| The spring of 1939 did not announce anything good to
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
Reich's grace black clouds were gathering over Europe again. On 15
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
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,
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
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
the king of the Albanians his consent to introduce Italian troops to
Albania. The whole allegedly friendly operation, which, according to
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,
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
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
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
Mussolini trusted his soldiers more than Albanian ministers, and
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
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
the Italian occupation. Zogu's rejection of that demand, meaning in
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
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
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
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
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.