Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar

Prit Buttar has done an excellent job on concentrating his and the reader's attention on an area that's often ignored or simply glossed over in the greater histories of the Great Patriotic War and the Second World War. The Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia never played a central role in the Second World War but each has an interesting history that's worth acknowledging and discussing. "Between Giants" features a dozen chapters mainly in chronological order that begin by looking at the history of the Baltic states and their interactions with their neighbors in all four directions. Following that is an in-depth look at the diplomatic history of each state on the eve of the war and the various political and diplomatic maneuvers that were involved as all three tried to toe a line that wouldn't upset either Germany or the Soviet Union. To date, in all my readings on the Eastern Front of the Second World War, and the Second World War in general (numbering in the hundreds of books), this is the most interesting and enlightening look at the actions of these states in both the inter-war period and the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1941).

The next chapter looks at the initial invasion of the Soviet Union and German actions to occupy all three Baltic states. The actions of both sides, that is the Wehrmacht and Red Army, are well enough described, but there is a noticeable strength in the presentation of the German and Baltic side compared to that of the Soviet Union/Red Army. Additionally, since the author is not an academic, in this chapter (and a few of those that follow) there are unneeded tangents with the author offering what-if scenarios about what could have been if only the Germans acted in one way or another. Personally, I'm more interested in what happened and why, rather than how the Germans could have been flawless in their pursuit of conquest and genocide on the Eastern Front. The Holocaust and occupation of the Baltics, as well as the local movements (both political and military) are covered before the final chapters conclude with further descriptions and discussions of the military actions that took place in 1944-1945. Overall this is an excellent text that focuses on an oft-neglected area of operations on the Eastern Front.

The weaknesses that I noticed include, as mentioned above, the descriptions and analysis of the Red Army/Soviet Union were at times lacking, there was that tendency to drift into 'what-if' scenarios that took away from the context of the Second World War and the Eastern Front and really served little to no purpose, the sections on military actions were quite dry (and this coming from someone who is happy to become engrossed in David Glantz's operational level studies) and there every now and then time periods/the chronology were mixed up or tangents taken into various topics that served little purpose in regards to the main theme of the book (the battles for the Baltics). Otherwise, this is an excellent text that those interested in the Eastern Front and the Third Reich should definitely add to their library.

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