Italian invasion of Albania

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Italian invasion of Albania
Part of the Interwar period
Italian army 2.PNG
Italian forces in Albania.
DateApril 7–12, 1939
Result Italian victory, King Zog leaves Albania
Albania becomes an Italian protectorate
 Kingdom of Italy Albanian Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Benito Mussolini
Alfredo Guzzoni
Giovanni Messe
Zog I
Xhemal Aranitasi
Abaz Kupi
Mujo Ulqinaku 
22,000 soldiers
400 aircraft[1]
2 battleships
3 heavy cruisers
3 light cruisers
9 destroyers
14 torpedo boats
1 minelayer
10 auxiliary ships
9 transport ships
8,000 soldiers[2]
5 aircraft
3 torpedo boats
Casualties and losses
12–25 dead (Italian claim)[3][4]
200-700 dead (according to Fischer)[3]
97 wounded[4]
160 dead and several hundreds wounded[4]
Events leading to World War II
  1. Treaty of Versailles 1919
  2. Polish–Soviet War 1919
  3. Treaty of Trianon 1920
  4. Treaty of Rapallo 1920
  5. Franco-Polish alliance 1921
  6. March on Rome 1922
  7. Corfu incident 1923
  8. Occupation of the Ruhr 1923–1925
  9. Mein Kampf 1925
  10. Second Italo-Senussi War 1923–1932
  11. Dawes Plan 1924
  12. Locarno Treaties 1925
  13. Young Plan 1929
  14. Great Depression 1929
  15. Japanese invasion of Manchuria 1931
  16. Pacification of Manchukuo 1931–1942
  17. January 28 incident 1932
  18. Geneva Conference 1932–1934
  19. Defense of the Great Wall 1933
  20. Battle of Rehe 1933
  21. Nazis' rise to power in Germany 1933
  22. Tanggu Truce 1933
  23. Italo-Soviet Pact 1933
  24. Inner Mongolian Campaign 1933–1936
  25. German–Polish declaration of non-aggression 1934
  26. Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance 1935
  27. Soviet–Czechoslovakia Treaty of Mutual Assistance 1935
  28. He–Umezu Agreement 1935
  29. Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935
  30. December 9th Movement
  31. Second Italo-Ethiopian War 1935–1936
  32. Remilitarization of the Rhineland 1936
  33. Spanish Civil War 1936–1939
  34. Italo-German "Axis" protocol 1936
  35. Anti-Comintern Pact 1936
  36. Suiyuan campaign 1936
  37. Xi'an Incident 1936
  38. Second Sino-Japanese War 1937–1945
  39. USS Panay incident 1937
  40. Anschluss Mar. 1938
  41. May Crisis May 1938
  42. Battle of Lake Khasan July–Aug. 1938
  43. Bled Agreement Aug. 1938
  44. Undeclared German–Czechoslovak War Sep. 1938
  45. Munich Agreement Sep. 1938
  46. First Vienna Award Nov. 1938
  47. German occupation of Czechoslovakia Mar. 1939
  48. Hungarian invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine Mar. 1939
  49. German ultimatum to Lithuania Mar. 1939
  50. Slovak–Hungarian War Mar. 1939
  51. Final offensive of the Spanish Civil War Mar.–Apr. 1939
  52. Danzig Crisis Mar.–Aug. 1939
  53. British guarantee to Poland Mar. 1939
  54. Italian invasion of Albania Apr. 1939
  55. Soviet–British–French Moscow negotiations Apr.–Aug. 1939
  56. Pact of Steel May 1939
  57. Battles of Khalkhin Gol May–Sep. 1939
  58. Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Aug. 1939
  59. Invasion of Poland Sep. 1939

The Italian invasion of Albania (April 7–12, 1939) was a brief military campaign launched by the Kingdom of Italy against the Albanian Kingdom in 1939. The conflict was a result of the imperialist policies of Italian prime minister and dictator Benito Mussolini. Albania was rapidly overrun, its ruler King Zog I forced into exile in neighboring Greece, and the country made part of the Italian Empire as a protectorate in personal union with the Italian Crown.


Albania had long been of considerable strategic importance to the Kingdom of Italy. Italian naval strategists coveted the port of Vlorë and the island of Sazan at the entrance to the Bay of Vlorë, as they would give Italy control of the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, and suitable base for military operations in the Balkans.[5] In the late Ottoman period, with a local weakening of Islam, the Albanian nationalist movement gained the strong support of two Adriatic sea powers, Austria-Hungary and Italy, which were concerned about pan-Slavism in the wider Balkans and also Anglo-French hegemony, purportedly represented in the area through Greece.[6] Before World War I Italy and Austria-Hungary had been supportive of the creation of an independent Albanian state.[7] At the outbreak of the 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 Albanian resistance during the subsequent Vlora War and post-war domestic problems forced Italy to pull out in 1920.[8] The desire to compensate for this failure would be one of Mussolini's major motives in invading Albania.[9]

Albania was important culturally and historically to the nationalist aims of the Italian Fascists,[citation needed] as the territory of Albania had long been part of the Roman Empire, even prior to the annexation of northern Italy by the Romans. Later, during the High Middle Ages, some coastal areas (like Durazzo) had been influenced and owned by Italian powers, chiefly the Kingdom of Naples and the Republic of Venice for many years (cf. Albania Veneta). The Italian Fascist regime legitimized its claim to Albania through studies proclaiming the racial affinity of Albanians and Italians, especially as opposed to the Slavic Yugoslavs.[10] Italian Fascists claimed that Albanians were linked through ethnic heritage to Italians due to links between the prehistoric Italiotes, Roman and Illyrian populations, and that the major influence exhibited by the Roman and Venetian empires over Albania justified Italy's right to possess it.[citation needed]

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.[11] 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.[11] Among other things the Albanian government and economy were subsidised by Italian loans and the Royal Albanian Army was not only trained by Italian military instructors, but most officers in the army were Italians; other Italians were highly placed in the Albanian government. A third of Albanian imports came from Italy.[12]

Despite strong Italian influence, King Zog I refused to give in completely to Italian pressure.[13] In 1931 he stood up openly to the Italians, refusing to renew the 1926 Treaty of Tirana. After Albania signed trade agreements with Yugoslavia and Greece in 1934, Mussolini made a failed attempt to intimidate the Albanians by sending a fleet of warships to Albania.[dubious ][14]

As Nazi Germany annexed Austria and moved against Czechoslovakia, Italy saw itself becoming the lesser member of the Pact of Steel.[dubious ][15] 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.[citation needed] Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III criticized the plan to take Albania as a great unnecessary risk for an almost negligible gain.[16] Rome, however, delivered Tirana an ultimatum on March 25, 1939, demanding that it consent to Italy's occupation of Albania.[17] Zog refused to accept money in exchange for allowing a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania.[citation needed]

The Albanian government tried to keep secret the news of the Italian ultimatum.[citation needed] While Radio Tirana persistently broadcast claims 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 into the streets alarmed, but the news of the newborn prince calmed them. People were suspicious that something else was going on, which led 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 instructing the people to submit to Italian occupation. The people were infuriated by this demonstration of force and called for the government to resist and to release the Albanians arrested as "communists". The crowd shouted, "Give us arms! We are being sold out! We are being betrayed!".[citation needed] While a mobilization of the reserves was called, many high-ranking officers left the country.[citation needed] The government began to dissolve. The Minister of the Interior, Musa Juka, left the country for Yugoslavia the same day. While King Zog announced to the nation that he would resist Italian occupation, people felt that they were being abandoned by their government.[18]


Italian troops and L3/35 tanks in Durrës.

The original Italian plans for the invasion called for up to 50,000 men supported by 51 naval units and 400 airplanes. Ultimately the invasion force grew to 100,000 men supported by 600 airplanes,[19] but only 22,000 men actually took part in the invasion.[2] On April 7 Mussolini's troops, led by General Alfredo Guzzoni, invaded Albania, attacking all Albanian ports simultaneously. The Italian naval forces involved in the invasion consisted of the battleships Giulio Cesare and Conte di Cavour, three heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, nine destroyers, fourteen torpedo boats, one minelayer, ten auxiliary ships and nine transport ships.[20] The ships were divided into four groups that carried out landings at Vlore, Durres, Shengjin and Sarandë. The Romanian Royal Army never deployed to Sarandë and Italy conquered the Romanian concession along with the rest of Albania during the invasion.[20]

On the other side the regular Albanian army had 15,000 poorly equipped troops who had been trained 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.[citation needed] As a consequence, the main resistance was offered by the Royal Albanian Gendarmerie and small groups of patriots.

In Durrës, a force of 500 Albanians, including gendarmes and armed volunteers, led by Major Abaz Kupi (the commander of the gendarmerie in Durrës), and Mujo Ulqinaku, a naval sergeant, tried to halt the Italian advance. Equipped with small arms and three machine guns and supported by a coastal battery, the defenders resisted for a few hours before being overcome with the help of naval gunfire.[19] The Royal Albanian Navy stationed in Durrës consisted of four patrol boats (each armed with a machine gun) and a coastal battery with four 75 mm guns, the latter also being involved in the fighting.[21] Mujo Ulqinaku, the commander of the patrol boat Tiranë, used his machine gun to kill and wound many Italian troops until himself being killed by an artillery shell from an Italian warship.[21][22] Eventually, a large number of light tanks were unloaded from the Italian ships. After that, resistance began to crumble, and within five hours the Italians had captured the city.[23]

By 1:30 pm on the first day, all Albanian ports were in Italian hands. That same day King Zog, his wife, Queen Geraldine Apponyi, and their infant son Leka fled to 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 of soldiers then marched to 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.[citation needed] The Italian troops later paid homage to the Albanian troops in Shkodër who had halted their advance for an entire day.[citation needed] During the Italian advance in Shkodër the mob besieged the prison and liberated some 200 prisoners.[24]

The number of casualties in these battles is disputed. Italian military reports stated that at Durrës 25 Italians were killed and 97 wounded, while the local townspeople claimed that 400 Italians were killed.[4] Casualties for the Albanians were given as 160 dead and several hundreds wounded.[4]

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 Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III.[25] The parliament elected Albania's largest landowner, Shefqet Vërlaci, as Prime Minister. Vërlaci served as interim 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).

In general the Italian invasion was poorly planned and badly executed, and succeeded only because Albanian resistance was weak. As Fillipo Anfuso, Count Ciano's chief assistant sarcastically commented "...if only the Albanians had possessed a well-armed fire-brigade, they could have driven us into the Adriatic".[26][27][28]


Flag of Albania, during Italian rule.

On April 15, 1939, Albania withdrew from the League of Nations, 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, was given the rank of an Italian ambassador. Upon the capture of Albania, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini declared the official creation of the Italian Empire and the figurehead King Victor Emmanuel III was crowned King of the Albanians in addition to his title of Emperor of Ethiopia, which had been occupied by Italy 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, initially recruited from Italian colonists living in Albania, but later from ethnic Albanians.

1940 Albanian Kingdom Laissez Passer issued for traveling to Fascist Italy after the invasion from the previous year.

Upon the occupation of Albania and installation of a new government, the economies of Albania and Italy were connected through a customs union that resulted in the removal of most trade restrictions.[29] Through a tariff union, the Italian tariff system was put in place in Albania.[29] Due to the expected economic losses in Albania from the alteration in tariff policy, the Italian government provided Albania 15 million Albanian leks each year in compensation.[29] Italian customs laws were to apply in Albania and only Italy alone could conclude treaties with third parties.[29] Italian capital was allowed to dominate the Albanian economy.[29] As a result, Italian companies were allowed to hold monopolies in the exploitation of Albanian natural resources.[29] All petroleum resources in Albania went through Agip, Italy's state petroleum company.[30]

Albania followed Italy into war against Britain and France on June 10, 1940. Albania served as the base for the Italian invasion of Greece 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 and Korçë) were temporarily occupied by the Greek army during that campaign. Albania was enlarged in May 1941 by the annexation of Kosovo and parts of Montenegro and the Vardar Banovina, going a long way towards realizing nationalistic claims for a "Greater Albania". Part of the western coast of Epirus called Chameria was not annexed, but 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.[31]

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 and the imminent fall of Bulgaria.[32] 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, became the leader of the country.[33]

Cultural references[edit]

The events surrounding the Italian annexation of Albania formed part of the inspiration for the eighth volume of The Adventures of Tintin comics titled King Ottokar's Sceptre, with a plot based on a fictional Balkan country Syldavia and uneasy tensions with its larger neighbour Borduria.[34] The author of the Tintin comics Hergé also insisted that his editor publish the work to take advantage of current events in 1939 as he felt "Syldavia is Albania".[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fischer 1999 (Purdue ed.), p. 21.
  2. ^ a b Fischer 1999 (Purdue ed.), p. 22.
  3. ^ a b Fischer 1999, p. 22:Reports on the number of casualties differed rather significantly. The townspeople of Durrës maintained that the Italians lost four hundred. Although Italian propaganda claimed that Italy lost only twelve men in the entire invasion, it is possible that approximately two hundred Italians were killed at Durrës alone and that they may have lost as many as seven hundred in all.
  4. ^ a b c d e Pearson 2004, p. 445.
  5. ^ Fischer 1999 (C. Hurst ed.), p. 5.
  6. ^ Kokolakis, Mihalis (2003). Το ύστερο Γιαννιώτικο Πασαλίκι: χώρος, διοίκηση και πληθυσμός στην τουρκοκρατούμενη Ηπειρο (1820–1913) [The late Pashalik of Ioannina: Space, administration and population in Ottoman ruled Epirus (1820–1913)]. Athens: EIE-ΚΝΕ. p. 91. ISBN 960-7916-11-5. "Περιορίζοντας τις αρχικές του ισλαμιστικές εξάρσεις, το αλβανικό εθνικιστικό κίνημα εξασφάλισε την πολιτική προστασία των δύο ισχυρών δυνάμεων της Αδριατικής, της Ιταλίας και της Αυστρίας, που δήλωναν έτοιμες να κάνουν ό,τι μπορούσαν για να σώσουν τα Βαλκάνια από την απειλή του Πανσλαβισμού και από την αγγλογαλλική κηδεμονία που υποτίθεται ότι θα αντιπροσώπευε η επέκταση της Ελλάδας." "[By limiting the Islamic character, the Albanian nationalist movement secured civil protection from two powerful forces in the Adriatic, Italy and Austria, which was ready to do what they could to save the Balkans from the threat of Pan-Slavism and the Anglo French tutelage that is supposed to represent its extension through Greece.]"
  7. ^ Hall, Richard C. (17 October 2014). Consumed by War: European Conflict in the 20th Century. University Press of Kentucky. p. 12. ISBN 9780813159959. As a result of the Ottoman collapse, a group of Albanians, with Austrian and Italian support, declared Albanian independence at Valona (Vlorë) on 28 November 1912.
  8. ^ Albania: A Country Study: Albania's Reemergence after World War I, Library of Congress.
  9. ^ Stephen J. Lee (2003). Europe, 1890–1945. Psychology Press. p. 336–. ISBN 978-0-415-25455-7. The invasion of Albania in 1939 resulted in the addition of territory on the Adriatic, a compensation for the territory Italy had not been given in the 1919 peace settlement. These policies were, however, carried out at immense cost, which eventually shattered the regime's limited infrastructure. There are also examples of direct
  10. ^ Kallis, Aristotle A. (2000), Fascist ideology: territory and expansionism in Italy and Germany, 1922–1945, Routledge, pp. 132–133, ISBN 9780415216128
  11. ^ a b Albania: A Country Study: Italian Penetration, Library of Congress
  12. ^ p. 149 Smith, Denis Mack Mussolini's Roman Empire Viking Press 1976
  13. ^ Fischer 1999 (C. Hurst ed.), p. 7.
  14. ^ Albania: A Country Study: Zog's Kingdom, Library of Congress
  15. ^ Albania: A Country Study: Italian Occupation, Library of Congress
  16. ^ p. 151 Smith, Denis Mack Mussolini's Roman Empire Viking Press 1976
  17. ^ Pearson, Owen (2004). Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History. Vol. I - Albania and King Zog. The Centre for Albanian Studies / I.B.Tauris. p. 429. ISBN 978-184511013-0.
  18. ^ Pearson 2004, p. 439.
  19. ^ a b Pearson 2004, p. 444.
  20. ^ a b La Regia Marina tra le due guerre mondiali.
  21. ^ a b "Zeqo">Zeqo, Mojkom (1980). Mujo Ulqinaku. Tirana, Albania: 8 Nëntori Pub. House.
  22. ^ Kore, Blerim (7 April 2009). "Kur mbreti italian Viktor Emanueli, vizitonte Gjirokastren". Koha Jone (in Albanian). Koha Jone. Archived from the original on 8 October 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  23. ^ Pearson 2004, pp. 444–5.
  24. ^ Pearson 2004, p. 454.
  25. ^ Fischer 1999 (C. Hurst ed.), p. 36.
  26. ^ Schwandner-Sievers, Stephanie; Fischer, Bernd Jürgen (2002). Albanian Identities: Myth and History. Indiana University Press. p. 139. ISBN 0253341892.
  27. ^ Fischer, Bernd Jürgen (1999). Albania at War, 1939–1945. Hurst. p. 23. ISBN 9781850655312.
  28. ^ Brewer, David (2016-02-28). Greece, the Decade of War: Occupation, Resistance and Civil War. I.B.Tauris. p. 2. ISBN 9780857729361.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Raphaël Lemkin. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Slark, New Jersey, USA: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2005. Pp. 102.
  30. ^ Pearson, Owen (2005). Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History. Vol. II - Albania in Occupation and War, 1939–45. The Centre for Albanian Studies / I.B.Tauris. p. 433. ISBN 978-184511104-5.
  31. ^ Fischer 1999 (C. Hurst ed.), p. 189.
  32. ^ Fischer 1999 (C. Hurst ed.), p. 223.
  33. ^ Albania: A Country Study: The Communist and Nationalist Resistance – Library of Congress.
  34. ^ a b Assouline, Pierre (2009) [1996]. Hergé, the Man Who Created Tintin. Charles Ruas (translator). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-19-539759-8.


External links[edit]