As it became evident that German manpower was inadequate and that the Third Reich would probably be denied victory, Berlin began to create military units of nationalities other than ethnic Germans—contrary to earlier policy. Between 1943 and 1945, 24 non-German units were formed, almost all of them designated Waffen SS divisions. The Waffen SS was the military wing of the Schutzstaffel (SS). Although under the command of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, the Waffen SS participated in military, not police, actions. There were four Hungarian divisions; three Dutch (one of them included Danes and Norwegians); two each: Belgian, Italian, Croatian, Latvian, Russian, and Don Cossack; and one each: French, Estonian, Albanian, Bosnian-Herzegovinian, and Ukrainian. With some exceptions, all were sent to the Soviet front. Other military units were also formed of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) living in several occupied countries of southeastern Europe. Poles also served in the German forces. There was a British unit and even a number of “honorary Aryan” Jews who served in the German armed forces. In the fall of 1943 the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) was recruited mainly from Soviet soldiers in German POW camps. This major military force, numbering around 300,000 men, was under the command of a captured Red Army Russian general Andrei Vlasov.
In early 1943 Otto Waechter, governor of Galicia, approached the Ukrainian Central Committee with a proposal to form a Ukrainian Waffen SS division. After much wrangling and despite open opposition from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists leading and already two-year long insurgency fighting the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Central Committee (located in Cracow, Poland) agreed under duress to the German proposal. The compliance was driven primarily by the hope that the formation of such a military division might help alleviate the treatment of Ukrainians by the Nazis, as well as by the need for Ukrainians, caught between Stalin’s hammer and Hitler’s anvil, to have adequately trained military units of their own to, at least, be able to assist civilians and refugees in their plight during the chaos of shifting fortunes of war of the combatants.
During the negotiations preceding the formation of the division the UCC insisted that the unit fight only against the Soviets. Himmler demanded that the division’s command be German and that it be called “Galician” rather than “Ukrainian,” so as not to irritate Hitler. The division, which was to be called the “14 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS, Galizische Nr. 1,” recruited 16,000 men. It was to be exclusively a military division, not connected with the special SS units engaged in policing the civilian population. According to renown historian Norman Davies
“There was, indeed, a clear distinction between the Waffen SS, which was a military wing of the SS and various other SS formations, which had different sorts of duties. “
The majority of these “volunteers” were given a choice by German recruiters: join the
division or be sent as an Ostarbeiter (“eastern worker”) for forced labor in Germany (or worse).
The newly-formed division was recruited and trained in the fall and winter of 1943-44 and, under the command of Major-General F. Freitag, was deployed against the advancing Soviet forces in the summer of 1944. On 17-22 July it fought in the Battle of Brody, in western Ukraine, where it was surrounded by the Soviet Army and defeated. About 8,000 soldiers were lost: killed, wounded, and taken prisoner. Many deserted to join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. About 3,000 survivors retreated, avoiding capture.
The attitude toward Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on the part of the Galicia Division servicemen is well illustrated by a telling German military intelligence report from the Eastern front dated 23 October 1944:
“M. is a typical representative of a nationally-conscious Ukrainian… His attitude toward Germany is, in any case, not friendly… As a serviceman of the SS Division he does fight against the Russians and bandit gangs. However, he is not interested in fighting for the Germans or their interests. As a Ukrainian, he and his countrymen expected much more from the Germans, namely, he thought that the Germans will help Ukraine gain independence… With this hope, Ukrainians joined the ranks of the German army… Should the front line shift further [westward], he will no longer cooperate with the Germans. He will not cross over to the Bolshevik gang, but will join the national Ukrainian gangs [UPA], which are conducting a separate struggle against the Bolsheviks with the aim of winning an independent and free Ukraine.”
Subsequently, the Galicia Division, regrouped and reinforced with reservists and new recruits, saw action in Slovakia, where it fought against communist partisans and liberated Ukrainian refugees captured by the Soviets. It was also deployed against the Soviet Army in Slovenia and Austria. Just before the end of the war Hitler issued an order to disarm the Division. Instead, the division was reformed on 15 March 1945 and renamed the “First Division of the Ukrainian National Army,” under the previously-established Ukrainian National Committee which intended at the time to represent all Ukrainians. On 25 April 1945 the division swore an oath of loyalty to the Ukrainian people. Command was assumed by General Pavlo Shandruk.
When Germany capitulated, the division surrendered to the British. The men spent almost two years as POWs of the Allied Forces in Rimini, Italy. Before their release in 1947, the division was checked and cleared of any possible war crimes by the Allied authorities. In time, many former members of the Galicia Division settled in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and elsewhere.
In 1985-1986 the Canadian Government’s Commission of Inquiry of War Criminals in Canada headed by Justice Jules Deschenes (known as the ” Deschenes Commission”) investigated at length the veterans of the Galicia Division residing in Canada, and ruled that: there was “no evidence of participation or knowledge of specific war crimes”; “the Division should not be indicted as a group”; “mere membership in the Galicia Division is
insufficient to justify prosecution”; and “no case can be made against members of Galicia Division”.
For additional information please refer to the following links: http://www.ucrdc.org/Publications_files/Between%20Hitler%20and%20Stalin%20-Companion%20book.pdf , and http://www.shevchenko.org/thumbs/0908014_Hunchak_Shukhevych_Nachtigall_2009.pdf.