This is an article about the Polish leader Władysław Sikorski, not the Russian aircraft designer Igor Sikorsky.

Wladyslaw Sikorski

Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski (1881-4 July 1943), Polish military and political leader, was born in Polish Galicia, then in the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied engineering at the Technical Institute in Lwów. On the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Polish independence movement in Cracow under Józef Pilsudski, who had built a private army to liberate Poland from Russian rule. This army fought as an ally of the Austrians.

In 1918 both the Russian and Austrian empires collapsed, and Poland became independent. In 1920 the Red Army of the new Soviet regime in Russia invaded Poland. Sikorski commanded the Polish Northern Army, winning one of the decisive battles of the war. The Poles defeated the Soviets and the Soviet-Polish Treaty of Riga in 1921 gave Poland substantial areas of Lithuania, Byelorussia and Ukraine.

In 1921 Sikorski succeeded Pilsudski as Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army and in 1922 he became Prime Minister. During his year in office he obtained recognition of Poland's eastern frontiers from Britain, France and the United States.

In May 1926 Pilsudski established a semi-dictatorial regime, and Sikorski withdrew from politics and retired to Paris. As the international situation deteriorated, he returned to Poland in 1938, hoping to be of service, but was refused a military post when Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939. He escaped to Paris, where he joined with Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk in the Polish government-in-exile, in which he became Prime Minister.

Basing on his experiences in Polish-Soviet war he wrote "Modern warfare" (1934, Printed in French, in English in 1943) where he created ideas similar to Blitzkrieg. So, together with Charles De Gaulle and Mikhail Tukhachevski could be considered pioneers of blitzkrieg.

Sikorski's government was recognised by the western Allies, and commanded substantial armed forces: the Polish Navy had escaped to Britain, and many thousands of Polish troops had escaped via Romania or across the Baltic. These forces took part in the Battle of Britain and fought in France and the Middle East. In 1940 Sikorski and his government moved to London, and began training a new Polish Army.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Sikorski went to Moscow and established diplomatic relations at a meeting with Stalin. Stalin agreed to invalidate the Soviet-German partition of Poland, and to release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps.

In April 1943, however, relations between the Soviet Union and the Polish government-in-exile broke down when the Germans revealed the discovery of the bodies of 4,000 Polish officers who had been murdered by the Soviets, buried at Katyn. Stalin claimed that the atrocity had been carried out by the Germans. When Sikorski refused to accept this, Stalin broke off diplomatic relations.

Sikorski was killed in an air crash over Gibraltar in July 1943. As he was the most prestigious leader of the Polish exiles, his death was a severe setback to the Polish cause, and was certainly highly convenient for Stalin. It was in some ways also convenient for the western Allies, who were finding the Polish issue a stumbling-block in their efforts to preserve good relations with Stalin.

This has given rise to persistent suggestions that Sikorski's death was not accidental. This has never been proved, and the fact that the principal exponent of this theory has been the British revisionist historian David Irving has not encouraged others to take it seriously.

Churchill's Tribute to Sikorski

"We learned yesterday that the cause of the United Nations had suffered a most grievous loss. (Hear, hear.) 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. (Sympathetic cheers.) 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. (Hear, hear.) 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. (Cheers.) 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. (Cheers.) 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." - Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, 7 July 1943

External link