Tribal monarchy of just over a million inhabitants, the government of which after the First World War tended to look to the UK for guidance and protection.

Between the wars Italy and Yugoslavia contended for influence in Albania and although King Zog had come to power with Yugoslav aid, he had little alternative to accepting increasing Italian influence in economic, cultural, and political matters. He was persuaded to dispense with his British advisers, but the Italians aspired to take control of the country, Mussolini seeing it as a useful bridgehead to extend Italian power in the Balkans to Greece and beyond.

Italy invaded Albania on 7 April -Good Friday- 1939. The only resistance was conducted by Colonel Abas Kupi who, with two battalions and some tribal levies, held up the Italian advance from Durazzo for 36 hours, enabling King Zog, with his queen and their new-born son, to escape.

The king eventually settled in the UK for the duration of the war. Although treated as a distinguished guest there, he was not recognized by the foreign office as an Allied head of state because the UK had recognized the annexation of Albania in a final attempt to prevent Italy from joining Germany in the approaching war. The Italian King, Victor Emmanuel II, was declared king of Albania and a fascist-type administration was installed in Tirana; anti-Italian elements were imprisoned or went into exile.


By the spring of 1940, the D organization (later part of SOE ordinated by a British sabotage team parachuted in by SOE [Special Operations Executive]) had persuaded the British government to prepare a revolt in Albania against the Italians. Geography was well as history suggested that the launching pad for this revolt should be the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, which was largely populated by ethnic Albanians. A prominent clan there, the Kryezius, were invited to form an Albanian United Front, to be led by Abas Kupi -already something of a legend because of his resistance to the Italian invasion.

The United Front was at first well received, but with the collapse of Yugoslav resistance in the face of German invasion of April 1941 which resulted in Kosova being transferred to Albania, the revolt melted away.

However, after the Axis defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad the political climate began to change once more. A few young men, mostly communists, took to the mountains in the south. Mustafa Jinishi was among them and Enver Hoxha (1908-83) emerged as their leader. They were encouraged by emissaries by Tito to form a Partisan movement.

Also in the south, some of the more liberal landowners and intellectuals, began to form a more traditional resistance movement, the Balli Kombetar, while in central and northern Albania, Abas Kupi and other tribal leaders began mobilizing their clans.

As reports came in of growing resistance the SOE sent in two agents, Colonel Neil McNeil and Major David Smiley, to reconnoitre. They made contact with Hoxha Partisans and urged that support could be sent to both the communist Partisans and the Balli Kombetar, also that additional SOE missions should be sent to the areas where the tribal leaders held sway.


At this point (July 1943) Mussolini was overthrown and the different Albanian resistance groups came together in a United Front which rose in a general insurrection. Two of the Italian divisions occupying the country obeyed orders of the new Italian prime minister Marshal Badoglio to join the Partisans, and were soon disarmed and dispersed. Of the remaining three divisions, some units went over to the Germans, others simply disintegrated.

By the end of September the guerrillas and miscellaneous citizens had captured the equipment of much of the Italian garrison, For a few days much of Albania was liberated, the Italians only holding out in Valona, Durazzo, Scutari, and Tirana, and even there they were negotiating with members of the British military missions.

The Germans, however, reacted promptly. A strong force was flown in to Tirana, which quickly cleared the insurgents out of the towns in the centre and north of the country, while another division brought in from Macedonia cleared the south. A short phase of savage reprisals against the civilian population deprived the guerrilla forces of much local support.

Having instilled fear into the population, the Germans released most of the Albanian leaders imprisoned by the Italians and offered the country neutral status. They repealed the fascist constitution and persuaded Mehdi Frasheri, a former governor of Jerusalem under the Ottomans, to form a Council of regency and a government together with other respected men. They allowed a measure of freedom of association and of the press. The new government, however, had no power beyond the main towns and the coastal plain, and the rest of Albania relapsed into anarchy, under rival chiefs and guerrilla leaders.


Calculating that the Germans had lost the war and would soon withdraw their forces, Hoxha decided to break up the United Front and direct his energies to suppressing the Balli Kombetar. The Germans, quick to encourage internecine conflict, helped the Tirana government to re-equip Ballist groups and sent them back into the mountains as counter-guerrillas, enabling the Partisans to accuse the Ballists of collaboration. Civil war developed in southern Albania on much the same lines that it had already divided the Greek and Yugoslav resistance movements.

By the beginning of 1944 the Germans had regained control of the coast and the principal Albanian cities and it seemed likely that they would retreat from Greece through Albania.

The problem was how to bring the Albanians to harass their withdrawal most effectively. The key seemed to lie in persuading the Albanian leaders to abandon their civil war and comply with British military directives in harassing the retreating Germans. The strategy to be pursued was determined by Balkan Air Force headquarters in Bari. The task of trying to co-ordinate the activities of the British missions in northern and central Albania, and of reconciling the tribal leaders with the Partisans in the south, was given to McLean and Lt-Colonel Anthony Palmer, the principal British liaison officer with the Partisans. McLean was authorized to promise arms to any group once it had begun to fight the Germans.

Abas Kupi and his fellow tribal leaders, having begun operations against the Germans, received a few drops of arms from Bari. But the communists, also re-equipped from British sources, moved into central Albania and began to attack Abas Kupi's forces and those of his allies. The British missions with the Partisans proved powerless to restrain them and a British officer sent in to mediate was killed in air raid.

The civil war spread in due course to the north, where pro-Tito forces from Kosovo began to operate against the Kryezius. NO further supplies were sent to Abas Kupi and the other non-communist forces. There is little doubt that the headquarters of the Balkan Air Force had become strongly pro-Partisan, and parts of it had certainly been infiltrated by communist sympathizers.


The Germans began to retreat in earnest in September 1944 and were attacked by Abas Kupi whose forces had been swelled by the Balli Kombetar, retreating before pressure from the communists, and by some Tirana government troops who had defected.

It might still have been possible to raise the whole of northern Albania against them, but by this time it had been decided that all British support was to be concentrated on the communist Partisans who controlled south Albania, though they were still weak elsewhere.

The McLean mission was evacuated to Italy, to be followed successively by Abas Kupi with four of his principal officers and the Ballist leaders.

The communists took over the government in Albania, initially under Yugoslavian supervision, and were recognized by the UK and the USA.


However, in October 1946 two British warships were damaged, with serious loss of life, by mines in the Corfu channel. When the Albanians rejected the Hague Court's finding that they were responsible and must pay compensation, the UK and UA broke off relations with Tirana.

Albania moved into a phase of open hostility to the West, but over the years fell out with all the powers of the communist bloc in succession. Enver Hoxha retreated into isolation, relying on the mutual jealousies of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy to protect the country from attack. He himself eliminated most of his wartime colleagues and survived to die in bed.




Oxford Companion to the Second World War (1995), pp.24-26