Blood in the Forest tells the brutal story of the forgotten battles of the final months of the Second World War. While the eyes of the world were on Hitler's bunker, more than half a million men fought six cataclysmic battles along a front line of fields and forests in Western Latvia known as the Courland Pocket. Just an hour from the capital Riga, German forces bolstered by Latvian Legionnaires were cut off and trapped with their backs to the Baltic. The only way out was by sea: the only chance of survival to hold back the Red Army. Forced into uniform by Nazi and Soviet occupiers, Latvian fought Latvian - sometimes brother against brother. Hundreds of thousands of men died for little territorial gain in unimaginable slaughter. When the Germans capitulated, thousands of Latvians continued a war against Soviet rule from the forests for years afterwards.
An award-winning documentary journalist, the author travels through the modern landscape gathering eye-witness accounts from seventy years before piecing together for the first time in English the stories of those who survived. He meets veterans who fought in the Latvian Legion, former partisans and a refugee who fled the Soviet advance to later become President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, A survivor of the little-known concentration camp at Popervale and founder of Riga's Jewish Museum, Margers Vestermanis has never spoken about his personal experiences. Here he gives details of the SS new world order planned in Kurzeme, his escape from a death march and subsequent survival in the forests with a Soviet partisan group - and a German deserter.
With eyewitness accounts, detailed maps and expert contributions alongside rare newspaper archive, photographs from private collections and extracts from diaries translated into English from Latvian, German and Russian, the author assembles a ghastly picture of death and desperation in a tough, uncomfortable story of a nation both gripped by war and at war with itself.
Vincent Hunt is an historical writer and award-winning BBC documentary maker who gathers his material face-to-face in his search to get to the heart of a story. He has crossed America, Europe and Africa making documentaries about world events such as US civil rights, apartheid and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In Blood in the Forest he travels through western Latvia interviewing eye-witnesses to the overlooked and bloody chapter of WWII known as the Courland Pocket. He meets Presidents, veterans and former partisans, going deep into the forests to hear vivid accounts of long-forgotten battles and terrible atrocities, little known outside the region. Museum archives, private collections, military records, rare newspaper editions and unpublished accounts of the time yield valuable material never published before in English, alongside expert accounts of the secret partisan war both during and after WWII. Hunt's first book Fire and Ice (The History Press, 2014) was praised for its meticulous research (History of War magazine) as he crossed Arctic Norway investigating the Nazi scorched earth retreat of 1944. Along the way he discovers the shocking stories of 13,700 Soviet prisoners worked to death in sub-zero conditions or murdered by their Nazi captors.