Royal guards. The Albanian army, including the guards and gendarmerie, numbered only 6,000 men. It possessed no air forces or heavy equipment, and was helpless in face of the Italian military power.



The spring of 1939 did not announce anything good to the nations of Europe. The peoples of the Old Continent did not yet forget the events from March and October 1938, when hitlerite Germany buried the independence of Austria, as well as destroyed the state structures of the Czechoslovak Republic and annexed the Sudetes. And now by the III Reich's grace black clouds were gathering over Europe again. On 15 March 1939 the Wehrmacht marched into Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, and on 23 March the Germans took the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda and incorporated it into the Reich. Adolf Hitler's bloodless, or "peaceful" as some idiots put it, successes encouraged for similar actions his ally, the fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini.

The conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935-1936, as well as Hitler's successful policy, conducted by means of force and blatant political blackmail, induced Mussolini to animate, in the spring of 1939, his policy aimed on annexation of Albania, which would be - according to Rome's plans and desires - the fulfilment of the fascist Italy's dreams about mare nostrum, and the reincarnation of the ancient Roman Empire. The King of Italy, Emperor of Abyssinia and King of Albania was supposed to become soon a considerable element of the "new world order", which the fascist rulers of the "Axis" Rome - Berlin - Tokyo wanted to bestow upon the world. Mussolini, while he decided about the act of violence towards Albania, also wanted to show his German ally, that he too was a considerable partner, capable to conduct his own policy, and was not afraid, not only of Greece and Yugoslavia, not only of France and England, but also of the very German Reich, which at that time was showing worrying signs of interest in Balkan affairs. And so it came to the events of 7 April 1939, when Italian troops landed on the Albanian coast.

Decisions, made in March 1939 in Rome, concerning the future of Albania, meant that Italy, at any moment, could undertake military steps to grab the kingdom of Ahmet bej Zogu. After all, on 25 March the Italian government sent Zogu an ultimatum, which demanded from the king of the Albanians his consent to introduce Italian troops to Albania. The whole allegedly friendly operation, which, according to the Italians, was designated to protect Albanian interests, had to be accompanied by the signature of an alliance treaty, offered to the Albanian government. Despite of its appearance amidst formal slogans, it became clear to all the members of the Albanian government what was up. Both Zogu and his ministers knew that acceptance of the Italian terms would actually mean an Italian protectorate over Albania, which would bury her independence.

Inambiguity of the real goals of Rome's note testified that any day, after the diplomatic couriers, in Tirana could appear il duce and his divisions. Albanian ministers, summoned on 25 March to the royal palace in Tirana, faced an extremely difficult problem: how to protect the country and simultaneously satisfy Mussolini's demands? But it was a real quadrature of the circle. The situation in Albania was tragic. The country for years had been submitted to the Italian influence, gradually grasped by the Italian capital, and paralysed by unequal military conventions. Tirana, without any other military or political alliances, was completely defenceless and left to the grace of the fascist empire. In Tirana they knew that Albania was not able to deliver efficient defence and nobody would stand in her defence. Hence in the royal palace some voices advised to capitulate and accept the Italian terms unconditionally. Yet Zogu, who was not thinking about Albania, but rather about keeping her crown in his hands, decided to quest for some third solution of the tragic situation. In a letter sent to Rome through the most trusted persons, he tried to obtain softer terms - he was ready to accept them, if the Italians abandoned the idea of the direct occupation of his country. But Mussolini was blind and deaf to the pleas and gestures of king Zog, who was not needed any more. Mussolini trusted his soldiers more than Albanian ministers, and decided to entrust the fates of the Italo-Albanian relations to his soldiers. Behind his decision stood his foreign minister and son-in-law, count Galeazzo Ciano, who already felt himself a grand appanage prince of Albania, and was not prepared to give up such a charming perspective.

No wonder that Mussolini did not bother to receive Zogu's envoys and ignored his letter, being the answer to Rome's note. Simultaneously, on 5 April, he sent Tirana another ultimatum, in which, without figures of speech and slogans about friendship, alliance or mutual assistance, he demanded that the government of Albania consent to the Italian occupation. Zogu's rejection of that demand, meaning in fact the annexation of his country, was to be treated by Rome - as it was stated at the end of the ultimatum - as a legitimate casus belli. Panic spread in the political circles of Tirana. The king and his closest relatives and aides started their preparations to a hasty escape from the country. The luggage was being packed in the royal palace. Finally the government realised how hopeless was the state of the defence; putting the tiny army of barely few thousand soldiers in no way could secure the country's safety or scare out the aggressor.

Meanwhile in Rome the last orders had been issued, and the objectives were designated. Yet, although the war machine was already set in motion, the ruling circles of Italy still expected that Zogu at the very last moment would capitulate and accept the terms he was given. After all even Ciano thought that, and the chief of his chancellery and a special envoy to Tirana, Luigi Vittorio de Ferraris confirmed him in that conviction. According to de Ferraris, the king would give in for the reason that his wife, Geraldina of Apponyi, was expectant and the deliverance could occur any day. The risk of the deliverance accompanied by the roar of guns was reportedly too big to take it into consideration. Similar reports were also coming from the duce's special envoy to Tirana, Gen. Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino. Upon his insistence in the evening 5 April Mussolini agreed to extend the deadline of the ultimatum till 15:00 on 6 April. Meanwhile around 13:00 that day the queen had delivered the baby boy without troubles or fears and Zogu recovered his courage - he rejected the ultimatum. His decision was also influenced by the news coming from Rome that the king Victor Emmanuel III did not approve adventuresome plans of il duce and his son-in-law, and that this position was shared by many Italian generals, who insisted that Italy was not prepared for any war.

It was true, but Mussolini had gone too far to step back without the risk of losing face. And so in the evening 6 April 1939 he issued the order to start the planned invasion. Fascist Italy, following the example of its Axis Nazi ally, was going, for the second time after Abyssinia, to swallow the prey.



#abyssinia#