Many of the Ukrainian soldiers had joined the battalion in the hope of gaining military training and experience to use for the cause of Ukraine's liberation from the Soviets. Many of its members, especially the commanding officers, went on to form the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1942, after the battalion was disbanded.
The formation of the unit began in Kraków in March, 1941. It consisted of 350 volunteers. In May 1941, after training started, the German command decided to split a 700-strong Ukrainian Legion into two battalions: Nachtigall ("Nightingale") and Roland Battalion. Training for Nachtigall took place in Neuhammer near Schlessig. On the Ukrainian side, the commander was Roman Shukhevych and on the German, Theodor Oberländer. (Oberländer was later to become minister for Immigration in the Federal Republic of Germany.) Ex-Brandenburger Oberleutnant Dr. Hanz-Albrecht Herzner was placed in military command of the Battalion. The Nachtigall unit was outfitted in the standard Wehrmacht uniforms. After entering Lviv, they placed blue and yellow ribbons on their shoulders.
Four days before the attack on the Soviet Union, the Battalion was moved to the border. On the night of June 23-24, 1941, the Battalion crossed the border near Przemyśl and entered battle with Soviet forces while traveling in the direction of Lviv. Nachtigall participated in the battles on the 29th June as part of the 17th Army.
At the opening of the Barbarossa offensive, on 30 June 1941, the Ukrainians began to dictate their terms of service. They ordered Herzner to arrange an attack on Lviv. The Ukrainians wished to infiltrate the city before the main German forces, and attempt to rescue all their Ukrainian compatriots held in the city's NKVD prison complex. The men knew that the moment the NKVD feared a German attack, they would execute the prisoners en masse. (Shukhevych's brother was in one of the prisons). Herzner replied to the unit that he could not agree to the operation without the consent of Oberländer, and as they were behind enemy lines, this was going to be almost impossible to obtain. When the Ukrainians persisted, Herzner gave the go-ahead.
As part of the 1st Brandenberg Battalion the 330 soldiers of the Nachtigall Battalion entered Lviv on June 30 at 4.30 a.m..
The Ukrainians fixed bayonets and attacked the Soviet defenses outside Lviv. They fought fiercely, taking no prisoners. Soviet defenses crumbled and the battalion reached the NKVD prison, only to find that the NKVD had already executed all the prisoners, and the courtyard was filled with hundreds of corpses. Among the dead was Roman Shukhevych's brother, Yuri.
The Battalion took up guard of strategic objects the most important of which was the radio station on the Vysoky Zamok Hill in the centre of Lviv. From the radio station, the proclamation of the Act of Ukrainian Independence was proclaimed.
The Nachtigall servicemen supported the declaration of independence of Ukraine proclaimed by Stepan Bandera, Yaroslav Stetsko and his followers on July 1. The Nazis, however, did not and immediately ordered Bandera to rescind the proclamation. When he refused, the Nazis set out to destroy the Ukrainian nationalist movement. Bandera was arrested and spent the duration of the war in Nazi concentration camps. Two of his brothers died in Auschwitz.
On orders of Adolf Hitler, Stepan Bandera and Yaroslav Stetsko were arrested by the Gestapo in Lviv. The news of the arrests immediately caused the members of the Battalion to become disillusioned with regards to Nazi politics in Ukraine. Members of the battalion immediately called for the release of Bandera and Stetsko.. In Vinnytsia, Battalion Nachtigall refused to continue fighting for the Germans. On August 13, 1941 the Nachtigall Battalion received orders in Vinnytsia to travel to Neuhammer in Germany. Upon arrival at Neuhammer, the Battalion was disarmed at gunpoint.
After review of their contracts both the Nachtigall and Roland battalions were disbanded and the soldiers were transported to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder where a new formation was negotiated - the 201st Ukrainian Schutzmanschaft Battalion named after Yevhen Konovaletz.
This formation was organized October 21, 1941 out of 4 regiments, the commanders were: 1st - R. Shukhevych, 2nd - M. Brigider, 3rd Sidor, 4th Pavlyk. The formal commander of the Battalion became Major E. Pobyhushchy, however, the German officer Moch became the actual Commander of the Battalion.
The Battalion were given German Police Uniforms without national symbols. On March 16, 1942 the battalion was given orders to travel east and arrived in Belarus to replace the Latvian battalion. The Ukrainians formally were under the command of General J. Jakob. On arrival the group was broken up into 12 groups guarding a territory of 2400 square kilometers. In August 1942 the 201 battalion was responsible for the guarding of roads and bridges in the region along the supply line Mogilev - Vitebsk - Lepel. Commander Moch was not liked by the Ukrainians. He was previously only a civilian police officer and had never taken part in any battles.
On December 1, 1942 after the expiration of their contracts, the members of the Legion refused to take an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. As a result, the 201 st Battalion was disbanded and taken in convoy to Lviv. Its officers were arrested and placed in the jail on Lonsky street. Roman Shukhevych however, the highest ranking Ukrainian officer, escaped. He eventually came to command the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), an armed national resistance movement which fought against the Nazis and the Soviets, until the early 1950s.
The German command suggested to all those who had been in the Battalion to gather in Lublin to form a new unit, however, not one of the Ukrainians signed up.
Russian historian V. Chuyev states that despite the ending, OUN achieved its ultimate goals - 600 members of their organization had received military training and had battle experience and these men took positions as instructors and commanders in the structure of the newly formed Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
S. Bandera wrote: "The end of DUN was such: the revolutionary columns were commanded by Roman Shukhevych with a small party of officers who had not only undergone military training, but had come to a clear understanding of military tactics. The most important, they brought with them - an understanding of organization, strategies and tactics of partisan fighting, and the German method of dealing with partisan groups. This knowledge was very useful in the formation and activities of the UIA and in its future conflicts.
During its short history the Nachtigall Battalion had 39 casualties and had 40 wounded soldiers.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center alleges that between June 30 and July 3, 1941, in the days that the Battalion was in Lviv the Nachtigall soldiers together with the German army and the local Ukrainians participated in the killings of Jews in the city. The pretext for the pogrom was a rumor that the Jews were responsible for the execution of prisoners by the Soviets before their withdrawal from Lviv. The encyclopedia of the Holocaust states that some 4,000 Jews were kidnapped and killed at that time. It further states that the unit was removed from Lviv on July 7 and sent to the Eastern Front. On their way through Zolochiv and Ternopil to the area of Vinnytsya, Nachtigall troopers participated in pogroms against Jews.
The Polish side contends that members of the Nachtigall battalion killed Polish professors, including the ex-Polish Prime minister Kazimierz Bartel, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński and others. See Massacre of Lviv professors
The Russian side states: "That on June 30 in Lviv the German administration started mass repressions. The commander of the Einzatzgruppen C Dr. Rasch had incriminated the death of those incarcerated in the Lviv jails to the "Jews from the NKVD" which became the spark for the terror against the Jews and Poles of Lviv. In the bloody murder of the Jews the Einsatzgruppen under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Karl Eberhard Schenhardt took prominence. The sections of this group under the command of H. Krüger and W. Kutschman on July 4 murdered 23 Polish professors and their families. On July 11, 2 more were killed, and later the former prime-minister of Poland, Professor Bartel. In the Autumn of 1941 a ghetto was formed in Lviv".
Canadian Investigation: Involvement of any members of the Nachtigall Battalion in the war crimes have not yet been established. The Canadian Commission on War Criminals in Canada (Deschênes Commission) that look into allegations of war criminals residing in Canada, has not named any of the members of the Nachtigall Battalion. Moreover, it concluded, that units collaborating with the Nazis should not be indicted as a group and that mere membership in such units was not sufficient to justify prosecution.
World opinion: An international commission was set up at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1959 to carry out independent investigations. The members were four former anti-Hitler activists, Norwegian lawyer Hans Cappelen, former Danish foreign minister and president of the Danish parliament Ole Bjørn Kraft, Dutch socialist Karel van Staal, Belgian law professor Flor Peeters, and Swiss jurist and member of parliament Kurt Scoch. Following its interrogation of a number of Ukrainian witnesses between November 1959 and March 1960, the commission concluded: "After four months of inquiries and the evaluation of 232 statements by witnesses from all circles involved, it can be established that the accusations against the Battalion Nachtigall and against the then Lieutenant and currently Federal Minister Oberländer have no foundation in fact."
The Ukrainian side states that none of the allegations have been proven by any documents. That the Battalion was too busy with their priority securing the radio station, newspapers and proclaiming Ukrainian independence.
The activities of the Nachtigall Battalion continue to remain controversial. A study of the massacre in Lviv based on documents of the time was made by de Zayas in his book The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 University of Nebraska Press, Rockport, Maine, 2000 edition . Sections regarding the investigation of the Lviv atrocities are available online
In the fall of 1959, the Soviet press mounted a major disinformation campaign against the then minister in the West German Adenauer cabinet, Theodor Oberländer, accusing him of participating in the SS murders in Lviv. On 5 September 1959, the Radianska Ukraina newspaper wrote: "Eighteen years ago the fascists committed a horrendous crime in Lviv in the night of 29 - 30 June 1941. The Hitlerites arrested on the basis of prepared lists hundreds of Communists, Communist youth, and non-party members and murdered them in brutal fashion in the courtyard of the Samarstinov Prison." These accusations were picked up by the Western press and eventually led to Oberländer's resignation. An investigation by the district attorney's office in Bonn completely cleared him.