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The battlefield of Westerplatte - Zabytek.pl

Photo Gallery of the object: The battlefield of Westerplatte

The battlefield of Westerplatte

Gdańsk, Majora Henryka Sucharskiego 70

woj. pomorskie, pow. Gdańsk, gm. Gdańsk

When the lands to the east of the Oder and the Neisse were awarded to Poland after the Second World War, all existing German names were changed to Polish ones.

This was also true of all place-names within the territories of the former Free City of Danzig. The only German name to survive was Westerplatte, meaning ‘western cape’. It could not be removed from maps because during the preceding war years it had become part of the Polish consciousness. Earlier it had borne no associations, even during the disputes over it with the pro-German, and in due course increasingly overtly pro-Nazi, Senate of the Free City of Danzig. This location had long been used for military purposes.

On 22 June 1921 the League of Nations Council entrusted Poland with the land defence of the Free City of Danzig. A significant portion of the Westerplatte Peninsula had been awarded to Poland in 1925 to use as a reloading terminal for arms and ammunition. The area in question, known as the Military Transit Depot, was manned on 18 January 1926 by a Polish defence unit. In the early days of the Depot’s existence only a railway siding, ammunition stores and a munitions dock were put in place. It was not until the threat of a Hitlerite attack on the Depot became increasingly realistic that further installations were added at Westerplatte between 1933 and 1934: four guardhouses with light reinforced concrete shelters in their cellars (these, like most of the tactical fortifications, were designed by Colonel Józef Siłakowski). In 1936 a barracks, partially prepared for defence, was raised amid the guardhouses. The grounds around the Depot were enclosed by a brick wall (on the port canal side and the base of the peninsula) and barbed wire barriers (along the coast).

World War II began with Westerplatte. Without declaring war, on 1 September at 4.45 am, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire with 18 medium- and large-calibre guns. Against the 200 infantrymen under Major H. Sucharski, the Germans launched a force of around 3400 soldiers and police. By the time that the relief forces of the Pomorze Army had arrived, the garrison, under orders to defend the outpost for 12 hours, had survived two fierce German storm assaults and around 10 local attacks. They withstood shelling from several hundred metres by the Schleswig-Holstein, and two air raids.

From a strategic point of view the battle for the Westerplatte peninsula was of no significance. The military position of the Polish Army would have been the same, but the moral one would have been entirely different. In the face of radio reports of defeats and retreats, announcements made with laconic pathos stating that “the defence of Westerplatte continues”, held a great significance. Having resisted heroically, the Westerplatte garrison surrendered when ammunition and medication for 20 of their heavily wounded ran out. On 7 September the terms of an honourable capitulation were accepted. The outpost had been defended by heroes whose common sense had prevailed. They fought for as long as they could, and surrendered because further resistance would have led to certain ruin. They fulfilled their military duty and demonstrated their professionalism. After the capitulation, Major Sucharski was saluted and allowed to keep his officer’s sword in captivity. This, however, was merely feigned chivalry. The radio telegrapher Seargent Kazimierz Rasiński was murdered when he refused to divulge the codes used by the outpost to communicate with Gdynia and Hel, where battles were still ongoing.

Today, the peninsula is home to a cemetery of the fallen Polish soldiers, the ruins of the barracks and Gatehouse No. 3, as well as a monument commemorating all those who defended the coast. Gatehouse No. 1, the only extant building of the former Military Transit Depot, houses a Chamber of National Remembrance. The sparsely wooded peninsula is ostensibly a place of little interest. Grey, moss-dappled concrete, rusty reinforcement bars protruding from the ruins, the shimmering waters of the Bay glimpsed through the trees - Westerplatte does not appeal to the eye, but directly to the heart.

Category: battlefield

Protection: Historical Monument

Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_22_PH.8812