Albania in the 1930’s and 1940’s Part I

By | December 15, 2021

The political-economic position acquired by Italy in Albania encountered difficulties in its development after the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 exacerbated the diplomatic game between Axis and Western powers and the possibility of a conflict induced the governments of the great Powers to make every effort to reach new political positions, weakening their opponents. The Albanian government also came under pressure from the English and French to reject the de facto protection of Italy and, coinciding these pressures with the opposite attempt by the Italian government to bind Albania more and more to its political destiny and make them accept wider his economic initiatives did not remain without effect on King Zogu’s decisions. The prospect of greater freedom of movement, that the general European situation offered, was welcomed with interest by the Albanian sovereign who needed, in order to consolidate himself internally, to show his autonomy of will, and who now believed that the positions had been reversed since it was Italy that had to keep in large I count the Albanian friendship. He did not consider that, by stiffening towards Rome, he could justify Mussolini for taking the last step in absolute control of Albania. A sign of Mussolini’s reaction came with the suspension of the shares of the loan to Albania and the dispatch of units of the war fleet into Albanian waters. When, on March 8, 1939, Tirana proposed to put the alliance on an updated basis, the answer was that since the question of a modification of relations between Italy and Albania had been raised, it had to be resolved “in the sense of strengthening the alliance to the point of uniting the two states and the two peoples in the same destiny “. This was not what King Zogu was asking and the tension worsened leading to the landing of the Italian troops. For Albania history, please check

An expeditionary force was set up for the military occupation of Albania, consisting of 1 infantry division, 4 regiments of Bersaglieri, 2 tank battalions, 1 group of fast tank squadrons, the “S. Marco” battalion, 2 battalions of black shirts, 2 medium-caliber artillery groups, other minor elements of artillery, engineers and services; it embarked on 6 April in the ports of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto, on a convoy of about 20 transport ships. In Grottaglie, a grenadiers regiment was kept ready to be airborne to Tirana, as soon as the availability of that airfield was obtained. The expeditionary force, under the orders of General Albania Guzzoni, had a total of 22,000 men, 64 artillery pieces, 140 tanks, 2,000 cars and motorcycles, 5. 000 bicycles, 2,500 quadrupeds. The naval convoy set sail, in the afternoon of April 6, escorted by an impressive naval force: 2 battleships, 7 cruisers, 16 fighters, 14 torpedo boats, 10 submarines and other minor ships, while over 6 flocks of aviation from hunting, bombing, reconnaissance, transport. The group of forces employed was conspicuous and such as to discourage any eventual armed reaction. Even at the metropolitan borders, with France and Yugoslavia, cautious but vigilant surveillance was implemented. The expeditionary force was divided into four columns which, in the very early hours of April 7, preceded by departments of sailors, landed respectively in S. Giovanni di Medua (Colonel Albania Scattini), in Durazzo (general G. Messe), in Valona (Colonel T. Bernardi), to Santi Quaranta (Colonel M. Carasi). The resistances were very slight, a little more intense in Durazzo and S. Quaranta, and were quickly overcome everywhere, even with the help of naval artillery. The Italian losses totaled 12 dead and 53 wounded. Shortly after 10, in Durres, King Zogu’s parliamentarians showed up, but they only tended to take time and therefore the occupation operations, after a short pause, continued. The columns of the expeditionary force, having left an adequate garrison in their respective landing ports, radiated towards the assigned objectives and, precisely, the Scattini column marched on Scutari, which it reached on the 8th and, at the same time, sent a detachment to Alessio; the Messe column headed for Tirana, but was delayed in its march by the interruption, provoked by the Albanians, of the Shijak bridge, on the Arzèn river and by the opportunity to wait for the landing of the artillery and materials to be completed; the Bernardi column aimed at Fieri and Berat and the Carasi column moved towards Delvino and Argirocastro. As expected, the population proved to be in favor of the Italian action and there were festive demonstrations of jubilation in various centers. Tirana was occupied by the Messe column on the morning of the 8th and shortly afterwards the airborne grenadiers regiment from Grottaglie landed. The occupation of Albania was completed, peacefully, in a few days: Scutari, Elbasan, Delvino were reached on the same day 8 and in the evening King Zogu, accompanied by his wife, his son and a very small retinue, took refuge in Greece. Gjirokaster ru occupied on day 9; Berat, the oil area of ​​Devoli, Corizza, Croia on the 10th; Tepeleni, Prëmet, Bilishtë the next day; Kukes and Peshköpijë on the 12th. From Italy, other divisions were sent immediately afterwards, in order to establish a stable military settlement in Albania, in which the pre-existing Albanian army was totally absorbed.

Meanwhile, King Zogu had fled to Greece without organizing a serious resistance. Ambassador Francesco Jacomoni, who had already agreed the plans of action with the exponents hostile to the king, was able to immediately promote the formation of a government chaired by Shefqet Verlaci and to bring together a constituent assembly. This, on 12 April, offered the crown of Albania to the king of Italy, proclaiming the personal union between the two countries. Vittorio Emanuele III delegated his powers in Albanian territory to a lieutenant general, in the person of Jacomoni. On 3 June the “fundamental statute of the kingdom of Albania” was issued which extended the constitutional bases of the Italian state to Albania. The only characteristic organ was the corporative fascist superior council,

The need to make the Albanians feel the loss of independence as little as possible, as well as to constitute a platform for political-economic penetration in the Balkan peninsula, gave Albania some economic and commercial advantages. The viability, the reclamation works, the exploitation of the subsoil, the equipment of the ports, the building transformation of the main cities made notable progress. These works, together with the needs of the numerous military garrisons and the initiatives of the Italians who settled in Albanian territory, caused the rise of small industries, gave impetus to local crafts, and ultimately raised the standard of living of the Albanian people. A small town bourgeoisie of traders and professionals began to form, that the problem of the individuality of the Albanian nation, of its relations with the other Balkan nations, of its elements of development, arose for the first time. The opposition to the Italian domination was able to count on shrewd forces, more mature for an organized political struggle.

The difficulty of closely associating the Albanians with Italian life forced the fascist government to make continuous concessions, to give new outlets to Albanian ambitions, to create situations of political conflict between the Albanians and their neighboring peoples, such as to isolate Albania in the context Balkan and to make Italian cooperation indispensable. The development of Albania had to appear conditioned by its ties with Italy. These requirements were met by the program of territorial annexations to Albania, which gave rise to the wars against Greece (October 1940-April 1941; see Greece) and against Yugoslavia (April 1941; see Yugoslavia.). The territorial enlargement of Albania represented the means to obtain from the Albanian people a mostly loyal attitude during the critical phases through which the military campaign against Greece passed. In April 1941 Albania annexed Ciamuria – an area bordering Greece, with the center of Ioannina – Kosovo and part of Yugoslav Macedonia with the centers of Dibra, Struga, Tetovo, Gostivar and Kičevo.

Albania in the 1930's