Pilot, spy and decorated underground officer who was later jailed by the Soviets, Kazimierz Leski died 20 years ago today
As head of counter-intelligence in one of Poland’s most secretive WWII resistance groups, Kazimierz Leski was high up on the Gestapo’s list of most-wanted.
Entering the war as pilot in the Polish Air Force, he was shot down on 17th September 1939 near Chortkiv, in modern day Ukraine, by the Red Army.
Captured and interrogated, he soon managed to escape to Lwow before crossing the new Soviet-German ‘border of peace’ and in October 1939 returned to Warsaw, where he joined the underground organisation known as the Musketeers.
With direct contact to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, the group regularly risked their lives to send reports to London, including in one case rolls of microfilm with photos of a German military buildup near the border with the Soviet Union indicating that a German invasion of the Soviet Union was being planned.
The microfilm eventually reached the British after the Musketeers handed it over to super spy Krystyna Skarbek.
As head of a unit within the Musketeers known as 666, Leski was responsible for organizing courier routes along the Western Front.
A master of disguise, and fluent in six languages, he regularly travelled first class on train lines dressed as a German general and called himself General Julius von Halmann and later General Karl Leopold Jansen.
It was during this period that he reportedly obtained plans for one of the sections of the Atlantic Wall, a system of fortifications plans covering 3,862km along the coast of Europe, from Spain to Norway.
When the Warsaw Uprising began, he fought as a commander of an infantry battalion called Bradl, fighting with distinction in the area of Plac Trzech Krzyży (the square of three crosses) in Warsaw city centre.
In recognition of his gallantry, Leski was promoted to Captain and received several honours including the Silver Virtuti Militari, the Gold and Silver Crosses of Merit with Swords and three Crosses of Valour.
After the communist takeover of Poland, in August 1945 he was arrested by the secret police.
Charged with attempting to overthrow the regime, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was later charged with having collaborated with the German occupation forces and was held in solitary confinement and brutally tortured until his release in 1955.
He remained largely unknown in Poland until he published his memoirs, A Checkered Life: Memoirs of a Home Army Intelligence and Counterintelligence Officer, in 1989.
After his death he was buried with military honours at Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery.