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Between Giants - The Battle for the Baltics in World War II, Prit Buttar
Between Giants - The Battle for the Baltics in World War II, Prit Buttar
The three Baltic States gained their independence in the aftermath of the First World War, but by 1939 they found themselves trapped between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. Hitler was willing to concede them to Stalin in return for a free hand in western Poland. In 1941 they fell to the Germans after a brief campaign. After years of Nazi occupation the Red Army returned in 1944-45 and the area saw a much longer period of hard fighting, which ended with the long siege of the remnants of Army Group North in Courland. The area also suffered under two brutal occupations, first the Soviet occupation before the German conquest and then the longer but just as brutal German occupation. The Baltic States lost a higher proportion of their population during the Second World War than any countries other than Poland, and the war and its aftermath are still difficult issues Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and in Russia.
We start with a brief look at the early history of the Baltic states, following by an examination of their wars of independence from the infant Soviet Union and the inter-war history of the three states, all of which became dictatorships of one type of another. This section also includes material on the social mix in the three Baltic States, where Balts, Germans, Russians and Jews lived in varying proportions. This background helps us understand the difficult position the three states found themselves in, stuck between two hostile powers, and also helps explain events in the Baltic during the German occupation.
After this introduction we look at the German plans for the Baltic and the short campaign that saw the German armies conquer the area and sweep on towards Leningrad. After that we move onto the Holocaust in the Baltic, where the Einsatzgruppe and their local allies committed appalling atrocities. I was pleased to see this section - some books on the fighting on the Eastern Front tend to ignore this important part of the story (not least in the many memoirs written by soldiers on both sides). The difficult question of collaboration with the Germans and resistance against them is also covered. The final chapters look at the Red Army's re-conquest of the Baltic, a mix of comparatively easy victories and hard-fought battles against determined German defenders, ending with the prolonged siege of the remnants of Army Group North.
Buttar has produced a very impressive book on this difficult topic. In the military sections the balance between detail and readability is just about right, providing a good level of detail but not getting bogged down in it. The section on the holocaust is particularly strong and the coverage of the period before, between and after the two main military campaigns is very valuable. Overall this is an excellent study of the impact of the Second World War on the three tiny Baltic states.
1 - Molotov, Ribbentrop and the First Soviet Occupation
2 - Rosenberg, Generalplan Ost and Preparations for Barbarossa
3 - The Wehrmacht in Full Flood
4 - The Baltic Holocaust
5 - Reluctant Allies
6 - Narva, January to April 1944
7 - Breaking the Deadlock: Summer 1944
8 - From Doppelkopf to Cäser
9 - The Isolation of Army Group North
10 - Courland, October to December 1944
11 - Endgame
12 - Aftermath
Appendix 1 - Place Names
Appendix 2 - Ranks
Appendix 3 - Acronyms
Appendix 4 - Foreign Terms
Author: Prit Buttar
Buttar studied medicine at Oxford University and London University,   and served in the British Army as a surgeon  and medical officer for five years. He later worked in Bristol as a general practitioner (GP). Buttar worked as a GP in Abingdon-on-Thames from 2000 to 2017 and served on the GP's Committee of the British Medical Association. He is Chairman of the Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee.  
Buttar's first book, Battleground Prussia, was inspired by one of his patients. The 83-year-old patient recalled stories about her life as a nurse in East Prussia and escape from the Red Army near the end of World War II.  Buttar spent 8 years writing the book.  His second book, Between Giants, is a study of the battles for the Baltics in WWII, and explores the experiences of people from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. 
His third book, Collision of Empires, is a study of the Eastern Front of World War I. It is the first of a four volume series.  Before writing the book, Buttar spent a year studying archives in Berlin, Vienna, and Freiberg. With the help of another historian, the multi-lingual Buttar was able to translate the German archives.  The second book of the series, Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915, was released in 2015. 
Buttar is married to Debbie, an army nurse. They have two children. Their daughter studied History at Cambridge University.  
Between Giants The Battle for the Baltics in World War II
Between Giants The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar. Osprey Publishing, 2015, paper.
There have been few accounts of the warfare between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that took place in the Baltic States during World War II. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania lost 20% of their population during the War, next only to Poland in civilian losses. Moreover, while we generally mark the end of WWII with the German surrender in May 1945, fighting in the Baltic States continued sporadically until 1949. The Baltics only regained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Osprey Publishing is best known for its military histories, and this is a detailed account of battles. Fortunately Prit Buttar has also included the interesting diplomatic history of the war years. He begins with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany in August 1939 and the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries that followed in 1940-1941. He then describes the German occupation after Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 which precipitated the “Baltic holocaust.” Despite that horrendous German occupation, there was official and popular collaboration with the Germans during the Russian offensive in the Baltics in 1944.
There will probably always be differences of opinion amongst historians about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and particularly the secret protocol dividing up Poland and the Baltic States between the two giants. What were Josef Stalin’s motives for the “non-aggression pact” with Nazi Germany? What precipitated his abrupt occupation of the Baltic States and the disastrous Winter War with Finland?
Buttar agrees with the present-day consensus that Stalin was taken aback by the rapidity of the German conquest of France and the Low Countries. A preemptive occupation of the region would thwart a German invasion through the Baltic countries that would threaten Leningrad and the Russian naval presence in the Baltic Sea. The Soviet dictator was right to be concerned about the rise of Baltic nationalist sentiments, particularly in Lithuania, and uncertain about which giant the Lithuanian nationalists would join.
The Russian Occupation employed mostly Russian-speaking Baltics and “too many” Baltic Jews. The Soviets reopened employment opportunities closed to Jews by the Baltic nationalists, and consequently Jews were viewed by the Balts as pro-Soviet, pro-Bolshevik. Nazi Germany’s racial policies, Buttar contends, found willing ears amongst the nationalists and the substantial numbers of Baltic Germans.
As war raged elsewhere, the Baltic countries saw little fighting between the German occupation after Barbarossa in June 1941 and Russia’s Operation Bagration in June 1944. Buttar has described Bagration in great detail as it unfolded on the Baltic front and particularly Russian efforts to encircle and isolate the German Army Group North in Latvia’s vast, swampy Courland Peninsula.
There was general agreement amongst the Wehrmacht leadership that the consolidation of German army units and the abandonment of Courland made military sense. But Hitler would not allow it. Courland, he argued, would be a launching pad for the recovery of lands lost to the Russians!
Even had Hitler approved, Buttar suggests that the evacuation of the German Army Group North and its equipment would have been a difficult maneuver. And any military evacuation would have been further complicated by the Baltic German refugees. German naval and air superiority had disappeared, leaving all German rescue vessels at risk.
In February 1945 Berlin dispatched 5000 replacements, mostly boys and old men, on a transport ship to support Army Group North in Courland. It was sunk by a Russian submarine 2000 were rescued but 3000 drowned.
The Russians might have allowed Hitler his Courland bridgehead and swept on to the German homeland. But Stalin was now thinking about a post-war settlement. The argument for restoring the three Baltic States to Soviet dominance would have been weakened had the Russian Army not controlled this large chunk of Latvian territory.
Buttar adds some interesting details to the diplomacy surrounding the German surrender in May 1945. Admiral Karl von Dönitz, designed by Hitler as his successor, asked for a ceasefire in the West Germany would continue to resist the Russian Army in the East. A major goal in this prolonging of the war in the East, Buttar contends, was to allow German soldiers and civilians to escape from the Baltic States and Poland. General Dwight Eisenhower, in his famous decision, said there would be no separate truce.
One can sympathize with the hard choices confronting the Balts in the War’s last years. Most were certain that they wanted nothing to do with the Russians. That drove many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to join the ‘forest brothers,’ who continued to harass Russian occupiers into 1949. Thus the uncertain date for the end of World War II in the Baltic States.
This widespread support of the German occupiers in 1944-1945 still haunts the now independent countries. How to memorialize the millions killed in the War who had made ‘bad choices’? A visit to Chicago’s Balzsekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture confirms that dilemma.
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This is a very good study of what took place in the Baltic countries during WWII. Prit Buttar is an excellent writer of these kind of books and the presentation is very readable and full of facts that are hard to find in other books.
The Strength of the book is how he manages to bring in the various Baltic peoples efforts and suffering in the overall struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union. There are numerous facts about small resistance movements and all kinds of personal stories that might have little impact on the war but gives us a Baltic approach to what took place.
Some of the facts are quite surprising and need further study. The Most surprising for me was finding out that Jews in some cases helped the Soviets arrest and deport nationals from these republics. If true, and the book is not clear on this, it is something that I guess few have heard about before. An other surprising fact was the Poles efforts to conquer Vilnius before the Soviets got there.
The Chapters on the German and Soviet murders of the civilians in these countries is a hard read but necessary in order to understand what took place. It is quite surprising to read Soviet commanders comments that they were liberating their homeland when they were actually invading these countries again. Few were sorry to get rid of the Germans but few were also happy about receiving the Soviets.
The Tactical and Operational presentation of the fighting between Germany and the USSR are fairly easy to follow and supported by some maps. But it is as always easier if you are familiar with the geography in advance. I was actually reading the book while traveling through Estonia and that improved understanding a lot.
While the ground war is presented in detail the case is not the same with the air and naval operations. There are bits and pieces but not a complete picture. Did the Soviets bomb Baltic cities or were they concentration their efforts on military targets? How was the Kriegsmarine deployed in the area and later the Red Fleet?
As far as I can tell there are few factual mistakes. One is the number of T-34 produced.The actual production figure is twice what he states.
But overall it is a very good book and it is one that I will recommend to anyone interested in the Eastern Front.
"[A] carefully balanced account of the predicament in which Balts found themselves. Mr. Buttar is himself an army veteran, and it is from the military perspective that he relates the savage unraveling of the Baltic world during World War II's last year. There's plenty here on weaponry, on tactics and strategy." --Andrew Stuttaford, The Wall Street Journal
"A powerful pick. No military collection strong in World War II should be without this specific, in-depth analysis.'" --The Midwest Book Review
About the Author
Between Giants The Battle for the Baltics in World War II
This volume is a complete recantation of the history of this little known part of World War II. The book begins with some history of the area in question beginning in the 1200’s, when Lithuania crowned its first king and began a centuries long conflict with the Teutonic Knights from Prussia. In 1385, the Lithuanians formed a union with Poland and embraced Christianity. This union fought off the Teutonic Knight with a final defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410.
Latvia developed from similar tribes, but rejected Christianity. The areas around Riga attracted certain factions of these Teutonic orders. These orders founded the realm of the Livonians with control of the area and economy. Control of this area remained under German control until the end of World War I.
Estonia developed along similar lines as neighboring Latvia, also rejecting the Christian faith. Both Estonia and Latvia evolved into parts of Russia, while Lithuania vacillated between control by Poland and Germany.
At the end of the First World War, the three entities, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were granted their independence, as part of the settlements of that conflict. As the twenties progressed, the governments that were installed grew more totalitarian in their aspects. This led to a takeover by the Soviet Union, removing the independent administrations from power. The Baltic Germans clamored for their independent control of what was known as Memeland, this was denied by the Soviets.
When Hitler took over in Germany, his policy of Heim in Reich (Home is Germany) led to a number of Baltic Germans relocating to the Fatherland. After the German-Russian pact was signed dividing Poland between them, a provision was included that the three Baltic countries would become a permanent part of the Soviet Union. This provision satisfied the historical claims of Russia that the Baltic territories were a part of Tsarist Russia and therefore belonged to the Soviet Union.
In 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Baltic countries felt that they would regain their independence from Russia, only to have those hopes crushed by the iron fist of the Wehrmacht. Thousands of Jews where exterminated during this occupation by Germany, with the assistance of locally enlisted Police forces.
The major parts of this volume are concerned with the battles for control of the Baltics. The overwhelming Soviet presence eventually forced the German forces back towards the German Border. Details abound in this part of the history down to individual actions during the Soviet reconquest of the Baltics. The Germans recruited many units from the locals, first as Local Police then as Baltic legions, part of the SS. These units fought alongside of the Wehrmacht and standard Waffen-SS units during the efforts to fend off the Soviet juggernaut. When the Soviets reconquered the territories, they “enlisted” local units, by conscription to fill in the losses sustained by the Russian Armies.
Finally, the author deals with the history of the area after the end of World War II. He notes that as of today, the Baltic countries are westward leaning and now members of the NATO pact.
I found this book to be very absorbing and a fine history of a seldom mentioned part of the overall history of World War II. This in depth volume will hold the reader in its grip from start to finish. I recommend this book to history buffs who want to know something about a lesser known part of the conflict. I also recommend this volume to any wargamer adventurous enough to want to recreate these battles on a table or map. While most of World War II took place in areas where tanks could be deployed with great effect, that is open country, the Baltics, with its small plains and many equally small wooded areas would make for a challenging arena.
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II (General&hellip
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I am the grandchild of Lithuanian immigrants who came to the USA before the First World War, so this book filled in some historical gaps for me. The book tells the story of various communities in the Baltic states who had no good choices when it came to choosing a foreign patron. Perhaps the hardest done-by were the Baltic Jews, who were faced with a choice between Hitler and Stalin. They sided with the latter for obvious reasons and incurred the lethal enmity of their Christian compatriots as a result. There are no "good guys" in this book -- the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians who bravely resisted the Russian occupation after 1945 were in many cases tainted by their previous collaboration with the Nazis.
Buttar tells the tale in a thorough, dispassionate, but workmanlike manner. I found the passages dealing with the German-Soviet battles to be hard going because of the author's insistence on citing every division- or brigade-level unit involved in the fighting. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile read to fill in the blanks about a little-known front of the Second World War. ( )
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. ( )
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II Book Review
The Baltic republics stand at the crossroads of commerce and conflict in northeastern Europe.
And during World War II, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia found themselves trapped between two tyrannical titans in death struggle – the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
That's the subject of a fascinating, 416-page history from Osprey Publications: Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War I.
After illuminating introductory notes, author Prit Buttar superbly sets the scene with capsule histories of renascent Baltic republics after WWI. Text next turns to prewar power politics – the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Stalin's subsequent conquests.
Liberally spiced with anecdotes, the book's principal focus – the Baltics during World War II – follows. As Soviet forces melted before Germany's Operation Barbarossa, elation at Russia's retreat ran rampant. But that "evaporated in a matter of weeks, as it became abundantly clear to everyone that the Germans came as occupiers, not liberators."
Hitler repeatedly quashed attempts by Baltic states to restore independence – including establishing military units. Eventually, the author observes, a "cynical resignation replaced the euphoria of the expulsion of the Red Army".
Mass murder and wholesale enslavement of Baltic Jews also accompanied invading Nazi hordes. Retributions by locals compounded "Final Solution" atrocities. And with requisite combat accounts and absorbing action anecdotes, Buttar deftly details all these disastrous developments.
In the end, the author acutely observes, Baltic peoples – embittered by German rule and aghast at Soviet suppression – "could do little more than watch helplessly while their destiny was decided by their powerful neighbors." The Red Army's relentless return crushingly confirmed that.
Armed, anti-Soviet resistance groups nevertheless thrived for years after VE Day – with the last partisan captured, astonishingly, in 1971. Only with communism's collapse – nearly five decades after WWII – did Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regain independence.
Buttar's notes on national histories, prewar politics and postwar developments proved exceptionally enthralling. And the author often filters combat coverage through these prisms to enhance reader understanding and strengthen strategic insights.
Photos and maps further augment this engaging account. And four informative appendices, a multi-lingual selected bibliography, excellent annotations and a robust index conclude contents.
Holmes once chastened Watson for "seeing" – not "observing". Osprey's highly informative account does both. By magnificently mining and marshaling sources, Buttar potently recaps this tragic chapter in Baltic history. Serious students of WWII's Eastern Front should make Osprey's terrific tome required reading.
Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar (Paperback, 2015)
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Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II
During World War II, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia found themselves trapped between the giants of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Over the course of the war these states were repeatedly occupied by different forces, and local government organizations and individuals were forced to choose between supporting the occupying forces or forming partisan units to resist their occupation. Devastated during the German invasion, these states then became the site of some of the most vicious fighting during the Soviet counter-attack and push towards Berlin. Many would be caught up in the bitter fighting in the region and, in particular, in the huge battles for the Courland Bridgehead during Operation Bagration, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers would fight and die in the last year of the war. By the end of the war, death and deportation had cost the Baltic States over 20 per cent of their total population and Soviet occupation was to see the iron curtain descend on the region for four decades. Using numerous first-hand accounts and detailed archival research, Prit Buttar weaves a magisterial account of the bitter fighting on the Eastern Front and the three small states whose fates were determined by the fortunes and misfortunes of war.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
This volume is likely to become the "reference" book on the fate of the Baltic States during World War 2. The author's research has produced an excellent text and it is a very enjoyable read. He does not condone or praise the opposing sides of the conflict but presents their actions against the backdrop of the then situation and not with post-war prejudices. He deserves a "Well done" and significant praise for his scholarly work. --Military Archive Research
Once again drawing on new archival research and numerous first-hand accounts, this book is a magisterial account of three states' struggle for survival and their role in the desperate fighting for control of the East.