Balkan Troubles IV – 16th May 1945

16th May – Bulgarians (again).

On the morning of the 16th, I went down to see how the old Bulgarians were getting on at Lavamund. They, too, had been involved in this Croat business to some extent. Their Divisional Commander and I were now on the friendliest terms and there was never any nonsense about having to have two interpreters and not understanding what was said.

His chief worry was that his booty collecting parties had been seriously hampered in the execution of their duties by having to stop and fight the Croats or the Yugoslavs – I do not quite know which it was – I do not think he did either! Anyway, the net result was that he wanted a bit of extension over the time limit I had given him to collect his so called spoils of war. This, I granted him, and we had a few drinks to cap the matter.

I had allowed the Bulgarians the use of the main road route through our area, going via St Andre, Wolfsberg and Koflach for their MT convoys, which were going to Graz. To describe their paraphernalia as on a MT convoy is certainly stretching the imagination a bit. Practically none of it could get up the hill out of Lavamund. The chief use of the tank we had sitting at the corner of the town was to pull their junk up the hill and launch it on its way. One would see small and inadequate looking ten horsepower cars often pulling a lorry, which, in its turn, could have a doubtful looking gun – probably with no breach block – hooked on behind.

The Bulgarian artillery was certainly a sight for the gods! Sometimes, a motor bicycle would be seen pulling an antediluvian field piece, which was quite good going as long as one of its wheels did not come off. With great respect, the General told me that he did not think he would be able to collect all the cannons that he had an eye on. I should not think he missed much!

These “convoys” had a great knack of running out of petrol in our area and blocking the roads. I think this was all part of the show as it is more than likely that the Russians were keeping them a bit short of this essential commodity. The departure of the Bulgarian Army was a long drawn out affair. How they had got as far as they had, the Lord only knows!

(NA 25017) Original wartime caption: German cavalry come in to surrender. Copyright: © IWM. 

Horse drawn transport was a great feature amongst all the contesting Armies in this part of the world. The sight of a German Division on the move made one wonder how on earth they had even done as well as they had. It consisted of mile after mile of antiquated looking carts, pulled by most doubtful looking hairies.

Most of their artillery was horse drawn too. It was not until we had seen sights like those that it was really borne home to us that the British and American Armies were the finest equipped in the world. Trying to get past one of those horse drawn convoys on a narrow road in a staff car nearly drove one crazy with impatience. It was not until just at the end of our time in Wolfsberg that I managed to get hold of an Air OP, which I found was the real answer to the maiden’s prayer. For several days, I worked the Air OP pretty hard but found it had unpleasant limitations when one was caught in one of the afternoon thunderstorms.

On the 17th, it was decided that we were to be relieved by the remainder of 46th Division and I was to hand over to Joe Kendrew, commanding the Hampshire Brigade. There was only one CO left in the Hampshire Brigade who had been in it when I was commanding them on the Garigliano. We were to go to Tarvisio on the Austro-Italian frontier and so release 138 Brigade to take over from the London Irish.

That afternoon, the 2nd and 5th Hampshires relieved the Faughs, who moved off and in turn relieved the 6th Lincolns in Tarvisio early the next morning. On the 18th, 1/4 Hampshires relieved the 17 Field Regiment, who started for Tarvisio about midday, at which time I also handed over and went off in an Air OP.