Ukrainian Division "Galicia" - a history in a nutshell

On September 17, 1939 the Red Army crossed the Polish eastern boundary and, in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty of August 23, 1939, occupied the western Ukrainian and Byelorussian lands which were then part of Poland. It was a surprise move not only for the Polish government, which had a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union, but also for the Western Ukrainians who had struggled hard against the Polish domination and aimed at establishing their own independent state.

Soon after the Soviet army arrived, Stalin inaugurated a policy of terror which was destined to annihilate the western Ukrainian intelligentsia which was the leading force in the national movement in Western Ukraine. The prisons were filled with political prisoners and thousands of people were exiled to Siberia or to regions of northern Russia for their previous activity in the Ukrainian national movement. When the German armies attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 the Red Army hastily retreated without much fighting or surrendered to the Germans by the thousands, not wanting to fight for Stalin's tyrannical regime. Within three months the German army captured Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine.

However, before the Soviet authorities left, they conducted last minute arrests of all people suspected of being anti-Russian or anti-communist or even just for being nationally conscious. Some of the prisoners, regardless of sex or age, were moved eastwards and some were tortured without trial right in the basement cells of the prison. Thousands of their mutilated bodies were uncovered soon after the Soviet rulers had tied!1 No wonder that the Germans were welcomed with flowers by the Ukrainians and hailed as liberators from Russian tyranny. But the Germans misjudged the situation by appropriating all the credit for their initial Blitzkrieg success.

Before very long they showed that the "New Europe" they were advocating was to be domain of a "superior German race" while all the inferior nations of Eastern Europe were to become their labour force and slaves German behaviour in Ukraine was all but humane, and as a result the initial friendship towards the Germans disappeared and hostility rapidly grew. By 1942-43 this hostility started to express itself in open warfare. The Ukrainian forests and the marshes of Polissya were turning into armed camps of the Ukrainian Underground movement which later acquired the name of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army - Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya (UPA).

By the Winter of 1942-43 the German "Drang nach Osten" had definitely proved to be a failure and after the battle of Stalingrad, the Germans were in retreat all over the Eastern front. What were the Ukrainians to do? Wait for the return of the Russians and be lead like the Jews were by the Germans, to their extermination? In the West the British and American forces had gained considerable success in Africa. The overextended German fronts were shrinking and the first signs of the end of the war were in sight.

Two powers, Red and Brown, both enemies of the democratic world, were in mortal struggle and while the end of the Third Reich was imminent, the Soviet Union was also mortally exhausted in manpower and in economic resources. Knowing the hostile attitude of Prime Minister Winston Churchill towards Bolshevik Russia, it was certainly unlikely that he would help the Russians to rebuild the Soviet Union with its tyrannical regime. True, there was a naive American president, F. D. Roosevelt, a "friend" of Joseph Stalin, of whom the local press controlled by the Germans wrote so much. But who would believe the Germans that the President of the freedom loving United States would like to see Stalin restored?

Some Ukrainian circles, especially Ukrainian veterans, believed that, to be on the safe side, a Ukrainian armed forces were an absolute necessity when the war came to an end and a weak and exhausted Kremlin faced the democratic opposition of the West. True, there were some other circles who believed in a "green forest" i.e. in guerrilla warfare. But the Ukrainian veterans, headed by Dmytro Paliyiv, having seen the underground movement and guerrilla warfare in 1918-1922, did not favour it at all. In the early months of 1943 the German governor of Galicia, Dr. Otto Wachter remembered that some time earlier the Ukrainians had asked for permission to participate in the struggle against the Bolsheviks, and the Germans suggested that such a Ukrainian unit could now be formed.

The Ukrainian Central Committee (UCC) headed by Prof. V. Kubiyovych, which served as the only legal representative of the Ukrainian society before the German authorities, and the Military Council, created as an auxiliary body to organize this military unit, managed to exact a German promise that such a Ukrainian military unit, when formed, would not be obliged to fight on the western front against the British and Americans but only against the Soviet armies in the East. On April 28, 1943 the formation of the Ukrainian Division "Galicia" was announced. According to the established pattern for other foreign military units within the German army, it was to be subordinated to the command of the German Waffen SS. However, unlike the other SS units. Division "Galicia" would have its own chaplains to serve the spiritual needs of its soldiers and it its own emblem consisting of a golden lion standing upright with three crowns, two above his head and one beneath him,all on the blue shield bordered by golden trim. (Gold yellow f. e. blue and constitute the Ukrainian national colours). A brief but intensive propaganda campaign was organized all over the province of Galicia calling to join the Ukrainian Division. By June 8, 1943, 81, 999 volunteered but out of this number about half was accepted by the very strict medical examiners.2

While the propaganda was going on for enlistment in the Division "SS Galicia" the Communists and Poles used their underground channels for counter propaganda, but none of these achieved much success, including the raid of a Soviet partisan detachment commanded by General S. Kovpak through Galicia into the Carpathian mountains in June-July, 1943. The Polish regime between the two wars and the Soviet Russian regime during the short period of 1939-1941 did not appeal to the Ukrainians of Galicia who wanted to be independent. The strongest objection to the formation of the Division "Galicia" was raised however, within the Ukrainian community by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist faction headed by S. Bandera3 (OUN[b]) while the original OUN headed by Colonel Andrew Melnyk (OUN[m]) did not take a definite stand, or in any case did not advocate one. The OUN Bandera faction favoured the "green forest" which was to fight the Germans as they left and turn against the Russians when they returned. Little consideration was given to the fact that by fighting the Germans, they helped an even worse enemy, the Russians. By fighting the Soviet Russian army they not only did not contribute to the victory of the Western Allies but also created an excellent opportunity for the Russians to destroy all the Ukrainian activists who had refused to emigrate to the West.

The Germans, on the other hand, also were not in a hurry to form the Division because there were voices questioning Ukrainian loyally, saying that the arms given to the Ukrainians sooner or later would be turned against the Germans themselves.4 It was only in the second half of July 1943 that the two series of call-ups Finally took place and the military training of Ukrainian recruits began.

Who was it that volunteered for the Division "Galicia" to fight Soviet Russia and her Communist regime? Essentially these were the most nationally conscious young men (and women for hospital services), students of the higher institutions of learning or graduates from the Secondary schools. They were followed by other segments of the population who had been brought up on the ideals of a sovereign and independent Ukrainian stale. They volunteered for the Division "Galicia" not because of a love of the Germans but because of their hatred of the Russians and their Communist tyranny. Besides, it was obvious that should the Soviet government return it would mobilize all the Ukrainians of military age and force them to fight "for Stalin and the Soviet Fatherland". If there was a choice between the Germans and the Russians, then the German menace seemed to be less dangerous than the Russian. Nazi propaganda of the "superior German race" could not appeal to, and as such did not represent an ideological threat to the Slavic Ukrainians, or any other nation of non-German stock. But the Russian propaganda of Communism with the Russian imperialism it hides has been much more dangerous to the Ukrainians as well as to all other nations.

By the end of 1943 the organizational core of the Ukrainian Division, with General F. Freitag as its commander, was already in process; three infantry regiments numbered 29,30 and 31, an artillery regiment bearing the same number, 14, as the Division and various auxiliary units were already in formative stage. But it was not until the Spring of 1944 that all three infantry regiments consisting of two battalions each (companies no. 1-4 and 5-8) plus companies no. 13 and 14 consisting of an infantry artillery and an anti-tank artillery respectively, were formed. While the organization of Division "Galicia" had begun in the military training camp Heidelager near the city of Dembica in south-eastern Poland, early in 1944 it was transferred to another military camp. Neuhammer, near Sagan in Lower Silesia.

In February, while the core of the Division was still in Heidelager, a Soviet partisan detachment broke through the Volhynian forests of Western Ukraine, crossed the Bug River and entered the Cholm region of the Lublin District, inhabited by both Ukrainians and Poles. This was the time when the mistreatment of the Ukrainian population by the Polish underground was at its peak. The alarming reports from the Ukrainian Central Committee representative in Lublin stated that some 500 people were killed during 1942-43, a number of Ukrainian villages were burnt down and hundreds of Ukrainian families were driven out of their homes eastward across the Bug River without any means to live on.5

In an attempt to counteract the Soviet partisans in Lublin District the German command brought several German units and also ordered that a combat unit of 1,000 men be formed from the available soldiers of the Ukrainian Division "Galicia". Before the end of February the so-called Kampfgruppe Bayersdorff consisting of Ukrainians arrived in the Cholm region, where the Polish underground, having Soviet partisans on their side, reinforced the terrorism against the Ukrainian population. After one month's stay in that district, the combat group returned to the Division "Galicia" which by now was transferred to the military training camp in Neuhammer, near Sagan. At this time the Division was being filled with men according to the prescribed requirement and continued its training as a unit.

By the end of June 1944 the Division completed its training and was sent to the eastern front near the town of Brody in Western Ukraine, It arrived there just in time, as the Soviet High Command had just completed its preparations for a general offensive with the aim of occupying the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine and the city of Sandomierz in Poland, known as the Lviv-Sandomierz operation. Having found out that the Ukrainian Division "Galicia" had been assigned on the front section of Brody, the Soviet Command issued an order to encircle and destroy the German XIII Army Corps to which the Division was attached. Although unsuccessful in breaking through the lines of the German XIII Army Corps the Soviet Army managed to break through on the eastern and western flanks of the Corps. After several days of heavy fighting the Soviet units on July 18 encircled the XIII Army Corps consisting of four German divisions and the fifth, the Ukrainian Division "Galicia". All the equipment remained on the field near Bilyi Kamin but not before it was destroyed or otherwise made useless for the enemy. Many soldiers had fallen on that battlefield and out of the over 11,000 men in the Ukrainian Division hardly 3,000 returned to Neuhammer in August 1944. Some had joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and some were taken by the Soviets as prisoners of war.6

The Soviet victory at Brody was hailed in Moscow and Stalin ordered twenty shots to be fired from 224 cannons as soon as the news arrived that the German XIII Army Corps was encircled by the Soviet forces.7

During August and September the Division was reorganized and the losses were replenished with soldiers from the overcrowded Reserve Regiment and an inflow of new recruits. In September a new Combat Group was organized and sent to Slovakia to suppress the Communist-staged "peoples' uprising" while the Division itself, this time with three battalions in each Infantry regiment, was moved into western Slovakia. It stayed there over three months combatting Soviet partisan detachments and by the end of January 1945 the Division "Galicia" was transferred to Slovenia, the western most part of Yugoslavia, with the same duties.

After one month's stay in Slovenia, at the beginning of April the Division was moved to the front line in Austria on the Gleichenberg-Feldbach section in Styria where it was engaged in fierce fighting against the Soviet army right to the end of the war. While in the front line the Division "Galicia" was renamed the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army which the Germans belatedly allowed to organize under the command of General Pavlo Shandruk. When the war ended on May 8, 1945 the Division retreated from the front line and over 10,000 officers and men crossed the Alps, surrendered to the British in Carinthia and soon after they were transferred to the POW camps in Italy near Rimini. Some of the soldiers of the Ukrainian Division were rescued by the Americans and sent to the POW camps in the American zone of Germany. Two years later, in May-June 1947, the Ukrainian POW's were transferred from Italy to Great Britain where they stayed for almost a year and a half in various POW camps all over the country. By late Fall 1948 all of them were released and, having obtained the status of European Volunteer Workers, were permitted to work in the British industries.

 

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[1] . . .1939-VI.1941; , , - . , 1958, 494 ., 1941 , , , 1960, 86 .

[2] . . , . 34.

[3] " 糿 "" -, . 3, . , . 1-5.

[4] . , . The American Slavic and East European Review, vol. 15, 1956, No. 1, . 6-7.

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[6] W.-D. Heike. Sie wollten die Freiheit, . 111-113.

[7] " ..." - (), 170, 19 , 1944, . 1, . 6-7.