Hans-Joachim Marseille, Luftwaffe fighter pilot and flying ace. He is noted for his aerial battles during the North African Campaign and his bohemian lifestyle. One of the best fighter pilots of World War II, 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.
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 hidden potential in the young officer, Marseille started to improve 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 an engine failure forced him to abandon his fighter. After he exited 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.