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General Sikorski’s Fatal Plane Crash, Gibraltar: Accident or Sabotage?

Soraya Fernández

The presence of Soviet secret agents in Gibraltar during the days leading up to a fatal plane crash on the Rock in 1943, which killed the then President in exile of Poland, General Sikorski, continues to raise questions to this day. Was it an accident or an assassination?

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII

Władysław Sikorski was the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces and became Poland’s “President in Exile” during World War II. On the 4th of July 1943, Sikorski was taking off from Gibraltar on B-24 Liberator plane, which went on to crash into the sea only 16 seconds after departure.

General Sikorski died alongside 11 other people, although the exact number of people onboard has never been confirmed. Among those who died was Sofia, the President’s daughter, as well as Colonel Andrzej Marecki and Chief of Operations Tadeusz Klimecki. The only survivor was the Czech pilot, Eduard Prchal.

Sikorski’s Liberator II taxied along the Rock’s runway and took off. Suddenly, the plane began to lose altitude and crashed into the sea. There were no strong winds or clouds that day, and visibility was good. Among the first bodies to be recovered was Sikorski himself, and Klimecki. Later that day, more bodies were found, but his daughter Sofia and some other passengers were never to be seen again.

Much has been written since then on the cause of the fatal crash. The official version has always been that it was due to a mechanical failure, but theories of Soviet, British or even Polish sabotage have been a constant theme in the rivers of ink dedicated to this case.

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII
General Sikorski, Polish President-in-Exile

Sikorski’s body was exhumed in Wawel Cathedral, Krakow, in 2008 where his remains had lain. The autopsy report concluded that he had died from multiple bodily traumas caused by the crash, which ruled out strangulation, gunshots or poison. However, sabotage has always been suspected.

The Soviet Secret Service

La Línea researcher and author, Alfonso Escuadra, who specialises in World War II, maintains that there are a few indications which cannot rule out a sabotage taking place. As he explained to ReachExtra, Polish researchers had discovered a presence of people linked to the Soviet secret service in Gibraltar during the days leading up to his death.

The General was a problem for many people:

La Línea researcher and author, Alfonso Escuadra

“Sikorski illustrates much of what actually happened during WWII. He was no less than the head of the Polish Government in exile, which was set up in London after the Polish were defeated. A series of Polish units depended on him as they continued to fight Germany for the duration of the war; first in France or Norway, and later at the Battle of Britain, North Africa and Italy… interestingly, many of these soldiers would never return to their homeland”, Escuadra explained (this is because on the defeat of the Nazis, Poland was taken over by the Soviets).

He explained that Sikorski and his people in exile were a beacon of hope for an independent Poland:

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII
Memorial to General Sikorski at Europa Point, Gibraltar | Fran Montes, ReachExtra

“Initial expectations began to change with the German attack on the Soviet Union and the alliance between London and Moscow made in the face of a common enemy. Europe’s subsequent division into areas of influence between the Western allied forces and the USSR, which was pushed forward at the Tehran Conference, would seal the fate of the Polish Government in exile and everything which it represented. In this sense, the death of Sikorski meant the disappearance of a figure who no longer fitted into the world following the allied victory.”

Despite this, Sikorski never gave up on his mission to bring about an independent Poland, something which he and his people were fighting for since the beginning, and in theory, for which they had gone to war for:

“Poland was included in the Soviet sphere of influence. Moscow had already left thousands of indications of its intentions in the Katyn graves and in fact the Soviets had already begun to organise a group of like-minded people to run a new communist government in Poland once it was liberated. What happened with the Warsaw Uprising left no room for doubt. Before allowing the liberation, the Red Army stopped in front of Warsaw so as not to get in the way until the Polish nationalist movement was crushed by the Germans. Well, all this had an enlightening preamble to more than announced death of Sikorski,” explained Escuadra.

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII

As the President of Poland in exile, Sikorski visited Polish troops who were fighting in Italy and North Africa: “Before embarking on what would be his last inspection trip, his allies had warned Sikorski of a credible threat of assassination. In fact, on a previous trip, a bomb had been discovered in his plane. Even so, he decided to push ahead, and we all know the result of this.”

All that was known until recently was that, during a stopover in Gibraltar, his plane took off and as soon as it left the runway, it fell through the Levante area after the engines suddenly turned off: “There are testimonies by British observers. The bodies that were recovered were shipped from Gibraltar to London in a Polish destroyer.”

For many years, it was though that the incident was a fatal accident, “an inexplicable failure of the engines, a jammed lever… There have been many opinions as to whether it was an accident or not; a question which remains unanswered to this day. However, a few years ago, a team of Polish investigators took a look into this and uncovered various oddities; like the presence of Soviet secret service agents in Gibraltar in the days leading up to Sikorski’s death”, Escuadra explained.

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII
Memorial to General Sikorski at Europa Point, Gibraltar | Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Doubts have also been raised as to the reporting of the attack: “It is possible that these people were somehow allowed onto the place, in which case, it would be hard to accept that all this would have taken place without the British secret service’s knowledge. It would have been an inexplicable security breach at a military base during wartime, and in the case of an important person who is under threat of attack. All this fuels the possibility it was sabotage”, the researcher said.

Gibraltar has a commemorative monument in honor of Sikorski that was located at the eastern end of the airport runway and was inaugurated on January 12, 1945. It was later installed at Europa Point, financed by the Republic of Poland, and inaugurated on July 4, 2013.

General Władysław Sikorski Gibraltar Plane Crash Soviet Secret Service WWII
Memorial to General Sikorski at Gibraltar Cathedral, Gibraltar | Fran Montes, ReachExtra

The Cathedral on Main Street also has a monument in his memory, next to the left altar. In the tunnels of the Great Siege there are two plaques, one in English and one in Polish, that testify to the accident that could be observed from a viewpoint located at the end of the tunnel.

Gibraltar Operation

Alfonso Escuadra is a renowned World War II researcher and has just finished his new book, which he has been working on for the last 12 years, which will be published soon.

“There are more than a thousand pages that reveal the ins and outs of the Spanish-German operation in Gibraltar, with all its political and diplomatic background. The work has been built on thousands of documents, mostly unpublished, from private archives and the main European and North American documentation centres”.

“It has always been thought that the Gibraltar operation was an exclusively German operation. This book offers a more precise vision of it and, by extension, of the role that Spain played in that first phase of the war; which allows a clearer glimpse of what was really behind that declaration of “non-belligerence” that had defined its international position at that time. It is true that the protagonists of the events have contributed to the true trompe l’oeil that persists on those events, but the content of the documentation used is as enlightening as it is compelling”.

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