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The Musketeers, Intrigue, and the Balkan Connection

Background
Relations between Poland and Britain’s SIS had been established just after Poland regained independence after the First World War through the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) and the Treaty of Versailles. The ‘big four’ (USA, Britain, France, and Italy) were favourable to an independent Poland and the restitution of former territory needed according to President Wilson a ‘scientific’ approach that became despised by both the Poles and the Germans since Danzig became under the administration of the League of Nations and placed in a customs union with Poland and creation of the Polish Corridor (Allen, 2017), leaving contested areas a source of future conflict. Recognising Soviet Russia was a threat, networks set up by II Bureau covered Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and into Turkey, Central Asia and to the Far East (Pepłoński, 2005). Poland became a source of intelligence for SIS as networks were active in the Soviet Union with information being exchanged between Warsaw and London. Poland concentrated on bordering nations and in 1938 SIS passed on the nature of the strategic planning of the Czechoslovak Army while Poland’s II Bureau passed on to the French and British decrypted German intelligence traffic sent by Enigma (Budiansky, 2000; Pepłoński, 2005).

Britain’s overall strategic policy and planning for Yugoslavia, Albania and the Balkans appears at first hand to be one of duplicity or as in the case of Yugoslavia, confusing and contradictory (Barker, 1976). In realpolitik, it was akin to military success based on financial and military ‘returns’ and ‘efficiency’. End result, SOE supported the anti-communists in Greece and the communists in Yugoslavia and Albania (Foot, 1990) using ‘shadow missions’ initially led by Major L. G. Barbrook (Atkin, 2021). OSS had access to intelligence from SOE and SIS, but felt they lacked the quality in leadership and the need for unity in a command structure for campaigns in the latter stage of the war where Churchill’s choice in backing Tito still resonates today (Duke; Phillips, and Conover, 2014).

II Bureau officers were evacuated to Romania at the outbreak of war and began operating in territories occupied by Russia and in the Balkans. R Station was set up in Bucharest prior to the HQ being moved to France and then Britain. In the autumn 1939 the Poland’s Liaison Base No. 1 (Romek) was set up in Budapest (Przewoźnik, 2005) as a communications link between occupied Poland and London, first by courier and then radio. ‘Romek’ mainly handled diversion and transfer of escaped or interned personnel to appropriate military units abroad. Intelligence was handled by Captain Jan Billewicz ‘Bliźewski through Station W and local networks of agents. By 24th April 1940 Polish diplomatic and military missions had to be evacuated and closed with agents in the networks going into deep cover. Staff at Romek and Station W were arrested by the Hungarian intelligence leaving a void until March 1941 with some dispatches handled through SIS and a need to open routes through Yugoslavia. It was through this network reports of a military build-up and imminent invasion of Russia came about. In 1942 Colonel Stanisław Rostworowski (Rola) commanded Romek and worked closer with SIS (Przewoźnik, 2005) and from 30th September Colonel T. Howie of SOE acted as the main intelligence conduit for the Poles. link to SOE, SIS and the Poles in Hungary

After the fall of Poland, the intelligence services sought independent intelligence gathering (Pepłoński, 2005; Kochanski, 2012) and agreed to work closely with SIS and SOE where communications and ciphers would remain fully within their control. Britain’s intelligence services lagged behind war preparations and were keen to co-operate with Poles who had previously worked in German intelligence (Pepłoński, 2005) with formal recognition of the co-operation between II Bureau and SIS on 29th July 1940.

From the outset of defeat, resistance networks were established often working independently of each other (although many were affiliated to political parties), AK and the Government-in-exile. One of the first groups to provide information and reports on the German occupation came from the ‘Muszkieterowie’ or Musketeers whose networks covered 32 towns in Poland and by 1941 stretched into the Reich, Soviet Union, Hungary, and the Balkans (Pepłoński, 2005). The Musketeer’s name is derived from an anti-tank unit Stefan Witkowski ("Kapitan", "Doktor Zet", "Director", "Engineer", "Tęczyński", "Kaniewski", "Stewit") had commanded at the outbreak of war. Led by the charismatic and eccentric inventor/ engineer Stefan Witkowski (Mulley, 2012; Fairweather, 2020), the resistance group were highly secretive and potentially posed a threat to Sikorski’s ZWZ/ AK unity and intelligence gathering. The Musketeers were mostly drawn from nobility and had extensive contacts through senior military officials, politicians, diplomats, and industrialists across Europe. Witkowski had a business outlet in Switzerland that gave him access not only to the banking system, but also enabled legitimate trips there.

Their initial HQ was in Budapest while Hungary was independent and friendly towards the Poles, their military legation and refugee organisations. Stefan Witkowski frequently worked in Germany in the guise of an SS officer Baron August von Thierbach and encountered Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr who had been passing intelligence to Halina Szymanska who had no known contact with the Musketeers. Halina Szymanska had met Canaris in Berlin when her husband worked as a military attaché prior to the war and he assisted in her escape from Germany to Switzerland (Garliński, 1981; Suchcitz, 2005). Halina later worked for Polish intelligence as a cipher clerk in the Polish legation in Bern and continued contact with Canaris including trips to Italy with Canaris (Garliński, 1981). The story remains one of the Second World War’s biggest secrets.

The Musketeers’ contact was through Krystyna Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) in Budapest who worked within a section of SIS in MI(R) section D (Pepłoński, 2005; Schandl, (2007); Ogden (2010); Kochanski, (2012); Mulley, 2012; Fairweather, 2019). Between October 1940 and Spring 1941 the uncoordinated activities of the Polish resistance and the British in Budapest impacted upon the effectiveness of intelligence gathering. The ‘Muszkieterowie’ had the most extensive contacts with SIS through Andrzej Kowerski-Kennedy and Krystyna Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) (Przewoźnik, 2005; Mulley, 2012). Both Kowerski-Kennedy and Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) made numerous courier journeys into Poland carrying black propaganda and radio spares in and bringing out intelligence and POW escapees (Mulley, 2012). During this period, the newly formed AK encouraged Witkowski, Czesław Szadkowski, Czesław Wasilewski (Wilk), Lt. Kazimierz Rutkowski and Antoni Pohoski (Korejwo) to travel east to develop intelligence cells there and cover Soviet interests within the region.

Klementyna Mańkowska had been born into the local landowning class in Wysuczka (now Vysicha in the Ukraine) eastern Poland and on marriage to Count Andrej, moved to the estate at Winna Góra near Poznan. Evicted from their home with Andrej critically injured by a soldier under his command (Mulley, 2012), Klementyna Contessa Mańkowska had fled to Warsaw after the Soviet invasion and resided in a spacious apartment owned by her cousin Teresa Łubieńska, later a social activist and member of the AK who had introduced her to the ‘Muszkieterowie’ and worked in the courier services due to her linguistic talent and was a natural spy. Klementyna extracted details on the invasion of France through a German admirer, Harold von Hoepfner and later was sent to northern France by Witkowski to secure communication lines should the French government escape to Britain. With northern France over-run, the countess kept her identity secret while working as a translator on Noirmoutier. SIS knew through conversations with Contessa Klementyna that there was a good courier line operated by the ‘Muszkieterowie’ with safe houses from unoccupied France, Switzerland, and Germany to Warsaw (Williamson, 2012). Klementyna continued to spy and is accredited with passing to SIS the details of the submarine pens at St. Nazaire, having tricked senior German officers to give her a letter of recommendation, indicating she was pro-German. Arrested and imprisoned in Nantes then transferred to Paris playing the part of a Countess, her fear of being interrogated as a Musketeer by the Gestapo was unfounded. The real reason was more banal – the German authorities had not disclosed her correct nationality and was sent back to Noirmoutier first class on a train.

German intelligence saw value in Klementyna as a potential agent and given a job in the Foreign Ministry as part of her training and new role where she learnt of the German plans for the Soviet invasion which were passed onto Witkowski who saw her role as a double agent complicating and potentially exposing his network to infiltration.

By the beginning of 1942 the Musketeers were under pressure to merge with the AK and disband independent operations due to Sikorski ordering all military groups to subordinate themselves to the AK in August 1942 whose origins lay in the ZWZ (Garlinski, 1981; Baliszewski, 2006; Roszkowski, 2010). The range of military groups reflected the complexities of Polish politics:

Party Paramilitary Force
Peasant Party Peasants Battalions (BCh)
National Military Organisation (NOW) Joined AK
  National Armed Forces (NSZ) remnants of NOW
Communists People’s Guard

In the vast forests, mainly in eastern Poland partisan bands operated independently of the AK with many having Soviet support. The ‘Muszkieterowie’ came under great pressure to fall in line with the AK (Williamson, 2012) despite evidence of support from II Bureau (Przewoźnik, 2005) and Rowecki who had reached an agreement with Witkowski over independent intelligence gathering (Fairweather, 2020) despite Sikorski’s wishes to merge with the AK. Rowecki had acted as a conduit between Witkowski and Aleksander Wielopolski who had smuggled the gruesome details of Auschwitz out in October 1940 and was included in a wider report written by Witkowski and passed on to both the AK and SIS begging for the facility to be bombed (Fairweather, 2020). Aleksander Wielopolski’s cousin was General Stefan Dembinski, a fellow Musketeer (Fairweather, 2020). The courier routes through the Tatra mountains had been infiltrated and Witkowski suggested Julia Lubomirska and her half-sister would smuggle the report to Geneva by train and delivered to Stanisław Radziłł, the Polish chargé d’affairs at the League of Nations (Fairweather, 2020).

Teresa Łubieńska was active in the ‘Muszkieterowie’ assisting funding through sale of jewellery and making introductions for Krystyna Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) to Witkowski and Captain Michael Lis or Leon/ Michał Gradowski.

Michał (code named ‘Lis’, the Polish for Fox), was an experienced underground operator running couriers from Poland via Budapest. Educated in Belgium’s Louvain University in agriculture, Gradowski returned to Poland and enrolled in the army and commissioned as a lieutenant in the 24th Cavalry Regiment. Captured by the Soviet forces, he jumped off the train with two other escapers with one shot and the other recaptured. Many of those on the train were murdered at Katyn. Michał escaped to German occupied Warsaw where friends introduced him to SIS through the Musketeers where upon he became engaged in underground activities such as forging and fabricating false seals or courier work to Budapest. As a courier, he smuggled micro-film into Budapest that was destined for Istanbul where he met the reception agent Christine Granville (Krystyna Starbek) (Mulley, 2012). Gradowski was later caught trying to cross into Yugoslavia but escaped again from a moving train. A local priest assisted him, and they conversed in Latin as the only common language. At one point he masqueraded as a Baron and managed to be entertained by German officers in Belgrade where he noted strength of the Luftwaffe and ground defences. Through impersonating himself as a Baron Ostrog of Estonian origin, his forged papers were so good he managed to persuade a German Consul to give him a lift to Istanbul (Mulley, 2013) where he met SOE Station chief Gardyne de Chastelain who recruited him into the organisation. Michał served with distinction in Albania. link to SOE, Poles and the Balkans

Kazimierz Leski (code names: “37”, Pierre, Bradl) Immediately after graduation, he went to the Netherlands for an internship, where he worked in Dutch shipbuilding, while studying at the Delft University of Technology. Pre-war he had learned to fly and once qualified was o the Aviation Reserve Cadet School in Dęblin and was transferred to the Air Force Reserve Officer Cadet School in Sadków near Radom. He learned to fly gliders and RWD-8, PWS-14 and PWS 24 airplanes. In a surprise attack at the outbreak of war he was shot down near Chortków (now the Ukraine).

In the "Muszkieterowie", where Leski conducted communication intelligence and counterintelligence activities (Mulley, 2012) for them and then later joined the AK from 1942 and was tasked to investigate the German intelligence services in Warsaw. He headed cell "666", whose task was to transfer people and intelligence from the Home Army Headquarters to the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief in London. Disguised as a German officer, Julius von Hallmann or Gen. Karl Leopold Jansen, travelled many times through Berlin, Hannover, Brussels to Paris or in civilian disguise as an employee of a company working for the Wehrmacht around occupied Europe. In the guise of a German Major-General Julius von Hallman and obtained the plans for the Atlantic Wall that were passed on to London whose importance was invaluable for the planning of the Normandy invasion. He was also responsible for developing courier networks through France to the Spanish border in partnership with the French Resistance.

After the war, he became a director of a shipyard in in Gdańsk and became a member of WiN and was arrested in August 1945 by the UB and later imprisoned for subversion in Mokotów, then transferred to the labour camp at the "Star" Car Repair Plant in Jelcz. Released in 1957, he returned to study and completed his PhD in humanities from the University of Warsaw and edited the Państwowe Wydawnictwa Technicznych journal (Roszkowski, 2010).

Bolesław Feliks Burski, (Jasieńczyk) Although trained as an agricultural engineer, he was responsible for the design of a park in Koszalewo while working in Dąbrowa Górnicza. Pre-war he had trained in the Infantry Officer School of the 70th Infantry Regiment at Jarocin and as a reservist commanded a company in his regiment based in WW1 forts on the Róźan-Kałuszyn bridgehead against an entire Panzer Division. After the Polish defeat he organized a resistance group the White Eagle Organisation and operated in the Dąbrowa, Częstochowa and Kłobuck region. After merging with the ZWZ he was assigned to the Krakow branch of the ZWZ before being transferred to Warsaw in November 1940 to organize sabotage networks in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Lublin, Chełm, and Kielce.

In September 1941 he started to co-operate with Capt. Kazimierz Leski of the "Muszkieterowie" and Janina Siwińska (Anna, Balińska) providing intelligence and counterintelligence (Dept. 37). Denounced on 26th December 1942 with Siwińska, they were first sent to the notorious Pawiak prison in Warsaw before Burski was transferred to the concentration camp at Majdanek as high-risk prisoner (Fluchpunkt). On 18th April 1944, Burski was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and managed to escape in January 1945 fleeing into the forests at Pszczyna and joined the partisans. With the Soviet occupation and installation of a communist puppet government, Burski was again interned as a threat and placed in prison in Katowice, not being released until August 1945 (Wójcik, 2020).

Capt. Czesław Szadkowski (“Mikołaj Zaręba”) was asked by Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz to meet Anders in the Soviet Union (Kopra and Pawłowski, 2019). The decision to meet Anders may have been prompted by a Russian Major General Boris Smylsovski (Artur Holmston or Von Regenau) who had links to German military intelligence (Kuberski, 2017). Under the name of Von Regenau, Stefan Witkowski was approached with the idea of emissaries being sent to contact Anders with the help Maj. Smyslovski and 2nd-Lt. Vladimir Bondorevski (Włodzimierz Bondorowski), who would assist in the transfer of the group behind Soviet lines (Kuberski, 2017). The group had different representatives of the armed forces: 2nd-Lt. Czesław Wasilewski (“Wilk”) (infantry); Lt. Kazimierz Rutkowski (“Mątwa”) (artillery), and Officer Cadet Antoni Pohoski “Korejwo” (aviation) and were to be accompanied by Bondorevski (Kuberski, 2017). At the same time Smylsovski had begun secretly cooperating with the “Miecz i Pług” (Sword and Plow) an anti-communist organisation that sought links to the AK and White Russians. Infiltrated by the NKVD in the summer of 1942 (Kuberski, 2017) Smyslovski operations in and around Warsaw came under suspicion of being a double-agent and placed under house arrest in December 1943.

Szadkowski was briefed by Śmigły-Rydz and then left Warsaw mid-January 1942 and managed to pass through the front line and arrived in Kharkiv by train. Captured by the Soviets despite claiming to be escaped Polish labourers (Kopra and Pawłowski, 2019), Szadkowski was sent to the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow and interrogated. Lt. Col. Bąkiewicz, a staff officer with Anders visited him there and was informed a microfilm hidden in shaving soap and had also a personal message for Anders. Released and entertained by Anders in his HQ at Buzuluk, the processed microfilm (most likely by the NKVD) appeared to have instructions allegedly from Witkowski and not ‘Grot’ (Gen. Stefan Rowecki) the C-in-C of the AK and therefore the contents were compromised. However, it was suspected the orders came from Marshal Śmigły-Rydz. The instructions were for Anders to attack the rear of the Soviet Army (Kopra and Pawłowski, 2019) and these instructions appeared to be treasonous.

Szadkowski was later imprisoned in the Palestine for the remainder of the war and accused of treason with the sentence commuted. On release from prison, Szadkowski decided to return to Poland where he was arrested by the UB. The secret police were seeking evidence that Anders was a traitor to discredit him when he had been intensely loyal to Sikorski with the full knowledge that the NKVD had spied on him while in the Soviet Union (Kopra and Pawłowski, 2019) and were seeking any information or methods to discredit him.

Szadkowski was sentenced to five years in prison for espionage against the Soviets. To this day, much controversy surrounds Witkowski’s letter to Anders where there is some serious opinion the letter was forged by the NKVD to destabilise pro-Allied officers and place the blame on Marshal Śmigły-Rydz.

Another member of the ‘Muszkieterowie’ was Bronisław Urbański (White Ghost) a Polish Counter-Intelligence officer who joined SIS after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. Born on 10th October 1912 in Piotrkow Trybunalski, he was a tall officer attached to the Border Protection Corps (K.O.P) and an expert in wireless, cipher and morse code. He was present on 25th July 1939 when the German Section of the Biuro Szyfrow based in the forest at Pyry, a small village near Warsaw handed over the Enigma replicas to British and French counterparts. He became an integral part of SIS MI(D) section and was captured during the collapse of Poland in 1939. Changing his identity probably saved him from the Katyn massacre and later escaped from Stalag VB in Villigen in Germany in 1942. He was introduced to the ‘Muszkieterowie’ by Witowski where he met and was apparently one of Krystyna Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) lovers. Through another identity change, he fought in Operation VULCAN 22nd April to 6th May 1943 in Tunis and then Monte Cassino. Parachuted back into Poland he helped train and set up resistance cells for the AK and later joined the Brygada Świętokrzyska (NSZ) who were independent of the Home Army and fought both the Germans and Soviets in the area around Kielce from June 1944 and was involved in freeing inmates from the Holýšov concentration camp in early may 1945. He remained a member of the underground brigade and joined WiN like several other ‘Muszkieterowie’. Approached by the OSS after the war, he worked from West Germany as a Sergeant in the US army on reconnaissance details and then given permission to emigrate with his family to Australia in 1949.

In January 1942, the independence of the ‘Muszkieterowie’ placed them under threat from interfering with the AK. The alleged letter from Stefan Witkowski suggesting Anders attacked the Soviet’s from the rear incensed Gen. Sikorski with the couriers being tried before a military court (Mulley, 2012). Krystyna Skarbek-Gizycka (Granville) denied knowing Contessa Mańkowska who was still passing intelligence to SIS. Contessa Mańkowska was thought to be in contact with the Red Orchestra, an anti- Nazi dissident group after a visit to Berlin where she met Rudolf Von Scheliha a former diplomat and linked to the Red Orchestra and Soviet NKVD where he had attempted to pass documents to the Allies via Switzerland outlining Nazi atrocities with the dossier being shown to Contessa Mańkowska. Arrested on 29th October 1942 along with other members of the Red Orchestra, Scheliha was executed for treason on 22nd December 1942.

With the ‘Muszkieterowie’ disbanded and many joined the AK, Teresa Łubieńska was arrested by the Gestapo in August 1942. The AK’s Special Court sentenced Witkowski to death at the end of August 1942 for insubordination. The Commander-in-Chief of the AK, General Stefan Grot-Rowecki reported to London that Witkowski was still working independently and his connections to the Abwehr was a threat. Witkowski was assassinated by an AK execution squad dressed as German policemen (Mulley, 2012) visiting his apartment in Warsaw. There is some suspicion over General Stefan Grot-Rowecki’s motivation for the death warrant on Witkowski that may be related to cooperation with the Germans against the Soviets or a coup within the AK. Evidence suggests Witkowski worked with SIS and Abwehr and deemed to be a traitor (Baliszewski, 2006) even though documents shed a different light on this.

Teresa Łubieńska survived the notorious Pawiak prison in Warsaw and then incarceration in Auschwitz and Ravensbrück concentration camps. She arrived in London to start work on compensation for war victims, only to be stabbed in mysterious circumstances on 24th May 1957 that has never been resolved.

Stefan Witkowski’s life remains controversial. As an engineer and inventor some of his designs on all fuel engines and later rockets were suppressed by the AK’s counterintelligence and probably never put to test. Jerzy Rostkowski’s book “Swiat Muszkieteró” explores many of those controversies and helps shed light on the half-truths, rumours, and intrigue surrounding Witkowski and the Musketeers. The ‘Muszkieterowie’ were possibly one of the largest secret underground organisations in Poland during the early years of the war – who really knows? It is said all the archives and files were destroyed; however, Stefan Witkowski reportedly had a photographic memory and as such files may never have existed.

Further Reading

Allen, E. (2017) “World War I: Restoring Poland”, Library of Congress blog January 25th, USA.

Atkin, M. (2021) Pioneers of Irregular War: Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department in the Second World War”, Pen & Sword Military, UK.

Baliszewski, D. (2006) “Who was Stefan Witkowski”,

Budiansky, S. (2000) “Battle of Wits: The complete story of codebreaking in World War II, Viking, UK.

Fairweather, J. (2020) “The Volunteer”: The true story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz”, W.H. Allen, UK.

Garliński, J. (1981) “The Swiss Corridor”, J.M.Dent and Son, UK.

Kochanski, H. (2012) “The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War”, Allan Lane, UK.

Kopra, S and Pawłowski, T. (2019) “Tajemnice Marszałka Śmigłego – Rydza”, Harde Publishing House, Warsaw, Poland. Kuberski, H. (2017) “Russian Emigrants and Polish Underground in 1939–1948”, Studia z Dziejów Rosji I Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, L I I - S I, No.1, pp. 73-136.

Ogden, A. (2010) “Through Hitler’s Back Door: SOE Operations in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria 1939 – 1945”, Pen & Sword Military, UK.

Pepłoński, A. (2005) “Co-operation between II Bureau and SIS”, Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II”, The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, Vol. 1, pp.181-197.

Przewoźnik, A. (2005) “Hungary” Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II”, The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, Vol. 1, pp.298-301

Roszkowski, M. (2010) “Memoirs by Kazimierz Leski: "Life inappropriately varied: memories of an intelligence and counterintelligence officer of the Home Army". Oficyna Wydawnicza Volumen, 2001 Biography of Kazimierz Leski "Kazimierz Leski" Bradl ". Life well fulfilled”, Rytm Publishing House, Warsaw.

Schandl, C.E. (2007) “The London-Budapest Game”, Lulu Books, USA.

Suchcitz, A. (2005) “Polish Intelligence on Key Military Operations in the West”, Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II”, The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, Vol. 1, pp.484-486.

Williamson, D.G. (2012) The Polish Underground 1939-1947”, Pen and Sword Military, UK.

Wójcik, A. (2020) “Bolesław Burski ps. Jasieńczyk - Unknown History” https://www-majdanek-eu.translate. (Accessed April 2020)

Selected Websites

Musketeers secrets. The biggest conspiracy in Europe?

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