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Aces of Aviation

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 of Hans-Joachim Marseille

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 of Hans-Joachim Marseille

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 from the Jagdgeschwader 27, piloted by Lieutenant Hans-Joachim Marseille in Libya, the 19th June 1942.

Wingspan: 9.90 meters.

Length: 8.85 meters.

Height: 2.59 meters.

Engine[s]: Daimler-Benz DB 601 E of 1350 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 571 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 12000 meters.

Range: 850 kilometers.

Armament: One MG 151 20-millimeter cannon; two MG 17 7.92-millimeter machine guns.

It has been said that Hans-Joachim Marseille did more to imbue self-confidence into the Luftwaffe in North Africa than any other pilot on his own in any other battlefront during the Second World War. Maybe impetuous, but never arrogant, he and his deeds provided the necessary inspiration to his fellows in a moment of the war in which the Royal Air Force began to acquire a certain degree of superiority in the Western Desert.

Born the 13th December 1919 in Berlin, "Jochen" Marseille entered the Luftwaffe in 1938 and completed his training as pilot in 1940, being then destined to the front of the English Channel, with the rank of Oberfähnrich (Ensign). Showing signs of great self-confidence from the very beginning, he firstly served in the I/LG 2 from August 1940. As with many other fighter pilots, it was said that the seven confirmed victories of Marseille during the Battle of Britain were achieved against the Supermarine Spitfire, but eventually it became clear that at least five of them involved the Hawker Hurricane instead.

Marseille acquired great experience and maturity during his staying in the coast of the English Channel, so that when arriving to North Africa in April 1941, now along with the I/JG 27, he quickly earned a reputation of courage and skill despite not having reached yet the rank of Officer. His first victory on this new theater of operations was against a Hurricane, downed near Tobruk the 23rd April; later on that same day Marseille was downed in turn, but the incident took place in the rearguard of his own lines.

During the summer and the early autumn of 1941, the victories on his record increased regularly, albeit the veteran tropicalized Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4 which still equipped the I/JG 27 was clearly losing effectiveness against the fighters of the RAF, as the number of Hurricanes and Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk deployed on the desert increased. The I/JG 27 was then equipped with the Bf 109 F and with this new version Marseille would rose to stardom. He was a Lieutenant and his record reached 50 aircraft destroyed when he was awarded the Knight's Cross the 22nd February 1942.

In that moment Marseille was regarded as a brilliant pilot, able to get the maximum out of his aircraft and gifted with a very sharp sight and an excellent judgement about margin of error; and so he continued decimating the fighters of the RAF. Promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, the 3rd June he destroyed six fighters in eleven minutes, and three days later he was awarded the Oak Leaves for his Knight's Cross. The 17th June he downed six Hurricane and Tomahawk in seven minutes at sight of his own aviation. The following day he was back in Germany to receive the Swords for his Knight's Cross from the hands of Hitler himself. In that moment, his record reached 101 victories and he was appointed as Captain of the Staffel 3.

The 1st September, within three missions, Marseille destroyed seventeen British fighters, all of them recorded in the files of the RAF, an amazing feat which at the following day earned him the Diamonds for his Knight's Cross, becoming the fourth pilot of the Luftwaffe who received this, the highest condecoration of the German Armed Forces. The 15th September his record reached 150 victories, being the third pilot who had achieved such score, after Gordon Gollob and Hermann Graf.

Such an extraordinary pilot met his death not in combat, but as result of a fatal accident suffered the 30th September 1942. At 11:26 o'clock he returned from a patrol in the front when an oil duct broke on the engine of his Bf 109 G-2; as this one became seized Marseille had to parachute, with such bad luck that he was hit by the tail of the aircraft. His final record amounted 158 British aircraft destroyed in only 382 missions; less than a dozen of them remained unconfirmed after consultation of the British files. The tropicalized Bf 109 F-4 shown in the illustration and the photograph is the aircraft on which Marseille achieved the largest part of his victories.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 of Hans-Joachim Marseille