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SPLINTER FLEET-SUBMARINE CHASERS SC-314 AND SC-385 IN BULGARIAN NAVY

Nautical Research Journal, Vol. 54, Number 1, Winter 2009, page 3

http://www.thenrg.org/pdf/TOC_NRJ_Spring_2009.pdf?nauticalresearchguild=a8ae0ed64a24897944ca54a4a6e42fb9


BEGINNINGS OF BULGARIAN NAVY

The beginnings of the Bulgarian Navy can be traced back to 13th century AD when Bulgarian king Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) ordered the construction of 25 war galleys. According to historical sources in the year 1235 these galleys participated in the siege of Constantinople(1). At that time the Bulgarian kingdom and Nicean Empire acted as allies and thus sent a joint army and navy to Constantinople which belonged to the Latin Empire (1204-1261).

The real foundations of the modern Bulgarian Navy were laid after the Liberation War against the Ottoman Empire (1877-1878). In August 1879 the Bulgarian flag was raised for the first time over several paddle steamers, motor vedette boats, steam pinnaces, barges and rowing boats in the town of Rousse located on the Danube river. This small flotilla was donated to the newly established Bulgarian Principality by Russia(2).

During the course of its evolution the Bulgarian Navy received some notable deliveries including the French-built torpedo gunboat Nadezhda (717t, 1898), German-built motor torpedo boats of the Lurssen S2 Type (63t, 1939-1941), and a Soviet-built destroyer Zhelesniakov (1745 t, 1947). After the Communist Regime (1944-1989) and the peaceful transition to democracy Bulgaria joined NATO and European Union. Recently the Navy commissioned into service the frigates Drazki and Gordi (ex-Belgian F912 Wandelaar and F911 Westdiep)(3).

BULGARIAN MARINE POLICE SERVICE

Of particular interest to modern researchers is the Interwar period (1920-1939) when the Bulgarian Navy was reduced to a minor force and renamed “Marine Trade and Police Service” (MTPS) by official decision of Bulgarian Government dated 24th December 1920. This was done according to the clauses of the Treaty of Neuilly (27th November 1919) the reason being that after WWI the Kingdom of Bulgaria was among the defeated states together with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Empire from the Central Powers. Article 83 of the Treaty confirmed that all Bulgarian warships, submarines included should be finally surrendered to the Principle Allied and Associated Powers. Moreover the Treaty explicitly stated that the country is allowed to maintain on the Danube and along her Black Sea coasts only 4 torpedo boats and 6 motor boats for police and fishery duties given the fact that the torpedoes and torpedo apparatus of these boats are removed. The personnel of the above vessels should be organized on a civilian basis and the perspectives for future deliveries were limited to lightly-armored patrol craft displacing 100 t each(4).

Taking into consideration these strict conditions as well as the fact that the newly established MTPS should meet a wide spectrum of tasks in September 1921 the Bulgarian Government endorsed a Decree for acquisition of 6 patrol boats. The decree was later passed by the 19th National Assembly5. By that time it was generally presumed that the MTPS would perform police, customs, and salvage duties.

The approval of the above decree coincided with the ongoing sale of used naval craft in Constantinople (present day Istanbul). In the period 13th November 1918 – 23rd September 1923 the city was under the occupation of the Allied Powers (Great Britain and France). In November 1919 the Allied fleet arrived in the Bosporus. About 2 years later the Allied military administration offered for sale small and mid-sized ships which had participated in WWI. On 24th October 1921 the Bulgarian Government purchased from the French naval command a total of 6 vessels including 2 submarine chasers (pennants C-27 and C-80, French designation “chasseurs de sous-marins”) and 4 motor launches(6).

These 2 submarine chasers were originally built in the USA during WWI and were designated as SC-1 Class also known as “Splinter Fleet”. The first one was launched by Robert Jacob Shipyard (City Island, NY) as SC-314, delivered on 22nd December 1917 and transferred to France as C-27. In Bulgaria C-27 was renamed Belomoretz. She was commissioned by the MTPS without depth charges and listening apparatus. In 1917 Robert Jacob Shipyard built a total of 5 such submarine chasers (SC-313 to SC-317)(7).

The second submarine chaser was built by Mathis Yacht Building Co. (Camden, NJ) as SC-385, delivered on 24th October 1918 and transferred to France as C-80. In Bulgaria C-80 was renamed Chernomoretz. Similarly to Belomoretz she was commissioned by the MTPS without depth charges and listening apparatus. In the period 1st November 1917 – 15th January 1919 Mathis Yacht Building completed a total of 25 such vessels (SC-65 to SC-74, SC-209 to SC-213, SC-381 to SC-385, SC-426 to SC-430)(8).

SC-1 CLASS SUBMARINE CHASERS

The concept and the plans for the large scale construction of the SC-1 Class came into existence in March 1917 at a dedicated conference organized by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (1913-1921) in the USA. In fact the conference followed the sinking of 5 steamers (Strathdene, Knudsen, West Point, Blommersdyk, Stephano) by German submarine U-53 in October 1916 off Lightship Nantucket as well as the famous Act of 4th March 2007. The Act was intended “…To enable the President to secure the more economical and expeditious delivery of materials, equipment, and munitions and secure the more expeditious construction of ships authorized and for the purchase or construction of such additional torpedo boat destroyers, submarine chasers…and for each and every purpose connected therewith, as the President may direct to be expended, at the direction and in the discretion of the President, $ 115,000,000…”

The conference summoned by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels featured the participation of various motor boat builders as well as small boat shops. Among the topics suggested for discussion were the types of boats required, capacity of shipyards, delivery of additional equipment with a stress on propulsion and engines, etc. It was proposed to build the hulls of the submarine chasers of wood instead of steel because raw materials were scarce. The Navy Department had prepared designs for several types of vessels ranging from small 9 m boats to bigger craft of more than 30 m in length. The naval officers were in favor of the longer variants because they would normally display better see-keeping characteristics, accommodate heavier guns, and finally offer better living conditions for the crew(9).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913-1920) invited the naval architect Albert Loring Swasey to develop the design of the new class of submarine chaser. The design was finally approved by the Navy Bureau of Construction and Repair while the first contract for building submarine chasers was signed on 3rd April 1917. A total number of 440 vessels were built out of which about 100 were transferred to France. Contracts for the construction of 6 more units were cancelled. The principle dimensions of the SC-1 Class were the following: displacement 77 t (standard) and 87 t (full), length 33,53 m, beam 4,54 m and draught 1,77 m (full load). The vessels were powered by 3x220 hp Standard 6-cylinder engines (3 shafts) which contributed to speeds of 17-18 knots. Maximum range was 1000 miles at 12 knots. The complement usually consisted of 2 officers and 24-27 enlisted. Typical armament included two 3-inch 23 caliber guns, two 30 cal. machine guns, one DCP Y-gun and depth charges(10). For the detection of submarines the vessels were equipped with various listening apparatus such as SC-tubes, MB-tubes and K-hydrophones.

IN BULGARIAN SERVICE

In the period 1921-1924 the two Bulgarian submarine chasers served in the MTPS Minesweeping Division and thus participated in post-war minesweeping operations in the area of Bulgarian ports Varna and Bourgas located on the Black Sea. These extensive operations required the participation of even more vessels and thus the submarine chasers were joined by 4 Bulgarian ex-torpedo boats namely Druzki, Smeli, Strogi and Chrabri. Most of the vessels of the Minesweeping Division were based in Sozopol.

In the summer of 1923 Belomoretz was in Bourgas under the command of Capt. Sava Ivanov. At that time she was visited by Bulgarian king Boris III (1918-1943) who sailed into port of Bourgas by his Royal Yacht Vyara (I) during one of his regular voyages along the Black Sea coast. Capt. Sava Ivanov extended an invitation to Boris III to visit Belomoretz and attend an official lunch. The king accepted the invitation and after paying a short visit to port authorities he arrived onboard the submarine chaser. After the minesweeping operations had been successfully competed Belomoretz and Chernomoretz took up regular peace time patrol duties on the Black Sea(11).

In 1928 the submarine chasers were transferred on the Danube where they served under the command of the Bulgarian River Trade Police Service (RTPS). The transfer was carried out in two stages, the first one being to Romanian port Sulina and the second one to Bulgarian river port Rousse (km 489). For both stages RTPS relied on assistance from specialized tugs. As a result Belomoretz and Chernomoretz were towed to Sulina by the sea-going tug Rakovsky. The next passage to Rousse saw the participation of the river-going tug Iskar. According to the requirements of RTPS each of the submarine chasers received a single 47-mm gun and 2 machine guns in Rousse. In general the tasks performed by the 2 vessels on the Danube were similar to those on the Black Sea i.e. police and patrol duties. The scope of these tasks was further extended with the important addition of education and training duties.

Perhaps the most remarkable event during the service of Belomoretz and Chernomoretz on the Danube took place on 30th October 1930 when Bulgarian king Boris III met with his Romanian counterpart Carol II (1930-1940) in Rousse. Both ships participated in the official program for the visit - Chernomoretz was selected to be the royal yacht for Bulgarian king Boris III while Belomoretz acted as escort vessel12. The meeting between the two kings was anticipated with great interest because it was the first of its kind after WW I. The general expectations of the Bulgarian and Romanian society were that it should enhance friendship, partnership and cooperation between the two countries.

Boris III arrived in Rousse by the royal train and came onboard Chernomoretz together with Member of Parliament Nikola Mushanov (Prime Minister of Bulgaria in the period 1931-1934). Here they were met by MTPS Commander-in-chief Capt. I rank Ivan Variklechkov and RTPS Chief Capt. Sava Ivanov. Belomoretz and Chernomoretz sailed out from Rousse and headed for the Romanian port Giurgiu (km 493) where they were welcomed with an honorary salute of 21 artillery salvos. Stefan Cel Mare acted as the royal yacht for the Romanian king Carol II. Mayor of Giurgiu Dr. Boric delivered a speech with a focus on the improving bilateral relations. Both delegations crossed the river to Rousse; this time Belomoretz, Chernomoretz and Stefan Cel Mare were followed by Romanian river monitor Lascar Catargiu. In a similar spirit the official guests were welcomed by Mayor of Rousse Eng. Pavlov. The program ended with another honorary salute of 21 artillery salvos.

On 31 July 1938 Bulgaria signed the Salonika Agreements with Greece and the countries in the Balkan Entente. Consequently the above mentioned arms restrictions of the Treaty of Neuilly were removed and MTPS was transformed into Marine Forces. The Salonika Agreements were signed by Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs George Kioseivanoff. In his opinion they were on the one hand “recognition by the States members of the Balkan Entente that Bulgaria had equal rights in the matter of armament” while on the other hand they confirmed the desire and willingness to collaborate in the consolidation of the peace of the Balkans.

By end of 1941 the two submarine chasers were transferred on the Black Sea again and based in Varna where they served under the command of the Patrol Division in the newly established Marine Forces and each ship received a single 37-mm gun as well as a single 20-mm Rheinmetall gun mod. 1937. It is at this stage of their biography when researchers come across a very controversial and highly debated issue. Recently several Russian naval historians announced that on 6th December 1941 Belomoretz and Chernomoretz sunk Soviet submarine Shch-204 Minoga 30 miles off Varna near by Cape St. Atanas. One of these historians claims that “Minoga was sunk while transporting a Bulgarian intelligence group” most likely to land in the area of Kamchia river. In a similar way in August 1944 Soviet submarines Shch-211 and C-32 had already delivered to Bulgarian coast two such intelligence groups led by Tzvyatko Radoinov and Mirko Stankov respectively. These groups included a total of 23 people and were sent by Soviet authorities. In the view of Russian historians the Minoga was sunk by depth charges and guns of Belomoretz and Chernomoretz(13). On 4th June 1983 Bulgarian fishing vessel Alka came across the remains of Shch-204. The version that the two submarine chasers had sunk the Minoga is not supported by enough evidence.

During the winter of 1941-1942 the Marine Forces HQs decided to introduce some changes in the construction of Belomoretz and Chernomoretz including a 2-shaft instead of the original 3-shaft system the idea being to improve maneuverability and reduce exploitation costs. The basic part of the technical documentation for the vessels’ reconstruction was approved on 17th February 1942. Another project for the reconstruction of the engine department of Belomoretz was approved on 21st September 1942. In the period 1942-1944 German FHCt hydro acoustic equipment was installed and tested on the submarine chasers. Unfortunately it did not fit the conditions of the Black sea and was returned to the manufacturer(14).

During the summer of 1944 the two ships participated in a series of exercises under the command of Lieutenant Alexander Rainov in the area of St. Cyril Island near by the Bulgarian Black Sea resort Sozopol. By end of August 1944 Lieutenant Rainov received an order to take Belomoretz and Chernomoretz to the open sea and hunt for a Soviet submarine which had reportedly sunk Bulgarian sailing vessel Vita. The result of this operation is unknown.

In the closing stages of WW II we find Belomoretz and Chernomoretz in the area of Bourgas. Due to the contradictory political situation both vessels were ordered to depart to the north for Varna and consequently were involved in a peculiar accident at sea near by Cape Emine. Actually in early September 1944 Bulgarian Prime Minister Konstantin Muraviev broke off diplomatic relations with Germany and requested an armistice with USA and Great Britain. In spite of that USSR declared war on Bulgaria on 5th September 1944 and Soviet troops crossed the Bulgarian border three days later. Following an order of the Government of Konstantin Muraviev Bulgarian Armed Forces gave no resistance to the invading Soviet troops under Marshal Tolbuhin. In a similar way Lieutenant Alexander Rainov received an order from government authorities “To avoid any resistance if Belomoretz and Chernomoretz come across Soviet ships in the Black Sea; his crews should surrender the submarine chasers upon request of the Russians”. This was exactly the accident in which the two vessels became involved on 6th September 1944 in the area of Cape Emine where they were boarded by Russian sailors. The Bulgarian crews were arrested while Belomoretz and Chernomoretz were taken back to Bourgas. For three days the Bulgarian sailors remained prisoners of war. Interestingly enough two of the sailors – Stefan Stoichev and Christo Simeonov from Chernomoretz, made an attempt to escape and reach the near-by railway station located at Dolno Ezerovo village but were re-captured by the Russians. On 9th September 1944 the Communist Regime was established in Bulgaria and the crews of the submarine chasers were released15.
Consequently Belomoretz and Chernomoretz were taken over by the Russians; on 20th November 1944 they were commissioned in the Soviet Black Sea Navy as SK-757 and SK-758 respectively. On 18th April 1945 both vessels were transferred back to Bulgaria where they received their previous names and resumed service in Varna naval base under the command of the Patrol Division. In that same year Belomoretz took part in a hydrographic expedition along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast under the command of Captain I rank Boris Rogev(16).

On 9th May 1946 the Commander-in-chief of Bulgarian Marine Forces issued out an order pursuant to award of “Medal for the victory over Germany” to several Bulgarian ships including Belomoretz and Chernomoretz. On 22nd February 1949 both vessels were decommissioned and in 1952 they were officially deleted from the ships’ list. In the period 1950-1958 the hull of Chernomoretz served as a training platform and storehouse for the crews of Lurssen S2 Type torpedo boats in Bourgas naval base.

Kaloyan PANCHELIEV

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1Le Beau, Ch. Histoire du Bas-Empire, commencant a Constantin-le-Grand.
Paris, Ledoux et Tenre, 1819-20.

2Chonev, Ch. The Ships. Vol.5. Sofia, Litera Prima, 1997.

3Chonev, Ch. The Bulgarian Navy. Sofia, Propeller, 2005.

4Kesyakov, B. Contribution to the History of Bulgarian Diplomacy. Vol.2 - The Treaty of Neuilly. Sofia, 1926.

5A Collection of Laws and Decisions Passed by 19th National Assembly. Vol. 3. Sofia, 1922.

6Todorov,Il. The Bulgarian Ships. Sofia, Technika, 1981.

7History of US Shipbuilding Industry. Robert Jacob Shipyard, City Island NY. Tim Colton, Delray Beach, FL 33483. 20 Oct. 2008. <http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com>

8History of US Shipbuilding Industry. Mathis Yacht Building Co., Camden NJ. Tim Colton, Delray Beach, FL 33483. 20 Oct. 2008 <http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com>

9 “Plans a Fleet of U-Boat Chasers. Secretary Daniels Asks Motor Boat Builders to Confer with Him Tomorrow”. The New York Times 11 March 1917. The New York Times Archives. 20 Oct. 2008 <http://www.query.nytimes.com>

10Todorov,Il. The Ships of the Bulgarian Navy. Sofia, Air Group 2000 Ltd., 2003.

11Antonov, G. The Bulgarian Navy in the Period between End of WWI and the Socialist Revolution on 9th September 1944. Notices of Bulgarian Military History and Scientific Union. Vol. 39, Sofia, 1985.

12Panayotov, At. “US-built Ships in Service with the Bulgarian Navy”. The Military History Collection Vol. 4/2005.

13Bogatiryov, S.V. Loss of Combat Ships and Boats of USSR Navy in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945. Lvov,1994.

14Panayotov, Atanas G., and Mariana Krusteva. “Problems of Bulgarian Naval Shipbuilding and Shiprepair” (1919-1947). Annual Collection of Varna Naval Museum. Varna, 2002.

15Tzankova, D. “Being Imprisoned for Three Days by the Soviets”. Seven 19 Sept. 2004.

16Panayotov, At. “125th Anniversary of Bulgarian Navy Hydrographic Service”. Bulgarian Armed Forces Daily 2008.
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