Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Battle of Vlora, Albania (1920)

By Van Christo

After WWI, the Peace Conference in France in 1919 took up the question of Albania's official boundaries. England supported Greek territorial claims to southern Albania especially Kor├ža and Gjirokaster, France supported Serbian claims to northern Albania, especially Shkodra, and America, at first, appeared to support Italy's claim to the Albanian seacoast town of Vlora on the Adriatic Sea because it wanted Italy to act as a buffer between Greece and Serbia. A subsequent secret agreement between Italy and Greece made the partitioning of Albania imminent.

Italy desperately wanted Vlora because, with the exception of Venice, it would then have no naval base on the Adriatic Sea to protect itself from possible Yugoslav attacks. To ensure that she would get Greek support for her claim to Vlora, Italy and Greece concluded the secret Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement on July 29, 1919, whereby Italy agreed to support Greek claims for the annexation of southern Albania, and whereby Greece bound herself to support Italian sovereignty over Vlora and the Italian mandate over the remainder of Albania.

But the secret pact was found out, and then Yugoslavia suddenly supported the concept of a completely independent Albania to thwart the aims of Greece and Italy, especially Italy, and the Italian mandate over the rest of Albania which then would threaten Yugoslavia's own territorial ambitions in Albania. An Albanian provisional government was elected at the Congress of Lushnja on January 20, 1920, which invoked USA President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation of the self-determination of nations.

But the provisional government had little power and practically no authority. It also had no army to speak of. The Albanians on June 10, 1920, issued an ultimatum calling on the Italian government to give up its claim to Vlora, and it set June 11 at 7 pm as the date for an answer to the ultimatum. General Settimio Piacentini, who commanded all the Italian forces in the Vlora district, replied to the Albanian ultimatum with gunfire. Salvo after salvo from the heavy guns on Italian warships in the Vlora Bay martyred many Albanians who had no arms to defend themselves, and so the hostilities began in earnest.

On June 11, Albanian volunteers ferociously attacked the Italians capturing most of the outlying detachments. On June 12, just southwest of Vlora, the garrison of Tepelena held by 400 Italians surrendered, and when the Albanians stormed the inner defenses of Vlora, itself, a terrific battle took place, but the Albanians were driven back with severe losses because of heavy gunfire from the Italian warships. Albanians were fighting with swords, sticks, bricks, shovels, muskets, even their bare hands, against Italian machine guns, artillery, tanks, and, especially, the big guns on the Italian warships in Vlora Bay.

The uprising in Vlora created a spontaneous response from volunteers from every part of Albania; Muslims, Christians, highlanders, lowlanders -- all flocked to support the Vlora irregulars. There was no official Albanian army or other Albanian government action involved -- this was truly a people's uprising against a foreign invader.

The Vlora battle was an unpopular war even in Italy where Italo-Albanians, the Arbereshe, set up a protest that was heard all over Italy, especially in its Chamber of Deputies. Italian soldiers destined to fight in Vlora laid down their arms and deserted, and Italian railwaymen refused to transport supplies. The Italian people clamored for the war to end so a new Italian government was formed, and the secret Italian-Greek agreement was repudiated.

Italian peace negotiations failed because they stipulated less than complete withdrawal from Albanian soil. On July 23, Vlora was again savagely attacked by the Albanians who now gained partial control of the town. The Italians, because they had so completely misjudged the nationalist spirit of the Albanians and the fierceness with which the Albanians fought, were finally compelled to sue for peace. Italy agreed to evacuate the whole of Albania including Vlora. In exchange for her promise to help Albania obtain unreserved recognition of its independence, Albania agreed to permit Italy occupy Sazano, a small island in Vlora Bay. On September 2, 1920, the last Italian troops left Vlora, and this Italian withdrawal considerably strengthened the prestige of the Albanian people all over the world. Thanks in part to the pro-Albanian position of President Wilson, all plans for the partitioning of Albania were abandoned.

See related speeches "The Battle of Vlora" by Van Christo (from which this infobit was excerpted) and "The Vatra Band and Albania" by Thoma Nassi under Speeches/Lectures at www.frosina.org

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