During WWII, North Africa was a battleground for power struggles between the Allied and Axis forces of a war that would reshape the 20th century and beyond. Remnants of a war that plagued millions still lingers in present-day Egypt, where millions of landmines were once placed in the El Alamein area, also known as “The Devil’s Garden,” a term coined by WWII German general Erwin Rommel, and where battles for the skies ensued. But there is one specific part of this era in history that struck us. One man in particular.
Dubbed “The Star of Africa,” German fighter pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille’s reputation as a ferocious fighter in the sky was incomparable and rarely outmatched by others. A fighter pilot that abandoned all cardinal rules in the skies, graduated in the top five of his class at fighter pilot school, out-maneuvered his enemies, and surprisingly, held a firm anti-Nazi stance and opposed Adolf Hitler, even going so far as to playing American jazz in front of the Fuhrer himself, which angered him and apparently left the room as a result of the stunt. His anti-Nazi rhetoric was not shared discreetly or behind closed doors. His attitude towards the German cause at that time had dramatically changed, including after his apparent awareness in regards to the persecution and crimes towards Jews.
On September 1st, 1942, Marseille shot down 17 Allied aircraft in a single day, and throughout his entire fighter pilot career, no other pilot had taken down as many Western aircraft singlehandedly than Marseille. Out of all the victories Marseille had with his Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, he claimed every single victory except for seven out of his 158 victories in air superiority and ingenuity.
Insubordination & Discipline
Due to Marseille’s sometimes hectic lifestyle, at times he was grounded and not permitted to fly due to a wild night out. Known to be rebellious, a playboy, temperamental and unruly, Marseille was considered to be either a disciplinary problem or one of the greatest fighter pilots at any given time, and the list of his punishments for violating conduct and disobeying orders was said to be “longer than your arm.”
On September 30th, 1942, Marseille noticed smoke emitting from his aircraft, forcing him to maneuver the plane in the expected manner for a bail out, which was through rolling the plane on its back. However, due to the excessive smoke, he was disoriented and failed to realize that the aircraft had now entered a deeper dive, with an excessive speed of 640 km/h (400 mph). As he worked his way out of the failing aircraft, the slipstream had knocked him back, resulting in Marseille’s chest striking against the vertical stabilizer of the plane. It is not known whether he was killed from this blow, or if it rendered him unconscious to the point in not being able to deploy his parachute during his descent, ultimately leading him to crash in the Egyptian desert area of Sidi Abdel Rahman.
Roam Egypt Revives Marseille’s Memory
After the death of Marseille, it was evident just how deeply respected Marseille was by the German Luftwaffe, as the morale steeped lower than ever before. The legend’s favorite song was played throughout the camp, and fellow comrades paid their respects to the fallen ace of the sky as his body remained in the sickbay. Italian engineers erected a wartime tribute pyramid to Marseille, but time took its toll on the condition of the pyramid, which led to the renewal of it on October 22nd, 1989, by Marseille’s fellow personnel, and in cooperation with the Egyptian government. His grave bears one word, “Undefeated.”
With Roam Egypt reshaping the Egyptian geographic and cultural experience throughout their travel endeavors, this pyramid and the legend of Hans-Joachim Marseille has been able to yet again, resurrect the story of a man that knew no limitations, who spoke his mind towards dictatorship, took a stance against Nazism, and who managed to get away with it due to his impeccable track record in battle.
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