Since I released Comrades and Barons: Solitaire, I have been asked several times, where could one find more information about Latvian War of Independence.
I have not been able to answer anything sensibe – I don't know of any popular English book about this important period of time. Latvian state and individual historians seem to be completely uninterested to tell the world about our history (unless it is about deportations and other tear-jerker stuff).
And even in Latvian there hasn't been a general history work about War of Independence since the thirties, as it is being often reminded by historians themselves (who then proceed to do nothing to improve the situation).
The news that Osprey Publishing is releasing a book about Baltic Independence Wars was a pleasant surprise.
Osprey is a well-known book publisher that prints colorful popular history books about different wars, always illustrated with artists drawings. Three biggest series are dedicated to uniformology – Men at Arms, Elite and Warrior.
Of course, knowing the works of this publisher, one can not expect a history book that goes in-depth into wars of Baltic independence. Osprey's books are thin, every series has a rigid format – certain number of pages and drawings. It would be impossible to describe the events of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian independence wars in such format, but it would be a great introductory material to foreign readers. On the other hand illustrated uniformology works are almost nonexistent in Latvia, and such publication would be something new to Latvians.
Armies of the Baltic Independence Wars 1918-20 has been released as Elite series 227th book. The books of this series have 60 pages, 8 colored plates and photos on almost every page.
Authors are Toomas Boltowsky and Nigel Thomas, artist is Johnny Shumate and editor is Martin Windrow. Boltowsky is Estonian, and this is his first book, while others are distinguished authors of other Osprey books.
I got my copy in mail, full of happy anticipation I parted its pages... On the second page I found out that Ventspils in German had been called Mitau and that the Soviets had Seventeenth Army instead of Seventh. I realized that I have to lower my expectations and start reading with a more critical eye.
I will go through things that immediately caught my attention:
Throughout the book Vidzeme is called Livonia (German Livland is not Livonia, and Vidzeme is not whole Livland!).
Army of Soviet Latvia had 18 rifle divisions (holy shit!).
There's lots of nonsense on 12th page about events near Daugavpils – the authors got lost in names Daugava, Daugavgrīva, Daugavpils and Grīva. It says that the Poles took Daugavpils on 31th August, while they only took Kalkūni station (modern Grīva station), but Grīva town was occupied only on 27th September, while Daugavpils stayed in Reds' hands till 3rd January 1920.
I assume that Estonian part of the book has less errors. When we return to Latvia, there is a quantum of wrongs with Latvian language (3. Škiras karā Ierēdnis, Jelgāva etc.).
The Latvian uniform of year 1918 is mentioned (in this book it even has got a special designation "M1918"), while, as far as I know, in 1918 it wasn't formalized yet.
Kalpaks had formed a Latvian battalion in Liepāja of six companies, while in reality it happened in Jelgava and the battalion had only two companies and a cavalry detachment.
Later it turns out that there had been 12 battalions in Balodis' brigade (holy shit again! what's with this constant inflation of forces?).
Unfortunately I don't know much about Lithuanian Independence Wars, therefor I cannot tell how correct is their description. However I think that Lithuanians would object that old Lithuanian kings whose names were given to infantry regiments, were merely "distinguished aristocrats".
One would expect Estonians to better know their enemies at Cēsis, Germans, but here we can read strange things too – Iron Division was Kurland Brigade, Baden Assault Battalion was Freikorps von Medem (they were all different formations).
Baltic Landeswehr is translated as Baltic Defence Force, while more correct translation would be Land Guard or Home Guard and not something that sounds like some kind of space fleet.
Landeswehr is called both the army of Baltic Dutchy and the army of Latvia on different pages (both are false).
Those are just first mistakes that I noticed. It could seem that I am nitpicking, but after this heap of falsehoods in Latvian part of the book, how can I trust Estonian and Lithuanian parts?
Secondly, the book if full of typically Estonian sense of superiority. Majority of both text and illustrations is devoted to Estonians. Of course, Estonia is described as "most succesfull combatant" among Baltic states. Of course, Cēsis battles are tagged as "epic" while Latvian operations against Bermondt and in Latgale are only glanced over.
I assume that the real author of the book is Boltowsky. In "acknowledgements" he thanks his co-author N. Thomas for his "interest, encouragement and cooperation" – that makes me think that Thomas was rather an editor with privileges. Well, they both share the responsibility now.
Thirdly, even without many geographical, naming, factological falsehoods and mistakes the book is not that useful as a source of information. I think that a person without previous knowledge of Baltic independence wars won't get much out of this book.
The text is just confusing, I think that the understanding of the text is only muddled by shortenings Bn, Regt, Bde etc instead of full words – I doubt it was worth saving couple of lines of text. Army organization tables are confusing and misleading, even if they were not full of errors.
A big weakness is that there is no list of sources in the end of the book – only pictures of six other Osprey titles. For some reason I had an impression that Osprey books have such a list (I checked my books and found bibliography only in a Fortress series book).
Less fault can be found in photos and Shumate's drawings, from which soldiers intensely stare at the reader. Illustrations are the best part of the book. Clarity about the events on battlefields could be achieved by more maps, and maybe it would be worth sacrifice several photos for that.
So – a disappointment.
It is strange how little we in Baltic states know about the history of our neighbors. Wars of independence is a very exciting time in the history of Baltic states and I want there to be more works that show this time to the world. Not this book though.
One of the authors Nigel Thomas contacted me and shared some information about the writing of this book. The initiative to write it came from Boltowsky who didn't even have an intention to write about other Baltic states, only Estonia. Editorial Committee rejected a manuscript as too narrow a focus. In result the writer of the Estonian section is Boltowsky, Latvian section is 50%/50% Thomas and Boltowsky, and the Lithuanian – Thomas.