Westerplatte is a peninsula in Gdańsk, Poland, located on the Baltic Sea coast mouth of the Dead Vistula, in the Gdańsk harbour channel.
Prior to both world wars, a resort was established on the Westerplatte peninsula around 1830, which had a beach, a forested park, an ocean-side bath complex and health spa facilities.
On 14 March 1924, Poland was awarded Westerplatte as a location for bringing in military equipment and ammunition from abroad (Polish Military Transit Depot). Inaugurated on 11 Novemeber 1925, over the next 14 years Westerplatte grew from a depot with an 88-man attachment into a huge defensive fort and was considered so strategically important to Hitler that his invasion of Poland effectively started here.
The Battle of Westerplatte was the first battle in the Invasion of Poland, the beginning of the Second World War in Europe. Beginning on 1 September 1939, German naval forces and soldiers assaulted the Polish Military Transit Depot on the peninsula of Westerplatte, in the harbour of the Free City of Danzig.
The depot was manned by fewer than 200 soldiers, but held out for seven days in the face of a heavy attack that included dive bomber attacks. The defense of Westerplatte served as an inspiration for the Polish Army and people in the face of successful German advances elsewhere, and today is still regarded as a symbol of resistance to the invasion.
Today, Westerplatte is one of the most popular tourist sites in Gdańsk and Poland and an essential visit for those with that eternal fascination with World War Two. The ruins of the barracks and two blockhouses – the only structures on the island – still remain. One of the blockhouses has been converted into a museum commemorating the battle and those who fought there, with two shells from the Schleswig-Holstein ironically propping the entrance.
A placid 25-metre tall stone monument now marks the site of this infamous exchange that preceded the levelling of Gdansk’s Old Town and sparked a worldwide conflict that would result in immeasurable suffering (particularly in Poland). Though it is outside the city, Westerplatte is a worthwhile venture for anyone visiting Gdansk. Like so many sights in Poland, it is haunted by it’s troubling history in the face of a beautiful natural environment.
Getting to Westerplatte
There are a few different options when travelling to Westerplatte. If you’re driving, first head out of Gdańsk city centre along route 501 and then take route 89 north; get off the motorway-like road at the roundabout (avoiding the route towards crossing the river again) and carry on along the now smaller route 89 further through partly active, partly derelict industrial quarters until you come to the eastern end of Westerplatte. You can park on one of the lots to the right, or carry on to the end of the publicly usable road and park there.
If you’re using public transport, you have two options. The cheaper of the two would be to take bus line 106 from outside the main train station. The route goes through the same industrial parts and thus isn’t strictly speaking very scenic – but it’s also the fastest option.
The more expensive, but slow and scenic way of getting to Westerplatte is by boat from the Old Town waterfront. Either get a regular Water Tram (line F5) e.g. from Targ Rybny, or even that mock-pirate ship that plies the same route.
Westerplatte as such is accessible for free at all times (though going there outside daylight hours wouldn’t make much sense). The small old museum charges a low admission fee.