The Naval War in the Baltic – 1939-1945 – Review

I read Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 about six months ago and as a result I was looking forward to The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945. Wow! I wasn’t disappointed.  This book arrived a couple of months ago and I finally had a week where I read rather than painted figures or headed to the pub and this was on the top of the reading pile.

The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945 was originally published on 17 May 2017 however it appears to have been sold out and is now due to re-release on 28 February 2018. The author is Poul Grooss. The book is 400 pages long with ISBN 9781526700001.

Poul Grooss is a retired Danish Naval Captain whose career was 40 years long. He served as an intelligence officer and Soviet analyst. He also speaks Russian. He currently is a teacher at the Royal Danish Naval Academy.

I reckoned I knew a bit about World War II and I also knew there was a lot I didn’t know. Reading Grooss’s book has reminded me of how little I do actually know. Grooss starts setting the scene in the book by describing the geography and the history of the Baltic region, then goes on to discuss the political manoeuvring and naval developments between the wars. His coverage of the 1939 to 1945 period starts with the attack on Poland then looks at the Baltic region through to 1941. Later chapters cover the attack on the Soviet Union to Spring 1942; the war between Spring 1942 and 1944; Spring 1944 to New Year 1944/1945; then from that New Year, month by month to the end of the war. He then looks at the aftermath of the war and a retrospective.

The book is easy to read and Grooss has taken advantage of his Russian language skills to collect data from sources not usually referred to western histories. Grooss was writing for the general reader but has managed to write a book that will appeal to both general readers and the more professional historian.

He covers and uncovers the degree of Swedish cooperation with the Germans. He covers the interactions between the Soviets and the Swedes and while this is a naval history of the Baltic, the land battles are included for context, especially Kronstadt and Leningrad. Hitler’s desire to hang on to Narva is also covered.

The Baltic was a training ground for German U-boat crews but what really amazed me was the quantity of mines that were laid there and the amount of shipping that suffered. I should also mention that the Swedes were not as pro-German as we perhaps think, permitting the British to build a listening station on Swedish soil, for example. Both the Germans and the British seemed to have a laissez faire attitude to Swedish neutrality.

This book is not all about Sweden though. Grooss also covers the minor states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) as well as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland and of course the main protagonists. The book is supported by many fine photographs, most of which have not been seen in print before as well as well drawn maps. There are a number of appendices and indexes with an index of people and another of ships. There is an appendix containing a chronology of the conflict, a glossary of abbreviations, ranks, terminology and explanations. Another appendix is a cross-reference of place names in various languages as well as an extensive list of sources and bibliography. This book is one I will return to many times in the future I think. For the naval historian, the wargamer and the general reader, it is well worth waiting for this re-release and grabbing a copy.

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Lego – this is just insulting

imageAs many folks know, I go by the handle of ‘thomo_the_lost’ when I need a username on a website as it tends to fit my lifestyle of a year or two here, a year or two there. I have even used that handle on the odd financial services website without any issues. However, when trying to join the Lego website (don’t ask why), I was told I could not use that username, even though no one else was using it.

Normally I would not care about that and just change it but this happened to me earlier in Facebook as well. When I tried to use ‘thomo_the_lost’ for my Facebook homepage, Facebook rejected it even though it was not used anywhere else.

imageIn both cases (Lego and Facebook), if I changed my username to ‘thommo_the_lost’ then it worked fine.

What is the difference between the two handles? One ‘m’ only. The words and sounds are still the same. So why does one reject and not the other? Simple really (although it took me nearly 60 seconds to work it out).

‘Thomo’ has the string ‘homo’ in it. To test that this is indeed the reason, I tried to set a username of ‘homo_sapien’. I thought, “that’s a good scientific name for a person”.

imageGuess what? That failed too.

Just to confirm my suspicions and to make sure that I was being fair to Lego before writing this, I tried to login as ‘homo_sapien’ and then clicked on the ‘I forgot my password’ link. I figured that if ‘homo_sapien’ was already used as a username I would be able to see it from the return screen.

imageThe screen to the right was the response to that – there is no login username of ‘homo_sapien’ in the Lego system.

This is the same as Facebook (and I guess a number of other websites as well).

The problem is the ‘homo’ string. It seems that these organisations think ‘homo’ is a sexual or indeed homosexual term and that if that string is allowed in usernames, it will be the end of civilisation as we know it!

What is doubly disappointing to me is that Lego is a Danish ((and just to be sure I checked – the website carries a notice under the terms and conditions section that says, “the Site is owned and operated by LEGO A/S, a corporation incorporated under the laws of Denmark, having its principle office in Denmark.”)) firm and Denmark has strong non-discrimination laws. “Discrimination” I hear you say. “That’s a bit rich isn’t it?”

Well, it must be discrimination – I leave you with my last experimental trial on the Lego website – have a close look at this username!

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Armies of the Seven Years War

The postman brought another book. This time it was Digby Smith’s Armies of the Seven Years War: Commanders, Equipment, Uniforms and Strategies of the ‘First World War’, ISBN 978-075245-923-3.

I have been looking forward to this one as well. Smith’s Uniform works are quite good and I have an interested in the Seven Years War that remains unsatisfied still – both at a naval level and a battle level.

In fact, I have been pondering this war for the start of my own Imagi-Nations of that period, sort of like the Grand Duchy of Stollen. If not the Seven Years War period, then the Great Northern War or the War of Spanish Succession.

I digress.

Smith’s work is supposed to supply information on the senior commanders, uniforms, weapons, equipment, artillery, strategy, tactics and combat involvement (military and naval) of the forces engaged from 1756 to 1763.

States covered include Austria, Bavaria, Britain, Brunswick, Denmark, Hanover, Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel, Holland, France, the Palatinate, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Wurttemberg and the Holy Roman Empire. He has attempted to cover the uniforms of the protagonists and given that some of them had large forces, I am not sure that he will be able to manage that in a work this size. I am ready to be pleasantly surprised however.

There are over 150 illustrations and maps in this work. I will write more about this when I have had a chance to have a long look.

Danish Napoleonic Naval Questions

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to build the Danish Fleet, circa 1801, as a starter for use with Napoleonic Naval Wargames. I was looking at using the Trafalgar Rules by Mark Latham to play with. Reading through the rules I noticed that there was no Danish vessels listed in the various fleet lists. I guess this is because at their main battle at Copenhagen in 1801 they were moored.

So, I am looking to put some game aids together for them. I was thinking of using either the statistics for the Batavian Republic (Dutch) although they may reflect too low a drop in quality. The other stats to use as a blueprint that come to mind are those of the Swedes, for no other valid reason other than they are both Scandinavian and spent a good deal of their respective histories fighting each other.

Those statistics along with the colour of the Danish vessels are my two burning questions at the moment. Well, those two questions as well as a list of the Danish ships at the time 😆

If anyone has the answers to these burning questions:

  1. Statistics to use for Danish vessels in then Trafalgar Naval Wargame Rules
  2. Colours of the strakes especially and vessels generally for vessels in the Danish fleet – were they uniform or varied as well
  3. Names and rate of the vessels that made up the Danish fleet of the time

Please feel free to comment here with answers. As and when I find answers to these questions I will post them here to the Hole as well.

Naval engagements First Schleswig War

In 1848 war broke out between Denmark, Prussia and Sweden over Schleswig, part of the joint Schleswig-Holstein duchies of northern Europe. The main reason for the conflict was nationalism and whether Schleswig should be more closely tied to Denmark than it was with the German population of Schleswig wanting no such thing.

As this war was in 1848, it was fought during a transitional period for naval warfare with the wooden walls of the Napoleonic times soon to be replaced with the steel sides of mid to late 19th Century. One of the neat things about researching for this conflict is that it occurred as Australia was starting to develop an identity through the 19th Century and moreover, as Australian newspapers were developing the craft and trade.

The National Library of Australia has a beta test project running at the moment where they have digitised many old Australian newspapers, going back to the early 18th Century. Subsequently, as Australians have always been a bit curious about how the other folks live, there was always demand for articles of world news, both from Europe and interestingly, from Asia as well.

Heading to the National Library’s newspaper research site and searching on “Naval engagements First Schleswig War”, many links to articles appear. One such article is this one:

Danes and Germans, for Schleswig; a collision took place at Flensburg but the result was not known. The Danish government has called on England to assist her against the Germans. Fears were entertained in Hamburg that the Danes would blockade the Elbe except to English vessels.

This article came from the The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, dated Saturday, 12 August 1848, and was one of the pieces brought up with the search mentioned above.

The Hobart Courier of Wednesday 9 August 1848 provided a good roundup and summary of the war up to that point, noting, with regards to some of the Danish and Prussian ships, that:

Elsinore, April 19.

This evening the Prussian ships lying at anchor in the roadstead have been laid under embargo by the Danish ships of war.

Another letter from Messrs. A. Von Duers and Co., to the Hamburg Assurance Company, dated Elsinore, April 19th, 10 o’clock at night, says, ” All German vessels are at this moment being detained.”

A traveller who is well-known to us and who returned yesterday from Copenhagen, informs us that the feeling in Denmark, although very excited, is by no means so inimical to individual Germans as is generally supposed. He says he travelled through Zealand, and although he always spoke German, he did not meet with the slightest insult, either in the country or in Copenhagen.

On his application to the Minister of War for permission to go on board the Dronning Maria, his request was immediately granted in writing, and on his mentioning the name of some Hamburgers with whom he was acquainted, he was not only allowed to speak to them, but was permitted afterwards to send them all that they required-clothing, books, &c. The prisoners were kept in strict discipline, but treated with great mildness. The non-commissioned officers receive 12 pence a-day besides their rations. The major in command on board is a very humane man, and is on very good terms with the prisoners; he even permits them to enjoy themselves in playing at cards-smoking is, of course, prohibited.

A private letter from Flensburg positively denies the reports of the bad treatment which the Schleswig-Holstein troops are said to have met with in that city. Both the German and Danish troops are equally well received by the citizens ; few excesses were committed against the Germans on their retreat, and the report that scalding water, &c. was poured upon them was quite without foundation. A miller, who took some Germans under his protection, was seized by the Danes with all his people, but was  afterwards liberated. The inhabitants of Flensburg have maintained a decidedly neutral position. The wounded among the Danes and the Germans are tended with equal care, and honourable treatment is given alike to both.

Go have a look at the site, research the news from this war as if it was happening now.

More Blog Searches

There have been some more interesting searches here in Thomo’s Hole … although the number of times folks are searching here and not finding something is getting smaller. Seems my readership is still a mix of general readers, friends, acquaintances, the boss and wargamers.

So, what were the unsuccessful searches over the last two weeks or so? Some interesting ones this time:

  • hms ashanti
  • korean schools
  • Naval engagements Danish-Prussian War
  • Naval engagements First Schleswig War
  • Naval engagements Second Schleswig War
  • Puma IFV

So, some interesting ones there and ones that will have me doing some research this weekend. HMS Ashanti is a fairly easy one … that would be a Tribal class British destroyer and rather a well known one so that will probably be first article off the ranks.

The Puma IFV will also be fairly quick as well.

Korean schools is an odd one I guess. Not sure if this is for Korean schools in Australia or Korean schools in Korea. I am guessing that it may be the first one and if it is, then as far as I know, there are no specific Korean schools in Australia. Most Korean school students in Australia seem to head to Australian schools but I’ll check with my Korean friends. Of course, it could also be someone searching for Korean language schools in Australia and if that is the case, then try looking at http://en.askedu.net/Australia/Korean_1.htm

Now, the remaining searches. They are really interesting ones and are fascinating questions for me, knowing so little as I do about those particular wars. I mean I know they occurred and have a general idea what happened but I have never really read about them in any detail. I can see I shall have to spend more time on this. A trip into Conway’s for the Schleswig Wars will also be necessary as I am sure that there may have been something – and the second Schleswig War was fought in 1864 so Conway’s volume 1 will cover that time period.

The Danish-Prussian War was in 1849 and I believe it was in 1824 that Henri-Joseph Paixhans developed explosive shells which were used in Naval vessels (and unlike the previous explosive shells which needed to be fired from howitzers, these could be fired over flat trajectories – such as a gun on the side of a wooden warship fired). Of course, explosive shells and wooden warships are a combination where the only winner is going to be the shell. I believe these shells were used in 1849 (remember, La Gloire and Warrior did not come along until 1859 and 1860 and the true steam powered ironclads a few years after that). So, there was naval combat in the 1849 Danish-Prussian War, so I will need to look that up.

OK, looks like there will be some interesting pieces coming up here in the near future as well.