After World War I and the dissolution of Austria–Hungary, the territory of Eastern Galicia (Halychyna), populated by a Ukrainian majority but with a large Polish minority, was incorporated into Poland following the Polish–Ukrainian War. Between the wars, the political allegiances of Ukrainians in eastern Galicia were divided between moderate national democrats and the more radical Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The latter group itself splintered into two factions, the more moderate OUN-M led by Andriy Melnyk with close ties to German intelligence (Abwehr), and the more radical OUN-B led by Stepan Bandera. When Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, the territory of eastern Galicia was annexed to Soviet Ukraine. In 1941 it was occupied by Germany.
Ukrainian leaders of various political persuasions recognised the need for a trained armed force. The Germans had earlier considered the formation of an armed force made up of Slavic people, but they decided this to be unacceptable as they regarded Slavs as sub-humans (untermenschen) compared to the Germanic ubermenschen master race. At the beginning of 1943, growing losses inclined Nazi leaders to alter their initial opinions.
The idea to organize a division of volunteers from Galicia was proposed by the German Governor of District Galicia, Dr. Otto von Wächter. He suggested creation of a Waffen-SS division composed of Galician volunteers and designed for regular combat on the Eastern Front. The creation of 14th Voluntary Division SS Galizien was announced in April 1943 at ceremonies throughout Galicia. At least 50 documents including contemporary newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts and speeches etc. record the date of 28 April. By June 1943 the first phase of recruitment had taken place. Initially Wächter's proposal (which he was certain would be supported by Ukrainian circles) was rejected. In Berlin Wächter was able to get support from Heinrich Himmler who made the stipulation that the division would only made up of Galicians, who Himmler considered "more Aryan-like". The terms "Ukrainian", "Ukraine", could not be used when addressing the division, stressing the Imperial Austro-Hungarian heritage of the term "Galizien". David Marples suggests that the division was titled "Galicia" to ensure stricter German control to avoid direct use of inflammatory term "Ukrainian".
Wächter approached the Ukrainian Central Committee, a nonpolitical social welfare organization headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych which supported the idea of the formation of the division. The Ukrainian Catholic Church demanded the presence of its chaplains in the division, which was usually not permitted by Germans. Thus the Ukrainian division along with the Bosnian one became notable exceptions.
Germans made two political concessions: It was stipulated that the division shall not be used to fight Western Allies, and would be used exclusively to "fight Bolsheviks". The other concession was in that its oath of allegiance to Hitler was conditional on the fight against Bolshevism and in the fact that Christian (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox) chaplains were integrated into the units and allowed to function (in the Waffen-SS, only the Bosnian division and Sturmbrigade Wallonien had a clerical presence). The latter condition was instituted at the insistence of the division's organizers in order to minimize the risk of Nazi demoralization amongst the soldiers. Indeed, Nazi indoctrination was absent within the division.
The creation of foreign SS units had been carried out previously in the name of fighting against communism; with French, Dutch, Latvian, Estonian, Croatian, and Belarusian units, among others, had been created. The creation of a Ukrainian SS division was perceived by many in Ukraine as a step towards the attainment of Ukrainian independence and attracted many volunteers.
The Division enjoyed support from multiple political and religious groups within the western Ukrainian community. The Division's prime organizer and highest ranking Ukrainian officer, Dmytro Paliiv, had been the leader of a small legal political party in the Second Polish Republic. Many of his colleagues had been members of the pre-war moderate, left-leaning democratic UNDO movement that before the war had also been opposed to the authoritarian OUN. The Division also obtained moral support from officers of the exiled Polish-allied Ukrainian National Republic such as General Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko. The Division was also strongly supported by Andriy Melnyk's moderate faction of the OUN, who saw it as a counterweight to the extremist Banderist-dominated UPA.
The Bandera faction of the OUN-B strongly opposed the idea of creating the division, in part because it was an organization outside its control, and claimed in its propaganda that the division was to be used by the Germans as cannon fodder. Nevertheless, it did not interfere in its formation and once the division was formed it sent some of its members, a number of whom would obtain prominent positions, into the division in order for them to gain military training and to prevent it from completely getting out of their hands. Despite this infiltration, Bandera's OUN failed to gain control over the division.
It also had the support of both the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Among its members was a son of Mstyslav Skrypnyk, the Orthodox Bishop of Kiev.
The Division SS "Galizien" was commanded by German, Austrian and Ukrainian officers. Training for the recruits began within the SS-Special Purpose Training Battalion (SS-Ausbildungs-Battalion z.b.V), commanded by SS Sturmbannführer Bernard Bartlet while the man appointed to oversee the forming of the Division was General Walter Schimana (until October 1943). Schimana never commanded the actual division, as up until the point of his departure it was still a training battalion, staffed mostly by temporary training personnel. From 20 November 1943 it was led by SS-Brigadier General Fritz Freitag. Captain Wolf Dietrich Heike (temporarily seconded from the Wehrmacht) was the chief of staff from January 1944. All regimental commanders were Germans.
In total 81,999 men enlisted for service in the division. Of these, 42,000 were called up during the first 'recruitment phase' which took place in May and June 1943 from which only 27,000 were deemed fit for military service and 13,000 were enlisted. To boost the recruitment figures the height minimum requirement was lowered from 1.65m to 1.61m.
In mid February 1944 the division received an order to form a battle group known as SS Kampfgruppe Beyersdorff for action against Soviet and Polish partisans. It operated in the Zamość area together with elements of the 5th Regiment, while elements of the 4th Regiment were sent to Brody. The SS Kampfgruppe performed its duty well enough that it earned the rare praise of German Field Marshal Walter Model.
In July the division was sent to the area of Brody, where heavy combat was under way, and was attached to the 13th Army Corps. Together with six under-strength German infantry divisions, the Galicia Division was responsible for holding a frontage of approximately 80 kilometres (50 miles). On 8 July, the 13th Corps was transferred to the 1st Panzer Army. The Galician Division was placed in reserve. Deployed at Brody were the division's 29th, 30th, 31st regiments, a fusilier and engineering battalion, and its artillery regiment. The 14th SS Field Replacement Battalion was deployed fifteen miles (24 kilometres) behind the other units.
On 13 July, Soviet forces under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev launched their attack. By the next day, they routed a German division to the north of the 13th Corps and swept back an attempted German counterattack. On 15 July, the 1st and 8th Panzer Divisions along with the Galicia Division bore the brunt of a fierce assault by the Soviet Second Air Army, who in only a five-hour period flew 3,288 aircraft sorties and dropped 102 tons of bombs on them as they attempted a counterattack. On 18 July, the division's Field Replacement Battalion was destroyed with its remnants fleeing west, whilst the remainder of 13th Corps, consisting of over 30,000 German and Ukrainian soldiers, was surrounded by the Soviets within the Brody pocket.
Within the pocket, the Galician troops were tasked with defending the eastern perimeter near the castle and town of Pidhirtsy and Olesko. The Soviets sought to collapse the Brody pocket by focusing their attack of what they perceived to be its weakest point, the relatively inexperienced Galician Division, and on 19 July attacked. The 29th and 30th regiments of the division, supported by the division's artillery regiment, put up unexpectedly fierce resistance. Pidhirtsy changed hands several times before the Galicians were finally overwhelmed by the late afternoon, and at Olesko a major Soviet attack using T-34 tanks was repulsed by the division's Fusilier and Engineer battalions.
On 20 July, the German divisions within the pocket attempted a breakout which failed despite early successes. The Division's 31st regiment was destroyed in fighting. A second German breakout attempt that began at 1:00 am on 21 July ended in failure. 10 miles (16 km) to the west of the pocket, however, a German Panzergrenadier Regiment broke through Soviet lines and briefly established contact with the Brody pocket, resulting in the rescue of approximately 3,400 soldiers, including approximately 400 Galicians, before being repulsed. By the end of that day, in the face of overwhelming Soviet attacks, the 14th Division as a whole disintegrated. Its German commander, Fritz Freitag, resigned his command and decreed that everyone would be on his own during the breakout. He and his staff formed their own battle group and headed south, abandoning the division. Some Ukrainian assault groups remained intact, others joined German units, and others fled or melted away. The Ukrainian 14th SS Fusilier battalion, still intact, came to form the rearguard of what was left of the entire 13th Corps. Holding the town of Bilyi Kamin, it enabled units or stragglers to escape to the south and was able to withstand several Soviet attempts to overwhelm it. By the evening of 21 July, it remained the only intact unit north of the Bug River.
In the early morning of 22 July, the 14th Fusilier battalion abandoned Bilye Kamin. The Brody pocket was now only 4 to 5 miles (6.4–8.0 kilometres) long and wide. The German and Galician soldiers were instructed to attack with everything they had by moving forward until they broke through or were destroyed. Fighting was fierce and desperate. The German and Ukrainian soldiers surging south were able to overwhelm the Soviet 91st Independent Tank Brigade "Proskurov" and its infantry support, and to escape by the hundreds. The remaining pocket collapsed by the evening of 22 July.
Despite the severity of the fighting, the division maintained its discipline and most of its members were ultimately able to break out of the encirclement. Of the approximately 11,000 Galician soldiers deployed at Brody, about 3,000 were able to almost immediately re-enter the division. Approx 7,400 were posted as "Missing in combat".
Soviet statistics give the German losses at Brody as 2 Generals, 30,000 men killed and 17,000 captured (which was more than the number in the entire Corps).
It has been mistakenly suggested that the losses for the 14th SS Division in Brody ran at 73%, higher than the rest of the Corps. The other battle-hardened German units which had formed XIII.A.K. produced similar casualty reports. About 5,000 men of Korpsabteilung 'C' which formed the spearhead of the breakout forces escaped the encirclement with sidearms but without vehicles, horses, and other weapons, supplies, and equipment. A total of 73 officers and 4,059 NCOs and men were listed as killed or missing. By comparison, the 361st Infantry Division which deployed fewer troops at the beginning of the battle than the Galician Division and together with it formed the rearguard, suffered equal losses. Between 16–22 July, it sustained almost as many casualties with total losses amounting to 6,310 officers and men (dead, missing or wounded). The necessary manpower required to rebuild this and the other German formations was not available and they were subsequently disbanded and the survivors incorporated into other divisions.
As for XIII.A.K., the final report of the Corps's liquidation commission (applicable to its regular army units only) recorded 21,766 killed or missing in action, which together with the 7,000 killed or missing men from the Galician Division brings to the total lost to about 29,000. This figure corresponds with General Lange's own estimate of a total of 25–30,000 killed in the encirclement. On the other hand, the recently declassified secret Soviet General Staff report states that during the course of the battle their forces destroyed more than 30,000 soldiers and officers, 85 tanks and self-propelled guns, over 500 guns of various calibres, 476 mortars, 705 machine guns, 12,000 rifles and submachine guns, 5,843 vehicles, 183 tractors and trailers and 2,430 motorcycles and bicycles. It also claims that over 17,000 soldiers and officers were taken prisoner, 28 tanks and self-propelled guns were captured, as were over 500 guns of various calibres, more than 600 mortars, 483 machine guns, 11,000 rifles and sub-machine guns, over 1,500 vehicles, 98 tractors and trailers, 376 motorcycles and bicycles, in excess of 3,000 horses and 28 warehouses full of military goods. An estimated total number of survivors of all XIII.A.K. units has been given by the adjutant of the 349th Infantry Division as 15,000 officers and men, while a slightly lower figure of 12,000 was subsequently given by Oberst Wilck.
The 3000 survivors of the Galician Division were used as a nucleus for the rebuilt 14th SS Division. Those that were captured were either executed or sent to slave-labour camps. Approximately 2,000 + are thought to have joined up with the UIA.
The Germans rebuilt the division over several months using reserve units. From the end of September 1944, the division was used against the Slovak National Uprising.
The first unit, the 29th regiment with auxiliary units, arrived 28 September 1944. Eventually all divisional units were transferred to Slovakia. From 15 October 1944 they formed two Kampfgruppe, Wittenmayer (which included 3 battalions) and Wildner. The division acted against rebels together with the 18th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Horst Wessel, the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger SS, the Vlasov detachment and other SS and SD formations until 5 February 1945. Jan Stanislav, the director of the National Uprising Museum in Slovakia, denied that the division or that Ukrainians took part in any brutalities committed against the Slovak people at this time.
In the end of January 1945, it was moved to Slovenia, where from the end of February until the end of March 1945, it together with other SS and SD formations fought Yugoslav Partisans in the Styria and Carinthia (province) areas near the Austrian-Slovenian border. During this time, the division absorbed the 31 SD Schutzmannschafts Battalion, also known as the Ukrainian Self Defense legion. When on 31 March Soviet forces commenced an attack from Hungary into Austria that ruptured the German front, the division was ordered to advance northward to Gleichenberg in a desperate attempt to halt the Soviet advance.
From 1 April until the end of the war, with a strength of 14,000 combat troops and 8,000 soldiers in a Training and Replacement Regiment, the division fought against the Red Army in the region of Graz in Austria where in early April it seized the castle and village of Gleichenberg from Soviet forces (including elite Soviet airborne troops from the 3rd Guards Airborne Division) during a counterattack and on 15 April repulsed a Soviet counterattack. The division at this time maintained a 13-km front. During one critical situation, Freitag became so alarmed by the developments at the front, that in the presence of the commander of the 1st Cavalry Corps General der Kavallerie Harteneck, he reacted instinctively and announced his abdication as Divisional commander and responsibility for its performance in action – as he had done at Brody. General Harteneck refused Freitag's resignation and ordered him to remain at his post. Due to his performance during the battles surrounding Gleichenberg, Waffen-Obersturmführer Ostap Czuczkewycz was awarded the Iron Cross, 1st class. The Division suffered heavy casualties while in Austria, with an estimated 1,600 killed or wounded.
On 17 March 1945, Ukrainian émigrés established the Ukrainian National Committee to represent the interests of Ukrainians to the Third Reich. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian National Army, commanded by general Pavlo Shandruk, was created. The Galician Division nominally became the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army, although the German Army's High command continued to list it as the Ukrainian 14th SS Grenadier Division in its order of battle. The Division surrendered to British and US forces by 10 May 1945.
The Ukrainian soldiers were interned in Rimini, Italy, in the area controlled by Polish II Corps forces. The UNA commander Pavlo Shandruk requested for a meeting with Polish general Władysław Anders in London, and asked him to protect the army against the deportation to Soviet Union. Despite the Soviet pressure, Anders managed to protect the Ukrainian troops, as the former citizens of the Second Republic of Poland. This, together with the intervention of the Vatican prevented its members from being deportated to the USSR. Bishop Buchko of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had appealed to Pope Pius XII to intervene on behalf of the division, whom he described as "good Catholics and fervent anti-Communists". Due to Vatican intervention, the British authorities changed the status of the division members from POW to surrendered enemy personnel and the Polish II Corps declined their deportation to Soviet Union. 176 soldiers of the division joined Władysław Anders's Polish army.
Former soldiers of SS "Galizien" were allowed to immigrate to Canada and the United Kingdom in 1947. The names of about 7,100 former soldiers of the regiment who were admitted to the UK have been stored in the so-called "Rimini List". Despite several requests of various lobby groups, the details of the list have never been publicly released. In 2003 the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard launched an investigation into people from the list by cross-referencing NHS patient, social security and pensions records; however, the order to release confidential medical records was met with outcry from civil liberties groups.
Although the Galizien Division has not specifically been found guilty of any war crimes by any war tribunal or commission, numerous unproven accusations of impropriety have been levelled at the division and at particular members of the division from a variety of sources. It is difficult to determine the extent of war criminality among members of the division. If prior service in Nazi police units is a measure of criminality, only a small number were recruited from established police detachments. Among those who had transferred from police detachments, some had been members of a coastal defence unit that had been stationed in France, while others came from two police battalions that had been formed in the spring of 1943, too late to have participated in the murder of Ukraine's Jews. According to Howard Margolian there is no evidence that these units participated in anti-partisan operations or reprisals prior to their inclusion into the division. However, a number of recruits, prior to their service within the police battalions are alleged to have been in Ukrainian irregular formations that are alleged to have committed atrocities against Jews and Communists. However, both the Canadian government and the Canadian Jewish Congress in their investigations of the division failed to find hard evidence to support the notion that it was rife with criminal elements.
It has been claimed that the division destroyed several Polish communities in western Ukraine during the winter and spring of 1944. Specifically, the 4th and 5th SS Police Regiments have been accused of murdering Polish civilians in the course of anti-guerilla activity. At the time of their actions, these units were not yet under Divisional command, but were under German police command. Yale historian Timothy Snyder concluded that the division's role in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from western Ukraine was marginal.
Heinrich Himmler in a speech to the soldiers of the division stated ""…Your homeland has become so much more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiative, I must say – those residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia's good name, namely the Jews...I know that if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles...I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway."
For more information about the subject, see: Huta Pieniacka massacre
The Polish historian Motyka has stated that the Germans formed several SS police regiments (numbered from 4 to 8) which included "Galizien" in their name. These police regiments would later join the division in Spring 1944. Before being incorporated into the division in June 1944, the 4th and 5th police regiments had participated in anti-guerrilla action at Huta Pieniacka on 23 February 1944, against Soviet and Polish Armia Krajowa partisans in the village of Huta Pieniacka which had also served as a shelter for Jews and as a fortified centre for Polish and Soviet guerrillas. Huta Pieniacka was a Polish self-defence outpost, organized by inhabitants of the village and sheltering civilian refugees from Volhynia. On 23 February 1944 two members of a detachment of the division were shot by the self-defense forces. Five days later a mixed force of Ukrainian police and German soldiers shelled the village with artillery before entering it and ordering all the civilians to gather together. In the ensuing massacre, the village of Huta Pienacka was destroyed and between 500 and 1,000 of the inhabitants were killed. According to Polish accounts, civilians were locked in barns that were set on fire while those attempting to flee were killed.
Polish witness accounts state that the soldiers were accompanied by Ukrainian nationalists (paramilitary unit under Włodzimierz Czerniawski's command), which included members of the UPA, as well as inhabitants of local villages who took property from the village's households.
The Institute of History of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences concluded that the 4th and 5th SS Galizien Police regiments did indeed kill the civilians within the village, but added that the grisly reports by eyewitnesses in the Polish accounts were "hard to come up with" and that the likelihood was "difficult to believe." The Institute also noted that at the time of the massacre the police regiments were not under 14th division command, but rather under German police command (specifically, under German Sicherheitsdienst and SS command of the General Government). The Polish Institute of National Remembrance stated "According to the witness' testimonies, and in the light of the collected documentation , there is no doubt that the 4th battalion 'Galizien' of the 14th division of SS committed the crime"
For more information about the subject, see: Pidkamin massacre
The village of Pidkamin had a monastery where Poles sought shelter from the encroaching front. Around 2,000 people, the majority of whom were women and children, were seeking refuge there when the monastery was attacked on 11 March 1944, by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (unit under Maksym Skorupsky command), allegedly cooperating with an SS-Galizien unit. The next day, 12 March the monastery was captured and civilians were murdered (at night part of the population managed to escape). Other civilians were also killed in the town of Pidkamin from 12 to 16 March.
Estimates of victims include 150 by Polish historian Grzegorz Motyka, and 250 according to the researchers of the Institute of History of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
For more information about the subject, see: Palikrowy massacre
Allegedly another sub-unit also participated in the execution of Polish civilians in Palykorovy located in Lviv oblast near Pidkamin (former Tarnopol Voivodeship). It is estimated that 365 ethnic Poles were murdered including women and children.
The Canadian "Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes" of October 1986, by the Honourable Justice Jules Deschênes concluded that:
The Galicia Division (14. Waffen grenadier division der SS [gal. #1]) should not be indicted as a group. The members of Galicia Division were individually screened for security purposes before admission to Canada. Charges of war crimes of Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission. Further, in the absence of evidence of participation or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution.
In June 2013, the Associated Press (AP) published an article claiming that an American, Michael Karkoc, who was allegedly a former "deputy company commander" in the Division, was implicated in war crimes committed before he joined the Division in 1945. According to AP, Karkoc had previously served as a "lieutenant" of the 2nd Company of the German SS Police-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion (USDL). The USDL was a paramilitary police organization in the Schutzmannschaft. Karkoc was found living in Lauderdale, Minnesota. Michael Karkoc, arrived in the United States in 1949 and became a naturalized citizen in 1959.
The division during its short history changed its name a number of times, being known as:SS Schuetzen Division "Galizien" or Galizien Division – from 30 July 1943 to August 1943 (during recruitment)
SS Freiwilligen Division "Galizien" – from August 1943 to 27 July 1944 (during training)
14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Galizische Nr.1) – from August 1944 to the Winter of 1944
14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (ukrainische Nr.1)- from the Winter of 1944 to Spring 1945
1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army – from Spring 1945.
Waffen Grenadier Regiment der SS 29
Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 30
Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 31
Waffen-Artillery Regiment der SS 14
SS-Waffen-Panzerjäger Company 14
SS-VolunteerFlak Battalion 14
Waffen Signals Battalion der SS 14
Waffen-Pionier-Battalion der SS 14
SS-Division-Signals Troop 14
SS Medical Battalion 14
SS-Veterinary Company 14
SS-Field post department 14
SS-War Reporter platoon 14|
SS Feldgendarmerie troop 14
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) is today honored by many Ukrainian nationalists. Since 2010 every year on April 28 a march is held to celebrate the foundation of the division. In addition streets were named after the division in Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukrains`koi Dyvizii Street) and Ternopil (Soldiers Division "Galicia" Street).