Heinz von Westernhagen became a member of the Allgemeine-SS on 1
April 1932 and was assigned to the 1st Sturm of the 17th SS-Standarte.
After going back to sea from February to November 1933, he subsequently
returned to Germany. Heinz had seen much of the world, including
Australia, and had enjoyed a rich variety of experiences. He composed
several articles in which he described his adventures on the seven seas.
As well, he wrote interesting and exciting articles about life at sea,
some of which were picked up by newspapers. He was promoted to the rank
of Sturmmann on 1 November 1933 and to Rottenführer on 1 May 1934. The
former sailor was then leading the modest life of a worker at the
Phoenix Works in Harburg. On 20 August 1934 he received his promotion to
Unterscharführer; at this time he could only serve during his off
Von Westernhagen joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe on 1
October 1934 and was taken on strength by the 1st Company of the
Germania Regiment in Hamburg-Veddel. On account of his wide range of
experiences and resulting maturity, von Westernhagen was sent to Bad
Tolz after only six months. There he successfully passed the second
officer training course, and on 1 February 1936 he became a
Standartenoberjunker. He subsequently took part in the obligatory
platoon commander training course (10 February to 4 April 1936). Because
of his time spent abroad and his maturity, after leaving Bad Tolz, von
Westernhagen was transferred to the security service (Sicherheitsdienst)
instead of to the SS-Verfügungstruppe. He passed through another
course, in Berlin-Grunewald, from April to May 1936, and on 20 April
1936 he was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer. Von Westernhagen and other
SS-Untersturmführer were introduced to Adolf Hitler as part of the
events marking Reich Party Day 1936
Von Westernhagen worked in the foreign service of Amt III, which
frequently took him abroad. He was assigned to Mussolini's chief of
police Bochini as liaison officer during the Duce's visit to Berlin in
September 1937. Von Westernhagen was promoted to Obersturmführer on 13
1938 saw von Westernhagen in Austria, followed
by an extended period in Rome. On 10 September 1938 he was transferred
to the 1st Company of the SS Regiment Deutschland in Munich; from there
he was assigned to the army. From 23 September until 21 December 1938 he
was a platoon commander in the 16th Company of the 94th Infantry
Regiment. Von Westernhagen returned to the main office of the Security
Service on 1 January 1939 and on 30 January was promoted to
SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer. As criminal investigation work no longer appealed
to him in the long run, he pressed for a return to the Verfügungstruppe,
especially after the war broke out. Von Westernhagen was assigned to
the headquarters staff of the Leibstandarte, and he took part in the
fighting in Holland, Belgium and France in 1940 as an acting company
commander. Though he wanted to stay with the troops, he was subsequently
transferred back to the Security Service and in September 1940 took
part in a course on Africa in Rome. He vigorously renewed his efforts to
obtain a transfer to a front-line unit, "... so I will not have to feel ashamed to myself and to the world later on."
was assisted in his efforts by his roommate from Bad Tölz,
SS-Hauptsturmführer Richard Schulze, who was serving as a company
commander with the Leibstandarte, and on 14 March 1941 Heinz von
Westernhagen returned to the unit. The campaign in the Balkans began
soon afterward and he served for the duration in the staff of the
Leibstandarte's 1st Battalion commanded by Fritz Witt.
On 13 May 1941 Heinz von Westernhagen received the Iron Cross, Second
Class. Following the conclusion of the campaign in Greece, in June 1941
the Leibstandarte was transferred into the Wischau-Brünn area in the
At the beginning of the Russian Campaign, von
Westernhagen took over the duties of First Special Missions Staff
Officer of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.
In November 1941 the Leibstandarte attacked Rostov. It took the city but was compelled to withdraw again on orders from above.
Leibstandarte subsequently occupied a winter position on the Sambek
River. After six months of uninterrupted fighting the unit's strength
had shrunk to a dangerous level. On 1 June 1942 SS-Hauptsturm-fuhrer Max
Wünsche was assigned to the military academy in Berlin; Heinz von
Westernhagen succeeded him as Commander of the Assault Gun Battalion. He
had already spent some time in the battalion staff, where he had been
able to amass some experience with this type of weapon.
1942 the Leibstandarte was transferred to France to rest and refit,
while at the same time being reorganized as a panzergrenadier division.
The Assault Gun Battalion was organized into three batteries and a
headquarters battery. On 10 July 1942, SS-Hauptsturmführer von
Westernhagen was awarded the Royal Bulgarian Medal of Bravery IVth
Class, 2nd Grade, which was followed on 3 September by the Romanian
Crown with Swords without Ribbon Vth Class and on 4 September the
Eastern Front Medal. As Commander of the Assault Gun Battalion, on 9
November 1942 he was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. His battalion
trained intensively in Verneuil, for its next deployment was imminent.
His brother Rolf was also serving in the battalion as an assault gun
Commander. The period of quiet in France quickly came to an end. In
January the division was transferred back to the Soviet Union. Von
Westernhagen and his battalion went into action immediately in the
Kharkov area, engaging Soviet assault forces which until then had been
advancing almost unopposed. The batteries of his battalion were assigned
to the Leibstandarte's panzergrenadier units; rarely did von
Westernhagen lead his entire battalion into action.
The attack on Kharkov began on 6 March 1943; the Leibstandarte was
now on the offensive. Von Westernhagen was decorated with the Irön
Cross, First Class and the Tank Battle Badge in Silver. His assault guns
took part in numerous attacks. Often the battalion Commander
accompanied his batteries. He was always on the move, talking to the
Commanders of the panzer-grenadiers, his Company Commanders and gun
Commanders. There was no rest for him or any of the others.
long-planned Operation Zitadelle, which was to cut off the Soviet
salient around Kursk, began on 5 July 1943. On the very first day of the
attack Heinz was badly wounded in the head.
When he had regained
his health, von Westernhagen learned that a new mission awaited him: he
was to help build up the heavy panzer battalion for the new Ist SS
Panzer Corps. As of 5 August 1943 he was the oficial Commander of the
lOlst SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. Further treatment of his head wound and
subsequent participation in a training course for battalion Commanders
at the Armored Forces School in Paris delayed his arrival, and he was
unable to begin his duties with the battalion until 23 February 1944.
The new Commander introduced himself to his men with an impressive
inaugural address. He referred to the difficulty of the tasks facing the
battalion in the future and appealed to the sense of responsibility in
each man. In his speech he made reference to his style of command,
which was based on personal, mutual trust between officers,
noncommissioned officer and enlisted men: "Here stands no baron before you."
As soon as the battalion passed into von Westernhagen's hands the
atmosphere changed abruptly. In his humane way, the much-travelled
Commander established an almost chummy relationship with his men. He
was calm and understanding, yet he was the embodiment of the fresh,
willing, aggressive front-line soldier. His sometimes downright casual
behavior while maintaining his full authority soon won him the affection
of his men.