Valiant highlanders and fugitive soldiers of Albania were the first in the Balkans to launch the struggle against Italian invaders and domestic collaborators in the summer of 1940.



On 28 November 1939, in the capital of occupied Albania - Tirana - was carried out the first anti-fascist street demonstration, supported by the strike of workers of local factories and transport. They rose anti-occupation slogans, demanding that Italians leave the country and the government of Shefqet bej Vërlaci resign. In autumn in mountainous regions of southern, eastern and northern parts of the country small resistance groups were arising. They undertook actions against government's collectors of agricultural levies and occasionally against the Italians. Those groups had no major effect on development of events. Situation changed only in the summer 1940, when in result of preparations for the war with Greece the services of the Albanian population: conscription, and requisition of grain and cattle, had increased. Young men fled from conscription to the mountains, mobilized recruits deserted from the army and reinforced partisan groups. In the end of August, the number of partisan groups had grown to such a degree, that the Italians already used to talk about "expanding uprising of Albanian highlanders". The most active were the groups commanded by Myslim Peza and Haxhi Lleshi. Italian governor, Gen. Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino had to apply to Mussolini with a request of sending to Albania special military and police troops to fight partisans. It came to regular fights between partisans and Italian military troops. Among others in the end of August insurgents from Shkodra area liquidated a 100-men military unit. In towns and villages began their activities diversion and combat groups. One of the leading collaborators, an active member of the fascist party - Asllan Ganiu - was shot. The Italians had sharpened the terror, undertook pacificatory actions against Albanian partisans and highlanders, and within repressive measures had shot a member of king Zogu's family - Alush Kryeziu.

The resistance in Albania became active after the defeats of the Italian forces in the war with Greece, which started on 28 October 1940. Originally the slogan of building the "Greater Albania", to which the Italians promised to incorporate a substantial part of Greek Epirus (Cameria), let collaborationist authorities to mobilize some thousand volunteers for the army (besides regular troops). The collapse of the Italian offensive in Greece caused a crisis in regular troops, which refused to take part in further fights, as well as in volunteer units, which dispersed; some soldiers made for the mountains. Eventually, the number of combat groups and partisan detachments, reinforced by deserters from the army, had grown to dozens and over 3,000 men. In November mutinous soldiers, who refused further service in Italian units, had fought in town of Lezha, close by port Shengjin on Adriatic coast, a battle with an enemy's punitive expedition, killing 19 and badly wounding 30 Italians, then had retreated to the mountains. In the same month a partisan detachment had laid an ambush for the enemy's transport column in the way to Gjirokastra. Several Italians were killed. On 17 May 1941 in Tirana a young man called Vasil Laçi attempted to assassinate king Victor Emmanuel III by shooting at him.

In 1939-1940 in towns and major settlements anti-fascist and anti-occupation underground groups were coming into being, organized by various political and social circles of Albania, both adherents and opponents of the former monarchist Zoguist régime, officers of the Albanian army, clergy, representatives of pre-war political parties and communists. Among others operated the groups of Baba Faja Martaneshi, former gendarmerie officer Gani bej Kryeziu, a communist Mustafa Gjinishi, and a rightist politician Muharrem Bajraktari. An attempt to unite those groups in one organization was undertaken by a democratic politician Major Abaz Kupi, who created an underground organization called the Unity Front. This front, which increased in numbers within several months, was crushed in April 1941 after the defeat of Yugoslavia and Greece. Some of its members passed over to the collaborationist camp, some were arrested, and some others fled to the mountains. The warfare ceased for a while.

The turning point took place in the second half of 1941. It was determined by both external and internal circumstances such as: aggression of the Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union (22 June 1941), creation of the Albanian Communist Party (ACP), and with time the collapse of the Italian fascism. By the the autumn 1941 some separate communist groups acted in Albania. Among the strongest ones were: Korca group, Shkoder group, Të Rintjë (Youth) and Zjarri (Fire). During the conference in Tirana (8 November 1941) those groups created the Albanian Communist Party (Partia Komuniste Shqiptare). They elected a 32 years old teacher, active member of the Korca group, Enver Hoxha, to the leader of the party's provisional committee. The conference drew up the political programme pointing out, that the most urgent task was the unification of all the forces of the Albanian nation for the fight for national independence of the Albanian people, and for a people's democratic government in fascism-free Albania. [Pollo S., & Puto A. (1981).] The party called to armed uprising. It also outlined tasks for future: to instill the idea of general uprising for liberation of the country through common actions and to prepare the nation politically and militarily for the general armed uprising. The appeal became popularized in clandestine press, particularly in the newspaper Zëri i Popullit (People's Voice). In the end of November had been created the Communist Youth Movement led by a member of the CC of APC - Qemal Stafa.

The unification of the leftist groups acting so far separately was also accomplished. Several months after the offensive against invaders and their supporters was launched. Among others at night from 24 to 25 July 1942 combat groups had carried out a massive attack on the communication system. Preparing that action, the CC of APC wrote in Zëri i Popullit (No.4/1942) among others: The night of 24 July should become to all the party's organizations a night of a general attack on the enemy. Cut the wires, throw down telegraph and telephone poles within whole your district. Beat the enemy everywhere and inflict him big losses! On 25 July worked no telephone or telegraph line. The series of combat actions had been carried out as well, among others in Tirana, Berati and Shkodra.

The programme of fight proclaimed by the CC of APC had fit in with interests and goals of most resistance organizations. On 16 September 1942 in village Peza, in central Albania, the CC APC-inspired conference was convened, contributed by representatives of anti-fascist organizations and their armed groups. The major leaders of resistance organizations, such as Peza, Martaneshi, Haxhi Lleshi and Major Kupi took part in it. The conference had resolved to create an executive resistance centre called National Liberation Movement (Lëvizja Nacionalçlirimtare), later renamed the National Liberation Front (Fronti Nacionalçlirimtar) of Albania, and worked out a programme of fight. An executive organ was created - the Supreme National Liberation Council (Këshilli i Përgjithshëm Nacionalçlirimtar) of seven persons. Hoxha had become its member. Soon started the creation of local national liberation councils. They organized a political and military struggle against the invaders and mobilized inhabitants and material resources for armed fight. Those councils had become the embryo of further authorities of independent Albania.

By the end of 1942 over 10,000 people filled the ranks of underground organizations and partisan detachments of the National Liberation Front. Partisans had gained new victories, among them they had liberated several spots in Korca, Peza, Tomorrica and Gorrica e Eperme (Gorna Gora) areas. In the beginning of 1943 as many as 29 partisan detachments and several dozens of combat groups acted in liberated areas carrying out self-defence and auxiliary tasks. In the first quarter of that year partisans had carried out many other combat actions, among others in towns of Dhermiu, Voskopoja, and Libohova. They destroyed oil pits in Patosi, and mines in Selenica. In March and April 1943 they temporarily seized some towns in southern part of country, such as: Konispoli, Zagoria, Mesapliku, and Mallakastra. In the spring 1943 British special groups developed anti-Italian diversion, intelligence and propaganda operations, and commandos dropped in the mountains.

On 17 - 22 February 1943 in Labinot village took place the first nationwide conference of ACP. The estimation of the political and military situation in the country pointed to necessity of creation of a homogeneous national liberation army. The decision concerning warfare tactics also was taken; it recommended commanders of units to conduct the actions with bigger forces. On 17 May 12 partisan detachments under the homogeneous command had carried out an attack on the Italian garrison in Leskoviku, which protected this important road junction. Partisans encircled the town in a tight ring and undertook the offensive. Over 1000 Italians held the town. The fights lasted three days. The commander of the garrison had demanded an air support. But before the support arrived, partisans seized the town. The Italians lost several hundred killed and wounded, and considerable quantities of the weapon and equipment. In the end of June the Italians got up a punitive expedition against partisans in the region of Mallakastra - Tepelena. Two thousand partisans took up defensive positions on mountain passes. In the first clash the Italians were forced back. Yet they renewed the action on 14 July, reinforcing considerable forces including artillery, tanks and aviation into fights. After four-days' fights partisans, suffering from heavy losses, retreated to upward parts of the mountains. In general since May to July the Italians lost over thousand killed and wounded, missing designed goals.

Beside the popular resistance, assembled in the National Liberation Front, existed a rightist stream of resistance, which in October 1942 united in the National Leadership (Balli Kombëtar) with Mit'hat Frashëri appointed to its leader. It represented nationalist middle class, circles of clerical intellectuals, and former state and military officers. The National Leadership's programme announced creation of the republican democratic state, called to creation of armed partisan groups and local councils. The programme also contained nationalist and anti-Communist slogans. This organization, officially proclaiming the programme of struggle against the invaders, within half a year signed a secret agreement with the commander of the Italian occupation forces, Gen. Renzo Dalmazzo, concerning not undertaking hostilities between detachments of Balli Kombëtar (called ballists) and Italian troops. The National Liberation Front had undertaken an attempt to agree with ballists about unification of forces for liberation struggle. On 1 - 2 August 1943 in Mukja on the National Liberation Front's own initiative took place a meeting with leaders of Balli Kombëtar. There was signed an agreement, by terms of which the common formation called the Committee for the Salvation of Albania had been brought into being. However due to the ballists' violation of the terms of the agreement and an openly hostile attitude the National Liberation Front had broken the agreement.

Occupation authorities tried to suppress at any price the development of the partisan movement. They used to change the puppet governments, which disappointed the hopes set on them. Thus the prime-minister Vërlaci was originally replaced by a fascist Mustafa Merlika, in January 1943 - by Eqrem bej Libohova, and soon after - by Maliq bej Bushati. The Italian governor also had been changed - Jacomoni di San Savino had been replaced by Gen. Alberto Pariani. Simultaneously Italian authorities made some concessions. Among others they agreed to restore the national flag, and wider autonomy of offices. However the Albanian society did not compromise. After Italy's capitulation proclaimed on 8 September 1943, Albania became occupied by German troops. German paratroopers disarmed Italian divisions quartered in Albania, seized ports, garrisons, and communication routes. The XXI Highland Corps had been sent to the mountainous regions. The Germans had proclaimed creation of so-called Independent Albania. They appointed originally so-called Regency Council, acting as a collaborationist government, with Ibrahim bej Biçoku, and in November a "government", with Rexhep bej Mitrovica. Actually they remained the executive organs of German authorities.

By that time Albanian independence movement had become a serious power. The popular resistance movement constituted its core. Yet during the Italian occupation, on 10 July 1943 the National Liberation Front brought into being the National Liberation Army (Ushtria Nacionalçlirimtare - UNC). In van of its General Staff were: a former officer of the royal army Spiro Moisiu - as the commander, and the general secretary of ACP Hoxha - as the political commissar. In August 1943 had been formed the 1st Assault Brigade of UNC (commander - a former officer of international brigades in Spain and active member of APC Mehmet Shehu, political commissar - a Yugoslav Dušan Mugoša). About 20 thousand partisans had already filled the ranks of UNC and controlled wide regions of the country. After Italy's capitulation a considerable number of Italian soldiers with their weapon and equipment had joined units of the National Liberation Army. They acted dispersed in several units as well as formed their own independent partisan battalion Antonio Gramsci. Immediately after the German occupation of Albania it came to the first bigger battle of UNC's detachments with German troops near Drashovica. After three-days' fights the Germans retreated, losing over 300 killed and twice as much wounded as well as a big quantity of the weapon, equipment and ammunition. A month after, while the German control was limited to a part of the country, hitlerites sent a considerable own and Albanian puppet government's forces against partisans. During November and December they carried out the first stage of conceived on a wide scale offensive operations. On 6 November the Germans started the advance in Peza area, where the 3rd Brigade of UNC was deployed. After three-days' stout fights the brigade broke through the enemy's encirclement ring. On 19 December the Germans undertook the advance against partisans in central and southern Albania. The heavy fights had been carried out there by 1st and 4th Brigades in Zagoria and Permeti areas. The Germans also tried - without a success - to crush partisans in the areas east to the town of Vlora as well. Those activities put a part of the country into Germans' hands, but still the substantial regions were controlled by partisans.

The Supreme Command of Wehrmacht demanded from the commander of the occupation forces in Balkans, Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs, the liquidation of the partisan movement at any price. On 7 January 1944 the Germans undertook a new advance in southern part of the country from Elbasani to the Greek border. Alongside German troops the detachments of gendarmerie and ballists took part in it. During the fights in Germenji, in February 1944 some partisan detachments with UNC's General Staff were encircled. In the end of February three battalions of the 1st Assault Brigade hastened to relieve the encircled partisans. Partisans, fighting the heavy fights with prevailing enemy's forces, were retreating to the mountains: some detachments - in the Greek territory. Simultaneously in the whole Albania the Germans had employed the reprisals against civil population. Among others on 4 February they had committed bloody massacres throughout the country and especially in Tirana. After that event the pro-government newspaper Bashkimi i Kombit wrote: the bloodletting is a radical remedy. The blood ought to run in the streets of Tirana if we want to restore the order. The balance of the massacre in Tirana - tens of killed, hundreds of wounded and arrested. The executioners reported the crush of the resistance movement.

In the beginning of March partisan forces in southern part of Albania had undertaken an offensive against German troops and collaborationist detachments. The situation was favourable - at that time the German command transferred considerable number of troops from Albania to the Germano-Soviet front. In effect of the partisan spring offensive almost the whole southern and substantial central part of Albania (but communication routes) found themselves under partisans' control. However the internal situation of Albania was still very complicated. Some Albanian organizations openly collaborated with invaders and constituted a part of a main striking force, Albanian 10,000-men strong 21st Division of Waffen-SS, which fought partisan movement in northern Albania and Kosovo (Serbia). To attract Albanian volunteers into the ranks of the collaborationist division they hypocritically named it Skanderbeg - after Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu (1405-1468), an Albanian national hero, fighter for the freedom of the country, uprising leader, and founder of the Albanian statehood. A part of those organizations grouped in central and northern Albania and created in November 1943 an organization called Legality (Legaliteti), intending to restore the monarchist system and proclaiming the necessity of struggle against the communist danger. This organization, led by Major Kupi and constituted by representatives of tribal chieftains (bajraktars), harboured a mission of English advisers of 20 officers.

On 24 - 28 May 1944 in Permeti was convened the 1st Anti-Fascist Congress of National Liberation. The Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation, headed by Dr. Omer Nishani, had been brought into being. The council had appointed its executive organ - the Anti-Fascist Committee of National Liberation with Gen. Hoxha as the chairman, who simultaneously became the supreme commander of the Albanian National Liberation Army. According to a recommendation of the Congress the General Headquarters of UNC sent its envoys to headquarters of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) and the Greek Popular Liberation Army (ELAS). The creation of new UNC's units started. The Albanian National Liberation Army in September 1944 was composed of 2 divisions and 7 brigades. It controlled 75% of the territory of the country. Its General Headquarters harboured military missions of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States of America and the General Headquarters of NOVJ. A representative of the General Headquarters of UNC was sent to the British General Headquarters Middle East located in Bari (Italy). The conference in Permeti had not finished yet when the commander of the occupation forces in Albania undertook a new anti-partisan operation in southern and central Albania. It started on 28 May and enveloped zones of Korca, Elbasani, Berati and Permeti. Beside the troops deployed there permanently some troops reinforced from Greece and Yugoslavia as well as local quisling formations, 47 thousand soldiers altogether, took part in the action. Partisans opposed with 35 thousand men. A stout battle was fought on 9 June in regions of Vlora and Gjirokastra. By 25 June the Germans occupied for a while a substantial part of territories controlled so far by partisans. It was the invaders' last success. On 14 June 1944 the UNC's command issued to all subordinated detachments an order to launch an offensive with all strengths against German positions. The first units to undertake the liberation operations on 24 July were those of the 1st Assault Division, which overcame Shkumbin river in Elbasani and started the liberation of central Albania. On 1 August the 1st Division and the newly formed 2nd Division created the 1st Corps of UNC. In autumn began the retreat of German forces from Albania accelerated by UNC's activities. On 28 October popular forces had tightly blocked a 100,000-strong German garrison in Tirana. On 17 November the capital of the country was free, twelve days after - Shkodra. The enemy was retreating to the north - to the Yugoslav territory. By 29 November UNC had liberated the whole Albanian territory. This day has become a national holiday of the Albanians.

During the final period of fights the Albanian National Liberation Army was composed of 8 divisions (26 brigades) organized in 3 corps of 70 thousand men altogether. It contained in fights 15 German and Italian divisions, eliminating them from active operations elsewhere. After the liberation of the country two divisions of UNC supported the fights in Bosnia and Montenegro on Yugoslav request. In summer and autumn 1944 the British command in East Mediterranean with Air Vice-Marshal William Elliot demanded permission for landing of their forces in Albania. However the General Staff of UNC rejected the demand. Twice British and American commandos undertook landing operations: on 8 October against German garrison in Saranda and on 28 November in Himara. The first attempt succeeded, because partisans liberated the town a day before. In the second attempt the commandos were defeated in effect of Germans' counter-attack. Only thanks to the UNC brigade's interference, which attacked the garrison from the mainland and liberated Himara, the commandos avoided annihilation.

During the final fights the 2nd Congress of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Albania was convened in Berati on 20 - 23 October, and the Anti-Fascist Committee of National Liberation of Albania was transformed into the Provisional Democratic Government. Col.-Gen. Hoxha (soon appointed to Marshal) became the prime minister and the national defence minister. To the making of the government went: Col. Peza, one of the first partisan commanders, as the deputy prime minister, as well as other leaders of partisan movement. On 29 November they triumphantly marched in Tirana together with their troops and later attended a solemn thanksgiving religious service devoted to the final country's liberation of invaders. The leaders of the Legality and Balli Kombëtar fled the country or committed suicide. The governments of Great Britain and the United States did not recognize the Provisional Democratic Government, because due to their interests in Balkans they did not intend to accept the creation of an independent and communist state there. The Albanian nation, smallish in numbers (about 1,200 thousand inhabitants) had suffered relatively big losses - about 28 thousand killed, over 12 thousand wounded.