July 4, 2011


On July 4, 1943 at 23:07 hours the plane carrying Polish Prime Minister General Wladyslaw Sikorski, his daughter, the Chief of Staff Tadeusz Klimecki and seven others, crashed into the sea just 16 seconds after takeoff from Gibraltar airport. The only survivor was the pilot, Eduard Prchal.

General Sikorski was inspecting the Polish armed forces deployed in the Middle East and had returned to Gibraltar to embark on a flight back to London.

Sikorski was a strong leader, gifted stateman and diplomat, and a tireless defender of the Polish cause. His death was a severe shock to the Polish nation who placed all their hopes that his skill and influence with the allies, Great Britain and the United States, would help restore Polish sovereignty and independence after the war.

General Sikorski
In April 1943 Stalin had abruptly broken off diplomatic relations with the Polish-Government-in-Exile in an effort to evade the scrutiny of General Sikorski concerning the Katyn Massacre. German military forces stationed in Smolensk discovered the mass graves of 16,000 Polish officers. The news was broadcast on Berlin Radio in which the Nazis charged the Soviets for the massacre. Despite Sikorski's determination to reveal the truth to the West, Stalin had persistently denied any responsibility for or knowledge of the massacre and instead accused the Nazis for having committed the atrocities. Britain and the United States sided with Stalin in an effort to preserve good relations with the Soviet government. In the process General Sikorski and the Polish nation were ostracized and villified by its western allies. 

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill Teheran Conference Nov 1943
In the conferences which followed at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam, the Big Three (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) deliberately excluded Polish Prime Minister Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, the successor to Sikorski. Just four months after Sikorski's death Churchill made a pact with Stalin in which he agreed that all Polish territory east of the Curzon line would be handed over to Stalin.

The following year Churchill agreed to recognize the Soviet-backed provisional government in Poland, the "Committee of National Liberation". It was the final coup de grace.

In 1943, a British Court of Inquiry investigated the crash of Sikorski's plane, the Liberator II (serial number AL523) and concluded that it was only an accident, citing that "the aircraft became uncontrollable for reasons which cannot be established."  Other theories suggest that the crash may have been caused by a mail bag jammed between the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator of the plane, or that it was due to malfunctioning aircraft controls - or a deliberate attempt by the Soviets to sabotage the plane. 

Since the death of Sikorski 68 years ago, speculation about the cause of the plane crash has not abated. In fact it has taken new momentum since the tragic plane crash of Polish President Lech Kaczynski on April 11th, 2010 in Katyn, Russia. 

Though assassination has been ruled out as the cause of Sikorski`s death, suspicions remain that a Soviet conspiracy was responsible for the plane crash.  A number of factors give credence to this theory.
  • The lack of security on the tarmac meant that Sikorski's plane was completely unguarded and could have been boarded without detection.

  • There was a Soviet plane parked right next to Sikorski`s plane, in fact the very one which had carried the Soviet delegation including Russian Ambassador Maisky to Gibraltar. (Incidentally Maisky was also staying at the Governor's Palace. Strangely, he claimed years later that he was not even aware that Sikorski was also at Gribraltar.)  The proximity of the Soviet plane to that of Sikorski's could not have been a coincidence and would certainly have provided the Soviets with ample opportunity to tamper with the aircraft controls.

  • The presence of notorious Soviet double-agent Kim Philby in Gibraltar on July 4th, 1943 greatly heightens suspicions of a Soviet conspiracy. From 1941 to 1944 he was also Head of the British Secret Intelligence Service' s Counter-intelligence and prior to that functioned as instructor specializing in sabotage behind enemy lines.

  • Following the crash of Sikorski's airplane, the Soviet authorities had salvaged Sikorski's briefcase from the wreckage but refused to restore it to Polish authorities.

Eduard Prchal
  • The explanation given by Eduard Prchal, the sole survivor, was inconsistent. During his career as a pilot he had never worn a life vest while flying, but did so on the night of July 4th, 1943. When he was rescued from the sea he was wearing a life vest but denied it when questioned by Polish authorities. Only later did he admit that he wore a life vest and attributed his temporary loss of memory to amnesia. A while later he explained that he instinctively put on the vest when he realized the plane was in trouble.
(Editors note: I do not believe that Prchal could have put on a life vest during the 16 seconds in which the plane took off and then crashed into the sea. He must have already been wearing a life vest before takeoff.)

  • In Sikorski's third and last visit to America on November 30, 1942 both engines of his aircraft stalled within seconds after lift off, at a height of 30 feet off the ground. General Sikorski walked away with no injuries. Sabotage was not ruled out.

One theory can be ruled out. We know that Sikorski was not assassinated. His remains were exhumed and analyzed in 2009 and showed no signs that he was murdered. Still, it doesn't diminish suspicions that the aircraft was sabotaged. It is interesting to note that by the year 2000 British Intelligence had declassified secret documents regarding Sikorski's death, albeit a very small amount, none of which disclose vital information that might shed some light on the case. The looming question is, why has the British government refused to declassify the remaining documents? What are they hiding?

General Wladyslaw Sikorski and Churchill

Sources and Suggested Links:

Sikorski dies in plane crash (Sydney Knowles, BEM Military July 4, 1943)
Family History of General Wladyslaw Sikorski
General Sikorski: was it murder? (The Sunday Times, July 4, 2003 UK)
Polish WWII Leader to be exhumed in Murder Probe (Deutsche Welle, 11.25.2008)
Was General Sikorski a victim of the Katyn Massacre? (Polish News 12.04.2008)
Results of Sikorski Exhumation Revealed (Warsaw Business Journal 1.29.2009)
Court of Inquiry concerning accident to Liberator aircraft AL 523 Gibraltar (National Archives, UK)
Liberator II RAF
Biography of General Sikorski (Wikipedia)
Katyn Massacre

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