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

Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review August 2013 Title Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II
Author Prit Buttar Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2013 ISBN 9781780961637
Format 416 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $29.95


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.

Highly recommended.

My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!