The Galician Division

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Galicia’s governor-general, Otto Wachter, approached Himmler with a proposal to create a frontline combat division from Galician recruits. After speaking with Hitler, Himmler gave Wachter the go-ahead and ordered the creation of the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division Galicia. Despite Himmler’s position as the head of the SS, he encountered opposition to the idea. Erich Koch, Karl Wolfe (Waffen-SS liaison officer on Hitler’s staff) and SS General Kurt Daleuge (Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia) believed that the weapons supplied to such a unit would be turned on the Germans. Himmler stood firm, though, and the Galicia division was established. He had two reasons for doing so: the loss of manpower after the defeat at Stalingrad meant the Reich desperately needed new formations; and he had a fear that disaffected Ukrainian youths would join the underground movement, i.e. the UPA.

The 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division was formed in mid-1943 from 80,000 applicants. The best 13,000 were selected and the rest were used to form police regiments. From its inception, UPA members infiltrated the unit. Despite this, it was trained and equipped and passed out with a strength of 18,000 men. Like other Slav units, the division’s commander, SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag, and his officers were all German. In June 1944, the division was part of Army Group North when it was committed to its first and only major battle – in the Brody-Tarnow Pocket – which almost destroyed it. Following this engagement, the division numbered only 3000 men. After a period of rest and refitting, the division participated in several half-hearted anti-partisan operations in Slovakia and Slovenia before surrendering in Austria in May 1945.

Other Ukrainian units were formed by the Germans from Red Army POWs. This was the case with the Sumy (Ukrainian) Division, created in late 1941 and early 1942, which was nearly destroyed during the fighting at Stalingrad in 1942–43. In 1944, its remnants were attached to Vlassov’s ROA.

As a result of Ukrainian complaints, all Ukrainian units were separated from the ROA and reorganized as the Ukrainian Liberation Army in the spring of 1943. Its original strength was around 50,000, but by the end of the war this had increased to 80,000. However, it was short of arms and other supplies, and took heavy casualties fighting the Red Army. The remnants ended up in Czechoslovakia in May 1945.

In a typical German response to the dire situation in the East, in early 1945 all Ukrainian units or their remnants were brought together under one command, when the Ukrainian National Committee, headed by General Pavlo Shandruk, was established in Berlin. In addition, the Germans finally agreed to the creation of the Ukrainian National Army (UNA). The core of the army was to be the reorganized Galician Division, which was to become part of the UNA’s 1st Division. Although this plan was never fully realized because of Germany’s defeat, the Germans’ consent to Ukrainian control of these units gave the Ukrainians a free hand to negotiate with the Allies at the war’s end.

Once removed from the Eastern Front, i.e. for garrison duties in Western Europe, the Ukrainian units were often unreliable. For example, two guard battalions of the 30th SS Infantry Division, composed of Ukrainian forced labourers in Germany who were pressed into service, were sent to fight the French underground. In late 1944 these units deserted to the French and became part of the resistance. The units were first named the Bohoun and Chevtchenko (Shevchenko) Battalions, and later became the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Battalions. Both battalions were dissolved at the request of the Soviet authorities at the end of 1944. Another unit, led by Lieutenant Osyp Krukovsky and composed of the remnants of three battalions of the Galician Division sent to the West for training, also tried to desert to the French resistance. The attempt was thwarted by the Germans but a small group managed to escape in 1944. The rest were shipped back to Germany.