Wladyslaw Sikorski

Wladyslaw Sikorski : Poland

Wladyslaw Sikorski was born in Galicia in Poland in 1881. After leaving school, Sikorski entered the Technical Institute in Lvov. He became a soldier and on the outbreak of the First World War he joined the underground movement for Polish freedom. He served under Josef Pilsudski, who had built a private army that he hoped would enable Poland to fight for its independence from Russia.

In 1914 Pilsudski and his 10,000 men fought with the Austrians against the Russian Army but after the Russian Revolution his loyalty was questioned and he was arrested and imprisoned in July 1917.

On his release in 1918 Josef Pilsudski became provisional head of state and leader of all Polish troops. Pilsudski represented Poland at the Versailles Treaty and his army successfully defended Poland against the Red Army (1919-20).

During the Russian Civil War Sikorski commanded the Northern Army, winning one of the decisive battles of the war. Pilsudki's army made considerable gains and the Soviet-Polish Treaty of Riga (1921) left Poland in control of substantial areas of Lithuania, Belorussia and the Ukraine.

In 1921 Sikorski replaced Pilsudski as Commander-in-Chief and the following year was elected premier. Within a short time he carried out essential reforms and guided foreign policy into a direction which gained the approval of the League of Nations, while he also obtained recognition of Poland's Eastern frontiers by Britain, France and the United States.

After Josef Pilsudski staged a military coup in May 1926, Sikorski retired to Paris. Sikorski returned to Poland in 1938 but was refused a command when Poland was invaded by the German Army in September 1939. He escaped to London where he joined with Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk to establish a Polish government-in-exile.

Following the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German Army, Joseph Stalin agreed in June 1941, to invalidate the Soviet-German partition of Poland.

The relationship between the governments of Soviet Union and Poland was severely damaged by the discovery of mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn. Joseph Stalin claimed that the atrocity had been carried out by the German Army and in April 1943 broke off relations with the Polish government.

Wladyslaw Sikorski was killed in an air crash over Gibraltar in July, 1943.

Primary Sources

(1) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (7th July, 1943)

We learned yesterday that the cause of the United Nations had suffered a most grievous loss. It is my duty to express the feelings of this House, and to pay my tribute to the memory of a great Polish patriot and staunch ally General Sikorski. (His death in the air crash at Gibraltar was one of the heaviest strokes we have sustained.

From the first dark days of the Polish catastrophe and the brutal triumph of the German war machine until the moment of his death on Sunday night he was the symbol and the embodiment of that spirit which has borne the Polish nation through centuries of sorrow and is unquenchable by agony. When the organized resistance of the Polish Army in Poland -was beaten down, General Sikorski's first thought was to organize all Polish elements in France to carry on the struggle, and a Polish army of over 80,000 men presently took its station on the French fronts. This army fought with the utmost resolution in the disastrous battles of 1940. Part fought its way out in good order into Switzerland, and is today interned there. Part marched resolutely to the sea, and reached this island.

Here General Sikorski had to begin his work again. He persevered, unwearied and undaunted. The powerful Polish forces which have now been accumulated and equipped in this country and in the Middle East, to the latter of whom his last visit was paid, now await with confidence and ardor the tasks which lie ahead. General Sikorski commanded the devoted loyalty of the Polish people now tortured and struggling in Poland itself. He personally directed that movement of resistance which has maintained a ceaseless warfare against German oppression in spite of sufferings as terrible as any nation has ever endured. This resistance will grow in power until, at the approach of liberating armies, It will exterminate the German ravagers of the homeland.

I was often brought into contact with General Sikorski in those years of war. I had a high regard for him, and admired his poise and calm dignity amid so many trials and baffling problems. He was a man of remarkable pre-eminence, both as a statesman and a soldier, His agreement with Marshal Stalin of July 30th, 1941, was an outstanding example of his political wisdom. Until the moment of his death he lived in the conviction needs of the common struggle and in the faith that a better Europe will arise in which a great and independent Poland will play an honorable part. We British here and throughout the Commonwealth and Empire, who declared war on Germany because of Hitler's invasion of Poland and in fulfillment of our guarantee, feel deeply for our Polish allies in their new loss.

We express our sympathy to them, we express our confidence in their immortal qualities, and we proclaim our resolve that General Sikorski's work as Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief shall not have been done in vain. The House would, I am sure, wish also that its sympathy should be conveyed to Madame Sikorski, who dwells here in England, and whose husband and daughter have both been simultaneously killed on duty.