Tuesday 21 March 2023

The North Korea Of Europe: Listing Socialist Albania’s Military Equipment

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The People's Socialist Republic of Albania was a Marxist-Leninist one party state that existed from 1946 until 1991. Throughout much of its existence, the country was led by Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania by establishing a Stalinist style of governance known as Hoxhaism. Despite far-reaching similarities with North Korea, Albania and its authoritarian ruler arguably constitute a forgotten chapter of the Cold War period. Albania's close ties with the Soviet Union until the Albanian–Soviet split in 1961, then with China until the Sino-Albanian split in 1978 and ultimately its almost complete international isolation from 1978 onwards had a profound effect on the equipment inventory and operational readiness of the Albanian People's Army (UPSh). To this day, the UPSh remains the only European military to have been mostly equipped with Chinese-made weaponry, aircraft, ships and other equipment.

Albania is well known for the many bunkers still scattered across its mountainous landscape today. Highly paranoid of an impeding invasion by neighbouring Yugoslavia, Enver Hoxha ordered the construction of some 750.000 bunkers (for a population of less than 3 million) throughout the entirety of the country. These were to be manned largely by civilians armed with WWII-era Mosin-Nagant rifles and PPS(h) submachine guns, but notably lacking portable anti-tank weaponry. A more sensible development came in the form of extensive tunnel systems carved out in Albania's mountains, which could house much of the air force, navy and the army's heavy equipment. Had Yugoslavia ever seriously contemplated an invasion of Albania, it is possible that the huge numbers of bunkers – as ineffective as they might have been in their intended role of halting a mechanised assault – would have succeeded in deterring Yugoslavia from occupying the entirety of the country simply for the perceived effort of destroying or bypassing them.

While North Korea carefully played the Soviet Union and China to economically and militarily benefit the most from both countries, Hoxha broke off relations with the Soviet Union in 1961, and open criticism on China's foreign policy led the latter to break off relations with Albania in 1978. From that point on, the country was virtually cut off from the outside world and no longer able to procure spare parts or replenish its ageing equipment inventory. Though the reopening of trade with China in the early 1980s enabled Albania to once again acquire spare parts, it would take until the 1990s before Albania purchased any new weaponry again (consisting of HJ-8 ATGMs and HN-5 MANPADS). [1] Before the 1990s, equipment like ATGMs and MANPADS was entirely absent, with the UPSh instead deploying a fleet some 700 MBTs, 1600 artillery pieces and copious amounts of AA guns to make up for its lack of modern armament.
In an effort to at least partially make up for the drought of new acquisitions experienced during the late 1970s and 1980s, Albania also launched the domestic production of a number of small arms types. In addition to the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle and the SKS semi-automatic rifle already produced, these consisted of the Chinese Type 54 HMG, the Type 56 and Type 69 RPGs and the Type 56 assault rifle. These Chinese designs subsequently formed the basis for a number of indigenous variations manufactured well into the 1990s. [2] Ironically, Albania was the last country to produce the Soviet Mosin-Nagant, producing a final batch as late as 1961! [3] The 1997 Albanian Civil War resulted in the looting of many of these arms from weapons depots around the country, with sizeable quantities later making their way to Kosovo. Most of the other Chinese and Soviet-made weaponry has since been scrapped or survives in museums. Still, some Albanian armament has managed to endure in active stocks long enough to be sent to Ukraine in 2022, where its Chinese markings caused speculation about hitherto unreported weapons deliveries of China – while their real provenance is thus much older. [4]
This list attempts to list all AFV types in service with the Albanian People's Army until 1991. This list only includes vehicles and equipment of which (photographic) evidence is available.
(Click on the equipment to get a picture of them in Albanian service)


Tank Destroyers


Armoured Fighting Vehicles

Armoured Personnel Carriers

Engineering Vehicles And Equipment

Artillery Tractors


Heavy Mortars

Towed Artillery

Multiple Rocket Launchers

Anti-Aircraft Guns


Static Surface-To-Air Missile Systems



Utility Vehicles




Albanian HQ-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are paraded through Tirana.

[1] https://i.postimg.cc/cHzWxzGk/e3.png