Tuesday, March 7, 2017


The Italian language -for the first time in History- has reached in Italy the level to be spoken by nearly 2/3 of the Italian population in 2016. In real numbers this means than more than 60% of Italians use the Italian language when communicating in their family. And the percentage is higher if related only to young people who are 15 or less years old.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that just 3% of Italy's population could speak the Italian standardized language properly when the nation unified in 1861: if the growth keeps maintaining the same increases, it is possible that all the Italians (excluding those who are members of language minorities, like the Germans in Alto Adige) will speak only their national language in 2061 after two centuries of unification.

Indeed the ISTAT (Italy's Institute of official statistics) has released data showing that from 1995 to 2012, the share of people using the Italian language as their main language or in combination with the dialect has steadily increased in every context: in the family, with friends and when dealing with strangers. From 1995 to 2012 the prevailing use of Italian in the family increased by about 10 percentage points (from 43.2% in 1995 to 53.1% in 2012), by 10.3 percentage points the proportion of those who use Italian language with friends (from 46.1% to 56.4%), and by 13.4 percentage points the use with strangers (from 71.4% in 1995 to 84.8% in 2012).

The sole use of dialect, especially within the family, declined quite significantly over time: between 1995 and 2012 the percentage of those who spoke dialect only in their families decreased from 23.7% to 9%; from 16.4% to 9% when speaking with friends and from 6.3% to 1.8% when speaking with strangers.

In 2012, 91.3% of the population aged 18-74 claimed to be Italian native speakers; 3% had two native languages ​​(including Italian) and 5.8% were not Italian native speakers. As a consequence of the presence of immigrants and linguistic minorities within the resident population, the share of those who spoke a mother tongue other than Italian was 8.8%.

With reference to the type of other known languages, 43.7% of the population (aged 18-74 years) spoke English, while another share of people spoke French (21.7%), German (4.8%), Spanish (4.5 %) or other languages (2.1%). For 5.1% of people resident in Italy (aged 18-74), Italian was spoken as a foreign language and not as mother tongue: therefore, Italian came third in the ranking of foreign language known, after English and French.

Presence of dialects and foreign languages in Italy in 1937, according to Clemente Merlo ("Lingue e dialetti d'Italia", Milano 1937): Tuscans (green), southern Italians (pink), northern Italians (yellow), Corsicans & Sardinian-Corsicans (light brown), Sardinians (brown), Occitans (red), Provencals (orange), Ladins (dark green), Germans (blue), Slavs (beige), Greeks (violet), Albanians (crimson), Istrorumanians (light blue), Catalans (light orange)      

Actually the Italian language is increasingly substituting the local dialects in the regions of northwestern Italy (around the original Italy's industrial triangle: Milan-Turin-Genoa), where in the main cities already 90% (and sometimes more) of the young population less than 21 years old speaks only the language of Dante.

A research done by the "Statale di Milano" university in 2015 has found that all the "Milanesi" less than 15 years old (meaning: born in our actual century) speak only Italian and just 5% of them can speak also the local dialect (but not fluently like heir grandfathers).

Death of the Italian dialects?

It’s often said that the dialects of Italy will be dead in 30 years.

Indeed, the hard or pure dialects are dying, as they are all over Europe, in Sweden, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The hard dialects are often spoken only by the old now, and many old words have fallen out of use. The hard dialects often had a limited vocabulary restricted to whatever economic activity was typical of the area. A lot of the old dialects are now being written down in local dictionaries to preserve their heritage.

The dialects were of course killed by universal education, and this was a positive thing. All Italians should learn to speak some form of Standard Italian. In the old days when everyone spoke dialect, people had a hard time communicating with each other unless there was some form of regional koine that they could speak and all understand. It doesn’t make sense if you can only talk to people in a 20 mile or less radius.

A diglossia where hard dialects would exist alongside Standard Italian was never going to work. People are pretty much going to speak one or the other. As people learn Standard Italian, their local dialect will tend to become more Italianized. In other cases, the hard local dialect will tend to resemble more the local regional dialect.

For instance, in southern Campania, the region of Naples, in a part called Southern Cilento, there are still some Sicilianized dialects spoken, remnants from Sicilian immigrants who came in the 1500’s. These dialects are now dying, and the speech of the young tends to resemble more the Neapolitan Cilento speech of the surrounding area more.

In other cases, koines have developed.

There is a regional koine in Piedmont that everyone understands. There is a similar koine in West and East Lombard, the Western one based on the speech of Ticino. There is a Standard Sicilian, spoken by everyone and understood by all, and then there are regional dialects, which, if spoken in hard form, may not be intelligible with surrounding regions. A koine has also developed in Abruzze around Pesaro. There is “TV Venetian,” the Venetian used in regional TV, a homogenized form that has speakers of local dialects worried it is going to take them out.

Even where hard dialects still exist, the younger people continue to speak the local dialect, except that it is now a lot more Italianized and regionalized. A lot of the old words are gone, but quite a few are still left. So the dialects are not necessarily dead or dying, instead they are just changing.

In the places where the dialects are the farthest gone such as Lazio and Tuscany, the regional dialects are turning into “accents” which can be understood by any Standard Italian speaker.

The situation in Tuscany is complicated. Although the hard dialects are definitely going out, even the hard dialects may be intelligible to Standard Italian speakers since Standard Italian itself was based on the dialect of Florence, a city in Tuscany.
Florence was chosen as the national dialect around 1800 when Italian leaders decided on a language for all of Italy. But the truth is that the language of Dante had always been an Italian koine extending far beyond its borders, just as the language of Paris had long been the de facto Standard French (and it still is as Parisien).

This is not to say that there are not dialects in Tuscany. Neapolitan speakers say they hear old men from the Florence region on TV and the dialect is so hard that they want subtitles. And there is the issue of which Florentine was chosen as Standard Italian. A commenter said that the language that was chosen was the language of Dante, sort of a dialect frozen in time in the 1400’s. In that case, regional Tuscan could well have moved far beyond that.

Even in areas where dialects are said to be badly gone such as Liguria, local accents still exist. It is said that everyone in Genoa speaks with a pretty hard Ligurian accent. That is, it is Standard Italian spoken with a Genoese accent.

However there are two areas of Italy were the local dialects are used by the majority of people even in 2016: southern Italy and Veneto/Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It is noteworthy to pinpoint that these areas are those were autonomist organizations (like "Liga Veneta") are strongest.

Percentage of use of dialects & foreign languages in the regions of Italy in 1984 (for 2014 -after 30 years- it is possible to additionally calculate an approximate 20% decrease: dark blue is more than 50%, blue is 20-50% and light blue is 0-20%)

In Veneto (and in the nearby Trentino and Venezia Giulia) the original dialect is considered a language: the "Venetian language". This fact is hampering in the "TriVeneto" -mainly since the 1980s- the process of growth that the language of Dante is experiencing in all the other regions of Italy.

However all modern Venetian speakers are "diglossic" (meaning: they speak 2 languages indifferently) with Italian. The present situation raises questions about the venetian language's medium term survival. Despite recent steps to recognize it, Venetian language (or dialect, as many use to say) remains far below the threshold of inter-generational transfer with younger generations preferring standard Italian in many situations. The dilemma is further complicated by the ongoing large-scale arrival of immigrants, who only speak or learn standard Italian.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Because of their defeat in WW2 the Italians are sometimes slandered as "easy to surrender" soldiers and even worse....but reality is different from the usual propaganda done since 1945 by those who associate Italy with Nazi Germany and consequently feel hate against the Italian military. In order to demonstrate that the Italian military tradition is one of the best in world History, allow me to translate in English the following article written by M. M. a few years ago (and to add in bold letters my own comments between parenthesis in some "Nota Bene"):


There are few things I detest more than people who denigrate and mock those few who have taken up arms on behalf of others and experienced the pain and hardship of warfare, of taking lives and knowing that others are trying to take your life as well. One would think that, in these modern times, no one would be so ignorant as to slander the military forces of an entire country, yet it does happen. The one that stands out to me most of all, and which is therefore the most infuriating, is those who mock and ridicule the armed forces of Italy, usually focusing on the late Kingdom of Italy and in particular on the Second World War. This is thoroughly disgusting just as behavior goes but it is also ignorant and plainly incorrect. To make matters worse, I have even heard some Italian people, even educated Italian people, say much the same thing in more polite and respectful ways of course, by claiming that Italy has no military tradition. This is so shockingly ignorant one hardly knows where to begin in refuting it. The fact of the matter is that Italy has a very long and illustrious military history and many proud military traditions that are still drawn upon today.

(NB: Let's remember that no other country in Europe has had so many battles in its territory like Italy: since early Roman times only during the "happy centuries" of the Roman empire Italy has not been a battleground (and even in those centuries there were battles because of invasions by barbarian people who did raids inside central & northern Italy). Consequently the Italians have developed a long military experience and were feared in the classical era by everybody in the Mediterranean regions as "wolf fighters" -because they attacked in ferocious groups, like wolves do with coordination & tactics- and later were called "legionaries", whose main enjoyment was the cruel fighting of the "gladiators")

Romans and their empire

Obviously, one can go all the way back to ancient Rome for the complete story of Italian military achievements. There was Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal and conquered North Africa, Sulla and Pompey the Great who rose to fame in Roman civil wars. There was Julius Caesar who conquered Gaul and so much more, Marcus Agrippa who won the battles that allowed Augustus Caesar to become Emperor of Rome. Emperor Tiberius was a great soldier as were numerous other Roman monarchs, probably none so celebrated as Emperor Trajan who took the Roman Empire to its height of expansion. Even in the twilight of Imperial Rome there were men like Emperor Constantine the Great and others who accomplished magnificent military feats. Yet, having been through this argument often enough, I am well aware that (for entirely arbitrary reasons) many want to claim that the entire period of the Roman Empire somehow doesn’t count and should not be included on the “scorecard” of the Italian nation. If modern Englishmen can claim Alfred the Great as one of their own, or if the French of today can consider Charlemagne a native son, I fail to see how it is any stretch to consider the Romans to be Italians just because the modern-day people of Italy now include some additives. No one else can claim closer descent certainly.

(NB: The creation of Italy as a political entity was done by emperor Augustus and since that century the Italians identified themselves as the people living inside the peninsula with northern borders in the Alps. All the process to unite Italy with the Risorgimento was in order to recreate the "Roman Italia", that has been destroyed during the early Middle Ages. Italians like Mazzini considered Augustus as their "founding father", like some French historians consider Charlemagne as the "Father of France". Some Italian historians wrote that the Romans with catholicism and mixed with German invasors -like the Longobards- are the actual Italians: if you scratch the Christian influence in an Italian, you can find the old Roman warrior cruelty - like in the case of the Mafiosi and the Fascists, two Italian organizations not influenced/controlled by the catholic church)

Roman Italy evolution & unification: in 27 BC Augustus created the "Italia romana" -and so the inhabitants were called for the first time officially "Italians"- with all the territories south of the Alps and between the river Varo (west of actual Nizza) and the river Arsa (in eastern Istria). Later in 292 AD Diocletian added to this political entity the 3 islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica
Middle Ages and the Battle of Legnano

However, this makes it a little difficult to determine for these naysayers when exactly the Italians started being Italian -as absurd as that rightly sounds. Surely, once we moved beyond the first millennium of Christian history we can say that Romans, Lombards and so on were more or less coming together as Italians. Even in that time, there are great Italian victories and heroes worth remembering such as Alberto da Giussano of the “Lombard League” who defeated the German knights of the formidable Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. There was also, during this period and the years that followed, the rise of the Italian city-states, particularly the maritime powers of Venice and Genoa which built extensive empires throughout the Mediterranean. These were based on trade and commerce but it took highly skilled soldiers and sailors to establish and defend them, fighting against the most powerful forces of the day. One early figure of the great leaders of these states was Ordelafo Faliero, Doge of Venice, who captured Zara and Sebenico from the Hungarians and conquered part of Acre in Syria. There were many such great military leaders over the centuries, one of the most famous, from the 16th Century was the Genoese admiral Andrea Doria who won many victories and ultimately became a top commander in the employ of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

(NB: The presence of the Papacy in Rome with its own state was the main reason for the "division" of Roman Italy in many small states during the Middle Ages. But on the other side the Papacy was the main responsible of why the Muslims were able to attack Europe conquering first the Iberian peninsula and later the Balkans, but never conquered the Italian peninsula. It is usually a bit forgotten the continuous fighting on sea and land that kept Italy free from the Arab & Ottoman domination: in these battles the military tradition of the Italians was fundamental in the defense of western Europe civilization, that so could develop without attacks from the hostile Muslim word)

Renaisance and Giovanni dalle Bande Nere

Renaissance Italy was resplendent with famous warriors and victorious battles. Italian mercenaries were used across Europe and with almost constant warfare going on between the Italian states and the great powers that used Italy as a battlefield it would be impossible to list all of the significant figures and events. Italians also played a key role in the ongoing warfare against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean. Amadeus V of Savoy, in 1315, for example came to fame defending Rhodes from the Turks with the Knights Hospitaller. Also in these times, clerical leaders were often military leaders as well and probably none are so famous as the “Warrior Pope” Julius II who waged a campaign to drive the “barbarians” out of Italy and indeed succeeded in freeing almost all of Italy from foreign control and uniting the country under papal leadership. Pope Clement VII, while not leading military forces personally, came close to such an accomplishment against the invading German and Spanish forces of Emperor Charles V thanks to the great military leadership of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, sometimes called the last of the "Condottieri" (Military leaders), who held off imperial forces against heavy odds until his death in battle in 1526.

The bones of all inhabitants of Otranto are testimony of the military defense of the city that stopped in 1481 the Ottoman invasion of southern Italy allowing time for the successive defeat of Mehmed II (who had just conquered Constantinople): 800 accepted martyrdom from the Muslim invaders, a unique example in History of a full city refusing to surrender and deny the christian faith
There were also famous victories that, inexplicably, some people fail to associate with the Italians such as the epic naval victory at Lepanto in 1571. Most who have a passing familiarity with that famous battle are aware that the Spanish ships and overall command was held by the famous Don Juan of Austria but the vast majority of the ships were Italian and the other commanders were Italians. With much of the Spanish strength being derived from their control of Naples and Sicily, it was almost entirely an Italian force with ships and fighting men and support supplied by Urbino, Savoy, Tuscany, Genoa, Venice and the Papal States. During this same general period, the time of Tudor England, the Dutch Revolt and the Protestant rebellions in Germany, one of the most celebrated military figures was Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma who almost totally reconquered the Netherlands for Spain and was instrumental in defeating English-backed rebels in France. So great were his victories that many historians have labeled him as the greatest soldier of his time. Also, on the other side of Europe, when Emperor Constantine XI fought his gallant last-stand at Constantinople, the commander of his army was an Italian and most of the troops defending the city (about 3/5) were “Latin” Christians and a majority of those were Italians.

Another Italian military genius who commanded foreign troops was Raimondo, Count of Montecuccoli who came to great fame commanding forces of the Hapsburg Emperor. He was considered possibly the best soldier of the 17th Century, rivaled only by the great French commanders Turenne and Conde. His case is also extremely revealing when dealing with those who wish to denigrate Italian military achievements as I have come across such professed “experts” in military history who have not only never heard of Montecuccoli but have no idea who Turenne or Conde was either (something which should surely offend the proud partisans of the Kingdom of France). Another great imperial field marshal was Prince Eugene of Savoy, from the same branch of the venerable dynasty that ultimately became the Royal Family of Italy. His victories over the Turks and in the War of Spanish Succession earned him praise as the greatest soldier of his own time, rivaled only by his British ally the great Marlborough.

(NB:Italians were quite warlike during much of this period. Italian soldiers, sailors and commanders were prominently involved in fighting for the cause of Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries, usually fighting in the armies of the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs, along with the independent Italian states of the era. Italians were considered the second best troops in the Spanish war to subjugate the rebellious Netherlands after the Spaniards themselves (Spaniards and Italians were considered the backbone of the Spanish army in Flanders). Hanlon (who wrote the famous book "The Twilight of a Military Tradition: Italian Aristocrats and European Conflicts: 1560-1800") states that the Italians were considered brave soldiers, although not as resilient as the Spaniards. Italians were therefore considered choice soldiers for assaults, skirmishes and improvised encounters. Italians were considered excellent light horsemen for harassing, skirmishing and ambushing the enemy. Italians were at the time considered the best artillerymen and military engineers in Europe, with a distinct expertise at building military fortifications. In addition to the war in the Low Countries, Italians also served with distinction during the Thirty Years' War. For example, at the Battle of Nördlingen (1634) an army of Spanish and Italian troops decisively defeated a Swedish army.Italian soldiers also fought bravely in Hungary for the Austrian Habsburgs against the Turks during this period. In addition to fighting on land, Italians as sailors were also prominent in fighting both the Turks and their Barbary allies in the Mediterranean as well as against the Dutch and English in northern waters. Italians provided most of the sailors and about half of the soldiers in the Holy League armada at the famous Battle of Lepanto (1571): men and ships came from the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, the Spanish crown lands in Italy, and smaller states such as Tuscany, Savoy, and even the Papal States.

Italian troops of the Napoleonic Wars

One of the many admirers of Prince Eugene was Napoleon Bonaparte who some have claimed to be as much an Italian military figure as a French one himself. He was born Napoleone Buonaparte and grew up speaking only the Corsican dialect of Italian before going to school on the continent and learning French. However, I would not try to antagonize the French by claiming one of their most celebrated military figures. It is enough though to see what credit he gave to the Italian fighting men of his day. Speaking of the contingent of the Kingdom of Italy that fought with his forces at the Battle of Borodino, Napoleon said, “The Italian army had displayed qualities which entitled it evermore to take rank amongst the bravest troops in Europe”. In southern Italy, the troops of the Neapolitan army did not enjoy the same reputation, to say the least of it. However, even there, it is worth pointing out that some performed very well under good leadership such as the counterrevolutionary ‘Army of the Holy Faith’ led by Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo which liberated Naples, Rome and Florence. After the brief flirtation with the unification of northern Italy in the Napoleonic Wars, Italy was divided again and the next series of military conflicts involved the efforts to reunify Italy. This movement took on a life of its own and it soon became a race to see who would lead it to victory; the republican radicals of Giuseppe Mazzini or the constitutional monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy.

(NB: Some troops of the Neapolitan Army of Napoleon were partially made by soldiers related to "banditismo" (linked also to the Mafia) and they were ordered by their bosses to disobey orders and accept surrender with the enemy if paid to do so. This was the beginning of a military behavior that later (in the future years & decades) greatly damaged the reputation of some Italian units at war, where those soldiers linked to mafia & other criminal organizations did not fight as needed. But the soldiers of the Kingdom of Italy in northern-central Italy were considered some of the best in the world by the same Napoleon.)

Risorgimento and the Battle of Volturnus

As mentioned before, the House of Savoy itself produced a number of significant military leaders. Many, however, focus only on the defeats while ignoring the victories of the Piedmontese-Sardinian troops such as King Carlo Alberto at Goito or those led by General Giovanni Durando who successfully defended Vicenza and won high praise by the allies for his leadership of the Italian contingent in the Crimean War.

Certainly, however, the most celebrated Italian military figure of the period was Giuseppe Garibaldi who, acknowledging numerous distasteful opinions of his, was unquestionably a gifted leader of men. He gained fame as a guerilla fighter in South America and in Italy, was offered a top command in the United States army by President Lincoln and who defeated the French in front of Rome. His most stunning success though was when he took a little more than a thousand ragged volunteers and defeated the greatly numerically superior forces of the Bourbon Two-Sicilies to conquer the whole of southern Italy to unite it with the north for the creation of the Kingdom of Italy.

After the reunification of Italy under the House of Savoy the battle most seem to remember is the disastrous defeat at Adowa in the first war with Ethiopia. However, that ignores the numerous colonial victories before and after that battle. Many also ignore the war with Turkey in which Italy won control of Libya and became the first to use aircraft in combat.

(NB: When France started to annex the island of Corsica in the XVIII century (and then incorporated into France's borders -during the Napoleon's empire- the regions of Piemonte, Liguria, Toscana and Lazio), the first movements to defend Italy's existence aroused with Pasquale Paoli revolt in Corsica and were later followed by the birth of the so-called "Irredentism".Paoli was sympathetic to Italian culture and regarded his own native language as an Italian dialect (Corsican is an Italic language closely related to the Tuscan Italian and, to some extent, the Sardinian dialect).He was considered by Niccolò Tommaseo, who collected his "Lettere" (Letters), as one of the precursors of the Italian irredentism. The "Babbu di a Patria" (Father of the fatherland), as was nicknamed Pasquale Paoli by the Corsican Italians, wrote the following appeal in 1768 against the French invaders:'We are Corsicans by birth and sentiment, but first of all we feel Italian by language, origins, customs, traditions; and Italians are all brothers and united in the face of history and in the face of God ... As Corsicans we wish to be neither slaves nor "rebels" and as Italians we have the right to deal as equals with the other Italian brothers ... Either we shall be free or we shall be nothing... Either we shall win or we shall die (against the French), weapons in hand ... The war against France is right and holy as the name of God is holy and right, and here on our mountains will appear for Italy the sun of liberty....' Paoli and his guerrilla war attracted the admiration of all Europeans, mainly the British who since then started to be supporters of the Italian Risorgimento and who later were "fans" of Giuseppe Garibaldi)

Italians in WW1

In World War I the courage and tenacity of the Italian army was remarked upon by many observers from the other Allied powers while also noting the outdated leadership coming from General Luigi Cadorna. Everyone remembers the disaster of Caporetto but ignore the larger picture. For one thing, the mountainous front across which Italy faced Austria-Hungary was recognized as the most difficult of the war. Even hardened German officers who had served on both the eastern and western fronts said that the Italian front was the worst of all. The Austrians also enjoyed all the benefits of the rugged terrain, dug in high on the mountains with the Italians forced to attack in the open, up hill under the most difficult circumstances. Still, while overly costly in lives lost, Italy was continuously gaining ground in the successive offensives along the Isonzo leading up to Caporetto. It should also be remembered that, for that defeat, the Germans had sent in massive support for the offensive, it should also be remembered that not all the Italian forces broke (the army of the Duke of Aosta held firm) and while many claim that only the arrival of French and British reinforcements saved the Italians from total annihilation, the truth is that they arrived after the crisis was over and the Austrian offensive had run out of steam.

What is remarkable is how strongly Italy was able to bounce back after so stunning a loss. Under General Armando Diaz the Italians came roaring back, did very well in the air war and developed shock troop tactics that produced a new type of soldier that was famous far and wide for his reckless courage and no one could doubt the courage of the Arditi who charged enemy machine gun nests with a grenade in each hand and a dagger between their teeth. In the end, Italy won the battle of Vittorio Veneto that knocked Austria-Hungary completely out of the war.

People also tend to overlook the numerous conflicts Italy was involved in between the world wars. There was the pacification of Libya, the conquest of Ethiopia, the intervention in the Spanish Civil War and the occupation of Albania, all of which were Italian successes. Incredibly, some seem intent on trying to denigrate the Italians even when they are victorious. For example, some like to pretend that Libya was never totally pacified; not true. It was and, in fact, it had become such a model colony that when Air Marshal Italo Balbo died at the start of World War II, the Libyans seemed more distraught than the Italians. In the Spanish Civil War, one defeat early on is often used to tarnish the whole Italian intervention. This is stupid, it was one loss and the only one of its kind. The Italians made a very valuable contribution, particularly in the Santander offensive under General Ettore Bastico.

(NB: The first use of aircraft in bombing was done by the Italians in their conquest of Libya in 1911. The Italian military tradition has created some other military innovations, like the invention by the Italian Giovanni Luppis of the "siluri" (torpedo) that was later greatly developed during WWI: Royal Italian Navy torpedo-boats sank in 1917 the battleship "Wien" and scored another success in summer 1918 against an Austrian-Hungarian squadron, sinking the battleship "Szent István" with two torpedoes. Another famous invention was the use of underwater manned torpedoes (called "maiali") to sink enemy ships inside protected ports (like with the successful Alexandria attack in 1941 against the English battleships "Queen Elizabeth" and "Valiant")

Italian empire

The war in Ethiopia deserves some special mention because almost everyone has a totally incorrect view of the conflict. Too many accept the portrayal of it as a super-mechanized, modern Italian war machine simply massacring hordes of primitives armed with sticks and stones.

The Italian empire, with the years when its territories were conquered

This is simply a disgustingly incorrect view and an insult to the Ethiopian people as well as the Italians. The Ethiopians were not ignorant primitives. They had rifles, they had machine guns, they had artillery, European-trained military officers and European military advisors. They had an immense numerical advantage and the advantage of fighting a defensive war on their own ground. They were highly motivated and tenacious fighters who were very experienced at warfare.

Experts at the time who were hostile to Italy predicted that it would take Italy at least two years to conquer Ethiopia and many even predicted that Italy would lose because the sanctions would cause the economy to collapse before that could happen. In the end, the Italians conquered Ethiopia in seven months and that was as much a logistical accomplishment as it was a tactical one. The war in Ethiopia was a hard fought victory, it was no cake walk.

(NB: The Italian victory in Ethiopia was the last colonial conquest of History and made Africa a continent fully in the hands of Europe. The only exception was tiny Liberia, that was nominally independent but in reality under protection of the United States and indirectly controlled by Great Britain. However the Italian empire in Ethiopia lasted only 5 years, but it was followed -after the local Italian defeat by the British empire in 1941- by an Italian guerrilla war that lasted until 1943. This Italian guerrilla won praise from some English generals, because of Amedeo Guillet and other Italian officers and soldiers who fought in a desperate way only for their duty toward their "Patria")

World War 2

But, of course, most of this prejudiced view of Italian martial prowess is a result of World War II and that is no accident. It was an explicit tactic of Allied propaganda to denigrate the Italian war effort as a way to boost their own morale and to cause division between Germany and Italy, in other words, to make the Germans resentful by portraying the Italians as incompetent weaklings that had to be carried by Germany. Obviously, things did not go well for Italy but that was due mostly to being worn out by extensive pre-war operations and because of the lack of a proper upgrading of the armed forces. Contrary to what most think, Italian forces performed quite well under extremely difficult circumstances during the war and had a number of very competent commanders.

In the early days of the war in Africa, the Italian forces came closer to victory than most realize. One major success that went a long way to allowing the Italians to make a major fight in north Africa was the long-range bombing missions launched by Lt. Colonel Ettore Muti on Palestine and Bahrain which did severe damage to British port facilities and oil refineries. This caused the British considerable logistical problems but also forced them to divert resources to defend the Middle East which were badly needed elsewhere. It also helped relieve the threat to the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, allowing Italian forces to be moved to north Africa with very few losses. Starting from Italian bases in the Dodecanese Islands, making a wide circle around British bases in Cyprus, the Italian bombers hit British possessions in the Middle East and put the oil refineries in Haifa out of operation for at least a month. British aircraft operating out of Mt Carmel responded but were too late to intercept the Italian bombers as no one had been expecting an attack so far from what most considered the front lines.

Much of the bad press Italy continues to receive usually boils down to the invasion of France, the first invasion of Egypt and the invasion of Greece. All of this has been grossly overblown. For France, the Italians were unprepared and did poorly in their first operation of the war. Rather like Britain, France, Russia and America all performed rather poorly right out of the gate as well. In Egypt, too much was being asked of a force that was woefully behind the times and in Greece, that was not the disaster everyone thinks. It did not go well certainly but things began to turn around before the Germans intervened so that it was a stalemate that existed on the Greek front, not a collapse.

Photo of ceremony when Medals were awarded by german general Ramcke to six para' of the Folgore Division after the first battle of El Alamein in 1942. In the successive November battle of El Alamein the Folgore wrote one of the most glorious pages of the Italian military tradition

It would take too long to recount in detail all of the instances in which the stereotype is wrong but here is a brief rundown: The most successful non-German submarine commander of World War II was an Italian and the Italian submarine fleet sunk almost ¾ of a million tons of Allied shipping. Italian naval forces penetrated the British anchorage at Alexandria, Egypt and sank two battleships and a tanker and by the middle of 1942 the Royal Italian Navy totally dominated the central Mediterranean. In the Battle of Britain the outdated Italian aircraft actually gave as good as they got, later produced some planes superior to their Allied counterparts and Italian planes managed to sink 72 Allied warships and 196 freighters during the war. At Gazala in 1942 it was the Italian X Corps that saved the German 15th Brigade from total destruction and it was the Italian forces in Egypt that held off the British in Egypt while the Germans retreated after El Alamein (a battle the Italian commander predicted would end in disaster and for precisely the reasons for which it did) and in individual engagements Italian forces won stunning victories over the British and the Russians.

Speaking of the Italian light infantry, Field Marshal Rommel said, “The German soldier astonished the world, but the Bersaglieri astonished the German soldier”.

In terms of military commanders, Marshal Ettore Bastico proved his competence in Spain and gave good service in North Africa, being one of the few officers Rommel would at least listen to. Marshal Giovanni Messe (an ardent royalist) won victories on the Greek, Russian and African fronts and even Marshal Graziani, though ridiculed for his failed invasion of Egypt, knew it was a no-win situation and in any event that was the only defeat of his career. The Duke of Aosta won the respect of the British for his skillful and gallant defense of Italian East Africa, Major Adriano Visconti was one of a number of ace Italian fighter pilots in the war, shooting down 26 Allied aircraft and units such as the Folgore Division earned the respect of their enemies for their courage and tenacity on the battlefield.

(NB: The military performance of Italy in WW2 was the worst in Italy's History. But this disaster happened because Italy entered the war totally unprepared and against the wish of most of his rulers and inhabitants: the same Mussolini in 1939 requested Hitler to maintain peace in Europe until 1942 (when Italy was going to have a huge peaceful "Exposition" -called "Esposizione Universale Roma"- to celebrate 20 years of Fascism). And some Historians wonder why Italy initially attacked only France and did not attack Great Britain's Malta, that was totally defenseless! Furthermore, why Mussolini wanted to escape to Switzerland in April 1945 with letters/documents, that later disappeared when he was killed? May be that the disappeared papers contained the evidences that he entered the war only against France because he was told -probably by his ex-penpal Churchill- that the war was going to finish soon after the France defeat, and Italy & Great Britain together were going to "reduce & mitigate" the victory of Hitler in a soon-to-be Peace Conference? Nobody can deny that the British in this way could have obtained that the Maltese islands (and also other British territories in Africa next to the Italian colonies) were not occupied in the month of June 1940 when the United Kingdom was very weak, allowing time for the successive build up of the british military power in those strategically important areas. Of course all these questions are speculative. But serious historians also discuss why Italy entered so "badly" a war against his former WW1 Allies, while Mussolini was building an expensive defensive wall (called the "Vallo Alpino" - VALLO ALPINO IN ALTO ADIGE (it.wiki)
- ) against Nazi Germany in the frontier of Alto Adige. Why Italy used huge resources to build this huge alpine wall from France to Jugoslavia ( - ALPINE WALL (en.wiki)
- ) and centered on the Italian frontier with Austria/Germany in 1939 and 1940, and did not use the same resources for improving the Italian armed forces, that were in desperate need (after the wars in Spain and Ethiopia) when WW2 started? The Italians have never started a war in a so disastrous way in two thousand years! And they have a huge experience of wars, so why this WW2 disaster has happened? In my opinion the answer probably can be found in the Mussolini's papers/documents that Churchill was desperately seeking, when he did a "special" holyday for some weeks in the northern Italian lakes in September 1945. A copy of these letters/documents is probably deposited in the Vatican archives -according to some historians and experts: read SECRET DIARIES AND LETTERS BETWEEN CHURCHILL & MUSSOLINI
- but for a long time will not be allowed to be read for security reasons)


Obviously, there were plenty of losses as well, the overall war was a loss for Italy and a defeat is a defeat. However, the point is that every country has its successes and every country has its failures and it is simply ignorant to slander an entire people the way the Italians have been. What started out as simple wartime propaganda has been repeated so endlessly and exaggerated out of all proportion that it is truly ridiculous. The vast majority of the sweeping generalizations that too many people make are simply untrue.

The Italians have an illustrious military history with many great victories and many brilliant military leaders to be justly proud of. I also wish more people would keep in mind that denigrating someone, even an enemy, is often just as insulting to the other side. Where is the honor in defeating a totally hapless enemy? More simply though, I wish more people would simply pause before belittling anyone who put on a uniform and went into actual combat, something most people have not done. It is a pet peeve of mine to see the brave military forces of the past denigrated by smug people who usually don’t have the first clue as to what they are talking about and the two that seem to be put down the most, and thus infuriate me the most often, are those of Austria-Hungary (Austrians and Slavs) and the United Kingdom (two empires gone to the wind, even partially because of the Italian military). It really needs to stop and people should have more decency.

Just as in art, music, exploration and so many other areas, when it comes to warfare the Italians have much to be proud of.

(NB: One of the Italian military traditions -during the Renaissance and later until Napoleon times with his mass armies- was centered on special units under an able leader, that later were called in English: "Commando" - an Italian word meaning "under strong orders")

Saturday, January 7, 2017


The Beginnings of Commercial Aviation in Italy

Italy was the first in the History of Aviation to use the airplane for bombing, during the conquest of Libya in 1911, but after WW1 faced the internal crisis that paved the way for Mussolini's fascism. So, the civilian development of its airlines was delayed for some years.

Indeed as one of the major European powers in the 20th century, one might expect that Italy would have made an early start in commercial aviation. On the contrary, Italy was actually one of the last in Europe to begin civil aviation services, despite considerable experience in military and naval aviation before 1920. Political instability was the main factor, but geography also played a part in Italy's late start since the Alps and the Apennines prevented regular civil air travel within Italy. Not until the mid-1920s, a good five years after the rest of the major European powers, did Italy become a major participant in European commercial aviation.

Like many other European nations did in their early phases of civil aviation, Italy initially formed several small companies that struggled to provide a modest level of passenger service.

The first of these was the "Aero Expresso Italiana" (AEI), founded on December 12, 1923, which began offering services in August 1926: the first flight was from Torino to Trieste with a seaplane Cant 10 with 10 passengers.

By 1930, there were five other Italian airlines, including the "Società Italiana Servizi"(SISA), the "Società Area Navigazione Aerea" (SANA), the "Società Area Mediterranea" (SAM), and the "Società Area Avio-Linee Italiane" (ALI).

Almost all of these early Italian air services were state-owned or state supported. The only major exception was the ALI, which was backed by the powerful Fiat industrial empire, a builder of automobiles. The three biggest airlines, SISA, SANA, and SAM, equally split the Italian civil aviation market, carrying about 10,000 passengers per year by 1930. If in 1925 it seemed like Italians hardly had a civil aviation sector, by 1930 they had made rapid progress. In fact, Italian commercial aviation in 1930 was third in terms of the number of passengers carried, after Germany and France, and ahead of Great Britain and the Netherlands. Most Italian routes were limited to locations geographically close to the country and flying to Germany, the Italian territories in north Africa (particularly Libya), Greece, Turkey, France, and Austria.

The "SA Navigazione Aerea" (SANA) first air service to open was from Genova to Roma, Napoli and Palermo on the island of Sicilia (Sicily) on 20 August, 1925. On 7 April, 1926 SANA started a second civil air service of Italy: Genova – Napoli - Palermo. The 1,070 km long service was operated three times weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) with return on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The 1930s was a time of consolidation for the European aviation industry, and Italy was no exception. In August 1934 SAM, SANA, and SISA combined to form a single national carrier known as "Ala Littoria", which was owned by the government. The creation of "Ala Littoria" was largely motivated more by political changes in Europe than by commercial interests: Benito Mussolini's fascist party had gained power in Italy, and the new government was eager to display the Italian flag as a symbol of the country's new prestige. Mussolini's conquest of Albania and Ethiopia in Africa (called Abyssinia by some historians) was aided by the Ala Littoria airline, which helped maintain transportation routes between Rome and the hinterlands. One company, ALI, remained independent of government control and maintained its operations, mostly to Nazi Germany-an Italian ally- with the strong support of the Fiat company.

Italy used planes in the 1920s much like those used by other European countries at the time: a mix of mostly German (the Junkers G-24 and F.13 and Dornier's Wal and Super-Wal) and Dutch (Fokker F.7b) aircraft. The SAM company also used a fleet of Caproni and Savoia-Marchetti flying-boats. After nationalization of the Italian airlines and the formation of "Ala Littoria", the Italians began to use planes designed and built by Italians. These were mostly bombers converted for civilian use such as the three-engine Savoia-Marchetti S.73 monoplane.

A Piaggio P 108C that in 1942 should have serviced the transatlantic route to South America

Ala Littoria

In order to study in detail the main first commercial airline of Italy, we have to pinpoint that Ala Littoria was incorporated in 1934, with the aim of making it Italy’s main national airline. The airline was formed as a result of the merger of SAM, SANA,and AEI. In addition, in 1935, Albania’s "Societa Adria-Aero Lloyd" and "Nord Africa Aviazione"(NAA, an air-line operating in Lybia) were absorbed by Ala Littoria. Umberto Klinger, previously a director of SAM, was appointed chief executive of Ala Littoria at the end of 1934; his huge experience in civil aviation and airline management was a key factor in his selection.

By the end of 1935, the only private airline that remained in operation in Italy was ALI, owned by the FIAT industrial group. Ala Littoria’s inherited route network was extensive and ranged throughout Europe and Italy’s African colonies. It was at the time of the war in Ethiopia that fascist “colonial aviation” came into being, as a result of consolidation in the domestic aviation market and the need for air links both to and within Italy’s overseas colonies.

Ala Littoria’s equipment included three-engine air-craft for domestic and European links and four-engine craft for the longer international routes. Its fleet included seaplanes for access to coastal and lakeside airports. At its height in late 1939, Ala Littoria flew to thirty-eight airports in every European country and in Italy’s African colonies, with a fleet of 132 aircraft. From 1938, connections had also been established with South America with a route to Buenos Aires. It was also proposed a route to North America and India/Japan in the 1940s, but war stopped it.

Passenger numbers reached 50,000 per year by the start of World War II, with more than 3,570,905 kilometers flown per annum. Ala Littoria’s development from 1934 through 1940 made the Italian civil aviation market the fifth most developed in the world by 1940, after the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany and Great Britain. Furthermore, from the establishment of Italian East Africa in 1936 onward, the Ministry of Aeronautics and Ala Littoria were active in developing a colonial civil aviation network, connecting Italy’s North and East African colonies with each other and with Italy, while creating internal routes within individual colonies.

By 1939, ten airports and one seaplane landing area were used for civil aviation traffic in Italian East Africa alone, a more developed colonial aviation network than in Italy’s other colonies. Libya, for example, featured only four airports and two seaplane landing areas in use by civil aviation traffic in 1939. Reflecting Ala Littoria’s key role in maintaining links between Rome and Italy’s colonies, the airline was accorded the lion’s share of facilities and hangar space at these airports, as seen in airport planning maps.

Furthermore in 1937, Assab airport in Eritrea was sufficiently well established to be able to accommodate Amelia Earhart and her aircraft in her ill-fated round-the-world attempt. Additionally, as has been noted, the airline enjoyed strong political support: it was championed by Italo Balbo (the would-be successor of Mussolini), while Mussolini’s son Bruno was, briefly, one of its managers.

First international & intercontinental routes

While in the late 1920s the Italian commercial flights reached European & Mediterranean countries around the Italian peninsula, in the 1930s there were new routes with long distance flights toward other continents.

Indeed the British airline company "Imperial Airways" wanted to operate in the late 1920s a through service from London via France, Italy and Greece to Egypt and India. The Italian government demanded from the British that the "SA Navigazione Aerea" would be able to pool between Genova and Alexandria. When the British refused to agree, they were forced to re-route the air service. The Italian government refused the British to enter Italy via France and thus the route had to be rescheduled and changed into a flight from London to Basel (Switzerland), then to a train ride to Genova (Italy), where passengers, mail and freight were transferred to the Short S.8 Calcutta flying boats for the sea-trip to Alexandria in Egypt. The curious point here was that the Italians allowed the British to leave Italy from an Italian port, but Imperial Airways Ltd was not allowed to cross Italian soil to Genova.

Imperial Airways Ltd finally could open its air service on 30 March, 1929. As a countermeasure the Italians started two weeks later a parallel air service. On 15 April, 1929, the SANA opened an air service from Genova to Roma, Napoli, Kerkira, Athenia, Rhodos, Tobruk and Alexandria in the former British protectorate of Egypt (total length of the air service was 2,895 km). Imperial Airways Ltd had to fly from Genova to Roma, Napoli, Corfu, Athens, Suda Bay (Crete), Tobruk and Alexandria. With two airline companies flying to Alexandria, the Italian regarded it as a pool service. In the first (and only) year of operation, the Dornier Superwal of "SA Navigazione Aerea" flew 190,947 km (on 33 return trips), and transported 257 passengers (average of nearly four passengers per trip in an aircraft with nineteen seats), 3,952 kg mail and newspapers and 36,731 kg goods and luggage. The air service had merely a political meaning, as in 1930 it had already been closed down again. The two governments failed to reach an agreement and thus the services had to be discontinued by SANA. The British continued to operate as previous and the public did not care for the extra train ride. In fact, at a later stage the passengers, goods and mail had to travel by train from Paris to Brindisi, from where the Imperial Airways Ltd flying boats transported them to Egypt and beyond.

The Italians in the early 1930s discontinued the air service to Alexandria and concentrated on their original network of 1928. Roma – Genova (430 km, 3 hours flying) was operated six times weekly, as well as the air service between Roma, Napoli and Palermo (640 km, 5½ hour flying). In Palermo, "Società Aerea Mediterranea" – SAM, the new state-owned airline company offered a connection to Tunis. The service to France and Spain was divided into two services: Roma – Genova – Marseille (745 km, 7 hours flying) and Genova – Marseille – Barcelona (770 km, 7 hours flying). The first service was operated on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while latter it was flown on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The train from Roma to Genova and Marseille could travel the distance in 24 hours, so compared with the flying-time of seven hours there was a great improvement. From Genova to Barcelona a train would use 28 hours, a fast steamer 21 hours. Again a flying-time of merely 7 hours was an impressive improvement. The "SA Navigazione Aerea" continued the air service to Tripoli in Italian Libya as well, but the landing was done even at Siracusa only on demand. Jane’s mentioned also a landing at Malta on demand by passengers.

Map of Ala Littoria flight routes in 1939

"Ala Littoria" played an important role in controlling Italy's colonial empire in north and east Africa. But in establishing routes from Italy to Africa, "Ala Littoria" had to overcome many geographic obstacles. For example, airplanes of the 1930s had great difficulty reaching Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, which is located about 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) above sea level. One of the company's proudest achievements occurred in November 1935, when "Ala Littoria" began full passenger service between Rome and Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on the east coast of Africa, thousands of miles from southern Europe. The prestigious route was called "Linea dell'Impero", and the airports connected were those of Rome-Benghazi-Cairo-Kartoum-Asmara-Addis Abeba-Mogadishu.

In 1939, attracted by the idea of establishing a direct regular service between Italy and Italian Eastern Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana) bypassing the British colonies/protectorates of Egypt & Sudan, Bruno Mussolini (in the meantime appointed general manager of LATI) and his staff carried out a long technical cruise with their improved Savoia-Marchetti SM.83 to Tripoli and the Kufra Oasis (in southeastern Libya), Asmara, Massaua, Gura and Agordat (Eritrea). The voyage (still partially commercial) proved to be very useful to acknowledge those flight experiences necessary for the future war missions. On June 15, 1940 – only five days after the Italian declaration of war – their Savoia-Marchetti SM.83 "615-1" took off from Guidonia (the air base near Rome) to Asmara, via Benghazi (Cyrenaica, Libya), with six passengers and 100 kilograms of mail onboard, officially starting the ‘special’ air links with the Impero (Empire). It was a full success, that opened a new trans-saharian flight route in Africa between Italian Libia and Eritrea/Ethiopia. So, other six flights (now fully military) were completed in 1940 within the end of June, twelve in July and two in August, carrying on the whole 27 passengers, 406 kgs of luggage, 5753 kgs of mail and 4047 kgs of ammo, medicals and spare parts.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint also that on March 1938 the airline "Ala Littoria" did the first record flight from Rome to Argentina with the route Roma-Cagliari-Bathurst/Gambia-Bahia-Rio de Janeiro-Buenos Aires, using a special hydroplane of the model Cant Z 506, but later the company was substituted by the newly created "Linee Aeree Transcontinetali Italiane" (LATI) for the Latin American flights.

LATI initially started flights from Rome to Rio de Janeiro, but in 1939 enlarged the route until Buenos Aires (with mail services until Chile and Bolivia/Peru).LATI (en.wiki)
LATI was ready to use the best Italian airplane of prewar era, the Piaggio P 108C (that was the civilian version of the state-of-the-art P 108 bomber), but when the airplane was ready in early 1942 the USA entered war and blocked the Italian transatlantic flights.

"Ala Littoria" routes in 1940 grew to 37,110 kms, mainly in the Mediterranean and Africa. This accomplishment -as indicated before- made the airline the fifth in the world (after the USA, URSS, Germany and UK's national airlines).

Like all other air services in Africa (including those offered by the Belgian airline "Sabena"), the Italian "Ala Littoria" shut down all its operations with the coming of World War II. The Italian company also had to eventually terminate services in Europe as the chaos of the war reached a peak by 1943. With the exception of sporadic operations of the independent ALI, which continued flights between the two Axis powers, Germany and Italy, for most of the war, there was no civilian Italian air service to mention.

1947 Photo of an ex-Italian Air Force type -the Savoia-Marchetti SM.95, a plane that had been at the center of one of Italy’s most audacious wartime efforts: “Operation S” (the bombing of New York City)- with the insignia of "Alitalia"

After WW2: Alitalia

When Italy resumed commercial aviation operations in the postwar era, there was a burst of civil activity as at least seven companies formed to carry passengers. None of the new companies, however, had any connection with prewar companies such as "Ala Littoria". Major British and American firms, such as "Trans World Airlines" (TWA) and "British European Airways" (BEA) contributed to the restoration of Italian commercial aviation by financing the establishment of two major Italian airlines, "Aerolinee Italiane Internazionali" (Alitalia) and "Linee Aeree Italiane" (LAI).

Alitalia expanded rapidly in 1946/1947.  New aircraft were added, including another ex-Italian Air Force type, the Savoia-Marchetti SM.95, a plane that had been subject of one of Italy’s most audacious wartime efforts, “Operation S”, the bombing of New York City.

Later these two companies (Alitalia & LAI) served as the backbone of Italian civil air activity into the 1950s and eventually merged into a single airline known as "Linee Aeree Italiane" (Alitalia) in September 1957. "Alitalia" remains the airline most commonly associated with modern Italian commercial aviation.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Italy, when was a democracy under the rule of the Liberals before the Fascism, did a colonial expansion that aimed even to the Middle East. But the Italian Liberals were not successful in obtaining a colonial territory. Only the Rodi islands archipelago -that it is in a Greek area next to Anatolia- was Italian when Mussolini took power in 1922: the easternmost island of the archipelago, the little island of Castellorizo (Castelrosso in Italian), was the only territory geographically of the Middle East that was in Italian control.

1921 photo of the island of Castellorizo (Castelrosso in Italian) of the Rodi archipelago. It was the only Italian colonial territory in the Middle East geographical region, being located south of Anatolia near Adalia (actual Antalya).

Indeed Italian colonial expansion began shortly after the country’s unification in 1861. From the very start, the overseas possessions that liberal Italy managed to acquire were positioned on the edges of the Middle East. During the 1870s and 1880s the Italians were able to establish themselves on the southern end of the western shores of the Red Sea, a process facilitated by British acquiescence and at times even their support. In 1885 Italy’s Foreign Minister, Pasquale Mancini, justified the necessity of this remote colony, which came to be known as Eritrea, by arguing that the Red Sea provided the key to the Mediterranean.

In the Mediterranean itself Italian expansion was much slower to develop. In 1880 the prominent Italian statesman Francesco Crispi told the Chamber of Deputies that modern Italy must learn from the history of ancient Rome and the medieval city-states and assert itself in the Mediterranean. Italian politicians coveted Tunisia but in 1881 their ambitions were frustrated by the French who occupied that country and established a protectorate over it.

Soon afterwards Egypt fell into the hands of another international Power, Great Britain. In the late 1870s and early 1880s Italy sought to partake in the international management of Egypt. Of all the European communities in this country the Italian was second in size only to the Greek. In July 1882, when the Urabi Revolt threatened European interests in Egypt, Britain invited Italy to participate in its intervention there. Mancini, however, refused, fearing the costs of the enterprise, the military difficulties it entailed, as well as German and French reactions. The paper Popolo Romano called on the Italian government not to exceed in shyness and to intervene. A little of the African sun, they argued, would do no harm to Italy’s soldiers. After the British succeeded in overcoming Egyptian resistance with ease, Italian opposition leaders such as Crispi and Sidney Sonnino lamented the loss of a colonial opportunity.

Expansionist ideas suffered a setback following Italy’s defeat by the Abyssinians at Adowa in 1896. Nonetheless, during the first decade of the twentieth century the idea of colonial expansion began to gain ground in certain sectors of Italian society. In 1906 the "Istituto Coloniale Italiano" in Rome was established along with the journal "Rivista Coloniale" which disseminated patriotic ‘colonial culture’. The Associazione Nazionale Italiana held its first congress in Florence in December 1910 and soon began to publish the weekly "L’Idea Nazionale". Literary figures like Gabriele D’Annunzio, Giovanni Pascoli, Alfredo Oriani and Enrico Corradini promoted expansionism and revived the myth of Italy’s glorious Roman and Venetian past. Expansionist-nationalist ideas were flourishing among the younger cadres of the Foreign Ministry and the term "Mare Nostrum" (our sea), as a way to describe the Mediterranean, was put into use before the First World War.

General Allenby made his historical entrance in Jerusalem on December 11, 1917. He had at his left L. Colonel D'Agostino, commander of the Italian detachment of Bersaglieri in Palestine. It was the first time since the Crusades that the Holy City was in Christian control.

As Christopher Seton-Watson has pointed out, Italian imperialism was largely imitative. The ‘industrial imperialism’ of northern Italy’s traders, bankers and manufacturers took the form of a search for markets, natural resources and investment opportunities, while the ‘ demographic imperialism’ of southern politicians, publicists and peasants took the form of a search for land where Italy’s surplus population could be settled in prosperity while still remaining under the Italian flag. Eventually, both economic and demographic justifications for imperialism proved unfounded. Italian industrialists and bankers did have commercial interests, for instance, in the Ottoman Empire, but it was often the government in Rome that had to encourage them to take steps that would be useful to the ambitions of Italian foreign policy. In the Italian case capital usually followed the flag, not the other way around. Even under Fascism, Italy’s economy gained more from tourism than it did from speculation in the Middle East. Furthermore, Italian capitalism showed little inclination to invest in the colonies without government subsidies or guarantees. The colonies were a constant strain on the national budget and none of them paid their own way.

As far as Italian emigrants were concerned, the USA and even French Tunisia remained far more appealing destinations than Eritrea, Somalia and, later on, Libya. However, an expansionist policy and the pursuit of colonies enabled Italy to maintain its posture as a Great Power. Moreover, foreign policy provided help for patriotic unity, enabling a rare collaboration between the lay Italian state and Catholic sectors close to the Vatican. Religious organizations such as the Salesian order and financial institutions with connections to the Papacy such as the Banco di Roma were harnessed to enhance the prestige of Italian culture and further the country’s commercial interests on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean. As the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann noted some years later, ‘in Palestine the Vatican and the secular Italian Government seem to be identical. The cleavage which exists in Rome is not apparent in Jerusalem’. Step by step nationalist politicians, diplomats, Italian clergymen and businessmen of the Liberal era laid the foundations that later served the Fascist regime’s Middle Eastern policy.

In 1911 favourable international conditions as well as nationalist sentiments in the Chamber of Deputies and in the press combined to persuade the Prime Minister, Giovanni Giolitti, and his Foreign Minister, Antonio di San Giuliano, to seize a Mediterranean colony for Italy and perhaps help assert the country’s claim to be a Great Power. The invasion of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was launched in late September 1911. The Italians miscalculated the resistance they would encounter and expected a quick victory. Much to their surprise, the local Arab and Berber population joined the Ottoman forces in resisting the invasion, pinning the Italians to their positions near the coast. In January 1912 Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif, the leader of the Sanusiyya, a religious Islamic order that was founded in the nineteenth century and had a strong following in Cyrenaica, proclaimed a "Jihad" against the invaders. In order to break the deadlock and to exert more pressure on the Ottomans, the Italians resorted to capturing the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean in April 1912, to employing their navy in the Dardanelles, and to bombarding Beirut in Lebanon and the port of Hodeidah in the Red Sea. The Italian government also began to send money and arms to support the revolt of Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Ali al-Idrisi against the Ottomans in Asir in the Arabian Peninsula. The military and diplomatic impasse was only solved when the outbreak of the First Balkan War in October 1912 forced the Ottomans to capitulate.

In addition to acquiring Libya, the Italians gained temporary custody of the Dodecanese which, after the First World War, became permanent. Though the Libyan War had been more successful than the disastrous campaign in Ethiopia 16 years earlier, it re-asserted the pattern that was to continue through to the Fascist period, whereby colonial expansion was ruinously expensive and rife with setbacks.

In 1912–14 Italy began to seek commercial concessions from the Turks in Asia Minor, especially in the region of Adalia (now known as southwestern Anatolia). However, these plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the First World War.

Another sphere where Italy sought to assert its influence was on the eastern shores of the Red Sea, in close proximity to the colony in Eritrea. Italian attempts at commercial penetration in southwestern Arabia began as early as 1910. Rome’s ambitions in the region sparked a Red Sea rivalry with Britain which would last, with varying degrees of intensity, for three decades.

With the outbreak of the First World War in Europe new horizons were opened for Italian colonial expansion. In November 1914 the Ministry for the Colonies, which was established at the end of the Libyan War, charted out Italy’s colonial aspirations. In North Africa Italy sought, among other things, a British concession of the Jarabub Oasis on the Egyptian-Libyan frontier. In the Arabian Peninsula Italy wanted a position of parity with Britain: either a joint guarantee of Arab independence or – if Britain were to establish itself in Arabia – the Italians ought to be allowed to acquire a similar position in Asir and parts of Yemen. An article which appeared in Rivista Coloniale in January 1915, and was probably inspired by the Ministry for the Colonies, called for the conquest of Hodeidah, Mokha and Sheikh Said on the eastern shores of the Red Sea in order to prevent the region from falling to another power. Middle Eastern ambitions played a part in the Italian decision to enter the First World War. In February 1915 the British and French fleets bombarded the Dardanelles. The Italian Prime Minister, Antonio Salandra, and his Foreign Minister, Sidney Sonnino, feared that if Italy did not join the war soon it would arrive too late to take part in the defeat and partition of Turkey. Despite their former membership in the Triple Alliance, the Italian government approached the British, in early March 1915, with a list of conditions for Italian entry into the war on the side of the Allies. Some of the recommendations of the Ministry for the Colonies were included in Italy’s colonial demands: equitable treatment in the Mediterranean; a mutual Anglo-Italian guarantee for the independence of Yemen and the Muslim holy places as well as an undertaking not to annex any part of the Arabian Peninsula; and an extension of Italy’s colonies in Eritrea, Somalia and Libya through concessions from the colonies of Britain and France. However, Italy was hardly in a strong position to bargain over colonies, having during the winter of 1914–15 lost control of all Libya except for some positions near the Mediterranean coast.

The Treaty of London, which was signed on 26 April 1915 and would soon bring Italy into the war, gave a vague assurance that Italy ‘ought to obtain a just share of the Mediterranean region adjacent to the province of Adalia’. Article 13 of the treaty stipulated ‘in principle that Italy may claim some equitable compensation’ in Africa should France and Britain increase their colonial territories at the expense of Germany. Italy did not obtain the mutual Anglo-Italian guarantee it sought for the Arabian Peninsula. Instead Rome adhered to an existing pact between the allies, according to which the Muslim holy places in Arabia would remain under the authority of an independent Muslim power. The promises Italy was given in the Treaty of London were never fully fulfilled and for many years this failing was used by Italian statesmen to justify their colonial claims.

1920 Map showing in yellow the Italian area of influence in Anatolia, according to Sevres Treaty

Despite Italy’s declaration of war on Turkey in August 1915, the SykesPicot agreement, which partitioned the Middle East into British and French spheres of influence, was concluded in early 1916 without Italy’s knowledge. The agreement made no mention of Italy. Furthermore, in Article 10 of Sykes-Picot, the French and British agreed that no power would be allowed to acquire territory in the Arabian Peninsula or to build naval bases on the Red Sea islands, a clause that could be interpreted as anti-Italian. Indeed, the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey and other senior Whitehall officials believed even before the war that ‘it is of great importance not to allow Italy to obtain a foothold on the Eastern coast of the Red Sea or the adjacent Islands.’ When Sonnino learnt of the existence of the Sykes-Picot Agreement he was alarmed. The text was finally disclosed to the Italians in October 1916, only after Sonnino – a staunch supporter of Italy’s participation in the war – threatened to resign. In the following months Italian wartime diplomacy sought to modify the terms of the Anglo-French agreement, adjusting them to Italy’s aspirations. Sonnino’s policy was epitomized by the slogan ‘O tutti o nessuno’ – either everybody gets a piece of the Ottoman Empire or nobody does. Finally, the St Jean de Maurienne Agreement of April 1917, which was later embodied in an exchange of letters on 18 August 1917, saw the Allies recognize Italy’s sphere of influence in Asia Minor (which was to include Adalia, Smyrna and Konia). Sonnino was also able to further Italian aspirations in the Holy Land.

According to Sykes-Picot, Palestine west of the Jordan River and exclusive of Haifa and Acre was designated to be administered internationally. In 1917 the Allies recognized Italy’s claim to participate in the country’s administration. On the other hand, an Italian claim for the Farsan Islands in the Red Sea was not recognized. The agreement seemed to improve Italy’s cards for the post-war peace settlement. However, it was dependent upon Russian ratification and as this was never given, Britain was able to renounce the obligations it had undertaken at St Jean de Maurienne once the war was over. Sonnino attempted to bolster Italy’s tenuous diplomatic position in various ways. In view of the fact that many of Italy’s subjects in Libya and East Africa were Muslims, he argued that, as a ‘Muslim Power’, Italy should be informed of any agreements made with the Sharif of Mecca. As the resistance to Italian rule in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica had a distinct Islamic flavour, Rome sought the friendship of the rulers of the Muslim holy places in Arabia. Sonnino repeatedly offered to send Muslim Italian colonial troops to join the Hijaz expedition but was continually turned down by the British.

The Foreign Minister was partially more successful when it came to ensuring Italian participation in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. In early March 1917 he learnt that the French were planning to send troops to take part in the conquest of Palestine. The Italians had a vested interest in the Catholic institutions which operated in the Holy Land and Sonnino was eager to participate in the country’s post-war international administration. Seeking not to be outdone by the French he offered the British government to send 5,000 troops. On 9 April 1917 the British reluctantly agreed that a small Italian detachment of ‘some three hundred men’ could join the expeditionary force ‘for representative purposes only’. Despite the opposition of Italy’s obstinate Chief of Staff, a small Italian detachment left for Port Said in May 1917 and eventually took part in the Allied offensive against the Turks at the Third Battle of Gaza. In the summer of 1918, when General Allenby was prepared to accept a more substantial Italian contingent, Sonnino tried to persuade his government to increase Italy’s participation in the war effort in the Middle East. He argued that such a move would strengthen Italy’s claim to receive territory in Asia Minor. However, he was unable to persuade Italy’s generals or the Minister for the Colonies to deliver the troops he requested. In September 1918 Allenby advanced on northern Palestine and Syria without making use of Italian forces. Italy’s poor military performance on the one hand and Wilsonian ideals of self determination and adjusting state frontiers according to lines of nationality on the other, did not create an atmosphere favourable to the furtherance of Italian colonial claims once the war was over. At the peace conference Italy fared badly.

The Farasan islands of Saudi Arabia (facing the Dahlak islands of Italian Eritrea) were requested by the Italians as compensation for their intervention in WWI, but the UK did not accepted the proposal in order to maintain the full Arabian peninsula under British control

The Italians’ request to receive the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea as part of their colonial compensation was turned down by the British Colonial Minister, Lord Alfred Milner (the Farasan islands were a border territory of the Roman empire, as evidences of roman legionaries presence have been discovered on the main island; if interested, read Romans in Farasan islands

The landing of Italian troops in Adalia and Smyrna in spring 1919 aggravated the already tense relations between the Italian delegation to Paris and the Allied leaders David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson. Eventually, the Italians had to abandon the hope of acquiring territories in Asia Minor. Italy’s post-war Prime Minister, Francesco Nitti, believed that colonial adventures in the Middle East at this stage ‘would have involved Italy in undoubted economic ruin and in the certainty of military adventures of incalculable difficulty, which would have absorbed all the resources of the country at the very time when Italy had most need of them.’ Following the rise of Mustafa Kemal’s nationalists, the Italians withdrew their forces from Asia Minor and opted to establish friendly relations with the new regime in Turkey.

But with the rise of Mussolini's fascism the Italian policy in the Middle East started to be more aggressive and the moderate approach of liberal Italy to those territories disappeared after 1922. In nearly a dozen years more, fascist Italy would attack Ethiopia and create the "Italian empire": but no region of the Middle East was conquered or even controlled by Mussolini, even if he did a tentative in Yemen in the 1930s. Indeed senator Giacomo Gasparini (former governor of Italian Eritrea) in 1937 signed an Italian Treaty with Yemen -that should have worked for 25 years- and declared: "Yemen has now for Italy the same satellite-state position in the Red sea as Albania had in the Adriatic sea". So, probably without WW2 (we must remember that Mussolini initially in 1939 wanted to postpone the global war of Hitler at least until 1942) the Italians would have done soon or later in Yemen the same occupation/annexation they did in Albania in 1939.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Italy and Albania: a political and economic alliance, and the unification Italy-Albania in 1939

At the beginning of the twentieth century Albania existed as an agrarian society run by local chieftains, except for periodic short-lived central governments, until King Zogu, with the help of Yugoslavia, secured absolute power in December, 1924. With wide support from the people of Albania, Zogu was able to forge a strong economic alliance with Italy which strengthened the emerging centralized government and gave Albanians a sense of nationhood.

For fourteen years the "Italian-Albanian alliance" developed and functioned to the benefit of both countries, ending only with the Italian invasion of Albania in April, 1939. In that year the kingdom of Italy started to "assimilate" Albania: On April 12,1939 the Albanian parliament voted to depose Zog and unite the nation with Italy "in personal union" by offering the Albanian crown to Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III (who appointed Francesco Jacomoni di San Savino, a former ambassador to Albania, to represent him in Albania as "Lieutenant-General of the King" or Viceroy).

It was the first step toward the creation of a political italian entity similar to the one of the United Kingdom (where the king is the union-center between England, Scotland and Wales): Italian King Victor Emmanuel III was crowned "King of the Albanians" in addition to his title of Emperor of Ethiopia, which had been occupied three years before; and successively was considered the possibility to do the same with Montenegro in 1941 (but it was not done, because the 1943 Italian defeat in WW2 did not allowed a "united kingdom of Italy" with Italy, Albania and Montenegro united under the crown of Victor Emmanuel III)

However it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in the "Treaty of London" during World War I, the Triple Entente had promised Italy central and southern Albania as a possession as a reward for fighting alongside the Entente. In June 1917, after Italian soldiers seized control of substantial areas of Albania, Italy formally declared a protectorate over central and southern Albania; however this was overturned in September 1920 when Italy was pressured by US president Wilson to remove its army from Albania. Italy was enraged with the minimal gains that she received from peace negotiations, which she regarded as having violated the Treaty of London. Italian Fascists claimed in the 1920s that Albanians were ethnically linked to Italians through links with the prehistoric Italiotes, Illyrian and Roman populations, and that the major influence exerted by the Roman and Venetian empires over Albania justified Italy's right to possess it.

Italy and Albania in 1940 Europe

Establishment of the Italo-Albanian Alliance

King Zogu, the architect of the "Italian-Albanian alliance" in the 1920s, established a foreign policy that was an important element in his political program, as well as his economic program. In January, 1925, Zogu sent a letter to Mussolini pledging alliance and Mussolini responded immediately by expressing his recognition of the Republic of Albania and its Government. At the same time, Zogu’s administration was overwhelmed by different European companies offering to invest in all branches of the Albanian economy. These offers consisted of things such as the construction of railways, docks, mines and drainage schemes, as well as oil industry and banking development. Unfortunately, Albania, still without paper currency and using gold coins, was facing difficulties in building a modern money economy, and Zogu understood his country needed a national bank. The easiest way to achieve this was to establish an economic relationship with a strong country. Surrounded by pro-Italian cabinet members and convinced that Britain was standing behind Italy in order to offset the support France was giving to Yugoslavia, King Zogu openly announced his intentions to cooperate fully with Italy and turned his back on the Yugoslav government who had brought him to power.

Thus began a fourteen year period (1925-1939) of Italian companies pouring wealth and resources into Albania to reconstruct this poor agrarian country. In the spring of 1925 two important concessions were signed with Italy; the first was the right to found a national bank and the second was the approval of the establishment of an Italian company (SVEA), to develop the Albanian economy. The National Bank of Albania (Banca Nazionale D’Albania) was in truth an Italian bank operating under Italian law and its reserves were in Rome. This institution offered financial services to the young government that some other financial institutions did not; however, through the agreement, the Italians had the right to keep the majority of shares (51% against 49% to the Albanians). This made it possible for an unexpected development whereby the Italian banks secured the majority of title and deeds through fraud and corruption. When discovered, this caused a scandal and resulted in the resignation of the Albanian finance minister, who, it was revealed, had been awarded one million gold francs for committing this fraudulent activity on behalf of the Italian government. Unfortunately, it did not end there, the bank funds had been administered by the Società per lo Sviluppo Economico dell’Albania (SVEA), a development company to improve the Albanian economy, which was, in fact, a section of the Italian Finance Ministry. While the funds administered by this institution were indeed spent on infrastructure and public works, for example development of oil resources, it just so happened that the contracts would be awarded to those firms preferred by the Italian government. Undoubtedly, Albania would never have become developed economically without the presence of foreign aid and loans. Above all the Italians were better than the Yugoslavs in being the ambassadors of westernizing Albania. Interestingly, in December, 1924, when Zogu was first raised to power, he was but a Serbian puppet. However, by June, 1925, with the Italo-Albanian alliance, Albania had become an Italian province without a prefect. At every opportunity Zogu referred to Mussolini as a great leader and said that he was inspired by Mussolini from early on, though he seemed not to want to become dependent on a sole foreign partner and invited investment from other countries as well. However, the Italian government demanded that Albania recognize the declaration of Paris which established Albania as an Italian protectorate with Italy expected to provide both abundant money and arms.

The Pact of Tirana – 1926

The multidimensional relations between Italy and Albania reached yet a new level with the signing of the Tirana Pact on November 27, 1926, which brought 200,000 francs in aid that was followed quickly with other means of assistance. The treaty would last five years and included these two important points: Article 1: Italy and Albania will recognize that any disturbance threatening the political, legal and territorial status quo of Albania is contrary to their common political interests. Article 2: In order to safeguard the above mentioned interests the two countries will undertake to afford each other mutual support and cordial cooperation: they also will undertake not to make any political or military agreements with other powers prejudicial to the interests of either Italy or Albania. With the signing of this agreement Mussolini promised that he would make a gift to Ahmed Zogu of several million lire, and Italy would provide significant assistance to develop the Albanian military and economy. Zogu’s government now became dependent in every way on the Italian plans towards Albania. At the same time, it was a fruitful strategy to balance the strengths of the adversaries in the Balkan conflicts. However, with Albania so firmly planted on the side of Italy, Yugoslavia tried to assuage her feelings of insecurity by causing trouble at Albania’s northern borders for the next two years. In 1928, with the Yugoslav troops threatening at the northeastern border, Ahmed Zogu declared in front of the House of Commons his intentions to become the king of Albania. Italy immediately began to throw monetary support his way. To bolster the Albanian economy and transportation infrastructure, Italy signed another agreement with Albania in June 26, 1931. In it, Italy offered to subsidize the Albanian budget by extending a loan of one hundred million gold francs (L 6,600,000). These new measures were taken to make the Albanian economy more stable by balancing the country’s budget and facilitating public works. By this time, Italy had established a committee with four members which had a similar role to that of SVEA during the late 1920’s. This commission monitored the financial affairs of all ministries, and ironically, Italian members of the committee had a veto power on outlay in order to ensure that Italy had enough financial control to check corruption. However, this agreement did assure a positive relationship between the two countries for years to come. Through the years, Albania accepted a greater number of Italian advisers, some to exercise even more authority than before, and in the same vein, agreed to install a number of Italian technical experts, whose advise was not solely restricted to financial and economic matters; they also consulted on public works and oil concessions around the country. At every turn, the Italians continued to agree to extend their manpower contributions and financial assistance in all areas of Albanian economy. Italy’s generous support was so impressive that they even forgave a loan of 100 million gold francs, of which only 20 million had been paid back by the Albanian government, when this agreement was signed in June, 1931. Paradoxically, a new loan of nine million gold francs was made, plus another three million that Mussolini offered spontaneously in 1935. Furthermore, the Italian government granted another loan of about ten million gold francs which was for the development of agriculture, to be payable in five years; this loan had only a 1% interest, made possible by a guarantee from the Italian oil concession in Albania which was already reaping huge profits. Topping this, Italy granted another loan of three million gold francs, this time interest free, to be used for the establishment of the tobacco monopoly in the country; this amount had to be liquidated in a period of fifteen years with a minimum of 200,000 Lire paid each year. Lastly, Italy offered a loan of 40 million gold francs in annual installments of eight million gold francs, with the money to be spent on the construction of public works which would be monitored by the Italian specialists. Thus, with one loan after another, the Italians had their fingers fully into every segment of the Albanian economy.

A particularly important project to the Albanian economy was the construction and modernization of the port of Durres (the historically Italian "Durazzo") as a result of an agreement made in Rome between the two governments. The structure of the harbor and the infrastructure was improved considerably after the Italians took entire control of the construction of the main section of it. In addition, another agreement was signed in 1936 allowing Italy’s interference in, or regulation of, Albanian Finance, customs, revenues, exports and imports through this and other ports, which channeled even more profits back to Italy. One of the most lucrative industries in the country was oil: it was managed after WWI by British Petroleum until the Italians began to move into this sector in 1920.

Eventually, 300,000 Italian émigrés came to settle in Albania (including the temporary workers). Italian schools opened everywhere and the major cities of Albania were given Italian names. The outcome of the Italian interference was really a de facto colonization of Albania which had its positive impact in regards to development of the import/export trade in the interwar period. Mussolini once declared, “Italy’s policy in Albania is quite clear and absolutely straight forward. Its sole object is to preserve and to respect the independent status of this small country, which for centuries has lived in friendship with us” it would take another three years to reveal the true intentions of Italy towards Albania. Unfortunately, the small country of Albania could not have been stabilized and would have sunk into anarchy had Italy not stepped up to take the helm of this newly formed nation.

Italian contributions to every aspect of Albanian economy and culture completely transformed Albania in a matter of two decades. Thanks to the Italian assistance the total exports in 1938 amounted to 10.2 million gold francs and the principal items were crude oil, cheese, eggs and livestock. Imports exceeded 18.9 million gold francs, and consisted of textiles, cereals, petroleum, machinery and sugar. Finally, in 1938 the Italian government implemented a generous renegotiation of the SVEA debt of 28 million francs of penal interest were written off. Italians shared their experience and expertise to bring “western” values to Albanian society. Italy introduced its own education system in accordance with the ideas of Mussolini and how the youth should be educated. There was even a delegation sent in 1937 to advise King Zogu on organizing youth committees similar to the fascist groups in Italy. By the mid 1930’s, Albania’s bargaining position was nil and Italy had almost subsumed the Albanian economy and culture. Yet, Italy, under the glare of disapproving international eyes, was still threatened by the possibility of Yugoslav patronage.

Jacomoni (Albania Viceroy-"Luogotenente del Re Vittorio Emanuele III") talking -dressed in clear uniform- to Verlaci (Albania Prime Minister) in 1941 Radio Tirana offices inauguration

Italian strategic interests

Any contributions Italy makes to the Albanian economy are and have always been based on the interest in the geographic positions of the two countries. Indeed, from Italy’s heel to Albanian gulf of Vlora, it is only 50 miles. As far back as the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, Italy had begun to pursue an aggressive role towards controlling Albania. At that time, the Albanian territory was a war-torn nation, incapable of defending herself and on the verge of being partitioned by neighboring countries. Besides Italy, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria all had self aggrandizing plans involving the Albanian Territory. It should be emphasized that Italy has always pursued a policy of colonization and annexation of the Albanian nation. So it seemed “business as usual” to step in and take a “fatherly” role in 1925. The desires of the principle Albanian elected officials, who wanted to rely on a foreign power from which they could take loans and bring the Albanian economy to its feet, matched perfectly with Il Duce’s plans. Since coming to power Mussolini had pursued a strategy based on invading weak countries and profiting from their resources. Albania was an especially prized plum. First, its strategic geographic position provided a perfect bridge to expand Italian Influence in the Balkan Peninsula. Secondly, The Italian Dictator wanted to control the Adriatic Completely and having Albania under his protectorate would give him the right to control the Straights of Otranto and thereby secure the entire eastern coast of Italy from imminent attack. Thirdly, control of these straights also afforded Italy control of the Yugoslav navy and international trade in and out of the Adriatic. When Italian troops invaded Greece on October 28th, 1940, it became abundantly clear that this strategy had worked. Fourthly, North Africa was on the top of the list after Albania to be controlled and without a full control of the western Balkans it would have made impossible to achieve this objectives in North Africa. At first, Mussolini was willing to collaborate, as he had done in the past, with the Yugoslav government and offered them a piece of the Albanian pie. Il Duce always had the idea of triumphant foreign policy that would challenge the world and he dropped negotiations with Yugoslavia. Italian Policy towards Albania was never based on altruistic principles. It was not really about making a contribution to the economy, but was rather more about securing the Italian interests across the Adriatic and waiting for the perfect moment to declare full authority over Albania and its neighbors. The Assistance Italy offered consisted of giving with one hand and taking double the amount with the other. The relations with the Italian government, as Zogu sorely discovered, were not at the level of genuine friendship. By 1939, the Italian ally was distrusted more than the enemy by him.

The Italian Invasion Begins (April 7th, 1939)

In a matter of months Mussolini would decide to invade Albania, resulting in a complete destruction of the entire infrastructure Italy had so carefully built. By the end of 1938, with the alliance between the two countries starting to crack and with a new government being elected in Yugoslavia, Mussolini was inspired to achieve, with considerably less effort, his intentions against Albania. For Mussolini, the Balkans, offered tremendous mineral wealth and strategic geographical position, but more importantly, he wanted to keep pace with his German buddy who had already annexed the Sudeten lands and Czechoslovakia. To justify the invasion, if only to themselves and Germany, Italy prepared a report analyzing the importance of the Albanian Territory, and plans for its reclamation. It would take less than a year for Albania to be completely overwhelmed and gutted by its former ally, Italy. Mussolini continued in his intentions to invade all of the countries bordering Albania, and never wanting to be considered a second string ally of the axis.

In Rome, indignation stemming from the jealousy of the German expansion in Europe preoccupied Mussolini who wanted to maintain an equal position in the “Pact of Steel.” The Italians continuously refused to revise their demands addressed to King Zogu and Zogu would not budge. Twice, King Zogu did not accept four requests made by the Italian foreign minister, Count Ciano. The first was the complete control of the infrastructure including ports, airfields and roads to be used in a situation when the Albanian sovereignty was in danger. Zogu insisted that such an extension of the Italo-Albanian alliance was not acceptable, and that Italian troops should enter the country only with the explicit request of the Albanians themselves. The second request was to have a secretary general in every ministry of the administration. Zogu wanted Italian staff members to be present only on an ad – hoc basis. The third was the request to give full civic and political rights to Italians in Albania. Zogu repeatedly opposed the idea of having foreign citizens to be part of the Albanian parliament, but he supported the idea of civil rights. The fourth and final request was to promote the Italian legation to an embassy, which was only a change in protocol. It should be pointed out that the King’s family was celebrating the birth of the prince named Leka, on April 5. Having to deal with these political difficulties at this time, Zogu felt betrayed and could not stop his tears of disappointment. Meanwhile, a large number of people surrounded the king’s palace and requested weapons to fight the Italians. Zogu sent a telegram to Mussolini requesting to reopen the negotiations and wanted his old friend, General Pariani to be sent to Albania to direct the negotiations. Instead, Mussolini retorted with a fierce message saying that Zogu should send a representative to meet with General Guzzoni at the shores of Durres (the site of the invasion). Realizing the irony of this offer, on the eve of April 7th, two hours before the invasion, the royal family, under Zogu’s supervision, left Albania and immigrated to Greece. This was severely difficult for the queen who had delivered Prince Leka only two days before.

On the same morning, Count Ciano directed a flight operation over Albania spreading leaflets calling upon the people to demonstrate friendship to the Italian forces. In the port of Durres the first invasion faced some resistance, but in the other ports the Italians disembarked quietly and without a problem. At two a clock the same day, King Zogu addressed the nation and called upon all the people to unite the fight for the freedom of their beloved nation. But no one organized this effort and there were only pockets of resistance here and there. For Italians, this was essential. The capture of Tirana, the capital, was of primary importance to Mussolini and he was continuously asking how long it would take to reach it. In the first stages of the invasion, confusion partially ruled the Italian forces. They had a lack of radio communication and the troops could not report their positions before advancing. Furthermore, the specialist units were not prepared for the tasks they undertook in the invaded territory, and there were motor-cyclists, truck drivers and even generals who could not do their jobs. Often the roads were blocked by broken vehicles and the generals threw up their hands. But still they bore on to overthrow the Albanians. When they finally arrived at the capital, the streets were surprisingly empty, with no resistors in sight. Indeed some Albanians were greeting the Italians when they entered Tirana.

Map of Italian Albania (blue line, that included most of "Chameria" still administered from Athens)

Italian colonists and assimilation

On 9 April 1939 Albanian King Zog fled to Greece and Albania ceased to exist as an independent country. The Balkan country became a component of the Italian Empire and was turned into an Italian protectorate, similar to the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, in that the land was an autonomous territory of Italy which was designed for eventual colonization and Italianization. The throne was claimed by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, who was the official ruler of Albania until his abdication on 25 July 1943. The government was led by Italian governors and an Albanian civil government. From April 1939, Albanian foreign affairs, customs, as well as natural resources came under direct control of Italy. All petroleum resources in Albania went through AGIP, Italy's state petroleum company . The puppet Albanian Fascist Party became the ruling party of the country and the local Fascists, like prime minister Shefqet Verlaci, allowed Italian citizens to settle in Albania and to own land so that they could gradually transform it into Italian soil. Verlaci (who had distant Italian roots) approved the possible administrative union of Albania and Italy, because he wanted Italian support for the union of Kosovo with Chameria and other "Albanian irredentism" areas, creating a Greater Albania. Indeed, this unification was realized after the Axis defeat of Yugoslavia and Greece in spring 1941. Italian citizens began to settle in Albania as colonists and to own land so that they could gradually transform it into Italian soil. The Italian colonists and the Italian "assimilation" (done with irredentism ideals) were more or less welcomed in spring 1939, and were greeted by most Albanians when Albania was enlarged two years later. But in November 1941 they started to face contrary manifestations and the resistance of some Albanians, organized mainly by the Communist Party of Enver Hoxha.

The first Italians to colonise Albania were fishing families from Apulia, who moved to the island of Saseno (Sazan) opposite Valona in 1918. The island was officially part of Italy from the end of World War I to 1947. In 1926, the Italian government, in agreement with Albanian authorities, sent 300 Italian colonists to Kamez, near Tirana, to promote agricultural development. Most of the Italians were farmers from Arberesh communities in southern Italy. They were initially successful, and created the company "Ente industria agraria Albanese" with an agricultural school, but the regime of King Zog expelled them in 1931, fearing excessive Italian influence in Albanian society and politics. After the occupation of Albania in April 1939, Mussolini sent nearly 11,000 Italian colonists to Albania (and started to "create" Italian irredentism claims on Albania). Most of them were from the Veneto region and Sicily. They settled primarily in the areas of Durazzo, Valona, Scutari, Porto Palermo, Elbasani and Santi Quaranta. They were the first settlers of a huge group of Italians to be moved to Albania to create Mussolini's Greater Italia. In addition to these colonists, 22,000 Italian casual laborers went to Albania in April 1940 to construct roads, railways and infrastructure. Most of the 1939 colonists were men enrolled in the so-called Albanian Militia. This organization was an Albanian fascist paramilitary group, part of the Blackshirts. Later even Albanians were recruited in the group. It was headquartered in Tirana and consisted of four legions in Tirana, Korçë, Vlorë and Shkodër. The Albanian Militia was disbanded in 1943 following the fall of Italy in World War II. Following the Italian capitulation, numerous Italians (perhaps 20,000) remained in Albania. There were nearly 1,000 women among the Italian colonists and some of them remained in Albania after World War II, mainly through marriage with Albanians.

Upon the occupation of Albania and installation of a new government, the economies of Albania and Italy were connected through a customs union that resulted in the removal of most trade restrictions. Through a tariff union, the Italian tariff system was put in place in Albania. Due to the expected economic losses in Albania from the alteration in tariff policy, the Italian government provided Albania 15 million Albanian "leks" each year in compensation. Italian customs laws were to apply in Albania and only Italy alone could conclude treaties with third parties. Italian capital was allowed to dominate the Albanian economy. As a result, Italian companies were allowed to hold monopolies in the exploitation of Albanian natural resources. In 1943, the number of companies and industrial enterprises reached 430, from just 244 in 1938 and only 71 such in 1922. The degree of concentration of workers in industrial production in 1938 doubled compared with 1928 and increased further under Italian control in 1941.

Following the Italian capitulation, the occupation ceased but numerous Italians (perhaps 20,000) remained within the country. These were rounded up by the Germans and taken to Germany (many officers being shot) or else they evaded capture and adopted some disguise, for example, as agricultural laborers. A small number even joined Albanian partisan groups. Only a few collaborated with German authorities, because were fascists and adhered to the RSI of Mussolini in 1944.


There are several reasons why King Zogu was not willing to use force to confront the Italian troops. First, Zogu, did not have the support of the neighboring countries, Yugoslavia and Greece. Both of these countries did not want to supply armament to the Albanians, as they had been scared off by the Italian military capabilities. Secondly, the Yugoslav army declared that they would not enter the Albanian territory unless there was conflict in a Fifteen mile radius of the northeastern border. However, Yugoslavia was restrained from entering into Albanian territory by a previous agreement with Italy. Thirdly the Albanians showed little interest in fighting under the leadership of King Zogu. In fact, many Albanians spent their first week under Italian occupation debating whether Zogu was worth keeping as king. Zogu’s regime had failed to keep control of the local leaders because Italy had found a way to eliminate Zogu as a middleman and finance these “chieftains” directly. Whatever resistance there was to be, it would be waged by communist groups that fought tirelessly throughout the war. Mussolini was able to find a pretext in order to make his strategic invasion legitimate and as necessary as possible even from the Albanian point of view. The Italians pretended that in order to preserve peace in the Balkans it was important to overthrow the Zogu regime. It was interesting to see an Italian puppet become their number one enemy 14 years later. Zogu explained, “I knew what Italians were after and I prevented them from getting control of the country by peaceful means…international politics left us no other choice to come to an understating with Italy. But the megalomania of the fascist regime made us certain that one day we should have to fight to defend ourselves.” Interestingly, count Ciano and his clique never really had to depose Zogu as his Albanian support had already dried up. And as for “preserving peace in the Balkans,” the Italians had merely blown apart a very fragile time of Balkan quietude. As a French Journalist once said, “Pays Balkanique, Pays Vulcanique,” peace in the Balkans is like a “peaceful” volcano.

However the unification -even if nominal and done only with the king Victor Emmanuel III- was effective and accepted by the population of Italy and Albania without any real disagreement from the first day of the Italian military occupation of Albania in 1939 until September 1943. Some Albanians still remember those years as a period when they were part of western Europe and out of Balkan problems.