March 27, 2012


General Wladyslaw Sikorski

"When the sun is higher, Sikorski is nearer."

Wladyslaw Sikorski was the personification of the hopes
of the Polish people for a free and independent Poland.
The struggle for Poland's liberation had been a very long and arduous one. At the end of WWI Poland finally
regained its independence after having been virtually erased from the map for 123 years. 

Sikorski had been at the forefront of the struggle. With an educational background in engineering and military tactics he became actively involved in a number of Polish underground organizations; in 1907 Sikorski joined the underground Polish Socialist Party; in 1908 he organized the secret Zwiazek Walki Czynnej ( Combat Association) and two years later, the Zwiazek Strzelecki (Rifleman's Association). The objective was to instigate an uprising against the Russian empire, one of the partitioners.  The creation of the latter association while approved by a statute of the Austrian authorities, were Polish paramilitary troops, formed illegally.  At the outbreak of WWI, there were over 8,000 "members" dispersed among 200 groups. Many of them joined the Polish Legions. During WWI Sikorski was the chief head of the military section of the Supreme National Committee and then as commissioner he was responsible for recruitment to the Polish Legions in Krakow, the latter organization created by Jozef Pilsudski.

ZwińÖzek StrzeleckiRifleman's Association

No sooner had WWI come to an end that the Polish-Soviet war (1919-21) broke out over the tenuous question of Poland's newly established borders. By that time Sikorski had become a high-ranking officer of the Polish army, and had led successful battles capturing the ancient city of Lwow, and Przyemsyl.  The Soviet forces were confident of achieving an easy victory but were very surprised by the
unexpected.  In what has been termed "Miracle at the Vistula", Polish forces under Sikorski's command succeeded in utterly defeating the Bolshevik advance towards Warsaw, giving Pilsudski the time needed to organize a counter-offensive.

Polish Soldiers displaying captured Soviet banners
Aftermath of Battle of Warsaw - Soviet-Polish War

Sikorskis' forces successfully penetrated deep into Latvia and Belarus, heaping further humiliation upon the defeated Russians. General Sikorski was hailed as the beloved hero of Poland and was decorated with Poland's highest honour, the Virtuti Militari Medal.

During the inter-war period Sikorski had succeeded Pilsudski as the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces (April 1921), and also became Chief of the Polish General Staff. For the next several years he rose to very high government ranks. From December 1922 to May 26, 1923 he served as Poland's Prime Minister as well as Minister of Internal Affairs.

Charles de Gaulle WW I
During this period Sikorski garnered immense respect from and support of the Polish people. He established various reforms, and built a viable foreign policy that received international approval through the League of Nations. Moreover, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States all recognized the legitimacy of Poland's new frontiers, won during the Russian-Polish war.

Sikorski had made significant strides in strengthening Polish-French cooperation. It was instrumental in laying the foundations that led to Poland's victory during the Polish Soviet War.  The French Military Mission to Poland provided the military organization and logistical assistance vital to the nascent Polish armies. Among the French officers involved in the mission was the future General Charles de Gaulle. 

Polish Badge KOP
From 1923-24 Sikorski held the position of Chief Inspector of Infantry. And the following year, under Prime Minister Wladyslaw Grabski, Sikorski served as Minister of Military Affairs, guiding the modernization of the Polish military.   He created the Border Protection Corps (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza) a military formation to defend Polands' eastern borders from attacks of Soviet armies. From 1925-1928 Sikorski became Commander of the Military Corp District VI in Lwow, a city of great historical importance imbued with a rich Polish and Jewish cultural heritage.

Polish soldiers KOP
Despite these contributions, Sikorski was dismissed from public service in 1928 by Pilsudski and was
transferred to the Reserves; (Sikorski had joined the anti-Pilsudski movement and opposed the semi-dictatorial regime of the Sanacja.) For the next few years Sikorski had withdrawn from politics altogether and spent his time in Paris working with officials of the Ecole Superieure de Guerre and writing numerous books and articles about the scale of future warfare. Sikorski was a visionary and a pioneer of the theory of the "blitzkrieg". His publications were carefully scrutinized by several countries, in particular by Soviet Russia.

Nazi Blitzkrieg Sept 1, 1939
Soviet infantry invading Poland Sept 17, 1939
The rapid militarization by the Nazi Wehrmacht were to bring these theories to fruition. On 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland in a "lightning war" overrunning her armies with overwhelming numbers and fire power.  Seventeen days later Soviet armies invaded Poland from the east -  the culmination of a secret pact by Hitler and Stalin to partition Poland and destroy the very foundations of her existence. To the world it appeared that Poland had collapsed.  But Poland was not yet lost. 

Wladylsaw Sikorski had returned to Poland in 1938 ready to be of service however he was refused a military command by then Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly (successor to Pilsudski). Thousands of Polish armed forces had escaped the German onslaught. By the end of the month, Sikorski too had evacuated Poland escaping through a perilous route from Romania to Paris.  Sikorski was at once officially installed as the Prime Minister-in-exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish forces, joining President-in-exile Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk.

Despite the fall of Poland, Sikorski was recognized by the West as the legitimate head of the Polish government-in-exile. Through his strong leadership he was instrumental in maintaining the cohesion of the Polish government and Armed Forces, and distinguished himself as Poland's most ardent and outspoken advocate.

But Poland was not without its armies. Though thousands of Polish armed forces had evacuated Poland, they remobilized on French soil. The Polish Highland Brigade was created and immediately deployed to defend French borders. Meanwhile the Polish Air Force was being equipped with 86 aircraft among four squadrons (amid highly questionable logistics controlled by the French authorities); and the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was formed in French-mandated Syria. In all there were roughly 80,000 Polish troops in France ready to fight. At the time Poland was the third largest ally.

But with the Fall of France, Polish forces evacuated once again - this time to England. On June 19, 1940 Prime Minister Sikorski met with Winston Churchill, and pledged to provide Polish forces to fight alongside those of Britain. By August, Sikorski and Churchill signed the Polish-British Military Agreement calling for the creation, and training of the Polish Armed Forces.  Most renowned were the Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain the summer of 1940, and whose pilots scored the highest ratio of kills. Most famous was the 303 squadron (the Kosciuszko squadron).  At this juncture, Poland became the second largest ally, with troops stationed in Great Britain and the Middle East.

General Sikorski and Churchill inspecting Polish Troops in Scotland

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, the dynamics of the war changed significantly. Churchill had been hoping for just such an outcome to curry favor with the Soviets, an ally upon whom the British relied to win the war against the Nazi scourge. It also presented ominous changes to Poland's relationship with Britain, and especially that with Russia. It came as no surprise to Sikorski. He was a pragmatic strategist and knew what the outcome meant. Seeing no other alternative he succumbed to pressure from the British Foreign Office and opened negotiations with the Russians.

In July 1941 General Sikorski and Ivan Maisky agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations between Poland and Russia and by mid-August, the Sikorsky-Maisky Pact was officially signed.  The Soviets abrogated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August of 1939 as null and void, and agreed to the release of tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war on the basis of an "amnesty" , a condition which was an absurdity considering that Soviets were the aggressors. (The evacuation was fraught with numerous obstacles and took place under the most arduous conditions. Thousands of Poles perished. Those who survived and made it to the Middle East were eventually formed into the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders.)

Signing of Sikorski-Maisky Agreement July 1941

Amid the huge numbers of incoming Polish refugees, there was a conspicuous void.  Many thousands of Polish officers never showed up, and their absence could not yet be explained.  Sikorski was relentless in his attempt to resolve the mystery, but no avail. Stalin provided only flimsy excuses. He assured Sikorski and Anders that all the Polish soldiers had been released but that the Soviets may have "lost track" of some of them in Manchuria.

L-R General Anders, General Sikorski, Stalin, Kujbyszewie

The horrifying truth was discovered in April 1943 when Nazi German forces found the mass graves in Katyn Forest, twelve miles west of Smolensk, Russia.  Thousands upon thousands of bodies had been exhumed and examined. They were the remains of the Polish Officers who had disappeared and who had been executed by the Soviet NKVD in 1940, upon Stalin's order.

Russian-Polish relations had always been fragile, but now had reached the breaking point. On April 16, General Sikorski fervently demanded an investigation by the International Red Cross. Ten days later Stalin broke off diplomatic ties with Poland, and in a futile attempt to create a smoke screen, accused the Polish government-in-exile of cooperating with Nazi Germany. (Russian governments have since refused to admit Stalin's culpability for the massacre, that is, until the 1990s).

Exhumed bodies of Polish Officers massacred at Katyn Forest, Russia

Another very contentious issue between Russia and Poland dealt with the subject of Polands eastern border. Stalin had long intended that the border be draw along the Curzon Line, which would sever one third of Poland's vast territory.  Sikorski fiercely argued in defense of maintaining Poland's pre-war borders and refused to yield to any pressures. But in the end Poland was betrayed by its closest allies - Great Britain and the United States,  both of whom gave Stalin whatever he wanted in exchange for his alliance. (Read about Yalta Conference)
Crash of Sikorski's Liberator July 4, 1943

On July 4, 1943 the Liberator plane carrying Sikorski and several other passengers plunged into the sea sixteen
seconds after takeoff from Gibraltar. All the passengers except for the pilot were killed. The cause of the crash was attributed to "engine trouble".  However, a Soviet conspiracy has never been ruled out. 

In fact, there were several incidences prior to the fatal crash, in which Sikorski's plane had been tampered with  Sikorski was very outspoken and a threat to the new Anglo-American-Soviet alliance, all the more reason for Stalin to want Sikorski out of the way.  His death marked a turning point not only for Polish-Anglo relations, but the future of the Polish nation and its people.  Sikorski's successor, Stanislaw Mikolajcyzak was considered "persona non grata" and possessed none of the influence nor diplomacy that Sikorski wielded so successfully.  To Churchill and Roosevelt, handing Poland over to Stalin became as easy as childs play.

Sikorski's death came as a terrible blow to a nation which hoped and prayed for freedom and independence. Poland's national newspaper, Biuletyn Informacyjny published the news to a grief-stricken country and set July 15, 1943 as a national day of mourning.

The memory of Sikorski is still very much alive in the soul of the Polish people. Since Sikorski's tragic death, statues and monuments of him have been erected throughout the world to preserve his memory.  Among the many centres and institutes there is also:  the Sikorski Institute, in London, England; a memorial plaque at Gibraltar dedicated to Sikorski; a statue of Sikorski on Portland Place in London, a stone monument on the grounds of Place Polonaise, in Toronto, Canada, and a seated sculpture of Sikorski (as a young man) at Inowroclaw, Poland. Even a film was produced in 1948, entitled, "The Enemy" and in 2003 the Polish Sejm declared the 60th anniversary of Sikorski's death as "Year of General Sikorski".

That Sikorski's name continues to be omitted from Western history is cause for concern.  It is of vital importance for historical accuracy to include the details about Poland, in particular the story of a great man and a great general who had much to teach by example. May the world come to recognize the name Sikorski and understand the true meaning of honour and greatness.

Statue of General Sikorski
Portland Place, London

General Sikorskis' Medals

Order of the White Eagle (awarded posthumously, 1943)
Commander's Cross of the Order of the Virtuti Militari
Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Order of the Cross of Grunwald, 1 Class (awarded posthumously 1946)
Cross of Valour (4x)
Gold Cross of Merit
Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Lion (Czechoslovakia)
Cross of Libery, Class I and II, (Estonia)
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
War Cross (Norway - awarded posthumously August 1943)

(click on name)

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