Westerplatte

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Westerplatte Monument in memory of the Polish defenders

Westerplatte is a peninsula in Gdańsk, Poland, located on the Baltic Sea coast mouth of the Dead Vistula (one of the Vistula delta estuaries), in the Gdańsk harbour channel. From 1926 to 1939 it was the location of a Polish Military Transit Depot (WST), sanctioned within the territory of the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk).

It is famous for the Battle of Westerplatte, which was the first clash between Polish and German forces during the invasion of Poland and thus the first battle of the European theater of World War II.

History[edit]

Resort[edit]

The resort was established on the Westerplatte peninsula around 1830 which had a beach, a forested park, an ocean-side bath complex and health spa facilities.

The transit depot[edit]

Following the reestablishment of Polish independence in the aftermath of World War I, much of the surrounding region became a part of the Second Polish Republic. However the city of Danzig (present day Gdańsk), a historically important port city, at that time predominantly ethnically German, became an independent city state, the Free City of Danzig. The Free City was nominally run by the League of Nations, but over time the Free City became increasingly allied with Germany.[1][2]

In 1921 League of Nations granted Poland the right to install an ammunition depot near Gdańsk, and station a garrison there.[3] Despite some objections from the Free City, this right was confirmed in 1925, where the location was finally agreed on with the choice of Westerplatte.[3][4] Westerplatte was primarily separated from the New Port of the Free City of Danzig by the harbour channel, with only a small pier connecting them to the mainland; the Polish-held part of the Westerplatte was separated from the territory of Danzig by a brick wall.[4][5] The depot was completed in November 1925 and became operational in January 1926.[4] The Polish garrison's size was set at 88 soldiers, and Poland was not allowed to construct fortifications.[4]

On 6 March 1933, in what became known as the Westernmost incident (or crisis), Polish government landed a marine battalion, briefly strengthening the outpost to about 200 men. This was done to demonstrate the Polish resolve to defend the outpost in response to recent comments by German politicians and media figures about the need of border adjustment and Poland and France were secretly discussing preventative war against Germany; on a local level this was also done to put pressure on the Danzig government which was trying to renounce prior agreement on shared Danzig-Polish control over harbor police and take sole control of that unit.[6][7] Polish troops where withdrawn by 16 March, after protests from the League, Danzig and Germany, in exchange for Danzig withdrawing its objections to the harbor police agreement.[6] According to another source, on 14 March 1933 the League did authorized Poland to strengthen the garrison.[3]

Over the years, the Poles also constructed clandestine fortifications.[4] However, Polish fortifications built at Westerplatte were not very impressive: there were no real bunkers or underground tunnels, there were only five small concrete outposts (guardhouses) hidden in the peninsula's forest and a large barracks prepared for defense, supported by a network of field fortifications such as trenches and barricades.[5] Several of the buildings were reinforced with concrete.[8]:54 With tensions rising, in the spring of 1939 the garrison was placed on alert.[4]

Battle of Westerplatte[edit]

Maj. Sucharski surrendering the Westerplatte post

On 1 September 1939, only minutes after the German Luftwaffe (Airforce) had begun the invasion of Poland by dropping bombs in a series of raids on the city of Wieluń by Junkers Ju 87 Stukas, at 04:48[9] local time, the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, then on a "courtesy visit" to the Free City of Danzig, without warning opened fire on the Polish garrison. This was followed by an attack by Oblt. Wilhelm Henningsen’s storm unit from the Schleswig-Holstein and the "Marinestosstruppkompanie." However, soon after crossing the artillery-breached brick wall, the attackers were ambushed by the Polish defenders, with small arms, mortar and machine gun fire from concealed and well-positioned firing points that caught them in a crossfire. Another two assaults that day were repelled as well, with the Germans suffering unexpectedly high losses.

Over the coming days, the Germans repeatedly bombarded Westerplatte with naval artillery and heavy field artillery along with dive-bombing raids by Junkers Ju 87 Stukas. Repeated attacks by 570 German soldiers were repelled by the 180 Polish soldiers for seven days. Major Henryk Sucharski had been informed that no help from the Polish Army would come. Cut off, with no reinforcements or chance of resupply, he continued his defense, keeping the main German force stalled at Westerplatte and so preventing further attacks along the Polish coast.

On 7 September the Major decided to surrender, due to lack of ammunition and supplies. As a sign of honor for the soldiers of Westerplatte, German commander, Gen. Eberhardt, allowed Major Sucharski to keep his sword while being taken prisoner.

Post-war[edit]

The ruins of the defenders' barracks and guardhouses are still there. After the war, one of the guardhouses (#1) was converted into a museum. Two 280mm shells from the Schleswig-Holstein prop up its entrance.

A Monument of the Coast Defenders (Pomnik Obrońców Wybrzeża) was unveiled in 1966.

Westerplatte Museum dedicated to the 1939 battle was created in 2015.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Sources and documents[edit]

  • Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (red.) (1994). Znaki pamięci : listy westerplatczyków (1940-1993). "Marpress". ISBN 83-85349-21-9. 
  • Jacek Żebrowski (red.) (2001). Dziennik działań bojowych pancernika "Schleswig-Holstein" 8.09.-2.10.1939 r. Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek. ISBN 83-7322-123-9. 

Guidebooks[edit]

  • Franciszek Mamuszka (1988). Westerplatte : przewodnik historyczny. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo PTTK "Kraj". ISBN 83-7005-192-8. 
  • Rafał Witkowski (1989). Westerplatte : informator historyczny. Gdańsk: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza. ISBN 83-03-01772-1. 

Fiction[edit]

  • Mariusz Wójtowicz-Podhorski, Krzysztof Wyrzykowski (2004). Westerplatte: Załoga śmierci. Milton Media. ISBN 83-920878-0-1. 

Other[edit]

  • Zbigniew Flisowski (1982). Tu, na Westerplatte. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. 
  • Zbigniew Flisowski (red.) (1989). Westerplatte. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa MON. ISBN 83-11-07694-4. 
  • Maria and Zbigniew Flisowscy (1985). Bastion u wrót Gdańska. Warsaw: Nasza Księgarnia. ISBN 83-10-08779-9. 
  • Władysław Kluz (1989). Honor : mjr Henryk Sucharski. Warsaw: Akademia Teologii Katolickiej. 
  • Mirosław Gliński (1998). Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Muzeum Historii Miasta Gdańska : Wydaw. Gdańskie. ISBN 83-85843-76-0. 
  • Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (1988). Lwy z Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Morskie. ISBN 83-215-7237-5. 
  • Stanisława Górnikiewicz-Kurowska (1999). Westerplatczycy : losy obrońców Wojskowej Składnicy Tranzytowej. Gdańsk: "Marpress". ISBN 83-87291-53-6. 
  • Andrzej Drzycimski (1989). Wojna zaczęła się na Westerplatte. Gdańsk: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza. ISBN 83-03-02403-5. 
  • Andrzej Drzycimski (1990). Major Henryk Sucharski. Wrocław: Ossolineum. ISBN 83-04-03374-7. 
  • Melchior Wańkowicz (1990). Westerplatte. Warsaw: Pax. ISBN 83-211-1113-0. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Matthew Parish (30 October 2009). Free City in the Balkans: Reconstructing a Divided Society in Bosnia. I.B.Tauris. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-85771-273-8. 
  2. ^ Gregory H . Fox (21 February 2008). Humanitarian Occupation. Cambridge University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-139-46973-9. 
  3. ^ a b c Edmund Jan·Osma鈔czyk; Edmund Jan Osmańczyk; Rupert Lee (2003). Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements: T to Z. Taylor & Francis. p. 2684. ISBN 978-0-415-93924-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Garba, Bartłomiej; Westphal, Marcin (2017-03-30). "Exhibition on Westerplatte". muzeum1939.pl. Museum of the Second World War. Retrieved 2018-06-04. 
  5. ^ a b (English) Janusz Marszalec, Westerplatte, p. 4[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b Gerhard L. Weinberg (1 March 2010). Hitler's Foreign Policy 1933-1939: The Road to World War II. Enigma Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-929631-91-9. 
  7. ^ Crockett, Jameson W. (2009). "The Polish Blitz, More than a Mere Footnote to History: Poland and Preventive War with Germany, 1933". Diplomacy & Statecraft. 20 (4): 561–579. 
  8. ^ Steven J. Zaloga (19 August 2002). Poland 1939: The birth of Blitzkrieg. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-84176-408-5. 
  9. ^ planned on 4:45, delayed by 3 minutes.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°24′27″N 18°40′17″E / 54.40750°N 18.67139°E / 54.40750; 18.67139