BETWEEN HITLER AND STALIN

 

14th WAFFEN SS GALICIA


The 14th Waffen SS Galicia was a formation of Ukrainian soldiers from the Galicia region that fought in the ranks of the German armed forces. After the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad, and the failed German offensive at Kursk in 1943, the German army was faced with an increasing crisis on the Eastern Front. Soviet advances in early 1943 cut into large swaths of occupied territory, and the German army was increasingly in retreat. The Germans were also faced with an increasing manpower shortage. Because of this, the Germans began to relax their racial laws on who could serve in their armed forces.


During these events, the German authorities began to negotiate with the Ukrainian Central Committee (UCC) on the possibility of forming an armed unit of Ukrainians to fight the Red Army. For many Ukrainians struggling for independence the prospect of having a highly trained and armed force was an attractive proposition; Ukrainians lost their independence in 1920 largely because of the lack of such a force. Therefore, Ukrainian leaders agreed to cooperate with the German authorities in establishing a Ukrainian division under German command. One of the chief reasons for their cooperation was the fact that the German defeat was becoming imminent, and Ukrainian leaders did not wish to be left without a military force that could defend Ukrainian interests. OUN-Bandera, which exercised political control over the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, remained opposed to the formation of the Division.


The German authorities agreed to several conditions put forth by the UCC to Dr. Otto Waechter, governor of Galicia. The most important of these was that the Division was to be used only on the Eastern front against the Red Army, and not on the Western front against British and American forces. The formation of the Division was announced in April 1943; some 80 000 men volunteered for service. Of these about 12 000 saw action on the front.


On 17-22 July 1944, under the command of General Freitag, the Division fought in the Battle of Brody. Facing vastly superior Soviet forces, the Division was surrounded and lost some 8000 of its soldiers – killed, wounded, captured or escaped and joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The bravery the Division showed in delaying the Red Army for several days, however, allowed thousands of Ukrainians to escape from Galician territory to the west and avoid Soviet occupation.


After the defeat at Brody, the Division was replenished with reservists and saw action against the Red Army and Soviet partisans in Slovenia and Austria. In March 1945 Hitler ordered the Division disarmed – this order was ignored. The Division was renamed the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army, under the command of the Ukrainian National Committee. The Division swore an oath of loyalty to the Ukrainian people, and General Pavlo Shandruk was given command of the Division.


The Division surrendered to British forces after Germany’s capitulation. Its veterans were held in Rimini, Italy in a POW camp for two years. They were released in 1947; most of the veterans settled in Canada, the United States and Britain.


It must be stressed that the motives of the Division and those who joined it were quite clear; they fought against Stalin, and not for Hitler. The Division was cleared of any war crimes by the Allied authorities, and it is indicative that Soviet charges of war crimes committed by the Division never went beyond mudslinging; no concrete case was ever brought against members of the Division.


Despite this veterans of the Division, who fought bravely for the defense and independence of their homeland, periodically face unfounded accusations of war crimes and atrocities; leftist forces in Ukraine continue, for their own political gain, to paint the veterans of the Division as Nazi collaborators.