Westerplatte: Where First Shots Of World War II Were Fired With PM-Pope-Poland, BjtMATTHEW C. VITA , Associated Press
Jun. 12, 1987 4:42 AM ET
GDANSK, POLAND GDANSK, Poland (AP) _ At 4:45 a.m. on Sept. 1, 1939, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire with its 15-inch guns on the Polish fort at Westerplatte guarding Gdansk harbor.
They were the first shots of World War II.
Today, Pope John Paul II visited Westerplatte to deliver a message of peace at a youth rally during his visit to this port city on the Baltic Sea.
The pope spoke against the backdrop of an 80-foot-tall stone monument, erected by Polish authorities in 1966 to honor the heroes of Westerplatte.
In the opening days of World War II, the tiny 182-man Polish garrison at Westerplatte, armed with only a few mortars and an old French cannon, held out for seven days against a German land, air and sea assault.
The garrison, cut off from all relief, surrendered honorably when supplies ran out, but their heroism inspired the Polish nation caught in the grip of the Nazi ''blitzkrieg.''
Until the outbreak of the war, the Westerplatte peninsula, located on a promontory on the Bay of Gdansk and the mouth of a canal leading to the port and Old City, had been the site of a Polish military transit warehouse, a barracks and four guardhouses.
Since 1924 Gdansk had been a ''free city,'' perhaps better known by its German name Danzig.
By the summer of 1939 the Germans made it clear they intended to incorporate the city into Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
The Schleswig-Holstein dropped anchor in Gdansk across from Westerplatte on Aug. 25, 1939, on a purported good-will visit just a week before the shelling started.
Parts of the barracks, a ferry landing and fortifications can still be seen on the peninsula.