That Wizard of Zog
April 1st, 2020 was the 81st anniversary of the Italian invasion of Albania. Alberto Rosselli recalled the event with this article, that I translated, which appeared on the Italian magazine StoriaVerità.
I hope you will find it interesting.
Your comments, as always, will be greatly appreciated.
By Alberto Rosselli.
(Translated by L. Pavese).
(Translated by L. Pavese).
After a long period spanning the late Middle Ages and the early Modern Era of the 20th century, that was characterized by close ties between the Albanian people and some Southern Italian potentates – which was mainly an anti-Ottoman alliance for economic and geopolitical reasons – that fellowship changed, prompting the Kingdom of Italy, that between 1915 and 1918 was engaged in the conflict with the Central Powers, to make armed penetrations into Albanian land.
It is worth remembering the mission of the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Albania (1914-1920), sent by Rome to oppose the Austro-Hungarian forces.[i]
On August 2, 1920, after the defeat of Austria, Italy stipulated the “Protocol of Tirana” with the Albanian provisional government which, in exchange for the cession of Sazan Island to Italy, recognized the total autonomy of the Balkan country.
Just two years later, however, with the accession to power of Benito Mussolini, the Italian foreign policy focused again on Albania, thanks especially to the young Fascist official Alessandro Lessona (1891-1991) an undoubtedly capable and far-sighted man.
The 1925 election of Ahmet Lekë Bej Zog (1895-1961) as President of the Albanian Republic – a man whose intellectual abilities were destined to leave an indelible mark in the international historic and diplomatic circles – laid the bases for the Italian penetration in the region to oppose Yugoslavia. During the same year – although contrary to the opinion of the Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs Salvatore Contarini, who was in favor of an alliance with Yugoslavia – several agreements were stipulated between Italy and Albania, thanks to the sagacity of the aforementioned Lessona.
By the ratification of these suicidal treaties, President Zog met all the Italian requests. One undisclosed clause recited: “Albania puts her territory to the disposal of Italy, in the eventuality of a war with Yugoslavia; … oil field
s concessions … agricultural concessions to be
defined … and gives her authorization to the establishment of an Albanian
currency issuance bank with Italian capitals.”
Subsequently, on September 12, 1925, the Albanian government promulgated the “Monetary Reorganization of Albania Act,” laying the foundations for the creation of the National Bank of Albania (which had the exclusive task of issuing paper currency) and, soon afterwards, created the S.V.E.A. (Society for the Economic Development of Albania) which, with a 50 Million gold Francs investment, sanctioned the total Italian control of the financial and economic sector of Albania. Moreover, on June 26,1926, an agreement was signed with which A.I.P.A. Azienda Italiana Petroli Albanesi (Albanian Oil Italian Company) acquired the exclusive concession to manage the oil resources of the Devoll region.
In 1928, Ahmed Zog proclaimed himself monarch but, except for Italy, the gesture was not recognized by the international community. All that inevitably led to an intensification of the relations between Rome and Tirana, to the point that the teaching of Italian became mandatory in Albania on August 30, 1933.
In March 1939, Mussolini proposed to King Zog a new treaty articulated in eight points: military alliance between the two countries (article 1); complete Albanian territorial integrity recognized by Italy (article 2); Italian right of intervention, in case of internal disorders or external aggression of the Albanian territory (article 3); plus a series of agreements for the Italian use of Albanian resources and infrastructures (articles 4-5-6-7); and lastly article 8, which, de facto, would allow Italian demographic expansionism in Albania. Nevertheless, even King Zog – who was always amenable to accept every request from Rome – refused to accept this last provision, unleashing the ire of Benito Mussolini.
As a result, on April 1, 1939, Italy invaded Albania (for the record, Albanian ambassador Zef Seregi who was travelling through Bari, Italy, had noticed the concentration of soldiers ready to embark for the invasion).
|1939 Italian soldiers land in Albania. In the background, a Caproni Ca.111 gazetadita|
The preponderant Italian Expeditionary Corps (consisting of 22,000 officers and troops, led by General Guzzoni) had no difficulty landing in Durrës, Sarandë, Shëngjin and Vlorë. All those places were scarcely defended by the weak Albanian army, led by General , who had his headquarter in Durrës. The Italians occupied the entire country in just one week with minimal casualties, twelve dead and fifty-three wounded. It must be pointed out that, the anti-monarchic leaders of the fise (the clans of the Mirdizia and of the Dukagjini) came down from their mountains to welcome the red, white and green troops and help them in the fight.
|Italian S.81 bombers, employed as troop transports for the invasion of Albania, lined up and ready on an Apulia airfield |
It is safe to say that, during the Italian invasion, the Albanian people everywhere – who were in large measure hostile towards King Zog – maintained an overall welcoming attitude towards the Italians. With a few exceptions, the population of the capital Tirana remained in their homes, happy about the imminent fall of the despised regime of King Zog. Their only reproach to Fascist Italy was that she had backed King Zog for too long.
King Zog was not afraid of the Italian but rather he feared the anger of the Albanians and, before escaping through Elbasan and Korçë to Greece with a long convoy of cars and trucks loaded with goods, the King sent his Economic Minister Brok Gera and Colonel Samih Koka, accompanied by Colonel Manlio Gabrielli (the Italian military attaché in Tirana) to meet with General Guzzoni. This move was ostensibly to negotiate a surrender, in reality it was just a delaying tactic. Meanwhile, in Tirana the mob had sacked the Royal Palace and the residence of the sisters of King Zog; and the Italian minister Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino, the functionaries and a few Italians were barricaded in the Italian embassy, ready to defend themselves. Their worries were totally unjustified, because soon everything subsided. There was a meeting between Jacomini and the Inspector General Xhafer Ypi, which brought about and immediate pacification. Ypi was a prominent personality in Albania. He had been the Regent of the Albanian state, after the proclamation of independence and several times Prime Minister. With Italian approval, it was decided to establish a Provisional Government presided over by Ypi, comprising the head of the Sunni Muslim community (the Gran Muftì Shapati), the leader of the Bektashi’s Alevi community (Baba Dedé ), and the representative of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Monsignor Kissi).
At 9:30 of April 7, 1939, Jacomoni telegraphed
Rome: “Italian troops expected by the population enthusiastically. Great
assembly of the people in Skanderbeg Square will meet our troops at their
entrance in the city. However, Secretary General, this Ministry of Interior is
phoning soliciting strongly to accelerate the arrival of the first contingent
for fear that turbulent elements still circulating in the city may provoke new
On April 12, 1939, a new constitution was proclaimed in Tirana that de facto transformed the country in the Italian Protectorate of the Kingdom of Albania. Subsequently, on April 16, King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III took the former throne of King Zog.
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Albania, 1939-1943
In order to govern Albania, there was instituted the figure of the Lieutenant General of Albania, formally appointed by the King of Italy, and placed directly under the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, through the Undersecretary of State for Albanian Affairs. And so there ended the independence of Albania, due to the ambiguous and rather demented politics of King Zog.
[i] In September of 1914, the still neutral Italian government considered occupying the port of Vlorë with an infantry regiment, reinforced by mountain artillery, in order to prevent Serbian or Greek infiltrations. But, on September 27th, General Cadorna expressed his opposition because he was rightly convinced of the futility of the operation, which probably masked the aim of easy territorial gains on the part of the government. After two further refusals by General Cadorna, the Honorable Sidney Sonnino (who had replaced the deceased Marquis di San Giuliano as Foreign Minister) intervened in the matter on October 14 and again on the 22nd, arguing the need for an immediate occupation of the small Albanian port and of Sazan Island. And so, between October 30 and December 29, 1914, the Italian Royal Navy put ashore on the eastern Adriatic coast the 10th Bersaglieri Regiment and the 18th Artillery Battery (carried by pack animals).
On November 14, 1915, at the end of long discussions [or negotiations} in Rome between Cadorna, the Government, and the French military representative General Gourand (who had arrived in Italy to request from the Italian ally the deployment of 100,000 troops to Thessaloniki) the Italian government consented to a sort of compromise which, notwithstanding the Italian involvement in Albania, obliged Italy to engage also in Macedonia although with a smaller contingent of troops than requested by France. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, following the collapse and withdrawal of the Serbian Army towards the Adriatic, Italy had to guarantee the reinforcement of her expeditionary corps in Albania to protect the retreat of the troops of Belgrade. A reluctant General Cadorna was forced the accept the decision.
And so, the Italian contingent based in Valona, led by General Bertotti and consisting of the Savona Brigade and the 15th Infantry Regiment Command, the Verona Brigade and 85th and 86th Infantry Regiment Command, three Artillery batteries on pack animals, two Artillery batteries with Skoda howitzers, seven field artillery batteries, and the 47th and 48th Territorial Militia regiments necessarily had to be reinforced.
Contrary to the opinion of General Cadorna, Sidney Sonnino had always wanted the prestige of extending Italian control of Albania. But in the end, due to the uncertainty of the Italian government and its errors in evaluating how to safeguard her interests without displeasing her allies, Italy paid a double price. Even so, it was the intervention of the Italian Army and especially the Navy in Valona, Durazzo and few places in the inland of Albania that made possible the February 9, 1916 rescue of most of the Serbian Army, which can be considered a logistic miracle.
Many thanks to Janice A. Jenkins for reviewing the English text.
Many thanks to Janice A. Jenkins for reviewing the English text.