Murder in Gibraltar


In the course of the Second World War, frequent discussions were taking place between the leaders of the Allied nations over future borders in Central and Eastern Europe. It soon became apparent to the Polish leaders that the Allied powers wanted to align Poland's eastern border along the line proposed in the 1920s by Lord Curzon. These plans were presented to General Sikorski in January 1942 by the British diplomat Stafford Cripps. He informed General Sikorski that while Stalin planned to extend Polish borders to the west, by giving Poland Germany's East Prussia he also wanted to considerably push Poland's eastern frontier westwards, along the Curzon Line, and to acquire Lvov and Vilnius if not both. Sikorski's stance on eastern borders was not inflexible; he agreed that certain concessions might be acceptable in times of war, however, giving up both Lvov and Vilnus was not. Two months after this meeting, in March 1942, General Sikorski was planning to see President Roosevelt to seek America's unequivocal support for Polish stance over its Eastern frontiers. On March 21, 1942, General Sikorski and six of his staff, along with other passengers and crew, set off from Prestwick in a BOAC Liberator AM 262, bound for Canada. As usual, General Sikorski was accompanied by Dr Josef Retinger, various Ministers, the deputy Chief of Polish General Staff, Colonel Leon Mitkiewicz, and the new Polish air attaché, a Wing Commander Bohdan Kleczynski. After five hours into the flight, some passengers smelled burning rubber, and soon thereafter Mitkiewicz and another passenger, Reverend Kaczynski, saw the new Polish air attaché, Kleczynski, climb pass them, holding his hand in his pocket with unusual look on his face.295 In accordance with his later statement given to the G-2 (Military Intelligence) authorities in Washington, Wing Commander Bohdan Kleczynski had smelt the strong odour of burning rubber and explained that “In fear that there was a short circuit in the electrical installations, I started to search for the fire underneath the mattress. As I slipped my hand underneath one of the mattresses, I felt great heat and pulled out a greatly heated incendiary candle at the end of which there was a cap wound with black tape.”296 Kleczynski disarmed it by removing the detonator, which he cast into the toilet. On March 24, 1942, as soon as the Polish party reached Washington, the device was handed over to the U.S. Army Department for laboratory and X-ray examination. Four days later, Colonel Mitkiewicz had U.S. experts report which stated that the devise was an 'incendiary bomb' of considerable power. Unofficially, according to Mitkiewicz, the G-2 experts told the Poles that the device was of British origin used by the R.A.F.297

The American report had been passed by the British Intelligence to the War Office in London where the matter was handled by Victor Rothschild who liaised closely with the Director General of MI5, David Petrie. Churchill was kept informed of the progress of the investigation. First, an x-ray photograph was made and the device was identified as an SOE incendiary. As soon as one day into the inquiry, Rothschild challenged the story told by Kleczynski. He said "The story is fishy…I am somewhat doubtful if this is a real attempt to liquidate the General…"298 The British Service began gathering reports and statements relating to the incident. Among this, there was an adverse report on airport security at Prestwick. SOE reported that Kleczynski was "a dope fiend, suffered from hallucinations, and was a pathological exhibitionist", thus shifting suspicion towards him.299 After a series of interrogations, Kleczynski was interviewed, and after initially sticking to his story300 he eventually admitted that he faked the story, having carried the incendiary on board inadvertently and seeking a way to stop himself getting into trouble when it started to get warm and he feared it would detonate.301 Rothschild, pleased with the result, prepared an account for the Prime Minister, which was conveyed by hand through Duff Cooper. Churchill was asked to write to Sikorski to say he was convinced that Kleczynski had no ill-intent, and had in his own words simply lost his head.302 General Sikorski's Chief of Staff, General Klimecki, anxious to quell the rumours about Sikorski's attempted assassination, delegated a senior courier, Colonel Osmecki, to study all the documents on the case and then report on the truth of the affair to Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army in German-occupied Poland, General “Grot” Rowecki. During his investigation, Colonel Osmecki learned that the Wing Commander Kleczynski had indeed made such confession as was claimed, but had given incoherent reasons for his action. As General Sikorski wanted to keep good relations with Britain, he wrote to Duff Cooper some days later agreeing that the Wing Commander must have lost his head and that he would be relieved of his post as air attaché and sent on a long leave 'to recover his health'.303 Following these events, Bohdan Kleczynski was relieved from his post and remained for some time under mental observation in Scotland.304

For further reading please purchase an eBook

295 Testimony of Rev. Kaczynski, 1st June 1942; testimony of Dr. Jozef Retinger, 1st June 1942. All these testimonies, which were taken by various officers and authorities, are held in either Polish or English versions on General Sikorski Historical Institute file entitled: Sprawa bomby w samolocie podczas przelotu gen. Sikorskiego do Ameryki w marcu 1942r. (No. A.20.6/2.) quoted in David Irving, Accident. The Death of General Sikorski (London: William Kimber And Co. Limited, 1967) p. 150 »

296 Statement by Wing Commander K – to G-2, March 1942 (published in English as appendix to article, note 18; also in G.S.H.I. File, note 19) quoted in Irving, Accident. The Death of General Sikorski, p. 150 »

297 Report of G-2 experts, quoted as appendix to article (note 18) quoted in Irving, Accident, p. 152 »

298 Kew National Archives; KV 3/274 (serial 5C) »

299 Kew National Archives; KV 3/274 »

300 Kew National Archives; KV 3/276 (signed statement at serial 78B) »

301 Kew National Archives; KV 3/276 (second statement of 20 July 1942, at serial 84A) »

302 Kew National Archives; KV 3/274-276 (the file closes with Kleczynski's hand-written letter of thanks to his interrogator – serial 107B) »

303 Most secret; General Sikorski to Duff Cooper, 23rd July 1942 »

304 Bohdan Kleczynski was killed in Edinburgh in 1944 see Irving, Accident, p. 157; Accordingly to Baliszewski he had a minor surgical operation in a Polish hospital in Edinburgh but was then moved to an English hospital were he died in March 1944. See Kisielewski, Zamach, p. 95 »