This Day in History July 4, 1943
#1

Just got done reading This Day in History WWII and thought this was worth copying here. Interesting tidbits that you don't run across every day. Being half Polish, it certainly caught my attention.

 

July 4

 

1943 Polish general fighting for justice dies tragically

 

 

On this day in 1943, Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski dies when his plane crashes less than a mile from its takeoff point at Gibraltar. Controversy remains over whether it was an accident or an assassination.

 

Born May 20, 1888, in Austrian Poland (that part of Poland co-opted by the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Sikorski served in the Austrian army. He went on to serve in the Polish Legion, attached to the Austrian army, during World War I, and fought in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920-21. He became prime minister of Poland for a brief period (1922-23).

 

When Germany invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, Sikorski became leader of a Polish government-in-exile in Paris. He developed a good working relationship with the Allies-until April 1943, when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin broke off Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations after Sikorski requested that the Red Cross investigate the alleged Soviet slaughter of Polish officers in the Katyn forest of eastern Poland in 1942.

 

After Germany and the USSR divided up Poland in 1939, thousands of Polish military personnel were sent to prison camps by the Soviets. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin created a pact with the Polish government-in-exile to cooperate in the battle against the Axis. Given the new relationship, the Poles requested the return of the imprisoned military men, but the Soviets claimed they had escaped and could not be found. But when Germany overran eastern Poland, the part that had previously been under Soviet control, mass graves in the Katyn forest were discovered, containing the corpses of over 4,000 Polish officers, all shot in the back. The Soviets, apparently, had massacred them. But despite the evidence, the Soviet government insisted it was the Germans who were responsible.

 

Once news of the massacre spread, a formal Declaration of War Crimes was signed in London on January 13, 1943. Among the signatories was General Sikorski and General Charles de Gaulle. But Sikorksi did not want to wait until after the war for the punishment of those responsible for the Katyn massacre. He wanted the International Red Cross to investigate immediately.

 

It is believed that Britain considered this request a threat to Allied solidarity and some believe that in order to silence Sikorski on this issue, the British went so far as to shoot down his plane. There is no solid evidence of this.

 

After the war, the communist Polish government officially accepted the Soviet line regarding the mass graves. It was not until 1992 that the Russian government released documents proving that the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, had been responsible for the Katyn slaughter-backed up by the old Soviet Politburo.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
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#2

As always in History.."the enemy of my enemy is my friend", hence the uncomfortable alliance many were forced to make with Stalin in WWII. Who knows for sure if Sikorski was "silenced" by the British or not. One thing for certain..we needed the Russian army to defeat Hitler's armies in WWII, as the nazis appeared to be the greater threat at the time, and I think History will show that we (the Allies) made the right call at the time.

 

Jim

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#3

Oh ya, you're right. Often and sometimes unfortunately, we are forced to pick between the lesser of two evils. Happened in WWII. Reoccurs again and again.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply
#4

I checked my reference book for more info on General Sikorski to see if it mentioned anything about his sudden disappearance. Nothing new. Here is some info to go along with the history of the free Polish Army.

 

On 30 July 1941, an agreement was reached in London between the Polish Gov't in exile lead by General Wladyslaw Sikorski and the Soviet Gov't allowed the Poles staying on Soviet soil after Sept 1939 to join the Polish Armed Forces. On 14 August, two Polish divisions were organized near Orenburg. Later, Sikorski visited Moscow and convinced them to move his troops further south to warmer climate. Sikorski intended to use his troops to fight alongside the Sovit Army but this was not to be.

 

Some Polish fighters were allowed to go to England to fill the need for existing free Polish units already there. In August 1942, Churchill negotiations allowed the 44,000 soldiers and 26,000 civilians to transfer to Iraq. The British wanted to have more troops in that area to protect their oil fields. Polish General Anders wanted to ensure the Polish troops would be under the command of the British.

 

In the desert garrison of Iraq, the Poles formed into divisions based on the British pattern and joined up with veterans of the North African campaigns and others from England. It proved impossible to form an entire army, so they constituted a Corps, comprised of 2 divisions, each of 2 infantry brigades, instead of the 3 normally contained in a British division.

 

During winter, the Poles performed garrison duty in the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq, with the general HQ in Baghdad area. Here they continued in intensive training thru the summer of 1943.

 

In June 1943, the Polish Prime Minister and Supreme Command, General Sikorski, visited the forces and christened them as the II Polish Corps. On 4 July, returning to England, General Sikorski was killed in an airplane crash.

 

The II Polish Corps was moved to Palestine and Jordan for further training that would better simulate the terrain of Italy. Just before leaving for Italy, the II Corps consisted of:

 

3rd Carpathian Rifle Division = 1 & 2 Rifle Brigades - 13,500 men

5th Frontier Infantry Division =5 & 6 Infty Brigades - 12,900 men

2nd Armoured Brigade (52 Sherman and 11 Stuart tanks) - 3,400 men

2nd Artillery Group = 7, 9, 10 & 11 Artillery Regts

30% were artillery, 23% were infantry, 6% engineers, 5% armoured cavalry,

4.5% armoured units, 3.5% signals. 10% transport

Total of 45,000 men

 

The II Polish Corps arrived in Italy on 21 December 1943, at Taranto. Soon they were joined by more free Poles who had heard of their new formation and the organization grew to 110,000 Poles.

 

Reference: "Poles in the Italian Campaign: 1943-1945" by Olgierd Teriecki.

 

Steve

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#5

Superb Steve. That was quite interesting. I did not know about the formation in the middle East before they arrived in Italy.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply
#6

I thought it was interesting to read about what happened in Iraq in WW2. Some British units were also sent to Iraq for a brief period before going on to Italy. The magazine Aviation History had a good article about RAF attacks on the Germans at Habbinya in May 1941. They were flying old bombers and Hawker biplanes.

 

Steve

 

Polish_2_ArtilleryGrp.jpg

Badge of the 2nd Artillery Group

of the II Polish Corps

(In the center is the symbol of the II Corps,

a Mermaid with sword and shield and below

is the shield of the British 8th Army.)

After their outstanding performance at the Battle of Cassino, the British

authorized the soldiers of the II Polish Corps to wear the British 8th Army

insignia sleeve patch.

Reply
#7

I thought it was interesting to read about what happened in Iraq in WW2. Some British units were also sent to Iraq for a brief period before going on to Italy. The magazine Aviation History had a good article about RAF attacks on the Germans at Habbinya in May 1941. They were flying old bombers and Hawker biplanes.

 

Steve

 

Polish_2_ArtilleryGrp.jpg

Badge of the 2nd Artillery Group

of the II Polish Corps

(In the center is the symbol of the II Corps,

a Mermaid with sword and shield and below

is the shield of the British 8th Army.)

After their outstanding performance at the Battle of Cassino, the British

authorized the soldiers of the II Polish Corps to wear the British 8th Army

insignia sleeve patch.

I think I've seen something about this recently on the History channel. Wasen't it a situation where the British airfield @ Habbinya was surrounded by German artillary placed in the nearby hills which overlooked it?

 

Jim

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#8

Wasen't it a situation where the British airfield @ Habbinya was surrounded by German artillary placed in the nearby hills which overlooked it?

My memory is not that good. But I do have a mental picture of the cover page of the Aviation History magazine that shows the RAF attacking. I think you are right, but I'll have to go back and read the article. I can't remember WHY the Germans (and a few Italians) were a threat but the RAF stuck it out and even bombed a German air base, knocking out an He-111 or two. They had a photo of the damaged Heinkel.

Maybe we can write an American soldier over there now and he could dig up a relic. Think about that!!

 

Steve

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