Saturday, 10 September 2016

Westerplatte... where World War II began.

There is a place that I have wanted to visit for almost 30 years, and despite the amount of travelling that I have done in my life I have never even got close to it, and that place is 'Westerplatte'

Me in front of the Westerplatte main entrance

Well this year my significant other agreed to travel to this place with me and let me wander over the ground and put myself in touch with history on 1st September... 77 years to the day that Poland's very own band of brothers managed to hold back the Nazi Army, Navy (Yes a Battleship!) and Luftwaffe for 14 times longer than they were ordered to against odds of 18:1... I guess its a good job that Napoleon didn't have to face a Prussian garrison in the Westerplatte when he besieged Gdansk in 1807 eh?

This place is the Polish Military Transit Depot just outside the city of Gdansk on the Westerplatte peninsular.

Where to start? I think I'm going to write about the formation of the depot and its buildings and then in the next blog deal with the history of the battle and break it all up with photographs with explanations of what you are looking at, and believe me this is not going to be a blog post for the faint hearted, so without further ado...

300 years ago the Westerplatte peninsular didn't even exist. In fact 17th century maps show that the Vistula river flowing into the Baltic sea was depositing large quantities of sand and mud as it went. These deposits formed two considerable sand bars which became known as the Eastern Plate and the Western Plate. Over time they continued to grow eventually becoming islands which were colonised by plant and animal life which bound the soil together providing their longevity.

The display outlining how the peninsular actually formed!


Around 1840 the Poles began work on a causeway that would connect the Eastern Plate to the island of Westerplatte (or Western Plate) to the mainland, transforming it all into a peninsular.

Westerplatte's very own pleasure pier... I don't think it was as long as Southend's though :D
By the mid 19th Century holiday homes had started to appear and by the turn of the century 140,000 people a year were visiting the Westerplatte's seaside resort and health spa. It even had a 120m long Emperor's Pier and a Marina for yachting, restaurants, a spa building, hotels, curative baths and tennis courts. This was, it could with some certainty be said, a place to be!

The Westerplattes Kurgarten at the turn of the century... very fashionable!

This situation continued right up until the break out of World War 1 after which the resort never recovered. As a part of the Treaty of Versailles Germany had to surrender large swathes of territory to the newly reformed Polish nation and because Gdansk was such an important seaport it was granted the status of a free city under the protection of the League of Nations in 1920 in order to provide Poland with a deep water harbour. Poland was also granted a Post Office that was set up alongside the municipal post office in the city.

Danzig (or Gdansk in the 1930's)

However Poland was bound strictly about the level of development that was allowed to be done on the Westerplatte and as such Poland ploughed millions of Zloty into the development of another deep water port a couple of miles up the coast - Gdynia. By 1934 the water traffic through Gdynia had outstripped that of Gdansk.

The majority German population deeply resented the decision of the League of Nations to create Danzig and its surrounding land into a Free City and tying the free city to Poland using cultural ties instead of becoming a truly autonomous territory  at the very least.

As the Nazi party rose in the Weimar Republics political ranks so to the discrimination that the Polish minority and especially any Polish military troops suffered. This discrimination was all but ignored by the free cities Police Force whose hierarchy had been usurped by pro Nazi supporters, marginalising and evicting Polish members of this force as they went. This Police force ended up taking a very pro German role in the ensuing days of war.

By 1935 Poland knew that they would end up going to war with Germany even though the year previously Hitler and Pilsudski had signed their non aggression treaty along with the fact that once Hitler became the Chancellor he initially made very public efforts to settle the German population of Gdansk down and return the streets to normalcy. Poland was not to be deceived however.

Because of Poland's war with the Soviet Union there was concern that the Soviets would be able to block shipping to the port by occupying the Westerplatte peninsular (which, incidentally was a similar strategy that Levin von Bennigsen had applied in the Polish campaigns of 1807 against Napoleon) and so Poland applied to the League of Nations to station a small military force there for protection.

By the summer of 1925 the Westerplatte's deepwater harbour; munitions basin had been completed with 6 harbour cranes and 3 enormous warehouses on the quay connected to the mainland with a railway line and provisioned with its own railway station, an artesian well, an electrical substation and a power station. The munitions basin was protected from the harbour canal side by a large earthen embankment. The Depot grounds were bordered off with a 2m high red brick wall across the isthmus and along the harbour canal, and with barbed wire fences on the other three sides.

The League agreed to a small force of no more than 88 men (2 officers, 20 NCO's and 66 other ranks) as a response to Polish concerns over Soviet sabotage, the first of which arrived in 1926.

Feathers were ruffled in 1933 however on the heels of Hitler ascending the German Chancellorship when the Gdansk Police Force supplanted the independent Harbour Police, and the Poles fearing an occupation by force reinforced the Westerplatte with another 120 troops. Finally when the League of Nations persuaded Gdansk to withdraw their Police the Poles also withdrew their extra troops.

By 1934 however Poland was fully aware that they were on an inevitable course for war with Germany and were still having to look over their shoulders at the Soviets. Knowing the anti-Polish sentimentality of the German majority of Gdansk they decided that it would be prudent to increase the defensive capabilities of the Transit Depot in the event of an attempted putsch.

Throughout this time a posting to the Westerplatte had been viewed as an unattractive assignment and was typically populated with reserve and semi retired troops, or those who were too infirm to serve on the front line due to medical reasons and so were put onto the Westerplatte where tensions ran high due to the primitive conditions they had to live in as well as being surrounded by a hostile population where the fear of a putsch was perpetual. Once the Polish government realised that the Westerplatte would become an important political and military token they decided to exchange the garrison with highly professional soldiers who were typically the best the Polish armed services had to offer.

German Photo-reconnaissance from 1936 clearly showing many of the buildings

Due to the fact that the 'old barracks' of the depot were primitive and not suitable for the amount of troops being housed the League of Nations agreed to the Poles constructing a 'new barracks' building but on the condition that city officials were able to come into the depot at times of their own choosing to ensure for themselves that no further defensive measures were being taken. The Poles agreed to this and so the 'New Barracks' as they were called were constructed. A new electrical generator building was also built in case of power interruptions from the mainland, although because the new barracks building was so advanced with its own independent power supply this building was never used.

Another photo-reconnaissance shot from 1936 showing where the New Barracks is situated
(by the black arrow) and also showing the old ammunition bunker on the lower far right
of the photo with the Old Barracks and Officers Casino about the half way mark on the
extreme right of the photo whilst the Red Wall can be seen running the length of the photo.

...and another. This one clearly shows the Red wall running the length of the
Harbour Canal and the Old Barracks in the extreme right of the picture edge


The Polish government however, also decided to go the whole hog and build a further 5 Guardhouses in secret in order to provide a defensive belt around the barracks with mutually supportive fields of fire and designed so that they could withstand sustained heavy attacks. Owing to the illegal nature of these extra fortifications the placement of them was all under tree cover or integrated into existing buildings with work being carried out as secretly as possible.

The 'New Barracks' was the central point of the whole defensive system and was three stories high with the top two levels serving the purpose of protecting the basement level from direct hits from artillery, which is where all of the military organs were being run from. All of this work was completed by 1936.

Tensions continued to rise with Nazi Germany's flagrant disregard for the restrictions on re-armaments stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles.

From May 1939 a further seven fortified areas were constructed on Westerplatte in secret utilising the terrain into which they were built and these positions were named 'Prom' (Ferry), 'Wal' (Embankment), 'Fort' (Fortress), 'Lazienki' (Baths), 'Elektronowia' (Powerhouse), Przystan (Port) and 'Deik I and Deik II'. All of these field outposts were built into the terrain that they occupied, and named for geographical markers which lay close by. The purpose allocated to the field position garrisons was to provide advance warning to the Guardhouse crews of an impending attack and delay these attacks long enough for the Guardhouse troops to get into position and pack some heat!

The crew of field position Prom, the most important of the field positions was to hold their ground for as long as possible before falling back to Guardhouse No 1. It was this axis that was the linchpin of the whole defensive system.

A detailed map of Westerplatte showing the fields of fire of almost all positions.

By August 1939 final touches were being added to the defensive fortifications such as anti tank barriers and extra barbed wire barriers in order to funnel the expected attackers. It was at this time that Polish tugboats brought in the final troop drop to supplement the troops in the garrison bringing them up to a total of 182 officers and ranks and another 27 civilian reservists.

This is a closer look at a section of the above map showing some of the detail more clearly


OK so there are quite a few buildings and field positions that need to be looked at on Westerplatte and I am going to do them one at a time by referring to the map on which are noted all of their positions.

We will start with the older stuff:

The Peripheries

The Red Wall and the Harbour Canal.

This red brick (hence the name) wall crossed the isthmus blocking access along the rail lines and across from the beach, and then followed the southern edge of the Westerplatte all the way down to the dock being broken only twice. Once at the railroad entrance to the Depot and once halfway along the harbour wall where the main gate was situated as the principle entrance to the depot from the Harbour with the small Schutzpolitzei station just on the outside of the wall.

A view of the Red Wall at the South West edge of the Peninsular with a small Guardpost at the top of the Embankment that protects the Munitions Basin

The wall was only single skinned although heavily posted every couple of metres and the entire circuit had two lengths of barbed wire mounted on metal spars overhanging the wall above it making it increasingly difficult to scale.

A German posing for a shot by the ruins of the Red Wall

A view of the ruined Red Wall running the length of the Harbour Canal on the south side of the Westerplatte peninsular

Even though the Military Transit Depot was ostensibly Polish sovereign territory which was supposed to occupy the Westerplatte peninsular, this sovereign territory was still only seen as being within the red wall barrier.

A shot from the start of the 20th Century showing the civilian harbour area about mid way along the south side of the peninsular and clearly showing the German harbour building and 'Westerplatte' sign in German


Outside of this barrier there were still German building occupied by ethnic Germans who chose to remain where they were...

Another look at the Westerplatte sign

The Main Gate and the Schupo

The main gate to the depot, was not as may be suspected the Railway gate but was in fact a smaller road on the south side of the peninsular just behind where field position Prom was destined to be.


A Schutz Polizei Danziger (A German Policeman) on guard in front of the depot main gate. You can just see the tip of the roof of the Poles own Schupo inside the walls on the right.

A view of the details of the sign that was mounted on the gate posts of the Depot entrance


The gate was positioned  at a right angle in the wall and was guarded at all times. Just outside the gate was a Schupo (SchutzPolizei Station) which was supposed to work in concert with the main gate for the purpose of customs and administrative tasks.

Looking towards the main depot gate we can see the chimney for the Polish Schupo just over the wall,
whilst on our side of the wall we can see on the right the entrance gate for the Danziger Schupo

Looking again towards the main gate, this time we can see the fact that it sits in a right angle
in the wall, and this time we can see down the path on the south side of the peninsular to the canal
Just inside the main gate the Polish had their own mini schupo which gave them somewhere to rest in cold weather.

A Polish soldier and sailor standing outside of the Polish Schupo just inside the gate whilst
the roof for the Danziger Schupo can be clearly seen dominating the background.

The Train Station and Engine Shed

The other entrance to the depot area was the Rail way gate. This was also guarded at all times by the staff of the Railway Station. This gate differed in that it didn't have any cross mounted furniture attached to the Gate Posts, but instead had a very clear sign mounted on the right post.

My significant other walking into the Westerplatte through the Rail Way Gate

Today, only a fragment of this gate survives but the tracks are the original ones and a fragment of the wall and gate have been reinstalled...

A Polish soldier on guard outside of the railway gate

When the munitions basin dock was connected to the mainland with the railway lines it was determined that a railway station, for administrative purposes and an Engine Shed in a rail siding would be required.

A poor photo BUT possibly one of the only ones in existence that actually show the Engine Shed which was situated just inside the Rail Way gate and across from the Train Station...

These simple buildings were brick built and fulfilled simple administrative functions. Images and floorplans of what is available is shown here.

Possibly the only image of the Westerplatte's Train station in existence 
A composite image showing detwails of the Railway Station, as well as Ammunition Bunker 1, Field Position Fort and the Red Wall.
Ammo Bunkers/ Warehouses

By the outbreak of the second world war there were 19 numbered warehouses and ammunition bunkers arrayed in earthworks along the railway lines along the north edge of the Westerplatte and one old pre first world war bunker built into the side of an artificial mound facing the harbour canal alongside Guardhouse 2 behind the red wall on the south side.

The Ammunition Bunkers were of various sizes but all were brick built standing high of the ground on brick and concrete foundations.

The largest of the Bunkers was Ammunition Bunker 1 which was the first one encountered along the railway lines when passing the train station and was accessed by a railway platform. Its configuration included three entry doors onto the platform itself. On its left and right hand side it was shielded by large earthen embankments.

The rest of the bunkers were either one or two door affairs accessed from ground level and surrounded on three sides by artificial embankments to protect neighbouring bunkers from explosions but all were found alongside or within a close proximity to one of the railway lines. It is testament to the design and engineering principles that throughout the 7 day pummelling that Westerplatte took in September '39, none of them exploded, unless through German Pioneer demolition attempts!

A scale plan of one of the two door ammunition bunkers from the Guardhouse No1 Museum

The final ammunition bunker that was situated alongside Guardhouse 2 was an old Prussian bunker that was actually built into its artificial hillside before WWI and had little in the way of separation from its surrounding structures. This bunker was hit by artillery shells from the German pre dreadnought battleship Schleswig Holstein and went sky high... with tragic consequences for Guardhouse 2!

The old pre WWI Prussian ammunition bunker clearly showing the damage
that one of SMS Schleswig Holstein's 283mm shell did.

Storehouses

Alongside the Munitions Basin that had been completed in 1924 were 3 storehouses of nonedescript design. Little more than barns, they fell outside of the defensive circumference that the Poles has designed for the Westerplatte. The only part they took in the military conflict that occurred was to serve as the only territory on the peninsular that the 'Schutzpolizei' and 'Kustenschutz der Danziger Polizei' were able to penetrate in their one and only attempt but are really included here for the purpose of providing a complete record of the buildings (or as far as is possible). Alongside these storehouses were also 6 dockyard cranes that the Poles had also been provided with. The entire Munitions Basin was protected from fire coming from the German side of the Harbour Canal by a huge earthen embankment that had been thrown up. Much of which is still in existence today.

An aerial view looking right down the throat of the Polish Munitions basin clearly showing the older warehouses on the northern side of the basin, the harbour cranes and the defensive embankment on the southern shore.


The Munitions Basin with its storehouses and cranes had been purposefully excluded from the defensive structure as the area was deemed too open and easily accessible to German interference and as such was boxed out by barbed wire fencing but was covered by no less than three field positions (Lazienki, Elektrownia and Przystan).

A good view of the finished new warehouses that lined the sides of the Munitions Basin

Today this entire area is out of bounds for the public as it falls within the limits of the Polish military base that is still located on the Westerplatte, although if you have sharp eyes there is plenty to see through the wire fences! (Just dont get caught! LOL)

A Danziger Schutz Polizei looking over the Harbour Canal at the old model warehouses that the Poles
had on the northern edge of the Munitions Basin.


The Power Plant

As mentioned previously a new power plant building had been built in the '20's in case of interrupted power supplies from Danzig. A solidly built red brick building, it however played no part whatsoever in the conflict other than as a storage building for the depots 76.2mm Field gun and as a building that was patrolled through by Polish point defence.

Sitting behind the Polish Security Barrier

Today it lays behind the Polish military fence, unchanged from 1939 it is today used  as a warehouse by the Polish military.



Working from the outside in we will now take a look at each of the 7 field ppositions that provided the outer defences of the Westerplatte defensive system.



The Field Positions

'Prom' (Ferry)

This was, in the mind of the Polish planners, the most important of the field positions as it covered the isthmus that linked Westerplatte to the mainland, overlooked the German oil storage buildings on the peninsular and was therefore the most likely of the field positions to be attacked.

Looking from the trenches of Prom over to the Silo on the south bank of the Harbour Canal in the New Port area

This was named for the ferry  that provided contact with Danzig and landed on the Westerplatte banks which it overlooked and occupied the embankments that were the remains of an older and no longer extant fortress on the island of Westerplatte. Just to the rear of the Prom position one could find the main gate, with its small Schutzpolitzei Guardhouse just outside the wall, and was the main access point through the Red Wall into the depot complex from the ferry landing.

German troops taking a closer look at the trenches that formed Prom

The Prom position was a system of trenches dug into the old fortress embankments along the eastern and southern embankments of the fortress and included two earth and log bunkers in order to provide some extra protection for the men as well as three integrated heavy machine gun positions to provide a bit of welly!

German Kreigsmarine officers investigating Proms formations. We can see one of the Polish
Anti Tank brushwood barriers that they set up at various points of the area.

The crew of Prom were to patrol the area behind the wall from the Railway entrance gate to the main gate and its Schutzpolizei Guardhouse.

A German sailor checking headroom in a collapsed bunker on Prom
Prom's complement comprised 20 troops with 1x ckm heavy machine gun, 1x rkm & 1x lkm light machine guns

A clean view of Proms trenches and shelters.

'Wal' (Embankment)

Situated near Ammunition warehouse no1 on the train station side embankment it afforded an amazing view over the main gate and station and tracks. It comprised an open LMG position on top of the embankment and had a secondary wood and soil bunker built into the ammo bunkers western embankment itself for extra protection.

The complement of Wal was only 3 troopers with carbines and the lkm LMG which was in the embankment position. They were tasked with patrolling the area of the train station from the beach to the first inverse angle of the wall. They had to stop the enemy attacking along the tracks and provide Prom with fire support.  If their position became untenable they were to retreat  along the track to Guardhouse 5.

The embankment on the east side of Ammunition Bunker 1 where the LMG position for Wal was located.
There was also a bunker dug into the opposing embankment on the other side of Ammunition Bunker 1


'Fort' (Fortress)

The name describes perfectly the character of the position. This position was served by an old concrete bunker which was a Fire Co-ordination bunker of first world war vintage and is the only field position that still exists.

A panorama showing the concrete pre war emplacement that the Poles commandeered to use as a field position

From the top of Fort looking down to its rear access points

A view from behind

Due to concerns with the vintage of the position the Poles installed further sandbag protection and created an observation point overlooking the beach to the east and west on the top of the emplacement and projected a trench out from the position to provide firing positions for the HMG's covering the beach approaches.

What the position looks like from the rear

'Fort's information board...

Only the upper part of the fortress was used as a bunker as the lower level had damp and flooding problems and as such saw no active use.

A lot of the original gunfire that hit Fort can still be seen on the sides

The initial crew consisted of 3 soldiers and 1x rkm LMG and after the fight started they were reinforced with 3 more troops and 1x ckm HMG.

Their task was to stop the enemy attacking along the beach from the eastern side as well as providing observation of the Baltic sea which explains why one of the troops was a naval rating.

'Lazienki' (Baths)

This field position served exactly the same function as Fort but covering the western approaches to the interior from the direction of the Ammunition Basin

This was actually one position formed of two separate trenches forming a trench line near Ammo Bunker 19 with the Ammunition Bunker itself serving as the cover position for the troops if they got into deep trouble.

The complement of Lazienki comprised 11 soldiers with 1x rkm LMG and 1x ckm HMG

'Elektrownia' (Powerhouse)

Situated between Guardhouse No 4 and the new Power Generator, this small wood and soil bunker was built into a low embankment with a firing step pointing towards the exit to the Ammunition basin. This was supported a very short distance away by a small trench line.

The whole position had a complement of 6 mobilised civilians with 1x lkm LMG

'Przystan' (Harbour)

Covering the area of the New Port warehouses on the German side of the harbour canal from the entryway to the Ammunition Basin this field position was situated near the port canal in the place of former earthworks directly facing the lighthouse on the other side of the harbour canal, positioned on the embankment that surrounded the Ammunition Basin

From the side of the ammunition basin embankment there was a trench that connectd these earthworks with an observation point on top of the embankment. These earthworks seem to have been constructed of trenches with open HMG embrasures.

The complement for this field position was 12 soldiers equipped with 1x ckm  HMG and 2x  rkm LMG's.

Deik (Name of the Sergeant in charge)

Deik was the only field position(s) that were named after the individual who was in charge of the complement. In this case one Sergeant Deik.

His position initially was covering the New Port warehouses on the side of New Port across the harbour canal between Field Position Przystan and Guardhouse 2. It comprised a 2m deep trench dug out on the edge of a small area of woodland partially covered with wood and soil.

At this time its full complement was 7 soldiers with 1x lkm LMG.

As an addition to their own main field position they also made an open embrasure for the garrisons only 76.2mm Field Gun, an old unmodified Russian model. It was a circular sandbagged trench position that made 360deg fire possible, open from the back to allow access and egress of the weapon. On each side of the position there was a wood and soil bunker, one for crew and the other for ammunition. This outpost was at the edge of the woodland between Electrownia and Przystan and about 50m from the Power plant and gave sterling service until the destruction of the gun and its crew.

On 1st September Serz. Deik was ordered to move his field position from where it was situated, over to the embankment of the magazine to the rear of 'Fort' in order to cover the eastern approaches to the field position from Wal.

A panorama of Ammo Bunker 7's position with its defending embankment. The Ammo Bunkers are now nothing more than
concrete foundations but you can imagine the field of fire that Szt. Deik had from on top of this firing down towards the railway gates.
That completes our tour of the outer field defences and some of the less noteworthy buildings. Its now time to take a close look at each of the Military Bunkers * ahem* * cough* sorry Guardhouses that provided the defensive ring surrounding the New Barracks.

The Guardhouses

Wartownia Nr1 (Guardhouse No1)

Because of its position, Guardhouse No1 was the most important link in the chain of defence. The embrasures for its two heavy machine guns, whose fire blockaded the eastern approaches were located to the left hand side of the entrance. This Guardhouse also co-ordinated its fire with Guardhouses 2 and 5.

Guardhouse No1 with two of SMS Schleswig-Holsteins 283mm artillery shells standing by the side of the wall.
At the time of 1st September the internal appearance of Guardhouse No1 was that on the right, the Barracks side of the Guardhouse stood a stack of pallets, a table for the sentry commander in front of them. There was a telephone switchboard and a telephone on the table with a small shelf radio.

The main entrance to Guardhouse No1 clearly showing the HMG embrasures
Closed bench chests which held two heavy machine guns and about 60 hand grenades, ammunition for the guns lined the walls on the eastern side whilst on the left hand side, in the little room were stacks of sand and a flare pistol with its flares. In this room there was also an optical tube for communication with the gun crews downstairs.

One of Guardhouse No1's HMG embrasures. These were disguised to look like fans.
One entered the bottom floor of the Guardhouse through a floor hatch covered with a trap door descending on iron steps until you entered the basement where two ckm HMG's were permanently mounted but disguised from the outside by embrasures disguised to look like fans.

The rear of Guardhouse No1 showing the firing positions around the basement walls.


Today we are lucky that so many enthusiasts have seen to the preservation of this most important monument as after the eviction of Communism the Westerplatte was sadly left to wrack and ruin. The planned widening of the Harbour Canal almost saw the wanton destruction of this gem until one of the actual veterans suggested moving the whole thing in one piece about 20m further into the Westerplatte in order to preserve it. In 1967 this 600 ton monument was moved on specially designed tracks and was finally opened as a display to the public again in 1974.

A great cutaway showing how the defenders would have been distributed in Guardhouse No1

For many years it was Westerplatte veterans who served as the tour guides to this icon of Polish bravery.

Wartownia Nr2 (Guardhouse No2)

Guardhouse No2 was erected next to the old Prussian ammunition bunker that had been buiult into the side of an earthwork facing south and the Harbour Canal. This Guardhouse also had a quaint red and white striped flag pole standing alongside it.

An old photo that looks across the front of the Old Ammunition Bunker
over to the destroyed Guardhouse No2 in the background


The duties of the Guardhouse were to provide covering fire from the main gate all the way back to the depot  which lay about 350m to the east as well as securing the western approaches.

Because of the exposed position, sitting as it did on top of the earthen embankment behind the Red Wall, the smattering of trees that obscured it notwithstanding, this was one of the most battered of the defensive positions.

Its end came on 7th September when explosions of the nearby ammunition bunker damaged its weapons and caused a partial collapse. The craftsmanship of this defensive building can be noted however by the fact that none of the crew were killed.

The ruins of Guardhouse No 2

The ruins of this Guardhouse ceased to exist in 1969 when the Harbour Canal was widened.

Wartownia Nr3 (Guardhouse No3)

Guardhouse No3 comprised two separate machine gun bunkers that were linked with a corridor, all built into the cellar of the Non-commissioned officers villa, a stones throw from the New Barracks. The villa itself had been built on the Westerplatte when it was a spa.

The front of the NCO's Villa that had Guardhouse No3 as its basement


This guardhouses machine gun rooms had been built into the basement of the villa in 1934 at the same time as the other Guardhouses. One of the rooms had two HMG embrasures through which guns could fire to the north and, together with Guardhouse No4 block enemy access to the interior from the Munitions Basin.

The Rear of the NCO's Villa with Guardhouse No 3 as its basement. The New Barracks can just be seen in the background

The second machine gun room was also equipped with two embrasures was tasked with defending the banks of the harbour canal together with Guardhouse No2 and the New Barracks.

A panorama of all that remains of Guardhouse No3. Obviously there is no longer any NCO's villa on top any more

Two Germans checking the embrasures on Guardhouse No 3. Look at how small they are and think how much of a lucky shot it was that killed one of the defenders at the start of the battle!


A Floorplan showing how Guardhouse No 3 fitted into the overall architectural layout of the NCO's villa above


Wartownia Nr4 (Guardhouse No4)

Guardhouse No4 had two levels. On the top level was a room and an attached vestibule. The cellar was the same layout and dimensions as the upper floor except had replaced its vestibule with a telephone exchange. It was supplied with a heavy machine gun nest with a fortress mount allowing for easy and sustained movement of the HMG. There were two pivots available and as such the HMG could fire in the direction of the Ammunition Basin and New Barracks or to provide fire suppport to Guardhouse No5. The Upper floor of the Guardhouse was also provisioned with three embrasures for use by three machine guns which could all cover the same fire directions as the HMG fortress mounts.

Guardhouse No 4 after the battle being examined by German Kriegsmarine


The tasks assigned to Guardhouse No4 were to block the western approaches from the side of the Munitions Basin with fire and to give fire support to Guardhouse No5.

Guardhouse No 4's side as it appeared in the 90's

The rear of Guardhouse No 4 as she appeared in the 90's

Another rear shot taken of Guardhouse No 4 in the 90's


With the exception of one Schutzpolitzei patrol that came close patrolling on 1st Septmber, the germans did not attack it directly instead keeping it under a steady and perpetual artillery fire throughout the battle and as such its weapons were rarely fired. Still, holding onto terrain which was almost constantly under fire without water, cooked food or sleep was exceptionally exhausting for its crew.

Guardhouse No 4 as she appears today as a Storehouse fro the Polish military
who have put a nice gaudy coat of paint on it to protect it!


Today Guardhouse 4 lies within the perimeter of the Polish military post on the Westerplatte and with the exception of a somehwat horrific coat of paint (which it can be with some argument stated has helped preserve it from its previously deplorable state) reamins much as it did in those bloody september days of 1939.

Floorplan of Guardhouse No 4


Wartownia Nr5 (Guardhouse No5)

Guardhouse No5 was one of the four gaurdhouses that were built from scratch in secret between 1933 -1934. In the main ring of fighting positions it co-ordinated  fire from Guardhouse No1 to protect the depot grounds from the east and with Guardhouse No4 to protect the grounds from the west.

Destroyed Guardhouse No5 in the foreground with the Officers Villa and Officers Casino in the background


Master Corporal Adolf Petzelt was the Guardhouse Commander and had an initial crew of 8 men.

On the second of September, the most tragic day for the defenders, a heavy bomb delived by Junkers Ju87 Stuka scored a direct hit on the Guardhouse killing seven soldiers and the commander and seriously wounding a further three. The gap in the defensive ring was closed by Sergeant Deiks second field position which had been set up late the previous day.

Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence or blue prints for the form of Guardhouse No5 which have yet come to light other than photographs of the destroyed remnants.

Wartownia Nr6 or Nowe Koszary (Guardhouse No6 or The New Barracks)

The New Barracks as they are today. The majority of the damage that you can see was
done to the structure in 1945 when the Soviets flattened Gdansk but at least they left some of it for us to see
A view of the New Barracks taken after the battle and after a lot of the cleanup has been done

As soon as it was established it was determined that the depot did not have the facilities to be able to cope with the garrison and staff that were to be stationed on Westerplatte. The building of the old barracks, left over from the pre war spa days was unheated, which made living in it in cold weather exceptionally difficult (it being a stones throw from the baltic!).

Details of the plaque mounted above the door of the New Barracks

Another view of the New Barracks after the battle

Inside the remains of the New Barracks today
The so called New Barracks (designed by Professor Jan Zachwatowicz) were constructed on Westerplatte in 1934-1935 and was a three level building with a basement which was protected from fire by a high ground floor (as in higher than ground level) and a 1st floor with the whole being shaped like an irregular letter T, facing the harbour canal. Its shape and position created a small area in front of its entrance that was hidden from view from the New Port as well (which is incidentally where Sucharski would entrench his 4 available mortars throughout the battle).

Its equipment was very modern for the time with central heating, spacious bathrooms, solid cupboards and furniture for the soldiers, a sick room and a radio station.

A floorplan and scale of the New Barracks
and the basement level which was technically known as Guardhouse No6 housed embrasures for heavy machines equipped with fortress mounts for easy and sustained use of the weaponry.

A heavy machine gun embrasure showing a fortress mount across which an HMG would move on a gimble

LMG embrasures at the other side of the Guardhouse division of the building


A scale model of the New Barracks as they would have looked before the battle started

This was one tough building and it can be said with some confidence that it saved a lot of peoples lives in 1939

Showing how a collapses ceiling in this building is probably no cause for alarm!

The information board displayed outside the New Barracks explaining everything about them.

...just my favourite shot of the ruins!

All that remains to be said now, is to touch briefly on the remaining enigmatic buildings present on the Westerplatte:

The Enigmatic Others

The Old Barracks

The old barracks were built in the era of Westerplatte being a health spa and there is a significant lack of information giving an insight as to what it was used for and how, if it even fitted into the defensive belts of the Westerplatte.

The Polish garrison on parade outside of the rear of the Old Barracks

A guard duty standing to attention outside the front of the Old Barracks

Suffice it to say that the building was attractive and yet primitive with no running water and no heating. Viewed with horror as a posting and totally insufficient to be used as quarters for almost a hundred armed men, the building was still standing in September 1939... and suffered accordingly!

A 3D render of what the Old Barracks would hav e looked like

Officers Villa

This was originally a holiday home built on the Westerplatte, again during the spa heyday of the resort. When the peninsula was awarded to the Polish as a military transit depot this house was taken over for use by the officers who were stationed on Westerplatte.

A view of the all but destroyed Officers Villa

Looking across the tracks and through the intervening trees to the ravaged Officers Villa

During the fighting this building was damaged so severely that barely just the walls were left standing.

Another view of the savaged Officers Villa, seen through one of the barbed wire fences

Officers Casino

Owing to the hostility that the Polish garrison experienced from the majority German population of Danzig it was considered prudent to provide the Polish military with a safe social environment, behind defended walls and away from any potential hostile action.

German Kreigsmarine pose for a photo amid the ruins of the Officers Casino.
Possibly the only shot in existence that shows the Officers Casino in any detail..

This building was provided to the military for use as their casino which is to say, a place to be used for socialising.

Lt Leon Pajak reaping the grass in front of the Officers Casino...


Another view of the shattered Officers Casino

I can find less information on this building than on any other and only a few photographs that actually include this building in them BUT what can be ascertained for sure is that this building was definitely still standing in September 1939 and suffered some significant damage as a result!

So....

Now you have a better than average understanding of the geography over which this most important of battles was fought.

But let us never forget the honoured dead:

The tombs of those that died during the battle.

The Polish Eagle carrying its peoples blessings.

The ashes of Major Henryk Sucharski were interred with his men at Westerplatte after
his death shortly after WW2 at the suggestion of his deputy Captain Francisek Dabrowski

... and of course; the information board
Remember the odds that the Poles faces were insurmountable. There was NO way to win outright BUT by holding on they delayed the inevitable for Gdansk and Gdynia and tied up almost 4000 German troops that could have been better employed elsewhere!

Me and the monument!

On the 1st September 2016 delegates from Germany, Russia, Poland and the UK
all laid wreathes to commemorate this battle.


Now, what actually happened in  the battle I hear you say? Stay tuned...














8 comments:

  1. Fantastic post! Very informative and great pictures!!

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    1. Glad you liked it Alex. Plenty more where this came from ;)

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  2. I really enjoyed all the history and wonderful pictures. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. no problem at all Rod. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I always worry that I go into way too much depth in these kind of things, but then I rationalise that I do it as a matter of historical record so that if anybody has an interest in gaming Westerplatte in the future has a place they can go to in order to pick up all of the info :D

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  3. Very interesting and informative. I actually enjoyed the details.

    Looking forward to the next part.

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    1. Cheers Joe, glad you liked it... and you were right; Malbork Castle was simply incredible!!! Quite simply the best bang for buck historical excursion Ive ever had!

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  4. Replies
    1. You're welcome Bartek. I'm glad you've enjoyed the read. It was amazing just being there! :D

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