Władysław Sikorski

Władysław Sikorski

Infobox Officeholder
name = General Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski

imagesize =

caption =
order = Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
1st Prime Minister in Exile
term_start = September 30, 1939
term_end = July 4, 1943
vicepresident =
viceprimeminister =
deputy =
president = Władysław Raczkiewicz
primeminister =
predecessor = Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski (in country)
successor = Stanisław Mikołajczyk
order2 = Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
12th Prime Minister of the Second Republic
term_start2 = December 16, 1922
term_end2 = May 26, 1923
vicepresident2 =
viceprimeminister2 =
deputy2 =
president2 = Maciej Rataj (interim), Stanisław Wojciechowski
primeminister2 =
predecessor2 = Julian Nowak
successor2 = Wincenty Witos
birth_date = birth date|mf=yes|1881|5|20|mf=y
birth_place = Tuszów Narodowy, then Austria-Hungary, now Poland
death_date = death date|mf=yes|1943|7|4|mf=y
death_place = Gibraltar
constituency =
party = None
spouse = Olga Helena Zubrzewska
profession = Soldier, Statesman

Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski (May 20, 1881 – July 4, 1943; IPAudio|Pl-Władysław_Sikorski.ogg| [vu̯aˈdɨsu̯af ɕiˈkɔrski] ) was a Polish military and political leader. He was born in Tuszów Narodowy a village in the present-day Subcarpathian Voivodeship of south-eastern Poland, which at the time was part of Austria-Hungary, one of Poland's three partitioners. Prior to World War I, he established and participated in several underground organizations that promoted the cause of Polish independence. He fought with distinction in the Polish Legions during World War I, and later in the newly-created Polish Army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919 to 1921). In that war he played a prominent role in the decisive Battle of Warsaw, when Soviet forces, expecting an easy final victory, were surprised and routed by the Polish counterattack.

In the early years of the Second Polish Republic, Sikorski held government posts including prime minister (1922 to 1923) and minister of military affairs (1923 to 1924). Following Józef Piłsudski's May Coup (1926) and the installation of the "Sanacja" government, he fell out of favor with the new regime. Up until, and throughout 1939, he remained in the opposition, and wrote several books on the art of warfare and on Polish foreign relations.

During World War II he became Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, and a vigorous advocate of the Polish cause on the diplomatic scene. He supported the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union, which had been severed after the Soviet alliance with Germany in the 1939 invasion of Poland. In April 1943, however, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin broke off Soviet-Polish diplomatic relations following Sikorski's request that the International Red Cross investigate the Katyń massacre. In July 1943, Sikorski was killed in a plane crash into the sea immediately on takeoff from Gibraltar. The exact circumstances of his death remain in dispute, which has given rise to ongoing conspiracy theories.


Early life and World War I

Sikorski was born in Tuszów Narodowy, Galicia, at the time Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father was Tomasz Sikorski, of impoverished Polish nobility (bearing Clan Kopaszyna coat-of-arms and apparently descended from it); his mother was Emilia Habrowska. In 1898 he joined Konarski's High School in Rzeszów, but his mother later interrupted his studies there and sent him to a teacher's seminar. In 1902 he passed a final high school exam in Lwów. Starting that year, young Sikorski studied engineering at the Lwów Polytechnic, specializing in road and bridge construction. After graduation he worked for the Galician administration in the petroleum industry. In 1906 Sikorski volunteered for a year's service in the Austro-Hungarian army and attended the Austrian Military School, obtaining an officer's diploma and becoming a reserves second lieutenant ("podporucznik rezerwy"). In 1909 he married Olga Helena Zubrzewska.

In 1907 Sikorski joined the underground Polish Socialist Party "(Polska Partia Socjalistyczna)", which was intent on securing Polish independence. It was then that he met Józef Piłsudski. Having a military education, he lectured other activists on military tactics. In 1908, in Lwów, Sikorski—together with Marian Kukiel, Walery Sławek, Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Witold Jodko-Narkiewicz and Henryk Minkiewicz—organized the secret Combat Association "(Związek Walki Czynnej)", directed at organizing an uprising against the Russian Empire, one of Poland's three partitioners. In 1910, likewise in Lwów, Sikorski organized a Riflemen's Association (Związek Strzelecki) and became responsible for military organization within the Commission of Confederated Independence Parties ("Komisja Skonfederowanych Stronnictw Niepodległościowych").

Upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he became chief of the military department in the Supreme National Committee ("Naczelny Komitet Narodowy") and remained in this post until 1916. Later, as a commissioner of the Polish Legions in Kraków, he was responsible for recruitment to the Legions, an army created by Józef Piłsudski to liberate Poland from Russian and, ultimately, Austro-Hungarian and German rule. The Legions initially fought in alliance with Austro-Hungary against Russia. From 1916 there was growing tension between Sikorski, who advocated cooperation with Austro-Hungary, and Piłsudski, who felt that Austro-Hungary and Germany had betrayed the trust of the Polish people. In June 1917 Piłsudski refused Austro-Hungarian orders to swear loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian emperor (the "oath crisis", "kryzys przysięgowy") and was interned at the fortress of Magdeburg, while Sikorski returned to the Austro-Hungarian Army. Although in 1918 Sikorski came to agree with Piłsudski (and soon joined Piłsudski in internment), from then on the two great Polish leaders would drift farther apart.

Polish-Soviet War

In 1918 the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empires collapsed, and Poland once again became independent, but the borders of the Second Polish Republic were not stable. On the east they would be determined in escalating conflicts among Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Soviet forces in what culminated in the Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921). After participating in the Polish-Ukrainian War, where troops under his command secured Przemyśl in the opening phase of the Polish-Soviet War, Władysław Sikorski, now commander of the Polish Army in the Galicia region, took part in the liberation of Lwów and Przemyśl. Later Sikorski commanded the Polesie Group during Poland's Kiev offensive in early 1920. He had a good working relationship with French General Maxime Weygand of the Interallied Mission to Poland.

In April 1920 the Red Army of Russia's new Soviet regime pushed back the Polish forces and invaded Poland. Subsequently Sikorski failed to hold the Brest fortress, but then distinguished himself commanding the Polish 5th Army (the Lower Vistula front) during the Battle of Warsaw. At that time the Soviet forces, expecting an easy final victory, were surprised and crippled by the Polish counter-attack. During that battle (sometimes referred to as "the Miracle at the Vistula") Sikorski stopped the Bolshevik advance north of Warsaw and gave Józef Piłsudski the time he needed for his counter-offensive; for his valorous achievements Sikorski received the highest Polish military decoration, the order of Virtuti Militari. After the Battle of Warsaw, Sikorski commanded the 3rd Army during the latter stages of the Battle of Lwów and the Battle of Zamość, and then after battle of Niemen advanced with his forces toward Latvia and deep into Belarus. The Poles defeated the Soviets, and the Polish-Soviet Treaty of Riga (March 1921) gave Poland substantial areas of Belarus and Ukraine (Kresy). Sikorski's fame was enhanced as he became known to the Polish public as one of the heroes of the Polish-Soviet War. He would describe his role in the war in a 1923 book, "Nad Wisłą i Wkrą" ("At the Wisła and Wkra Rivers").

In government and in opposition

In April 1921 Sikorski succeeded Piłsudski as commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces, and became chief of the Polish General Staff. Between 1922 and 1925 he held high government offices. After the assassination of President of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz, the Marshal of the Sejm (the Polish parliament), Maciej Rataj, appointed Sikorski prime minister. From December 18, 1922, to May 26, 1923, Sikorski served as Prime Minister and also as Minister of Internal Affairs, and was even considered as possible President. During his brief tenure as prime minister, he became popular with the Polish public and carried out essential reforms in addition to guiding the country's foreign policy in a direction that gained the approval and cooperation of the League of Nations and tightened Polish-French cooperation. He obtained recognition for Poland's eastern frontiers from the UK, France and the United States. From 1923 to 1924 he held the post of Chief Inspector of Infantry ("Generalny Inspektor Piechoty"). From February 1924 to 1925, under Prime Minister Władysław Grabski, he was Minister of Military Affairs and guided the modernization of the Polish military; he also created the Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza. His proposal, however, to increase the powers of the Minister of Military Affairs while reducing those of the Chief Inspector of the Armed Forces met with sharp disapproval from Piłsudski, who at that time was gathering many opponents of the government. From 1925 to 1928 Sikorski commanded Military Corps District ("Okręg Korpusu") VI in Lwów.

A democrat and supporter of the Sejm, Sikorski maintained his neutrality during Józef Piłsudski's May coup d'état in 1926, which was supported by most of the military. In due course, as a semi-dictatorial "Sanacja" regime was established, Sikorski joined the anti-Piłsudski opposition. In 1928 he was dismissed by Piłsudski from public service and transferred into the reserves. In 1936, together with several prominent Polish politicians (Wincenty Witos, Ignacy Paderewski, and General Józef Haller) he joined the Front Morges, an anti-Sanacja political grouping. Sikorski largely withdrew from politics, spending much of his time in Paris, France, and working with the French Ecole Superieure de Guerre (war college). Based on his experiences in the Polish-Soviet War, he wrote a book on the future of maneuver warfare, "Przyszła wojna – jej możliwości i charakter oraz związane z nimi zagadnienia obrony kraju" ("War in the Future: Its Possibilities and Character and Associated Questions of National Defense", Polish and French editions 1934, English edition 1943), foreseeing the scale of the next World War and advancing ideas similar to the German concept of "Blitzkrieg" ("lightning war"). Alongside France's Charles de Gaulle and Russia's Mikhail Tukhachevski, he may be considered one of the pioneers of "Blitzkrieg" theory. During this period, he wrote several other books and many articles, foreseeing, among other things, the rapid militarization of Germany and the deleterious effects of Western appeasement policies.

As the international situation deteriorated, Sikorski returned to Poland in 1938, hoping to be of more active service to his country.

Prime Minister in exile

When Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939, Sikorski was refused a military command by the Polish Commander in Chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły. Sikorski escaped through Romania to Paris, where on September 28 he joined Władysław Raczkiewicz and Stanisław Mikołajczyk in a Polish government-in-exile, becoming from September 30 the Polish prime ministers in exile. He preserved the continuity of his country’s government and was respected and recognized by the population of occupied Poland. During his years as prime minister in exile, Sikorski personified the hopes and dreams of millions of Poles, as reflected in the saying, "When the sun is higher, Sikorski is nearer" (Polish: "Gdy słoneczko wyżej, to Sikorski bliżej"). On November 7 he became Commander in Chief and General Inspector of the Armed Forces ("Naczelny Wódz i Generalny Inspektor Sił Zbrojnych").

His government was recognized by the western Allies, as Poland, even with its territories occupied, still commanded substantial armed forces: the Polish Navy had sailed to Britain, and many thousands of Polish troops had escaped via Romania and Hungary or across the Baltic Sea. Those routes would be used until the end of the war by both interned soldiers and volunteers from Poland, who jocularly called themselves "Sikorski's tourists" and embarked on their dangerous journeys, braving death or imprisonment in concentration camps if caught by the Germans or their allies. With the steady flow of recruits, the new Polish Army was soon reassembled in France and in French-mandated Syria.

In 1940 the Polish Highland Brigade took part in the Battle of Narvik (Norway), and two Polish divisions participated in the defense of France, while a Polish motorized brigade and two infantry divisions were in process of forming. A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was created in French-mandated Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania. The Polish Air Force in France comprised 86 aircraft in four squadrons. One and a half of the squadrons were fully operational, while the rest were in various stages of training. At that time Poland was the third most powerful Ally, with some 84,000 soldiers in France alone. Fact|date=October 2007

Although many Polish personnel had died in the fighting or had been interned in Switzerland following the fall of France, General Sikorski refused French Marshal Philippe Pétain's proposal of capitulation to Germany. On June 19, 1940, Sikorski met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and promised that Polish forces would fight alongside the British until final victory. Sikorski and his government moved to London and were able to evacuate many Polish troops to Britain. After the signing of a Polish-British Military Agreement on August 5, 1940, they proceeded to build up and train the Polish Armed Forces. Experienced Polish pilots took part in the Battle of Britain, where the Polish 303 Fighter Squadron achieved the highest number of kills of any Allied squadron. After the creation of the pro-German Vichy government in France and the ensuing split of French forces, the Polish Army in the United Kingdom and the Middle East became the second largest Allied army after that of the United Kingdom.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union ("Operation Barbarossa") in June 1941, General Sikorski was among the first to realize that the complexion of the war had drastically changed. Strongly encouraged by British Foreign Office diplomat Anthony Eden, Sikorski on July 30, 1941,opened negotiations with the Soviet ambassador to London, Ivan Maisky, to re-establish diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union, which had been broken off after the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. Later that year, Sikorski went to Moscow with a diplomatic mission (including the future Polish ambassador to Moscow, Stanisław Kot, and chief of the Polish Military Mission in the Soviet Union, General Zygmunt Szyszko-Bohusz). Sikorski was the architect of the agreement reached by the Polish Government with the Soviet Union (the Sikorski-Maisky Pact of August 17, 1941), confirmed by Joseph Stalin in December of that year. Stalin agreed to invalidate the September 1939 Soviet-German partition of Poland, declare the Russo-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 null and void, and release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps. Pursuant to an agreement between the Polish government-in-exile and Stalin, the Soviets granted "amnesty" to many Polish citizens, from whom a 75,000-strong army (the Polish II Corps) was formed under General Władysław Anders and later evacuated to the Middle East, where Britain faced a dire shortage of military forces. The whereabouts of thousands more Polish officers, however, would remain unknown for two more years, and this would weigh heavily on both Polish-Soviet relations and on Sikorski's fate.

Nonetheless, it soon became clear to Sikorski that the Soviet Union still had post-war plans for Polish territories, involving concessions to which he had no mandate from his nation to accede. The Soviets began their diplomatic offensive after their first major military victory in the Battle of Moscow. In January 1942 the Soviets through diplomatic channels revealed their claims to the city of Lwow. On January 26, British diplomat Stafford Cripps informed General Sikorski that, from what he had privately learned in Moscow, Stalin planned to annex Germany’s East Prussia to Poland in the west, but also to considerably push westward Poland’s eastern frontier, along the lines of the Versailles concept of the Curzon Line.

Sikorski commented: "In short, to push Poland over from east to west.... But that cannot be done without Polish consent." Fact|date=October 2007 Sikorski insisted that there could be no question of Poland emerging from the war with territorial losses: "The principles of the Atlantic Charter and the terms of the Treaty of Riga alone may determine the eastern frontiers of Poland." Fact|date=October 2007 His unyielding stance soon proved to be an increasing hindrance not only in Polish-Soviet relations, but also for the British-American-Soviet alliance. Fact|date=March 2008 Churchill and Roosevelt were increasingly torn among their commitments to their Polish ally, the uncompromising stance of Sikorski, and the demands—often verging on political extortion—by Stalin and his diplomats. Soviet intentions were made clear in a comment by Ambassador Ivan Maisky to Churchill, that Poland's fate was sealed as "a country of 20 millions next door to a country of 200 millions." Fact|date=October 2007


In 1943 the fragile relations between the Soviet Union and the Polish government-in-exile finally reached their breaking point when, on April 13, the Germans announced the discovery of the bodies of 4,000 Polish officers who had been murdered by the Soviets and buried in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, Russia. Stalin claimed that the atrocity had been carried out by the Germans,cite book| authorlink = Janusz K. Zawodny | last = Zawodny | first = Janusz K. | title = "Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre" | publisher = University of Notre Dame Press | year = 1962 | isbn = 0-268-00849-3 | url = http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=27886543 ] while Nazi propaganda orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels successfully exploited the Katyn massacre to drive a wedge between Poland, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.Goebbels, Joseph. The Goebbels Diaries (1942–1943). Translated by Louis P. Lochner. Doubleday & Company. 1948] The Soviet Union/Russia didn't acknowledge its responsibility for this and similar massacres of Polish officers until the 1990s. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4102967.stm Russia to release massacre files] . BBC News, December 16, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-10-27.]

When Sikorski refused to accept the Soviet explanation and requested an investigation by the International Red Cross on April 16,, The Polish Government official statement on òApril 17, 1943, published in London on April 18 [http://www.electronicmuseum.ca/Poland-WW2/katyn_memorial_wall/kmw_statement.html online] , last accessed on December 19, 2005, English translation of Polish document] the Soviets accused the government-in-exile of cooperating with Nazi Germany and broke off diplomatic relations on April 26.Soviet Note of April 25, 1943, severing unilaterally Soviet-Polish diplomatic relations [http://www.electronicmuseum.ca/Poland-WW2/katyn_memorial_wall/kmw_note.html online] , last accessed on December 19, 2005, English translation of Polish document] With the action, the intentions of the Soviet Union had at last become clear: it wanted the Baltic states, which Poland had always considered as lying within her own sphere of interest; and moreover it wanted to establish the Curzon Line border, which the government-in-exile (and least of all General Sikorski) would never accept, as it would mean the loss of about a third of Poland's territory.

The Soviets were able to sever relations with the Polish government-in-exile by exploiting controversy over an atrocity which they had themselves committed against Polish forces. They were also able to clear the way for a postwar communist-sponsored Polish government (PKWN) which would yield compliantly to Soviet demands. Stalin soon began a campaign for recognition by the Western Allies of a Soviet-backed Polish government led by Wanda Wasilewska, a dedicated communist with a seat in the Supreme Soviet, with General Zygmunt Berling, commander of the 1st Polish Army in Russia, as commander-in-chief of all Polish armed forces.Martin Dean, "Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1941–44", Palgrave, 1999, ISBN 0-312-22056-1 [http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&vid=ISBN0312220561&id=tdzTU1Uj3zcC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=Wanda+Wasilewska&prev=http://books.google.com/books%3Fq%3DWanda%2BWasilewska%26lr%3D%26start%3D10&sig=xSgcdxXMT-xWJJROFU-qxpYmXcw Google Book page view] ]


On July 4, 1943, while Sikorski was returning from an inspection of Polish forces deployed in the Middle East, he was killed, together with his daughter, his Chief of Staff, Tadeusz Klimecki, and seven others, when his plane, a Liberator II, serial "AL523", crashed into the sea 16 seconds after takeoff from Gibraltar at 23:07 hours. He was buried in the Polish War Cemetery in Newark-on-Trent, near Nottingham, England. On September 17, 1993, his remains were transferred to the royal crypts at Wawel Castle in Kraków, Poland.

On July 2, 2008 archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz decided to give consent for the exhumation of Władysław Sikorski. Such an exhumation would be necessary to investigate the circumstances of how he died in spite of the version provided by the British Government.


Immediately after the crash, a Polish officer who had witnessed the event from the airstrip began sobbing quietly and repeating: "This is the end of Poland. This is the end of Poland." General Sikorski's death marked a turning point for Polish influence amongst the Anglo-American allies. No Pole after him would have much sway with the Allied politicians. Sikorski had been the most prestigious leader of the Polish exiles and his death was a severe setback for the Polish cause. In some ways it was also convenient for the western Allies, who were finding the Polish question a stumbling-block to preserving good relations with Stalin. After the Soviets had broken off diplomatic relations with Sikorski's government in April 1943, in May and June Stalin had recalled several Soviet ambassadors for "consultations": Maxim Litvinov from Washington, Gusiev from Montreal, Ivan Maisky from London. In June, Stalin had also initiated secret negotiations with Germany (via the Bulgarian embassy in Moscow), which had led the western Allies to speculate about the possibility of the Soviets making a separate peace with Germany. While Churchill had been publicly supportive of Sikorski's government, reminding Stalin of his pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and their joint attack on Poland, in secret consultations with Roosevelt he admitted that some concessions would have to be made by Poland to appease the powerful Soviets. The Polish-Soviet crisis was beginning to threaten cooperation between the western Allies and the Soviet Union at a time when the Poles' importance to the western Allies, essential in the first years of the war, was beginning to fade with the entry into the conflict of the military and industrial giants, the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Allies had no intention of allowing Sikorski's successor, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, to threaten the alliance with the Soviets. Poland, was not represented at the Teheran, Yalta or Potsdam conferences. Fact|date=March 2008 Only four months after Sikorski's death, in November 1943, at Teheran, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed with Stalin that the whole of Poland east of the "Curzon Line" would be ceded to the Soviets, even if it were contrary to the Atlantic Charter.

In the summer of 1944, as the Polish Government in London had warned all along, the Soviet Government sponsored a Committee of National Liberation in Poland, which the Red Army was now "liberating." The Committee was recognized by the Soviet Government as the only legitimate authority in Poland, while Mikołajczyk’s Government in London, was termed by the Soviets an "illegal and self-styled authority." At the Potsdam conference in 1945, Churchill and Stalin settled the details of a new Polish Provisional Government in which the London Polish government-in-exile would have only minor influence, further diminished by the Red Army's support for the Polish communists.

In the People's Republic of Poland, Sikorski's historic role, like that of all the adherents of the London government, would be minimized and distorted by propaganda, and those loyal to the government-in-exile would be liable to imprisonment and even execution. Memory of General Sikorski was preserved both in Poland and abroad, by organizations like the Sikorski Institute. The Polish government-in-exile would continue in existence until the end of communist rule in Poland in 1990, when Lech Wałęsa became the first post-communist President of Poland.In 2003, the Polish parliament (Sejm) declared the year (60th anniversary of Sikorski's death) to be the "Year of General Sikorski".pl icon Various authors. [http://www.udskior.gov.pl/kombatant/200306_spec.pdf Biuletyn „Kombatant” nr specjalny (148) czerwiec 2003] Special Edition of Kombatant Bulletin No.148 6/2003 on the occasion of the Year of General Sikorski. Official publication of the Polish government Agency of Combatants and Repressed] He is commemorated in London's Portland Place with a larger than life statue.

Controversy surrounding Sikorski's death

In 1943 a British Court of Inquiry investigated the crash of Sikorski's Liberator II serial "AL 523", but was unable to determine the cause, finding only that it was an accidentpl icon Stanczyk, Zbigniew L., [http://www.dziennik.com/www/dziennik/kult/archiwum/07-12-02/pp-09-13-02.html "Tajemnica gen. Sikorskiego"] , "Przegląd Polski Online", December 7, 2002. Retrieved on August 2, 2005] and the "aircraft became uncontrollable for reasons which cannot be established". A popular theory was insufficient technical maintenance leading to jamming aircraft controls. Despite this finding, the political context of the event, coupled with a variety of curious circumstances, immediately gave rise to speculation that Sikorski's death had been no accident, and may have been the direct result of a Soviet, British or even Polish conspiracy.

Six weeks before the crash, while Sikorski had been at Gibraltar for the first time en route to his Middle East inspection, a Polish government office in London received a phone call stating that Sikorski had been killed in a crash at Gibraltar; the call had been discounted as a prank. It is often mentioned that two of Sikorski's previous planes had been subject to incidents. The November 30, 1942, forced landing at Montreal, Canada, was suspected to have been caused by sabotage. Another incident took place a few months earlier, in March. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5307448.stm 'Polish soldier's 'fishy' sabotage tale'] BBC September 4, 2006] At Gibraltar, due to the special treatment accorded VIPs, there was uncertainty about who had in fact boarded the plane and about the exact cargo manifest—all leading to uncertainty as to the identity of the bodies recovered from the crash site; some bodies, including that of Sikorski's daughter, Zofia, were never recovered.

Since five bodies were never found and the bodies of several members of Sikorski's entourage were never positively identified, some conspiracy theorists postulate that they might have survived and been kidnapped to the Soviet Union. Among the putative kidnap victims was Sikorski's daughter, Zofia Leśniowska, who was reported in 1945 to have been spotted in a Soviet Gulag by a member of the elite Polish commandos (Cichociemni), Tadeusz Kobyliński. According to an article by Jan Kozłowski, Kobyliński attempted in 1945 or 1946 to gather Armia Krajowa personnel for a mission to rescue Leśniowska, but was captured at the border by Soviet agents and never heard from again.pl icon [http://www.wprost.pl/ar/?O=71300 Baliszewski, Dawid, "Bransoletka Zofii" ("Zofia's Bracelet"), "Tygodnik Wprost", no. 1152 (December 31, 2004)] Retrieved on March 24, 2005.]

Sikorski had requested a Czech officer, Eduard Prchal, to pilot the flight. Prchal, sole survivor of the crash, like many pilots who did not wish to tempt fate was known for never wearing his Mae West life vest - but on this occasion, when rescued from the sea, he was wearing one. During the inquiry he denied this, and later blamed the inconsistency on post-crash shock affecting his actions and memory – essentially, on amnesia. Later he explained that he must have instinctively put the vest on when he realised the plane was in trouble.

At about the same time as Sikorski's plane had been left unguarded at the Gibraltar airfield, a Soviet plane had been parked next to it. It carried Soviet ambassador Maisky and a retinue of a dozen or so unidentified officers and soldiers. It had been bound for the Soviet Union, with a stop at a rarely used African airfield instead of the nearby, commonly used airport at Castel Benito, near Tripoli. Eyewitnesses reported that at Gibraltar the Soviets had stayed at the same place as Sikorski, the Governor's palace; Maisky, however, in a 1966 interview said that he clearly remembered having stayed at the Gibraltar Fortress and not having been aware of Sikorski's presence on the Rock. Gibraltar's British Governor, Noel Mason-Macfarlane, who prior to appointment to Gibraltar served as Head of the British Military Mission in Moscow, reportedly withheld knowledge from Maisky about Sikorski's presence in order to prevent any diplomatic incident.

In a recently declassified briefing paper dated January 24, 1969, to the British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, Sir Robin Cooper, a former pilot employed in the Cabinet Office, wrote, after reviewing the wartime inquiry's findings: "Security at Gibraltar was casual, and a number of opportunities for sabotage arose while the aircraft was there." Although Sir Robin doubted that sabotage had taken place, or that the pilot had crashed the aircraft deliberately, he went on to add: "The possibility of Sikorski's murder by the British is excluded from this paper. The possibility of his murder by persons unknown cannot be so excluded." The inquiry's finding about the jammed airplane controls, he wrote, seemed plausible. "But it still leaves open the question of what—or who—jammed them. No one has ever provided a satisfactory answer." It is worth noting that the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service's counterintelligence for the Iberian Peninsula from 1941 to 1944 was Kim Philby, the Soviet double agent who would defect in 1963 and later claim to have been a double agent since the 1940s. Before 1941, Philby had served as an instructor with the Special Operations Executive, an organization specializing in sabotage and diversion behind enemy lines.pl icon [http://www.wprost.pl/ar/?O=2344 Mac, Jerzy Sławomir, "Gibraltarski łącznik," "Tygodnik Wprost", no. 923 (August 6 2000)] . Retrieved on March 24, 2005.]

Suspicions that Sikorski had been assassinated continued to surface throughout the war and afterward, reaching their height in 1968 with the London staging of a play, "Soldiers," by the German writer Rolf Hochhuth. The play contained the sensational allegation that none other than Winston Churchill had been in on the plot. In early 1969 the Prime Minister of the British Labour Government, Harold Wilson, who was familiar with all the above evidence (much of which was then classified and unknown to the general public), asserted before the House of Commons: "There is no evidence at all that there is any need or reason to re-open the inquiry." Nonetheless the conclusion of the 1969 was that the 1943 investigation was politically toned down.

None of the allegations of conspiracy have ever been proven, and the fact that principal exponents of such theories have been mavericks such as David Irving and Rolf Hochhuth [http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,902140,00.html "A Charge of Murder,"] "TIME", October 20, 1967. Retrieved on March 15, 2005.] has disinclined many other western historians to take them seriously. On the other hand, by 2000 only a small portion of British intelligence documents relating to Sikorski's death had been declassified. The majority of the files are to remain classified for the next "50 to 100 years." With the few documents currently available, most historians agree that it cannot be determined whether Sikorski died in a real accident or was in fact assassinated, or by whom. Speculations range from conspiracies involving the Germans, Soviets, Western Allies and even the Poles themselves, and various combinations of these factions.

There have been claims that the arrest of Gen. Stefan Rowecki on June 30, 1943 is linked with the death of Gen. Sikorski and the arrest of the commander of NSZ (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne) colonel Ignacy Oziewicz who was arrested on June 9, 1943. The fact of the matter is that within a period of two months, the Polish Army lost three top commanders. Two of them were betrayed to the Gestapo and one died in a plane crash.Fact|date=October 2007

The crash of Sikorski's Liberator is portrayed in the 1958 film "The Silent Enemy", in which the team of divers charged with retrieving Sikorski's briefcase from the wrecked aircraft is led by Lionel "Buster" Crabb, himself later to disappear in 1956 in mysterious circumstances while diving in the vicinity of a visiting Soviet warship.


General Sikorski was also an active writer on the subjects of military tactics and describing his personal war experiences. His works include:
*"Regulamin musztry Związku Strzeleckiego i elementarna taktyka piechoty" (Drill Regulations of Związek Strzelecki the Riflemen's Association and Basic Infantry Tactics), 1911.
* "Nad Wisłą i Wkrą. Studium do polsko–radzieckiej wojny 1920 roku" (At the Vistula and the Wkra Rivers: a Contribution to the Study of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920), 1923; latest edition, Warsaw, 1991.
*"O polską politykę państwową. Umowy i deklaracje z okresu pełnienia urzędu prezesa Rady Ministrów 18 XII 1922 - 26 V 1923" (Polish National Policies: Agreements and Declarations from My Tenure as Prime Minister, December 18, 1922 to May 26, 1923), 1923.
*"Podstawy organizacji naczelnych władz wojskowych w Polsce" (Basic Organization of the Supreme Military Authorities in Poland), 1923.
*"Polesie jako węzeł strategiczny wschodniego frontu" (Polesie as a Strategic Node of the Eastern Front), 1924.
*"La campagne polono-russe de 1920" (French: The Polish-Russian Campaign of 1920), 1928.
* "Generał Władysław Sikorski: Publicystyka generała Władysława Sikorskiego na łamach Kuriera Warszawskiego w latach 1928–1939" (General Władysław Sikorski: Articles by General Władysław Sikorski in the Warsaw Courier, 1928–1939), Oficyna Wydawnicza Aspra, 1999, ISBN 8390893738.
*"Polska i Francja w przeszłości i w dobie współczesnej" (Poland and France in the Past and in the Present Day), 1931.
* "Przyszła wojna – jej możliwości i charakter oraz związane z nimi zagadnienia obrony kraju" (War in the Future: Its Capacities and Character and Associated Questions of National Defense), 1934; translated into French in 1934, and into English in 1943; latest edition Warsaw, MON, 1972.

ee also

* Polish contribution to World War II
* Polish Secret State
* Prometheism
* Międzymorze


Further reading

* "Generał Sikorski, premier, naczelny wodz" (General Sikorski: Prime Minister, Commander in Chief), London, Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, 1981, ISBN 0902508091.
* Irving, David, "Accident: the Death of General Sikorski", 1967, ISBN 0718304209.
* Waszak, Leon, and P. Lang, "Agreement in Principle: the Wartime Partnership of General Wladyslaw Sikorski and Winston Churchill," "Studies in Modern European History", vol. 20, April 1996, ISBN 0820428493.
* Terry, Sarah Meiklejohn, "Poland's Place in Europe: General Sikorski and the Origin of the Oder-Neisse Line, 1939–1943", Princeton University Press, 1983, ISBN 069107643X.
* Peszke, Michael Alfred, "The Polish Underground Army, the Western Allies, and the Failure of Strategic Unity in World War II", foreword by Piotr S. Wandycz, Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Company, 2005.
*"Dead Men's Secrets the Mysterious Death of General Sikorski", The History Channel DVD, ASIN: B0007V0YCQ

External links

* [http://www.fpp.co.uk/History/Sikorski/Times040703.html Speculation in The Times, July 4, 2003 on who was behind the death of Sikorski and David Irving's reply]
* [http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/Accident/index.html David Irving, 1967, "Accident. The Death of General Sikorski" (full text)]
* [http://www.republika.pl/unpack/1/dok01a.html Statement of the Polish government in exile following the death of General Sikorski (1943)]
* [http://www.polskieradio.pl/podcast/3/files/2007071211582798.mp3 (in Polish) Polish Radio podcast on the subject of Sikorski's death.]
* [http://home.golden.net/~medals/exile.html Polish forces in the west during World War II]
* [http://www.polishnews.com/text/history/was_general_sikorski_a_victim_of_the_katyn_massacre.html Was General Sikorski a victim of the Katyn massacre? Part 1] [http://www.polishnews.com/text/history/was_general_sikorski_a_victim_of_the_katyn_massacre_2.html Part 2] [http://www.polishnews.com/pdf/history/sikorski_p3.pdf Part 3] , By Jozef Kazimierz Kubit, Polish News Monthly
* [http://www.opusmedia.fr/kazimierzduda/default_gb.asp Captain Kazimierz DUDA - 1st Polish Armoured Division - C.K.M.]
*pl icon [http://www.searchengines.pl/phpbb203/lofiversion/index.php/t38684.html Smierć gen. Sikorskiego] Reproduction of several recent articles on the subject of Sikorski's death

NAME = Sikorski, Władysław Eugeniusz
SHORT DESCRIPTION = Polish military and political leader
DATE OF BIRTH = May 20, 1881
PLACE OF BIRTH = Tuszów Narodowy
DATE OF DEATH = July 4, 1943
PLACE OF DEATH = Gibraltar

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