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Where WW2 began

Poland Day 24. I didn’t have an advance plan for what I’d do but after a bit of research the night before, it was obvious. To round out one of the themes underpinning my trip, I’d use my last day in Gdańsk to see the place where WW2 began.

Westerplatte is a peninsula on the Gulf of Gdańsk at the southern end of the Baltic Sea which had housed a modest Polish military coastal defense base. It was here at 4.45am on 1 September 1939 that Hitler’s invasion of Poland began. The Battle of Westerplatte is widely (though not unanimously) agreed to be when WW2 started.

There were a few ferry options which would also let me see Gdańsk from the water. I picked one that seemed the most direct and arrived for the first service to find it had been cancelled. I decided to kick around for an hour until the next sailing as a spontaneous cunning plan hatched to use the time to investigate the southern end of Granary Island.

My eventual ferry in the foreground. No pirate ship for me!

My eventual ferry in the foreground. No pirate ship for me!

As mentioned a few posts ago, Granary Island (the body of land on the other side of the river) was once packed with granaries that provided grain to 200 ships each day. It’s not a big land mass by any means so it’s hard to envisage how this part of the city was then. Only one building survived WW2 with about 20 rebuilt since then.

I studied the frontages and determined that each slice of building with a peaked roof is a single granary, so I could start to understand how it was possible to have 300 of them on the island

I studied the frontages and determined that each slice of building with a peaked roof is a single granary, so I could sort of start to understand how it was possible to have 300 of them on the island

Each was given a name, the ones here were called Toruń, Crown, Elblag, and Gdańsk

Each was given a name, the ones here were called Toruń, Crown, Elblag, and Gdańsk

Joining the legacy remains of granaries and cobblestone roads is a small city of new apartment buildings

Joining the legacy remains of granaries and cobblestone roads today is a small city of new apartment buildings

A few more people were lurking at the ferry so there was no doubt that it would be operating this time. We all found spots on the outside deck and sat with cameras poised. It took about 50 minutes to get to Westerplatte and it was incredibly interesting having a close-up look at the port and shipping operations along the river. Commentary was offered in Polish and German so I understood approximately four words.

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We turned here before reaching the river mouth, marked with one green and one red lighthouse, and went back to the dock at Westerplatte

We turned here before reaching the river mouth, marked with one green and one red lighthouse, and went back to the dock at Westerplatte

I jumped off and got going, finding what would have been an information trail had most of the glass signs not been vandalised.

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The old railway gate

The old railway gate

Remains of the railway station

Remains of the railway station

This was a range-finder tower

This was a range-finder tower

The tower was open so I clambered up for a look

The tower was open so I clambered up for a look

This was the Fort outpost

This was the Fort outpost

Westerplatte is still a military area so some parts are out of bounds

Westerplatte is still a military area so some parts are out of bounds

Guardhouse number 1 was patched up and made into a museum

Guardhouse number 1 was patched up and made into a museum

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15 Poles died during the battle. This is what Westerplatte looked like afterward - I'm amazed at how intact everything looks on the opposite riverbank

15 Poles died during the battle. This is what Westerplatte looked like afterward – I’m amazed at how intact everything looks on the opposite riverbank

The most impressive structure was the ruins of the barracks

The most impressive structure was the ruins of the barracks

...especially because you could investigate inside

…especially because you could investigate inside

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This 25m landmark is the Monument to the Defenders of the Polish Coast

This 25m landmark is the Monument to the Defenders of the Polish Coast

WW2 anniversary services are held here. Last year they marked 75 years since the battle in 1939

WW2 anniversary services are held here. Last year they marked 75 years since the first battle in 1939

I continued walking around as far as I could before heading back, which was a little further beyond here

I continued walking around as far as I could before heading back, which was a little further beyond here

The return trip was quicker and I grabbed a late lunch before my final expedition. Not far away was another significant site in Poland’s history, a place very symbolic to the solidarity movement which rose up against the communist regime.

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Top of the enormous Monument of the Fallen Shipyard Workers which memorialises those who died in violent protests in 1970

Top of the enormous Monument of the Fallen Shipyard Workers which memorialises those who died in violent protests in 1970

The monument is in the middle of Solidarity Square with other plaques and whatnot around it. Behind is the European Solidarity Centre, opened just over a year ago, though I didn't have enough enthusiasm to visit it

The monument is in the middle of Solidarity Square with other plaques and whatnot around it. Behind is the European Solidarity Centre, opened just over a year ago, though I didn’t have enough enthusiasm to visit it

Gdańsk Shipyard no.2 gate is prominent for being where Solidarity leader (and subsequent Polish President) Lech Wałęsa announced that a deal had been reached with the communist government, after further protests in 1980

Gdańsk Shipyard no.2 gate is prominent for being where Solidarity leader (and subsequent Polish President) Lech Wałęsa announced that a breakthrough deal had been reached with the communist government, after further protests in 1980

It was now late afternoon and I had run out of steam. There was nothing else for it but to return to base and make use of the minibar.

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Just one more day left in Poland.

Distance walked: 13.39km

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. You have recorded so much history and I surely hope that you are cataloging all of your photos. I did not recall that Hitler had invaded Poland. I surely did not learn much or it just was not in the history books. I appreciate so much your marvelous travel photos and all of your documentation. It is well done.

    12 October 2015
    • Thanks so much Yvonne, you made my day reading that.

      My photo cataloging leaves a lot to be desired but at least they’re filed by date and backed up!

      13 October 2015
      • Maybe one day you’ll tackle those photos. It will be a huge project and maybe you’ll find the inspiration to work at it- a little bit at a time.

        16 October 2015
  2. Great post. I was feeling bad that Poland let you down for street art, but glad to see you found plenty of interesting other stuff. 😉

    14 November 2015
    • Haha Lordy yes, Polska served up lots to keep me occupied!

      14 November 2015
  3. Wow. This is fantastic post. Thank you taking us with Your walking tour.

    23 November 2015
    • Thank you Matti! Great to hear from you. I have a large list of your posts in my inbox waiting for me to catch up 🙂

      29 November 2015

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