740.0011 European War 1939/19527

The Ambassador to the Polish Government in Exile (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

[Polish Series No.] 117

Sir: Supplementing my despatch Polish Series No. 107, January 12, enclosing copy of General Sikorski’s letter of December 17, 1941 to Mr. Churchill; and my despatch Polish series No. 100, January 8, 1942,4 containing confidential report of a British observer on the Sikorski-Stalin conversations,5 I have the honor herein to report [Page 101] General Sikorski’s additional disclosures regarding his talks with M. Stalin:

The General said that after their preliminary formalities, it had not taken Stalin and himself long to “find” each other; they had gotten down to “straight talking” in short order.

Re disposition of Polish forces in Russia:

When, in the course of discussion, the question as to the disposition of Polish troops had arisen, he, Sikorski, frankly stated his desire to move the greater part, if not all to Iran. In reply, Stalin said he strongly suspected that this idea had found its inspiration in British-American scheming. Were he to permit all the Polish forces to leave Russia, he would become the “laughing stock of the world”. Sikorski countered with the question to effect that, in that case, what did Stalin propose to do about the Polish forces? Stalin had thereupon said he would be willing that Sikorski withdraw about 25,000 troops for distribution in Britain and in the Middle East—but no more. If Sikorski wanted more he could take them only from the 40,000 then already organized—moreover, he, Stalin, would see to it that no more Poles were allowed to join the Polish forces in Russia. However, if Sikorski agreed to limit his withdrawal to about 25,000, he, Stalin, would be prepared to designate an area in southern Turkestan for the concentration of all Polish civilians, as well as for the organizing of a Polish force, to be limited only by the number of Polish effectives available. Sikorski calculated this opened the way for the formation of a force which might eventually amount to 100,000 to 150,000 strong. He accepted Stalin’s proposal.

M. Stalin’s hints as to his post-war intentions vis-à-vis Poland.

Stalin thereupon assured Sikorski of his desire to see Poland restored as an independent and strong state. Sikorski thanked him, adding that a strong restored Poland might enjoy healthy cooperation with Russia and with the western powers, including the United States.

In response, Stalin significantly remarked in effect, that experience had shown that Poland was too remote from the respective spheres of interest of the United States and the western European powers, for Poland to count upon them for post-war economic assistance. Poland would need much: machinery, building and other materials. Russia would be in position both to supply them, and to cooperate with Poland in these and other phases of reconstruction.

M. Stalin’s remarks on attitude of the western European powers and the United States:

As for Russia’s position vis-à-vis the western powers, Stalin said he could not be too sure that the end of the war would not find him [Page 102] again treated as the “poor relation”. At any rate, he could not exclude that possibility. Of one thing, however, he was confident, now that the United States had entered the war—and that was that both she and Britain would be in at the finish. He was sure that neither would let the other out until the fighting was over. This thought gave him a sense of comfort.

Question of settlement of Polish-Russian frontier issue:

At this point, he introduced the question of a settlement of a postwar Polish-Russian frontier. He urged that Sikorski and he arrange the matter between them, then and there. Sikorski replied that he was not in position to do so, adding with a smile, that were he to attempt to settle the issue at that time, he would become the “laughing stock of the world”. Stalin, Sikorski told me, saw the humor, laughed heartily, and dropped the question.

Observations on Sikorski’s attitude re this question.

In this connection, Sikorski remarked to me that he felt confident that the question of the frontier was one which could eventually be settled directly between the Poles and the Russians. While he has made similar remarks to a number of his colleagues in Allied Government circles, I have the impression that he is not optimistic as to the outcome in light of Poland’s claims; that he is sufficiently a realist not to count upon a settlement of the question on basis of the 1939 frontier. At the back of his head, I believe, he has linked the question of possible “adjustments” of the pre-war frontier, with his postwar aspirations: annexation of East Prussia, and some form of close economic, political and military tie-up with Lithuania. In other words, provided he were assured of realizing these aspirations, he would be apt to concede the frontier adjustments.

Observations on attitude of Polish Government and Army circles here:

It is not likely, however, that he would air such views to his associates as a whole. For with possibly one or two exceptions, their desire for a settlement of the Polish-Russian frontier on the basis of Status quo ante is fundamental. Moreover, circles which, importantly due to this very question, had opposed Sikorski’s signing the Agreement with Russia,6 would be quick to seize on any such views, and to exploit them against him as, well as against his Russian policy.

Besides, the frontier, among other questions in connection with Polish-Russian relations, is still a delicate question in Polish army circles here. In fact, an important section thereof, troops as well as [Page 103] officers, are strong partisans* of General Sosnkowski,7 and, at heart, share the views he expressed at the time of his outspoken opposition to the terms of the Polish-Russian Agreement. Even at this time, there is a distinct undercurrent of dissatisfaction in these circles, with General Sikorski’s having, as they put it, “decided to leave 100,000 men fighting with the Russian Army”.

While, particularly a number of the leading officers of this element are more outspoken than others, the underlying attitude of the Polish military forces as a whole towards Russia is hardly less antipathetic; and distrustful.

My impression on this score was further strengthened by the recent confidential remarks of the Editor of the Polish Army newspaper, an important part of whose duties, entails close observation of all shades of opinion among the forces here. He told me the army could be counted upon to back up the Agreement which their Government had made with Russia. This, however, did not mean that the underlying attitude of the men and officers, as a whole, had altered towards the Russians. They still thought of the latter in the light of their being, for one thing, Communists; that was bad enough—but first and always they were Russians. As for their attitude towards the Russian-German conflict, he characterized the thoughts in the back-of-the-mind of the average Polish officer and soldier, by citing a Polish legend about a battle between two rats: they fought until all that was left were two tails.

In connection with the foregoing, it has been clear to me for some time that, as long as General Sosnkowski remained in Britain, and at the same time was not permitted to serve with the forces in Scotland, [Page 104] the resentment of his many partisans therein, would work increasingly to the disadvantage of General Sikorski’s own position as well as that of his Government, in relation to these forces as a whole.

Recent events have borne this out. On Sikorski’s return from Russia he was greeted by reports of a wave of dissatisfaction not only over Stalin’s refusal to permit the removal of Polish troops from Russia, but also over Sosnkowski’s continued exclusion from the Polish High Command. General Sikorski immediately decided again to urge Sosnkowski to go to the Middle East. After some days of reflection, General Sosnkowski accepted the proposal. In disclosing this to me General Sikorski said it had been none too easy to persuade General Sosnkowski and the time involved had been the main factor which had caused him to postpone his visit to the United States.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. None printed.
  2. The Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile at London, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, conferred in Moscow with Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, President of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union (Prime Minister), early in December 1941. For reports concerning their meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, pp. 264268, passim.
  3. For text of the Polish-Soviet Agreement of July 30, 1941, signed at London, see telegram No. 3292, July 30, 1941, from the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 243.
  4. Sosnkowski’s partisans, moreover, are resentful of his exclusion from the High Command of the forces. Government-inspired efforts to play down his gallant action at Lwow, have failed to alter this element’s high regard for the General as the “hero of Lwow.” [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski resigned as Deputy Prime Minister on July 26, 1941, in protest against the signing of the Polish-Soviet Agreement. See Polish Series telegram No. 30, August 2, 1941, 3 p.m., from the Ambassador to the Polish Government in Exile (Biddle), Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 245.
  6. He told me, moreover, that especially amongst the younger men, there was a lack of understanding, and even a resentment of the policy of the present Government to soft-pedal any reference to the late Marshal Piłsudski. [Josef Piłsudski, Minister of War and Marshal of Poland from his coup d’état, May 12–14, 1926, until his death, May 12, 1935; Prime Minister, October 1926–June 1928, and August–December 1930.] They had been brought up to regard him as the liberator of Poland, a great national hero. “Just imagine,” he said, “what your own reactions would be, if, after you and others of your generation had been raised to look upon a certain figure in the history of your country as a national hero, a new administration in Washington threatened to fire you from whatever job you held if you even so much as mentioned his name.” He concluded by stating that while this was the present Polish Government’s attitude, the younger element in the army was aware that General Sosnkowski, an old friend of the late Marshal, took no part in the Government’s policy on this score and was loyal to the memory of the man who had done so much for Poland. [Footnote in the original.]