Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, April 6, 2023

When Albania Became a Testing Ground for National Wills

Australian Newspaper Headline
26 September 1913

Out of the settlement of the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 evolved a decision by the Great Powers that a buffer state—Albania—would be created along the Adriatic Sea. Albania had proclaimed its independence in November 1912, and the new nation was recognized by the Conference of London on 29 July 1913. Albania's political function was to allow Serbia—the big winner of the recent wars—to have some commercial access to the ocean, while preventing it from developing naval facilities in the Adriatic that would threaten the sole Austro-Hungarian water access.

Serbia, however, was never happy with the arrangement and kept troops and guerillas active in Albania, while negotiating with friendly Balkan neighbors to divide Albania among themselves. The Albanians, who were not happy about the settlement imposed on them either, were determined to resist the Serbian incursions. Matters came to a head in October 1913 after the hawks in Vienna, led by Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, convinced Foreign Minister Count Leopold Berchtold that a firm stand against Serbia over Albania was needed.

In September, Berchtold's representative in Belgrade confronted the Serbians, who simply lied and said they were totally withdrawing their troops from Albania. They only shifted them around a bit. Soon, the deception was discovered and the Austrians decided to up the ante. Chronologically, this is what ensued in October 1913:

Albanian Refugees

3 October: The government of Austria-Hungary passed a bill increasing the size of its army to 600,000 men, and authorizing an army of 2,000,000 men in the event of war. This followed the army expansions of the other powers. The timing of the expansion, however, also served the purpose of sending a clear military signal to the Serbians.

16 October: The Albanians stirred the diplomatic pot themselves, when one faction decided to declare its own "Republic of Central Albania." This, of course, alarmed the Austrians further. (This new state was disbanded three months later after pressure from the big powers determined to calm down the Balkans.)

18 October: Acting solely on its own, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia demanding that Serbian troops be withdrawn within eight days from the territory set aside for Albania by the Great Powers. Not even Germany was consulted before the ultimatum. Arthur Zimmerman, then deputy foreign minister of Germany told the British ambassador to Berlin that the Germans had been surprised by Austria's ultimatum as a policy that "might lead to serious consequences" but added that "restraining advice to Vienna on the part of Germany was out of the question."

Click on Map to Enlarge

Territorial Occupations, April 1913

25 October: One day before the expiration of the eight-day ultimatum given by Austria-Hungary on 18 October, Serbian troops withdrew from Albania. The crisis seems to have passed, but—as we know—not really.

In hindsight, what are the lessons here? First, by October 1913 the Great Powers were not unified. Not even Germany and Austria-Hungary were being candid with one another. Second, Russia was once again embarrassed by a Slavic client (as the Russians perceived things), while appearing to be ineffectual in dealing with a crisis in its sphere of influence. Lastly, Serbia and Austria-Hungary, indeed, had irreconcilable differences and were willing to fight over them regardless of the consequences.

Sources:;; Wikipedia; Online Encyclopedia 1914-1918


  1. Typo on the map caption - dated 1913, not 2013.

  2. Excellent article. Thank you. I was unaware of these events.

  3. You can also read this: