The Italian Invasion of Albania (1939)

Author: Raymond Hutchings

Italy presented an ultimatum to the government of Albania on March 25, 1939, making various demands including that Italian forces should control strategic points, that Italian farmers should settle in Albania with the rights of Albanian citizens, andthat a customs union should be introduced. A response was required by 6 April 1939. This was kept secret by the Albanian government which offered a counterproposal on 5 April. This in turn was disregarded by Italy which started landing troops on 7 April (Good Friday). Little organized resistance was offered although there was some resistance by individual soldiers, sailors, and armed civilians. One such stand delayed the Italian transit from Durrës to Tirana. Despite this, Durrës was captured on 7 April, Tirana the following day, Shkodër and Gjirokastër on 9 April, and almost the entire country on 10 April. King Zog at once fled. On 12 April a constituent assembly composed of people who had previously entered into secret relations with the Italian embassy in Tirana proclaimed King Victor Emmanuel III as king of Albania. Francesco Jacomoni (former Italian Ambassador to Albania – Ed.) was appointed as his lieutenant. A new Albanian government was formed under Shefqey bey Verlaci, and signed with Jacomoni a series of conventions. The Albanian army was suppressed as an independent force; Albania would no longer have any parliament or diplomatic relations. The two countries were proclaimed united.

At the time, this occupation was viewed in the West as part of a coordinated plot by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It is now known that it was more nearly a riposte by Mussolini to the German annexation of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939 which, shaking Europe like a thunderclap, precipitated the end of the Western powers’ policy of appeasement. The Italian motives were, however, mixed. Albania, politically and economically undermined and incapable of serious resistance, appeared as an easy victory. The territory later served as a springboard for the Italian invasion of Greece launched on 28 October 1940.

pp 125 & 126, Historical Dictionary of Albania, Raymond Hutchings, The Scarecrow Press, 1996

Italian Occupation Of Albania (1939-1943)
The Italian occupation of Albania lasted from 7 April 1939 (the date of the invasion) to the Italian capitulation to the Allies on 8 September 1943. During this period, Albania and Italy were organically linked. The armed forces of Albania and Italy were merged. King Victor Emmanuel III was proclaimed king of Albania (King Zog had fled). Italians occupied the chief towns and strategic points. The former Italian ambassador to Albania, Francesco Jacomoni, was appointed governor. Economically, the two countries were merged. Customs duties in trade between them were abolished. Italians could settle without restriction in Albania.

From 28 October 1940 onward, when Italian forces invaded Greece, Albania was the primary base for Italian forces waging this war. Albanian forces, being considered part of the joint Italian-Albanian army were assigned to the front. Some individual soldiers refused to fight and were confined in a concentration camp in Shijak. At first Italian forces advanced into Greece; soon they were thrown back, and Greek forces pressed into Albania. Following the overthrow of Yugoslavia by German forces, Yugoslavia was partitioned, and areas which contained any sizable number of Albanians were assigned to Italy and added to the Albanian state. In general, Albanians welcomed this accession of territory containing their compatriots but regretted the union with Italy. Economically, Albania benefited in two ways: first, through the addition of Kosovo with its more favorable ratio of land to population, and, second, through the Italian investment (in roads, etc) and technical aid. Opposition was expressed by way of strikes (such as Shkodër) and demonstrations (such as Korcë) and partisan resistance began.

Following the Italian capitulation, the occupation ceased but numerous Italians (perhaps 20,000) remained within the country. These were rounded up by the Germans and taken to Germany (many officers being shot) or else they evaded capture and adopted some disguise, for example, as agricultural laborers. A small number even joined Albanian partisan groups. This aftermath is illustrated in Ismail Kadare’s The General of the Dead Army and in Reginald Hibbert’s Albania’s National Liberation Struggle: The Bitter Victory.

Excerpted from pp 126 & 117, Historical Dictionary of Albania, Raymond Hutchings, The Scarecrow Press, 1996

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