World War II
King Zog's effort to reduce Italian control over his armed forces
was insufficient to save them from quick humiliation when the
Italians attacked on April 7, 1939. Although annual conscription
had generated a trained reserve of at least 50,000 men, the Albanian
government lacked the time to mobilize it in defense of the country.
The weak Albanian resistance, consisting of 14,000 men against
the Italian force of 40,000, was overcome within one week, and
Italy occupied and annexed the country. Later in 1939, the Italians
subsumed some Albanian forces into their units. They gained little,
however, from Albanian soldiers, who were unwilling to fight for
the occupying power, even against their traditional Greek enemies.
They deserted in large numbers.
Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist premier, and his Axis partners
viewed Albania as a strategic path through the Balkans from which
to challenge British forces in Egypt and throughout North Africa.
Albania served as the bridgehead for Mussolini's invasion of Greece
in October 1940, and Italy committed eight of its ten divisions
occupying the country.
The Albanian Communist Party and its armed resistance forces
were organized by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1941 and
subsequently supported and dominated by it. Resistance to the
Italian occupation gathered strength slowly around the partycontrolled
National Liberation Movement (NLM, predecessor of the NLF) and
the liberal National Front. Beginning in September 1942, small
armed units of the NLF initiated a guerrilla war against superior
Italian forces, using the mountainous terrain to their advantage.
The National Front, by contrast, avoided combat, having concluded
that the Great Powers, not armed struggle, would decide Albania's
fate after the war.
After March 1943, the NLM formed its first and second regular
battalions, which subsequently became brigades, to operate along
with existing smaller and irregular units. Resistance to the occupation
grew rapidly as signs of Italian weakness became apparent. At
the end of 1942, guerrilla forces numbered no more than 8,000
to 10,000. By the summer of 1943, when the Italian effort collapsed,
almost all of the mountainous interior was controlled by resistance
The NLM formally established the National Liberation Army (NLA)
in July 1943 with Spiro Moisiu as its military chief and Enver
Hoxha as its political officer. It had 20,000 regular soldiers
and guerrillas in the field by that time. However, the NLA's military
activities in 1943 were directed as much against the party's domestic
political opponents, including prewar liberal, nationalist, and
monarchist parties, as against the occupation forces.
Mussolini was overthrown in July 1943, and Italy formally withdrew
from Albania in September. Seven German divisions took over the
occupation from their Italian allies, however. Four of the divisions,
totalling over 40,000 troops, began a winter offensive in November
1943 against the NLA in southern Albania, where most of the armed
resistance to the Wehrmacht and support for the communist party
was concentrated. They inflicted devastating losses on NLA forces
in southern Albania in January 1944. The resistance, however,
regrouped and grew as final defeat for the Axis partners appeared
certain. By the end of 1944, the NLA probably totaled about 70,000
men organized into several divisions. It fought in major battles
for Tiranė and Shkodėr and pursued German forces into Kosovo at
the end of the war. By its own account, the NLA killed, wounded,
or captured 80,000 Italian and German soldiers while suffering
about 28,000 casualties.
The communist-controlled NLF and NLA had solidified their hold
over the country by the end of October 1944. Some units, including
one whose political officer, Ramiz Alia, would eventually succeed
Enver Hoxha as leader of Albania, went on to fight the Germans
in Albanian-populated regions of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo.
Hoxha had risen rapidly from his post as political officer of
the NLA to leadership of the communist party, and he headed the
communist government that controlled the country at the end of
World War II. Albania became the only East European state in which
the communists gained power without the support of the Soviet
Union's Red Army. They relied instead on advice and substantial
assistance from Yugoslav communists and Allied forces in occupied
Data as of April 1992