Between Giants
The Battle for the Baltics in World War II


By Prit Buttar

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.

This book is available from Osprey Publications

MSRP $29.95