February 20, 2011

SPY WEEK Famous Polish Spies - Kazimierz Leski

Kazimierz Leski

Kazimierz Leski (June 21, 1912 - May 27, 2000) was a Polish engineer and co-designer of Polish submarines ORP Sep, and ORP Orzel, as well as a fighter pilot, and officer of Home Army intelligenceand Counter-Intelligence during World War II.  His code name was Bradl.

He traveled throughout German-occupied Europe on at least 25 missions disguised in the uniform of a Wehrmacht Major General.

After the war he was arrested and imprisoned by the communist authorities of the People's Republic of Poland and spent seven years on death row before being rehabilitated in 1956. Thereafter he resumed his career as an engineer.

Kazimierz Leski was born in Warsaw. His father, Major Juliusz Leski, had been an engineer and pioneer of Poland's arms industry after the Polish-Bolshevik War. However, following the May 1926 Coup d'Etat, he fell from grace with the Polish authorities. but remained loyal to the government. Consequently, Kazimierz had to work as a railway worker in order to pay for his studies at the Wawelberg and Rotwand College in Warsaw. He also obtained work in a red at also got a simple job in the foundry of the Pocisk munitions works. He pursued intensive study of English, French, Russian and German in order to be able to study professional books skills that would prove invaluable later on.

Immediately after his graduation in 1936, he was offered a job at the Nederlandsche Vereenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux design bureau (NVSB) in The Hague. The company was the leading design bureau in the Netherlands and worked on projects for all the major naval shipyards in the country.

Leski began work as a draughtsman and quickly learned the Dutch language. This allowed him to rise quickly through the ranks of the design bureau. But when Holland had won a contract for the construction of two modern Ozel class submarines for the Polish Navy, it significantly sped up Leski's success in the Dutch shipbuilding industry.

He enrolled at the Maritime Faculty of Delft University of Technology and began additional studies, after which he became one of the heads of the Submarine Division of the NVSB. He was responsible for the comparison of the projects with the supplied machinery.  He also patented a new mounting for the ballast tank funnels for which he was promoted and went on to become an independent specialist. Soon afterwards Leski was appointed the head designer for the Orzel class submarines: the future ORP Orzełl and ORP Sep, as well as the deputy to the lead constructor Niemeier.

Orzel class Polish Submarine World War II

When the ship series were completed, he returned to Poland, where he enlisted in the Polish Army and graduated from the NCO Aviation School in Deblin.

War begins

When Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939, Leski joined the Polish Air Force. But on September 17, 1939 during the Soviet invasion, his Lublin R-XIII F plane was shot down by the Soviets, and Leski was badly injured. He was taken prisoner of war by Soviet soldiers but managed to escape and reach Lwów. From there he crossed the new Soviet-German "border of peace" and in October 1939 relocated to Warsaw, where he joined an underground organization, Muszkieterowie ("The Musketeers").

Fleet of Lublin R-XIII F plane World War II

The group was an en cadre military organization whose primary focus was on intelligence. They were later integrated into the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), Leski –still suffering from wounds received in September 1939, was not fit for front-line service in the Forest Units and thus became a leading intelligence officer with the Musketeers and subsequently with the Home Army.

Among his list of achievements, was the collection of a complete list of German military units, their insignia, numbers and dispositions. Leski and his cell also prepared detailed reports on the logistics and transport of German units bound for the Eastern Front, as well as the state of bridges, railways and roads throughout German-occupied Europe. In addition, they also developed a sophisticated communications network spanning German-occupied Europe from Poland all the way to Portugal, France and the Polish Government in Exile in the Great Britain.


In 1941 Leski embarked on his first mission as courier to France. He posed as a Lieutenant of the Wehrmacht but decided to promote himself to the rank of "Generalmajor"for all other trips so that he could travel first class. Because of his wounds it was out of the question to travel in crowded, third-class railway cars.

Travelling under the name General Julius von Halmann, Leski managed to cross Europe many times with without his true identity being revealed. His disguise, fluency in several languages and his flawlessly forged documents gave him the privilege of witnessing many key events that he would otherwise not be privy to. One such event was during his 1942 visit to the Atlantic Wall construction site. It was made possible only because he managed to persuade one of the passengers in his car that his superiors might be interested to build a similar line of fortifications in the Ukraine. Another event was during his visit to the field staff of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.In addition to his service in intelligence and counter-intelligence, he took command over a cell whose activities were primarily focused on smuggling information and people in and out of German prisons in occupied Poland, notably the infamous Pawiak prison.

Warsaw Uprising

When the Warsaw Uprising began in August 1944, Kazimierz Leski was not commissioned. He fought in an infantry battalion which he formed, Milosz, and became Commander of its first company, Bradl. The unit fought with distinction in the area of Triple Cross Square in the Warsaw City Center. Leski was promoted to captain and decorated with several medals for his leadership and valor including the Silver Virtuti Militari, the Gold and Silver Crosses of Merit with Swords, and three Crosses of Valor.

After Warsaw capitulated Leski managed to escape from a column of prisoners and pretending to be a civilian returned to the Polish Underground. He became a commander of the Home Army Western Area and later Chief of the Armed Forces Delegation for Poland.

Communist prison

After the communist takeover of Poland Leski's underground network disbanded and he relocated to Gdansk. He became a member of the Wolnosc i Niezawislosc anti-communist resistance, under using the the false name "Leon Juchniewicz" he became the first managing director of the demolished Gdańsk Shipyards. Among his tasks was the reconstruction of the shipyard which had been destroyed by Allied air raids and by withdrawing Germans. In August 1945 the Polish communists presented him with the highest civil award, but later on the very same day was arrested by the Polish secret police. They had discovered his true identity.

He was charged with attempting to overthrow the communist regime and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The sentence was later changed to six years. In 1951 however he was not released but charged with collaborating with German forces, and he remained in prison for several years more. He was subjected to solitary confinement and brutal torture.

Finally after the deaths of Stalin in 1953 and Bierut in 1956, Kazimierz Leski was released from prison, and rehabilitated soon afterwards. Despite that, he was unable to find a job, as the new communist authorities of Poland regarded former soldiers of the Home Army with suspicion. He managed to obtain employment as a clerk in the PWT publishing house and had to give up his ambition to work in the shipbuilding industry.

Finally he became a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and was awarded a Doctorate. For political reasons he was prevented from earning the rank of Professor for his work on computer analysis of natural language codes. Nevertheless, he continued his scientific career, publishing 7 books and more than 150 other works. He also patented a number of inventions.

Polish Academy of Sciences

In 1989 after the victory of Solidarity and fall of the communist regime in Poland Leski published his memoirs, which became an immediate best-seller. For the book he received a number of prizes, among them the Polish PEN Club Prize and the Polish Writers' Society in Exile Award.

In 1995 the Yad Vashem Institute honored him with the title " Righteous Among the Nations" for saving Jews during the Second World War.

He died on May 27, 2000 and was interred with military honors at Warsaw's Powazki Cemetery.

Righteous Among Nations

Silver Cross Virtuti Militari
Gold Cross of Merit with Swords
Silver Cross of Merit with Swords
Cross of Valor

source: Wikipedia 

Suggested Links:
Polish Navy
Home Army History 
The Polish Righteous

Editors Note:  FYI:  The images of medals posted here may or may not be the exact version which was awarded to the recipient.  There are several classes for each medal depending on various factors such as type of military (or civilian) service, rank of officer (or soldier), class of award, year in which it was awarded, etc   The lack of sufficient information on the web (or omission) has compounded the difficulty in selecting the correct class of medal. I apologize for any inaccuracies.  

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