Bulgarians are often left out when we talk about aviation in history, even though it has its fair share of notable aviators. One of which is Dimitar Spisarevski also known as ''Bulgaria's first living torpedo''.
Born in Dobrich(in Dobruja) on the 19th of July 1916, His father had a good salary as a financial inspector for the municipality of Dobrich, keeping his job even after the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine which returned Dobruja to Romania. Until he requested the Bulgarian national anthem "Shumi Maritsa" in the local pub, after which he was fired and expelled from the country. Moving the whole family to Lom.
Growing up in Lom
He would live in Lom for the next 15 years of his life. Growing up on stories told by his grandfather about Bulgarian history, especially military history. One of his favourite stories was that of Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Kalitin, who heroically saved and defended the Samara flag with his life, the Samara flag was the official flag of the Bulgarian militia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.
"Heroes! give me the flag, cried Lieutenant Colonel Kalitin, when he saw that the standard-bearer S. Minkov had been killed, and taking the flag handed to him, he commanded: "Follow me, heroes!" and pulled to raise his horse. At that moment, two enemy bullets, one in the neck, the other in the chest, removed the hero Kalitin from the horse. Popova and I were right next to him. When we came down and lifted our chief from the ground, he was motionless, dead.'' - 3rd company commander, Lieutenant Stefan Kisov
The feat of Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Kalitin in saving the Samara flag
School in Sofia
At the age of 15, his family would move to the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Dimitar would enrol at the elite II Sofia Boys' High School. At school, he would have a class on Aviation introducing him to Hristo Toprakchiev. Hristo Toprakchiev one of the first pilots in the world to carry out air missions and the first victim of Bulgarian and world military aviation ever dying during the siege of Edirne. He became another of Dimitars idols as he was a fervent Nationalist (not a fascist) thanks to his grandfather's stories, however, this would sometimes result in him getting into fistfights with other students about differing national opinions.
Excelling in many aspects and becoming the flag bearer of his high school gave him a clear path to enrolling into the National Military School. But Military rules and discipline were not meant for him. An athlete playing for Levski Sofia for at least 2 years, and being a sociable person would quickly make him the class favourite. But always clashing with the rules of the school would see him expelled. According to some because he was caught copying in class, and according to others because he jumped the fence to see a girl. Sent to complete his military service in a regular barracks, He would show excellent conduct and be reinstated at the military school.
Training with the Luftwaffe
In 1937-8 the military school announced a pilot contest in which Dimitar was among the first candidates. Dimitar along with 14 other Bulgarians was sent to Nazi Germany. To train with the Luftwaffe for a year at a pilot school in Werneuchen. The training was, however, not without dangers since 3 Bulgarian cadets died during training. But Dimitar was happy to be flying regardless of the danger. His fearlessness would see him become a fighter pilot and even defeated his German instructor in a training flight.
Dimitar Spisarevski after his return
Return to Bulgaria
The cadets returned to Bulgaria after a year of training. Dimitar was promoted to lieutenant since he had become a fighter pilot. But his problems with discipline and subsequently with his superiors sustained. He often disregarded caution and caused damage to aircraft performing risky manoeuvres. He once told a superior:
"Yes, I broke the landing gear because I was flying. You can't break it because you can't fly! ” - Dimitar Spisarevski
In 1941 Dimitar and another pilot were sent to the English channel to train in the modern Messerschmitt 109 with the Luftwaffe studying their aerial warfare tactics. During an exercise, a German instructor told him that he would be shot down in his first real air battle because he acts emotionally instead of rationally. However, Spisarevski repeatedly says: "I know how I will fight!”
Bulgaria's entry into the War
When on the 22nd of June 1941, Nazi-Germany declared war on the Soviet Union all Axis members including Bulgaria were pressured to join. But historically an ally of the Russian people made this a very unpopular and unlikely scenario. To appease Berlin the Bulgarian government compromised to stay neutral with the Soviet Union but declare war on the western allies. As a nationalist, Dimitar would despise the "symbolic war" as there was no reason to fight except for German arrogance. The only people who would pay once the bombers appeared would be the people.
As a fighter pilot, Dimitar would enjoy liberties that regular people and soldiers wouldn't but he could be so extreme that his status couldn't protect him. Being demoted once and moved around multiple bases for causing scandals and fights. Including releasing an arrested jew which were targeted since Bulgaria also joined Nazi Germanys Holocaust. But on another occasion, he beat multiple high school graduates for singing foreign songs at their graduation party.
The bombing of Sofia
In 1943, The allies would start bombing Sofia in an attempt to sway Bulgarian allegiance. Although the bombings were meant for industrial and military targets, 80% of bombs fell more than 300 meters off-target hitting mostly civilian centres. Initially grounded Dimitar would move around the heaviest bombed streets. Soon after he would put in a request to join the aerial defence of Sofia.
10 days later on the 20th of December 1943, The allies would launch one of the worst raids against Sofia consisting of over 120 B-24 ''Liberators'' bombers and P-38 ''lightning'' fighters. The Bulgarian airforce could only muster 36 fighters in response.
The ultimate sacrifice
Dimitar would not be among them at first since his plane failed to start, but this would not stop him from taking a reserve Messerschmitts and joining the already ongoing battle. while climbing towards the height where the battle was taking place he evaded two P-38's. Reaching a V shape of 16 b-24's at around 6.000 meters he would open fire but not cease instead choosing to ram the lead bomber breaking it into two. Dimitar's plane would crash near a village just outside of Sofia, The bomber would crash on the other side. Only the tail gunner of the b-24 would miraculously survive this encounter.
We don't know if Dimitar intended to do this. Some say he was mortally wounded others that he was running out of ammunition. His deed did however both fit his character and words that he had once spoken:
"It is better to die in the air and understand an entire nation than to die and no one will understand''- Dimitar Spisarevski
After the war, his deed and sacrifice would be forgotten by the new communist regime who labelled him like many Bulgarian soldiers, just another part of the Nazi machine. nowadays people know more of his character and his deed even though it might seem insignificant to some he died in the name of what he believed protecting his countryman to the best of his ability. This is in my opinion something to be respected.
Dimitar Spisarevski died at the age of 27 credited posthumously with three aerial victories and promoted to the rank of captain. being buried in the Central Sofia Cemetery, in the Walk of Pilots.
Would you call Dimitar Spisarevski a hero?
Thank You for reading!
I want to thank all the people who suggested this topic. There was a post planned about the bombing of Sofia but that has ballooned to the extent that it has grown past a post so I hope this related topic can make up for that. If you liked what you read let me know by rating this post below or voicing your opinion in the comments.