From Independence to World War Ii

From Independence to World War Ii

Organized military action had a negligible effect in attaining national independence. Some revolutionary activity occurred during the rise of Albanian nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Albanian insurgents and Ottoman forces clashed as early as 1884, but although Albanians resisted Ottoman oppression against themselves, they supported the Ottoman Turks in their hostilities with the Greeks and Slavs. By 1901 about 8,000 armed Albanians were assembled in Shkodėr, but a situation resembling anarchy more than revolution prevailed in the country during the early 1900s. There were incidents of banditry and pillage, arrests, and many futile Ottoman efforts to restore order. Guerrilla activity increased after 1906, and there were several incidents that produced martyrs but were not marked by great numbers of casualties. Although it was disorganized and never assumed the proportions of a serious struggle, the resistance was, nevertheless, instrumental in maintaining the pressure that brought international attention to the aspirations of Albanian nationalists who proclaimed Albania's independence on November 28, 1912.

Albanian forces played a minor role in the First Balkan War of 1912-13, in which Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece attempted to eliminate the last vestiges of Ottoman control over the Balkans. At the end of 1912, however, the Ottoman Turks held only the Shkodėr garrison, which they did not surrender until April 1913. After the Second Balkan War, when the Great Powers prevailed upon the Montenegrins who had laid siege to Shkodėr to withdraw, independent Albania was recognized. However, less than 50 percent of the ethnic Albanians living in the Balkans were included within the boundaries of the new state. Large numbers of Albanians were left in Montenegro, Macedonia, and especially Kosovo (see Glossary), sowing the seeds for potential ethnic conflict in the future.

World War I began before Albania could establish a viable government, much less form, train, and equip a military establishment. It was essentially a noncombatant nation that served as a battleground for the belligerents. However, during the war, it was occupied alternately by countries of each alliance. In 1916 it was the scene of fighting between AustroHungarian forces and Italian, French, and Greek forces. In 1918 the Austro-Hungarians were finally driven out of Albania by the Italians and the French. Albania emerged from the war with its territorial integrity intact, although Serbia, Montenegro, Italy, and Greece had sought to partition it. Italy, in particular, had entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente with the aim of acquiring parts of northern Albania.

Ahmed Zogu created the first armed national forces of any consequence. He served as minister of the internal affairs and minister of war until 1922 and prime minister thereafter, except for a brief period of exile in 1924. Before 1925 these forces consisted of about 5,000 men, who were selected from Zogu's home district to ensure their loyalty to him. In 1925 Albania began drafting men according to a policy of universal conscription that was carried out with Italian assistance and allowed a considerable degree of Italian control. The initial drafts yielded about 5,000 to 6,000 troops per year from the approximately 10,000 men who annually reached the eligible age. The Italians equipped and provided most of the training and tactical guidance to Albanian forces and therefore exercised virtual command over them.

Under pressure from a more proximate Yugoslav threat to its territorial integrity, Albania placed its security in Italian hands in November 1927 when it signed the Second Treaty of Tiranė. The original treaty, signed one year earlier, pledged the parties to mutual respect for the territorial status quo between them. The successor document established a twenty-year alliance and a program of military cooperation between them. Thus, Albania became a virtual protectorate of Italy, with the latter receiving oil rights, permission to build an industrial and military infrastructure, and a high-profile role in Albania's military leadership and domestic political affairs.

At about the same time, the Gendarmerie was formed with British assistance. Although its director was Albanian, a British general served as its inspector general and other British officers filled its staff. It became an effective internal security and police organization. The Gendarmerie had a commandant in each of Albania's ten prefectures, a headquarters in each subprefecture (up to eight in one prefecture), and an office in each of nearly 150 local communities. For many years, it had the most complete telephone system in the country. The Italians objected strenuously, but King Zog, as Zogu became in 1928, relied on the Gendarmerie as a personal safeguard against the pervasive Italian influence within his regular armed forces. He kept the force under his direct control and retained its British advisers until 1938. Zog also retained a sizable armed group from his home region as an additional precaution.


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