[Civil Affairs] Short Stories - Shots Fired!
The slim, sharp, and metal shining bow cuts through the grayish water, with a speed of 15.2 knots. From the harbour quays, it is only a silhouette, tall and majestic. Intimidating. The ship is the German pre-dreadnought Schleswig-Holstein sailing towards the free city of Gdansk on the Westerplatte peninsula, which holds the Polish garrison and train depot. She ostensibly had been tasked with the errand of making a courtesy visit, but it soon would change.
It is late summer; Konteradmiral Gustav Kleikamp, the commander on board Schleswig-Holstein, is standing on the bridge of the pre-dreadnought, watching the red walls and the green treetops of Westerplatte. It is hard to see more than the closest buildings and nearest bushes in the early morning. The clock shows 04:47am, the 1st of September and the German konteradmiral has the most vital order to give in his whole career. The atmosphere on the ship is tight and exited, everyone is quiet. The clock strikes 04:48; konteradmiral Kleikamp silently, nearly whispers, with an excited tone “los lassen!”
Major Henryk Sucharski, the commander on Westerplatte, has had a troublesome night, as have been many of the past nights since the Schleswig-Holstein anchored in the bay - a little over hundred meters from Westerplatte. He was thereby awake, sitting in his office studying some papers about the defenses of the Polish transit depot, when the first bang reached his ear with the force of the explosion following rapidly after. The concussion made his full cup of very strong coffee drip on the papers. As he quickly went through the hallways and down the stairs, he reached the communication room where the SOS: “I’m under fire” was called. The Polish garrison of 209 men, not all soldiers, is being bombarded by surface vessels of the German Kreigsmarine.
The artillery barrage from Schleswig-Holstein has ended, and the only thing Gefreiter Fedor Beier can hear is the steps and breaths of himself and the German soldiers. Now and then, he hears a fidgety sound of someone fiddling with their rifle or other equipment. They are slowly moving up in the woods on the eastern side of Westerplatte. They have gotten in through a hole in the wall caused by the shelling. The branches cracking… The leaves rustling… Suddenly the crack of rifle fire and machine-guns, the soft sound of bullets meeting flesh, the screams of the wounded and dying. Behind him, to his side, in front of him, everywhere! Someone yelling “Wir ziehen uns zurück,” everyone seems to fall back, nothing else to do if you want to survive. The indescribable pain, steel cutting through skin and bone, only the arm. Where to go? Bullets hitting and cracking around, then, a feeling of peace, a prosperous feeling of peace, nothing.
Everyone is quiet, excited, concentrated, anxious. When will they come? Soon, yes. The artillery barrage has ended. Now it is just a matter of minutes, perhaps even seconds. Szymon could hear Heniek's heavy breath, the man to his side, his friend. Then suddenly they can hear it, cracking branches, rustling leaves, Whispering voices behind the trees, an order to fire... Hell is set loose, they are giving them hell, the enemy are screaming, dying. An explosion, near: “Cling”! The panic inducing sound, it felt like someone had hit his helmet with a hammer, but he was still alive. Heniek though was unrecognizable; his whole head looked like one big bloody clump of meat. The enemy fell back.
Perhaps we pushed the Germans back, but how many more would come?
We fended of another German attack, this time it seemed like a game chess, a game were they started without any Towers, Springers, Runners and a Queen.
The sun is shining, and there are no clouds to see - I am on my way back to the magazine to see if I can find some ammunition for our machine-gun. The green grass field I am crossing is really not green; it is sprinkled in shell-holes. As I neared the house passing the mortar position, with our only two mortars, the singing of the birds was silenced and everything was covered in a vacuum of bangs and rumbles. I sprinted towards the entrance to the main building when it felt like i was kicked in the back as I flew through the door...
The peninsula was turned into a moon-like landscape alike the battlefields of the Westernfront in world war one.
On the most northern outpost on the peninsula, it had been quite quiet, if you ignore the last two days of continuous bombardment. we had not seen any Germans at all, other than the odd sight of one of the sixty Stukas which had been diving in over the peninsula, shrouding it in white smoke and bombs all morning. The We are sitting around in a smaller concrete blockhouse, chatting, relaxing, trying to rest before it is our turn in the watch posts. Suddenly the sound of a motor cuts through our conversation, it takes no time before we are in out positions; Some German Schnellboots(Gunboats) are swiftley sailing towards the coast. Our machine-gun opens fire, so do our riflemen. We takes no casualties, the Germans marines do not even get a chance to set foot on land. The maritime attack of the fourth of September from the north was repelled and added to the list of defeats the Germans sustained at the Westerplatte.
The Polish Major Henryk Sucharski, who after days of bombardment was suffering from shell-shock, called for a war council amongst his officers, who relived him of command. The war council could have ended the battle of Westerplatte; Maj. Sucharski were sure that they should surrender, as he said; Westerplatte was only supposed to hold for 24 hours, now they had held out for 5 days. Cpt. Francizek Dabrowski opposed him, and took command of the Garrison, imprisoning Major Sucharski.
Meanwhile the German troops were closing in on Warszaw, the capital of Poland. Their armies had broken through across the entire western and northern frontiers. The Polish garrison force at Westerplatte peninsula however were still holding against the German attacks. The garrison force had held for 6 days against heavy artillery, flamethrowers and even a heavily armoured train sent to smash through the polish lines! It was clear that time was running out for the Garrison, even to Cpt. Francizek.
He is tired, and they don't have many supplies left. When he asks Cpl. Szamlewski about the situation, he always answers the same; “I don't know much more than you. We will have to hold our position as long as we can, for every second we hold this peninsula we will humiliate Germany more!”. The corporal is probably right. Private Chrystan Korczak is stationed at the northern of the two outposts, at the train station. The outpost was known as "Encampment Szamlewski" and perhaps the most remarkably innovative German attack took place at this outpost. The soldiers were busy eating what was left of their meager rations, when someone suddenly yelled something about a burning train. A burning train? Someone started to laugh and make fun of it, he did too, until they realized it was part of a German attack. Luckily for the Polish defenders, the train driver decoupled from his wagons too early, so the train slowed and stopped next to the outpost, rather than pushing through to the Fuel tanks behind! It wasn’t the only burning train attack, another came in the afternoon but again slowed to a standstill before reaching the Polish lines. Both trains provided the Poles with excellent cover from German Sharpshooters.
On September the seventh, the Polish soldiers woke up to the heaviest artillery bombardment of them all. The German Army had brought up more heavy howitzers and mortars and trained them to fire across the whole peninsula. It lasted for three hours in the morning. Afterwards, three Polish outpost bunker houses were attacked by flamethrowers. One bunker house was already destroyed by the shelling and the other two was destroyed by flame. By now, the whole Polish garrison was running low on ammunition, food and supplies. Worst of all was for the medical section of the garrison, which completely lacked clean water and medical supplies. The WST medical officer was unable to even maintain basic care for the wounded soldiers.
At around 09:00am, the Germans spotted a white flag waving over Westerplatte peninsula. They all walked exhausted from their defensive positions. When the Polish soldiers got out to the Germans, they saw Major Sucharski who was allowed to keep his sabre. Others said that it rightfully should have been Captain Dabrowski who should have been allowed to keep his, as he were the reason the garrison defied the Germans for so long.
The Westerplatte peninsula and its transit depot was garrisoned by Polish Force and designed and planned to hold for 24 hours, time enough for reinforcements from Poland and eventually United Kingdom/France to arrive to help. Instead, it withstood the German attacks for 7 days. They were defying the Germans even as Warszawa was being encircled by German Panzers. The commander of the garrison, Major Sucharski, went to personally inform the Germans about his force surrendering under a truce flag. Because of the withstand the Polish garrison force, Major Sucharski was allowed to keep his military sabre. The battle of Westerplatte is now a symbol of Polish resistance and patriotism.
Written by: PFC Asboe
Edited by: SSgt. Brewer
Approved by: CoCA and Bn. S3