Albania existed as a protectorate of the Kingdom of Italy officially known as the Albanian Kingdom (Gheg Albanian: Mbretnija Shqiptare, Standard Albanian: Mbretëria Shqiptare, Italian: Regno albanese), officially led by Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III and its government led by Italian governors between 1939 after being occupied by Italy until 1943. During this time, Albania ceased to exist as an independent country, and existed as an autonomous part of the Italian Empire led by Italian government officials who intended to make Albania part of a Greater Italy.
The Kingdom of Italy invaded Albania on 7 April 1939, five months before the start of the Second World War. The Albanian armed resistance proved ineffective against Italians and, after a short defense, the country was occupied. On 9 April 1939 Albanian King Zog fled to Greece, in spite of earlier alliance and support of Italy that Albania held with Italy since 1925. However Italy's political leader, Benito Mussolini required direct control over Albania to officially expand his empire as he had grown jealous of Germany's annexation of Austria and occupation of Czechoslovakia. Albania ceased to exist as an independent country and became a component of the Italian Empire. Albania 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.
Albania was important culturally and historically to the Italian nationalist aims of the Fascists, as the territory of Albania had long been part of the Roman Empire, even prior to the annexation of northern Italy by the Romans. Later some coastal areas (like Durazzo) had been influenced and owned by the Italian Republic of Venice for many years (Albania Veneta).
Strategically, control of Albania gave Italy a position in the Balkans to invade Greece which it did in 1940, as well as challenge Italy's other rival, Yugoslavia, to which a war via Albania would garner support of Albanian nationalists who wanted to gain Albanian populated territories in Kosovo and Vardar Macedonia.
While Victor Emmanuel ruled as king, Shefqet Bej Verlaci served as the Prime Minister. Shefqet Verlaci controlled the day to day activities of the Italian protectorate. On 3 December 1941, Shefqet Bej Verlaci was replaced as Prime Minister and Head of State by Mustafa Merlika Kruja. Nazi Germany occupied Albania when Italy quit the war in 1943.
From the start, Albanian foreign affairs, customs, as well as natural resources came under direct control of Italy. The puppet Albanian Fascist Party became the ruling party of the country and the Fascists allowed Italian citizens to settle in Albania and to own land so that they could gradually transform it into Italian soil.
In October 1940, during the Greco-Italian War, Albania served as a staging-area for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's unsuccessful invasion of Greece. Mussolini planned to invade Greece and other countries like Yugoslavia in the area to give Italy territorial control of most of the Mediterranean Sea coastline, as part of the Fascists objective of creating the objective of Mare Nostrum ("Our Sea") in which Italy would dominate the Mediterranean.
But, soon after the Italian invasion, the Greeks counter-attacked and a sizeable portion of Albania was in Greek hands (including the cities of Gjirokastër and Korçë). In April 1941, after Greece capitulated to the German forces, the Greek territorial gains in southern Albania returned to Italian command. Under Italian command came also large areas of Greece after the succesfull German invasion of Greece.
After the fall of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941, the Italian Fascists added to the territory of the Kingdom of Albania most of the Albanian-inhabited areas that had been previously given to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Albanian fascists claimed in May 1941 that nearly all the Albanian populated territories were united to Albania (see map). Even areas of northern Greece (Chameria) were administered by Albanians. But this was even a consequence of borders that Italy and Germany agreed on when dividing their spheres of influence. Some small portions of territories with Albanian majority remained outside the new borders and contact between the two parts was practically impossible: the Albanian population under the Bulgarian rule was heavily oppressed.
After the surrender of the Italian Army in September 1943, Albania was occupied by the Germans and soon exploded into a ferocious guerilla war.