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The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein / The attack on the Westerplatte

The obsolete German battleship Schleswig-Holstein played an important role at the outbreak of the Second World War. The ship moored in the port of Gdańsk under false pretences, and then, in the early morning of 1 September 1939, proceeded to bombard the Polish defensive positions on the Westerplatte Peninsula: the first shots of the Second World War.

The German battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein was built in 1906. The outdated vessel, used as a training ship for naval cadets, arrived in Gdańsk harbour on 25 August 1939, on the pretext of a courtesy visit. It moored directly across Westerplatte, with 225 soldiers concealed below its deck.

After the initial barrage from the Schleswig-Holstein had ceased, Wojciech Najsarek, the stationmaster of Gdańsk-Westerplatte station and a voluntary soldier, tried to run to the Polish lines, but was spotted and shot by the advancing marines of a German Naval Assault Company. Najsarek was the first Polish soldier to fall in the Second World War.

The Schleswig-Holstein didn’t survive the War. It was hit by Royal Air Force bombers on 18 December 1944 and sunk in shallow water near Gdynia (then Gotenhafen). After the war, the Soviet Navy patched up the ship and used it as a training target in the Gulf of Finland. The remains of the ship still exist, but lie underwater.


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