The Germans advance

On 10 September, Pułkownik (Colonel) Stanisław Dąbek, the commander of the Polish Land Coastal Defence forces faced a dilemma.

His forces having been caught up in a series of skirmishes with the Germans near Reda, were now centred around Gdynia, but now faced German forces approaching them from two separate directions: From the west and from the direction of the Free City of Danzig in the east.  

Dabek himself was a tough and experienced officer with admirable qualities:

The main bulk of his forces faced the Germans advancing from the east along the coast – commanded by General der Flieger (Luftwaffe General) Leonhard Kaupisch.

A smaller contingent of his forces were embedded at Oksywie, waiting to repel the Germans coming from the west.

However, this risked his forces having to fight a battle on two fronts – something which is generally discouraged in conventional military doctrine.

Luftwaffe General  Leonhard Kaupisch


Close quarter fighting

The Poles were successful in blunting the German blitzkrieg, removing the opportunity for the Germans to use their ‘lighting war’ tactic successfully and pierce the Polish defences. Instead, both sides now got bogged down in close quarter fighting – described as similar to the trench warfare of the First World War - which resulted in a slower German advance but a high casualty rate amongst the Poles, unsurprising given that the Germans had double the number of Polish troops, numbering around 38,000 men.

Seeing that there was no likelihood or reinforcements arriving, the Poles withdrew to the densely forested heights at Oksywie Heights which lay northeast of Gdynia. Although there were no fortifications prepared here, the terrain afforded itself well to defence and the thick trees made enemy observation from the air that much harder. The Poles realised they may fare better here than in the city itself.

Although the Polish forces managed to halt the German blitzkrieg and the fighting resembled World War I on the western front, the besieged garrison was suffering heavy losses and desperately needed to shorten its front lines. As there was no chance of relief of the besieged Polish forces by a strong force from the Polish mainland, the Heights offered a decent defensive position. Although completely unprepared for defence, the area was densely forested and made enemy penetration and aerial and naval bombardment much more difficult.

Kępa Oksywska on the map of Gdynia and the surrounding area from 1935.

Military Geographical Institute

Withdrawal to Oksywie Heights

On 12 September, Colonel Dabek issued the order for all surviving Polish forces to withdraw to the heights, partly due to his concerns that continuing to fight in the city would guarantee its ultimate destruction, although this meant abandoning the city to the Germans.

By 14 September, all Polish forces – approximately 9000 soldiers – had withdrawn to Oksywie Heights, taking with them 140 heavy machine guns, 14 mortars, 23 artillery pieces and a large contingent of presumably traumatised and weary civilian refugees.

German JU87 Stuka dive bombers over Poland during the invasion.

Determined defence

Although squeezed into an area less than 4 km², the Poles were able to successfully defy the Germans and inflict heavy casualties and loss of equipment on them, with 110 separate skirmishes taking place in this restricted area over the course of 5 days (14th – 19th September).

However, due to constant air bombardment by the Luftwaffe; supplies running low an increasing number of casualties and no chance of reinforcements arriving,

Dabek was forced to order a ceasefire and end the fighting. By this point, the Poles had suffered 2000 dead and 7000 wounded – virtually their entire fighting force, demonstrating the intensity of the fighting.

Polish prisoners of war.

Colonel Dabek

Sadly for Col. Dabek, there was no happy ending, despite having led his men bravely and competently.

A tragic end to a tragic battle. But perhaps it is best as a final point to focus on his bravery and leadership throughout the battle, finishing with a more positive perspective on the Colonel.