Rrok Geraj, a special envoy of king Zogu, met General Alfredo Guzzoni in Durres to discuss a possible settlement between Albania and Italy.



As soon as Benito Mussolini issued the orders, from the ports of southern Italy, Bari and Brindisi, sailed off transport ships laden with troops, equipment and supplies. They were escorted by minesweepers, chasers, destroyers and submarines. A particular attention was given to those ships, which carried guns, light tanks and armoured cars. Altogether Mussolini sent to Albania an army of 35,000 regular soldiers and a dozen of thousands fascists from the paramilitary formations of "black shirts". In van of the duce's invasion army stood General Alfredo Guzzoni. The formations of the "black shirts" were commanded by one of the aces of the Italian aviation, a close friend of count Galeazzo Ciano, Ettore Muti.

Meanwhile the whole world suddenly began to be interested in Albania. British, French, American, and Soviet newspapers published news from Albania on the first columns. The most agitated were the media of the countries in the region, especially in Greece and Yugoslavia, where they were inspired by the official circles. What were the moods of the European public opinion after the first news from Albania, shows the editorial published in the New York Herald Tribune on 6 April 1939 after its Athens reporter Harry A. Christogeorghu, and titled The country where a new world war can start!:

There are news coming that Italians are planning the annexation of Albania. Naturally, all the countries, directly interested in Albania, and Greece and Yugoslavia in first place, have raised a vigorous protest against Rome's steps. Belgrade considers an active intervention.

England, to whom a military occupation of Albania by Italy would be a serious menace of her influence in the Mediterranean, throws a weighty warning.

Italians, to whom the eastern shore of the Strait of Otranto is the strategic key to the domination in the Adriatic Sea, and in the Mediterranean basin, want to strengthen their presence in Albania even more.

We are standing in the face of extraordinarily significant complications that may cause an armed clash.

The question soars over Europe, whether Albania will become the ground where the first shots of the coming world war will be fired?

Of course, at the moment when the world press became so interested in Albania and her relations with Italy, the Italian press could not stand aside. After all, since March a zealous anti-Albanian propaganda campaign had been conducted in that country. The campaign was getting sharper and more furious, the more the situation was aggravating. Albania - according to the many enunciations of Italian journalists, publishers and reporters - was a wild country completely deprived of railways. Until recently it had had no cities but Tirana, which was better described as a big village rather than a small town. Only in the royal palace in Tirana one could find what in the civilized world is known under the abbreviation WC. It was not until Albania entered the orbit of the Italian influence that the country started developing. The Italians had built there factories, bridges, roads and many other objcts. The capital of the country, Tirana, thanks to Italian architects, had been transformed into a small but charming modern city with wide streets, parks and noteworthy objects. Nevertheless the Italian civilizational efforts had not been appreciated, and very often were rather hampered. The particular concern of the Italian Kulturträgers - duly publicized in the Italian press - was about the savagery of habits. According to Ciano's journalists, Albania was the country where the average life span for men did not exceed 24 years. Few Albanians lived to become 40 years old, because the old law of the blood revenge was still in place. A small offence would be enough to have the offended grab the old shotguns, which were always at hand in every homestead, and the actual hunting for all the men of the "opposite camp" started. The dead fell on both sides because the pay for death was death. The ever-lasting blood-feud took its terrible harvest. Only introduction of an order in that barbaric country by a nation standing on a higher level of the civilizational development could - they concluded - save Albania and the Albanians themselves of the menace of a self-destruction.

There is no need to venture here into long polemics with this unequivocal stance of the Italian press. But it is worth mentioning that the Albanian press, which reacted to those enunciations very vigorously, countered them also not without finesse. Thus, without commenting what might be true or wrong in that "made in Italy" picture of Albania, the Albanians launched their parallel counter-propaganda, which enunciated how did Albanians contribute to the great deal of the development of the European culture. They listed with a big pride how many great people did they bring up, among whom they included the pope Clement XI, cardinal Francesco Cristi, the founder of the Egyptian dynasty Mohammed Ali, the reformer of Turkey Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and even... the Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi!

Of course the Italo-Albanian information war was just a symptom of the crisis growing between Rome and Tirana, and that is why it was worth mentioning. At the same time the world press did not study history or sociology, but tried to sift eagerly scarce information regarding developments in the political and military situation. A particular unrest of the world's public opinion grew out of the news delivered by some French and British sources, which quoted mainly their sources in Belgrade, that almost all the Italians left Albania on 5 and 6 April. Economical and financial advisers, so far swarming in Tirana, left hastily; so did the military advisers. Further news from Tirana told about an extraordinary conference of the Albanian government in the royal palace in Tirana under the presidency of the king himself. The subject and the course of the conference remained unknown though. However, soon the American agency United Press published the text of a brief interview given to their reporter by the spokesman of the Albanian foreign office. He had to say that

there was a project discussed of a new economical, financial and military pact with Italy. The question of an Italian protectorate over Albania was not discussed. (...) At this moment we see no reason to ask Italy to send military aid, as foreseen by the agreement of 1927, because nobody poses any threat to us.

Apart from the text of the interview, but in the next column, the agency added that according to the opinion of the official Albanian sources Albania would vigorously stand against any attempt to install foreign troops in her territory. The United Press also informed that garrisons of Valona (Vlora) and other Albanian ports were reinforced.

Next communiqué of the United Press reported that despite the late evening hours, the Council of Ministers continued its conference, and the rumours spread throughout the whole Tirana about military steps the government reportedly had ordered about. Albanian armed forces had to be put in state of alert, and special security measures had to be introduced in Albanian ports and other strategic points of the Albanian coast. The United Press concluded that, according to the information coming from different sources, Albania was prepared to defend her independence to the last man. In that context, also very meaningful were the news brought in by the New York Herald Tribune about anti-Italian demonstrations in Tirana, as well as an extraordinary activity of the Italian navy in Bari and Brindisi. The New York Herald Tribune also informed about a strong squadron of British ships, which reportedly left Malta and was supposed to cruise off Corfu.

And the excitement grew to achieve boiling temperatures. Morning issues of the world newspapers, based on the latest dispatches of the world's main telegraph agencies, were not talking yet about any Italian military action, although it was already under way. A lot of space though was devoted to the developments behind the scenes of the conflict and its different aspects.

Among the correspondences and editorials of those days, the most remarkable one came from Budapest (dated 6 April). According to it, the essence of the Italo-Albanian conflict could be summarized as follows:

When the Germans occupied Bohemia, Italy started talks with the Albanian government concerning replacing the military alliance binding both countries since 1927 with a direct protectorate.

The Albanian government stood against the Italian suggestions more and more vigorously, defending the position that the alliance relationship is completely sufficient to secure Albania, and that no events had occurred, that would require the change of that position to one that would threat Albanian sovereignty.

There was noted a certain irritation between both governments, in result of which the Italian government sent on 5 April in the evening three light cruisers and two transports with land troops to the port of Durazzo.

Those troops as of today have not been disembarked to land yet. Today at 2 p.m. a squadron of Italian hydroplanes flew to Durazzo.

These military demonstrations are designed to force the Albanian government to yield to the will of Italy. Yet so far both the government of Albania, as well as its people, have demonstrated a far-going resistance.

As if to confirm this comment, there was a dispatch received at the last moment from Belgrade, which at late evening hours of 6 April informed that all the regular communications between Albania and Italy were severed. From the galore of similar materials published next morning one can sift two more symptomatic reports. Thus in the dispatch dated 6 April 1939 the French agency Havas stated:

To put the ultimate end to the biased news, reported in the past days in the press and radio, the public relations office of the Albanian Embassy in Paris has the honour to state the following:

Albania will never consent to giving away her independence, sovereignty and integrity, as well as installing foreign troops on her territory.

Regarding the defensive alliance, concluded between Albania and Italy in 1926, and consequently renewed in 1927 and 1931 - this alliance does not authorize Italy in any degree to intervene to maintain law and order in Albania. This is a purely defensive alliance, and there are no grounds to suppose that there would occur a change in the Italian policy regarding Albania.

Relations between both countries have always been friendly, as after all the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III had underscored it in his last speech.

The other aforementioned press dispatch illustrates diplomatic stratagems behind the scenes of the drama unfolding in Albania. It was the statement of the British prime-minister, Sir Neville Chamberlain, made on Thursday morning, 6 April 1939, in the House of Commons regarding many MPs' addresses concerning situation in Albania and concentration of the Italian navy in the Mediterranean, as well as Italian land forces in Bari and Brindisi:

On April 4th Minister in Rome, Sir Eric Perth, expressed to the Italian Foreign Minister his concerns regarding rumours about concentration of Italian troops on the Albanian border. The Italian Foreign Minister has stated that "on March 8th the King of Albanians had proposed consolidation of the existing alliance between Italy and Albania."

Since that moment there were conducted talks between both governments, it seems however that during the negotiations occurred some troubles, whose nature is not as yet completely clear.

According to the assurances of the Italian Foreign Minister - Italian interests in Albania have been jeopardized.

I was just informed that an Italian cruiser and two smaller ships of the Italian navy had arrived today morning at Durazzo.

So far I have not received a detailed explanation concerning the position of the Albanian government. I have though received from this government the refutation of the rumours that Albania has allegedly accepted conditions incompatible with her sovereignty or integrity of her borders.

The Minister in Tirana informs us that till 9 o'clock this morning everything was still and calm in Durazzo. His Majesty's Government, which is self-evident, is closely watching the development of the situation. [Funderburk D. B. (1975).]