Saturday, 10 September 2016

01- 07.IX.1939 The Battle of Westerplatte (Gdansk)

So, after waxing lyrical about all of the history and geographical elements of the Westerplatte peninsular I thought it would be worthwhile just diving straight in with an account of the battle so here we go... and yes, I will be gratuitously ripping off film stills to help me tell this story! ;)

Before the Battle

22nd March 1939

The occupation of the port of Klaipeda creates an implicit reason for the mobilisation of elements of the Polish Army. A day later a state of emergency is declared for the garrison of the Polish Military Transit Depot situated on the Westerplatte peninsular. A further escalation was prevented this time, new and replacement parts are hastened to the depot and the garrison is further familiarised with the hitherto secret fortifications and defensive plans on the peninsular. Training is accelerated.

16th August 1939

Captain Gustaf Kleikamp, commanding officer of Cadet Training Ship 'Schleswig-Holstein' is called to the Naval Ministry in Berlin and receives orders to sail to Gdansk on an official visit as a substitute for the light cruiser Konigsberg 'which has suffered machine failure'...

Kapitan zur see Gustav Kleikamp

The official reason for the visit were celebrations associated with the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the World War I cruiser 'Magdeburg'. A dozen members of his former crew had fallen during the battle and now rested in one of Gdansk cemeteries.

Additional and less formal orders, received a few days later, speak about hour 'Y' (the original date Start a war with Poland - hour 4.30 on 26 August) detailing that his ship is to support the forces of Gdansk in combat in the Gulf of Gdansk, including the acquisition of Westerplatte with his own artillery.

23rd August 1939

At Gdansk main rail station the customs inspectors stop a Polish supply wagon with hardware designed for Depot. Dispatched by rail road instead of ship from Gdynia to Westerplatte, proves to be a massive example of carelessness.

Into German hands falls the depots sanitary equipment, including operating table and set of surgical tools, helmets (in effect helms to be allocated to the civilian reservists), ammunition (mines and explosive materials) and other equipment whose failure to arrive affects the functioning of the garrison throughout the siege.

Late at night, in the region of BornholmMinesweepers from Klaipeda transport the elite 3rd Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie to the SMS Schleswig-Holstein  with the task of guarding the ship whilst on post in Gdansk against possible Polish attack from the mainland.

Kriegsmarine Stosstrupp Kompanie making preparations


25th August 1939

10:40 The German pre-dreadnought battleship SMS 'Schleswig-Holstein' solemnly travels down Gdansk's Harbour Canal and moores at the wharf in New Port, opposite the Westerplatte.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein sailing into Gdansk to be greeted by tumultuous crowds

They start a schedule of official visits aboard the ship. Whilst these meetings are taking place a reconnaissance of the Polish Military Transit Depot is conductd from the ships observation points high on the masts.

16:30 The ship's Commanding Officer, Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp, learns to his surprise during a meeting with the General in command of Gdansk's SS paramilitary and Danzig Police; Friedrich Eberhardt, that the general has no intention or plan to take Westerplatte, only to blockade it and ensure it causes no trouble. Kleikamp therefore decides that he is able to perform this task with his own elite naval assault company. He argues that leaving the Westerplatte Peninsular will hinder his performance of the other tasks imposed on his ship.

Wehrmacht General Friedrich Wilhelm Georg Karl Hermann Gotthard Eberhardt 
The proposal is welcomed.

22:00 The Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie is making preparations to make the assault when it is ordered to stand down due to a delay of Hour 'Y', the original start date for the war with Poland. (This is due to the news that Germany receives regarding the mutual defence pact that Poland signs with Great Britain and France). Apparently, the soldiers are very disappointed with this decision.

III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie at rest before the assault is delayed
In the meantime, it turns out that during embarkation they made a critical mistake and the mortars and assault company's grenades were taken with only practise ammunition. Therefore the Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie will be deprived of its artillery support which as will be seen becomes absolutely critical to carrying out the task assigned to it.

26th August 1939

The commander of SMS Schleswig-Holstein performs calculations using his own forces positioned in the ships observation posts to conduct reconnaissance of the peninsula. Due to the position of the ship this information gathering is restricted to objects that lay in the area of Harbour Canal. Although also visible to the Germans is the roof of the New Barracks building in the centre of the depot.

In the afternoon, the company commander leading the assault, Oberleutnant Wilhelm Henningsen takes part in some aviation reconnaissance, flying over the terrain of Westerplatte.

Oberleutnant (Artillerie) Wilhelm Henningsen
Commander of the elite III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie

19:00 SMS Schleswig-Holstein is shifted to the area of Fortress Wisloujscie and takes up a new mooring.

The Wisloujscie Fortress about 500m down the Harbour Canal from Westerplatte

28th August 1939

Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp, Commander of the SMS Schleswig-Holstein receives aerial photographs of the area of the Westerplatte peninsula. These photographs form the basic material for the planning of the attack.

Taken in 1936 this would have been the sort of image that Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp would
have used to plan his Assault Company's attack on Westerplatte.

31st August 1939

12:00 Lt.Colonel Wincenty Sobocinski, head of the Department of the General Military Commissariat in Gdansk, arrives at noon in the depot. He takes part in a roll-call of the garrison, spending time talking to officers. It is a serious business, his visit is in fact to provide important information for the depots commanding officer, Major Henryk Sucharski.

Wincenty Sobocinski can be seen on right as he arrives for his
meeting with Mjr Sucharski. The garrison parades for him.

During a 'four walls' conversation, the content of which may now never be known for certain, Major Sucharski is ordered to extend the time of defence from 6 to 12 hours. Perhaps most importantly was the last item if information, a top secret message: The Intervention Corps, which would provide relief to the depot, has been disbanded and no help from the outside can be expected. The garrison must rely on their own forces. During the farewell, parting the Lt. Colonel Sobocinski says: 'Do not let yourself be surprised!'

From Left to Right
Major Henryk Sucharski, Lt. Colonel Wincenty Sobocinski & Lt Leon Pajak


15:00 On the deck of the battleship the tall clerk ports make an entrance, providing a fairly accurate, but somewhat outdated plan of the Westerplatte peninsular. The maps knowledge of the area occupied by the depot is unfortunately very general. Nevertheless the map is duplicated and will form the basis for planning the attack.

In the meantime Major Henryk Sucharski, commander of the Polish Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte starts to consider his options

Major Henryk Sucharski - Commander of the Polish Military Transit Depot 1938-1939

18:30 The instruction arrives stating that hour 'Y' is to be 04:45 on 1st September 1939. They begin their checks and prepare to attack.

III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie HMG platoon make their final preparations...

Late in the evening The Polish Naval Tug 'Kapper' arrives from Gdynia into the Munitions Basin with a final drop of some troops and sealed wooden boxes. They disembark and disappear into the darkness. The ship then quickly returns to Gdynia.

23:00 Outpost Prom reports to the barracks that they are observing the civilians of Nowy Port (New Port) being evacuated by the Germans.

The Battle

1st September 1939

02:00 225 men of the elite 3rd Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie along with an additional MG platoon and an attached Wehrmacht Pioneer platoon from Dessau-Rossau egress from Schleswig Holstein near to Wisloujscie Fortress (a 19th Centrury fort situated a little to the south of the neck of the isthmus) and they head towards Mewi Szaniec (The seagulls lair), another old 19th century earthwork fortress used as the German forward operational base situated at the neck of the isthmus facing the Red Wall where they await the signal to start their attack.

III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie leaving SMS Schleswig-Holstein
to prepare for the assault on the Polish Military Transit Depot

04:17 It seems that the Germans were unlucky from the beginning. Around 4am from behind the wall a sound of a carbine shot can be heard. Information is passed on by telephone to the barracks but causes no serious alarm. However on account of this single shot the sentries on duty are noticeably more vigilant.

04:40 The dawn starts to arrive heralding a nice clear day. Visibility is mostly good but for a light mist suspended above the canal. There must have been a delicate mist because none of the guards on duty in Westerplatte noticed the manoeuvring of the battleship, Schleswig Holstein, assisted by harbour tugs leaving the place where it was moored alongside the Wisloujscie Fortress, taking up a firing position at 'Zakret pieciu gwizdkow' (The Five Whistles Turn) which is the bend in the harbour canal facing the red walls isthmus side.

04:47 The commander of Schleswig Holstein, Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp gives the order to fire effectively beginning World War 2.

04:48 The Schleswig-Holstein fires the first salvo of the second world war! The first salvo is fired from the front turrets 283mm cannons and the ships left hand 150mm cannons. To this fire was also added the 20mm AA guns that had been additionally stowed. According to the target priority list the fire is firstly directed against the red wall's isthmus side which, according to the plan of attack must be breached for the storm company to gain access to the depot grounds.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein firing her main batteries

From the beginning the firing causes serious damage to the waterways and harbour buildings around the Westerplatte. These buildings photographed on fire are often cited as Westerplatte (referring to the Polish Military Transit Depot) burning although they actually portray German buildings that sit outside the Red Wall on fire. A few German workers also die in this conflagration owing to the fact that they were not informed in time of the coming attack.

The Oil Warehouses that sit outside the Red Wall below Outpost 'Prom' seen raging with fire from SMS Scheswig-Holstein.

Major Sucharski, the Polish Military Transit Depot commanding officer radios the Hel Peninsular stating 'SOS, we are under fire!'

Shooting lasts for only 12 minutes. Within this 12 minutes the Schleswig-Holstein fires 8x 283mm, 59x 150mm, 600x 20mm. Oberleutnant Wilhelm Henningson, officer in charge of the Marine Storm Company gives the signal to halt fire by firing two red flares and the artillery preparation is halted.

Three major breaches in the Red Wall have been achieved and the oil warehouses in the south east sector of the peninsular in front of and below Prom outside the wall are ablaze.

Throughout this period emplaced German machine guns and additional 20mm AA Cannons are also contributing their fire at the Westerplatte from the Lighthouse, the Silo and other available tall buildings within the Nowy Port area on the southern side of the Harbour Canal.


German HMG position situation in a tall building in Nowy Port, firing across the Harbour Canal and into the depot
Within the depot the alarm is finally signalled and the field position and Guardhouse crews rush to take positions to make ready for the attack.

The Poles HMG's are already in position and just need to be warmed up a little!

At this time the night guard details were in the process of returning to the Guardhouses and Barracks after working on entrenching all night, but on the alarm being sounded they all immediately about face and return directly to the field positions they have just left carrying their arms and what water they have left from the nights work.

An immediate return to his positions, this soldier has his wz28 BAR slung over his shoulder

05:00 The Red Wall has now been comprehensively breached and the 225 men of the Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie begin their assault. From left to right from the south of the isthmus they are arranged 1st Infantry Platoon, Assault Company Sapper Platoon, 2nd Infantry Platoon. At a distance of 100m the 1st Infantry Platoon was followed by an HMG Platoon and the Sapper Platoon was followed by another MMG platoon. 

III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie prepare to move across the depot boundary wall

The Infantry Platoons are to access through the wall breaches whilst the Sapper Platoon is to demolish the Rail Gate if it has not already been done so.

The continuing fire from the workshop buildings of the Nowy Port causes the attackers to focus their efforts near the train station on the Baltic side of the isthmus in order to put some distance between themselves and the intensity of incoming friendly fire.

The defenders initially stay silent and hidden. At this fulcrum moment in the battle the railway station controller is shot dead. The first casualty of the war, he is called Sierz. Wojciech Najsarek, shot down by German machine gun fire. The next soldier dies within minutes of Serz. Nasjarek inside Guardhouse No3, his head obliterated by a rogue 20mm AA round entering through a narrow embrasure where he stood firing his ckm HMG, fired from a building in the Nowy Port area.

The attack is moving slowly and the Germans are attempting to avoid passing through the barbed wire areas so as not to get trapped, funnelled and ambushed and owing to the thickness of the vegetation the soldiers cannot see their opponents clearly slowing everything down and making people nervous.

III Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie advance carefully through the misty wooded area of the peninsular.

Outpost Wal and Prom observe the enemy silently.

Cpl Edmund Szamlewski keeps a close eye on the Nazi advance
When the Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie which accessed the depot at the destroyed railway gate finally reaches the eastern edge of the embankment protecting Ammunition Warehouse No1 the LMG post at Wal opens up. On seeing this, the crews of Prom open up on them as well.

The German soldiers are about 200m inside the depot perimeter at this point when the ambush is sprung and the rapid, concentrated and unexpected fire from two sides causes the Germans to halt in their advance and pause to consider their options.

The German advance comes under heavy and sustained fire from the Outposts
At this time the LMG of Corporal Edmund Szamlewski of Outpost Wal becomes jammed. According to the official records he was not able to clear the jam and so he decides to turn and retreat to Outpost 'Fort' taking his two men with him which they managed to do successfully by liberal use of grenades.

An interesting aside here is that in the Westerplatte display boards, Edmund Szamlewski is cited as saying that the German fire had hit a wasps nest which had fallen on his position and adding wasps to the intensity of German fire was what proved too much for his little band causing them to withdraw.

The explosions of these grenades in addition to everything else causes further chaos in the German ranks but despite this the attack is still pressed.

About this time the Schutzpolizei and Danzig Harbour Police (Kustenschutz der Danziger Polizei), a paramilitary auxiliary police force of around 125 men also launch their attack from boats across the Harbour Canal and into the buildings of the Munitions Basin.

The Free City of Danzig Police, tooled up, packing heat and ready to do their part!

They are immediately brought under heavy fire by Field Posts Przystan, Elektrownia and Lazienki pinning them down and causing casualties. This proves to be to hot a position for the harbour police and they immediately withdraw back across the canal with embarrassing haste!

05:15 The polish wz.02 1902 76.2mm field gun starts shooting at targets on the southern side of the Harbour Canal starting with the lighthouse. Polish shooting becomes very accurate very quickly with the cannon rounds destroying a few machine gun emplacements.

The single Polish 76.2mm Field Gun, an old unmodified Russian design from the 1920's starts punching far above its weight

A german MG position set up in the German Schutzpolitzei Guardhouse (Schupo) outside of the main gate is also eliminated at this time by Guardhouse No 2.

05:45 A harbour tug drags the Schleswig-Holstein back past where it was previously moored at the Wisloujscie Fortress. One of the possible reasons for this retreat is the Polish anti tank artillery shells which are deluging the air around the main observation post on the foremast of the ship. These shells are most likely being shot from one of the two wz.36 37mm Bofors AT guns which is emplaced near the old ammunition bunker on the south side of the Westerplatte, along with the machine guns of Wartownia No2.

One of the two 37mm wz36 Bofors anti tank guns that the depot has at its call opens fire on SMS Schleswig-Holstein

About 06:00 After the retreat of Outpost Wal the attackers direct their attack on Outpost Prom. Its commander, Lt Leon Pajak asks for reinforcement with mortar fire directed to the front of Prom. Accurate fire control brings down a hail of 81mm mortar rounds down on the German heads.

Polish Stokes Brandt 82mm mortars in the dead ground next to the New Barracks

The shooting starts causing a deepening panic in the German ranks. After shooing 104 rounds Major Sucharski orders the firing to stop so as not to exhaust the depots supply of 860 mortar rounds so early at the start of the battle.

06:22 The commander of the Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie (Oberleutnant Wilhelm Henningsen) says that it is time to retreat due to the unexpectedly tough nature and rugged organisation of the resistance being met and informs Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp of his decision via radio with the succinct phrase 'Verluste zu gross, gehen zuruk' (Heavy losses, we're leaving!).

The German withdrawal.. complete with hand baggage

07:00 It becomes clear to the attackers that the Westerplatte cannot be taken by storm and that the element of surprise has now been lost. Furthermore it has become clear that the Polish defensive system is well prepared and is performing to expectations, with the Polish garrison troops proving far more resilient than expected. These assumptions are credibly backed up by the relatively large losses on the German size and unexpectedly large numbers of wounded. The types of wounds and number of wounded is what gives rise to the persistent myth of Polish snipers in the trees, of which of course, there were none.

The preparation for the second attack starts.

The 3rd Platoon of the 13th Company of the SS Heimwehr-Danzig is added to the 2nd Marine Assault Infantry Company to bolster the assault to little benefit. They edge out to the north to begin their attack along the beach.

The SS Heimwehr-Danzig take the Polish positions at Fort under scrutiny

07:40 The artillery firing on the polish outpost starts again. This time it lasts longer and is divided into two phases. The first phase ends at 08:14 and the second phase lasts from 08:29 to 08:55

The Schleswig-Holstein is manoeuvred back a little bit closer to Westerplatte in such a way that allows both main turrets to fire without restriction. However a further complication is caused by the firing of the main guns from a position so close to the buildings on the Nowy Port side of the Harbour Canal. The concussion wave of the discharges causes cumulative damage to buildings in the New Port. Because of this escalating damage to German Private Civilian property the fire from the main guns is again calld to a halt.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein opens fire with her 150mm sponson guns
Fire is however continued from the 150mm sponson guns and lighter pieces. 4x 150mm and 2x 88mm on the left hand side of the ship. It is the 88mm fire which proves most effective at its assigned task because of its high position on the deck of the ship providing a higher angle of shot over the defensive embankments and improved visibility of the inside of the depot. Within this time period the SMS Schleswig-Holstein fires 90x 283, 407x 150mm, 360x 88mm and around 3000x 20mm at the Polish Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte. The effects of this avalanche of steel are however, somewhat modest.

Around 07:45 The explosion of an 88mm round damages the Polish wz.02 1902 76.2mm, eliminating it from further fighting.

The sole 76.2mm Field Gun is put out of commission by Schleswig-Holsteins artillery

The large calibre rounds are supposed to have destroyed the Harbour Canal embankment behind the Red Wall but mostly they have just ricocheted and exploded in the tree tops or in the sea on the far side of the peninsular. 

The aims of using the artillery to further reduce the Red Wall on the Harbour Canal side  has also failed to deliver the expected results as the rounds have also been ricocheting here and shredding the tree tops causing a dangerous rain of wooden splinters down onto the defenders of Outpost Prom. 

Despite all of this however no important emplacements or equipment is damaged and the Polish defensive system remains intact throughout the course of the morning.

08:55 Reinforced by the platoon of infantry SS- Heimwehr-Danzig, the assault company starts another attack.

Germans advance through burning buildings at the defensive perimeters.

As with the first assault, machine guns emplaced in the buildings of the Nowy Port provide supporting fire. The attack moves slowly along the railroad tracks. One platoon moves directly towards Outpost 'Prom' and attempts laying down suppressing fire, whilst the other two platoons, moving deep into the peninsula, reach the ground in front of Guardhouses No 1 and No 5.

A view of the Outpost Fort from the German side... 

The SS Heimwehr-Danzig infantry platoon edging up the beach lose contact with the Marine Stosstrup Kompanie platoons to their left and comes under heavy fire from Outpost 'Fort'. The fire all across the peninsula grows in intensity and the losses amongst the attackers is mounting.

The SS Heimwehr-Danzig launch their assault against Fort, and its projected trench

09:00 Under increasingly accurate and intensive German fire Lieutenant Leon Pajak decides that Outpost Prom is no longer a tenable position and so at 09:00 he gives the command to start withdrawing back to Guardhouse No 1.

Lt Leon Pajak

In small groups the Poles evacuate Prom taking away all weapons and munitions, successfully completing the withdrawal to Guardhouse No 1 in about 30 minutes with no casualties except Lt Pajak himself who is hit three times in the stomach, groin and legs.

The Poles in Outpost Prom give a good account of themselves before withdrawing to Guardhouse No1

His men carried him back to the barracks where he was taken into the care of the garrison medical officer; Cpt. Mieczyslaw Slaby.

Cpt. Mieczyslaw Slaby

Luckily Lt Leon Pajak survives and eventually dies at home in Kielce in 1990.

Around 11:00  The advancing platoons that have penetrated into the Peninsular interior remain in the crossfire layed down by Guardhouses No 1 and No 5, hedged in by barbed wire obstacles they struggle to move any further.

To support the defence of Outpost Fort from the SS Heimwehr-Danzig assault Sgt Wladyslaw Deike and his team are ordered from their position on the Harbour Canal across the peninsular to take a new position on the top of the embankment of Ammunition Bunker 7. They move quickly digging into the embankment then opening enfilading fire onto the SS with their lkm LMG.

Szt Wladyslaw Deike digs in with his men and gets ready to let rip!

Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie platoons appear advancing from the abandoned 'Prom' and on arriving near the main gate advancing towards Guardhouse No 1 they come under concentrated, heavy and accurate fire from Guardhouse No 2's ckm HMGs.

11:40 After losing their supporting machine guns as casualties, the SS platoon which is attacking along the beach can make no further headway and start to withdraw.

12:33 Whilst withdrawing the commander of the Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie, Oberleutnant Wilhelm Henningsen is seriously wounded. His second in command, Walter Schug assumes command and carries on the withdrawal. Henningsen will die the next day of his wounds.

All of the German soldiers withdraw behind the warehouses on the isthmus.

12:45 The firing across the Westerplatte is dying down. The Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie gather at Mewi Szaniec (The Seagulls Lair) where they are ordered to entrench and blockade Westerplatte.

Mewi Szaniec situated at the neck of the isthmus and
which served as the German forward operations base throughout the battle

The balance of the 8 hour long battle is heavily weighted in favour of the defenders. By 11:15 the German losses amount to 78 dead and wounded and after finishing the attack the estimated losses are 20 dead and over 100 wounded, some of them heavily with an exceptionally marginal number of casualties on the Polish side.

Other losses for the Germans are 20 dead in supporting troops and collateral civilian casualties and several more wounded.

The Polish losses up to this point were 2 dead and seven wounded, 3 of them seriously.

16:48 12 hours from the start of the battle have now elapsed which is the time assigned for the garrison to hold out for but... 'Westerplatte Still Fights On!'

Around 18:00 Having failed to complete their assigned tasks, the hierarchy starts to buck responsibilities between one another, to a degree that draws the attention of even the highest individuals of the Reich to the proceedings on the Westerplatte. A decision is made to use the Luftwaffe to bomb the Westerplatte into submission on the following day.

Around 22:00 Kaptain Henryk Dabrowski sends a patrol to dismantle the main tracks situated in front of Guardhouse No 5. After misaligning the tracks it is practically impassable to rail vehicles and the place is disguised from view. The demolition team return safely to their Guardhouse.

2nd September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

05:30 The Germans start the day badly, finding out that it isnt possible to stick to the plan of conducting the first aerial attack on the Polish Military Transit Depot as the Luftwaffe are engaged in other activities. The time for the attack is progressively moved back throughout the day.

17:00 During the evening Staff meeting of the German officers engaged in the winning of Westerplatte the decision is reached about the need to secure reinforcements with a feasible date of attack set for 4th September. At the same time the gathered officers find out that the bombing mission will be carried out around 6pm

Junkers Ju87 Stukas of II & III Gruppe StG 2 Immelman on their way to pound the Westerplatte garrison

18:05 The drone of the Luftwaffe is heard overhead, then the screams as they dive over the Westerplatte. The bombing begins. The Junkers Ju87B Stuka's of two Gruppes (equivalent to a US operational wing and in this case comprising a total of 56-58 planes) equipped with 500kg, 250kg and 50kg bombs (Altogether about 26tonnes) deliver their payloads one after the other.

The attack lasts about 30 minutes, the planes dive one by one and after dropping their bombs and turning away they add insult to injury by shooting the Westerplatte from the rear position machine guns.

The air defence of the Westerplatte was not organised and it could, with some veracity, be said to be practically none existent although reports from German pilots regarding weak return machine gun fire does appear.

The effects of the bombing on the garrison are serious however.

A near miss with a 500kg bomb eliminates Guardhouse No 5. The concussion wave causes the collapse of the walls and the roof folds in on itself killing the majority of the crew. Guardhouse No 5 had collected other troops from field positions when it was hit and a total of 8 troops were killed with another 3 seriously wounded.

The flattened Guardhouse No5 in front of the Officers Villa

A near miss with another heavy bomb and a direct hit with a 50kg bomb causes damage to Guardhouse No 2 including damage to the HMG embrasures and partly covering the other firing embrasures with soil.

The barracks are hit with two bombs (both probably only 50kg) which cause damage to the top floor and chimney installations meaning they can no longer use the ovens in the kitchen. However the bunker and basement level in general suffer no further damage.

The close hits also cause much collateral damage in other Guardhouses as well as destroying the communication and water networks.

The former can be provisionally repaired but the water network is impossible to bring back online under battlefield conditions. Water must now be delivered by hand from the barracks pumps.

Although Human losses are serious (10 dead and 6 wounded - 5% of garrision) they would have been much much worse if it wasn't for the design skill of the fortifications on Westerplatte which stood much more damage than for what they were intended. The criteria under which the project was prosecuted never foresaw the use of air dropped bombs of 500kg by the bucket load!

Even bigger than the material loss to the garrison was the moral damage they all suffered. A strong argument can be made that nobody should be surprised by this because the defenders, without exception, for the first time in the war were confronted with a new and unknown terror weapon. The Stuka! None of the manuals or regulations, not to mention the experiences of the previous wars could prepare them for the screaming from above these planes made and their exceptionally heavy ordnance delivery was certainly nothing to be sneezed at. One can observe a clearly progressing drop in soldiers morale and a weakening of the commanding officers resilience from the very beginning of the air attack up to its conclusion.

For the first hour after the attack chaos reigns in the depot. A part of the garrison panics. Some of them abandon their positions and the officers are not able to take control of the situation. Major Sucharski commands the burning of codes and secret documents, and orders a white flag raised.

There is a grey area here as none of the official records register Sucharski as giving this order BUT a white flag was reported being seen from numerous German positions and then hurriedly being taken down again.

There is a popular myth that at this point Sucharski's nerves had cracked (and really, who could blame the man? They had completed their assignment and he was worried about his mens lives) but Captain Henryk Dabrowski stepped in, refused the surrender and on medical grounds assumed command of the peninsular.

Gradually the Westerplatte regained a semblance of order. The Germans REALLY dropped the ball here because a German attack from the isthmus following the air bombardment never materialises as expected and the garrison were given the time needed to pull themselves together.

Finally after a few hours the garrison is put back in order and the communications network is fixed. The destroyed buildings are again manned with soldiers. The depot again regains the ability to fight. However the ability to resist is seriously compromised.

3rd September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

Around 00:30 A Wehrmacht cadet pioneer company from Dessau-Rosslau (The Engineers school and training ground to the west of Berlin) arrives at the Wisloujscie fortres. These troops carry special breaching  equipment including flamethrowers.

00:50 Combat patrols from each side run into each other and a firefight that lasts 15 minutes develops.

08:15 At a meeting on board the Schleswig Holstein, Pioneer company commander Lt.-Colonel Carl Henke concedes that the Poles have done an incredible job of defence on the Westerplatte.

Lt Colonel Karl Henke

It is believed, he states, that the forces at their disposal, are insufficient to the demands of the task being asked of them and makes a formal request to strengthen their available artillery and armour assets with 210mm mortars, heavy tanks and an armoured train. On further discussion a decision is made to shift the attack to September 4 whilst later in the afternoon this plan of attack is also cancelled.

21:30 There is once again an exchange of fire between the combat patrols of both sides.

4th September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

Around 08:00 Two German Torpedo Boats, the T-196 and the T-963 which were old WWI era torpedo boats that had been modernised and were equipped with 105mm cannon, works for about an hour to shell the area of the peninsula achieving no measurable results.

Explosions on the beach by 'Fort's trench line

A measure of this artillery fire, owing to the flat fire trajectory, overshoots Westerplatte exploding in the buildings of the New Port area.

German WWI era Torpedo Boat T-196

This manner of conducting firing is noted as achieving little effect, whilst at the same time bringing valuable assets within range of the defenders positioned at outpost 'Fort'. The Germans finally judge the exercise too risky to continue and withdraw the ships.

On this day the 'Schleswig-Holstein' is occupied with other activities shelling the neighbourhoods of Gdynia, a little way up the coast using only her 150mm cannons.


5th September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

During the night Occasionally single rifle shots are heard across the Westerplatte as nervous soldiers fire at shadows... or are they shadows?

09:00 Lasting for 1 hr 45 minutes the Germans shell the Depot with batteries of 105mm howitzers. However, a note is made by the defenders that most of the missiles falling in the area of the barracks and power plants, are equipped with faulty fuses and do not explode.

The SMS Schleswig-Holstein is once again detailed to provide shelling of the neighborhoods of Gdynia, this time however she is cleared to do so with her 283mm main guns.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein shelling Gdynia with her 283mm batteries

In the evening Lt. Colonel Henke notifies Kapitan Kleikamp, the commander of the Schleswig-Holstein that in the night his Pioneers will attempt to burn the forest that covers the Westerplatte, thus stripping it of its cover and thus allowing the German assault troops to clearly see where the defensive fire is coming from.

6th September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

03:00 The first attempt at rolling a Benzene wagon down the tracks into the depot fails. The train driver panics and decouples the benzene tank too early. Defensive fire from the defenders causes it to explode too early. It fails to set the forest alight in any appreciable measure but the blazing tank does provide perfect illumination for the Polish defenders to see what the Germans are doing and lay down suppressing fire.

09:00 The Germans starts shelling the depot area using their rail mounted 210mm calibre mortars. It is worth noting that in this case, the impressive calibre of the weapons being used is the result of using outdated World War I equipment designed for destroying trench installations. These so called mortars are largely immobile but had the benefit of finding trench fortifications of a far more robust design that that found on Westerplatte to be negligible problem.

German 210mm Mortar batteries at work... technically its not really a mortar but you know the Germans, never precise!


The 210mm shells cause serious damage to the Polish installations. It is testament to the damage capabilities of these weapons when one looks at damage caused to one of the main walls on the New Barracks (Guardhouse No 6.)

The explosion of one of these shells close to the wall causes the 50cm thick wall to bow inwards at the corner where one of the ckm HMG positions was located. The troops, who were hunkering down between the firing position and the wall taking shelter from the artillery fire are all seriously injured.

Today this destroyed wall is clearly visible.

Not THE wall per se but an image showing the extent of
destruction that this building could take!

15:45 The second attempt to set fire to the forest is made, this time using two tanks of benzene instead of one, and this time the fronts of the wagons secured with sandbags to ensure that the tanks are not prematurely destroyed before they are able to complete their assigned tasks.

This time the German pioneers and Civilian train drivers are able to push them deeper into the peninsular than previously, this attempt however is also unsuccessful with the wagons unable to advance far enough towards the defensive positions to cause much effect. The defensive fire once again explodes the wagons although this time the fiercely burning wagons quickly dies down.

Kriegsmarine sailors examine the collection of destroyed Benzine wagons after the battle

Whilst the second benzene fiasco was underway the Pioneers also set about demolishing the station buildings which, it was decided, could still provide concealment for the garrison in the event of a counter attack.

In the evening

Lt-Colonel Henke, commander of the pioneers company decides to conduct a reconnaissance prior to launching the next assault on the depot.

In the meantime the Gestapo finds a former Polish sailor who in 1934 was serving on Westerplatte. Under interrogation he betrays to the Germans details of the defensive system, on which the current Polish defence is based.

This information reveals that the depots installations are only lightweight shelters armed with machine guns and barbed wire. There is no system of underground connections. This revelation was met with disbelief by all German officers... but ultimately accepted as fact!

7th September 1939 - "Westerplatte Still Fights On!"

03:58 The Schleswig-Holstein quietly slips her moorings and slowly drifts towards the Westerplatte once more.

04:22 The ship takes its firing position and a few minutes later the shelling starts again with the battleship opening up with her 150mm and 20mm cannon. After a while this naval gunfire combines with shelling and machine gun fire coming from the higher buildings of the New Port area again.

Nazi 7.5cm Infantry Guns contribute their efforts to the reduction of Westerplatte
04:50 The sailors of Schleswig-Holstein decide to add two of its 88mm to the avalanche of steel to assist in the shelling, and noting the previous effectiveness of the 88mm's.

05:00 The Pioneer Assault Company with the remaining elements of the first two assaults complement (Marine Stosstrupp Kompanie, SS Heimwehr-Danzig and Wehrmacht MMG platoon) begin their final assault on the Westerplatte

The Germans passing the burning remains of the Officers Casino and Villa

05:30 In support of the infantry assault being pressed home the Schleswig-Holstein contributes artillery fire from its 150mm and 88mm batteries at Guardhouse No 1 and Field Position 'Fort' - Fortunately for the defenders not a single direct hit is achieved.

The stress can be seen on the face of this defender of Guardhouse No1

06:08 The Schleswig-Holsteins 283mm guns are detailed to fire on an old ammunition bunker built into the embankment facing the canal alongside Guardhouse No 2. 5 shells are fired of which 3 hit, causing serious damage to the facility, this however had no effect on the depots defensive abilities, although it was considered a material and measurable success by the Germans.

With all foliage stripped away we can clearly see the damage that SMS Schleswig-Holstein did to this old bunker

Of far more serious consequences however were to the supposed abilities of Guardroom No. 2 in laying down suppressive fire. The wooded ground in front of the Guardhouse along the Harbour Canal had been thinned considerably, almost to none existence and could therefore no longer mask the exhaust flames of the heavy machine guns when shooting. It is this area that gives Westerplatte the moniker; The Polish Verdun named for the moonscape of the WWI French battlefield.

German troops advance through the moonscape of the southern border of the Westerplatte Peninsular

The Germans decided that it would be sufficient to use salvoes from the 150mm and 88mm artillery pieces in order to eliminate Guardhouse No 2 from the fight. A number of hits cause the collapse of the upper floor, the destruction of the left post and once more covering the right embrasure with soil. One of the Guardhouse troopers risked almost certain death by racing outside and clearing away the soil from the embrasure again! What a man!!!!

This artillery attack against Guardhouse No. 2 is observed from the barracks and becomes one of the most important arguments in ending any further defence.

Bunker Embrasure

06:20 The Schleswig-Holstein halts her artillery fire on the depot.

07:00 On reaching the foreground of Guardroom No. 1 the Pioneers company, according to the plan, starts to withdraw, as directed.

Because the attackers keep complaining about 'snipers' firing from up in the trees the Schleswig-Holstein assists the Pioneers by shelling the treetops on the peninsular with their 20mm batteries.

German troops wheel up an extra 20mm AA gun to help support their attack

During the retreat sappers destroy all the buildings they withdraw past with explosives to prevent possible use by Polish soldiers during a counter-attack.

Interestingly, as shown in archival photographs, this does not apply to the trenches of Field Position 'Prom', which probably has been preserved as a starting point for the next attack.

A change of tactics and bloodily acquired experience enabled this highly trained storm company to bear fruit whilst sustaining only minor losses (three lightly injured). Polish losses in this engagement is one heavily wounded (sadly he dies in the evening at a German military hospital) and at least two more suffering from light wounds.

07:11 The Schleswig-Holstein is once again towed back to its moorings in front of the Wisloujscie Fortress.

08:30 Troops of the Sapper Company push the next two benzine wagons into the Westerplatte's interior and this time are able to flood the woodland with Benzine. They set this alight with flamethrowers and the conflagration lasts about an hour.

These benzene flames and the use of flamethrowers finally eliminates Guardhouse 2 from the fight killing all inside and causing heavy damage to Guardhouse No 1 and No 4.

The finally reduced Guardhouse No2 as seen after the battle

Major Sucharski holds his final war council and states that he is now going to surrender the Westerplatte to the enemy. They have done far more than their nation asked of them and can do so with pride! Supplies are now running out and Cpt. Mieczyslaw Slaby is no longer able to take proper care of the wounded with the first incidences of gangrene now appearing. Cpt. Dabrowski agrees.

Captain Francisek Dabrowski

09:15 Having reached the isthmus the troops of the Sapper Company hand over responsibilities for blockading Westerplatte to the SS Heimwehr-Danzig troops and they are subsequently transported back to the city proper in trucks. The Storm Company goes back to the Wisloujsie Fortress. The SS Heimwehr-Danzig troops take over keeping an eye on the Westerplatte battleground

A member of SS Heimwehr-Danzig keeping the depot under observation

10:00 Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp, commander of the Schleswig-Holstein receives information that one can see white flags above Westerplatte. The observation point on the tower of the Wisloujsie Fortress confirms this fact. The commander immediately calls to him the troops which he commands and goes towards Westerplatte.

Around 11:00 Kapitan Gustav Kleikamp (OIC and CO of Schleswig-Holstein), Lt-Colonel Henke (CO of Assault Pioneers) and Gen. Eberhardt (CO of SS Heimwehr-Danzig) accept the surrender of the Polish Military Transit Depot from Major Sucharski who has marched out with a small detail under a white flag.

Major Henryk Sucharski marches out of Westerplatte to offer the surrender of the Polish Military Transit Depot

The Polish troops march out in parade order. Proud and erect, but showing prolific signs of exhaustion. The Germans are so impressed with the Polish defence that Gen. Eberhardt allows Sucharski to keep his Szabla (sabre) as he marches into captivity.

General Friedrich Eberhardt salutes Major Henryk Sucharski and allows him to keep his sabre.

The Germans are shown around the depot installations so they can familiarise themselves with the defensive positions and placement of outposts, obstacles and barbed wire fencing.

Major Henryk Sucharski looks on pensively shadowed by a member of
SS Heimwehr-Danzig and a member of the SMS Schleswig-Holstein's crew

At this time Polish wireless operator Kazimierz Rasinski was brutally interrogated by the German military and following his absolute refusal to hand over the Polish radio codes was executed. Another German murder!

The garrison marching out past the Red Wall

An Evaluation of the Battle

Keeping Westerplatte was very important for Poland but it wasnt about the defence of the military storehouses. These had lain empty for a long time. The important thing was the defence of the Port of Gdansk for as long as possible and by doing so effectively limiting the ability of Schleswig-Holstein to deploy its assets to greatest effect against the land defenders of the Polish corridor, and more specifically the defenders of Kepa Oksywie, Gdynia and Hel.

Even more important became the propaganda effect of not giving back Polish rights to Gdansk without a fight.

Both of these tasks were accomplished with far more success than could ever have been hoped for.

A German investigating a knocked over Polish sentry post
For the Germans on the other hand, winning the Westerplatte was neither important or urgent at the start of the war. Furthermore it didn't have an important meaning for the German hierarchy because they practically did no real preparation prior to the attack. The fact that this task wasnt allocated to the commander of the Schleswig-Holstein or the Gdansk paramilitary armed forces proves that. They initially intended only to blockade the Westerplatte and ensure the garrison caused no trouble behind the front line.

Their task was taking over Gdynia and the neutralisation of Hel. The situation changed when Westerplatte was not taken by surprise and didn't want to capitulate at all.

Looking through the ruins of the main gate to the Schupo

Maybe if it wasn't for the two big ambitions of the ships commander there wouldn't have been a battle at all. The fiasco of the first assault and the publicising of it by Polish radio suddenly caused the matter to become a political one and therefore important to both sides.

The battle, lasting 7 days mercilessly showed the weak points of both opponents.

The Nazi's finally get to flap their filthy rag over the Westerplatte!

The Polish defence was quite well prepared although significantly lacking in many important elements. The crew did not lack for ammunition or rations. The storehouses, as German photos show, were full. It was the logistical chain which failed. The organisation of the easiest things, which ironically had some of the largest effects on the troops morale - warm meals, drinks and rest, or even replacing damaged sandbags which were defending the position could have been addressed in a far more comprehensive manner.

The Nazis conducting a stock take of their ill gotten swag!

During the three days of relative calm in the middle of the battle that they did not even manage to set up a field kitchen which could have provided at least one warm meal and at least 1 ltr of coffee daily to each trooper. On the other hand it could be argued, what sense does it make to collect food rations for a month if the defence was only supposed to last for 12 hours?

Even less effective systems were observed in the distribution of the garrison manpower. Why didn't they introduce a system of Guardhouse duty in a way that everyone could have had at least 6 hours rest in the barracks which were not all the time under fire and at points of the battle practically half of the garrison was there contributing nothing.

General Friedrich Eberhardt questioning Major Henryk Sucharski

The German side also made a few cardinal mistakes like, for example, deciding to storm a Polish defensive positions that had been known to have been prepared without adequate reconnaissance of the ground and with insufficient force. Most especially without the heavy mortar support that would prove so effective later on.

Today we know that German Intelligence had at its disposal quite a large amount of data concerning the Westerplatte fortifications, which is confirmed by a plan published in the 'secret bulletin' of June 1939 but none of the commanders engaged in gaining Westerplatte could get a copy of this bulletin in time to be of any practical use.

Other members of the garrison, including Captain Francisek Dabrowski in the foreground being interrogated

The next elementary mistake was using the battleships artillery to create passages for the troops in the Red Wall. The Germans should have destroyed the wall with explosive materials just as they did with the railway gate, choosing to focus the artillery fire on the central part of the depot where the concrete defensive buildings were. This would have facilitated maximum use of the element of surprise. Theoretically the force of the fire from the battleship could have destroyed any fortification but as we have seen, the specific conditions in which they had to shoot turned out to be largely ineffective. The best effects were gained by fire from the 88's which were on Schleswig-Holstein's upper decks and were able to shoot over the Canal embankment which was protecting the Polish fortifications, and even then only if they were visible through the dense vegetation.

Hitler visits the site of the battle in October 1939

Maybe they assumed that the psychological effect of using heavy cannon would be enough for the Poles to capitulate without a fight in the face of overwhelming numbers. Unfortunately for the Germans it turned out differently. The defenders were able to manage and with the passing time they were able to convince themselves of the ineffectiveness of this naval gunfire.

This factor however was turned on its head after the air attack split the Polish defences causing chaos in the depot, the Germans were once again expecting a capitulation and decided not to attack. This was a massive mistake as the absolute best time for a ground assault is hot on the heels of disruptive artillery fire.

Polish wounded after the battle

The first assault was performed, admittedly by well trained troops, but unfortunately just not so experienced in breaching fortifications. Fire discipline was also poorly observed resulting in not enough fire being laid down by the Germans in their assaults enabling the Poles to keep manning their positions and essentially dominate the ground in front of them.

The assault company had a platoon of bomb disposal experts, so theoretically should have possessed adequate training. The enthusiasm with which they set about doing showed an attitude of  'its going to be easy', as originally the task was thought to be owing to misleading information given by the Danzig Police and ultimately not enough bravado in the face of a hard and well-armed enemy was displayed.

Kreigsmarine posing for a photo in the ruins of the Officers Casino

Comparison of losses in the first and last day of fighting testifies about this emphatically. German casualties on the first day of the battle were exceptionally heavy and yet on the last day, when everybody knew what to expect, were considerably lighter!

The exact figures of German losses remain unknown, but are now often cited as being in the range of 200 to 300 killed and wounded, often more. Some of them may quite possibly have been victims of friendly fire, in particular from the battleship, which was initially harboured far to close to its target area.

Polish casualties were of course much lower, including 15-20 killed and 53 wounded. There is currently a controversy regarding the burial site discovered in 1940, containing the bodies of five unidentified Polish soldiers who were possibly executed by their comrades for attempted desertion. Eight of the resulting prisoners of war are also said to have been tortured and did not survive German captivity.

The memorial to the defenders of Westerplatte


The remains of the New Barracks

The Railway Gate





6 comments:

  1. Very interesting, Son. Took some reading. It must have taken you ages to write and there's some great photos in there. Had to laugh at the expression about the Nazi's flapping their rag though.

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    1. Glad you liked it mum. Have to say though; this battle took 7 days. It was never going to be a one paragraph post :D. And yes with all of the translation from Polish books and articles that I had to do (sometimes with Roxi's help) theses two blogs took me about a week to write... but I spent plenty of time down in Jastrzebie Zdroj so I had plenty of time to crack on with it. Anyway, its something I wanted to do for a long time so it was good fun :D

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    2. A most excellent writeup! Great work!
      I know finding sources in English about most of the September campaign is very difficult. There is a ton of books, documentaries etc, but it's all in Polish. This post is a very good description of the action.

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    3. Thanks Alex. If Im to be honest I still think the info for the initial assault and the German deployment is a bit sketchy. I need to do more checking on the facts I think. I would also have liked to put some more about the Polish individuals in there but all Ive got is a list of the defenders names and where they were allocated. There is a load of stuff that happens in 'Secrets of Westerplatte' that I just cant find any record of. For example the actions of the guys at 'Przystan' (actually how the film makers managed to put so much of this field position into the film and yet omit the Danzig harbour police is a mystery to me but there ya go). All of the checking around would have taken me far too long so I decided to just stick down what I had and just run with it... :D I'll be posting the Post Office defence next. I got some great photos for that one ;)

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  2. Thanks for a very precise and objective report. Very well written too.
    I would have offered to provide translations of German sources, but apart from eyewitness accounts and official documents from that time they are pretty worthless... :/


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    1. Glad you liked it Joe. I think I'll keep polishing as I go but I really enjoy researching so it will be no bind for me... but for now we have another painting competition to contend with ;)

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