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