26 April 1866|
|Died||1940 (aged 73–74)
Katyn, Soviet Union
|Allegiance|| Russian Empire (1887–1917)
Second Polish Republic (1917–1939)
|Service/branch||Imperial Russian Army
|Years of service||1887–1939|
|Rank||General of Division|
|Battles/wars||First World War
Second World War
|Awards|| Order of Virtuti Militari
Cross of Valour (4 times)
Leonard Wilhelm Skierski (26 April 1866 – 1940) was a Polish military officer and a general of the Imperial Russian Army and then the Polish Army. A veteran of World War I and the Polish-Bolshevik War, he was one of fourteen Polish generals and one of the oldest military commanders to be murdered by the NKVD in the Katyn massacre of 1940.
Leonard Wilhelm Skierski was born in Stopnica near Kielce in the Russian-held part of Poland, into an old Polish aristocratic Calvinist family of Puchała coat of arms. His parents were Henryk Skierski and Helena née Hassman. His younger brother Stefan Skierski became the superintendent (bishop) of the Polish Reformed Church.
Early in his youth Skierski graduated from a philological school in Kielce and joined the Cadet Corps in Voronezh. As a Protestant, Skierski was not a subject to severe laws concerning Polish Catholics serving in the Russian Army. Because of that he could advance through the ranks of the Russian Army and decided to become an officer. On September 1, 1884 he joined the Mikhailov's College of Artillery in Saint Petersburg. In 1887 he graduated in the rank of Second Lieutenant (leytenant) and started his service in the 3rd Guards Artillery Brigade. He quickly rose through the ranks and ended up as a commander of an artillery command in the rank of Colonel (since 1906).
Fight for independence
With his unit he took part in the opening stages of World War I. Already in February 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Major General and at that time he became the highest-ranking Pole in Russian armed forces. He continued his service at various posts. Since May 1917 he served as the inspector of artillery of the Russian 5th Corps. Following the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Skierski created the Society of Polish Soldiers of the 5th Corps. His organization helped to create and fund the Polish Army in the East, a three-division strong force fighting on the side of the Entente alongside Russia and France.
Arrested by the Bolsheviks, he managed to escape to the Ukraine, where he joined the forces of Eugeniusz de Henning-Michaelis. After Austria-Hungary surrounded most of Michaelis' 3rd Polish Corps and disarmed it, Skierski yet again evaded imprisonment and fled to the countryside, where he took part in partisan operations against the Reds. It was not until 1919 that he finally crossed the Polish lines.
On May 15, 1919 he joined the Polish Army. As the Polish armed forces were lacking high-ranking officers, he was instantly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (Polish: generał porucznik). Already on May 30 Skierski was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division stationed in Silesia during the Silesian Uprising. The unit saw no service and after the cessation of hostilities on that front on August 10 Skierski became the commander of the 1st Rifle Division of Gen. Józef Haller de Hallenburg's Blue Army. His unit took part in heavy fights in Volhynia during the final stages of the Polish-Ukrainian War. On September 15 of the same year his unit was fully integrated with the Polish command scheme and renamed to 13th Infantry Division.
During his early days in Polish service Skierski became known as a skilled and flexible commander of infantry units, he was also highly popular among his troops. Because of that, Polish commander in chief Józef Piłsudski started to use Skierski in the most important sectors of the Polish front of the Polish-Bolshevik War. In December 1919 Skierski was withdrawn from the front and assigned to the battle-hardened 4th Infantry Division. In the spring of 1920 his unit took part in the successful Kiev Offensive, in which the Polish forces broke the Bolshevik lines and reached the city of Kiev. Since May 21, Skierski was assigned the command over a separate Operational Group (Corps) within Gen. Stanisław Szeptycki's North-Eastern Front.
On July 7, in the wake of a new Soviet offensive, Leonard Skierski became the commander of the 4th Army. He managed to withdraw his unit under heavy pressure from numerically-superior enemy and regroup it, only to take part in the Battle of Warsaw in mid-August. His army, though composed of units that have been in front-line service for months, became the spearhead of the Polish counter-offensive from the area of lower Wieprz river. In a matter of weeks Skierski managed to push the enemy back and reach the line of the Słucz River.
In late 1920 a cease fire agreement had been signed and in February 1921 Skierski had his grade confirmed. Following the demobilisation he remained in active service and became the inspector of the 3rd Army Inspectorate in Toruń. Although not a supporter of Józef Piłsudski, he was seen by the Marshal of Poland as one of the most skilled Polish officers. Following Piłsudski's May Coup d'État in 1927 Skierski was attached to the Warsaw-based General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, where he became one of the closest collaborators of Piłsudski. On December 31, 1931 he was promoted to the rank of generał dywizji and retired from active service.
The Katyn massacre
After the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, despite having retired, he was arrested together with thousands of other Polish military personnel. He was held in Starobielsk. In April 1940, the month of his seventy-fourth birthday, he would become one of the victims of the Katyn massacre of Polish prisoners of war. Among the Katyn victims were 14 Polish generals including Leon Billewicz, Bronisław Bohatyrewicz, Xawery Czernicki (admiral), Stanisław Haller, Aleksander Kowalewski, Henryk Minkiewicz, Kazimierz Orlik-Łukoski, Konstanty Plisowski, Rudolf Prich (murdered in Lviv), Franciszek Sikorski, Alojzy Wir-Konas, Piotr Skuratowicz, and Mieczysław Smorawiński.
Notes and references
- George Sanford, Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0-415-33873-5, Google Print, p.50
- Aleksandra Sękowska (May 2000). "Leonard Skierski - wspomnienie". Gazeta Stołeczna (in Polish) (06/05/2000): 14. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
- The Crime of Katyn Polish Cultural Foundation, 1989 ISBN 0-85065-190-5 Page 19
- Andrzej Leszek Szcześniak, ed. (1989). Katyń; lista ofiar i zaginionych jeńców obozów Kozielsk, Ostaszków, Starobielsk. Warsaw, Alfa. p. 366. ISBN 978-83-7001-294-6.; Moszyński, Adam, ed. (1989). Lista katyńska; jeńcy obozów Kozielsk, Ostaszków, Starobielsk i zaginieni w Rosji Sowieckiej. Warsaw, Polskie Towarzystwo Historyczne. p. 336. ISBN 978-83-85028-81-9.; Tucholski, Jędrzej (1991). Mord w Katyniu; Kozielsk, Ostaszków, Starobielsk: lista ofiar. Warsaw, Pax. p. 987. ISBN 978-83-211-1408-8.; Banaszek, Kazimierz (2000). Kawalerowie Orderu Virtuti Militari w mogiłach katyńskich. Roman, Wanda Krystyna; Sawicki, Zdzisław. Warsaw, Chapter of the Virtuti Militari War Medal & RYTM. p. 351. ISBN 978-83-87893-79-8.; Maria Skrzyńska-Pławińska, ed. (1995). Rozstrzelani w Katyniu; alfabetyczny spis 4410 jeńców polskich z Kozielska rozstrzelanych w kwietniu-maju 1940, według źródeł sowieckich, polskich i niemieckich. Stanisław Maria Jankowski. Warsaw, Karta. p. 286. ISBN 978-83-86713-11-0.; Skrzyńska-Pławińska, Maria, ed. (1996). Rozstrzelani w Charkowie; alfabetyczny spis 3739 jeńców polskich ze Starobielska rozstrzelanych w kwietniu-maju 1940, według źródeł sowieckich i polskich. Porytskaya, Ileana. Warsaw, Karta. p. 245. ISBN 978-83-86713-12-7.; Skrzyńska-Pławińska, Maria, ed. (1997). Rozstrzelani w Twerze; alfabetyczny spis 6314 jeńców polskich z Ostaszkowa rozstrzelanych w kwietniu-maju 1940 i pogrzebanych w Miednoje, według źródeł sowieckich i polskich. Porytskaya, Ileana. Warsaw, Karta. p. 344. ISBN 978-83-86713-18-9.