Westerplatte is a peninsula in Gdańsk, at an estuary of the Dead Vistula (one of the Vistula delta estuaries), in the Gdańsk harbour channel. From 1926 - 1939 a Polish Military Transit Depot was located there, on a territory of the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk). The defence of Westerplatte in September 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, has probably become the best known symbol of Polish resistance.
The Transit Depot
In 1925 the Council of the League of Nations allowed Poland to keep 88 soldiers on Westerplatte. By September 1939 the crew of Westerplatte had increased to 182 soldiers. They were armed with one 75 mm field gun, 2 anti-tank guns, 4 mortars and a number of machineguns. There were no real fortifications, only several concrete blockhouses in the forest. The Polish garrison was separated from Gdansk city by the harbour channel, with only a thin wall connecting them to the mainland. In case of war, the defenders were supposed to withstand attack for 12 hours. Their commander was Major Henryk Sucharski, the 2nd in command was Captain Franciszek Dąbrowski (according to recent opinions, from 2 September Captain Dąbrowski was also the actual commander, following Sucharski's breakdown).
Battle of Westerplatte
At the end of August 1939 the old German battleship Schleswig-Holstein came to Gdańsk under the pretext of a courtesy visit and anchored in the channel, near Westerplatte. On September 1, 1939, at 4.45 a.m., as the German Army began their invasion of Poland, Schleswig-Holstein started to shell the Polish garrison with a heavy artillery barrage, including 280 mm and 150 mm guns. This was followed by an attack by German naval infantry, who were hoping for an easy victory, but were repelled with Polish machinegun fire. Another two assaults that day were repelled as well, and the Germans suffered losses. The only Polish 75 mm gun was destroyed after firing 28 shells at German positions across the channel. Over the coming days, the Germans bombarded Westerplatte with ship and field heavy artillery and with air raids of Junkers Ju 87 Stukas. Repeated attacks by German naval infantry, SS Heimwehr Danzig and combat engineers were all repelled by the Poles. Finally, the Westerplatte crew surrendered on 7 September, who were now exhausted and short of food, water, ammunition and medicines.
The exact number of German losses is not known; it is estimated that around 300 were killed and many more wounded. Polish casaulties were much lower - 15 killed and 53 wounded. The ruins of the barracks and blockhouses are still there. One of the barracks has been converted into a museum - two shells from the Schleswig-Holstein prop up its entrance.
Polish soldiers taken into captivity
after the capitulation of Westerplatte
Sources and documents
- Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (red.) (1994). Znaki pamięci : listy westerplatczyków (1940-1993). : "Marpress". ISBN 8385349219
- Jacek Żebrowski (red.) (2001). Dziennik działań bojowych pancernika "Schleswig-Holstein" 8.09.-2.10.1939 r.. Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek. ISBN 8373221239
- Franciszek Mamuszka (1988). Westerplatte : przewodnik historyczny. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo PTTK "Kraj". ISBN 8370051928
- Rafał Witkowski (1989). Westerplatte : informator historyczny. Gdańsk: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza. ISBN 8303017721
- Mariusz Wójtowicz-Podhorski, Krzysztof Wyrzykowski (2004). Westerplatte: Załoga śmierci. : Milton Media. ISBN 8392087801
- Zbigniew Flisowski (1982). Tu, na Westerplatte. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. ISBN none
- Zbigniew Flisowski (red.) (1989). Westerplatte. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa MON. ISBN 8311076944
- Maria and Zbigniew Flisowscy (1985). Bastion u wrót Gdańska. Warsaw: Nasza Księgarnia. ISBN 8310087799
- Władysław Kluz (1989). Honor : mjr Henryk Sucharski. Warsaw: Akademia Teologii Katolickiej. ISBN none
- Mirosław Gliński (1998). Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Muzeum Historii Miasta Gdańska : Wydaw. Gdańskie. ISBN 8385843760
- Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (1988). Lwy z Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Morskie. ISBN 8321572375
- Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (1999). Westerplatczycy : losy obrońców Wojskowej Składnicy Tranzytowej. Gdańsk: "Marpress". ISBN 8387291536
- Andrzej Drzycimski (1989). Wojna zaczęła się na Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza. ISBN 8303024035
- Andrzej Drzycimski (1990). Major Henryk Sucharski. Wrocław: Ossolineum. ISBN 8304033747
- Melchior Wańkowicz (1990). Westerplatte. Warsaw: Pax. ISBN 8321111130
- Map of Westerplatte (http://gis.gdansk.pl/dziel/d-22.htm)