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Belligerents and Participants
In 1912 the states of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece formed the Balkan League for the purpose of ridding the Balkans from the last vestiges of Ottoman rule. Once victory was achieved, Czar Ferdinand I felt his Kingdom of Bulgaria, who fielded the largest army and suffered the worst casualties, deserved the largest share of captured territory in Macedonia as compensation. Their former allies, Serbia and Greece felt differently, which led to the Second Balkan War of 1913. As a result of their defeat, the Treaty of Bucharest left Bulgaria with very little of the spoils.
Although Bulgaria declared its neutrality at the outbreak of World War One, both sides initiated intensive negotiations to win the kingdom over to their side. Feelings however still ran bitter between them and Serbia, which tilted the talks. Ultimately they were happy to join the Central Powers after being promised control over Macedonia on the condition they attacked Serbia. Still hoping to win her over the Allies ignored Bulgaria’s mobilization, but on October 14, 1915, she declared war on Serbia.
Austria-Hungary desperately needed this alliance with Bulgaria. Their first invasion of Serbia had been thrown back, and their second had stalled. When Bulgaria unexpectedly lent her weight to the new German Austro-Hungarian offensive launched in October 1915, it tipped the balance and Serbia’s already weakened army was decisively defeated. When the Allies in Salonika tried to intervene, Bulgarian troops halted their advance. Many postcards were published depicting the campaign against Serbia, but nearly all originate from either German or Austro-Hungarian publishers. Among these however are cards that depict Bulgarian troops.
Bulgaria wanted to follow up this victory by pressing into Solonika but the Germans fearful that Greece might enter the War disapproved of this action. By the spring of 1916, Germany had second thoughts and reinforced a Bulgarian invasion with its own troops. The Greek army offered no resistance and after a brief campaign a long swath of Macedonian territory was seized by Bulgaria. While it long coveted this territory, it was inept at administrating it and failed to win over the local population. With its territorial ambitions achieved, Bulgaria fortified its borders against the growing Allied presence in Salonika, where the front stagnated into trench warfare.
When Romania entered the War on the side of the Allies, Germany felt betrayed and called on all the Central Powers to put an end to this new threat in the fall of 1916. Romania thought their fortress at Turtukai was strong enough to keep the Bulgarians out of their Kingdom, but when it quickly fell and Bulgarian troops invaded their former territory of Dobrudzha, the Romanian advance into Transylvania had to be halted. After seizing much of the Dobrudzha and the port of Constanta, the Bulgarian army joined with German and Ottoman forces to cross the Danube into Wallachia. This soon ended the War on this front and Bulgaria came to occupy southern Dobrudzha. While this campaign provided Bulgaria with more territory, its army was just about spent and unable to initiate offensive operations.
The presence of Bulgaria as part of the Central Powers allowed for the easy passage of German officers and arms to the Ottoman Empire, and the flow of resources and Turkish troops back to Europe. This was crucial to their war effort, and German troops manned critical junctures along this route. While there are postcards of German soldiers in Bulgaria, locations are rarely given due to security concerns. This now often makes it difficult to discern the role these pictured troops played.
Many Bulgarian troops were sidelined from front line duty to take part in the occupation of Serbia. Past animosities led to brutality, and as a result Serbian Partisans became a constant menace. Believing the French were advancing out of Salonika, the Toplica Rebellion broke out in early 1917 in which territory was seized. The Allied offensive against Bulgaria did not actually begin until March, and by that time the insurrection had been suppressed with the help of Austro-Hungarian forces. Thousands were killed and a more brutal occupation followed. The Allies never broke through the Bulgarian lines; in May the Battle of Monastire ended in their defeat.
By 1918 the Bulgarian army had been strained to the breaking point. Morale grew low when they lost faith in a German victory. When a newly reinforced Allied army, that included reconstituted Serbian forces, attacked through Macedonia in September, their defenses finally collapsed. Few wanted to fight through another winter, and once the Allies reached Skopje, revolts within the army began to break out. Bulgaria signed the Armistice of Thessalonica that took them out of the war on September 29, 1918. To avoid a revolution, Czar Ferdinand abdicated in October, passing the throne down to his son Boris III. Although Bulgaria’s departure from the Central Powers presented Allied forces with the opportunity to open a major new front against Germany, only limited forces race northward due to the long tenuous supply lines. German supplies flowing into Turkey however were cut, which in turn helped lead to their surrender.
In the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine that was signed in November 1919, Bulgaria was forced to cede territory to Greece, Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The loss of Thrace to Greece cut off its access to the Aegean Sea. Disagreement over the length of times these terms were meant to last would cause future conflict.
Despite the vital role Bulgaria played in the War there are disproportionally few postcards that depict their participation. Most of those that do exist seem to be photo based or real photo postcards. These generic looking cards are often difficult to distinguish from those produced during the Balkan Wars. Printed cards depicting Bulgarians were usually made in Austria-Hungary or in Germany, and they tend to revolve around the campaign waged against Serbia.