Sunday, July 31, 2011

Star of Africa

Oberleutnant Marseille, June 1942. Yellow 14 - possibly Bf-109F-4/Trop Werke Nr. 10137

Ed Rasimus and NZGarry in my post Red Tails were talking about military movies. Rasimus about Robin Olds and NZGarry about the Battle of Britain. Both ideas have tremendous merit, but while working on my reply to NZGarry it occurred to me of another ace fighter pilot who should have a movie based on his exploits. That is Hans-Joachim Marseille of JG27 who flew in support of Rommel's Afrika Korps.

Marseille was born in 1919 in Berlin. As a child his parents divorced and his mother remarried. Growing up Jochen was a frail child who was full of energy and mischief, predilections that would remain with him for the rest of his life. Fast forward to 1939 and Jochen joins the Luftwaffe He is initially assigned to France and the Battle of Britain where he scores seven aerial victories. But Jochen spent too much of his time as a playboy so Macky Steinhoff kicked him out and sent him to North Africa and JG27.

Jochen in front of Yellow 14, again a Bf-109F-4/Trop. This might be Werke Nr. 10137 judging by the placement of the 1 in relation to the demarcation line that separates the Tan 79 and Light Blue 78 paint scheme.

It is in North Africa where Jochen's star shoots to the top over the next 18 months. Flying a variety of Bf-109Fs, he would claim 151 victories over the North African desert against various Allied fighters like the Hurricane and Kittyhawk. He would eventually be awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds along a German Cross in Gold plus other decorations. Adding another victory to the scoreboard on Bf-109F-4/Trop Werke Nr. 10137. Photo taken sometime between 6 June 1942 and 17 June 1942. Final score in this airplane would be 101 victories.

In Germany he would meet Hitler and was decorated with the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, he also found time to fall in love with marriage plans for December 1942. With his return on 22 August, Jochen's greatest day in aerial combat was just around the corner. On 1 September he would claim 17 aircraft shot down while flying Bf-109F-2/Trop Werke Nr. 8673. After shooting down all those fighters, Marseille was awarded Diamonds to add his Knight's Cross. Jochen had just 27 more days to live.

Amidst all this flying and being granted leave in Germany, the prankster part of Jochen was still in play. For example he once demolished a pilot friends tent by driving his Kubelwagen through it. He also formed strong friendships with fellow pilots that would be renewed in 1989 when his gravestone, a pyramid, was rededicated at Derna. He was also friend with the many Italians who also fought in Africa and his batman was a black African from the Transvaal region whom everyone called Mathias.

On 28 September 1942, an RAF Spitfire almost ended Jochen's career. The following combat descended all the way to barely 100 meters above the ground as the Spitfire pilot matched Marseille's skill with his to a stalemate. This duel lasted almost fifteen minutes with neither getting an advantage and Jochen deep into his fuel reserve. But finally Jochen shot down the Spitfire as both planes went nose to nose. Jochen landed with hardly any fuel left. It was such a near thing, Jochen did not wag his wings upon return and when he exited the cockpit his hands were shaking. This was his 158th and as it turned out final victory.

As Rommel's Afrika Korps pulled back due to the onslaught of Montgomery's 8th Army, the fortunes of JG27 were also plummeting. Taking off in Bf-109G-2 Werke Nr 14256, it was just another escort mission for StaffelKapitan Marseille. Until the smoke started to fill his cockpit. His fellow pilots urged him to keep flying until they reached friendly lines. He grimly hung on until he had reached that safety. His last words on the radio were "I've got to get out now. I can't stand it any more". He rolled the plane inverted and jettisoned the canopy. As he exited the plane, he struck the rudder which either knocked him out or killed him instantly. What is known is he plunged to earth and no parachute was seen to deploy. At 1142 hours 30 Sept 1942 the Star of Africa had fallen, killed not in combat.

Sound like a movie you might watch on the big screen?

Surviving Sistership
Bf-109F-4/Trop Werke Nr. 10132. Assigned to JG5 on the north Russian front. Look at that camo scheme. Notice the yellow markings? Aircraft that fought on the Russian front had to have those markings, including the bottom of the engine. Such markings were not used in the Mediterranean. Some people build models of Yellow 14 with the engine bottom painted yellow while the white wing tips, spinner, and fuselage band are also present

German Fighter Ace Hans-Joachim Marseille:The Life Story of the Star of Africa. Franz Kurkowski. Translated by Don Cox. Schiffer Military History. Printed 1994. 233 pages.
Bf109 Aces of North Africa and the Mediterranean. Jerry Scutts. Osprey. Printed 1996. 96 pages.
Air Power Editions has a 64 page book that is devoted exclusively to airplanes flown by Marseille. Looks real interesting, may have to buy one day.

P.S. I included one link to tail artwork for Bf-109F-4/Trop Werke Nr 10137. There is an error in the art. Can you spot it? I include it because far too many times artists will repeat mistakes when it comes to Yellow 14. Which means the modelers will also repeat the mistake. The mantra of find original photos can never be said enough.


nzgarry said...

Thanks kindly for the response to the previous post. I am not a pilot (4yrs NZ Army- TF Infantry). But I admit to a Walter Mitty style love affair with Military hardware/history: especially aircraft/rocketry- I could read this stuff all day!.
Re Hollywood war films I guess we all get angry (I do!) with the egregious license they take with the events and characters. If the Old/Rasimus 'Fighter Pilot' gets a green light I'm sure that it would be a true to life classic, considering who would be chief technical adviser or whatever!.

nzgarry said...

Er.. re the tail markings, I will take a guess from memory (without googling!)
Marseille was awarded the oak leaves to his Knights Cross upon reaching 70 Victories and the tail adorned accordingly.
The victory bars however only tally 31. Though there may be 40 on the other side for all I know.

Anna said...

You are most welcome Garry. We all have dreams of soaring above the ground. Closest I can come is to write about it.

A bio-pic on Robin Olds would be awesome. Yeah Ed Rasimus as chief technical and script advisor, do not rile him up. Or else. lol

As for the tail markings. The scoreboard on the rudder is correct. The 70 inside the wreath marks his previous 70 victories. the 31 individual bars represent the following victories. When he came back from leave on 22 August his next plane had 100 inside the wreath.

The actual goof on that art is a simple prang. The tail assembly has the external metal strips found on the F-2s to prevent it from it breaking away. With his 70-101 victory plane, it is a F-4 and should not have those metal strips. For aviation paintings such goofs might be overlooked, but this piece of art is supposed to accurately show the tail of Marseille's 70-101 victory plane.

And this post was my 1,600th on this blog. Where has the time flown?

nzgarry said...

Congratulations and you sure did it justice.

Anna said...

Thanks Garry. Hope you are well.

Legion said...

There was another great German Ace with slews of victories in Russia- got shot down by a Russian woman. 14 quatloos for the correct answer.
Rewatching my Battle of Britain 2 disc DVD collectors edition movie again- along with my 26 part documentary Victory at Sea. Trying to keep my mind off our credit downgrading.

Anna said...

You mean Eric Hartmann I take it. Over 300 victories. He stopped painting the black tulip nose markings on his Bf-109s because the Russians would run away from a plane painted like that. He was a POW of the Soviets and like many other Germans was not released until the 1950s.

The credit thing is horrendous. The new Obamavilles come with an iPod. On the iPod is Obama's greatest speeches. And our taxes paid for it.