For the first half of D+16 Gdansk was the center of activity in the People’s Republic of Poland. The landing by Soviet naval infantry was completed and the beachhead secure by 1000. Shortly thereafter, two columns of APCs supported by light tanks were moving into the city. The larger of the two columns had been given the task of securing the Gdansk shipyard while the second column was tasked with pushing into the center of the city and linking up with loyal Polish intelligence and ZOMO officers. The Polish defenders were made up mainly of naval infantry, supported by a small number of citizens with military experience.
The defenders slowed the advance of the Soviet columns and forced them to pay a considerable price in men and materials. More importantly, they bought the shipyard defenders time to heavily fortify the shipyard, and gave the Solidarity leadership time to evacuate the city. Lech Walesa and his associates had departed Gdansk earlier in the morning. His destination was not revealed and the only information to reach Gdansk late in the morning was a terse message confirming that Walesa had arrived safely.
The Soviet column reached the shipyard at 1345. Right away the naval infantrymen encountered well-armed and concealed Polish troops and shipyard workers. As the afternoon went on, Soviet casualties mounted, with little to show for it. Gdansk shipyard had minimal military value. Seizing it was regarded as a symbolic victory given its significance to Solidarity and Polish resistance as a whole. By 1600, the second echelon of Soviet troops was dispatched to the shipyard, and Su-25 Frogfoots became available to engage targets. Resistance remained high into the early evening and then as dusk approached, the shipyard defenders began to slip out of the area to rally and set up new defenses elsewhere in the city.
Gdansk Shipyard finally fell to the Soviet attackers shortly before midnight.
In the early afternoon Western TVD’s focus was on maintaining control of the roadways and rail lines stretched across Poland. Three Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions were currently transiting from the western Soviet Union to the battle front in West Germany. NATO airstrikes overnight and sabotage had thrown the timetables into chaos already. As the day went on, and the situation in Germany appeared to be reaching an inevitable climax, CINC-West was becoming more obsessed with road and rail security. At the same time, a small number of rebelling Polish army units were also paying close attention to the transportation system and planning operations to disrupt the movement of Soviet forces west. In one or two cases, these units were sharing information with US Special Forces and British SAS teams in the area, hoping to coordinate their efforts if possible. It was no longer a matter of if Polish and Soviet forces would clash, but when and where.
Author’s Note: Short entry again tonight. I’ve been dealing with some severe allergies for the past week. My brain has been one or two steps ahead of my keystrokes and that has made writing quite a challenge. It’s getting better though, so expect one more Cracks: Poland post and then the Central Front! –Mike