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B.71 in Bulgarian service

Updated on November 19, 2018

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Bulgaria acquired 32 ex- Czechoslovak B-71 from Germany in September 1939. They all were built at Factory 22 in Fili, SSSR, but had Czechoslovak engines, armament, radios and other systems.

They received German civil registration for the transfer flight, but preserved the original Czechoslovak camouflage that was retained even in Bulgarian service within the VV (Vazdushni Voyski, Royal air force).

The planes were assigned to the 5th Bombardirovochen Polk (Bomber regiment) at Plovdiv. The Bulgarian pilots nicknamed them the Zherav (Crane).

 

Left: in September 1939, the emblem in use for the VV planes was the 'medal of bravery'.

Unfortunately we have not photos of Bulgarian B.71 taken in this timeframe, but a likely reconstruction of their look can be obtained by replacing the wartime emblem, visible in photos, with this one.

Besides, other types of Bulgarian planes had red engine cowlings with extensions on the sides; observing them and the traces of repaintings on photos of B.71 taken during the war, one can have an idea how they appeared.

Other markings included three-colors rudders (white, green and red), and probably a small white number on the fin, all over the original Czechoslovak camouflage.

 

Below: a reconstruction of the likely look of a Bulgarian B.71 before the war.

 

 

In April 1941, Bulgaria entered in war aside Germany and took part to the occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia.

The emblem of VV planes changed to a black S. Andrew's cross on a white square, with a thin black contour on 15th July 1940.

These planes were used in combat in September-October 1941 during the revolt of the Greeks against the Bulgarian occupation in Thracia and Macedonia, and bombed the town of Drama; this was the only combat use of this unit when Bulgaria was allied with Germans.

Although Bulgaria was allied with Germany and declared war to Great Britain and USA, she was neutral for SSSR.

 

This plane, photographed with wartime St .Andrew's crosses, had a bad landing for a malfunction of the right leg of the landing gear.

The light grey of the undersurfaces looks extended over the engine cowling side; this was probably due to a repainting to delete the red extensions on the cowling sides typical of prewar livery; anyway, in this case the deletion seems limited to the sides, because a thin blurred lip looks still painted in a dark color, likely the original red.

Image from Tupolev SB in Action, Squadron Signal n.194.

 

Left:

this plane shows a Czechoslovak original camouflage (dirty green, brown and dark grey-green over light grey) with Bulgarian black X-crosses on white field; the rudder was painted with Bulgarian flag colors (white, green, red).

Note the small white number 7 on the fin.

No number is visible under the wings surface. On bibliography, Bulgarian SB are often drawn with a black number under the wings, but this photo seems not to confirm this.

The engine cowlings appear camouflaged both on the sides and front; it seems that the deletion of the prewar red paintings was made with different modalities than the plane of the photo above. The upper camouflage is unusually extended on the rear fuselage sides.

Image: Krile collection

 

 

Another image of plane 7.

Note the heavy retouches on the original camouflage, particularly around the engines. The camouflage, or perhaps some repainting only, looks extended on the front rings of the engine cowlings.

The prop blades were repainted with a dark color.

Image: Krile collection

 

 

Left:

Plane n.11 after a belly landing. It is unclear if the front rings of engine cowlings were painted in a color other than the camouflage.

Image: Krile collection

 

Below: a reconstruction of the look of plane 11 at the beginning of its service with the Bulgarian VV.

 

 

Left:

detail of the gunner's position. Surprisingly, the rear machine guns looks not installed.

Image: lostbulgaria.com via 66misos

 

Left:

the repainting of the front of the cowlings with distinctive colors is evident on this plane. It is unclear if it was red as before the war, or yellow as expected from an allied of Germany.

This image shows a most interesting emblem on the left side of the nose of Bulgarian B-71s: it looks a sort of white hood, with a black eagle carrying a bomb.

On the right side of the emblem, a dark blotch of unknown color is visible; it could reproduce the shape of some historical Bulgarian hood.

Image: lostbulgaria.com

 

Below:

Another emblem can be seen on the left side of the nose of this plane: it represents a white disk with the shape of a devil on a big bomb. The devil's fork and tail are recognizable.

Around the emblem, a dark repainting seems to hide the shape of the previous emblem with an eagle on a hood; perhaps the devil emblem replaced the previous one on all the B.71s

Image from Tupolev SB in Action, Squadron Signal n.194.

 

 

 

 

The front of the cowling of this plane shows a dark unidentified color; the most usual interpretation is that it was yellow (axis identification color on the East front), that seems dark because of an orthochromatic film.

Another possible interpretation is that t was red just as before the war.

Image: lostbulgaria.com via 66misos

 

Another interesting image showing a plane with the hood emblem.

The front of the cowlings seem very dark; it is certainly not the same color of the rudder, that seems relatively light on this photo and could be yellow.

 

This photo shows both the tail and the engines painted with dark colors, not necessarily the same one. It could be yellow shown as dark by an ortochromatic film, but it could also be that some parts were repainted red or red-green when the Bulgarian planes fought against Germans in late 1944.

The usual representation of uniformly painted rudders and front cowlings in biography is yellow, but it is unclear if the thing is positively known or it is a supposition because they were allied of Germans. At the end, Bulgarians fought against Soviets for few days only, and against Germans for some months.

Profiles represent other types of Bulgarian planes with green-red rudders, without white.

 

 

 

Any emblem is clearly missing from the right side of the nose.

 

 

Plane n.31 in flight. The number is unusually painted on the fuselage sides instead of the fin; on the fin itself, a light dot could be due to the deletion of the small number previously painted there.

Both rudder and elevators seem painted in a solid color, not necessarily the same of the engine cowlings. It looks likely that the tail surfaces were painted yellow and the front of the engines was red.

Strangely, the plane is flying with the landing gear extracted, perhaps because of a malfunction.

Image: Krile collection

 

Below: reconstruction of the look of plane 31.

 

 

 

 

 

On 5 September 1944 The Soviet Union declared war to Bulgaria and invaded it three days later; the pro-Soviet party led by Kimon Georgiev seized the power, so Bulgaria started to fight against Germany on 9 September.

On 14 November, the 5th Bomber Regiment was moved from Plovdiv to Vrazhdebna; it still had 21 B-71 in service, that made some actions against the retreating Germans, particularly against railways. Some B-71s were damaged because of AA fire or mechanic problems, but none Bulgarian airmen were injured in these actions.

It isn't unclear if and how markings changed in this time. The S. Andrew's cross was replaced by a red-white roundel with a green rectangle in 1945, but it is not clear if the planes fought against Germans still with S. Andrew's crosses on them. It is likely that any yellow painting on the rudder, elevators and other parts was deleted, but it is not clear if it was replaced with red, red and green or what else.

 

Bibliography:

Tupolev SB of M.Maslov, ed. Icarus : the main reference on this subject of SB and derivatives in English.

Airwar 064 and 065: very wide and complete monographs, in Russian

Tupolew SB, Monografie Lotnicze n.083, very good monograph im Polish

Squadron-Signal in Action n.194- Tupolev SB: nice monograph in English with a lot of good photos.

Air power of the kingdom of Bulgaria part IV

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_Air_Force

https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/bulgarian-b-71-markings.50220/#post-1443254

https://www.britmodeller.com/forums/index.php?/topic/235045592-what-color-on-bulgarian-planes-of-ww2/&tab=comments#comment-3176088

https://www.britmodeller.com/forums/index.php?/topic/235044465-question-on-german-b-71s/

 

 

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