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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 6 January 2024

Hot Skies of the Cold War

This a study by Alexander Mladenov and Evgeni Andonov of the Bulgarian Air Force in the 1950s, in the Helion Books Europe@War series. 

Primarily because it didn't join the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Bulgarian Air Force didn't get a lot of German aircraft during WW2  That changed somewhat when the Allies started flying over Bulgaria to bomb the Romanian oilfields, but they were still the poor relations  Post-war in the Soviet sphere of influence, Bulgaria was on the Cold War frontline, facing NATO, including Greece and Turkey.

The first Bulgarian jet fighter was the Yak-23, a plane I have to admit never having heard of. 120 were delivered, along with 16 twin-seat trainers  I have visited the Bulgarian Air Museum at Plovdiv, but I don't recall seeing the Bulgarian version of this aircraft there. Bulgarian pilots liked this aircraft finding it efficient and safe.

In 1951 the first Mig-15s arrived. More difficult to master but a much higher combat potential. 160 of these fighters joined the Bulgarian Air For e and was the backbone of the force in the 1950s. It was followed by the Mig-17 which equipped about half the fighter squadrons between 1955 and 1960. 

The operations described in the book are a little thin. The Greek border was particularly sensitive even after the Greek Civil War. For example, in 1949 there were 107 incursions by Greek aircraft. This was followed by CIA intrusions carrying out projects aimed at destablising the Bulgarian and Romanian regimes. Although the Turkish government eventually refused to allow bases on their territory. Later in the period the CIA sent spy balloons which at least provided a target for pilots to shoot down!

Perhaps better known was the downing of El Al flight L-149 in 1955 by a Bulgarian plane with 58 people aboard. The airliner had crossed into Bulgarian airspace, although the length of the incursion was contested. The authors had access to classified papers and attempt to reconstruct the sequence of events. Even today several serious questions remain unanswered. Why did experienced Israeli pilots in predictable weather conditions deviate so far from their route? The young and inexperienced Bulgarian pilots had little understanding of commercial airlines, but the markings on the plane were easily identified.

Writing about military history is challenging when there was little actual fighting, and the operations were limited.  However, I am a growing fan of early jet fighters, drawn in by my book on the Cyprus conflict and the Korean War. This book is primarily aimed at plane enthusiasts, but I can also see some interesting what-ifs gracing my wargames table.

This Blood Red Skies Korean War box could be converted with different decals.

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