Enthusiastic welcome. This is how the Bulgarian population met the Red Army peacefully entering their country.


In the beginning of September 1944 the fates of the Romanian campaign were still contested, while the main forces of the 3rd Ukrainian Front approached to the Bulgarian frontier between Giurgiu and Mangalia. Soon later the troops of the 2nd Ukrainian Front reached the Romano-Yugoslav border near Turnu-Severin. In result of those operations Soviet forces had wedged in between Bulgaria and the German forces fighting in the Carpathian Mountains and Transylvania.

Bulgaria was at that time Germany's ally, and although formally neutral in the Germano-Soviet war, German land, air and naval forces conducted military operations from her territory. Taking that into consideration, and having exhausted all the means to change the policy of the Bulgarian government peacefully, on 5 September the Soviet foreign ministry summoned the Bulgarian envoy in Moscow, Ivan Stamenov, to hand him the note that read:

The Soviet Government no longer deems it possible to maintain relations with Bulgaria, severs all relations with Bulgaria, and declares that not only in a state of war with the U.S.S.R., inasmuch as in actual fact she was already in a state of war with the U.S.S.R., but that the Soviet Union likewise will henceforth be in a state of war with Bulgaria. [Soviet Foreign Policy During the Patriotic War. (1946).]

That radical step of the Soviet government gave a new impulse to the Bulgarian liberation movement. Bulgarian patriots welcomed it enthusiastically. We are waiting for you, brothers Red Army soldiers, read the statement of the General Revolutionary Staff of the People's Revolutionary Army of Liberation, addressed to the Soviet troops entering the Bulgarian soil. Your arrival, and our will to fight the oppressors of the people, make the guarantees that Bulgaria will be free, independent and democratic. Long live the Red Army!

On 6 September in the Bulgarian capital factories went on strike, and demonstrations went to the streets. On the next day the strikes took place in the mines of Pernik and many other places throughout the country. Political prisoners were released from jails. On 7 September the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers' Party and the General Revolutionary Staff made the decision to organize an uprising in Sofia.

The fascist government had found itself in extremely difficult situation. Especially so, that it suffered another fiasco in the diplomatic activities, to which it attached far-fetching hopes. American and British diplomats refused to continue talks with Bulgarian representatives. On 6 September the Bulgarian mission in Cairo received a note, which read that due to the Soviet declaration of war on Bulgaria, further talks might be continued only with participation of the USSR.

Meanwhile the popular unrest spread throughout Bulgaria. Massive demonstrations engulfed Sofia, Pleven, Varna, Plovdiv, Sliven and other cities. Police and army were helpless. Everywhere partisan troops were hastening to strengthen the rioters.

The Headquarters of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces of USSR assigned operations in Bulgaria to the 3rd Ukrainian Front (Gen. Fyodor Tolbukhin), which comprised the 46th, 57th and 37th Armies, 7th and 4th Mechanized Corps of Guards, and the 17th Air Army. Also the Danube River Flotilla and units from the Black sea Fleet were transferred under its command. Altogether, the forces, which were about to enter Bulgaria numbered about 258 thousand troops, 5,583 guns, 508 tanks and gun-carriers, and 1,026 aircraft.

Favourable strategic situation after the defeat of the Army Group Southern Ukraine enabled preparation of a swift occupation of Bulgaria. However, plans were made very carefully. The Soviet command considered the possibility that some Bulgarian troops, loyal to the monarchy, might deliver resistance. The Bulgarian army was considerably big - it had 22 divisions and 7 brigades of the total of 510 thousand troops. In Varna, Burgas and Ruse were deployed German and Bulgarian ships. Marshal Georgiy Zhukov took part in the planning the operation at the Military Council of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. On 23 August he was summoned in that matter to the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander. There Zhukov met the famous Bulgarian revolutionary Georgi Dimitrov:

Stalin advised me to see Georgi Dimitrov before leaving so I could learn more about the general political situation in Bulgaria, the activities of the Bulgarian Workers' Party, and armed actions of Bulgaria's anti-fascist forces.

Dimitrov impressed me very much. He was an exceptionally unassuming and warm-hearted man. From his reasoning and conclusions, one could see that he was also a man of great intellect and political acumen. Our meeting was very friendly, and he told me at length about everything that would be useful for me to know. It was obvious that he had very effective communication channels with the underground organizations of the Bulgarian Workers' Party (Communists).

Dimitrov said to me:
"Although you are going to the 3rd Ukrainian Front to prepare the troops for war against Bulgaria, I can assure you there will be no war. The Bulgarian people are waiting impatiently for the Red Army so as to overthrow with its help the monarchical government of Bagryanov and establish the power of the People's Liberation Front.

"The Soviet forces will not be met," Dimitrov continued, "with artillery and machine-gun fire from the Bulgarians, but with bread and salt - according to our old Slav custom. I don't think the Bulgarian troops will risk engaging the Red Army. As far as I know, our people are doing a great deal of work in almost every army unit. There are extensive guerilla forces in the mountains and in the forests. They are not sitting there doing nothing, but are ready to come down from the mountains and take part in a popular uprising."

He sat silent for a moment, then said:
"The success of the Soviet troops have greatly activated the popular liberation movement in Bulgaria. Our Party is leading this movement, and is determined, with the Red Army approaching, to initiate an armed uprising." [Zhukov G. K. (1971).]

According to the plan, Soviet forces had to advance along 20km-long front 210km into Bulgaria; that was not a big operational space, since revolutionary moods in Bulgaria were taken into consideration. It was also decided to advance without usual air and artillery support. The thrust had to be made by rapid units. A particular attention was attached to surprise in Varna and Burgas, where were based German and Bulgarian naval forces. Successful seizure of those two ports would put the enemy activity in the Black Sea to the end. It was also foreseen that swift and resolute actions would disorganize the state apparatus and cause panic, which in its turn would hasten insurgent actions.

Before the operation commenced, the command of the 3rd Ukrainian Front addressed the Bulgarian nation with an appeal, which read:

The Red Army has no intention to fight against the Bulgarian people and its army, since it considers the Bulgarian people a brotherly nation.

The Red Army has only one goal - to crush the fascists and bring closer the final peace to all.

Let us turn to Zhukov once again, to see what happened then:

On the morning of September 8, everything was ready to open fire, but from our observation posts we did not see any targets we could shell...

Through stereotelescopes, binoculars and with the naked eye, we could observe the ordinary flow of peaceful life - smoke was billowing from the chimneys, and people were going about their daily chores. We could detect no military units.

Marshal Tolbukhin ordered the advance detachments forward. In less than half an hour, the 57th Army commander reported that a Bulgarian infantry division was lined up on both sides of the road, welcoming our troops with unfurled red banners and military music. Similar reports soon came in from other directions. Army commanders informed me that Soviet troops were spontaneously fraternizing with Bulgarians.

I immediately phoned Stalin. He told me:
"Don't disarm the Bulgarian troops. Let them be while they are waiting for orders from their government." [Zhukov G. K. (1971).]

At 11:00 first Soviet units entered Bulgaria; those were the 34th Infantry Division of Guards (Col. Iosif Maximovich) from the 46th Army, 73rd Infantry Division (Gen. Semyon Kozak) and 353rd Infantry Division of Guards (Col. Pavel Kuznetsov) from the 57th Army, and 244th Infantry Division (Col. Georgiy Kolyadin) from the 37th Army. There is abundance of documentary evidence about the welcome the locals had prepared for them. For example, political sections of the 37th Army alone on 8 September reported that along the route of the army an estimated 80 thousand people from 27 hamlets spontaneously came out to welcome Soviet soldiers.

Till the evening of 8 September Soviet troops covered 70km and reached the line Ruse - Varna. In Varna and Burgas landed units of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet; in Burgas they were supported by an airborne landing. Aircraft from the 17th Air Army were patrolling the Bulgarian air space, intensively spreading leaflets with the appeal to the Bulgarian people. On 9 September Soviet forces moved on Burgas and Aytos, occupied them, and then reached the line Ruse - Razgrad - Tyrgovishte - Karnobat. Within a day they covered 120km.