Hans-Joachim Marseille : biography
Hans-Joachim Marseille (13 December 1919 – 30 September 1942; ) was a Luftwaffe fighter pilot and flying ace during World War II. He is noted for his aerial battles during the North African Campaign and his Bohemian lifestyle. One of the most successful fighter pilots, he was nicknamed the "Star of Africa". Marseille claimed all but seven of his "official" 158 victories against the British Commonwealth's Desert Air Force over North Africa, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter for his entire combat career. No other pilot claimed as many Western Allied aircraft as Marseille.Feist 1993, p. 2.
Marseille, of French Huguenot ancestry, joined the Luftwaffe in 1938. At the age of 20 he graduated from one of the Luftwaffe's fighter pilot schools just in time to participate in the Battle of Britain, without notable success. A charming person, he had such a busy night life that sometimes he was too tired to be allowed to fly the next morning. As a result, he was transferred to another unit, which relocated to North Africa in April 1941.
Under the guidance of his new commander, who recognised the latent potential in the young officer, Marseille quickly developed his abilities as a fighter pilot. He reached the zenith of his fighter pilot career on 1 September 1942, when during the course of three combat sorties he claimed 17 enemy fighters shot down, earning him the Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten (Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds). Only 29 days later, Marseille was killed in a flying accident, when he was forced to abandon his fighter due to engine failure. After exiting the smoke-filled cockpit, Marseille's chest struck the vertical stabiliser of his aircraft, either killing him instantly, or incapacitating him so that he was unable to open his parachute.
A very controversial event in The Star of Africa, the fictionalized 1957 movie about his life, described an incident that occurred shortly after Marseille was presented the Swords to the Knight's Cross. The young Oberleutnant, while on visit in Germany, was presented with evidence of the Final Solution (Holocaust). Shocked by this information, he did not return to North Africa but went into hiding in Italy instead. Only after the Gestapo established his whereabouts and pressured him, did he return to his Geschwader.Berger 1999, p. 210.
Entry into the Luftwaffe
Although not athletic in physique, Marseille received a good report for a term with the Reichsarbeitsdienst ("State Labour Service") Abtlg. 1/177 in Osterholz-Scharmbeck near Bremen, between 4 April and 24 September 1938.Wübbe 2001, p. 99.
He joined Luftwaffe on 7 November 1938, as a Fahnenjunker (officer candidate) and received his military basic training in Quedlinburg in the Harz region. On 1 March 1939 Marseille was transferred to the Luftkriegsschule (LKS 4—air war school) near Fürstenfeldbruck. Among his classmates was Werner Schröer. Schröer reports that Marseille was often in breach of military discipline. Consequently Marseille was ordered to stay on base while his class mates were on weekend leave. Quite frequently Marseille ignored this and left Schröer a note: "Went out! Please take my chores."Wübbe 2001, p. 14. On one occasion, while performing a slow circuit, Marseille broke away and performed an imaginary weaving dogfight. He was reprimanded by his commanding officer, Hauptmann Mueller-Rohrmoser, and taken off flying duties and his promotion to Gefreiter postponed. Soon after, during a cross-country flight, he landed on a quiet stretch of Autobahn (between Magdeburg and BraunschweigKurowski 1994, p. 19) and ran behind a tree to relieve himself.Berger 1999, p. 208. Some farmers came to enquire if he needed assistance, but by the time they arrived Marseille was on his way, and they were blown back by his slipstream. Infuriated, the farmers reported the matter and Marseille was again suspended from flying. Those he graduated with had been made full officers by early 1940, while Marseille's indiscipline left him with the rank of Oberfähnrich at the end of 1941.Kurowski 1994, pp. 19, 20.
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