The NLM’s initial target was the occupying Italian forces, but after the collapse of the Mussolini regime, the Italians were replaced by the German army.
Albania suffered badly during the war, with 60,000 houses destroyed and 10% of the population left homeless.
Like many communist parties across Europe, it took Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union to move the Albanian communist parties into full-scale opposition to Axis forces, with the mediation of Yugoslavia’s Tito in Autumn 1941 helping to unite the various factions together. On 8 November 1941 the Albanian Communist Party was formed.
Earlier actions combined small-scale acts of sabotage with the production of anti-fascist propaganda. A coordinated action by multiple partisan bands (groups of 5-10 men) resulted in the interruption of all telegraphic and telephone communications in Albania in June and July 1942.
Albania suffered badly during the war
The NLM was led by Enver Hoxha, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and while its eight-member council reflected a broad range of groups it was dominated by the Communist Party.
The occupying Italian forces reacted to the founding of the NLM by promising reprisals for any attacks, but these warnings were ignored, partly because the partisans thought acts of vengeance would only encourage recruitment to their ranks.
This was a quite different approach from the Balli Kombëtar (National Front), a nationalist resistance which also emerged in the autumn of 1942. Led by Ali Këlcyra and Mit’hat Frashëri, this group was strongly anti-capitalist in nature and recruited from both the large landowners and peasantry. They supported the creation of Greater Albania by Italians and called for the creation of a republic and the introduction of economic and social reforms, opposing King Zog’s return. However, their actions were limited for fear of inciting reprisals from the occupiers.
The invasion of the German Army galvanised support for and action by the NLM. The group took over large swathes of the southern half of the country. Their success drew the attention and support of the British, with the SOE sending liaison officers to the country and the RAF dropping supplies.
The British even convinced the NLM and the Balli Kombëtar to form a non-aggression pact, but this proved to be short-lived as arguments broke out about the post-war peace.
Another tension was the German decision to recognise the independence of a neutral Albania and the formation of Albanian government, police service and military. While the NLM bitterly opposed this settlement, many Balli Kombëtar units collaborated with the Germans against the communists, and several of their leaders held positions in the German-sponsored regime.
The capital Tirana was liberated by the partisans on 17 November 1944 after a 20-day battle, and ten days later the German army was driven out of the country altogether. By this time the NLM consisted of 70,000 fighters.