Albanian Resistance of World War II

Albanian Resistance of World War II
Albanian Resistance of World War II
Part of World War II
Partisans in Tirana.jpg
Communist partisans in Tirana, 28 November 1944.
Date 1939–1944
Location Albania
Result Albanian victory
Albania Albanian Partisans
Albania Some fractions of Balli Kombëtar up to September 1943.
 Kingdom of Italy (from 1939 to 1943)
 Nazi Germany (from 1943 to 1944)
Albania Kingdom of Albania
Albania Balli Kombëtar from September 1943 to November 1944
Commanders and leaders
Albania Enver Hoxha
Albania Spiro Moisiu
Albania Mehmet Shehu
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Francesco Jacomoni
Nazi Germany Hermann Neubacher
Albania Shefqet Verlaci
From ~4,000 in 1942 to ~70,000 regular (partisans) and irregular (territorial troops) in November 1944. More than 600,000 troops, stationed or passed through Albania during the period 1939–1944.
Casualties and losses
Around (including civilians) 30,000 killed, 12,600 wounded and 44,500 imprisoned or deported.[1] 26,595 killed, 21,245 wounded and 20,800 prisoners.(Italian and German casualties)[2]
Total casualties:~57,000

The Albanian Resistance of World War II was a movement of largely Communist persuasion directed against the occupying Italian (until 1943) and then German forces in Albania, which led to the successful liberation of the country in 1944.

The Center for Relief to Civilian Populations (Geneva) reported that Albania was one of the most devastated countries in Europe. 60.000 houses were destroyed and about 10% of the population was left homeless.[3]


Communist and Nationalist resistance

Beginnings of the Communist movement

Faced with an illiterate, agrarian, and mostly Muslim society monitored by King Zog's security police, Albania's Communist movement attracted few adherents in the interwar period. In fact, the country had no fully-fledged Communist Party before World War II. After Fan Noli fled in 1924 to Italy and later the United States, several of his leftist protégés migrated to Moscow, where they affiliated themselves with the Balkan Confederation of Communist Parties and through it the Communist International (Comintern), the Soviet-sponsored association of international communist parties. In 1930, the Comintern dispatched Ali Kelmendi to Albania to organize communist cells. However, Albania had no working class on which the communists could rely for support, and Marxism appealed to only a minute number of quarrelsome, Western-educated, mostly Tosk intellectuals and to landless peasants, miners, and other persons discontented with Albania's obsolete social and economic structures. Paris became the Albanian communists' hub until Nazi deportations depleted their ranks after the fall of France in 1940.

Enver Hoxha's and Mehmet Shehu's early years

Enver Hoxha and another veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Mehmet Shehu, eventually rose to become the most powerful figures in Albania for decades after the war. The dominant figure in modern Albanian history, Enver Hoxha rose from obscurity to lead his people for a longer time than any other ruler. Born in 1908 to a Tosk landowner from Gjirokastër who returned to Albania after working in the United States, Hoxha attended the country's best college-preparatory school, the National Lycée in Korçë. In 1930 he attended the university in Montpellier, France, but lost an Albanian state scholarship for neglecting his studies. Hoxha subsequently moved to Paris and Brussels. After returning to Albania in 1936 without having earned a degree, he taught French for years at his former lycée and participated in a communist cell in Korçë. He later went to Tirana and when the Albanian Communist Party was formed in November 1941, he was appointed as the general secretary of the party, a post which he kept until his death in 1985.

Shehu, also a Tosk, studied at Tirana's American Vocational School. He went on to a military college in Naples but was expelled for left-wing political activity. In Spain Shehu fought in the Garibaldi International Brigade and became a commander of one of brigade's battalions. After the Spanish conflict was over, he was captured and interned in France. He returned to Albania in 1942 and soon became a prominent figure. During the conflict he won a reputation for his commanding abilities with the partisans.

Beginning of the Albanian Communist and Fascist parties and the National Liberation Movement

After the invasion of Albania by Italy in April 1939, 100,000 Italian soldiers and 11,000 Italian colonists who wanted to integrate Albania to Greater Italy settled in the country. Initially the Albanian Fascist Party received support from the population, mainly because of the unification of Kosovo and other Albanian populated territories with Albania proper after the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece by the Axis in Spring 1941. Benito Mussolini boasted in May 1941 to a group of Albanian fascists that he had achieved the Greater Albania long wanted by the Tirana nationalists. The Albanian Fascist Party of Tefik Mborja had strong support in the country population after the Albania annexation of Kosovo.

In November 1941, the small Albanian Communist groups established an Albanian Communist Party in Tirana of 130 members under the leadership of Hoxha and an eleven-man Central Committee. The party at first had little mass appeal, and even its youth organization netted few recruits.

In mid-1942 however, party leaders increased their popularity by calling the young peoples to fight for the liberation of their country from Italy. This propaganda increased the number of new recruits by many young peoples eager for freedom. In September 1942, the party organized a popular front organization, the National Liberation Movement (NLM), from a number of resistance groups, including several that were strongly anticommunist. During the war, the NLM's communist-dominated partisans, in the form of the National Liberation Army, did not heed warnings from the Italian occupiers that there would be reprisals for guerrilla attacks. Partisan leaders, on the contrary, counted on using the desire for revenge such reprisals would elicit to win recruits.

Nationalist resistance

A nationalist resistance to the Italian occupiers emerged in October 1942. Ali Këlcyra and Mit’hat Frashëri formed the Western-oriented and anti-communist Balli Kombëtar (National Front). Balli Kombëtar was a movement that recruited supporters from both the large landowners and peasantry. They supported the creation of Greater Albania by Italians and called for the creation of a republic and the introduction of economic and social reforms, opposing King Zog's return. Their leaders acted conservatively, however, fearing that the occupiers would carry out reprisals against them or confiscate the landowners' estates. The nationalistic Geg chieftains and the Tosk landowners often came to terms with the Italians, and later the Germans, to prevent the loss of their wealth and power.

Between Italy's surrender and German occupation

Map of Albania during WWII

With the overthrow of Benito Mussolini's fascist regime and Italy's surrender in 1943, the Italian military and police establishment in Albania buckled. Albanian fighters overwhelmed five Italian divisions, and Italian recruits flocked to the guerrilla forces. The communists took control of most of Albania's southern cities, except Vlorë, which was a Balli Kombëtar stronghold, and nationalists attached to the NLM gained control over much of the north.

British agents working in Albania during the war fed the Albanian resistance fighters with information that the Allies were planning a major invasion of the Balkans and urged the disparate Albanian groups to unite their efforts. In August 1943, the Allies convinced communist and Balli Kombëtar leaders to sign the Mukje Agreement that would coordinate their guerrilla operations. The two groups eventually ended all collaboration, however, over a disagreement on the postwar status of Kosovo. The communists supported returning the region to Yugoslavia after the war with the hope that Tito would cede Kosovo back to Albania peacefully, while the nationalist Balli Kombëtar advocated keeping the province. The delegates at Mukja agreed that a plebiscite should be held in Kosovo to decide the matter; but the communists soon reneged on the accord declaring that the communist delegates had not followed the orders they were given by the party leaders. Later, the communists were attacked by Balli Kombëtar forces, igniting a war that was fought for the next year, throughout Albania.

German occupation

German soldiers in Albania.

Germany occupied Albania in September 1943, dropping paratroopers into Tirana before the Albanian guerrillas could take the capital, and the German army soon drove the guerrillas into the hills and to the south. Berlin subsequently announced it would recognize the independence of a neutral Albania and organized an Albanian government, police, and military. Many Balli Kombëtar units collaborated with the Germans against the communists, and several Balli Kombëtar leaders held positions in the German-sponsored regime.

The partisans entirely liberated Albania from German occupation on 29 November 1944. The National Liberation Army, which in October 1944 consisted of 70,000 regulars, also took part in the war alongside the antifascist coalition. The Albanian partisans also liberated Kosovo, and assisted Tito's communist forces in liberating part of Montenegro and southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.[4] By that time, the Soviet Army was also entering neighboring Yugoslavia, and the German Army was retreating from Greece into Yugoslavia.

Communist takeover of Albania

Provisional Communist administration

Mother Albania. The partisan monument and graveyard on the outskirts of Tirana, Albania

The communist partisans regrouped and gained control of much of southern Albania in January 1944. However, they were subject to German attacks driving them out of certain areas until June. In May they called a congress of members of the National Liberation Front (NLF), as the movement was by then called) at Përmet, which chose an Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation to act as Albania's administration and legislature. Hoxha became the chairman of the council's executive committee and the National Liberation Army's supreme commander. The communist partisans defeated the last Balli Kombëtar forces in southern Albania by mid-summer 1944 and encountered only scattered resistance from the Balli Kombëtar when they entered central and northern Albania by the end of July. The British military mission urged the remnants of the nationalists not to oppose the communists' advance, and the Allies recalled their representatives with them to Italy. They did not evacuate nationalist leaders, although many fled. Before the end of November, the main German troops had withdrawn from Tirana, and the communists took control by attacking it. A provisional government, which the communists had formed at Berat in October, administered Albania with Enver Hoxha as prime minister.

The consequences of the war

Albania stood in an unenviable position after World War II. The NLF's strong links with Yugoslavia's communists, who also enjoyed British military and diplomatic support, guaranteed that Belgrade would play a key role in Albania's postwar order. The Allies never recognized an Albanian government in exile or King Zog, nor did they ever raise the question of Albania or its borders at any of the major wartime conferences. No reliable statistics on Albania's wartime losses exist, but the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration reported about 30,000 Albanian war dead, 200 destroyed villages, 18,000 destroyed houses, and about 100,000 people left homeless. Albanian official statistics claim somewhat higher losses.

Furthermore, thousands of Chams (Tsams, Albanians living in Northern Greece) were driven out of Greece with the justification that they had collaborated with the Nazis.

During the Nazi occupation most Jews in Albania proper were saved, although others in the Kosovo region were deported and killed.[5]

Foreign participation in the Albanian Resistance of WWII

There were a significant number of foreign citizens who participated in Albanian resistance during World War II. They were composed mostly of Italian soldiers who wished to continue the war against Nazi Germany, but other people from different nationalities participated also.

Italians participation

Albanian resistance began in 1940 with small çetas but it became a significant force in 1942. Even during this period there were small groups of Italian soldiers who deserted the fascist army and joined the Albanian partisans. When Italy capitulated in September 1943 there were already some 122 Italian partisans dispersed among various units in Albanian National Liberation Army.[6] When Italy capitulated there were some 100,000 Italian soldiers in Albania. They were from the Firence, Parma, Perugia, Arezzo, Brennero divisions and other small independent units. Many Italian forces surrendered to the advancing German army. A great part of them were sent to concentration camps or to forced labor in Albania in the service of the German army, while there were also mass killings of Italian officers, mostly from the Perugia Division centered in Gjirokastër. Its general, Ernesto Chiminello, together with 150 officers, were executed in Saranda. Some other 32 officers were also killed in Kuç area three days later.[7] Some took refuge in the mountains of Albania, while about 15.000 Italian soldiers surrendered to Albanian partisans. Some Italian troops led by Arnaldo Azzi, ex-commander of Firenze Division, created CITM, Comando Italiano Truppe alla Montagna (Italian Command of the Troops in Mountains). It's objective was to resist German troops with help from the Albanian Partisans. They managed to create some units of Italian soldiers under their command, but these troops were dispersed in the months of October–November 1943, by the German Winter Offensive. The officers of this command were attached to British missions in Albania and were repatriated in Italy in August 1944.[8]

There were also some 2150 Italians who expressed their desire to continue the fight dispersed among Albanian partisans units. Some 472 Italian fighters were dispersed among Partisan Shock Brigades. Here, there was a group of 137 men who created the Antonio Gramsci Battalion attached to First Shock Brigade and the Matteotti unit was attached to Third Shock Brigade.[9] Some 401 were engaged in logistic and another 1,277 were attached to local commands.[6] During the period 1943-1945 there were other units of Italian fighters among Albanian partisans, such as the 6th Battalion of the Fifth Shock Brigade composed of some 200 Italians.[10]

Wehrmacht deserters

Part of the German force of Occupation was composed of Wehrmacht recruits from the Caucasus region.[11] The first Wehrmacht deserters went to Albanian Partisan units at the end of 1943 during the German Winter Offensive, but their numbers grew in the summer of 1944 during the German Summer Offensive. There was a great flow of Wehrmacht deserters during the end of conflict to Albania from September to October 1944, while German forces began withdrawing from Albania. In August 1944 an new unit was formed in Third Shock Brigade from some 40 Wehrmacht deserters (mostly Armenians and Turkmen). Some other 70 Armenians created their own unit attached to First Shock Brigade in September 1944. There were also other small groups of Wehrmacht deserters dispersed among Albanian partisan forces, composed of Germans, Austrians, Frenchmen, Czechs and Poles.

Allied links and assistance

The British had tried mounting operations into Italian-occupied Albania in early 1941, from what was then neutral Yugoslavia. These attempts were quickly abandoned after the Germans and Italians overran Yugoslavia.[12] Thereafter, no attempt was made to contact Albanian resistance groups until 17 April 1943.[13] The first liaison party from M.O.4, a branch of the liaison organisation SOE, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel "Billy MacLean, with Major David Smiley as his second-in-command. Rather than drop "blind" into Albania, the mission was dropped into North-West Greece, where British parties were already operating with Greek guerrillas. From there, they made their way into Albania on foot or on mules.

After several false starts, the mission made contact with the NLM. The first supply drop of arms and equipment was received on 27 June. The bulk of the stores received in this and subsequent drops were donated to the NLM, who were the dominant group in Southern Albania, and were used to equip the "First Partisan Brigade".[14]

Later in 1943, SOE increased the size of the mission to Albania. The new commander was Brigadier Edmund Frank Davies (who was nicknamed "Trotsky"), with Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Nicholls as Chief of Staff. MacLean and Smiley were withdrawn to SOE's new base at Bari in Southern Italy to report. Although they noted that the Communist-led NLM appeared to be more interested in securing political power after the war than fighting the Germans, they recommended that SOE continue to supply them, while attempting to achieve agreement between the NLM and the other resistance movements.[15]

In January 1944, the Germans attacked and overran the British mission HQ. Brigadier Davies was captured, while Lieutenant Colonel Nicholls died of exposure and post-operative shock after leading the survivors to safety.

During the remainder of 1944, SOE continued to supply the NLM, despite complaints from MacLean and Smiley, now running liaison parties with Abaz Kupi's group and the Balli Kombëtar in Northern Albania, that the NLM were using these arms against their political opponents rather than the Germans. Smiley, MacLean and Julian Amery were evacuated to Italy at the end of October. SOE refused to evacuate Abaz Kupi on the same boat, and he made his own escape from the country, being picked up by a Royal Naval vessel in the Adriatic.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Pearson, Owen (2006). Albania in Occupation and War: From Fascism to Communism 1940-1945. I.B.Tauris. p. 418. ISBN 1845111044. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  2. ^ Pearson p.418
  3. ^ Jacques, Edwin E. (1995). The Albanians. Mc Farland. p. 426. ISBN 9780899509327. Retrieved 2011-01-08. 
  4. ^ Socialist Albania since 1944: domestic and foreign developments, Author Peter R. Prifti Edition illustrated Publisher MIT Press, 1978 ISBN 0262160706, 9780262160704 p. 198
  5. ^ Jewish Virtual Library
  6. ^ a b The National Committee of WWII Veterans, File on Foreign Partisans (Komiteti Kombëtar i Veteranëve të LANÇ-it, Dosja e partizanëve të huaj (italianë), Tiranë, 1989)
  7. ^ La guerra piú lunga: Albania 1943-1948 Volume 14 of Testimonianze fra cronaca e storia Author Franco Benanti Publisher U. Mursia, 1966 p. 81-83.
  8. ^
  9. ^ History of 3rd Shock Brigade p. 17-18 (Historiku i Brigadës III Sulmuese, f. 17-18.)
  10. ^ History of 5th Shock Brigade p. 364 (Historiku i Brigadës V Sulmuese, f. 364)
  11. ^ Albania at war, 1939-1945 Author Bernd Jürgen Fischer Edition illustrated Publisher C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1999 ISBN 1850655316, 9781850655312 bp. 201
  12. ^ Foot (1984), p.240
  13. ^ Smiley (1984), p.17
  14. ^ Smiley (1984), p.51
  15. ^ Smiley (1984), pp.103-104
  16. ^ Smiley (1984), pp.155-156


  • Library of Congress Country Study of Albania
  • Julian Amery, (1948). Sons of the Eagle. MacMillan & Co Ltd London. This book from a British agent with the Royalists during the war has no ISBN but is being reprinted.
  • Foot, M.R.D. (1999). The Special Operations Executive 1940–1946. Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6585-4. 
  • Colonel David Smiley. Albanian Assignment, Foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Chatto & Windus, London, 1984. The SOE in Albania by a brother-in-arms of Julian Amery and Neil "Billy" McLean. With numerous photographs.
  • Colonel David Smiley. Irregular Regular, Michael Russell, Norwich, 1994 (ISBN 0-85955-202-0). Translated in French in 2008. Au coeur de l’action clandestine. Des Commandos au MI6, L’Esprit du Livre Editions, (ISBN 978-2-915960-27-3).The Memoirs of a SOE officer in Albania and Thaïland (Force 136), then a MI6 agent (Poland, Albania, Oman, Yemen).
  • Brigadier Edmund Frank "Trotsky" Davies. Illyrian venture: The story of the British military mission to enemy-occupied Albania, 1943–44, Bodley Head, 1952.
  • Xan Fielding One Man in His Time – The life of Lieutenant-Colonel N.L.D. ("Billy") McLean, DSO, Macmillan, London, 1990. Biography of a soldier, SOE agent and Scottish politician.
  • ALBANIA IN WW II by Julian Amery, from the Oxford Companion to the Second World War (1995), pp. 24–26

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