Italian invasion of Albania

Italian invasion of Albania

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The Italian invasion of Albania (April 7 – April 12, 1939) was a brief military campaign by the Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

 against the Albanian Kingdom
Albanian Kingdom
The Albanian Kingdom was the constitutional monarchal rule in Albania between 1928 and 1939. During this period Albania was a de facto protectorate of the Kingdom of Italy Albania was declared a monarchy by the Constituent Assembly, and Zog I was crowned king...

. The conflict was a result of the imperialist policies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

. Albania was rapidly overrun, its ruler, King Zog I
Zog of Albania
Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians , born Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli, was King of the Albanians from 1928 to 1939. He was previously Prime Minister of Albania and President of Albania .-Background and early political career:...

, forced into exile, and the country made part of Greater Italy
Greater Italy
Greater Italy , or Imperial Italy , was an ambitious project envisioned by fascist Italy in which the objective was to create an Italian empire which would expand, in addition to the irredentist claimed territories , to additional Mediterranean basin territories...

 and the Italian Empire
Italian Empire
The Italian Empire was created after the Kingdom of Italy joined other European powers in establishing colonies overseas during the "scramble for Africa". Modern Italy as a unified state only existed from 1861. By this time France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the Netherlands, had already carved...

 as a separate kingdom in personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

 with the Italian crown
House of Savoy
The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region. Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in that region to eventually rule the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II, king of Croatia and King of Armenia...

.

Background


Albania
Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

 had long had considerable strategic importance for the Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

. Italian naval strategists eyed the port of Vlorë
Vlorë
Vlorë is one of the biggest towns and the second largest port city of Albania, after Durrës, with a population of about 94,000 . It is the city where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on November 28, 1912...

 and the island of Sazan
Sazan Island
-Fauna of Sazan:Sazan Island contains 7 species of amphibians of which 3 are rare species. The island contains 15 species of reptiles of which 13 are rare species. Some of these amphibian and reptile species include the:* Blue-throated Keeled Lizard...

 at the entrance to the Bay of Vlorë, as it would give Italy control of the entrance to the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

. In addition, Albania could provide Italy with a beachhead in the Balkans. Before World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 Italy and Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 had been instrumental in the creation of an independent Albanian state. At the outbreak of war, Italy had seized the chance to occupy the southern half of Albania, to avoid it being captured by the Austro-Hungarians. That success did not last long, as post-war domestic problems and Albanian resistance through the Battle of Vlora, forced Italy to pull out in 1920. The desire to compensate for this (quite embarrassing) failure would be one of Mussolini's major motives in invading Albania.

When Mussolini took power in Italy he turned with renewed interest to Albania. Italy began penetration of Albania's economy in 1925, when Albania agreed to allow Italy to exploit its mineral resources. That was followed by the First Treaty of Tirana in 1926 and the Second Treaty of Tirana in 1927, whereby Italy and Albania entered into a defensive alliance. The Albanian government and economy were subsidised by Italian loans, the Albanian army was trained by Italian military instructors, and Italian colonial settlement was encouraged. Despite strong Italian influence, King Zog I
Zog of Albania
Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians , born Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli, was King of the Albanians from 1928 to 1939. He was previously Prime Minister of Albania and President of Albania .-Background and early political career:...

 refused to completely give in to Italian pressure. In 1931 he openly stood up to the Italians, refusing to renew the 1926 Treaty of Tirana. After Albania signed trade agreements with Yugoslavia
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state stretching from the Western Balkans to Central Europe which existed during the often-tumultuous interwar era of 1918–1941...

 and Greece
Second Hellenic Republic
The Second Hellenic Republic is the term used to describe the political regime of Greece from 1924 to 1935. It followed from the period of the constitutional monarchy under the monarchs of the House of Glücksburg, and lasted until its overthrow in a military coup d'état which restored the monarchy...

 in 1934, Mussolini made a failed attempt to intimidate the Albanians by sending a fleet of warships to Albania.

As Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 annexed Austria
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

 and moved against
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia began with the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by...

 Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, Italy saw itself becoming a second-rate member of the Axis. The imminent birth of an Albanian royal child meanwhile threatened to give Zog a lasting dynasty. After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939) without notifying Mussolini in advance, the Italian dictator decided to proceed with his own annexation of Albania. Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Victor Emmanuel III was a member of the House of Savoy and King of Italy . In addition, he claimed the crowns of Ethiopia and Albania and claimed the titles Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania , which were unrecognised by the Great Powers...

 criticized the plan to take Albania as an unnecessary risk. Rome, however, delivered Tirana
Tirana
Tirana is the capital and the largest city of Albania. Modern Tirana was founded as an Ottoman town in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini, a local ruler from Mullet, although the area has been continuously inhabited since antiquity. Tirana became Albania's capital city in 1920 and has a population of over...

 an ultimatum on March 25, 1939, demanding that it accede to Italy's occupation of Albania. Zog refused to accept money in exchange for countenancing a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania.

The Albanian government tried to keep secret the news of the Italian ultimatum. While Radio Tirana insistently broadcast that nothing was happening, people became suspicious and the news of the Italian ultimatum was spread from unofficial sources. On April 5 the king's son was born and the news was announced by cannons. People poured out on the streets alarmed but the news of the newborn prince calmed them. People were suspicious that something was going on, leading to an anti-Italian demonstration in Tirana the same day. On 6 April there were several demonstrations in Albania's main cities. That same afternoon 100 Italian aircraft flew over Tirana, Durrës and Vlorë dropping leaflets that instructed people to submit to Italian occupation. The people were infuriated by this demonstration of force and called for the government to resist and also to release the Albanians arrested as "communists". The crowd shouted "Give us arms! We are being sold out! We are being betrayed!". While a mobilization of the reserves was called, many high ranking officers left the country. Also the government was fading away. The Minister of the Interior, Musa Juka, left the country for Yugoslavia the same day. While King Zog broadcast to the nation that he would resist Italian occupation, people felt that they were being abandoned by their government.

Invasion


The original Italian plans for the invasion called for up to 50,000 men supported by 137 naval units and 400 airplanes. Ultimately the invasion force grew to 100,000 men supported by 600 airplanes. On April 7 Mussolini's troops, led by General Alfredo Guzzoni
Alfredo Guzzoni
Alfredo Guzzoni was an Italian military officer who served in both World War I and World War II.-Italian Army:Guzzoni joined the Italian Royal Army and fought in World War I....

, invaded Albania, attacking all Albanian ports simultaneously. There were 65 units in Saranda, 40 at Vlorë, 38 in Durrës, 28 at Shëngjin and 8 more at Bishti i Pallës.

On the other side the regular Albanian army had 15,000 poorly equipped troops who had been instructed by Italian officers. King Zog's plan was to mount a resistance in the mountains, leaving the ports and main cities undefended, but Italian agents placed in Albania as military instructors sabotaged this plan. The Albanians discovered that artillery pieces had been disabled and there was no ammunition. As a consequence, the main resistance was offered by gendarmes and small groups of patriots.

In Durrës
Durrës
Durrës is the second largest city of Albania located on the central Albanian coast, about west of the capital Tirana. It is one of the most ancient and economically important cities of Albania. Durres is situated at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Sea, opposite the Italian ports of Bari...

, a force of only 360 Albanians, mostly gendarmes and townspeople, led by Abaz Kupi
Abaz Kupi
Abaz Kupi or Abas Kupi also known by his nom de guerre as Bazi i Canës, was an Albanian politician, leader and fighter, known mostly for his role during World War II. A royalist, he created the Legality Movement in Albania which promoted the return to the throne of Zog of Albania...

, the commander of the gendarmerie in Durrës, and Mujo Ulqinaku
Mujo Ulqinaku
Mujo Ulqinaku , was an Albanian officer of the Royal Albanian Army, known for his resistance on April 7, 1939, to the Italian forces during the Italian Invasion of Albania...

, a marine official, tried to halt the Italian advance. Armed with small arms and three machine guns, they succeeded in keeping the Italians at bay for several hours until a large number of small tanks disembarked from the Italian ships. After that, resistance diminished and within five hours Italy had captured the city.

By 1:30 pm on the first day, all Albanian ports were in Italian hands. The same day King Zog, his wife, Queen Geraldine Apponyi, and their infant son Leka
Leka, Crown Prince of Albania
Leka, Crown Prince of Albania was the only son of King Zog of Albania and his queen, Géraldine Apponyi de Nagyappony. He was called Crown Prince Skander at birth...

 fled for Greece, taking with them part of the gold reserves of the Albanian Central Bank. On hearing the news, an angry mob attacked the prisons, liberated the prisoners and sacked the King's residence. At 9:30 am on April 8, Italian troops entered Tirana and quickly captured all government buildings. Italian columns then marched in the directions of Shkodër, Fier and Elbasan. Shkodër surrendered in the evening after 12 hours of fighting. However, two officers garrisoned at Rozafa castle refused to obey the ceasefire order and continued to fight until they ran out of ammunition. The Italian troops paid homage to the Albanian troops in Shkodër who had halted their advance for an entire day. During the Italian advance in Shkodër the mob besieged the prison and liberated some 200 prisoners.

The number of casualties in these battles is disputed. For example, the Italian military forces maintained that at Durrës 25 Italians were killed and 97 wounded and 160 Albanians were killed and several hundred wounded, while the townspeople of Durrës declared that some 400 Italians had been killed. To cover up their losses the Italians immediately took away the bodies and washed the harbor and streets of Durrës.

On April 12, the Albanian parliament voted to depose Zog and unite the nation with Italy "in personal union" by offering the Albanian crown to Victor Emmanuel III. The parliament elected Albania's largest landowner, Shefqet Bej Verlaci
Shefqet Bej Vërlaci
Shefqet Bej Vërlaci was Prime Minister of Albania in 1924 and during the Italian occupation from 1939 to 1941.-Biography:...

, as Prime Minister. Verlaci additionally served as head of state for five days until Victor Emmanuel III formally accepted the Albanian crown in a ceremony at the Quirinale palace in Rome. Victor Emmanuel III appointed Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino, a former ambassador to Albania, to represent him in Albania as "Lieutenant-General of the King" (effectively a viceroy
Viceroy
A viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. A viceroy's province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty...

).

Aftermath



On April 15, 1939, Albania withdrew from the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

, from which Italy had resigned in 1937. On June 3, 1939, the Albanian foreign ministry was merged into the Italian foreign ministry, and the Albanian Foreign Minister, Xhemil Dino
Xhemil Dino
Xhemil Dino was an Albanian politician and diplomat.He was born in Preveza in the 1880s to a distant branch of the notable Dino family of the area. He studied in Galatasaray University and after the declaration of independence of Albania he was elected deputy of Dibër...

, was given the rank of an Italian ambassador. Upon the capture of Albania, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 declared the official creation of the Italian Empire
Italian Empire
The Italian Empire was created after the Kingdom of Italy joined other European powers in establishing colonies overseas during the "scramble for Africa". Modern Italy as a unified state only existed from 1861. By this time France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the Netherlands, had already carved...

 and the figurehead King Victor Emmanuel III was crowned King of Albania
King of Albania
While the medieval Angevin Kingdom of Albania was a monarchy, it did not encompass the entirety of the modern state of Albania. The latter has been a kingdom on two occasions. The first time was after it was declared independent in 1912...

 in addition to his title of Emperor of Ethiopia
Emperor of Ethiopia
The Emperor of Ethiopia was the hereditary ruler of Ethiopia until the abolition of the monarchy in 1974. The Emperor was the head of state and head of government, with ultimate executive, judicial and legislative power in that country...

, which had been occupied three years before. The Albanian military was placed under Italian command and formally merged into the Italian Army in 1940. Additionally, the Italian Blackshirts formed four legions of Albanian Militia
Albanian Militia
The Albanian Militia was an Albanian fascist paramilitary group formed in 1939 following the Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939, part of the Italian Blackshirts . It was recruited from Italians living in Albania and later on Albanians were also recruited...

, initially recruited from Italian colonists
Italian colonists in Albania
The Italian colonists in Albania were Italians who, between the two world wars, moved to Albania to colonize the Balkan country for the Kingdom of Italy.-History:...

 living in Albania, but later from ethnic Albanians.

Albania followed Italy into war with Britain and France on June 10, 1940. Albania served as the base for the Italian invasion of Greece
Greco-Italian War
The Greco-Italian War was a conflict between Italy and Greece which lasted from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. It marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign of World War II...

 in October 1940, and Albanian troops participated in the Greek campaign, but they massively deserted the front line. The country's southern areas (including the cities of Gjirokastër
Gjirokastër
Gjirokastër is a city in southern Albania with a population of 43,000. Lying in the historical region of Epirus, it is the capital of both the Gjirokastër District and the larger Gjirokastër County...

 and Korçë
Korçë
Korçë is a city in southeastern Albania and the capital of the Korçë District. It has a population of around 105,000 people , making it the sixth largest city in Albania...

) were temporarily occupied by the Greek army during that campaign, but Italy emerged victorious after Greece capitulated to the Germans in April 1941. Albania was enlarged in May 1941 by the annexation of Kosovo
Kosovo
Kosovo is a region in southeastern Europe. Part of the Ottoman Empire for more than five centuries, later the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia...

 and parts of Montenegro
Montenegro
Montenegro Montenegrin: Crna Gora Црна Гора , meaning "Black Mountain") is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast and Albania to the...

 and the Vardar Banovina
Vardar Banovina
The Vardar Banovina or Vardar Banate or Vardarska Banovina was a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1929 and 1941. It was located in the southernmost part of the country, encompassing the whole of today's Republic of Macedonia, southern parts of Central Serbia and southeastern parts of...

, going a long way towards realizing nationalistic claims for a "Greater Albania
Greater Albania
Greater Albania or Ethnic Albania is an irredentist concept of lands outside the borders of the Republic of Albania that are considered part of a greater national homeland by most Albanians, based on the present-day or historical presence of Albanian populations in those areas...

". Part of Albanian Epirus
Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

 called Chameria
Chameria
Chameria is a term used today mostly by Albanians for parts of the coastal region of Epirus in southern Albania and northwestern Greece It was also used by Greeks till the mid of 20th century and is frequently found in Greek literature. Today it is obsolete in Greek, surviving mainly in Greek folk...

was also annexed, and put under an Albanian High Commissioner, who exercised nominal control over it. When Italy left the Axis in September 1943, German troops immediately occupied Albania after a short campaign, with relatively strong resistance.

During the Second World War, the Albanian Partisans, including some sporadic Albanian nationalist groups, fought against the Italians (after autumn 1942) and, subsequently, the Germans. By October 1944 the Germans had withdrawn from the southern Balkans in response to military defeats by the Red Army, the collapse of Romania
Kingdom of Romania
The Kingdom of Romania was the Romanian state based on a form of parliamentary monarchy between 13 March 1881 and 30 December 1947, specified by the first three Constitutions of Romania...

 and the imminent fall of Bulgaria
Kingdom of Bulgaria
The Kingdom of Bulgaria was established as an independent state when the Principality of Bulgaria, an Ottoman vassal, officially proclaimed itself independent on October 5, 1908 . This move also formalised the annexation of the Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, which had been under the control...

. After the Germans left due to the rapid advance of Albanian Communist forces, the Albanian Partisans crushed nationalist resistance and the leader of the Albanian Communist Party, Enver Hoxha
Enver Hoxha
Enver Halil Hoxha was a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary andthe leader of Albania from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, as the First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania...

, became the leader of the country.

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