Surroundings of Hel
The earliest indication of the military significance of the Hel Peninsula was the construction of the military railway line in 1920-1921. In the next years there was merely a military observation post in Hel, and only in April 1929 the ten-kilometre final stretch of the peninsula was announced a military zone.
In the interwar period, around 1 km west of the fishing harbor in Hel, a naval base was built. The chosen site was on the verge of deep waters and allowed traffic of warships of over ten-metre draught. In 1931-1934 a dock 320 m wide and 440 m long was built, provided with a dockside equipped with a railway track to serve ships.
The turn of 14th and 15th c. was for Hel, as it was for the entire Poland, a period of wars and assaults, coming mainly from the Swedes. Hel’s location as the outermost Polish sea base in the Gdańsk Bay made its history rich in battles and attacks of enemy fleets.
In 1939 ground forces gave the Polish Navy four heavy and hardly movable 105 mm canons, purchased for armaments testing. These were two pairs of French guns Schneider, version for the Danish army (barrel length L48) and Greek army (L31).
In 1928 four Schneider 75 mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on warship support pieces were bought in France. The cannons were used to set up four defense half-batteries defending Gdynia, and three half-batteries defending the Fortified Area „Hel”.
The defense of the sea base in Hel required medium caliber cannons, able to fight also the enemy’s cruisers. Thanks to the efforts by Lieutenant Commander Heliodor Laskowski, the idea of buying old guns in France was abandoned and in 1933 an order was placed for Swedish Bofors cannons.
In 1946-1956 the Polish Navy built eleven coastal Stationary Artillery Batteries (Pol. abbr. BAS), equipped with naval guns cal. 152, 130 and 100 mm. It was a part of the plan to defend the Polish coast with moored mines, protected against trawling with coastal artillery fire.
In 1955 another „cape” battery was built, and it was equipped with naval guns B-34U cal. 100 mm. These were universal, quick-firing guns which allowed to fight aircrafts, light warships and torpedo cutters. The guns were positioned on the shore of the Gdańsk Bay, near the fishing port.
Shortly before the war the Polish Navy purchased from the Swedish Bofors another four cannons cal.152,4 mm. They were planned for the second battery of medium artillery, designed around 6 km from the „cape battery”. The guns remained in Sweden, and during warfare operations in 1939 the 34th battery was built in their place.
On September 3rd 1939 the minelayer ORP „Gryf” got wrecked in the naval port in Gdynia. The ship rested on the bottom of the dock, leaning to starboard. After the fire had gone out, a decision was made to dismantle and carry out to land the anti-aircraft weapons that were still in good working condition.
The conquest of numerous European countries and German preparations for the war with the Soviet Union led to a careful defense of the newly-conquered coast of the Atlantic and the Baltic. In the most crucial places the construction of the heaviest batteries, cal. 15 and 16 inches, was started.
The naval base in Hel needed railway as the main means of transport for heavy loads. Therefore, a network of narrow gauge railway tracks, easy to camouflage and serving to carry torpedoes, naval mines and artillery ammunition, was built.
The great importance of Gdynia, invaded in 1939, as the new base of the Kriegsmarine on the Baltic, led to an immediate setting up of strong artillery in the Bay of Gdańsk. A year later during the preparations for the war with the Soviet Union the plan to strengthen the defense, also with the heaviest artillery, was implemented.
In the middle of the 1950’s a dozen or so defense centres to protect the Polish coast against enemy armies were built and arranged in sites that were most favourable for coastal landing. These were Battalion and Company Fortified Areas – the type of sub-unit indicated the size of the defense site.
In the 1960’s the Warsaw Pact countries built a uniform system of anti-aircraft defense. In Poland a defense line subordinate to the Navy was created along the Baltic’s shores from Braniewo to Świnoujście. In January 1963 the 22nd Surface-Air Missile Squadron was formed on the Hel Peninsula.
In 1973 another surface-air missile squadron was built on the Hel Peninsula, located east of Jurata. A site was chosen to face the sea, in line with the present-day summer residence of the President of Poland.
The square on the crossroads of Wiejska and Przybyszewskiego [Commander Przybyszewski] Streets sites a Memorial to the Defenders of Hel. Originally it was made up of two swords set on a shared base.
31 Polish soldiers that died in 1939, including 4 unknown ones, were buried in the cemetery in Hel in Dworcowa Street. In 1959 the first concrete tombstone was made, distinguished by a beautiful figure of a Piast eagle rising to fly.
In May 1939 the reserve company and the heavy machine gun company of the Border Protection Corps (Pol. abbr. KOP) battalion „Sienkiewicze”, as well as the reserve company of the KOP regiment „Sarny” were moved over to Hel. The units together formed a battalion denoted by IV/7pp or the 4th battalion of the Border Protection Corps „Hel”, complemented with Border Guard sub-units in September 1939.
In 2010 a boulder with a memorial plate to the 1939 military police was placed in Komandorska Street in Hel, near the crossroads with Przybyszewskiego [Commander Przybyszewski] Street, and a supermarket.
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