On 7 April 1939, Italian forces took Albanians by surprise, ensuring that they were unable to organize an effective resistance, and within a week Italy had annexed Albania. In support of Albanian aspirations to a ‘Greater Albania’, they gained some popularity with their subjects by subsequently annexing Kosovo to Albania and creating an Italian Protectorate. In 1940 Albania was a bridgehead in Mussolini’s invasion of Greece. The Albanian Communist party spearheaded resistance to the occupiers through the National Liberation Movement (NLM), which became the National Liberation Front (NLF). As the Italian occupation began to lose its grip on the country, armed guerrillas became more powerful and by 1943 all the mountainous regions were in the hands of the resistance. In July 1943 the NLF organized the National Liberation Army (NLA), with 20,000 regular soldiers and guerrillas. However, their resistance to occupation was only part of their agenda, and much of their activities were directed against internal opposition, including monarchists and liberals. Mussolini was overthrown in July 1943 and Italy withdrew from Albania in September. Four German divisions took over from their Italian predecessors, and began a winter offensive against the NLA in southern Albania in January 1944. During 1944 NLA forces swelled to about 70,000 men and their resistance accelerated; by November 1944 partisans had liberated Albania from German occupation. The Communist-controlled NLF and NLA had also consolidated their hold over the country.
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