Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, May 17, 2020

First Shots

There is an implied myth of German efficiency in the Second World War, and that the German war machine effortlessly carved up its opponents parrying every attack the blunt Allies directed at them. It will come as no surprise to you that this is far from the case, as the first shots of the Second World War would prove.

The free city of Danzig was taken from Germany, and given to Poland at the Treaty of Versailles. Although a Polish city it was administrated by the League of Nations and was over 90% German inhabitants. The Poles were allowed to have a military base on the Westerplatte. In addition, the Post Office and several other formations of state, such as railway depots were Polish. Although, oddly, the police remained a German concession.
On the 25th of August the Schleswig-Holstein arrived in Danzig free port, and berthed opposite Westerplatte. The German plan for war was that the battleship would obliterate the Polish garrison with a short bombardment, and then the German marines would land and size the depot. Meanwhile in the city of Danzig the police, reinforced by local SS forces, would size other key locations including the post office. Meanwhile an armoured train would arrive and size the railway depot. It seems curious to see a SS force being allowed in Danzig by the League of Nations, however it was likely more along the lines of a paramilitary group, which were much more accepted at the time, such as the Freikorps of the 1920's. Equally, as the police are German, who are the League going to get to shut the organisation down? The SS unit was the SS-Heimwehr Danzig, and it was well armed even having a number of infantry guns. These were a heady mix of modern IlG18's with pneumatic tyres for towing with motor transport, some with iron spoked wheels for horse towing and even a couple of First World War vintage pieces. The guns with the iron wheels had to be man handled as they lacked horses. In the end the troops obtained a truck from a margarine factory and loaded one of the guns up onto the bed of that.

In the early hours, around 0450, of the 1st of September the Schleswig-Holstein's gun turrets began to swing ponderously round so they could broadside Westerplatte. The range was literally point blank, under 500m. This meant that the fuses did not have time to arm, and the rounds smashed into the ground, or ended up skipping across the sea beyond Westerplatte. Add to that the antique nature of the German vessel meant it had a slow rate of fire. The German marines stormed forward, only to find the Polish defenders alert, exceptionally well-armed, in well-built bunkers and ready for the attack.
Schleswig-Holstein firing on Westerplatte
Since the summer of 1939 the Poles had been aware of the impending war, and had been making preparations. At Westerplatte this had taken the form of several support weapons being brought in, and the construction of solid bunkers. Elsewhere in the city arms and grenades had been delivered. At the Polish Post Office an army engineer had been assigned to help prepare the defences. Additional staff had been brought in, most were either reservists or had had combat experience in uprisings and civil unrest beforehand. Weapon caches had been secreted around the city, for example the railway workers had access to some seventy odd pistols, two light machine guns, a handful of rifles and two boxes of grenades. Other Polish locations had weapons stashed at them, such as the scout hall having an LMG, or the grammar school a collection of rifles. The Post Office had three boxes of hand-grenades, three LMG's and around forty rifles and pistols.
The Germans raising the flag on Westerplatte on the 8th of September
At Westerplatte the fierce fighting continued with the German fire support being largely ineffective, and the marines lacking the firepower to advance. Eventually the Poles brought one of their anti-tank guns into action against the Schleswig-Holstein forcing it to move, however, German reinforcements were en route and the fighting would continue for a week as more and more German forces were sucked into the battle, including the Luftwaffe. Elsewhere some eleven railway workers prevented the armoured train from achieving its goal.
SS troops closing with the Post Office.
At the Post Office, on the sound of the battleship’s opening barrage, a twenty strong team breached some passage ways that had been bricked off and charged into the Post Office, while another group carried out the assault from the other side of the building. Both groups were met with a storm of gunfire and grenades thrown out of the building. Lacking sufficient strength to carry out the assault they requested aid from SS-Heimwehr Danzig, which arrived around 1000. As well as extra men there were two ADGZ armoured cars (some accounts say three, and one was knocked out, but I've yet to see any mention of this), and a margarine truck with the IlG18, as well as a film crew. The leader of the SS unit, Albert Maria Forster, decided to lead an assault himself. He commandeered one of the armoured cars for himself to ride in, in safety, and drove past the building while soldiers accompanying him threw grenades. The film crew captured this event. Once this valiant feat had been achieved, he ordered a frontal assault (led, obviously by someone else), which ended in a bloody mess. Then realising there would be no quick victory Forster took his film crew and left the scene.
Forster's "assault".

The IlG18's were having their own problems. Under fire from the post office their weapon kept leaping out of battery due to the cobble stones on the road which was hampering their shooting. Eventually, with the help of one of the armoured cars they managed to rip up the cobbles and give their gun a decent footing. They were then able to shoot holes in the stout iron fence at the front of the building, but the 75mm weapons lacked the punch to do any serious lasting damage to the front of the building. At 1500 the Germans held a cease fire calling for the defenders to surrender, which they refused. At 1700 the assault was renewed, this time with Wehrmacht support. Engineers detonated a breeching charge on the front wall, then a 105mm gun was fired through the hole to clear the room beyond allowing the Germans to achieve a bridgehead within the building.

The 105mm firing the fateful shot that allowed the Germans to breach the Post Office
Sensing they would not be able to hold the Polish defenders fell back into the basement. Again, they were called upon to surrender, which again was refused. The Germans brought in pumps and flooded the basement with flammable liquid and set fire to it. This caused the defenders to finally surrender.
Some of the surrendered Post Office workers.
The Polish defenders had held for some fifteen hours, rather more than the six hours they were expecting to have to held for. The Germans, rather unhappy about the incident declared they were non-uniformed and thus illegal combatants and executed all the defenders who survived. A fate that was visited on the eleven railway workers as well.


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