100th Anniversary of Bulgaria’s Submarine Force Celebrated with Special Exhibit in Naval History Museum in Black Sea City Varna

Artifacts on display at the Naval Museum in Bulgaria's Black Sea city of Varna as part of the exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Bulgarian submarine force. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

Artifacts on display at the Naval Museum in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna as part of the exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Bulgarian submarine force. Photo: Varna Naval Museum (Facebook Page)

The 100th anniversary since the launched of the submarine force of the Bulgarian Navy has been celebrated with a special jubilee exhibition of the Naval Museum in the Black Sea city of Varna

The exhibit is entitled “100 Years of Submarine Sailing in Bulgaria”, and is dedicated to the launch of the first submarine under Bulgarian flag during the First World War.

It was opened on the eve of May 6, a national holiday in Bulgaria, which is the Day of St. George, and also the Day of Bravery and the Bulgarian Armed Forces.

In World War I, the then Tsardom of Bulgaria was an ally of Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Turkey, and was severely punished after the war (though not as severely as its neighbors insisted) by being stripped off of territories and military capabilities, including the right to own and develop a submarine force.

Bulgaria started acquiring a submarine fleet precisely in order to defend its Black Sea coast against the attacks of the navy of the Russian Empire which repeatedly bombarded coastal Bulgarian towns and cities such as Varna, Balchik, and Kavarna after Bulgaria’s entry in World War I in October 1915.

The raids of the Russian Navy against Bulgaria intensified in 1916, including in the fall of 1916 when Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente. In September-October 1916, the Bulgarian Third Army overran the Romanian defenses in the geographic region of Dobrudzha (located between the Black Sea and the Danube) liberating the occupied Bulgarian territories (including both Southern and Northern Dobrudzha).

What is more, the Bulgarian forces routed the Russian troops that came to the aid of the Romanians, pushed them north of the Danube delta, and set up a front there, while other Bulgarian forces participated in the November-December 1916 campaign of the Central Powers in Romania proper where they took the Romanian capital Bucharest together with the allied German and Austro-Hungarian forces.

The first Bulgarian submarine was a UB-18 received from Wilhelmine Germany making Bulgaria one of the few nations in the world to have submarine forces at the time.

It was formally launched on May 25, 1916, at a secret ceremony in the port of the Euxinograd Residence of the Bulgarian government on the Black Sea coast north of Varna. It was known in Bulgarian as “Podvodnik 18”. Its first commander was Capt. Nikola Todorov, a native of Shumen.

The first Bulgarian submarine UB-18 called in Bulgarian "Podvodnik-18". Photo: Naval Museum

The first Bulgarian submarine UB-18 called in Bulgarian “Podvodnik-18”. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

Capt. Nikola Todorov (1886-1947), the first commander of the first Bulgarian submarine. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

Capt. Nikola Todorov (1886-1947), the first commander of the first Bulgarian submarine. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

This sculpture owned by the Naval Museum since 1923 has never been shown to the public before. It depicts the conning tower of the first Bulgarian submarine UB-18. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

This sculpture owned by the Naval Museum since 1923 has never been shown to the public before. It depicts the conning tower of the first Bulgarian submarine UB-18. Photo: Varna Naval Museum (Facebook Page)

Thus, in 1916, there were only a total of 11 countries in the world which employed submarines (listed alphabetically): Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Russia, Turkey, the USA, and the UK (Britain).

After the end of the First World War, however, Bulgaria was banned from employing submarines as per the provisions of the the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine of 1919, part of the Peace Treaty of Versailles with the Entente.

Bulgaria’s submarine forces was not restored until after World War II when it had been occupied by the Soviet Army, a puppet communist regime had been installed in Sofia by the Soviets with the 1944 coup, and the “People’s Republic of Bulgaria” was forced to participate in the Cold War as  part of the Communist Bloc and its military arm, the Warsaw Pact.

In 1954, the Soviet Union gave Bulgaria three submarines, and two more in 1958. The submarine force of the Bulgarian Navy saw its height (in terms of equipment and capabilities) in 1983-1985 when it had four fully equipped Soviet-made submarines.

Because of budget cuts, two of them were retired shortly after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989. The other two submarines, the “Nadezhda” (“Hope”) and the “Slava” (“Glory”) were in use until the 2000s.

In 2009, the Bulgarian Navy marked the 55th anniversary since the restoration of its submarine force in 1954, and there was talk by Bulgarian officials of acquiring new submarines. There were also plans for turning the “Nadezhda” submarine into a museum but those have failed to materialize yet.

However, in 2011, the last Bulgarian submarine, the “Slava”, was retired, and the Bulgarian Navy shut down its submarine unit altogether.

The retirement of the last operational Bulgarian submarine, the Slava ("Glory"), in 2011. Photo: BGNES

The retirement of the last operational Bulgarian submarine, the Slava (“Glory”), in 2011. Photo: BGNES

The exhibit which now celebrates the 100th year since the launch of the Bulgarian submarine force has been unveiled by Dr. Mariana Krasteva, Director of the Naval Museum in Varna.

During the opening, Capt. Stanko Stankov, who is the chairperson of the Union of Submarine Officers in Bulgaria, has recounted for the guests of the ceremony the past of the submarine force of the Bulgarian Navy, and has expressed hopes that it will be restored, the Museum press service reports in a release.

The exhibition features a total of 14 posters and more than 60 artifacts telling the history of the Bulgarian submarine units over the past 100 years.

Most of them are from the collection of the Naval Museum in Varna, which is a branch of the National Museum of Military History in Sofia. Others come from the Union of Submarine Officers and the Varna Naval Base.

One intriguing artifact is a sculpture depicting the conning tower of the UB-18, the first Bulgarian submarine, by Kiril Shivarov, which has never shown to the public since it became part of the Naval Museum’s collection back in 1923.

The exhibition “100 Years of Submarine Sailing in Bulgaria” can be seen in the Naval Museum in Varna until June 15, 2016.

In 2015, the Naval Museum in Varna saw a growing number of visitors as a result of the reopening of the Drazki museum ship, another relic from the early 20th century and the early history of the Bulgarian Navy.

The opening of the exhibition

The opening of the exhibition “100 Years of Submarine Sailing in Bulgaria”. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

The official poster for the exhibition. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

The official poster for the exhibition. Photo: Varna Naval Museum

Background Infonotes:

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts, the Varna Gold Treasure, dating back to the 5th millenium BC.

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Ancient Odessos (Odessus) is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC.

However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos.

The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna.

It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.