomat Arkady Alexandrovich Sobolev, suggested that Bulgaria conclude a mutual assistance pact. The king hesitated – he remembered that for the Baltic countries the conclusion of similar pacts soon turned into a loss of independence. But the alternative was Hitler, to whom Boris III did not feel any sympathy (translator’s note: Note that Boris III was of German ancestry – the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha)… And then letters from the Bulgarians began to arrive in heaps at the tsar’s palace with a demand to conclude the alliance with the USSR. In total, one and a half million (!) people had signed up to these demands – out of seven million who lived in the country. Then, Prime Minister Bogdan Filov (translator’s note: tried and sentenced by a People’s Court, and executed by a firing squad in February of 1945) persuaded the tsar not to sign an agreement with Moscow, but the fact remained that a huge number of Bulgarians were supporters of precisely this decision and did not feel any enthusiasm for the fact that the government had allied with Hitler.
One way or another, Bulgaria did not begin to fight the USSR, despite all the requests from Hitler. Moreover, the diplomatic relations between the two countries were not even broken. The Soviet embassy in Sofia and the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow continued to work quite calmly after June 22, 1941. When an “anti-Bolshevik” exhibition was opened in Sofia in 1942, the Embassy of the USSR protested and the exhibition was closed.
Bulgaria and the USSR found themselves in a state of war only on September 5, 1944, when the USSR declared war on Bulgaria, and Soviet troops began to cross the Bulgarian border. However, no one resisted them, on the contrary, people joyfully welcomed the Red Army. At the same time, on September 8, Bulgaria declared war on Germany, and an unique situation arose when Bulgaria was simultaneously at war with the USSR, Germany, the USA and Great Britain. True, this did not last very long: on September 9, a coup d’etat took place in the country and from 10.00pm on that day, the Red Army actions against Bulgaria were discontinued, and Bulgaria immediately began the formation of People’s Army, which in 1944-45 participated in battles against Nazi Germany and its allies. On October 28, 1944, a truce was signed between the USSR and Bulgaria. In fact, by that day, both countries had already been actively fighting together against Germany and its allies for a month.
The second myth is that between the USSR and Bulgaria in 1941-44, there were no military incidents at all.
Not true. There were incidents. After the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet deployed four combat positions of submarines in Bulgarian territorial waters in August, and in October there were five such positions. The Bulgarian “Shipka” transport vessel was blown up and sank by Soviet mines, and on September 9, 1941, the Soviet submarine Л-4 sank the Bulgarian schooner “Success” with cannon fire. In response, Bulgarian bombers repeatedly attacked Soviet submarines seen off the Bulgarian coasts, but managed to sink only one – Щ-204 (December 6, near Varna). In addition, the C-34 submarine on November 12 was blown up by Bulgarian mines at Cape Emine. This fighting at sea was limited.
In 1942, there was a case when Soviet planes bombed Bulgarian cities. On the night of September 12-13, bombs were dropped on the cities of Stara Zagora (one person died, 17 wounded), Kazanlak, Ruse and Gorna Oryahovitsa (two wounded). (translator’s note²: Compare the previous with the bombing raids carried out by the United States’ Air Force and Royal Air Force in 1943–1944 that resulted in the deaths of 1,374, with an additional 1,743 being injured. The number of buildings damaged were 12,564 of which 2,670 completely destroyed. Sixty motor cars and 55 trailers were also destroyed. The Allies lost a total of 117 aircraft. Among the historic buildings destroyed were several schools and hotels, as well as the State Printing House, the Regional Court, the Small Baths and the National Library. These were not restored to their original appearance. The Bulgarian National Theatre, the Bulgarian Agricultural Bank, the Theological Faculty of Sofia University, the Museum of Natural History, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and other buildings were damaged but subsequently reconstructed.) These attacks were of “political” significance – the USSR wanted to demonstrate to both allies and opponents the capabilities of its long-range aviation. At the same time, Budapest and Bucharest were also bombed. But if the USSR fought against Hungary and Romania, she did not with Bulgaria. So from any point of view, this act can be considered an aerial aggression.
In addition, from February 1942 on the Eastern Front, namely in the Ukraine and Belarus, there was a Bulgarian military-sanitary train, serving, of course, the German allies. However, it cannot be regarded as a combat unit, since it acted under the auspices of the Red Cross, which means it was not considered a military unit.
One way or another, one thing is important – all these facts did not lead to full-fledged hostilities between Bulgaria and the USSR.
Myth three – in Bulgaria there was no resistance movement.
Not true. The first partisan (guerilla) groups appeared in Bulgaria in the summer of 1941. According to the police, in 1942, there were 381 partisans in Bulgaria, united in 27 detachments. The successes of the Red Army gave a powerful impetus to the development of the partisan movement in Bulgaria. In 1943, the People’s Liberation Rebel Army (NOVA – Народно-Освободителна Въстанническа Армя) was created in Bulgaria. At the beginning of 1944, the government decided to end the partisans by creating the gendarmerie (5 thousand people) and the “Asen” army special forces, particularly for these purposes. However, the two large-scale attacks they launched against the partisans were unsuccessful. At the time of the September 9 coup in Bulgaria, there were 1 partisan division, 9 brigades, 36 platoons, and several separate detachments in which 7,000 people fought (according to more recent estimates, up to 30 thousand). There were many more volunteer helpers of the partisans – called the Yataks (they helped with food, conducted reconnaissance, kept safe houses, hid weapons, etc.): there were about 200 thousand of them.
In addition, a communist underground was actively operating in Bulgaria, carrying out sabotage against the Bulgarian and German troops stationed in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Army General Vladimir Zaimov, who was executed in 1942 for espionage in favor of the USSR, was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union in 1972.
Of course, it is difficult to compare the Bulgarian partisan movement in scope with the Yugoslav or Greek, however, it did exist and made a rather noticeable contribution to the struggle against fascism.
The fourth myth – in 1944-45, the Bulgarians fought only formally and did not help the Red Army in the defeat of fascism.
Not true. The Bulgarian People’s Army made a worthy contribution to the defeat of Nazism. Already on September 28, 1944, a month before the signing of the armistice between Bulgaria and the USSR, the Bulgarian People’s Army went into battle against the Nazis, attacking them in the Yugoslav cities of Leskovac and Nis. On October 8-14, 1944, the Bulgarians, together with the Yugoslav People’s Liberation Army and the Red Army, defeated the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prince Eugen” near the city of Nis. On October 15, 1944, the Bulgarian army defeated the 22nd Wehrmacht Infantry Division in Macedonia, liberating the cities of Veles and Skopje. From October 22 to November 21, 1944, with the assistance of the Yugoslavs, the Bulgarians liberated the area of Kosovo Pole, the cities of Pristina, Kosovsk-Mitrovica. From March 6 to March 15, 1945, the Bulgarian army, as part of the troops of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, fought near the Hungarian Lake Balaton, taking the cities of Drava Sabolch, Drava Polkonya and several others. Finally, on April 15, 1945, the Bulgarians liberated the city of Doni Mihol.
In the battles against the Bulgarians, the Nazis lost 69 thousand people killed and captured, 21 aircraft, 75 tanks and self-propelled guns, 937 guns and mortars, 4 thousand cars, 71 steam locomotives, 5,769 wagons.
In total, for the period of September 1944 – May 1945, the Bulgarian People’s Army lost 10,124 people killed and 21,541 wounded in battle. 360 Bulgarian officers and soldiers were awarded Soviet orders and medals, while 750 Soviet officers and soldiers – Bulgarian ones.
The only foreign military leader to take part in the Victory Parade in Moscow on June 24, 1945 was Bulgarian General Vladimir Stoichev. In 2014, a monument was unveiled to him in Sofia.
From all of the above, we see that everything is far from as simple and understandable as it seems to the (mouse) clickers who condemn the “traitors”. Rather, the facts indicate the opposite. If the Bulgarians were traitors, they would readily send their army to the Eastern Front, as the Finns, Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, Italians, Romanians did.
If the Bulgarians were traitors, they would not have created partisan units that fought for three years.
If the Bulgarians were traitors, they would have met the Red Army on September 5, 1944, not with flowers and posters “Welcome, Our Liberators!”, but with bullets and grenades.
If the Bulgarians were traitors, there would be no Bulgarian People’s Army, which destroyed almost 70 thousand Nazis and their allies.
Finally, if the Bulgarians were traitors, their general would not have marched in the same ranks as the Soviet ones in the Victory Parade.
This is what should be remembered by those who accuse the Bulgarians of “betrayal”. They forget (or do not know) that every case of driving a wedge between our countries and peoples is a provocation sowing the dragon’s teeth between friends. Bulgars in their mass have always been Russophiles. Our goal today is to prevent the Russians from becoming Bulgarophobes.
Vyacheslav Vasilievich Bondarenko (born May 9, 1974, Riga, Latvian SSR) is a Russian-speaking Belarusian writer, TV presenter, historian, and public figure. He is a Member of the Presidium of the Board of the Union of Writers of Belarus and Member of the Union of Writers of Russia.
I do not know him but after a bit of research I found that the article is based on a documentary 10-part TV series called Освобождённая Европа (Liberated Europe) and he is the screenwriter.
¹ Shipka Pass
Паметник на свободата, Шипка // Shipka, Bulgaria
² Bombing of Sofia in World War II