Axel and Gdynia

Among the many Dutch towns liberated during the Second World War by the Polish soldiers is the town of Axel, located in Zeeland, near the border with Belgium. In the autumn of 1944 at the time of liberation of the Netherlands, it was an important point on the road of the 1st Canadian Army, which included also the legendary 1st Armored Division commanded by General Stanislaw Maczek .

Located on the Scheldt, Axel was a very strong point of the defense line of the German army that tried to prevent the Allies to catch the ports of the nearby Terneuzen, Antwerp and Ghent. They were of strategic importance  for the military transportation supplying Allied troops. The task of liberating Axel was entrusted to the10th regiment of dragoons of the10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade forming a part of the 1st Armored Division of General Maczek. The operation was commanded by Colonel Zdzisław Szydłowski. The fight was carried out solely by the Poles, without the support of the air forces (heavily involved in the operation Market Garden) and heavy artillery. Currently the battle of Axel lasted as long as 5 days – it begun began on September 16 and ended on September 20, 1944. No less than 25 young Poles were killed in it. It happened on 17th September, while constructing the bridge over the canal crossing Axel – Hulst, built for heavy equipment military. It was a steel bridge able to carry a tank 930 ton weight). The Polish “dragoons” named it “Gdynia”, as a reference to the port in Poland, built after the First World War – for them a symbol of Poland recovering after a long term non-existence.

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The wooden bridge no longer exists, but the name has survived. It is commemorated by a special plate…

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and a private museum of World War II, founded by the collector Mario Maas – “Museum of Gdynia”. It is located in the old barn, the only one that survived the war, although it was in the middle of a fight. The walls of this building must remember the heroic Poles who took refuge inside, protecting themselves from the strong German artillery fire.

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On the left: Mario Maas (photo by Tomasz Sawicki).

The “Museum of Gdynia” is practically located in the middle of nowhere, a big chunk of the road from the bus stop. But it’s definitely worth the walk (if you don’t have a car). Collecting military remains since he was 6 year old, the owner Mario Maas gathered there some military jeeps, military equipment, documents, letters, posters and military tents . What’s more – using the mannequins in historic clothes he arranged various war scenes.

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Children can pick up a gas mask, a rifle or a helmet. Since 2010 the museum has also a permanent exhibition dedicated to Polish Gdynia, which has been arranged with the help of the city authorities of the town Gdynia.

Address: Museum of Gdynia, Second Shortening 3 , 4571 RG Axel , tel: 0114-650657
The contribution of Polish soldiers in the liberation of Axel is commemorated not only by the monument…

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and the military cemetery…

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but also by the names of the streets: Generaal Sikorskistraat or Generaal Maczekstraat.

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They are also still alive in the memory and gratitude of the Zeelanders. Every year at the Hulsterseweg, where 25 Poles were killed, are submitted wreaths and flowers.

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Polish cross at the Hulsterseweg.

Renata Głuszek

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Photo: Han Tiggelaar, Tomasz Sawicki, internet, public domain.

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