SiegeYet while the post office capitulated, the garrison at Westerplatte – numbering around 220 men – held on. The plan was simple: in the event of an attack in Gdansk the Polish navy, stationed in nearby Gdynia (Poland), would sail in to help, aircraft from Puck would be scrambled, and the bridge in Tczew would be blown to stop a German advance into what was the de-militarized zone of the Free State. In the event nearly everything that could go wrong, did. The navy was caught out in the Bay of Gdansk, while the air force was destroyed while still on the ground. Polish customs officers did succeed in blowing the bridge at Tczew, crucially slowing the German advance whose armour was gathered over in Szymankowo. They paid for their bravery with their lives, and all were later shot by their German opposites, themselves also armed and primed for war. Today Stutthof museum has a post-execution picture of a grinning Nazi shooting party taken outside the Pullman wagons in which the Polish officers had lived.
Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, but hopes of outside help being directed to Poland proved ill founded. Yet still the Westerplatte garrison fought on. By now water had begun to run short, and the terrain they defended had churned up into a pockmarked mass of craters. Intensive bombardment from land, sea and air continued night and day, before finally, at 10:15 on the morning of September 7, Major Henryk Sucharski took the decision to raise the white flag. The battle had cost just 15 Polish lives, and the bravery of the troops was recognized by the German general who allowed Sucharski to keep his sword with him in captivity, as well as by German soldiers who allegedly saluted their Polish counterparts as they were marched away. To this day German losses in the battle for Westerplatte remain an official secret. Gdynia surrendered two weeks later, and then Hel – the final Polish stronghold in Pomerania – fell on the 2nd of October by which time Poland had been invaded from the east by the Soviet Union. Ironically, Hel, the final stand for the Poles, would also be the last place the Nazis would relinquish in 1945.