Albania in the first half of the 20th century. Independence and World War II


In this Albanian cartoon, a proud girl Albania “puts in place” its bestial neighbors – Montenegro, Serbia and Greece.

In previous articles, it was told about the Albanian warrior and commander Giorgi Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) and about the Ottoman period in the history of Albania. Now we will talk about the history of this country in the first half of the 20th century.

The emergence of independent Albania

The independence of Albania was proclaimed on November 28, 1912 in Vlora: the Albanians then successfully took advantage of the defeats of the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War.


Proclamation of the independence of Albania. Vlora. November 28, 1912

This ran counter to the interests of Serbia and Montenegro, which wanted to divide the Albanian lands among themselves (most of all they were attracted by the port cities on the Adriatic Sea). But Great Britain and France were not then interested in strengthening the positions of Russia’s allies.

But the great powers allowed the Greeks to occupy the southern part of Albania in March 1913.

In April 1915, a secret treaty was signed in London, according to which Albania was occupied by the troops of Italy, Greece and Serbia. And then these lands were occupied by the Italians – as payment for participation in the war on the side of the Entente countries.

The occupiers were expelled from Albania in 1920. Then the rebel detachments, consisting mainly of peasants, liberated a number of cities.

On June 10, Tepelena was released. In August, the occupiers were forced to evacuate their troops from Vlora.

Finally, an Albanian-Italian agreement was concluded, according to which the Italians renounced land on the mainland, but retained the island of Sazani.

It was returned to Albania in 1947. It was here in 1958 that the Soviet base of the submarine brigade was located, which was closed after the break in relations between Albania and the USSR due to the fault of N. Khrushchev.

Let’s go back to 1913. And we will see that in October, due to border disputes, a war almost broke out between Serbia and Albania.

The Serbs have already sent their troops into the northern regions of this country. But they were forced to retreat after the ultimatum of Austria-Hungary.

The hatred of the Serbs towards the Austrians then reached its limits. Which ultimately led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. And by the beginning of the First World War.

Independent Albania became a refuge for members of the Sufi Bektash order (whose history is closely connected with the Janissary corps), expelled from Turkey.


The head of the Bektash order and the commander of the Janissary corps in a medieval drawing.

Mustafa Kemal, after the proclamation of Turkey as a republic, said:

“Turkey should not be a country of sheikhs, dervishes, murids, a country of religious sects.”

Since then, the World Bektashi Center has existed in Albania.


World Bektashi Center. Tirana

The well-known Enver Hoxha was also a native of the Bektash family. But he broke with the order, and in 1967 he banned it altogether in Albania. In the same year, Enver Hoxha, in general, declared Albania

“The world’s first atheist state.”

This had consequences. Some modern Muslim Albanians, for example, still enjoy eating pork.

In 1928, Albania received the first (and last) king, who became the second president of this country, Ahmet Zogu, who took on an additional name – Skanderbeg III.

Albania during the Second World War

On April 7, 1939, Italy brought its troops into the territory of Albania.


A division of the Italian mountain artillery in Albania.

The only unit of the Albanian army that tried to resist the Italians was the detachment of Major Abaz Kupi, who then retreated into the mountains, initiating the partisan movement.

The king and his courtiers fled the country.

Albania was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy as part of a personal union (that is, the king of Italy also became the king of a formally independent Albania).

On December 3, 1941, a local native, Mustafa Merlik-Kruy, was appointed the Italian governor in Albania, who served as prime minister.

And on November 7, 1941, the underground Communist Party of Albania was created in Tirana (united for the whole country, until then there were separate communist groups), which in 1948, on Stalin’s initiative, was renamed the Albanian Party of Labor (APT).

Among its 13 founders were 8 representatives of the Christian community of this country and 5 of the Muslim. Kochi Dzodze was then elected the first secretary.

His deputy was Enver Hoxha, who in 1938-1939. studied in Moscow. Then he first met I. Stalin and V. Molotov, completely falling under their charm and retaining the deepest respect for them throughout his life.

It was Enver Hoxha who was appointed commander-in-chief of the partisan formations.


Albanian partisan detachment.


Enver Hoxha conducts a review of the fighters of one of the partisan detachments.

In March 1943, Enver Hoxha was elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia. He held this position (since July 1954 – First Secretary) until his death in 1985.

In 1943, he became the commander-in-chief of the partisan detachments controlled by the Communist Party, which were united in the People’s Liberation Army of Albania.


Enver Hoxha during the war.

Albanian partisans became especially active after the Battle of Stalingrad, in which the Italian army suffered heavy losses.

At the beginning of July 1943, 20 partisan battalions and 30 smaller partisan formations were operating in Albania.

At this time, the successor of Enver Hoxha joined the Communist Party as the first secretary of the APT and the first president of Albania, Ramiz Alia. He was the commissar of the 7th partisan brigade, and then the 2nd and 5th partisan divisions.

On July 25, 1943, Mussolini was arrested at the royal palace.

On September 8, 1943, the so-called “Brief Conditions for Italy’s surrender” were published, signed on September 3.

At that time, on the territory of Dalmatia, Montenegro and Albania there was a 270,000-strong Italian army, the overwhelming number of soldiers and officers of which surrendered to the German troops. Only a small number of them capitulated to the partisans, and about one and a half thousand Italians went over to the side of the Albanians and fought in the People’s Liberation Army of Enver Hoxha, as a battalion named after Antonio Gramsci.

Albania, abandoned by the Italians, was occupied by the Germans, who

“Restored independence”

of this country.

And the regency council headed by Mehdi Frageri was put in charge of it. Recep Mitrovica became prime minister.

At the same time, some lands of neighboring states were transferred to Albania. About 72 thousand people from northern Albania were then settled in Kosovo – on the land of 10 thousand exiled Serbian families.


Albania during the Second World War.


German soldiers in Albania. September 1943

The partisan movement split.

The National Liberation Front, in which the Communists played a prominent role, continued the struggle. The nationalist movement “Balli Kombetar” ended resistance, announcing the former associates

“Traitors”, because of whom “the Germans will wipe out our people and our villages from the face of the earth.”

One of the Albanian partisan detachments controlled by Enver Hoxha was transferred to the north of Macedonia, where he liberated the city of Debar. What caused an ambiguous reaction in the leadership of the NOAJ.

On the one hand, his actions in areas inhabited by Albanians were beneficial from a military and political point of view. On the other hand, it was considered as

“Great Albanian chauvinistic actions”.

SS Division “Skanderbeg”

But not all Albanians joined the partisans.

In May 1944, the SS “Skanderbeg” division was formed from the Albanians, the nucleus of which was the Albanian battalion of the 13th SS Division “Khanjar” (it was described in the article Aides of Hitler and Mussolini and their actions on the territory of Yugoslavia). At first, she was stationed in Kosovo, then transferred to Serbia. And at the end of December 1944 – to Croatia.


German officer in front of the formation of the Albanians of the SS “Skanderbeg” division.

This division became famous mainly for the massacres of civilians in various regions of Yugoslavia.

German General Fitzhum spoke of her servicemen this way:

“Most of the Albanian army and gendarmerie officers were greedy, useless, undisciplined and incapable of learning.”

On September 1, 1944, some units of this division, stationed in Tetovo and Gostivar, rebelled altogether.

And the Albanians killed all the German officers.

As a result, this division (which numbered up to 7 thousand people) is considered the worst of all collaborationist formations. None of her military personnel have been awarded the Iron Cross.

But on the other hand, the Albanians of the Skanderbeg division were good at destroying unarmed Serbs and Jews.


Trophies of the SS division “Skanderbeg”.

For example, in the Montenegrin village of Andrijevica, Albanians executed 400 Christians in June 1944. And on July 28, they also killed 428 people in the village of Velik.

When it became clear that Germany was doomed, most of this division (about three and a half thousand people) fled.

The rest were transferred to another SS division, Prinz Eugen von Savoyen, which fought until May 1945.


Cavalrymen of the SS Yevgeny Savoysky division in the Bosnian city of Mostar.


Soldiers of the SS Yevgeny Savoysky division during operations against the Yugoslav partisans.

Liberation of Albania

On May 28, 1944, the Albanian National Liberation Army (24 partisan brigades) launched a general offensive, which ended with the liberation of Albania from German troops at the end of December of the same year. Moreover, practically without the participation of foreign troops (assistance was provided by Allied aviation, and the British also carried out a limited landing operation in the area of ​​the port city of Saranda).

These actions were facilitated by the fact that (after the withdrawal of Soviet troops to the borders of Romania and Czechoslovakia) the Germans had no time for the Balkans. Many of the units of their army stationed here were sent to the Eastern Front.


The Cossacks of the 1st Wehrmacht Division under the command of Helmut von Pannwitz continue to fight the partisans in Yugoslavia.

In this photo, taken in October-November 1944, we see the Italian M-15/42 tanks of the 1st armored company of this division.

About von Pannwitz and the Cossacks subordinate to him was described in the article Aides of Hitler and Mussolini and their actions on the territory of Yugoslavia.

Tirana was liberated on November 17, 1944. November 29 – Shkodra.


Group portrait of Albanian partisans on the streets of the liberated capital of the country – Tirana.

After that, several partisan brigades of the National Liberation Army of Albania continued to fight in Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and even in northern Greece.

In the next article we will talk about the history of Albania after World War II: about Enver Hoxha and Hoxhaism, Albania’s relations with the USSR, Yugoslavia and China, about “Albanian mushrooms” and social policy, as well as the fall of the communist regime in this country.

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