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The formation of the Polish government-in-exile and its relations with Great Britain, 1939-1941

Coutouvidis, John


John Coutouvidis


In June, 1940, the Polish Government established itself in London. It was headed by General Wladyslaw Sikorski and in its composition it reflected a radical change in Polish politics since the coup d'etat of May 1926, which brought Marshal Josef Pilsudski to power. Political differences between Sikorski and Pi1sudiki, and their supporters constitute a theme in the thesis. These differences originated during the period of the restoration of the Polish State after the First World War. As in the past, the existence of Poland then depended largely on the strength of Polish nationalism and on the policies of her two great neighbours, Germany and Russia.
Against this background it was Polish foreign policy between the wars to maintain Polish independence. In 1939 the gravest threat to that independence came from Germany, whose aggressive policies had also become the major preoccupation of the British Government. Poland end Great Britain drew closer together in the face of the common danger. Their relationship, however, was complicated by the role that Russia was to play in deterring Germany from further aggression. The thesis examines the making of the Anglo-Polish alliance of 25 August, 1939, in this light.
Poland was attacked by Germany on 1 September 1939, and by Russia sixteen days later. As a consequence of this the Polish Government crossed the frontier into Roumania. Here it was interned and a new government was formed in Paris at the end of September.
The history of these events is described with particular attention to the influence of the French Government on the selection of the new Polish President. The existence of the Polish Government-in-Exile as the legal government of Poland was dependant on diplomatic recognition and therefore subject to the influence of other powers; this influence is one of the problems facing a government-in exile and is discussed in the context of the policies of the Sikorski government, first in France and then in Britain. The Fall of France marks the beginning of a crisis in the Polish Government. The crisis was exacerbated by General Sikorski's policy initiatives in June 1940. His willingness to enter into some form of relations with Russia and his determination to reorganise the Polish Government brought to a head political animosities between himself, Zaleski and President Raczkiewicz.
Surviving these events, Sikorski and his Government then faced an awkward dilemma over Russia when Germany attacked that country, her ally since August 22, 1939. The dilemma directly concerned the Polish Government with
her ally Great Britain. Britain's survival was seen to depend on the Soviet Union's ability and willingness to absorb Germany's might and the British Government therefore sought closer relations with Russia. Fearing that Stalin might once more turn to seek rapprochement with Hitler the British Government felt obliged to recognise Soviet territorial demands in the West, on the understanding that any decisions reached were only temporary and had to await the outcome of the war. Since these demands came to involve Polish Government interests directly, the attitude of the Polish Government to the Soviet Union was crucial to a closer understanding between Great Britain and Russia. The Polish Government was split between Sikorski, who believed that Poland had to normalise relations with Russia and placed his faith in Britain's capacity to influence events in Poland's interest, and Zaleski who believed that any normalization of relations with Russia had to be accompanied by a firm British commitment towards Polish territorial integrity.
In signing the pact with Maisky on 30 July 1941, Sikorski emerged the victor and Zaleski, with two other dissident ministers, resigned. Poland's total dependence on Great Britain was confirmed. This dependence come to characterize the Polish-British alliance by July 1941 (a significant watershed in the diplomatic history of the Second World War) and distinguished relations between Poland and Britain at that time from those in 1939.


Coutouvidis, J. (1975). The formation of the Polish government-in-exile and its relations with Great Britain, 1939-1941

Additional Information For access to the hard copy thesis, check the University Library catalogue.

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