Ukrainian “Flakhelfers” in German Luftwaffe in 1944—1945.

 

Text by 1JMA member Skorzeny, pictures from of S.Muzychuk, editor of the "Odnostrij"
("Uniform") military history magazine

 

The increasingly difficult state of affairs facing the German Reich’s military machine since 1943, caused by the heavy losses on the East front and bombings of German industrial cities by the Western Allies necessitated the shifting of focus on reinforcing the manpower pool with youth resources. In the sphere of anti-aircraft defence already in 1943 with the aid of Hitler-Youth (HJ) movement infrastructure the young Germans were employed for the needs of the armed forces in auxilary role on considerable scale. At the beginning of 1944, however, the non-German youth also entered the combat in similar capabilities. Ideological service of the SS system, co-ordinating the campaign of employing the foreign youth, defining foreign Waffen SS formations as “international European anti-Communist armed forces”, envisioned the SS-Youth as the reserve base for the elder comrades-in-arms and future “European youth front”, as gradually part of the German SS-Youth was transferred for frontline service in German divisions.

As for the youth from Central Eastern Europe, there were no plans prepared for their gradual transfer to the national frontline units, since the influx of volunteers was sufficient to fulfill the current needs, whereas by employing these youths in German AA defense sector, certain contingents of German personnel fit for combat could be released from duties and sent to the front. Similar practice proved effective in France, Slovakia, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and the youth from these countries was followed by young Belgians, Dutchmen, Greeks, Tatars and even Arabs. By the middle of 1944 auxiliary youth AA defense formations have been raised in virtually every country controlled by the German armed forces.

Regarding the Central Eastern Europe, the recruitment concerned, first and foremost, the young Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians, Latvians and Estonians, as well as the representatives of Turkic peoples. For the recruitment campaign, a special administrative group was created (known as Fuehrungsgruppe P.5), subordinated to A.Rosenberg of the Ministry for Occupied eastern Territories and G.Berger, led by HJ Hauptbannfuehrer S.Nickel; the group comprised 100 officers and 200 NCOs, 100 male and female HJ youths employed as secretaries and couriers.

On March 4, 1944, Nickel issued the first recruitment order for the eastern occupied territories, concerning boys and girls aged 15—20 for the auxiliary military service in Germany. After an agreement concluded on March 31, 1944, between the Minister of Occupied eastern Territories, Reich Minister of Aviation, Reichsfuehrer SS and HJ Reich Leader, the re-designated “Dienststelle Nickel” received full administrative support for the recruitment, reporting, apart from the above-mentioned istitutions, to the SS-Hauptsamt. Formally designated as “SS-Youths”, the recruits, after the end of their training, were subordinated to the OKL structures, and therefore referred to as “Luftwaffenflakhelfer” (Airforce AA defence auxilaries), gradually abridged to “Flakhelfer”.

In April 1944 5 territorial commands (HJ-Kriegeinsatzkommando) were created by the Dienststelle Nickel”: “North” for the Baltic states territory, “Center” for Byelorussia and Russia, “South” for Ukraine, and “General-Gouvernement” and “Reich” for the young foreigners working in Germany. Every territorial command created its branches in the important cities (“Aussenstelle”), and recruitment offices in smaller cities (“Meldungsstelle”), beginning operation frist in the Baltic region, where Luftwaffe representatives considered the recruitment of young Latvians and Estonians at the conference in Kaunas already in February 1944.

In April 1944, due to the forthcoming offensive of the Red Army, the recruitment in the region practically appeared to be the large-scale evacuation of the local youth to Germany, co-ordinated by the activists of the pre-war youth and sports movements and school teachers. At first 2000 Estonian and Latvian boys and girls were recruited, but by July 1944 their numbers swelled rapidly to 15000. In Galicia (Western Ukraine) the recruitment began in April 1944, focusing on the target group of the youth aged 14—17 years, accepting voluntary applications and written permissions signed by both parents. In mid-April 1944 a group of 22 German officers of the “Dienststelle Nickel” arrived to Lviv, led by Oberbannfuehrer W.Haupt and SS-Obersturmfuehrer A.Kolff, starting recruitment first and foremost among the families of Ukrainian refugees evacuated form Eastern and Central Ukraine during the Soviet offensive, as well as from Volyn region, temporarily housed in the barrack camps and suffering from poor living conditions.

The second phase of the campaign was focused on the Ukrainian student youth, and the German officers visited the schools and gymnasiums together with the officers of the 14th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS “Galizien”, which was popular among parts of the local population, thus making impression that in future the youths would be transferred to the Division itself, although in practice the majority of recruits joined the Luftwaffe AA defense units in the rear, and only a small proportion served in the Waffen SS AA frontline formations.

In May 1944 the recruitment started in the Ukrainian enclaves around Nowy Sanch and Peremyshl (presently—Poland), and by June the campaign was extended to the whole of Western Ukraine, including the boys and girls aged from 15 to 20 years. The first 250 young recruits, drafted in April—June 1944 passed a primary course in the military training camp at Perevorsk, named “Ukrainian SS-Youth Cap named after Fedir Chernyk” (Fedir Chernyk (1894—1918) was the hero of the World War One and Revolutionary War, killed in combat in 1918, greatly admired by the Ukrainian youth).

Gradually, the camp hosted more than 300 young Ukrainians, and near the German flag the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag was installed, while the Ukrainian national symbol—trident was also present when on June 7, 1944 at the end of the course, the Governor of District Galizien, SS-Brigadefuehrer O.Wachter congratulated the cadets on the completion of primary training. On June 28, before embarking the trains to travel to the AA-defense training installations in Germany, the school cadets held a parade in the streets of Lviv, where their parents and local citizens gathered to greet the young soldiers. In order to ensure the continuation of edicational activities, necessary for the ex-students, the German instructors agreed to allocate 14—18 academic hours every week for the courses in main subjects, taught by the Ukrainian teachers, and afterwards the recruits were promised a free higher education in German institutes.

In June—July 1944 the inter-institutionary conflict was sparkled for a brief period, as several other bodies actually claimed the right to conduct recruitment apart from “Dienststelle Nickel”, namely the RSHA representatives, and later SS-HA, OKH and RMO officials. In July 1944 the decision was taken to recruit the Western Ukrainian girls as well, in order to be employed at the searchlight installations, Luftwaffe communication units, hospitals and command-and-control facilities. The national insignia was also developed: an armband containing a lion of gold (as in the “Galizien” division symbol, but without three crowns) in the blue rhombus placed on blue-and yellow background, a black triangle with “SS” letters placed above the armband (removed after the completion of training and replaced by a black triangle with blue Luftwaffe eagle and Gothic letters “LH”)—for Galician Ukrainians, whereas for the recruits form eastern and Central Ukraine an armband of trident in a rhombus of blue-and-yellow was designed.

In September 1944 the position of “Ukrainian Youth Leader” was introduced, for the Ukrainian representative at “Dienststelle Nickel”, as well as “Ukrainian Girl Leader”, occupied respectively by T.Bilostocky and O.Kuzmovych; the general care of the young recruits from the Ukrainian side was taken by the Ukrainian Central Committee Youth Board, led by Z.Zeleny, which delegated Ukrainian teachers and field chaplains. The Ukrainian teachers managed to organize a gymnasium course in the town of Aspern near Vienna by October 1944, as well a in Linz, Troppau, Krakow, Krynycia and Emmerich. As for the chaplains, the total of 28 Ukrainian priests (Greek-Catholic for Western Ukrainians, Orthodox for Ukrainians from the eastern and central regions) volunteered for service in the Ukrainian youth AA defence formations, led by Father S,Saprun, promoted to Luftwaffe Lt.Colonel.

The first phase of recruitment (late March—April 1944) embraced 2000 young Ukrainians—volunteers to the 14th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS “Galizien”, which were not accepted because of young age and the refugees from Volyn, Central and Eastern Ukraine. They were transported by railway to Alsaice, Lorraine, Saar and Luxemberg for training.

The second phase (May 1944) embraced Western Ukrainians (3000), transported to Silesia, Moravia and Austria, where after training they served in AA defence units covering the railway lines and river shipping. The training camps were situated in Troppau and Hulczin (present Poland), Krems (Austria) and Eger (present Czechoslovakia).

In April—June 1944 3700 young Western Ukrainians were transported by 20 railway echelones to Germany (800—from Tysmenycja and Galych, 500 from Zolochiv and Ternopil region, 800 from Radehiv and northern districts of the Lviv region, 400 from southern Zolochiv region and 500 from Chortkiv); 6 echelones unloaded in Hulczin, 4 in Krems, 6 in Najsat, 2 in Eger and 2 in Nepolomice.

The third phase (July—August 1944) embraced 2000 Western Ukranian highschool students (including females), stationed at Linz, Krems and Eger camps, followed by 3000 recruited among the refugees in special camps set up in Slovakia nad Austria in autumn 1944. Of 10000 young Ukrainians serving in German AA defence units in 1944—1945 about 7000 came from Western Ukraine, and about 3000—from Eastern and Central parts.

In August 1944 there were 7650 registered Ukrainian Flakhelfers: 3000 in Nepolomice, 1000 in Troppau, 200 in Hulczin, 1750 in Eger, 1550 in Krems and 200 in Malt (Austrian Carinthia)—yet the above-mentioned camps hosted the recruits for several weeks, gradually replacing the prepared contingents with the freshmen.

At the end of October 1944 the numerical indicators drawn up by the “Dienststelle Nickel” for the recruitment of the Central East Europe youuths were met, reaching 25000: 3000 Estonians (including 478 girls), 6000 Latvians (including 1000 girls), 1012 Lithuanians (including 200 girls), 2354 Byelorussians (including 200 girls), 1383 Russians (including 100 girls) and 8000 Ukrainians (including 1121 girls). The camps where young Ukrainians were stationed could be subdivided into the following categories:

1. Transit camps (Perevorsk, Krynycia, Nepolomice), where the recruits were kept for some 2—3 weeks before being transported to the Reich.
2. Assembly camps (Vienna, Oldenburg, Troppa for males and Puetniz and Schleife for females), where the main bulk of the recruits was trained, and where the Luftgaukommando representatives picked contingents for the AA defence units
3. Reserve camps (Linz, Krems and Eger), where the “third wave” recruits of July—August 1944 were stationed and trained.

At first stage mastering the German language was a certain problem for some groups of recruits, but the intensive courses remedied this handicap rather soon, and henceforward the most serious challenge awaiting the young Flakhelfers were the rapidly changing combat assignments. For example, a group of Western Ukrainians left Lviv on June 26, 1944, spent two weeks in Eger camp, was reinforced by the Russian and Byelorussian groups, and the total of 800 recruits were posted to Tours (France) for practical training, but as the Western Allies advanced deeper into French trerritory, the recruits were evacuated to Oldenburg and Hannover, where they had a thorough 3-months course, but then again a part of the group was transported to Nuremberg, supplied with winter clothing and arrived to Koblents to 88-mm AA artillery installations, where they fought until February 1945 before being trained with “Panzerfaust” grenade-launchers for anti-tank service, fighting in this capacity until April 1945.

Another case would include a group of the “third wave” youngsters, recruited from Ukrainian refugee camps in Austria, schooled at Himmsee and near Munich, then trained at Linz and Krems for the servicing of 88-mm AA guns and 37-mm “Flakvierling” automatic guns, serving at various Flak-towers in and around Berlin in November 1944, while another group was building a fake target city near Linz, deliberately lit by electric lights at night for mis-guiding Allied bombers, then the two groups were stationed at the Luftwaffe airfields around Prague for ground-defense tasks with the 37-mm guns.

Initially in some of the camps (for instance, Krems) the conditions were rather difficult for the youths, especially regarding food-supplies, essential for adolescent soldiers, but were gradually improved, as small groups of recruits worked at the farms situated nearby, receiving additional and natural food for the camp. The best conditions (good barracks, hot showers, sufficient food) were created at the camp in Malt (Carynthia), situated 850 m above sea-level, where in July—September 1944 a group of 250 Werstern Ukrainians was trained, finishing NCO courses and subsequently transferred to the 14th Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS “Galizien” for frontline service.

Apart from AA-defence courses and 88-mm guns service, the recruits were generally prepared according to the existing army tactical courses, including field marches, shooting ranges, close-combat tactics, as well as sporting activities (football, boxing)—and in Troppau camp, attacked by the Polish AK partisans in July 1944, this training once proved extremely useful for the young soldiers. The introductory course lasted for 3—4 weeks, then the recruits traveled to Luftwaffe camps, where they were directly schooled at 88-mm gun positions and communications equipment, including a 2—weeks practical course at the Flak-towers (bigger ones near large cities and more modest ones near the airfields and factories). After the completion of this course every recruit was treated as the AA-gunman (“Kannonier”), and afterwards posted for service—more than 50% of the Ukrainian youths were sent to AA artillery batteries, some 5%--to the communication units, the rest were distributed between Luftwaffe ground services, technical units, transport convoys, and fire-fighting airfield units.

In late 1944 some 6000 young Ukrainians were designated to serve in various Luftwaffe units, performing, apart from the above-mentioned duties, various other tasks—serving as drivers, ammunition-carriers, searchlight-assistants, auxilary building workers etc. Regarding the AA-artillery units, as of late 1944 800 young Ukrainians served in Muenster, 300—in Nuremberg, Regensburg and Kempten, 60—in Gedersdorf and 69 in Wesendorf (near Hannover), 200—in Kalten-Kirchen, 120—in Flensburg, etc. The greatest number of Ukrainians defended airfields around Hamburg, and in Alhorn, Warelbusch, Neumuenster and Zwischengan, while 700 Ukrainians served in Holland, and 250—in France. Dispersed mostly in groups of 25—50 men, the young Ukrainians quite easily communicated with their young German and other foreign comrades-in-arms, also serving in AA-defence.

Former German Flakhelfer Horst Paul Neubauer, who served in the 3rd battery of the 736th Regiment with the Ukrainians, remembered after the war: “Despite the language barrier, between our groups there were rather friendly relations. Although our commanders and statute prohibited fraternizing, we communicated with each other on the daily basis”. For the preparation of national command cadres, a Ukrainian NCO school was set up in Eberbach, comprising 3 platoons of 75 recruits each, the cadets serving for some period on the barges carrying freights up and down the rivers Rhine and Main, afterwards promoted to “Rottenfuehrers” and “Oberrottenfuehrers”, and in January 1945 a cadet school was planned to operate in Eger, although in practice only a propaganda platoon completed the course.

While the AA-defence service both concerned with covering the airfields or important strategic targets was intensive enough for young Ukrainians, the advance of the Red Army prompted extremely desperate measures of committing this resource for combat capabilities in infantry order in the field, namely, in anti-tank struggle: thus in February 1945 a separate 1000-men strong Panzerejaeger-battalion comprising Ukrainian youths mostly of eastern origin was created, deployed at Strahlsund and later at Flensburg. As for the girls, about 300 female Ukrainians served in the smoke-generating units, which concentrated around important industrial complexes, some 245—in Luftwaffe sanitary units and the rest (up to 6000 by the last month of the war) were re-designated for auxilary service at the ammunition-producing factories.

This was the contribution of 10000 young Ukrainians to the Reich’s military effort in later part of the war, quite not untypical for their fellow comrades-in-arms, of which there were about 250000 Germans and 100000 other Europeans.

Literature:

1. Boljanovsky A. “Ukrainian military formations in the German Armed Forces 1939—1945”, Lviv, 2003, pp.450—482.
2. Volycky I. “In the youth formation”//Visti Kombatanta, 1968, N.128, p.16—18.
3. Holztrager H. “In a Raging Inferno: Combat Units of Hitler Youth, 1944—1945”, Helion&Company, 2001, pp.46—91.
4. Pankivsky K. “The Youth of AA-defence units”//Visti Kombatanta, 1968, N.130, pp.69—71.
5. Zeleny Z. “Ukrainian Youth in the Whirlwind of World War Two”, Toronto, 1965, 208 p.

 

 

 

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