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Governorate of Montenegro
Italian language: Governatorato del Montenegro
Part of Yugoslavia occupied by Italy
Country  Yugoslavia
Occupied by Italy 17 April 1941[1]
Occupied by Germany 26 September 1943[2]

German mountain forces in Montenegro, June 1943.

The Italian governorate of Montenegro (Italian language: Governatorato del Montenegro ) existed from October 1941 to September 1943 as an occupied territory under military government of Fascist Italy during World War II. Although the Italians had initially intended to establish a quasi-independent Montenegrin kingdom, these plans were permanently shelved after a popular uprising in July 1941.[3][4][5] Following the Italian surrender in September 1943, the territory of Montenegro was occupied by German forces which withdrew in December 1944.


Prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (KSCS, later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Montenegro had been recognised as an independent state for forty years.[6] Immediately prior to the creation of the KSCS in December 1918, the Kingdom of Montenegro was unified with the Kingdom of Serbia and ceased to exist as an independent state.[7] From 1922 onward, as part of the KSCS and then Yugoslavia, Montenegro was not a subdivision of the state, although after 1929 the Zeta Banovina (province) of Yugoslavia included all of modern-day Montenegro, as well as adjacent parts of modern-day Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[8] As in former Montenegrin states, the capital of the Zeta Banovina was Cetinje. In August 1939, ethnic Croat areas of the Zeta Banovina from the Bay of Kotor to Pelješac including Dubrovnik were merged with a new Banovina of Croatia.[9] The last Ban of Zeta Banovina was Blažo Đukanović, a former brigadier general in the Royal Yugoslav Army.[10]



In April 1941, as part of the German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, the Zeta Banovina was attacked, by the Germans from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Italians from Albania.[11] The Italians moved through on 16 April on their way towards Dalmatia.[12] The Germans later withdrew, leaving the Italians to occupy the area. The occupation forces initially consisted of the 18th Infantry Division Messina,[11] which was part of the Italian XVII Corps of the 9th Army, which had its headquarters in Albania.[13]

Initial occupation[]

On 17 April, the commander of the XVII Corps, Generale di Corpo d'Armata (Lieutenant General) Giuseppe Pafundi received a message from the Italian viceroy in Albania, Francesco Jacomoni authorising him to set up a new government in Cetinje.[1] The following day he received a further message advising him that a "Committee for the Liberation of Montenegro" had been formed in the Albanian capital, Tirana, and would be basis of a provisional government of Montenegro.[13] On 28 April, Count Serafino Mazzolini was appointed the civil commissioner for Montenegro,[11] but subordinated to the High Command of the Italian Armed Forces in Albania (known as Superalba).[14] Elsewhere in Italian occupied territories, the installation of a civilian commissioner would usually have been a prelude to annexation, and some laws enacted by the Italians indicate that Montenegro was close to becoming an Italian province. Italian flags were distributed and flown, photographs of Benito Mussolini and King of Italy were displayed in public offices, and the Fascist Roman salute was made compulsory. Arrangements were made to form Fascist Party organisations, and strict censorship was imposed.[13] Italian bureaucrats were tasked to supervise the finances of public bodies, insurance companies and banks, and all schools were ordered closed until the end of 1941.[15]

On their arrival in Cetinje, the Italian forces had been met by the group of separatists known as "Greens" (Serbo-Croatian language: Zelenaši), who called themselves the "Committee for the Liberation of Montenegro". This group was encouraged by the Italians to form a council to advise the occupation authorities, which was established by Mazzolini on 18 May.[16] The "Interim Advisory Committee" was "symbolically vested with civil powers", but the Italian military remained the real decision-makers. The Committee was to work alongside the Italian military authorities, who replaced the Zeta Banovina government, but appointed committees for various towns and re-activated the pre-existing bureaucracy. The Committee really only drew support from the "Greens",[13] who overestimated what the Italians were offering for their collaboration.[17] On 22 May, the "Interim Advisory Committee" was dissolved, but the former Yugoslav civil service authorities remained at their posts after they swore an oath of allegiance to Italy. On 19 June, Mazzolini was appointed as "High Commissioner", responsible to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for matters of civil administration in the occupied territory.[14] The Italians were "friendly and lenient" towards the Montenegrins.[16]

Initially, the Italians intended that Montenegro would become an "independent" state closely allied with Italy,[4] reinforced through the strong dynastic links between Italy and Montenegro, as Queen Elena of Italy was a daughter of the last Montenegrin monarch Nicholas I. They were relying heavily on information provided by a group of émigré loyalists of the deposed House of Petrović-Njegoš, that had ruled Montenegro for centuries prior to the union with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1918. They also believed that all members of the "Greens" who had opposed union with Serbia in 1918 wanted full independence for Montenegro, rather than a Montenegrin unit within a federal Yugoslavia.[12] In reality, the "Greens" consisted of two factions, one led by Krsto Popović and one by Sekula Drljević. Popović sought a fully independent Montenegro, but was willing to consider a separate entity within a federal Yugoslavia depending on the outcome of the war, and his group included some members of the Montenegrin Federalist Party. Drljević rejected the idea of the re-formation of Yugoslavia after the war, and was willing to work with the Italians to achieve independence.[18]


The Montenegrins quickly developed grievances against the Italians. These grievances mainly related to the expulsion of Montenegrin people from the Kosovo region and Bačka and Baranya, as well as the influx of refugees from other parts of Yugoslavia and those fleeing the Ustaše terror in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Montenegrin people also had grievances against the Italians regarding their annexation of important food producing territory in Kosovo and a salt producing facility at Ulcinj to Albania, and the economic damage inflicted on many Montenegrins by the temporary removal from circulation of Yugoslav banknotes of 500 dinars and more. There were three reasons the Italians had to be very wary of dissatisfaction among the Montenegrin people, the large numbers of unsecured military weapons following the collapse of the Yugoslav Army, significant numbers of former Yugoslav Army officers and men that had been repatriated following their capture during the invasion, and the strength of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in the occupied territory.[19] Around 400 former Yugoslav Army officers returned to Montenegro, along with many non-commissioned officers, civil administrators and communists.[20] During the invasion, the Yugoslav Zeta Division, composed mostly of Montenegrins,[21] had briefly counter-attacked into Albania, but had largely returned home with their weapons and equipment following the Yugoslav surrender.[20] In early July 1941, a senior Montenegrin member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, Milovan Đilas, arrived in Montenegro from Belgrade to start the communist struggle against the occupying forces.[22][23]

Declaration of independence[]

Drljević and his colleagues were able to convince the Italians that if they created an independent Montenegro with Italian support, there would be little opposition.[22] In early June 1941, Mazzolini formed a consultative council consisting of 65 Italian-paid deputies who were willing to work with the Italian authorities.[14] In early July, the town and village committees sent their delegates to the National Assembly (Narodna Skupština)[17] in Cetinje in order to "declare the restoration of Montenegro". The declaration would abolish the November 1918 union with Serbia, Montenegro's relationship to the Serbian Karađorđević dynasty, and the Yugoslav constitution of 1931. It would also proclaim that Montenegro was a sovereign and independent state ruled by a constitutional monarchy.[14] When the members of the National Assembly realised that the declaration would result in a union of the Italian monarchy with Montenegro, and offered no real independence to the new state, nearly all of the delegates returned to their towns and villages.[17]

No member of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty was willing to accept the throne, so the National Assembly decided to establish a regency. The declaration was passed by acclamation on 12 July.[14]


On 13 July 1941, there was a general uprising against the Italians, initiated by the Montenegrin branch of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. The event that triggered the uprising was the proclamation on the previous day of a restored Kingdom of Montenegro headed by an Italian regent and led by Montenegrin separatist Sekula Drljević and his supporters, known as "Greens" (zelenaši).[23][24] The insurgents also included large numbers of Serb nationalists known as "Whites" (bjelaši), who "stood for close ties to Serbia",[24] and former Yugoslav Army officers, some of whom had recently been released from prisoner-of-war camps. Officers were in command with the communists doing the organisation and providing political commissars.[25] Serbs fleeing the Ustaše terror in Herzegovina played a significant part in the uprising.[26] The rebels seized control of small towns and villages in the early phase of the uprising. Amidst the worst of the fighting during the successful attack he led on Berane, then-Captain Pavle Đurišić distinguished himself,[27][28] and emerged as one of the main commanders of the uprising.[29] During the attack on Berane, Đurišić fought alongside communist insurgent forces.[30] The other main commanders included the former Yugoslav Army officers Colonel Bajo Stanišić and Major Đorđije Lašić.[31] The Italians were caught completely unprepared, and within a few days, Cetinje had been completely isolated from the rest of the occupied territory, and the occupation force had to call for support from its higher headquarters in Albania. The Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano was shocked by the uprising, and was concerned about the ability of the Italian Army to suppress it. The uprising was premature,[17] and a force of 67,000 Italian troops regained control over all towns and communication routes within six weeks, assisted by Muslim and Albanian irregular forces from border areas who provided flank security. The commander of the Italian 9th Army based in Albania, Generale d’Armata (General) Alessandro Pirzio Biroli, placed the commander of the XIV Corps, Generale d'Corpo Armata (Lieutenant General) Luigi Mentasti in command of all Italian forces in Montenegro, and gave him orders to crush the revolt. Pirzio Biroli directed his forces to avoid "acts of revenge and useless cruelty". Nevertheless, in crushing the revolt dozens of villages were burned, hundreds were killed and between 10,000 and 20,000 inhabitants were interned. For a while, the Muslim and Albanian irregulars were permitted to pillage and torch villages.[31] By 31 July 1941, the estimated population of the occupied territory was 411,000.[32]

"Left Errors"[]

Chetnik collaboration with Italians[]


The occupied territory of Montenegro was far smaller in area than pre-Yugoslav Montenegro. At its core was a small area running south into the Sandžak from Berane, including the towns of Prijepolje, Bijelo Polje, Sjenica, and some villages around Tutin and Rožaje, incorporating a Muslim minority numbering 80,000. The Bay of Kotor was annexed as part of the Italian Governorate of Dalmatia, and the border between the Independent State of Croatia and Montenegro followed the Lim in the Drina region as far as Hum, then via Dobricevo to the Adriatic. Along its coastline and southeastern borders, Montenegro lost Metohija to Albania, including Bar, a strip of land north of Lake Scutari, the town of Ulcinj, an area northeast of Podgorica along the Yugoslav-Albanian border, and a significant amount of the Andrijevica district including Plav and Gusinje.[33]

Western and central Kosovo were also annexed to Albania, including the towns of Prizren, Dragaš and Pristina. Mitrovica and the Ibar River valley were incorporated into the German-occupied Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, including the towns of Kukavica, Podujevo and Medveđa, and the Trepča zinc mines. Also included in the German-occupied territory of Serbia was the eastern Sandžak, incorporating Novi Pazar. In addition to the modifications to the western border mentioned above, some of the western Sandžak, Foča and Čajniče were included in the NDH.[33]


The territory was initially under military occupation, but the Italians initially intended to make Montenegro a so-called independent state with close links to Italy, and appointed Count Serafino Mazzolini as a commissioner to handle civil affairs. After the abortive declaration of independence and the suppression of the resulting uprising, Biroli was appointed governor of the territory,[4] which was known as the Governorate of Montenegro (Italian language: Governatorato del Montenegro )[4][34] Biroli and his successor Count Curio Barbasetti di Prun were in full control of all military and civil matters in the territory.[4]

Commissioner/High Commissioner[]

  • Count Serafino Mazzolini (28 April 1941 – 23 July 1941)[11]


  • General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli (23 July 1941 – 13 July 1943)
  • Count Curio Barbasetti di Prun (13 July 1943 – 10 September 1943)

Occupation forces[]

The 13 July – 12 August uprising was suppressed by General Luigi Mentasti's XIV Corps, consisting of the 19th Infantry Division Venezia, 18th Infantry Division Messina, 5th Alpine Division Pusteria, 48th Infantry Division Taro and 22nd Infantry Division Cacciatori delle Alpi. The Cacciatori delle Alpi division was re-deployed to the NDH in September 1941, but the rest remained as a strengthened occupation force until December 1941, during which they fought off local attacks.[35]

From 1 December 1941[4] to 15 May 1943,[36] XIV Corps was designated Montenegro Command, and was headquartered in Podgorica.[37] In October 1942, Montenegro Command controlled over 75,000 troops. These included the garrison of the Bay of Kotor, which was formally part of the 2nd Army, but was under the operational control of Montenegro Command.[38] On 15 May 1943, Montenegro Command was combined with the 9th Army and the 2nd Army's VI Corps to form Army Group East,[36] but the deployment of the occupying forces did not change significantly for the remainder of the Italian occupation.[4] The uprising and later developments showed that the Italians were not able to effectively impose their rule outside of the larger cities.[39]

Garrison formations[35][38]
Occupation zone Period Division Notes
Northern zone
48th Infantry Division Taro
December 1941 – August 1942
included Čekanje and Bar in the Southern zone
151st Infantry Division Perugia
August 1942 – September 1943
included Čekanje and Bar in the Southern zone
Eastern zone
19th Infantry Division Venezia
December 1941 – September 1943
HQ: Berane
Southern zone
5th Alpine Division Pusteria
December 1941 – August 1942
HQ: Pljevlja, with garrisons at Nova Varoš, Priboj, and in the NDH at Foča, Goražde and Višegrad
1st Alpine Division Taurinense
August 1942 – September 1943
as above, less Višegrad garrison which was replaced by German forces in December 1942
Kotor zone
18th Infantry Division Messina
December 1941 – February 1942
HQ: Castelnuovo
155th Infantry Division Emilia
February 1942 – May 1943
23rd Infantry Division Ferrara
May 1943 – September 1943
Northwestern zone
6th Alpine Division Alpi Graie
March – November 1942
between Danilovgrad, Nikšić and Šavnik

The occupation was a significant drain on the Italians as, despite the strategic importance of the adjacent Bay of Kotor as a naval base, and Montenegro's position on the route into the central Balkans, it was a food-deficit area into which they had to import 1,200–1,500 metric tons of foodstuffs every month.[40]


The main religion in Montenegro was Serbian Orthodox. There was also a significant Muslim population and a smaller Catholic one. The Serbian Orthodox Church was divided into the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and the Eparchy of Budimlje-Nikšić, both led by Joanikije Lipovac. Lipovac was killed in the aftermath of the war by the Partisans after trying to flee Yugoslavia in 1945.[41] The Catholic Church was divided into two dioceses, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bar and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Skopje.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Burgwyn 2005, p. 87.
  2. Tomasevich 1975, p. 349.
  3. Rodogno 2006, pp. 134–136.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Tomasevich 1975, p. 103.
  5. Lemkin 2008, p. 590.
  6. Morrison 2009, p. X.
  7. Tomasevich 2001, p. 10.
  8. Morrison 2009, p. 49.
  9. Tanner 1997, p. 133.
  10. Pajović 1977, p. 104.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Tomasevich 2001, p. 138.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Pavlowitch 2007, p. 72.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Rodogno 2006, p. 101.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Rodogno 2006, p. 102.
  15. Rodogno 2006, pp. 101–102.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Tomasevich 2001, p. 139.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Milazzo 1975, p. 43.
  18. Morrison 2009, p. 52.
  19. Tomasevich 2001, pp. 139–140.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Pavlowitch 2007, p. 73.
  21. Fleming 2002, p. 131.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Rodogno 2006, p. 53.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Pavlowitch 2007, p. 74.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Tomasevich 1975, p. 209.
  25. Pavlowitch 2007, p. 76.
  26. Milazzo 1975, p. 11.
  27. Caccamo & Monzali 2008, p. 186.
  28. Đilas 1980, p. 150.
  29. Pavlowitch 2007, p. 75.
  30. Morrison 2009, p. 56.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Pavlowitch 2007, pp. 75–76.
  32. Rodogno 2006, p. 418.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Rodogno 2006, pp. 100–101.
  34. Pavlowitch 2007, p. 113.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Thomas & Mikulan 1995, pp. 11–12.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Thomas & Mikulan 1995, p. 10.
  37. Thomas & Mikulan 1995, p. 11.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Rodogno 2006, p. 433.
  39. Milazzo 1975, p. 44.
  40. Tomasevich 2001, pp. 138–139.
  41. Velkonija 2003, p. 214.


Coordinates: 42°23′N 18°55′E / 42.383°N 18.917°E / 42.383; 18.917

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