With two overland avenues of approach and an amphibious one available to the Turks, their options are three – left, center and right.
The left option would see their main advance along Highway A4 to Plovdiv and then on to Sofia from there. The advantage of that approach would be its potential speed. It’s not only the shortest route to Sofia; Highway A4 also provides the easiest route on which to push forces and supplies into the fight. At the same time, though, and for those same reasons, that route would certainly be defended by Bulgaria's best units. Operations there would likely be immediately costly in terms of casualties and equipment wastage.
The center option would see an advance along Route 7 and then, once the Turks reached east-west Highway A1, they would turn left toward Plovdiv and Sofia. The terrain there is more difficult, as the forested hills would channel their advance into a series of potential kill zones. Further, Highway A1 doesn’t have the same capacity to handle traffic as Highway A4. Again, though, for those same reasons, the Bulgarians wouldn’t defend that approach with their best.
The Turks' third option would be to conduct an envelopment of Bulgaria's landward defenses by executing an amphibious operation on the Black Sea coast. Neither the Bulgarian Navy nor Air Force have the assets to stop such an operation, or even to inflict much in the way of losses on the Turks. Nor could the ground force defeat it once the Turkish marines set up a secure beachhead.
The Bulgarians have only enough combat power to defend the two dry land routes into their country from the south and not much more. As Turkish diverisonary attacks in the south would still likely be sufficient to keep some significant portion of the Bulgarian Army busy there, the road to Sofia from the beachhead would be largely open.
As the Turks have sufficient assets for only one amphibious landing, they would need to choose between one at Burgas in the south or one at Varna farther north. Both locations have beaches perfect for landing troops, and both have airports that can be used to ferry in reinforcements and supplies and to evacuate casualties.
An advantage for landing at Burgas is the fact the A1 highway that begins there, runs all the way to Sofia, allowing for rapid movement of troops and supplies. In contrast, the A2 highway, which starts in Varna, goes west for less than a 70 miles, which would mean the rest of that advance would have to be made along regular two-lane roads.
The Burgas option has the disadvantage that, if the Bulgarians were to pull back their forces holding the border area south of there, they would be able to block the A1. If a landing took place at Varna, on the other hand, no withdrawal in the south would likely be able to bring troops into position to block it in a timely way.
The Bulgarians have two options: defend forward or in depth. A forward defense would see both their army brigades blocking the land routes into the country from the south, using the rough terrain near the border to form a series of successive defensive positions. The intent would be to prevent the Turks from capturing significant Bulgarian territory before some kind of outside intervention halted the invasion.
Politically, that’s the best option, as it would force the Turks to fight hard from the moment they crossed the border. If outside intervention came fast enough, the invaders would capture only a small piece of the country, and that would also bring the least harm to Bulgaria's civilian population. At the same time, speedily mounting Turkish casualties might lead to opposition to the war at home.
Even so, this option is risky from a military standpoint and could lead to disaster. That is, given the Turks' crushing superiority, the Bulgarians wouldn’t be able to hold any positions near the border for long. The attackers would punch through, and the Bulgarians would be forced to withdraw under a hail of bombs, rockets and missiles from above. That could deal them such a blow they would be unable to mount effective resistance anywhere else in the country, and the Turks might then complete their conquest with ease. Only if foreign intervention came before the border defense collapsed, or at least before the inevitable retreat from it could be turned into a rout, would this option stand a chance of success.
The second option, defending in depth, is militarily the better one. Here the Bulgarians would pull back into the Balkan mountains to make their stand. Taking advantage of that good defensive terrain, they could hold ground much longer and inflict heavy losses on the attackers. Even in this case, however, the Turks could advance by using vertical envelopment via helicopter assaults and paradrops. Still, this option wouldn’t only cost the Turks more time and blood, the longer the campaign lasted, the greater the chance of foreign intervention.
On the other hand, this option could be a political disaster in that at least a third of the country would speedily come under occupation. Then, if the Turks repeated what they did on Cyprus – ethnic cleansing and the bringing in of settlers – the Bulgarians could see some large portion of their country partitioned out from under them. That might be the “lesser evil,” though, as the same could happen to the whole country if the forward defense was chosen but then collapsed before foreign intervention stopped the invaders.
In the end, the Bulgarians' choice would depend on their estimate of long foreign intervention would take to make itself felt. If quickly, then forward defense would have to be the choice; if slowly, then defense in depth.
Overall, the disparity of forces between Turkey and Bulgaria – not only in quantity, but also in quality – is so large any conflict between the two would be decisively one sided. It would be a conflict the Bulgarians couldn’t win on their own and, at best under present conditions, they could only hope for a Cyprus-style cease-fire and partition of their territory. That would likely be the first step in the subsequent destruction of independent Bulgaria.
The Bulgarians' salvation in case of war can only come in the form of foreign intervention – either military or political. The strength of the Turkish armed forces means a military one would require not only a lot of combat power, but also the acceptance of potentially heavy losses by the intervening nations. They would also face the risk of socio-political turmoil at home from their own Islamic populations. That would likely require more political will than any potential interventionist countries possess.
This is an excerpt from a longer article that will appear in issue number 10 of the on-paper edition of CounterFact Magazine. Those interested in placing a pre-release discounted order for issue 10 should go here: