The Star of Africa: The Story of Hans Marseille
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 25 Feb 2013
Full Title: The Star of Africa: The Story of Hans Marseille, the Rogue Luftwaffe Ace Who Dominated the WWII Skies
The WW1-era fighter pilots were often pictured modern versions of the honorable white knight, fighters but killers only if absolutely necessary. We would not necessarily think the same of their WW2-era counterparts, however; when I think of a non-descript WW2-era aviator, he would still be a loyal fighter, but death and destruction came as part of the whole package, with cannon shells ripping into the fuel tanks of the victims' and single torpedoes killing hundreds of men as the targeted ships listed and capsized. But then, those would only be what I would conjure up first for the anonymous WW2-era pilot; German fighter pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille would be one of those few that would be categorized totally differently altogether. With The Star of Africa, authors Colin Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis presented the rich life of this 158-kill fighter ace that ended so suddenly. A man, if born during time of peace, might had been nothing but a rebellious misfit, but instead rose up to become one of the German Luftwaffe's best weapons. His best dogfights were told by Heaton and Lewis in an exciting maneuver-by-maneuver basis, with exact times and locations detailed as much as known. He was much more merciful and gentlemanly than what his superiors would have preferred, however, taking on risks to fly alongside of his victims to help his enemies crash-land and to strafe hostile enemy airfields not with machine gun bullets but rather with messages informing them the whereabouts of downed Allied pilots. Marseille's tragic death at the young age of 22 made him a larger-than-life mythical figure, and the authors went on to further this phenomenon, but at the same time, the facts and figures that they painstakingly compiled could only speak the truth of Marseille's superb performance. A fine treasure in my opinion was the appendix, in which the dates and times of Marseille's conquests (in the air, not in the bedroom... a dark joke for those more familiar with his life), the dates of his promotions, the dates of his awards and decorations, and even the dates of his leaves of absence from the front line were listed in full; I did catch one or two typographical errors specifically in this section, but that in no way took away the rich information that these tables provided.
By the very definition of the word, wars were made of unimaginable horrors. However, the trials that they provided at times brought out the best of some of the participants. Hans-Joachim Marseille was one of those who rose up to the occasion and became a legend. I found The Star of Africa an excellent biography of this larger-than-life figure.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945