Yugoslav Army Begins Albanian Offensive
In accordance with the Royal Yugoslav Army’s war plan, R-41, a strategy was formulated that, in the face of a massive Axis attack, a retreat on all fronts except in the south be performed.
Here the 3rd Yugoslav Army, in cooperation with the Greek Army, was to launch an offensive against the Italian forces in Albania. This was in order to secure space to enable the withdrawal of the main Yugoslav Army to the south. This would be via Albanian territory in order to reach Greece and the Allied forces to be based there. The strategy was based on the premise that the Yugoslav Army would, together with the Greek and British Armies, form a new version of the Salonika Front of World War I.
The 3rd Yugoslav Army of the 3rd Army Group was tasked with conducting offensive operations against the Italian army in northern Albania. For this purpose the 3rd Army had concentrated four infantry divisions and one combined regiment (Odred) in the Montenegro and Kosovo regions: - 15th Infantry Division “Zetska” - 13th Infantry Division “Hercegovacka” - 31st Infantry Division “Kosovska” - 25th Infantry Division “Vardarska” - “Komski” cavalry Odred.
The strategic reserve of the 3rd Army Group, the 22nd Infantry Division “Ibarska”, was situated around Urosevac in the Kosovo region.
In addition, offensive operations against the Italian enclave of Zara (Zadar) on the Dalmatian coast were to be undertaken by the 12th Infantry Division “Jadranska”.
The first elements of the 3rd Army launched their offensive operations in North Albania on 7 April 1941, with the Komski Odred covering the Gusinje-Prokletije mountains area advancing towards the village of Raja-Puka. The Kosovska Division crossed the border in the Prizren area of Kosovo and was advancing through the Drin River valley. The Vardarska Division gained some local success at Debar, while the rest of the army's units were still assembling.
The next day, the 8th, found the Zetska Division steadily advancing along the Podgorica-Shkodër road. The Komski cavalry Odred successfully crossed the dangerous Prokletije mountains and reached the village of Koljegcava in the Valjbone River Valley. South of them the Kosovska Division broke through the Italian defences in the Drin River Valley, but due to the fall of Skopje to the attacks by the German Army, the Vardarska Division was forced to stop its operations in Albania.
The 9th of April 1941 saw little further progress for the Yugoslavs, because although the Zetska Division continued advancing towards Shkodër and the Komski Odred reached the Drin River, the Kosovska Division had to halt all combat activities on the Albanian Front due to the appearance of German troops in Prizren.
On 10 April 1941 the Zetska Division was still steadily fighting its way towards Shkodër and had advanced 50 km in some places. These advances had been supported by aircraft of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force’s 66th and 81st Bomber Groups, who attacked airfields and Italian troop concentrations around Shkodër, as well as the port of Durrës.
The Komski Odred and the right column of the Kosovska Division advanced along the right bank of the Drin River towards Shkodër in order to link with Zetska Division, but the central and left column of the Kosovska Division were forced to take a defensive perimeter to hold off the increasing pressure by German troops.
Between 11-13 April 1941, with German and Italian troops advancing on its rear areas, the Zetska Division was forced to retreat back to the Pronisat River by the Italian 131st Centauro Armoured Division, where it remained until the end of the campaign on the 16th of April. The Centauro Division then advanced upon the Yugoslav fleet base of Kotor in Montenegro.
When Gen. (later Field Marshal) Sir John Greer Dill, the British chief of staff, visited Belgrade on April 1, he found the government confused and almost apathetic. It seemed above all to wish to avoid provoking the Germans in the forlorn hope that a conflict could still be avoided or at least postponed. In the end, the only cooperation arranged between the Yugoslav and Greek forces took the quixotic form of a projected joint offensive against the Italians in Albania.