1943 Gibraltar B-24 crash
Sikorski's B-24 Liberator, lying on its back with its wheels just having started to retract, in the sea just off Gibraltar following the crash
|Date||4 July 1943|
|Summary||Crashed on take-off|
|Aircraft type||B-24 Liberator II LB-30A|
|Operator||No. 511 Squadron RAF|
The 1943 Gibraltar B-24 crash led to the death of general Władysław Sikorski and several other passengers. General Władysław Sikorski was the commander-in-chief of the Polish Army, in addition to being the Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile at the time. While this catastrophe was ruled as an accident, several conspiracy theories continue to persist.
The relationship between the Soviet Union and Poland was tenuous at best during the closing stages of World War II for a variety of reasons, and became more so, after the 1940 Katyn massacre of over 20,000 Polish servicemen by the Russians came to light. However, being pragmatic, General Władysław Sikorski was still open to some form of normalisation of Polish-Soviet relations, while General Władysław Anders was vehemently opposed. To boost morale, Sikorski began a tour of inspection of the Polish forces stationed in the Middle East in May 1943, tending to political affairs where necessary.
On July 4, 1943, when Sikorski was returning from an inspection of Polish forces deployed in the Middle East, his plane, a Liberator II, serial AL523, operated by No. 511 Squadron RAF, crashed into the sea 16 seconds after taking off from Gibraltar Airport at 23:07 hours. General Sikorski, his daughter, his Chief of Staff, Tadeusz Klimecki, and eight other passengers perished. While 11 was the official count of those who perished, the exact number of passengers was not known. In addition, there were six crew members on the flight.
- Victor Cazalet, British Conservative Party Member of Parliament
- Jan Gralewski, Armia Krajowa's courier
- Major General Tadeusz Klimecki, Polish Army Chief of General Staff;
- Adam Kułakowski, Sikorski's adjutant
- Zofia Leśniowska, Sikorski daughter and secretary;
- W. H. Lock
- Colonel Andrzej Marecki, Polish Army Chief of Operations;
- M. Pinder
- Lt. Józef Ponikiewski, Sikorski's adjutant
- General Władysław Sikorski, commander-in-chief of the Polish Army and Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile;
- Brigadier John Percival Whiteley, also a Conservative Member of Parliament
- crew members:
- Flight Sergeant C. B. Gerry, radiooperator/gunner
- Squadron Leader W. S. Herring, second pilot
- Flight Sergeant D. Hunter, radiooperator/gunner
- Sergeant F. Kelly, mechanic
- Warrant Officer L. Zalsberg, navigator
At the crash site, while not all the dead were recovered, Sikorski's body was picked up by the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Orkan and transported to Britain. He was subsequently buried in a brick-lined grave at the Polish War Cemetery in Newark-on-Trent, England, on July 16 that year. Winston Churchill delivered a eulogy at his funeral.
Sikorski's death marked a turning point for Polish influence amongst the Anglo-American allies. He had been the most prestigious leader of the Polish exiles and it was a severe setback for the Polish cause, for no Pole after him would have much sway with the Allied politicians.
Incident investigation and controversy
A British Court of Inquiry convened on July 7, 1943 to investigate the crash, but was unable to determine the cause. Thus, the report concluded that it was an accident caused by the "jamming of elevator controls" of an unidentified nature. Though it ruled out sabotage, the report noted that "it has not been possible to determine how the jamming occurred". The Polish government refused to endorse this report because of the contradictions cited therein, and the lack of conclusive findings.
The political context of the event, coupled with a variety of curious circumstances, immediately gave rise to speculation that Sikorski's death had been no accident, and might have been the direct result of a Soviet, British, or even Polish conspiracy. Some modern sources still note that the accident was not fully explained; for example Jerzy Jan Lerski in his Historical Dictionary of Poland (1996), entry on the "Gibraltar, Catastrophe of", noted that "there are several theories explaining the event, but the mystery was never fully solved." However, as Roman Wapiński noted in his biographical entry on Sikorski in the Polish Biographical Dictionary in 1997, no conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing had been found, and Sikorski's official cause of death was listed as an accident.
In 2008 Sikorski was exhumed and his remains were examined by Polish scientists, who in 2009 concluded that he died of injuries consistent with an air crash, and that there was no evidence that Sikorski was murdered, thus, ruling out theories that he was shot or strangled before the incident. However they did not rule out the possibility of sabotage, which is still being investigated by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance. The investigation is ongoing As of 2012[update].
A memorial stone for the 50th anniversary of the 1943 Gibraltar air crash at the Powązki Military Cemetery.
Memorial plaque dedicated to Sikorski located at the end of the Great Siege Tunnels in Gibraltar
General Sikorski Memorial in Gibraltar
- Roman Wapiński, Władysław Sikorski, Polski Słownik Biograficzny, zeszyt 154 (T. XXXVII/3, 1997, p. 475
- Tadeusz A. Kisielewski (January 2005). Zamach: Tropem zabójców Generała Sikorskiego. Rebis. pp. 169–170. ISBN 978-83-7301-767-2. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Michael Alfred Peszke (2005). The Polish Underground Army, The Western Allies, And The Failure Of Strategic Unity in World War II. McFarland. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7864-2009-4. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- "• Komu zaszkodzi ekshumacja generała". Focus.pl. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- "Komisja Historyczna do spraw Opracowania Dokumentacji na temat Śmierci Gen. Władysława Sikorskiego - Inne organy doradcze powołane do rozpatrywania określonej sprawy lub grupy spraw - BIP Rady Ministrów i Kancelarii Prezesa Rady Ministrów". Bip.kprm.gov.pl. 2011-09-25. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Józef Szczypek (1984). Władysław Sikorski: fakty i legendy. Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza. p. 231. ISBN 978-83-03-00671-4. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Piotr Żaroń; Władysław Sikorski (1996). Armia Andersa. Wydawn. Adam Marszałek. p. 202. ISBN 978-83-86229-54-3. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- 'Brig. J. P. Whiteley, M. P.' (obituary) in The Times dated 7 July 1943, p. 7
- Wacław Król (1991). Walczyłem pod niebem Europy i Afryki. Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza. p. 307. ISBN 978-83-205-4344-5. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- (Polish) Stanczyk, Zbigniew L. "Tajemnica gen. Sikorskiego", "Przegląd Polski Online", December 7, 2002. Retrieved on August 2, 2005
- Michael Alfred Peszke (2005). The Polish Underground Army, The Western Allies, And The Failure Of Strategic Unity in World War II. McFarland. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-7864-2009-4. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Thom Burnett (November 2006). Conspiracy Encyclopedia. Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-84340-381-4. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Nicholas Atkin; Michael Biddiss; Frank Tallett (8 March 2011). The Wiley-Blackwell Dictionary of Modern European History Since 1789. John Wiley & Sons. p. 389. ISBN 978-1-4051-8922-4. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Professor Norman Davies (26 August 2008). No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. Penguin. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-14-311409-3. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Jerzy Jan Lerski (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-313-26007-0. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- No evidence Polish hero murdered BBC News, January 29, 2009
- "IPN ujawnił jak zginął Sikorski". Tvn24.pl. 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- "Śledztwo ws. śmierci gen. Sikorskiego przeniesione z Katowic do Warszawy". Wiadomosci.gazeta.pl. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Polskapresse Sp. z o.o. "Przełom w sprawie tajemniczej śmierci gen. Władysława Sikorskiego?". Wiadomosci24.pl. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Jan Bartelski (1 March 2001). "Is the Gibraltar Disaster a Real Mystery?". Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Crowood Press, Limited. ISBN 978-1-84037-204-5. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- David John Cawdell Irving (1967). Accident: the death of General Sikorski. Kimber. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Tadeusz A. Kisielewski (2007). Gibraltar'43: jak zginął generał Sikorski. Świat Książki - Bertelsmann Media. ISBN 978-83-247-0850-5. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Dead Men’s Secrets the Mysterious Death of General Sikorski: History Channel DVD, ASIN: B0007V0YCQ
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