The first clashes

Map of the Baltic Coast in 1939

Timeline of the Baltic Coast operations.

Given its proximity to the German mainland, the Baltic coast was always going to be a key flashpoint in any conflict between Germany and Poland.

Ever since the creation of the Polish Corridor – a permanent bone of contention with Hitler – and the increasingly pro-German sentiments of the Free City of Danzig, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before events spiralled into bloody conflict, especially given Hitler’s expansionist ideals.

The German invasion of Poland started with the shelling of the Polish Garrison at Westerplatte, a peninsula close to Danzig (now Gdańsk), Poland, by the elderly German battleship Schleswig-Holstein

This was then followed by several days of air attacks, bombardments and intense fighting as the Germans slowly wore down the Polish defenders.

Part of the Polish defences at Westerplatte ablaze after being shelled.

The Bombing of Tczew was a devastating event that occurred during the early stages of the Second World War on the 1sr September 1939.

The German Luftwaffe targeted the strategic railway junction and infrastructure of the Polish town of Tczew, unleashing a relentless aerial assault that left widespread destruction in its wake.

The bombing caused significant civilian casualties and trauma, and the town was left in ruins, serving as a grim reminder of the horrors of aerial warfare.

With the war under way, it was inevitable that any Polish targets in the now openly German-supporting Danzig would be attacked. And sure enough, the Polish Post Office in the city was the scene of brutal, close quarters fighting as the German attackers succeeded in slowly forcing out the outnumbered Polish defenders from their positions.

The Poles retaliated by attempting to launch Operation Rurka in Danzig Bay and sow the stretch of water with mines to hamper German movements in this area and hopefully damage and sink Kriegsmarine vessels.

However, a series of German air attacks hampered proceedings and prevented the Poles from successfully carrying out their objectives, leaving the region clear for German ships to operate.

German 105mm Howitzer opens fire on the Polish Post Office in Danzig.

Another attempt by the Poles to influence proceedings in this region and hamper the Germans plans were formulated in the Worek Plan – Five submarines were to be stationed at key points in the Danzig Bay and Hel Peninsula areas to attack and destroy any German shipping. However, a combination of factors led to the original plan never being implemented and attempts by the Poles to improvise and adjust ultimately met with failure and the withdrawal of their submarines, all but one of which ended up interned.

To the north of Danzig, lay Hel Peninsula, a long narrow sandbar in which the Poles had created a fortified zone with powerful defences. The effectiveness of the Polish efforts is reflected in the length of time it took the Germans to subdue the Polish defenders, attacking on land, sea and air and having to resort to slowly wearing them down – step-by-step, village-by–village, until the stubborn Poles were bottled up in the north of the peninsula – but still they fought on. It was not until the 1st October that the Poles eventually succumbed, as much due to dwindling supplies and a lack of reinforcements, as it was to German actions.

German troops crossing the Polish border near Gdynia in September 1939.

Hans Sönnke

The next focus for the German attacks was the port of Gydnia – an important hub on the Baltic Sea and one in which the Poles defended fiercely as the Germans attacked on land from two separate directions. As the fighting intensified and threatened the city centre itself, the Poles were forced to withdraw to higher ground outside the city at Kępa Oksywska and surrender the city itself to the German forces.

At Kępa Oksywska, the Polish defenders, having withdrawn from Gydnia, found themselves restricted to a few square kilometres and constantly fighting off German probes and attacks. As before though, they proved to be stubborn defenders and thanks to being partly protected from air attack due to the terrain, managed to inflict significant losses on the Germans before eventually being forced to surrender, with virtually the entire Polish force dead or wounded.

ORP Orzeł in Great Britain, 1939.

After the failure of the Worek Plan, the Orzeł submarine took shelter in Tallinn, Estonia for 24 hours to undertake repairs.

However, ignoring maritime law (and probably pressurised by the Germans) the Estonians took over the Submarine and started to slowly disable it.

In response, the Polish sailors undertook a daring scheme to retake the submarine, a feat they achieved despite Estonian attempts to stop them – an event known as the Orzeł incident.

Further reading