Kazimierz Sosnkowski

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For the geographer, see Kazimierz Sosnowski.
Kazimierz Sosnkowski
Sosnkowski Kazimierz.jpg
General Sosnkowski in the 1930s
General Inspector of the Armed Forces
In office
Preceded by Władysław Sikorski
Succeeded by Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski
Personal details
Born (1885-11-19)19 November 1885
Warsaw, partitioned Poland
Died 11 October 1969(1969-10-11) (aged 83)
Arundel, Quebec
Profession Architect and professional officer
Military service
Nickname(s) Baca, Godziemba, Józek
Years of service 1914 - 1944
Rank Generał broni LTG
Commands Polish Armed Forces
Battles/wars Polish-Soviet War
World War II

General Kazimierz Sosnkowski (Polish: [kaˈʑimjɛʂ sɔsŋˈkɔfskʲi]; Warsaw, 19 November 1885 – Arundel, Quebec, 11 October 1969) was a Polish nobleman, independence fighter, diplomat, architect, politician and a Polish Army general. An outstanding commander, an intellectual and an artist; Sosnkowski was a key figure in Poland’s twentieth century history. A lover of art, literature and philosophy, a linguist who knew Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Italian and Russian, Sosnkowski was a man of wide ranging interests and talents.[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in Warsaw, Sosnkowski grew up in partitioned Poland, which at that time was under Russian control. His father, Józef Sosnkowski of the Godziemba Coat of Arms, was a wealthy nobleman and owner of several villages. His mother was Zofia Drabińska. In 1896 he attended the V Gimnazjum (high school) in Warsaw where he participated in a secret organization of progressive youth. To avoid persecution he moved in 1904 to St.Petersburg where he finished, in 1905, the XII Gimnazjum. The same year he passed the entrance exam to the Department of Architecture at Warsaw Polytechnic he also joined the P.P.S (Polish Socialist Party) attracted by its program of fighting for independent Poland and for social equality. In 1906 the boycott of the school by the students was declared thus not allowing Sosnkowski to study there. In February 1906 he participated in the VIII Congress of P.P.S in Lwów. Following this he became the commandant of the Fighting Unit of P.P.S on the right shore of the Vistula river. As such he led a series of attacks on Russian police posts. In 1907 he enrolled into Lwów Polytechnic and simultaneously he led the military works of P.P.S-Frakcja Rewolucyjna where he was close to the future Marshal of Poland Józef Piłsudski. He was criticized in P.P.S for his risky tactics which would lead him to being pursued by Czar's secret police. He hid in Radom and then in the Dąbrowski Basin (Zagłębie Dąbrowskie) where he led the P.P.S Fighting Unit. In Lwów his studies were interrupted by his fierce political work. In 1908 he suggested the creation of Zwiazek Walki Czynnej (Active Combat Union). Piłsudski wanted to remove the socially radical elements from the program of the new organization that were implemented by Sosnkowski. In 1910 the Association created paramilitary units Zwiazek Strzelecki (Lwów) and Strzelec (Kraków). After the Riflemen's Association was formed as a legal front, Sosnkowski became its Chief of Staff. In 1914 he finished his studies of architecture but the war prevented him sitting for his final exams.[2]

World War I[edit]

Following the outbreak of the First World War Piłsudski formed the 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions, with Sosnkowski serving as his Chief of Staff and second-in-command. During the Oath crisis, when Piłsudski instructed the Polish Legion to refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Sosnkowski was arrested along with his commander and imprisoned in Magdeburg.[3]

After the end of the war he was released and became Deputy Minister for Military Affairs in the Polish Second Republic, serving in that position during the Polish-Soviet War. Between 1920 and 1923 he was Minister for Military Affairs. Subsequently he served in a number of diplomatic roles, including a brief period as Polish Representative to the League of Nations. In 1925 he returned to active duty as Commander of the VII Corp District.[4]

Military and political career[edit]

Sosnkowski in 1926

1920s and 1930s[edit]

During the Polish-Soviet war of 1920 he at first commanded the northern front (where his leadership was harshly criticized by other commanders) and then became responsible overall for supply, logistics, and rear echelon organization. He initiated and oversaw the construction of the port of Gdynia. In 1920 he commanded the defense units in Warsaw. He served as minister of military affairs from 1921 to 1924. During this time he was instrumental in organizing and modernizing the Polish Army. He also was the principal negotiator of the Polish-French treaty. In 1922 Marshal Piłsudski sent his confidential opinion to the President of Poland in which he declared that only Sosnkowski and Edward Rydz-Śmigły are capable of being the commander-in-chief in case of war. In 1925, as Polish Permanent Representative to the League of Nations, General Sosnkowski, initiated the adoption of the first international instrument addressing Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction. For unknown reasons he was not informed by Piłsudski about the plans of the 1926 coup. At this time Sosnkowski tried to commit suicide. After recuperation he returned to military service in 1927. Despite the cooling of relations with Piłsudski it was he whom Piłsudski saw undoubtedly as his successor. In 1927 he was appointed to be the Inspector of "Army Podole" and in 1928 also of "Army Polesie". After Piłsudski’s death in 1935 Sosnkowski was pushed aside. In the Sanacja camp he favored a dialogue with opposition groups. This was rejected by President Ignacy Mościcki and Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły (possibly for personal reasons of ambition).

Invasion of Poland[edit]

After the German invasion of 1939 he proposed forming a group of armies in the regions of Warsaw, Poznań, Pomerania and Łódź. This was rejected by Rydz-Śmigły due to the lack of coordination in the region of Warsaw and Kutno, and eventually resulted in the Polish defeat at the river Bzura. On 10 September 1939 he was appointed commander of the group of the southern armies and conducted several victorious battles, however the Soviet invasion of 17 September made it impossible to continue the war effort and Sosnkowski, disguised, crossed the Soviet occupied territory of Poland and through Hungary. He arrived in France in October 1939. In November 1939 he was selected by President-in-exile Władysław Raczkiewicz as his successor (against the wishes of General Władysław Sikorski). He was also appointed the Commander of the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ). In 1941, he resigned from the Polish Government in Exile protesting lack of specifics regarding Polish eastern borders. After the tragic death of General Sikorski in July 1943, Sosnkowski officially became the Commander-in-Chief.

Stanisław Skalski with Kazimierz Sosnkowski and Air Marshal Arthur Coningham, 1943

He was against starting an insurrection in Warsaw but Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk prevailed and the insurrection started in August 1944. Sosnkowski then turned to the allies for help. When his propositions were rejected, Sosnkowski officially accused the Allies of breaking the peace treaties. Under the pressure from Winston Churchill Sosnkowski was demoted from the Commander-in-Chief position on 30 September 1944. In November 1944 he left Great Britain and went to Canada. Because of his unyielding attitude toward the Soviets, he was denied US and British visas until 1949.[5]

Post war[edit]

Between 1952-1954 he was active in the unification movement of the various Polish émigré groups and was instrumental in the signing of the 1954 Act of National Unification in London. Toward the end of his life Sosnkowski enjoyed considerable respect in the Polish émigré community.

Following his death he was buried in France, however in 1992 his ashes were returned to Poland and interred inside St. John'’s Cathedral in Warsaw.

Private life[edit]

Sosnkowski by Wojciech Kossak, 1939

Sosnkowski, over his career, used a number of noms de guerre, including "Baca" (Polish mountaineer term for "shepherd"), "Godziemba" (the name of his hereditary coat-of-arms), "Józek" (Polish slang for "Joseph"), "Ryszard" ("Richard"), "Szef" ("Chief").

Sosnkowski was married to Jadwiga Sosnkowska. They had five sons: Alexander, Peter, Anthony, John and Joseph. The last three lived in Canada whereas Alexander lived in the U.S. and Peter split his time between the U.S. and France.

John died in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, on 25 April 2009; Anthony in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Canada, 26 June 2012; Joseph, in Victoria, B.C., 6 November 2011; Alexander in Quincy, Illinois, U.S.A., 30 March 2015.

Prohibition of bacteriological weapons[edit]

In 1925, as the Polish Permanent Representative to the League of Nations, General Sosnkowski initiated the adoption of the first international instrument addressing Biological weapons of Mass Destruction: the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of Poisonous Gases and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.[6][7]

Honours and awards[edit]

Godziemba, Sosnkowski's hereditary coat-of-arms

See also[edit]


Military offices
Preceded by
Władysław Sikorski
General Inspector of the Armed Forces
Succeeded by
Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski