Here we recount the events which occurred during the “Battle of Zepe”, Mirdita, on December 2, 1950. The Nationalist group, led by Gjon Gjinaj and including eight other members, was part of operation CHARITY, a joint operation involving British, Italian and USA forces, which initiated with the launching of Plan II in November, 1949. What follows is the account, as related to the Security Forces by the team leader, of the events which transpired during one of their missions, the Battle of Zepe. The report was received from Gjon Gjinaj while exiled in Rankovicevo, Yugoslavia, on 17 May, 1952.
The encounter with communist forces, estimated at 450 men, took place at Zepe in the Xhuxhe area of Mirdita, following the betrayal by Marka Picaku, from the village of Lashte and Gjin Marka Ndoj, from the village of Srice. Both of whom were subsequently executed by members of the group for ‘high treason’.
The particular members assigned to this mission were: Gjon Gjinaj, Ndue Melyshi, Zef Ndreca, Mark Zefi, Ndue Zefi, Bib Marka Biba, Frrok Nikoll Doda and the brothers Gjon and Bardhok Shkurti. They constituted the nine-man CHARITY group confronting the communists on that fateful mission.
During the battle, which raged with great intensity from 1000 to 1700, the members who lost their lives were: Zef Ndreca, who, fatally wounded, ordered his son Mark Zefi to administer him the coup-de-grace; Ndreca’s son Ndue Zefi; Frrok Doda and Gjon Shkurti.
During the encounter Gjon Gjinaj was wounded four times. It is important to note the courage of a man who continued to fight with four wounds to his body and who, at two points during the battle, felt it was better for him to take his own life than to continue and possibly endanger the mission. However, his close friends Bardhok Shkurti and later Bib Marka Biba, would not let him complete his personal mission. Gjon Gjinaj would go on to finish this mission, recover, and continue his fight against the communist forces in a later mission, the Battle of Munella.
At dawn of the same day a tenth member of the group, Zef Ceku, was arrested by government forces and executed at 1700.
This battle was one of many fought by the Nationalists in exile, with the aid of collaborators on the ground in Albania. The battle was as successful as possible, even though four members were lost in the fight. The battle against the enemy would continue through various subsequent skirmishes, another of which was the significant encounter that took place on May 6, 1951 at the “Battle of Munella”.
Note: This report is among the personal archival collection of Kapidan Ndue Gjon Gjomarkaj.
THE BATTLE OF ZEPE
It was on Saturday, 2 December, 1950, around 1030, the day in which part of our forces found themselves in a temporary shelter prepared by Zef Ndreca, together with his friends, to pass the harsh winter that was approaching.
This site was part of the Xhuha area, precisely Gryke (the mouth) of Sbullani of Ndrec Lleshi. Joining us was Bib Marka Biba who came from Yugoslavia. As it was later understood, the government forces had a strong inkling of where our headquarters were ten days beforehand due to the betrayal of the traitors Marka Picaku and Gjin Marka Ndoj; the first from Lashte village (Xhuxe) and the second from Srice. These two were then executed by us applying to their corpse the following written note: “Execution for high treason”.
The faithful communists from Kukes, Rreshen, Puke and Dibra, numbering 450, had begun to besiege us before dawn. Our Marka Zefi, who was on the third watch, only saw them at 1000 and we immediately began to device a way out, but it was too late.
I was the first to notice an ambush on the northwest side, just 50 meters away. We were 9 people in all and we began to leave the shelter. We had not yet covered 100 meters of road when we ran into the enemy. The first to fire on them was (redacted), causing a communist sergeant to fall dead on the ground. In a moment the battle begins to rage from all directions. In the initial five minutes I was first wounded in three places and when hit with the fourth shot I collapsed to the ground and the weapon slipped from my hands. Having lost all hope and not being able to reach my weapon, I somehow tried to take my own life, but Bardhok Shkurti held me back and immediately brought me my weapon.
Within five minutes Zef Ndreca was seriously injured. Next to him was his son Mark and Zef, unable to use the weapon any longer, having had both arms shattered by the bullets, ordered his son to kill him. With tears running down his cheek he executes his father’s order and after killing him takes the weapon.
The battle continues without interruption and it was difficult to hold resistance in the position in which we found ourselves. Frrok Nikoll Doda was wounded and the young 18 year old Ndue Zefi was killed.
Sensing that within a few minutes we would all have to surrender, I ordered Gjon Shkurti to head towards the gorge of the stream in the direction of the Lari village. We all marched in that direction, while mainly attacking with hand grenades. The shots of rifles, heavy machine guns and machine guns could not be distinguished as to whose weapons they were. Our men shouted loudly to “attack, hand-to-hand”, etc. When I saw that my companions were already a few meters away, I decided to stop and resist in a place where the position was strategic. That is, I did not feel capable of following my companions into battle, as I was too weak from the wounds and the loss of blood, but Bib Marku understood what I was trying to do and immediately stopped. Unable to persuade him to go away, I too had to follow our companions.
Gjon Shkurti was still the leader. On the fourth communist ambush Frrok Nikolli is hit by two other projectiles and stops. We asked him if he could continue on the road for a while, but he replied: “I am no longer for this world, do not worry because even though I am alive I will never give up but if you do not trust me then kill me“. Since the battle continued fiercely we could not waste time, we broke away asking for his forgiveness and leaving him in the hands of God.
We continued to go on with the attacks. We defeated the ambushes, however on the sixth one Gjon Shkurti is fatally shot in the chest and head. His brother Bardhok immediately approaches him and offers to carry him on his shoulders, but Gjon refuses and with a shaken voice, in pain from the wounds, he says to his brother these words of encouragement: “Do not despair because of my death; if it happens to you, die bravely, just take care to keep high the honor and the ideal of the family. If you can escape, take care of my children, give them a worthy education and I will see you in the hereafter”.
Bardhok, after having giving one last embrace to his brother, follows Marka Zefi who was the first to launch into the attack. [Redacted} and Bib Marku were constantly targeting the circle of enemies on the right and left. The coolness maintained by all our people was exemplary, but that of Bib Marku was exceptional and he made himself stand out from the others. As for tactics, even the enemies appreciated [redacted] and Mark Zefi. As far as bravery and courage, all without distinction have been excellent, having vanquished the enemy and routing it from all positions which they occupied. This was the seventh position we were holding.
Now we find ourselves in front of the last, located in the narrowest mouth of that stream. Mark Zefi is the first to meet a communist captain. The latter, seeing that Mark was alone and closed in at only ten meters away, ordered him to surrender. Mark, however, responds by firing his machine gun and launching a grenade that explodes right in the middle of those who were lurking; killing an aspirant, four soldiers and wounding the captain in the face. Then Mark and the communist captain find themselves facing each other, one shooting against the other until the captain is killed. His machine gun was taken by Gjon and the others passed over the corpses dismembered by the shrapnel of the fired bullets.
After this skirmish we did not find any further obstacles of great importance, apart from shootings from a distant patrol that had arrested our trusted Zef Ceku, who, after being tortured in an inhumane manner was shot at 1700 of the same day.
We who survived, were in the forest near the Dardha village at 1730, where we entered to rest and bandage my wounds. Meanwhile, Mark Zefi goes to the village to inquire about Zef Ceku. He (illegible) the son of Zef himself said to him: “Zef was arrested at dawn as he was walking towards us. I would prefer him to be shot than to remain alive because sooner or later he would be accused of betraying all of you, his friends. To you Mark, God grant strength and reserve for the loss of your father and your brother. These things happen in war. “
NOTE: This description with minute details of the battle of “Zepe”, which Gjon Gjinaj sent from Rankovicevo and which follows the description of that of Perlati, by the same, already sent to you previously by us, serves to highlight the text of the telegrams which, for obvious reasons, could not at the time be extended into so many descriptive elements.