The Danubian Fleet

The Danubian Fleet is the predecessor of the contemporary naval forces of Bulgaria. Currently, the Bulgarian Naval Forces have their headquarters in Varna and are one out of the three armed forces under the Bulgarian Army the other two being the Air and the Land Forces.

The Danubian Fleet was established on 31 July 1879 in Rousse on the Danube by Russian naval officers. In its initial stage, the Fleet had 4 steamers, 7 steam boats, and 5 rowing boats that were used in the Russian-Turkish war and were afterwards donated to Bulgaria by Russia. Together with the ships, the newly created fleet also received a field repairs workshop for their maintenance.

Originally, the ships had a Russian crew of 7 officers and 58 lower-rank staff. However, with the first Bulgarian Army consignment to the fleet, 145 Bulgarian recruits were assigned. The first commander of the Bulgarian Navy was Captain-Lieutenant Alexander Konkejevic who served as such from 1879 to 1882. The first Bulgarian Maritime Diplomat was the Bulgarian Navy Officer Lieutenant V. Shishmariov who took part in the meetings of the European Danubian Commission between 1881 and 1882.

In 1930, in the courtyard of the Navy, where the Danubian Fleet had its headquarters, the Monument of the Mariner was erected and featured the “From here starts the Bulgarian Navy” inscription. In the 60’s, the monument was destroyed and in 1999 was restored in the immediate vicinity of the Military Club. Since then, according to a tradition already established, the anniversary celebrations for the founding of the Bulgarian Naval Forces start from Rousse every year.

During the Wars

The first participation of the Bulgarian Navy in military action was during the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885. By 1885, the Danubian Fleet and its Sea Department had 4 steamers, 2 mine-carriers, 7 steam boats, and 4 barges. The steamers were equipped with two 4-pound cannons, the steam boats with 2 speed guns, and the mine-carriers had a speed gun and two rod mines each.

  • The Danubian Fleet transported over a thousand soldiers and volunteer fighters as reinforcements and transferred the commander of the Vidin fortress, captain Atanas Uzunov, from Rousse to Vidin. The Fleet delivered ammunition, cannons and arms, patrolled the river, participated in intelligence and counter-intelligence activities, performed transport activities.
  • After the Russian officers from Bulgaria were recalled, Bulgarian commanders took command of the fleet.
  • The Fleet supplied the besieged Vidin fortress with food, arms and materials. One of the steam boats also provided communication between the fortress and the command in Sofia over letters and telegrams through Calafat.
  • The announcement of the Bulgarian victory and the end of the war was also brought by the Fleet to the besieged Vidin fortress.
  • The Stefan Karadzha steam boat captured 2 enemy vessels which represented the first battle wins of the contemporary Bulgarian naval fleet.

During the Balkan War from 1912 to 1913, the personnel of the Danubian Fleet formed the first recruits for the newly formed Bulgarian fleet formations of the Marmara Sea and the Bulgarian Aegean Fleet. Danubian Fleet mariners mined the newly liberated Bulgarian sea territory on the new southern Bulgarian borders and continued to carry out the military transport activities between the Bulgarian ports and fortresses along the Danube.

During the 1913 Inter-Ally War, upon an order issues by the Headquarters, the ships of the Danubian Fleet subsided in the Danube to avoid captivity.

During the First World War, the mariners defended the Bulgarian banks along the Danube. After the war, the Danubian Fleet guarded the river border, trained Bulgarian mariners and officers. The Fleet was dissolved in 1961.

National Role and Significance

The Danubian Fleet and its accompanying maintenance and repair, supply and security institutions and services enabled the newly-founded Kingdom of Bulgaria to lay the foundations for its future maritime development. Along with military and transportation tasks, the Fleet plays an important role in raising the technical skills and awareness of the Bulgarians.

  • On January 9, 1881 a Machine School which educated technicians for the Fleet was established as part of the Danubian Fleet. It was the predecessor of the later Maritime School and of the current Nikola Yonkov Vaptsarov High Naval School in Rousse.
  • On November 4, 1883 the Commander of the Danubian Fleet reported to the Defense Ministry in Sofia that he had collected and exhibited hundreds of objects in the first Maritime Museum of Bulgaria in two of the halls of the then-Navy barracks in Rousse.
  • On December 2, 1883 the first hydro-meteorological service in Bulgaria was established in Rousse for the for the needs of the Danubian Fleet.
  • In 1883 – 1884 a mining department at the Danubian Fleet was established. It took responsibility for the first 25 mines in Bulgaria. The Botev and Levski mine-carriers were adapted for the purpose.
  • In 1884 the Bulgarian government purchased its first warship – the Alexander I military yacht.
  • On February 28, 1884 the first Brass Fleet Orchestra was founded.
  • At the beginning of 1885 the establishment of the first Marine Library in Bulgaria and the first Navy Technical Society was planned.
  • In 1885 the Navy Flight Tower was built in Rousse. It was intended both for an observation post for the Danubian Fleet mariners and for a meteorological station. Nowadays, the hydrometeorological station of the Executive Agency for Exploration and Maintenance of the Danube River in Rousse occupies the Tower and the building is still used according to its initial functional purpose.
  • On November 12, 1897 the Navy was divided into a Danubian Fleet with its headquarters based in Rousse and into a Marine Corps with its headquarters located in Varna.
  • On January 13, 1899 the Danubian Fleet and its Sea Department were united under a Naval Fleet with its headquarters in Varna.
  • On May 25, 1916 the Bulgarian flag was raised on the Submarine 18 which started the Bulgarian Navy underwater warfare.
  • On August 19, 1991 the Bulgarian Naval Fleet was renamed to Bulgarian Naval Forces.
  • On April 2, 2004 Bulgaria became a full-fledged member of NATO.

Sources (Bulgarian Only)

Disclaimer: The photos used in this article are not owned by