Defending the port

In 1939, Gydnia was a major port on the Baltic Sea and had significant strategic value, as well as being a key industrial centre.

It’s defence was central to Polish strategic plans and one of the major Polish forces – the Armia Pomorze army – was tasked with preventing it from falling into German hands and opening up the Polish Corridor for the Third Reich.

Polish forces

The Polish forces were organised as the Land Coastal Defence (Lądowa Obrona Wybrzeża), commanded by Colonel Stanisław Dąbek and the Naval Coastal Defence (Morska Obrona Wybrzeża) which had Captain Stanisław Frankowski as its commander.

The Poles anticipated that the German attack would manage to cut off the Armia Pomorze from Gydnia, so they planned for the Land Coastal Defence to hold out for 8 – 10 days on its own until reinforcements arrived.

There were around 17,000 Polish troops, supported by 400 machine guns and 40 various artillery pieces – including 8 anti-aircraft guns, 34 mortars and grenade launchers.

The Polish Navy would be able to provide support with the destroyer ORP Wicher, minelayer ORP Gryf and an assortment of submarines and other small craft.

The Poles split their forces and dug in at the following locations: Wejherowo, Redłowo, Krtuzy, Koleczkowo, Kępa Oksywska and Gydnia itself.

Pre-war map highlighting Gydnia's status as a major port.

transpress nz

German forces

General Leonhard Kaupisch

General Fedor von Bock

General Leonhard Kaupisch commanded the German forces tasked with capturing Gdynia, his forces being part of the larger Army Group North under General Fedor von Bock. He had at his disposal:

  • 29,000 troops
  • 300 artillery pieces
  • 70 mortars and grenade launchers
  • 700 machine guns
  • 120 supporting Luftwaffe aircraft
  • 2 pre-war battleships,
  • 3 cruisers
  • 10 destroyers
  • Assorted smaller ships

The German forces comfortably outnumbered the Polish forces with the battleships providing firepower that far outstripped anything at the Poles disposal.

German troops entering Gdynia.

Fighting commences

At this point, fighting had broken out across the country as Polish units sought to repel the German invasion. The Polish coast had effectively been cut off from the rest of the country thanks to German attacks and the Armia Pomorze had been forced to retreat. The Land Coastal Defence had gradually been sucked into various battles since the first day of the invasion – 1st September.

Once again, the elderly German battleship, the Schleswig-Holstein, engaged with Polish land forces – as it had done so at the Battle of the Westerplatte several days previously, although with limited effect. Attempts by the battleship to edge closer to the Polish positions were repelled by Polish shore batteries.

The Germans experienced more success on land though as their ground forces made progress and managed to forge a link between Germany and Prussia – the chunk of German territory cut off by the Polish corridor on 4th September. Fierce fighting occurred neat Kartuzy the next day before the main German thrust towards Gdynia was launched on the 8th. Despite determined Polish resistance near Puck and Wejherowo, the defenders were gradually forced back by the Germans towards the coast.

Eventually, the defence at Gdynia were breached by the Germans on the 10th September and despite a fierce Polish defence which blunted the German Blitzkrieg and turned the battle into something more akin to the trenches of the First World War, Colonel Dąbek realised further resistance in the city would incur civilian casualties so on the 12th, all Polish units were ordered to withdraw towards Kępa Oksywska – a thin strip of land near Puck Bay. Further fighting occurred on the 11th and 12th and once again, the Poles were forced to retreat.

Gdynia fell to the Germans on 14 September and the remaining 9000 Polish soldiers at Kępa Oksywska found themselves in a city unprepared and lacking provisions for a siege. After a series of skirmishes and firefights and a final, failed Polish counterattack, the Poles were forced to surrender, with their wounded commander, Colonel Dąbek, committing suicide.

Polish gunners await the Germans.


The official German history of the Polish campaign effectively describes the ferocity of the fighting and includes the following account of the battle.

Further reading