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The Second World War and the Baltic States


Edited By James S. Corum, Olaf Mertelsmann and Kaarel Piirimäe

This volume places the history of the Second World War and the Baltic states into a multidisciplinary and international perspective. It includes contributions from the fields of diplomacy, strategy, military operations, intelligence and propaganda. It presents not only a multi-layered interpretation of a region affected by total war, but also reveals a great deal about the nature of that conflict. It discusses the attitudes of the great powers towards small states, the nature of military operations around the advent of mechanization and close air support, and techniques of population control and of steering opinion in the era of ideological regimes. Contributions on these topics add to our understanding of the Second World War as a pivotal event in the history of Europe in the 20 th century.
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Second Front in the West: Estonia, the Baltic Question and the Struggle for British Public Opinion, 1941–44


Kaarel Piirimäe

According to a very common assumption, it was the military might of the Soviet Union that decided the ‘Baltic question’ in the Second World War. Even if the Western Allies, Britain and the US, had wanted to influence the peace settlements in the eastern Baltics, they had no real leverage over Moscow’s policies. But this was not that clear in 1941–44. The Baltic diplomats who were active in London and Washington still hoped that the Western Great Powers would be able to affect the outcome of the war in the theater and help the Baltic states regain independence. The question was, however, whether Britain and the US had the interest and the will to deal with the Baltic issue – and this had much to do with how the Baltic problem was perceived by the wider public.

This paper focuses on the activities of the Estonian diplomats to influence British public opinion on the question of the Baltic states, in order to prod the British government into action. This was from the start an uphill struggle, as Britain had based its war-time as well as postwar policies on the idea of building a partnership with the Soviet Union. Through its censorship system, which was never total, it was still able to influence public opinion more than ever in history. As will be shown in the paper, London was able to mute Estonian voices calling for self-determination in the Baltic and to...

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