Between Giants : The Battle for The Baltics in World War II, Hardback

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

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 416 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9781780961637



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Review by

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 only weaknesses that I noticed include, as mentioned above, the descriptions and analysis of the Red Army/Soviet Union were at times lacking and 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. Otherwise, this is an excellent text that those interested in the Eastern Front and the Third Reich should definitely add to their library.

Review by

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.<br/><br/>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.