- Head, Michael
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1993 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The delay was to have unforeseen consequences. On that day, the 26th, Captain Mohuczy, commander of the submarine squadron, moved his staff and the submarines SEP, RYS and ZBIK to Hela. This was the headquarters of Rear Admiral Josef Unrug, commander of the Polish Navy who had served in the submarine training command of the old Imperial Navy in the first war. All five submarines were to operate in the Gulf of Danzig the moment war was declared. The situation worsened until the afternoon of August 30, when the destroyers BURZA, BLYSKAWICA and GROM were ordered to flee to Britain at their best speed. They departed from Gdynia at 4.00 p.m. The fourth destroyer was in dockyard hands.
Then on Friday, 1 September, 1939 at 4.45 a.m. the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN opened fire on the Westerplatte base. The ship was anchored in Danzig’s Neufahrwasser harbour, only 400 yards away. A message was sent out and immediately the Polish submarines put to sea. An important oversight in the German attack plans.
As soon as the bombardment ceased an SS assault company and Hennigsen’s naval assault infantry moved forward. The garrison consisted of only 180 men. Its equipment included a 75mm. field gun of 1897 vintage, two 37mm. A/T guns, four 81mm. mortars, 16 heavy and 25 light machine guns, 160 rifles and about 1,000 grenades. The assault failed.
Next at 6.00 a.m. the Luftwaffe attacked and destroyed the naval aviation base at Putzig, killing the commanding officer, Lt. Cdr. E. Szystowski. It wasn’t till 2.00 p.m. that OXHOFT became the target of the Stukas of the 1st Air Division. Another example of a wrong priority in the planning. The repair ship NUREK and the torpedo boat MAZUR were sunk. The MAZUR continued to fire even as water poured over the decks. The destroyer WICHER and the minelayer GRYF were both damaged in spite of the heavy AA fire put up by the defenders. It was the first sea-air battle of the war.
On Saturday, September 2, German air patrols claimed to have sunk the submarine RYS, but it survived though damaged and leaking oil.
The Westerplatte still held out and at 11.50a.m. the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN again opened fire. This time it was supported by 15cm. howitzers and 88mm. guns from the other side of the Vistula. At 6.00 p.m. over 60 dive-bombers took part and hammered the port. Most of the equipment was destroyed and communications were disrupted, but still the garrison fought on.
At sea at 12.38 p.m. the SEP attacked the destroyer FRIEDRICH IHN from a distance of 450 yards when the destroyer was moving at only seven knots. The torpedoes missed and the destroyer counter-attacked with depth charges. After seeing a lifebuoy it reported the submarine sunk, the second wrong report in two days.
Back in Hela the WICHER and GRYF had been converted into floating batteries and were attracting continued German aircraft and artillery fire.
September 3 was the third day of the siege and orders to hold out for 12 hours in the Westerplatte had long been forgotten. Towards 3.00 p.m. at Hela the GRYF was finally sunk but three of her 12cm. guns were saved and used in the defence of the peninsula. Shortly afterwards the WICHER was hit by four bombs and capsized. Then around 4.00 p.m. the gunboat GENERAL HALLER was sunk.
The next day still found the Polish garrison on the Westerplatte holding out, in spite of nearly one third of the garrison being casualties. Again the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN and some smaller units opened fire, supported now by some 21 cm. howitzers rushed in from East Prussia. Poland was collapsing but still the attacks were thrown back. The 5th passed comparatively quietly.
On September 6 only the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN fired its 15 cm. and 8.8 cm. guns at the Westerplatte. It was not until 4.15 a.m. on the next morning that the attack was renewed with vigour. Again the infantry were thrown back, but it was the last effort. At 10.15 a.m. the garrison on the Westerplatte surrendered. They had held out under fire for seven days.
On the night of the 7th, the submarine ZBIK laid a field of 20 mines in the Gulf. At 11.09p.m. it was sighted by the U-22, which approached to within 200 yards and fired a torpedo. The report said the explosion hit just aft of the conning tower and sank it. In fact the ZBIK survived due to the faulty new German magnetic pistols on the torpedoes. The first of many ships to survive for that reason.