The city of Gdynia in Poland is a newer city, with a considerably short history, but since Gdynia is one of a group of three cities that many travelers to Poland go to see there is much history to be explored within close proximity of the city. Those individuals that visit Gdynia that do want to explore history most often begin their journey at the historic site of Westerplatte, which is actually located in the nearby city of Gdańsk, one of the other cities that make up the Tricity network. The reasons for Westerplatte being such a historically significant site have to do with occurrences that took place there in the early part of the 20th century, namely the Battle of Westerplatte.
Westerplatte sits on the Baltic Sea and is a peninsula located in the harbor of the Gdańsk channel. Gdańsk is only a few minutes away from the city of Gdynia by car, which makes it a great day trip for visitors to the city. Although there is not a lot to do on the small peninsula in the way of activities, there is plenty for visitors to learn about Poland and the start of World War II.
The History of Westerplatte
The Westerplatte Peninsula actually dates back to the early to mid-19th century, at which time it was initially turned into a resort and spa complex. The peninsula consisted then of a seaside bathing complex, a health spa, a beach, and a park with forested scenery. Westerplatte was well enjoyed in those days, but since its history involving the second World War it tends to instill much more morbid memories in those that live in the country that were affected by occurrences that took place there. Visiting here, for those that are and those that are not of Polish heritage, will afford an important lesson in World War II history.
The history of Westerplatte, as what it is today, began in 1924, well before the war started. It was following the first World War that the need for such a place became apparent, so the peninsula was designated as a site to bring in ammunition and equipment for the military. On September 1, 1939 it was realized just how important that move was. This was right before World War II broke out and the site is actually known for being the site of the first shots taken in the war. Those shots were fired by German troops aboard a battleship called the Schleswig-Holstein. From that moment on the site had a much different meaning, to the people of the city of Gdańsk, to the people of Poland in general, and in an indirect way to the people of the world. When Westerplatte and the Fort were attacked the small Polish navy outfit held the German military off for days, but in the end the much larger military force was too much for the defenders of Westerplatte to handle. The naval Major decided on September 7, 1939, only seven days later, that it would surrender to the German military, forever changing the way the Polish people would see the once beautiful place.
What Exists on Westerplatte Today
Today Westerplatte serves as a memory of a time preferably forgotten, but it still stands monumental to the courage of the small outfit of the Polish Navy. In addition it serves as a reminder of a war that, although absolutely devastating, the Polish people were able to persevere after. It is a reminder of the Polish people’s strength to overcome anything.
There are a few different things to see when visiting Westerplatte, and each will help you understand a little bit more about World War II and the site.
- The Statue to the Defenders of Westerplatte – Although the Statue of the Defenders can be seen from the city of Gdańsk, it deserves a closer look for obvious reasons. The enormity of the statue cannot be fully grasped without seeing it up close for one thing. But you can also get a better look at the detail of the statue if you visit Westerplatte. The statue consists of 236 granite blocks and is nearly 100 feet tall, and it dates back to 1966. Since that unveiling long ago there are memorial services held every year on the anniversary date of World War II.
- Westerplatte History Exhibit – There is also a permanent exhibit that adds a bit of detail to the Westerplatte peninsula history. The exhibit is within a forest of trees and consists of four individual parts, each depicting a different point in the peninsula’s history. The exhibit, titled “Westerplatte – Spa-Bastion-Symbol” depicts the peninsula as a spa resort, the pre and post-war eras, and what the peninsula has meant to the Polish people from the war until today. There is much to be learned at Westerplatte.
- Guardhouse Number 1 – Finally, perhaps the most interesting site to see on the Westerplatte peninsula is the Guardhouse Number 1 ruins. There is a museum in the guardhouse that better helps to depict Westerplatte history. The guardhouse is not sitting where it originally sat but it tells a story all the same. In addition to the museum, on the outside are two shells that the Schleswig-Holstein fired when it attacked Westerplatte. Although the museum is not somewhere you visit to have fun, it does make the events that happened at Westerplatte much more real, leaving you with a better understanding of the site.
Not everybody likes to explore the darker side of a city’s history when they visit, but considering World War II was so significant throughout the entire world the Westerplatte sight deserves a visit. The peninsula is not that far away from Gdynia and visitors can get there a couple of different ways. Although you surely want the things you do during your stay in Gdynia to be fun, you owe it to yourself to learn a little bit from a first-hand account of a very significant part of history, and you can do that at Westerplatte.