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The Armoured Forces of the Bulgarian Army 1936-45

The Armoured Forces of the Bulgarian Army 1936-45 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review July 2015 Title The Armoured Forces of the Bulgarian Army 1936-45
Author Kaloyan Matev Publisher Helion
Published 2015 ISBN 9781909384163
Format 478 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $125.00


Hard on the heels of Helion & Company's outstanding Magyar Warriors comes another terrific tome on an Eastern European military.

And the title tells it all. The Armoured Forces of the Bulgarian Army 1936-45 fills gaps, illumines the esoteric and unearths the amazing.

Subtitled "Operations, Vehicles, Equipment, Organisation, Camouflage & Markings", the hefty, 478-page hardback begins with a metaphorical bang.

The "'history' of German armoured fighting vehicles continues to the present day," the Preface remarkably reveals. "By the time of finalising this book one Bulgarian military depot stores a number of Panzer IV Ausf. F/G/H/J, StuG III Ausf. G, one Jagdpanzer IV/L48 and many different wrecks including tank hulls, turrets etc."

And Helion's amazing effort – available in North America from Casemate – just gets better from there. By the end of the book, it comes full circle. I can just see Hollywood scrambling to authenticate its next WWII blockbuster.

Author Kaloyan Matev sets the stage with background notes on inchoate Bulgarian Army motorization efforts, the earliest dating from 1912's First Balkan War. Despite defeat in World War I and subsequent treaty restrictions, Bulgaria continued surreptitiously acquiring vehicles – many from civilian sources.

By 1936, it was "no longer hiding that it was modernizing its army". And the country acquired its first armored vehicles – 14 FIAT/Ansaldo L3/33 tankettes from Italy and eight Vickers 6-Ton Mk E light tanks from Britain.

Contents then chronicle Bulgaria's deepening relationship with Nazi Germany: joining the Axis Pact, receiving war-trophy and German-manufactured equipment, and, although officially neutral during WWII, occupying portions of Yugoslavia and Greece.

To upgrade its war-fighting capabilities, Bulgaria received more modern equipment in 1943 and 1944 – notably PzKpfw IVs and Strurmgeschüz IIIs. Those served as its principal AFVs in combat to come. And Helion's massive monograph dutifully details those – and all other Bulgarian AFVs of the period.

Nor does text exclusively cover tanks. Matev extensively details Bulgaria's supporting soft-skin vehicles: cargo trucks, fuel tankers, mobile workshops, photo laboratories, ambulances, buses and more.

September 1944 proved pivotal. And Chapter 5 details "War With The Third Reich". The country declared war on former ally Germany. Bulgarian troops began withdrawing from occupied territories. And the Soviet Union invaded. The episode with the British intelligence officer in Yugoslavia approved fascinating – and eerily prescient. Bulgaria entered a half-century of Soviet domination.

In 1945, Bulgaria received at least 105 captured German armored fighting vehicles. And Chapter 6 recaps that terrific tale. A subsequent section outlines Bulgarian camouflage, markings and serials. Modelers will note that Bulgaria had "no regulated colour for the military motor vehicles in the army". Schemes were "very often the same as for civil models". And a conclusion discusses the "legacy" of Bulgarian WWII army vehicles.

Hundreds of photos – most from Bulgaria's Ministry of Defense – season the story. Over 30 color profiles provide plenty of modeling inspiration. Text notes and color plates include camouflage color references to RAL specifications. Dozens of tables and annotations augment the account. And an appendix on Bulgarian army ranks neatly wraps things up.

Nitpicks? I believe L3/33s wore mottled dark green over red-brown – not over "light olive" or "olive dark yellow". Text mentions the total number of PzKpfw V Panthers received from the USSR's 3rd Ukrainian Front as "not higher than six before 13 July 1945". But a photo from that summer shows at least ten of those vehicles in a Bulgarian line-up – probably indicating multiple sources for Panther trophies, 14 (or 20, as reported in the final chapter) of which eventually served with the 1st Armored Brigade.

What a brilliant book! I, for one, would love a similarly spectacular study on Bulgaria's air force during World War II. What are you say, Helion?

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate Publishing for the review copy!