The basic question being asked here is why did Hitler insist on attempting to defend the Baltic coast, a policy that ended up trapping four experienced German armies in isolated beachheads along the coast, leaving Berlin lightly defended just as the Soviets prepared to attack the German capital. The trapped troops had been part of the force besieging Leningrad, forced to retreat after the Germans lost their hold on that city and disastrously split into several pockets by the Soviet summer offensive of 1944. The impact on Army Group Centre, which was almost completely destroyed, is the most famous result of that campaign, but it placed Army Group North into almost as disastrous a position.
The main focus of the book is on Hitler's reasons for holding the Baltic coast, how they changed over time, and if any of them were true. Hitler's views on this topic are reliably recorded, and included a desire to keep Finland in the war, Sweden out of the war, preserve the supply of key basic materials from the Baltic and Scandinavia and protect the eastern Baltic training grounds of the German U-boat force. The title of the book comes from his final theory, that these defended localities would force the Soviets to stop their advance and deal with them, or leave much larger forces outside to conduct a long blockade.
One minor irritant is the author's tendency to talk about the force/ space ratio and how it changed without ever actually explaining what it is or how events changed it. A quick note when the concept was first introduced would have been useful, ideally followed by a clear explanation of how a reduction in the length of the front could have benefited the Germans more than the Soviets, when both were fighting on the same front. The main point here is that the Germans never had enough men to defend all of the front line, allowing the Soviets to break through at a point of their own choosing,
Other than this the book is excellent. The author sticks to his plan and doesn’t get distracted. The wider fighting is only discussed when it had an impact on either the fighting in the north, or Hitler's decisions. Most of the book is organised chronologically, but some topics such as the relationship with Sweden and the new U-boats get their own dedicated chapter. The author also recognises that some of Hitler's reasons for holding on to the Baltic had some validity when they were first expressed, and examines how that changed over time. The result is a detailed examination of one of the worst of Hitler's many bad decisions in the later years of the Second World War, and a valuable addition to the literature on the fighting on the Eastern Front.
1 - Hitler's Strategic Thinking
2 - Barbarossa's Planning and Execution - Signs of Trouble
3 - Army Group North's Years of Hope and Frustration
4 - The Retreat Begins and Finland Opts for Peace
5 - Summer of Disasters
6 - Army Group North Trapped
7 - Sweden and Germany
8 - New German Submarines and their Training Areas
9 - Overview of the Soviet Winter Offensive
10 - The Fate of the Enclaves
Author: Henrik O. Lunde