The Star of Africa

Hans-Joachim “Jochen” Marseille was born

in 1919 in Berlin and was a descendant of

Huguenot immigrants. He came from a difficult

family background and had strong ties to his

younger sister Ingeborg, who was murdered

in 1941, and “Jochen” was reportedly unable

to cope with her death. With 158 victories, he

became the most successful German fighter

pilot fighting against the Western Allies. In

1938, he joined the Luftwaffe and one of his

instructors was Julius Arigi, one of the most

successful Austro-Hungarian fighters of the

First World War.

On August 10, 1940 Marseille was assigned

to 1.(Jagd)/LG 2, which at that time fought

in the Battle of Britain. He flew as wingman

(Kaczmarek) of StFw. Helmut Goedert and

achieved his first victory on 24 August. He

gradually added six more enemy kills to his

tally with this unit, but his Staffelkapitän,

Oblt. Adolf Buhl had difficulty with him.

A report he prepared on the young airman

on 6 September, after four weeks with the

unit, shows that the undisciplined Marseille

had been reprimanded, given three days

of light imprisonment and five days of

detention. According to Buhl, however,

Marseille flew with wisdom and courage. He

was honest and friendly with his colleagues

and was above average intelligence. In

difficult situations he handled himself with

poise and aggressiveness, and after four

weeks he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd

and 1st Class. The Gruppenkommandeur







INFO Eduard

a positive assessment in December 1940.

In December, Marseille was transferred to

4./JG 52 under the command of Johannes

Steinhoff. Among “Jochen's” colleagues in this

Staffel was Gerhard Barkhorn. But “Jochen”

did not stay there long either, apparently the

reason again being disciplinary problems.

Steinhoff later commented: “Marseille was

constantly undisciplinned, but he was an

excellent flier. Something was wrong in his

family. He never wanted to see his father


In February 1941 he was transferred to

3./JG 27. He had a brief deployment in the

Balkans with his new Staffel, but by April he

had already scored his first victory in Africa.

When Marseille told his new Staffelkapitän,

who was Hans-Arnold Stahlschmidt, about

the difficulties he had had with his previous

units, his new superior asked him, “And you

want to become a big eagle here?” Marseille

answered quite frankly, “The biggest!”

By the end of 1941 he had 36 victories to his

credit. He often scored several kills in one day.

After achieving his 50th aerial victory on 21st

February 1942, he was awarded the Knight's

Cross. He received the Oak Leaf Cluster in

early June after achieving his 75th victory,

and in the same month he also received the

Swords for his 101st aerial victory. In June

1942 he was appointed commander of 3./JG

27. In early September 1942, after achieving

126 victories, he received the Diamonds to

the Knight's Cross. Between 31st August 1942

and September 26, he achieved 57 victories,

Text: Jan Bobek

Illustration: Marek Ryś

17 of these were achieved in a single day,

on 1st September. In September 1942, he

was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann.

Marseille had versatile skills in both piloting

and gunnery. He did not hesitate to maneuver

in enemy formation at low speed and to

perform deflection shooting. He also tried to

rescue downed enemy airmen in the desert

and dropped news of their fate on the other

side of the front. Marseille was killed on 30th

September 1942 at Sidi Abd el Rahman while

jumping from his machine with damaged

engine. News of his death was carried even

by the Allied press. A small pyramid was

erected at the site of the tragic end. He was

nicknamed the “Star of Africa” and Adolf

Galland called him “the unrivalled virtuoso

among fighter pilots”. Marseille was known

for his bohemian life, his relationships with

famous female artists. He ran a bar in the

desert outposts called “The Blue Cave” and

his favorite song was “Rumba Azul”. In 1957,

a German-Spanish feature film “Der Stern

von Afrika” was made about him.

The question remains, of course, how

successful a fighter Marseille actually was.

Researchers Dan Case and Nick Hector

conclude that 135 kills can be documented

out of the Marseille´s total of 158 officially

certified and five unconfirmed victories.

Marseille thus has an 82.8 % accuracy rate

for his claimed victories.

May 2023