1st September 1939 – “Westerplatte still fights on”

Today we have already the 72th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War II. I feel obligded to write about it not only because the bloodiest war ever had its beginning in my city but also because more and more people have no clue about it or they even spread false information, making Poland responsible for the outbreak of the war by starting the fire first. This was the aim of the Nazi propaganda to get an excuse to start the war and it is shocking that this version is still popular in some circles. What is also quite common is underestimating the Polish defense in September 1939. In many American or West European sources it is usually said that Germans went through Poland very quickly without stronger resistance. In fact, the final capitulation of the state took place on October 6th only, which is very impressive taking into consideration the “stab in the back” from September 17th when Soviet Union marched into Poland from the East and the shameful escape of Polish authorities to Romania the same day. So people were left on their own and still they didn’t give up for so long. Westerplatte itself resisted 7 long days. Every child in Poland knows what Westerplatte is but it is worth reminding in here what this place used to be at all.

Westerplatte was a part of Danzig (now Gdansk), which I explained well in one of my previous posts in here called “Gdansk before the war”. To sum up:

The Free City was created on 15 November 1920[1][2] in accordance with the terms of Part III, Section XI of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 without a plebiscite. The Free City included the city of Danzig and over two hundred nearby towns, villages, and settlements.As the League of Nations decreed, the region was to remain separated from the nation of Germany, and from the newly-resurrected nation of Poland. The Free City was not an independent State;[3] it was under League of Nations protection and put into a binding customs union with Poland. Poland also had special utilization rights towards the city.[4] The Free City was created in order to give Poland sufficient access to the sea, while at the same recognizing that its population was mainly German.[5] In 1933, the City’s government was taken over by the local Nazi Party, the democratic opposition was suppressed and widespread anti-Semitic and anti-Polish discrimination and organized murder followed the German invasion of Poland in 1939, when the Free City was abolished and incorporated into the newly-formed Reichsgau of Danzig-West Prussia.

(This is an excerpt from Wikipedia)

So, Westerplatte was a peninsula in the Danzig harbour where Poland could use as a transit deposit.  Before September 1st 1939 there were 182 soldiers at Westerplatte. In case of war, the defenders were supposed to resist for 12 hours before the arrival of additional Polish Army units. Which in fact never happened and those 182 brave soldiers managed to withstand 7 long days being cut off from the rest of the world, surrounded by German troops.

Germany started the attack on Westerplatte at 4:45 a.m from the battleship Schleswig-Holstein which was officially on a “courtesy visit” to the Free City of Danzig. That was the official beginning of the Second World War. They attacked from the air, from the sea and from the land. Westerplatte had no contact with the authorities in Warsaw as the line was destroyed and they hoped for help to come. Probably every Pole believed at that time in British and French invasion on Germany when both these countries declared the war with Hitler on September 3rd. In reality they didn’t start any offensive which is a huge shame on them as they signed the pact with Poland before that in case of the war help would arrive very quickly. No help ever arrived from any side. Only the Polish radio would inform every day its listeners that “Westerplatte still fights on”, giving them hope for a happy ending. Westerplatte surrendered after 7 days, on September 7th, becoming a legend of bravery for all the next generations of Poles.

There’s several misconceptions concerning the Invasion of Poland and the occupation in general, but nothing annoys me more than the misconception about Wehrmacht. Quite often you can find an information, it’s especially common among Germans, that only the SS troops would murder people on occupied territories and soldiers of Wehrmacht where honorable knights with rules and moral standards. Well, I would advise such people, before they start saying bullshit, to read more about history, to read how Wehrmacht behaved already at the very beginning, in September 1939 in Poland, and then, which was even worse, how they behaved in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia. Yes, they were also rapists and murderers, often as cruel as their colleagues from SS. It was often Wehrmacht, not SS, who was responsible for massive murders of Poles in different places, or capturing Polish Jews. I know it may be difficult for some to accept that, but that’s a fact, proven by a countless number of historians, so living in denial makes no sense.

Another common myths, explained very well on Wikipedia again:

  • Myth: The Polish Army fought German tanks with horse-mounted cavalry wielding lances and swords.
In 1939, 10% of the Polish army was made up of cavalry units.[80] Polish cavalry never charged German tanks or entrenched infantry or artillery, but usually acted as mobile infantry (like dragoons) and reconnaissance units and executed cavalry charges only in rare situations against foot soldiers. Other armies (including German and Soviet) also fielded and extensively used elite horse cavalry units at that time. Polish cavalry consisted of eleven brigades, as emphasized by its military doctrine, equipped with anti tank rifles “UR” and light artillery such as the highly effective Bofors 37 mm anti-tank gun. The myth originated from war correspondents reports of the Battle of Krojanty, where a Polish cavalry brigade was fired upon in ambush by hidden armored vehicles, after it had mounted a sabre-charge against German infantry.[Note 7][81]
  • Myth: The Polish air force was destroyed on the ground in the first days of the war.
The Polish Air Force, though numerically inferior, had been moved from air bases to small camouflaged airfields shortly before the war. Only some trainers and auxiliary aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The Polish Air Force, significantly outnumbered and with its fighters outmatched by more advanced German fighters, remained active up to the second week of the campaign, inflicting significant damage on the Luftwaffe.[82] The Luftwaffe lost, to all operational causes, 285 aircraft, with 279 more damaged beyond repair, while the Poles lost 333 aircraft.[83]
  • Myth: Poland offered little resistance and surrendered quickly.
Germany sustained relatively heavy losses, especially in vehicles and planes: Poland cost the Germans approximately the equipment of an entire armored division and 25% of its air strength.[84] As for duration, the September Campaign lasted only about one week less than the Battle of France in 1940, even though the Anglo-French forces were much closer to parity with the Germans in numerical strength and equipment.[Note 8] Furthermore, the Polish Army was preparing the Romanian Bridgehead, which would have prolonged Polish defence, but this plan was cancelled due to the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939.[85] Poland also never officially surrendered to the Germans. Under German occupation, the Polish army continued to fight underground, as Armia Krajowa and forest partisans—Leśni. The Polish resistance movement in World War II in German-occupied Poland was one of the largest resistance movements in all of occupied Europe.[86]
Westerplatte now:
The monument of the defenders of the coast
“No more war”
grave of the commanding officer Henryk Sucharski who actually didn’t die during defense but in the 70’s his ashes were buried at Westerplatte
parts of the exhibition