Marseille and Hurricane

Photo: Janusz Ledwoch "Asy Luftwaffe. Cześć 1", Militaria 1994

Hans-Joachim Marseille - Desert Eagle.

Written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

Above - "Jochen" Marseille and wreck of his victim: Hawker Hurricane Mk IIB BD820 of 274. Squadron RAF, North Africa, 30 March 1942. In text are placed his portrait photos.

"As long as I look into muzzles, nothing can happen to me. Only if he pulls lead am I in danger"

Hans-Joachim Marseille. LG2, JG52, JG27. Total combat sorties: 382. Total victories: 158. (7 Battle of Britain, 151 North Africa. 101 P-40s, 30 Hurricanes, 16 Spitfires, 4 two-engine bombers) Killed on active service on September 30th 1942.

A group of Bedouin instinctively raised their heads toward the low buzzing sound of high flying airplanes, which had already become familiar sight for them. Their quiet, leisurely conversation stopped. Wrapped in thawbs, their postures became still, as they followed little dark specs on the background of a blue sky. One of those points was trailing a string of white smoke. A few moments later, it turned upside down - slowly directing its nose toward the earth. At almost the same instant a tiny black dot separated itself from the spec, going its own way but in the similar direction. They knew, that up there, it was a man falling down. But expected white umbrella of parachute did not appear. The black dot continued its trip toward the line of the horizon, where it retired. Arabs resumed their conversation, commenting on what they just seen. They decided, however, that it was too far to go and look for the body to rob it of its valuables. Especially since two of planes lowered their flight and started to circle around the place where the body met its destination. The Bedouin knew that soon someone would come to look for the corpse. What they didn't know was, that it was the "Eagle of Africa" that had fallen. The man, who was one of the very best that had ever flown up there. His name was Hans-Joachim Marseille.

* * *

Born of French Huguenot ancestry on December 13th 1919, in Berlin-Charlottensburg, (which explains non-German family name) Marseille was destined for military carrier. At the time of his childhood everything in Germany was military oriented. His father was an officer. Some sources indicate that his was a pilot in W.W.I, although this is unlikely. It is known that he was killed at Stalingrad while being an infantry general. It is also unlikely that Hans-Joachim was raised in home set upon strict military discipline or army tradition. His parents divorced early in his early teens with his mother remarrying a policeman. A doting woman, she often failed to discipline her son for mischief or bad behavior. As he became an adult, Germany was gearing up for war. While efforts to train pilots were being stepped up a young Marseille joint one of old Deutsche Lufthansa flying schools - which at that time was openly training military pilots under patronage of RLM (Reichsluftministerium). On November 7th 1939 he joined Luftwaffe.

His early efforts in the war were undistinguished. Although he shot down 7 aircraft during Battle of Britain, he himself fell victim to enemy fighters on four occasions. Johannes Steinhoff had him transferred out of 4/JG52 for insubordination. Johannes "Macky" Steinhoff (176 victories) remembered: "Marseille was remarkably handsome. He was gifted pilot and fighter, but he was unreliable. He had girlfriends everywhere, who took up so much of his time that he was often too tired to be allowed to fly. His often irresponsible understanding of duty was the primary reason I sent him packing. But he had irresistible charm"

Marseille "landed" in I/JG27 where his new Kommandeur, Edu Neumann show some forbearance recognizing in him great potential. It was noticed that he possessed superb acrobatic flying skills, excellent eyesight and an acute sense of tactics. Marseille on the ground often displayed boyish behavior. He was a great joker - always ready for mischief. He wore his hair long and listen to jazz and swing music. He also carried a reputation as a "playboy" which isolated him a little bit from other pilots. In retrospect, he was unorthodox in the fullest sense.

MarseilleAt the very beginning of his flying in Africa, Marseille got shot down by a Hurricane flown by a Free French pilot. It made for him a very unimpressive start. He settled in quickly, however, getting used to the very different flying conditions, as compared to those in Europe. Marseille practice dummy attacks on his cammaraten, seeking ways to shoot quickly and accurately. He insisted on perfecting a deflection shot from any given angle, using different speeds. Standard Jagdwaffe procedure was to apply full throttle all the time. Here Marseille's unorthodox character showed up again. Often he would throttle down to get to an attacking position. During combat he also lowed his flaps, in order to decrease radius of a turn. Eventually, he improved in the game of air combat, developing an instinctive taste for it. Marseille always had to be on the top. He was a very ambitious warrior who wanted to shoot down a lot of aircraft. Flamboyant flyer, he also had a great need for being accepted and appreciated.

With tactics soon perfected, his score rose dramatically. On February 22, 1942 he reached 50 (43 in forty weeks); 75 on June 5 (25 in fifteen weeks); and 101 on June 18 (26 in thirteen days), clearly becoming very effective "killing machine" in its highest gear. On June 15 he shot down 4 aircraft in three minutes. Two days later he score 6 in only ten minutes. It seemed, that he was always able to put himself in an advantageous position when engaging enemy aircraft. Thanks to his eyesight and hunter instinct he was able to see his opponents first. The esteem and admiration of his colleagues began to rise quickly too. Many tried to copy his routines but was not able to duplicate them. Friedrich Körner (36 victories) commented: "Yeah, everybody knew nobody could cope with him. Nobody could do the same. Some of the pilots tried it, like Stahlschmidt, myself, and Rödel. He was an artist." (from interview with Koerner conducted by Rob Tate in 1994)

At this time, DAF (Desert Air Force) fighters, and especially fighter-bombers, when caught in disadvantageous situation, used to formed the Lufbery Circle. That seemed to work on Marseille as a waving red cloth in front of a bull. At the expense of several of his own aircraft, he developed a tactic that enabled him to enter and defeat this defensive formation.

"... Marseille's approach to the problem was typically unorthodox: a short dive to gain speed, then up and under from outside the circle, using the blind spot under the adversary's wing; close to 150 feet, a brief burst of fire, then up and away, using the accumulated speed of the dive to soar high above the circle; down again once more on the outside but this time coming from above at a moderate deflection angle of perhaps 30 degrees; ease the stick back, then, as the target disappears beneath the nose, a brief burst of fire, then up and outward once more, or down and outward, ready for another climbing attack..." Mike Spick. Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. page 123

Hardly the brainchild of a genius, the tactic proved so successful because of Marseille's ability to execute it. It required extremely precise timing and distance-judgment. A very accurate aiming was a must. Farther more, only a pilot who mastered his aircraft completely, could do it. Using this tactics Jochen scored very well. It is well known fact that his tidy-minded armourers kept account of rounds expended for each sortie. That was used to calculate the amount of ammunition which Marseille needed for each kill. Combat reports analyzed in Berlin showed that, at the peak of his abilities, Marseille needed 15(!) shells and bullets to make him shout Horrido! This farther contributed to his staggering achievements.

On September 1st 1942 (ironically, a 3rd anniversary of outbreak of the war) Marseille down 17 allies planes in three sorties. His first encounter that day was with a P-40 which had attack Stukas. It went down in flames rather quickly. Then six Spitfires acting as escort to Kittyhawks dropped down on Bf-109s. Marseille lowered his flaps and throttling back almost staling his aircraft, causing Spitfires to shoot past him. The last got a full course meal from of Jochen's 20-mm canons and machine guns. The British fighter literally disintegrated in mid air. In the short skirmish which then transpired, another Spit was victimized by Marseille, as well as a second P-40 trying to escape on deck.

Times of victories: 08:28; 08:30; 08:33; 08:39.

On his second flight that morning, Jochen flew top cover for Ju-87s. They ran into big party of DAF fighters and bombers. Marseille with his wingman intercepted eight P-40s on their dive for Stukas, and allies planes formed the circle soon after this. He shot down two of his opponents immediately and the circle broke up. As they scattered, Jochen knocked down three more. He took his sixth after short chase, with a very long deflection shot. Throughout all this, his wingman flew close cover. They both climbed up again only to spot another flight of unsuspecting Kittyhawks. Marseille approached alone and shot down his seventh. After turning home he came upon yet another P-40 trailing white smoke. It became his eighth in this flight and probably was his easiest victim.

Times of victories: 10:55; 10:56; 10:58; 10:59; 11:01; 11:02; 11:03; 11:05.

Eight aircraft in ten minutes! Back in the base, as soon as he opened the canopy of his 109, he learned that Feldmarschall Kesselring was visiting his unit. Upon reporting to Operations HQ tent, Marseille declared 12 enemy aircraft shot down. Kesselring inquired of him the number he shot himself, and Jochen replied accordingly: "Twelve, Sir". His supreme commander did not say a word. Later, he admitted to being astonished. That was a very busy day for all pilots of the JG-27. After a meal and a short rest, Marseille departed as an escort to Ju-88s which were seeking to bomb British troops concentrations. The battle of Alam el Halfa was at its highest point. Fifteen P-40s attacked Junkers, which in turn were attacked by Marseille's pilots. A series of dogfights erupted which gradually brought fighting aircraft from 5,000 feet to almost ground level. In this aerial fracas the "Eagle of Africa" shot down another five P-40s.

Times of victories: 18:46; 18:47; 18:48; 18:49; 18:53.

That brought his daily tally to seventeen. That was a great deal of scrap production for one man! Understandably, there was a lot of celebrating with shnaps and egg flips that evening, in a tent set up as a cocktail bar by Marseille himself. The only problem was the fact that the German pilots did not stop enemy bombers, which inflicted heavy loses on Afrika Korps.

MarseilleApparently, there is still a lot debating whether it really happened. Shooting seventeen aircraft in one day is certainly possible. Emil "Bully" Lang claimed eighteen victories in one day. They were achieved however on Russian front where opposition was much less potent, especially when mounted by lousy, poorly flown and maintained P-39s. Luftwaffe procedures were very strict when it came to confirmation of victories. To register one, pilot had to fill comprehensive victory report which was followed by combat report. To this, Gruppenkommandeur endorsement had to be attached. Then a report from Unteroffizier from air intelligence regiment was added. A report from a witness (or preferably two) completed the claim. There wasn't much room to overclaim, and the Luftwaffe was difficult to fool. It is worth noticing that in October 1941 long range nightfighting was abandoned, even though it resulted in many successful sorties over Britain. This happened mostly because it was impossible to confirm victories claimed by German Nachtjagd. Marseille's seventeen aircraft downed on September 1st was confirmed in Berlin.

Two days later heavy fighting continued. DAF's Kittyhawks MkIIs of the 260 squadron were trounced by Marseille's unit. A wild melee resulted with planes swarming around each other. Hans-Arnold "Fifi" Stahlschmidt (59 victories) wrote: "Today I have experienced my hardest combat. But at the same it has been my most wonderful experience of comradeship in the air. We had combat in the morning, at first with forty Hurricanes and Curtis's, later some twenty Spitfires appeared from above. We were eight Messerschmitts in the midst of an incredible whirling mass of enemy fighters. I flew my 109 for my life, but although the superior strength of the enemy was overwhelming, not one of us shirked our duty, all turning like madmen. I worked with every gramme of my energy, and by the time we finished I was foaming at my mouth being utterly exhausted. Again and again we had enemy fighters on our tails. I was forced to dive three or four times, but every time I did pull up and rushed into turmoil. Once I seemed to have no escape; I had flown my 109 to the limit of its performance, but a Spitfire was still behind me. At last moment Marseille shot it down, fifty meters from my aircraft. I dived and pulled up. Seconds later I saw a Spitfire behind Marseille. I took very careful aim at the enemy, and Spit went down burning. At the end of that combat only me and Marseille were left at the scene. Each of us has three victories. At home we climbed out of our planes and were thoroughly exhausted. Marseille had bullet holes in his 109, and I had eleven hits in mine. We embraced each other, and stand like this. We were unable to speak. It was unforgettable moment."

But war was taking its toll. The strain of constant fighting was showing heavily on pilots faces. There was a lack of supplies and the ever-present threat of British commando. Marseille had even more to bear. Thanks to his presence the morale of I/JG-27 was high. He was an idol and much was expected from him every day. Especially when gruppe lost Steinhausen on September 6th, and Stahlschmit next day. By that time Jochen was a famous experten. He became the youngest Captain in Luftwaffe and the fourth man to whom the Germany's highest military award: "The Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds" was granted. Marseille was on a steady course to becoming one of the first 200-victories pilots when death struck. His last sortie on September 30 1942 was uneventful. At 10:47 they took off to escort Stuka dive bombers. The mission was completed and they were directed toward spotted enemy aircraft. Marseille's party failed to make contact and set a course for home. At 11:35 he indicated having smoke in the cockpit. His fellow pilots urged him stay in his 109 for a little bit longer, in order to reach German held territory. Once there, at 11:39 Marseille made his last radio transmission: "I have to get out. I can't stay here any more". At 10000 feet he inverted his faithful Messerschmitt and bailed out to his death. His body landed face down, 7 km south of Sidi.

* * *

Although the heat didn't encourage any activity, something told Mathias to wash Jochen clothes. Jochen liked to change into a fresh uniform after the flight. He always liked to look presentable. Mathias opted to use gasoline this time. They wash would dry in just few minutes. Usually, this was done by scrubbing uniforms with sand to rid it of salt, oil and grime. Everything was in short supply. Being a personal batman for Hans-Joachim Marseille, the most famous Luftwaffe pilot, had its advantages. For instance he was given a little of aircraft fuel for washing. Mathias liked being Jochens servant and he liked Jochen himself. They were friends. Mathias had barely started his chore, when the sound of approaching aircraft signaled to ground personnel to change torpidness for activness. Mathias put the lid on the soaking uniforms and started to walk towards the landing aircraft. He was looking for familiar plane which supposed to have number 14 painted in visible yellow on fuselage. It was supposed to land last. He noticed that three planes were missing, and last one to touch down had different number on it. Unalarmed, he turned toward Rudi who had already jumped on the ground from wing of his 109. He saw Mathias coming and cut short his conversation with his mechanic. His face was somber when he looked at Mathias and slowly shook his head. And Mathias understood immediately. He kept looking straight into Rudi's face for few more seconds, slowly turned and walked away. He noticed a strange sensation. No anger, sorrow, grief, nor resignation. He was calm yet something gripped his throat. Muscles on his neck tightened and he found it hard to swallow. He walked for few minutes without noticing others who were staring at him. He came to Jochen's colorful Volks called "Otto" and sat behind steering wheel. For a moment he looked like he wanted to go somewhere, but climbed out and approached the soaking uniforms. He looked at the canvas bag with initial H-J.M laying right beside it. He reached into his breast pocket for matches. Slowly but without any hesitation he struck a match and threw it on the laundry. Flames that burst out added to the already scourging heat. At that moment last rotte was flying in. Mathias intuitively lifted his head, following them. The lump in his throat got bigger.

Photo: Janusz Ledwoch "Asy Luftwaffe. Cześć 1", Militaria 1994

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 Trop. flown by Oberleutnant 'Jochen' Marseille, 3./JG 27, Quotaifiya, Egypt, 15 September 1942.

Bf 109 F-4 of Merseille

Profile: C.Sundin, Ch.Bergström "Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile", Schiffer 1997


1999.03.08, © WW II Ace Stories.