|Born||20 May 1881|
|Died||4 Jul 1943|
Contributor: John Radzilowski
ww2dbaseBorn in 1881 in the Austrian-controlled region of Poland, Władysław Sikorski received his early military training in the Austro-Hungarian officer corps. In 1914, he became active in the Polish National Committee in KrakÃ³w which originally sought to reunite Poland under the aegis of the Austrian empire. Sikorski became head of the committeeâ€™s military section and was directly involved with the formation of JÃ³zef Piłsudskiâ€™s Polish Legion. His energy and intelligence soon marked him as a rising star among Austriaâ€™s Polish officers. After Poland declared independence in 1918, he led Polish troops against Ukrainian forces. During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, he commanded the Polish Fifth Army. During the Polish Armyâ€™s successful counterattack in August and September of that year, Sikorski led a successful mechanized attack on Soviet forces at Kowel. Sikorskiâ€™s experiences in 1920 would lead him to write a book in 1926 in French on the future use of mechanized forces. During the 1920 war, Sikorski also met a young officer attached to the otherwise fruitless French military mission to Poland who shared his thoughts on mechanized warfare. This officer was named Charles de Gaulle and like Sikorski would write an early treatise on mechanized warfare. Both menâ€™s books were ignored in the west, but read eagerly in Germany where they would help spark a revolution in modern warfare.
ww2dbaseFollowing the war, Sikorski served in a variety of governmental positions, including as prime minister. Following Piłsudskiâ€™s coup de etat in 1926, however, Sikorski fell from favor and spent much of the 1930s in France and Switzerland. After Polandâ€™s defeat in 1939, Sikorski was chosen as prime minister of the new Polish governmentâ€”a government in exileâ€”as well as commander in chief of all armed forces (both those in exile and underground resistance forces in the homeland). Because he was outside of Poland in 1939 and not part of clique of ex- Piłsudskities that ran Poland after 1935, he was not held responsible by his fellow Poles for the Polish defeat. He was the one political and military figure who could hold together the various political factions that emerged in the exile government as well as provide effective leadership for the Polish armed forces.
ww2dbaseSikorski successfully reorganized the Polish armed forces in exile, emphasizing mechanized warfare and air power. He was able to keep the exile government together in the face of mounting concerns over Soviet intensions toward Poland and the possibility that the Allies might redraw Polish borders to appease Stalin. He also helped indirectly to provide guidance to the underground Polish Home Army that was preparing for an all-out uprising against the German occupiers later in the war. Because of this, Sikorski became a symbol of hope and renewal for Poles. His diplomatic skills gained him the respect of his British and American counterparts who found him easier to deal with than his prickly colleague De Gaulle.
ww2dbaseOn 4 Jul 1943, following an inspection tour of Polish forces in the Middle East, Sikorskiâ€™s plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Gibraltar, killing Sikorski and his daughter (who served as his personal assistant). The circumstances of the crash remain mysterious and the subject of much speculation as to possible Soviet involvement. Nevertheless, no assassination theory has ever been proven. He was the only Allied commander in chief to die in a combat zone.
ww2dbaseSikorskiâ€™s death had a disastrous effect on the Polish government in exile. Old divisions quickly emerged and severely limited its ability to respond effectively to Soviet machinations. Nevertheless, the Polish armed forces in exile whose growth he had overseen and directed proved extremely effective and valuable to the Allied cause. In all Poland would field the fourth largest force in the anti-Nazi coalition, larger even than that of France.
ww2dbaseSources: Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland (1981); Prominent Poles (Polish biography website of Dr Roman Solecki): http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/rsolecki/wladyslaw_sikorski.html.
Last Major Revision: Dec 2005
Władysław Sikorski Timeline
|20 May 1881||Wladyslaw Sikorski was born.|
|16 Jul 1941||General Wladyslaw Sikorski was presented with the Standard of the Polish Air Force at RAF Swinderby in England, United Kingdom. Smuggled out of Poland, via Stockholm in Sweden, the Standard would subsequently be held by each Polish Squadron in the United Kingdom during the war years.|
|4 Jul 1943||General Sikorski and other members of Polish government-in-exile were killed in a plane crash in Gibraltar. Sabotage was suspected but it was never proven.|
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