The Battle of Westerplatte
Gdansk's picturesque Westerplatte peninsula has the unhappy distinction of being the site of the official start of the Second World War. A small forested island separated from Gdansk by the harbour channel, Westerplatte was established as a Polish military outpost during the interwar period, equipped with one 75mm field gun, two 37mm antitank guns (slightly mystifying for a coastal defense), four mortars and several medium machine guns, but lacking any true fortifications. By the autumn of 1939, the Polish garrison occupying Westerplatte comprised of 182 soldiers expected to withstand a potential attack for twelve hours.
In late August, 1939, under the suspect pretense of an amiable courtesy visit, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein dropped anchor in the channel off Westerplatte and on September 1, at exactly 04:45 local time, began it's barrage of the Polish outpost with its superior 280 and 150mm guns. Thus began Germany's invasion of Poland, igniting the powderkeg that would explode into World War II.
Expecting an easy victory, the German offensive was sternly repelled by Polish small arms and machine gun fire, and suffered unexpected losses during two more assaults upon Westerplatte the same day. The only Polish 75mm gun was destroyed after discharging 28 shells into the German position across the channel. Despite a German naval infantry invasion, sustained bombardment by heavy artillery and diving airraids from German warplanes, the Polish garrison repulsed the Germans for seven days, before the depleted unit, suffering from exhaustion, severe injury and a shortage of food, water, ammunition and medical supplies, was forced to surrender on September 7th.
Over the course of the violent engagement some 2,600 German soldiers fought against the 205-strong garrison of stalwart Poles. The exact number of German casualties has never been disclosed, but is assumed to be quite high in comparison to the Polish figures - of the 205 Polish soldiers defending the outpost, only 14 perished (including the Polish radio operator, later executed for refusing to divulge radio codes to the German side) while 53 were wounded.
Today the ruins of the barracks and two blockhouses - the only structures on the island - still remain. One of the blockhouses has been converted into a museum commemorating the battle and those who fought there, with two shells from the Schleswig-Holstein ironically propping the entrance. A placid 25m tall stone monument now marks the site of this infamous exchange that preceded the levelling of Gdansk's Old Town and sparked a worldwide conflict that would result in immeasurable suffering (particularly in Poland). Though it is outside the city, Westerplatte is a worthwhile venture for anyone visiting Gdansk; like so many sights in Poland, it is haunted by it's troubling history in the face of a beautiful natural environment.
Phil from United Kingdom Reply
There are many of us in Britain who know fully the sacrifices made by the polish nation during world war two and the struggle the polish nation endured in the latter half of the 18th & 19th centuries. I personally am very proud of my Squadrons association (318 Sqn ) with the City of Gdansk and Poland , I find it very humbling and a massive honour to be allowed to present a wreath at Westerplatte memorial on the 1st Sept every year to remember the brave Poles who served with the RAF and gave everything in the fight against fascism. A beautiful country with very braze and generous people.
Jonas from Denmark Reply
Praise to all the brave heroes of the Polish military. May your efforts never be forgotten, you set an example for the rest of us.
Johnny from Canada Reply
Poland is not yet lost!
ela clark from United States Reply
Danzig WAS invaded. It was not German territory. It was almost sovereign as a Free City. So, yes, the city was invaded. That it was a free city was an alternative to the German population -- rather than losing the city altogether to Poland, so the option for a free city was a compromise that favored Germans, not punishment. To argue otherwise is to buy into the "Heim ins Reich" rhetoric of the worst revisionists.
Lance from United Kingdom Reply
There is an interesting film about the battle of Westerplatte now available on DVD... "1939 Battle of Westerplatte" [Tajemnica Westerplatte in Polish]
Frank from United States Reply
Even though my grandfather was a German soldier in that war, I still respect Poland and their symbolic resistance.
Mike Hughes from United States Reply
My mother was born in Danzig in 1937 and her mother Erna Weinreich (nee: Lachevsky) died there in 1943. Is there any way I can find out more information about my grandmother? She married Walter Weinreich and he disappeared during the war and was not reunited with my mother until a few years after the war. My grandfather ended up in Leipzig, (East) Germany. While my mother was taken in by another couple, fled the Russian advance and settled in Cham, (West) Germany. Any help or advice would be welcomed. Thank You! Mike
Harold from United Kingdom Reply
The Poles deserved so much better at the end of the war. A proud nation indeed.
Seb from United States Reply
Polish soldiers never got credit for fighting on every front of WWII for every anti-nazi country. The Poles caused more damage to both the Germans and Russians (fuck Stalin - what people dont know is that the Russians invaded Poland from the East)... Polish fought some of the most gruesome battles of WWII they are responsible for saving Britain with the squadron 303, as well as the battle of Warsaw uprising. The Russians tried to hide Polish history for ages. They also killed 20,000 Polish officers at the Katyn massacre prior to WWII...
Mandy (daughter of Antoni Lankiewicz) from United Kingdom Reply
My father was one of these soldiers. He was awarded Poland's highest military honour the Military Virtue. He died in 2006.
rahel from Israel
my father was also one of these soldiers. he also died in 2006. He was also in the Poland military .We try to learn now about this part of history in his life.
Les Taylor from Spain Reply
grandson of Pole from Sweden Reply
@ Mongol from Ukraine: Except for the fact that the Soviets at Brest didn't fight to either the last man or the last bullet. At Brest fortress the occupying Red Army had over 9,000 men, out of whom 6,000 surrendered after one week, having caused the Germans (their until recent allies) 400 casualties. At Westerplatte a mere 200 Polish soldiers held out for a week against the Germans, causing them 300 casualties, without ever having been allied to them. They didn't surrender until more than 1/3 of them had become casualties.
Jed-Henry F. Witkowski from United States Reply
Fantastic, but brief article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.My grand father was a Polish soldier during WWII, I do not know where he fought, just that he did.
(Prof.) Severyn Sternhell from Australia Reply
The battle of Westerplatte was worth it and will live as long as Poland lives.My great uncle Arthur Weiler died defending Westerplatte.
dave from United Kingdom Reply
cala prawda jest w tym ze polska walczyla
Don Hills from Canada Reply
Great place to visit and pay homage to the brave soldiers who fought here against all odds. Visited in 2007 with one of my friends who lives in Krakow.
Katarzyna from Poland Reply
I think that this commemorates the bravery of the Polish soldiers at Westerplatte. I myself have visited it, and swell with pride to see my fellow people defend the country with so much heart. It is also a myth fact that Hitler himself said "If I had men like those at Westerplatte, I could be able to takeover the world." Truly a wonderful job on this informational literature piece!
from United States Reply
Excellent, thanks for including this. How fitting that the war that Gdansk, the place at which WWII started, should also be the place that spelled the end of the cold war, with the bravery of the Polish labor unions at the Gdansk docks. ---a Yankee
luiz pinelli neto from Brazil Reply
É um povo valente, uma raça forte e um exército destemido. Minha admiração pelo excelente desempenho militar da força polonesa. Luiz O Patriota.
Thomas Lippner from United States Reply
They were the bravest soldiers in the world. At the same time they expected help to arrive from the Allies, but in this respect they were let down.
Nika from Poland Reply
Westerplatte is not just a story that you can read in different versions and claim that it is the only right one. It is recognized worldwide that the beginning of WW II had its beginning on the Sep 1st in this magic place. It is recognized and well documented that the beginning of Gdansk is dated for many years before Christ and was Polish city, the beginning of Amber track in PL, the city was rebuilt by Mieszko I, the prince of Poland, that it God the city rights from the hands of Polish prince as well in XII century. in XIV century it was invaded by rebuilt Kreuzzügen, which did not make the city German. The truth is that for many further centuries Gdansk was a free Baltic port and free city,by mainly because of the support that Gdansk show tu Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk (King of Poland) in fighting Kreuzzügen (Krzyżacy) . Not mentioning the fact that the most precious parts of Gdansk were totally damaged in 1945 during its releasing and rebuilt during communistic times in PL. I seriously have never thought that there are ppl in the world claiming that Gdansk is German, or even better - France. Well, than i guess i can easily claim that Romania is a part of Russia and UK is actually a state of USA.
janusz from United States
Great analysis Niki! I hope more people have some bain power and eloquency you do. Thank you! I will read it to my kids. They can leard something. Janusz z Krakowa. PS. Wiem ze masz na Imie NIka ale moja 11 letnia corka ma na imie Nicole - Niki wiec tak Cie zanwalem. Pa. Janusz
Paul Salek from United States Reply
A moving story, well said. I have visited Poland on 4 vacations. This sight is one of my most memorable places. It should be visited as should Aushwitz. We must not forget what happened.
Mongol from Ukraine Reply
In Brest fortres, russian soldiers was fight till last person. Westerplatte was surrender before using last bullet. Das they herow?
patches lomnicki from Austria Reply
i think this was a very good story. want a cookie?
James Cooper from United States Reply
Just saw the ceremony at Gdansk on TV on 1 Sept and can only say that hopefully nothing of the magnitude of World war 2 will never again take place - this closest we came to WW3 was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Through the establishment of organizations like NATO and the UN can we as a race hopefully prevent another world-wide conflagration but as history as shown, it is only the human race which attempts to exterminate itself. Good luck humans! On the other hand, perhaps these terrible losses of life is nature's way of keeping the population in check - just think what the world's population would be now if the losses of World War 1 and 2 had not occurred!
Richard Clark from Bulgaria Reply
Danzig is a German city but the France and British and to some extent the Americans to spite the German people as well as the Austria/Hungary empire their lands was split up. Agree that part of the German land was Polish and they got this and more land in excess including some 2-3 millions of Ukrainians one million German nationals. France frantically tried to carve out some of the western German lands and occupied Ruhr industrial areas when the German could not pay the annual 1 billion Reichmark in gold and hanged Germans that was in opposition. There is no wonder that the Allies crazy peace treaty resulted in the carnage of the Second World War.
janusz from United States
Get the history book and read it for once. If Gdansk is German the Bulgaria is Turkey. Grow a brain moron!
Levi Bookin from Israel Reply
Danzig was not in political terms a German city. It was a free (that is international) city under the auspices of the League of Nations. Hitler even asked if he could be extradited from there if necessary.
James from Germany Reply
I saw the attack by the Schleswig-Holstein as part of a documentary on the invasion of Poland on German TV the other night. Besides it being an appalling and heartless onslaught of huge guns levelled parallel to land, I was even more appalled by the fact that the German Propaganda Ministry had a camera team set up on the harbour quay before the barrage started and they filmed the whole thing to show in German cinemas a week later!
Leah from Germany Reply
Thanks for the nice side and all the information! I read here, that the 2nd WW was especially cruel for people in Poland. In my opinion this war was more terrible then words can express most of the people on earth. If you say "especially for Poland" you do regrade the suffering of all the others on earth.
Leonard from United States Reply
Stephen: The status of Danzig at the time of the attack on Westerplatte was recognized by all western European nations as having been clearly violated by the German assault. But no matter. There are only two facts that are truly germane. (1)The German sneak attack was unprovoked and clearly orchestrated as part of a larger invasion. (2) Anyone who has not been subject to incoming artillery rounds has also not earned the right to question the bravery of those who have.
Grazyna from United Kingdom Reply
Stephen, you've obviously had your head buried in the sand. I was brought up in England, but learnt about Polish history and you have it all wrong... never mind dear. You can read books?
Greg from Canada Reply
Stephen, are you made your comments up or you really don't know facts?! Do yourself a favourite and educate.
Arnold from Poland Reply
Stephen Backwell you aviously don`t know history of poland at all, so it will be good for you to READ historical facts before writing anything !!!!
Stephen Backwell from United Kingdom Reply
DANZIG IN 1939 = A GERMAN CITY OF 400,000 Danzig was a 97% German city on which Poland had no territorial claim. Yet according to the Polish version of history Danzig was "invaded" on 1st September 1939. Although a full-blooded German city just like Hamburg, Danzig was in every way an international port and the Poles were guaranteed full access. German proposals to make Danzig a free international port but to return it to Germany were rejected by the Polish military dictatorship.
Artur Vonmargrabowa from South Africa
Well researched Stephen Blackwell and mostly true. Actually since the city and district was so heavily German populace the Nazis offered the Polish a mile wide corridor and a rail line through Danzig and free access to the port for the return of Danzig to Germany much like the agreement Germany made with Lithuania for the return of Memeland which Lithuania accepted!
jamie from United States Reply
i love it
Thore from Norway Reply
Just visited this area, and was able to walk around. Many visitors on a early day of may.
Frank Meyer from United States Reply
History has forgotten the Aug.24, 1939 Molotov - Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocol where Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland between them. Russia invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939.
Jared from United States Reply
I am currently writing a historical fiction on the Poland invasion. I you could send me plenty of historical facts on this specific battle, I'd be grateful. Thank you.