Ukrainian Heroes of the French Resistance
Former Hamilton Spectator photographer Leon Hloba, 88 years old, died in Dundas, Ontario on December 31, 2012. When his surviving sister Zhenia Maslany opened his safety deposit box, she found documents which confirmed some of the stories about her brother during WWII. He had not talked about that time but the documents prove that he led a mutiny of Ukrainian soldiers against their German overseers and then to become part of the French Resistance.
Ms Maslany, with her niece Nadia Klein, brought the documents to the Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre (UCRDC) on November 20 so that their significance could be deciphered. The UCRDC’s archives hold a lot of material relating to Ukrainians in WWII.
The story began in 1942, in German occupied Ukraine. The Germans formed guard units from the local population to protect military and transportation sites from Soviet partisans. But by 1944, when the German army was facing a manpower shortage, the units were redesigned as self-defense battalions and reorganized into the 30th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS -a German infantry division. This Division was formed largely from Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian personnel. Although all key command positions were occupied by Germans, two battalions were headed by Ukrainians. Major Leon Hloba became the nominal commander of the 102nd battalion and Captain Negrebetzki headed the 118th battalion.
By mid August 1944 the US Third Army was advancing east in France, and the Division was moved from Ukraine by rail to southeastern France to ease the way of the Germans by dealing with French partisans - Forces Franaises de l’Intrieur (FFI).
Deployment to France placed the Ukrainians in a dilemma. Although they were prepared to fight Soviet forces, they did not want to engage with Western Allies. Both Ukrainian commanders decided to mutiny and take their battalions over to the Western Allies. They made contact with the FFI and agreed that they would come over to the French side. On August 27, catching the Germans totally by surprise, the Ukrainians of the 102nd shot their German officers - 24 mounted officers and 70 NCOs. In the 118th battalion, 24 German officers and NCO’s were similarly wiped out.
The Ukrainian defection brought the FFI more than 1200 trained fighting men and a large number of weapons and equipment. The FFI formally inducted the 102nd into the FFI as the 1st Ukrainian Battalion (1st BUK) while later, the 118th would become the 2nd Ukrainian Battalion (2nd BUK). The Ukrainians engaged in several anti German actions with the FFI. The local French population hailed the Ukrainians as liberators.
When the London headquarters of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) received word that a large force of “Russians” had mutinied in eastern France and were now fighting with the FFI, they parachuted a team - code named Marcel-Proust - to assess the situation. It was commanded by Lt.Col. Waller B. Booth who would later (1972) write the book “Mission Marcel-Proust” about Allied cooperation with the French Resistance. The book included information about the Ukrainian mutiny and the role of Leon Hloba.
On September 14 the First French Army, with the help of 1st BUK, linked up with General Patton’s forces. Hloba and two of his platoon commanders were decorated with the Croix de Guerre.
Although by the end of September 1944, combat operations in eastern France were effectively over, the fate of the Ukrainians was uncertain because, according to the Yalta Agreement, they were subject to repatriation to the USSR. It was through the help of the French, who enrolled the entire battalion into the French Foreign Legion, and the intervention of Col. Booth, who vouched for the Ukrainians’ help in the Allied cause, that saved them from being sent back to the USSR.
The documents that the family brought to the UCRDC, included copies of eleven Instructions to the Ukrainian battalions from the FFI; confirmation of the awarding of the Croix de Guerre to Leon Hloba and two of his platoon commanders. There were four letters from Booth to Hloba concerning Hloba’s character and service to the Allied cause, as well as 7 IRO documents dealing with the processing of Hloba’s immigration to Canada in 1951.The documents will be scanned and made available by the UCRDC to anyone wanting to research the topic of Ukrainians in France in WWII.
Background information on the Ukrainian battalions in France is taken from Ronald B.Sorobey’s “Ukrainians Fight for France” (available on http://forum.ottawa-litopys.org/france/sorobey.htm) and Waller B. Booth’s book “Mission Marcel-Proust” (USA, 1972).
Leon Hloba with medals received from the French