Hans Joachim Marseille

The most amazing fighter pilot of World War 2

8 minutes read.

Hans Joachim Marseille, a young German fighter pilot, was the most amazing, unique, and lethal ace of World War 2. A non-conformist and brilliant innovator, he developed his own personal training program and combat tactics, and achieved amazing results, including 17 victories in one day, and an average lethality ratio of just 15 gun rounds per victory. Marseille was described by Adolf Galland, the most senior German ace, with these words : "He was the unrivaled virtuoso among the fighter pilots of World War 2. His achievements were previously considered impossible."

Marseille, who later became one of the ten most highly decorated German pilots of World War 2 and was nicknamed "The Star of Africa" by the German propaganda, ("Jochen" by his friends), had a very unpromising and problematic start. At age 20 he graduated the Luftwaffe's fighter pilot school just in time to participate in the Battle Of Britain in the summer of 1940. He initially served in fighter wing 52 under Johannes Steinhoff (176 victories). In his third combat sortie he shot down a Spitfire and by the end of the Battle Of Britain he had seven victories, but he was also shot down four times, and his behavior on the ground got him into trouble. A charming person, he had such busy night life that sometimes he was too tired to be allowed to fly the next morning. He also loved American Jazz music, which was very politically incorrect in the Nazi military. As a result, he was transferred to another unit as a punishment for "Insubordination". His new unit, fighter wing 27, was relocated in April 1941 to the hot desert of North Africa, where he quickly achieved two more victories but was also shot down again and still had disciplinary problems.

Luckily for him, his new Wing Commander, Eduard Neumann, recognized that there might be a hidden potential in the unusual young pilot and helped him get on the right track. With his problems on the ground finally over, Marseille began to deeply analyze his combat activity, and started to improve his abilities as a fighter pilot with an intense self-training program, both physical and professional, that he developed for himself.

Marseille's self-training program

The Hans Joachim Marseille that emerged from this self-training program was a fighter pilot with superior abilities. He saw enemy aircraft before others did and from greater distances, he could sustain higher G-Force and for longer durations, he made unbelievably sharp turns and generally achieved better performance with the Me-109 than others. He greatly outmaneuvered his enemies, nullifying the significant numerical advantage they had, often becoming "invisible" to the enemy pilots by maneuvering so fast, and using his high-deflection short range firing method he achieved an amazing record of lethality, shooting down enemy aircraft with just 15 gun rounds on average.

The Star Of Africa

He first demonstrated his new abilities on Sept. 24, 1941. During a fighter sweep, he suddenly broke formation and hurried to a direction where no one saw anything. When the formation caught up with him, he already shot down a bomber. Later the same day, his formation of six Me-109s met a formation of 16 Hurricanes. Marseille and his wingman were ordered to provide cover to the other four Me-109s which attacked the Hurricanes, but after three Hurricanes were shot down, Marseille told his wingman to cover him and attacked a formation of four Hurricanes. He dived at them, leveled at their altitude, and shot down two Hurricanes in a single burst while in a sharp turn. He then dived below the Hurricanes to gather some speed again, and then climbed back to them and shot down a third Hurricane. At that stage, the two formations disengaged each other, but Marseille climbed alone to a higher altitude and later dived at the retreating Hurricanes and shot down a 4th Hurricane, his 5th victory that day, and only then flew alone back to base. "I believe now I got it" he said to a friend.

This was the beginning of his amazing series of dogfight victories, which lasted a year until his death in an accident. His most "classic" combat, by some analysts, was on June 6, 1942 at noon. While in a bomber escort mission, he saw a formation of 16 P-40 Tomahawk fighter and ground attack aircraft, but initially remained with his formation, escorting the German bombers. After ten minutes, he left his formation with the escorted bombers and flew alone to attack the 16 Tomahawks, but his faithful wingman followed him. Marseille climbed above a tight formation of four, then dived at them. From a range of just 200ft he selected his first victim and turned at him. From a very short range of just 150ft he fired and shot it down. He then pulled up, turned, and dived at his 2nd victim, shooting it down from a range of 150ft. The others began to dive, but Marseille dived at them, turned at his 3rd victim and shot it down at altitude of about 3500ft (1km). He passed thru the smoke from his 3rd victim and leveled at low altitude, and then climbed again. He then dived again, at his 4th victim. He fired from just 100ft, but his guns didn't fire, so he fired his machine guns from very short range and passed thru the debris from his 4th victim. At the moment he hit his 4th victim, his 3rd victim hit the ground after falling 3500ft, approximately 15 seconds between victories, an indication of Marseille's speed. The remaining Tomahawks were now all at very low altitude. He leveled at them and quickly closed distance. He found himself beside one of the Tomahawks, he turned at him and fired, hitting his 5th victim in the engine and the cockpit. He climbed again, watched the remaining Tomahawks, selected a target, dived, levelled, and fired, and passed just above his 6th victim. He then climbed to his wingman which observed the battle from 7500ft above, and then, short of fuel and ammunition, flew back to base.

In 11 minutes of combat, fighting practically alone against a large enemy formation, he shot down six victims, five of them in the first six minutes. He was the only attacker in the battle, and not a single round was fired at him. The surviving Tomahawk pilots said in their debriefing that they were attacked "by a numerically superior German formation which made one formation attack at them, shot down six of their friends, and disengaged". In a post-war analysis of this dogfight these pilots testified the same.

The fatal accident

The 22 years old Hans Joachim Marseille became a star, and he kept improving with experience. On Sept. 1, 1942, a month before his death, he shot down 17 enemies in one day, including 8 victories in 10 minutes, in his 2nd sortie that day. During this month he shot down 54 enemy aircraft. Already the youngest Captain in the German Air Force, he was promoted to Major. He taught his methods to his friends, but none of them was able to match his level of achievements in using these methods.

On Sept. 26, he shot down his last victims, making a total of 158 confirmed air victories. He received a new Me-109 aircraft but refused to replace his faithful aircraft. His status was such that only an order by Fieldmarshal Kesselring, the supreme commander of the German forces in the southern front, convinced him three days later to use the new aircraft.

The next morning, Sept. 30, 1942, he flew his 382nd combat mission, a fighter sweep over British territory. They met no enemies, and turned back towards the German lines. Marseille then had a technical problem. His new aircraft's engine cooling system failed, the engine caught fire, and his cockpit was full of smoke. Encouraged by his fellows, Marseille flew his burning new Me-109 three more minutes until he was again over German held territory. He then turned his aircraft upside down, jettisoned the canopy, and then released himself and fell outside of the burning fighter. Bailing out is not always safe, and Marseille was hit in the chest by the rudder of his Me-109 and lost consciousness, so he did not open his parachute, and fell down to the ground and died.

Already highly decorated, he was posthumously awarded the highest German medal, the Knights Cross with Oak leaves, Swords, and Diamonds. Only 9 other German aces were awarded this medal. On his grave, his comrades wrote his name and rank, and added just one word: undefeated.

Related essays:
Knights Cross (5 minutes read)
Messerschmitt Me-262 (8 minutes read)

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