Was Poland's Wartime Leader Murdered? | HistoryNet MENU

Was Poland’s Wartime Leader Murdered?

By Justin Ewers
3/24/2009 • World War II News

MAY 2009 —The B-24 Liberator carrying the leader of Poland’s government-in-exile on July 4, 1943, had barely cleared the runway on the island of Gibraltar when disaster struck. Before the plane’s wheels could be fully retracted, it began losing altitude. Sixteen seconds after takeoff, it slammed into the sea. The Polish prime minister, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, was killed, along with 15 others. Only the pilot survived.

A British inquiry conducted after the crash concluded it had been an accident. The aircraft’s controls had jammed, it said, and the plane’s pilot was absolved of any blame. The case of Sikorski, who had taken over the country’s government after the German invasion in 1939, was considered closed.

Questions about Sikorski’s death, though, have never completely disappeared. Immediately after the disaster, Poles especially suspected foul play—believing the Soviets, or even the British, may have had reasons to murder their prime minister. Three months before Sikorski was killed, Stalin, upset with Sikorski’s call for an investigation into the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish officers, had broken off diplomatic relations with the Polish government. The Soviets, the theory went, wanted the matter hushed up, and the British, eager to please an important ally, were aware Sikorski would never agree to give up parts of Poland to Stalin after the war, something the Allies had already begun negotiating.

Some even suspected that Sikorski and the other passengers had been attacked on the plane during takeoff, causing the crash.

It was only when Poland emerged from behind the iron curtain after the cold war, though, that any legitimate investigation could be conducted. In 1993, Sikorski’s remains were returned to Poland from a cemetery in England. And last fall, the Polish government, responding to growing calls to solve the mystery of Sikorski’s death, exhumed the general’s body and subjected it to a battery of forensic tests.

The results, which were announced in January, showed that Sikorski’s injuries were consistent with an airplane crash and that he had not, in fact, been stabbed, shot, poisoned, or strangled. “We can [now] rule out certain hypotheses that have turned up over the years,” said Ewa Koj, a prosecutor for Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, which had formally opened the case.

But many historians say investigators still can’t rule out others. “It’s still possible the plane was sabotaged,” says Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, academic dean of the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. Several postwar British investigations acknowledged as much, he points out. A 1969 British Cabinet Office review of the original inquiry’s findings found there was ample opportunity for someone to damage the plane’s controls. “Security at Gibraltar was casual,” the report said, “and a number of opportunities for sabotage arose while the aircraft was there.”

Some scholars don’t believe it’s a coincidence, either, that Soviet double agent Kim Philby was head of the British Secret Intelligence Service’s counterintelligence department for the Iberian Penin-sula—and Gibraltar—at the time of the crash. It’s entirely possible, they say, that the British government may not have ordered Sikorski to be killed, but that low-level operatives were involved.

Dariusz Baliszewski, a Polish historian who has been researching the crash for 15 years, believes the British are responsible, at some level, for Sikorski’s death. “The British were at least passive witnesses because nothing could take place at Gibraltar without them knowing,” he says.

Both the British and Russian governments have refused scholars access to the sections of their archives that might include documents on the affair, hampering outside investigations. “That, of course, only increases the paranoia,” says Chodakiewicz, who acknowledges that the British, at least, may be keeping their secret service files classified to protect the identities of wartime spies.

But, he says, “everything’s still possible.” Chodakiewicz, for one, is pushing the Polish government to pull up the wreckage of Sikorski’s plane from the ocean floor so the aircraft’s controls can be examined. Otherwise, he says, “it is always going to be a mystery.”

7 Responses to Was Poland’s Wartime Leader Murdered?

    • MAREK says:



  1. Larry C. says:

    There had been a previous attempt at sabotaging Sikorski’s aircraft. Sand was found in the fuel tanks rather by accident. The individual who discovered the sand was removed from servicing the planes. Another plane was used for his flight. The crash happened on the immediate next fight after. The British new that Sikorski would cause problems to the plan (at the Yalta Conference) to give Eastern Europe to Soviet control.
    The British had a motive. They had the means (Dariusz Baliszewski said nothing could take place at Gibraltar without them knowing) and they had the opportunity.
    The Czech pilot was never accessible to Polish investigators.

  2. Revd Frank Gelli says:

    If Churchill really ordered the assassination of that brave Polish hero, well, it would have been perfectly consistent with that leader’s ruthlessness and absence of moral scruples when it came to winning the war…

  3. Paul says:

    Well I don’t want to come across as a drama queen but in the suburbs of Vancouver today I came across an old guy who engaged me in conversation and hinted about his earlier life in the cold war that suggested to me he was in some kind of secret service. Although very lucid mentally, physically he was very aged. And as we were sitting on this bench, all of a sudden he asked me if I had ever been to Gibraltar, and I told him yes, one time, but as it is basically a rock, there’s no real reason to visit a second time I said. All of a sudden he starts to tell me about the Sikorsky \assassination\ and how one time he spoke with an aircraft mechanic who worked on Gibraltar during the war, and who told him how \they\ crimped the fuel line of Sikorsky’s plane, so that it would just take off but then with no fuel to the engines it would drop into the sea.And as we now know, that is exactly what happened.
    Until today I knew nothing of note about this story, and had maybe vaguely heard of the name Sikorsky, but no details, until this happened today.

  4. Paul says:

    This old guy BTW was not Canadian but seemd to be,to me, European and when I probed him about where he came from, he just said North East Europe?

    While I’m at it,what’s this crap about solving a stupid puzzle before you can post each time here?

    • Editor, HistoryNet says:

      Paul, regarding having to solve a puzzle, we’re sorry if it disturbs you, but that puzzle is the most effective spam filter we’ve tried yet. We were being buried under spam before we switched to using the puzzle. Spam is a sad reality of the Internet.

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