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Albania in WW II

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Albania was annexed by Italy before the war proper, at the same time Germany annexed Czechoslovakia. Italy then launched its ill advised attack on Greece from Albania in October, 1940. Greece stopped the attack and counterattacked into Albania. The line stabilized in the middle of the country (roughly) with the Greeks controlling the southern portion. So it was in April 1941, when Germany invaded Yugoslavia and then Greece. This led to the evacuation of the Greek force and its defeat (along with British forces landed to help) in Greece proper.

From that point, Albania was an Italian possession and held by 5 Italian infantry divisions, which protected the coast line and patrolled against relatively weak partisans in the hills, both republican and communist varieties.

Then in September 1943, Italy exited the war as Allies landed on the mainland. The five divisions in Albania were in disarray, and expected to be repatriated. Albanian partisans moved to disarm them and acquire their weapons, and did so for some portions. But the Germans sent paratroops to the capital and installed a pro German government. The remaining Italians were disarmed and repatriated by the Germans, who retained control of the country.

At that point the partisans were marginally better armed, but still ineffective and disunited. The Germans were not seriously bothered by them, and could rely on regional auxiliaries. In a bid to win popularity with Albanian nationalists, they awarded Kosovo to Albania, for example.

Things remained in this state until the second half of 1944. In August, Rumania left the war and switched to the Russian side, as Russians poured through the country. Bulgaria, which had several divisions in eastern Greece and in southern Yugoslavia, followed suit at the begining of September (first trying to exit with neutrality, but the Russians declared war anyway and invaded, and 3 days later the Bulgarians had switch sides and declared war on Germany).

At this point the Germans had 300,000 men in Greece, including about a third of that off shore on the various islands, all the way to Crete. Another force that size covered the coast and fought the partisans in Yugoslavia, supplemented by a about half that number in local auxiliaries.

None of these forces faced east at the Russians. All were facing south to cover against a seaward invasion by the Brits, or in the interior fighting the partisans. There was a gap of over 400 miles on their eastern front, south of the last effective German force facing east. As the Russians poured through this gap and through Rumania, and Bulgaria and Rumania began mobilizing forces to help them instead of the Germans, the Germans had to decide what to do about Greece and the Balkans.

They were clearly lost. The Germans spent the month of September slowly evacuating the island garrisons by air - about 30000 were left, plus some Italians, in the end - and inessential personnel throughout the penisula. They gathered motor transport for evacuation, disarmed the Bulgarians in their own sectors, and sent a division and change up to Belgrade to hold the only rail line out.

Then the Russians opened an offensive aimed at Belgrade, in October 1944. German forces moved east from Yugoslavia to delay them, while the evacuation of Greece hung fire. The bridges were cut by air attack, slowing movements. By the time the Germans were moving north in earnest, the Russians had cut the rail line south of Belgade, and within a week they were in the city itself.

The Germans still managed to get out. They left the rail line for roads approximately in what is now Macedonia, and headed west over the hills. The Russians left most of the pursuit west of Belgade to Tito's partisans, who pressed feebly, while the main Russian units drove northwest along the Danube to aid their offensive into Hungary. Brits landed in southern Greece and moved north, while Bulgarian forces followed the German withdraw from the east.

The Germans had already left by November 1944. It wasn't because the Albanians "liberated" anything, it was because the Germans were taken in the rear by the Russian advance into the balkans, and the defection of Rumania and Bulgaria that touched off. The only action there might have been is the various Albanian resistence factions vying for post war political control by claiming credit for shooting at the last German truck pulling out.

[ January 23, 2008, 01:28 PM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

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