Not Crusader – Report on the Crash of Hans-Joachim Marseille

Edited 30 May 2018: Added ULTRA Intercepts.

As I said, every so often I post something not related to CRUSADER.

The document below is a report by the unit that recovered the body of Captain (Hauptmann) and Squadron Commanding Officer (Staffelkapitaen) Hans-Joachim Marseille, at the time the top scoring German ace in North Africa, when his Me 109 went down in flames on 30 September 1942 in the area of Pz.Gren.Regt.115 of 15. Panzerdivision.

Hans-Joachim Marseille

Fighter Pilot Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille. Knights Cross with Diamonds, Oak Leaves, and Swords, 3 September 1942. Courtesy Bundesarchiv

Marseille was a major part of German propaganda about the war in Africa, and the way the immediate actions after his death and recovery went demonstrate this. He was generally regarded as an exceptional fighter pilot, and had been awarded well over 100 victories at the time of his death.

Aircrew-Luftwaffe-JG27-ace-Hans-Joachim-Marseille-Der-Adler-June-1942-01

Spanish edition of the Luftwaffe propaganda magazine Der Adler (The Eagle), 14 July 1942, Marseille on the cover, explaining a dog fight.

Copy

M o r i t z, Lieutenant in the Staff of Pz.Gren.Rgt. 115

O.U., 30 September 1942

Report on the Crash of Lieutenant[1] Marseille

On 30 September 1942, at 11.42 hours, 6 German Messerschmitt fighters, coming from the east, fly towards the location of the staff units of Pz.Gren.Rgt.115. Directly above the position of the heavy infantry gun company[2], in about 200 m of altitude, one of the planes suddenly started trailing black smoke; while the pilot escaped, and then, since the parachute did not open, fell from 200 m of altitude smashing into the ground, the plane spun almost vertically down and exploded on the ground.  Remaining parts burned.

MarseilleCrash

Burned wreckage of Marseille’s Me109G. Vehicle in the back at the point where his body impacted the ground. Unknown photographer, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Immediately attending soldiers of the heavy infantry gun company, as well as the doctor arriving five minutes later, could only note the death of the pilot because his brain was smashed in (in addition to a complex fracture of the femur). The time of the crash was 11.45 hours. Further investigations showed that the pilot was Lieutenant Marseille. He carried the following private items on his person: 2 rings, 1 medal, 1 letter, 1 watch, Knghts Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords[3]. These things and the whole pilot’s dress, including parachute, were picked up shortly before 12.00 hours by Sergeant W. Wal, L-21658 Munich II (7.schw.Flum.Kp.Ln.Abt.Afrika).

I arrived at 12.00 hours myself, and immediately recognised Lieutenant Marseille based on the published pictures. I ordered immediately, following the doctor’s cleaning and wound-dressing of the body, to lay it in state. Lieutenant Marseille was laid up under a large awning, covered by a Swastika flag, and surrounded by a honour guard of six men with rifles. At the same time, the commanding officer of the 1st battalion, 10cm Artillery Group Littorio, stationed nearby, Captain Luisiana, arrived with 3 officers and put two wreath fabric pieces in the national colours of Italy onto the chest of the dead Lieutenant Marseille, under the ceremonial greeting of all those present.

At 13.15 hours, Lieutenant Marseille was collected in ceremony by all the officers of his squadron, led by his squadron commander[4], and transferred to his base.

Signed Moritz

Lieutenant, Staff Pz.Gren.Regt.115

[1] His actual rank at this time was Hauptmann, Captain or Flight Lieutenant
[2] Unusually, at the time the regiment had two heavy infantry gun companies, normally equipped with 150mm sIG33 guns, the 13th, and the 15th company. It is not clear which one is referred to here, and I do not know if both were physically present with the regiment at the time.
[3]He should also have carried the diamonds.
[4] Marseille was the Squadron CO until his death.

Thanks to RodM on the 12 O’Clock High Forum, I can now add two ULTRA intercepts conveying the news of Marseille’s death to authorities in London. This is again a highly unusual step, showing that Marseille was not just recognised on the German side. The intercepts are to be found in the UK National Archives, DEFE 3/573 – Intelligence from intercepted German, Italian and Japanese radio communications, WWII, CX/MSS/C 1-533, 1942 Sept 16-1945 May 15.

What is notable is the discrepancy in the height given at which Marseille baled out of his plane, compared to the report by Lieutenant Moritz above.

TO: C.S.S. Personal

From: Duty Officer, Hut 3

Following neither reported in CX/MSS nor signalled abroad

CX/MSS/C44

MEDITERRANEAN

AIR PERSONALITIES

On 30/9 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA reported the death of Hptm. MARSEILLE, Staffelkapitaen in JG 27. He was not killed by enemy action. His engine caught fire and he baled out at 3,000 m. His parachute failed to open and he crashed at 0940/30/9 7 km south of the mosque at SIDI ABD EL RAHMAN, in his own territory. He was flying a Messerschmitt 109G.

2359/30/9/42

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Marseille with his 48th claim, a Hurricane Mk. II of No. 213 Squadron R.A.F., in February 1942. Courtesy Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.

TO: C.S.S. Personal

From: Duty Officer, Hut 3

Following neither reported in CX/MSS nor signalled abroad

CX/MSS/C45

MEDITERRANEAN

AIR PERSONALITIES

AMSEL Ia[1] to 5th Air Corps[2] for Feldmarshall[3], on Hptm. MARSEILLE 2nd Report.

His engine began to smoke from unknown causes over the front area, at 6,000 metres. He then glided towards our territory, during which time the Geschwader[4] control heard him speaking continuously. The enemy did not interfere. MARSEILLE’s voice was perfectly clear. He supposed himself that his engine was on fire. He let his companion in the Schwarm[5] guide him as the cockpit was full of smoke. Flames were first seen as he baled out, which he did at 3,000 metres 7 km. S of SIDI ABD EL RAHMAN ….. (several sentences illegible) …. The a/c was burnt out. Engine and parachute have been found. Funeral probably in the afternoon of 1/10 at DERNA.

0827/1/10/42 GMT

[1]Codename for Chief of Staff (Ia) of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika, the commander of Luftwaffe forces in North Africa.
[2]5a Squadra, the Italian air force command for North Africa.
[3]Probably Field Marshal Kesselring
[4]Wing, a unit composed of three Gruppen, the largest tactical command in the Luftwaffe. Comparable to a regiment.
[5]Flight. A sub-unit of a Staffel or Squadron, comparable to a platoon. The six Me109 reported by Lieutenant Moritz would have been the Schwarm on this occasion. As an aside Schwarm is a very old word, originating possibly in Sanskrit, and being very similar in German, English, and Norwegian/Danish.

German armoured recovery

The wartime US intelligence document below gives a good overview of the organisation of German armour recorvery and maintenance.

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/ttt08/german-tank-maintenance-recovery.html

Recommended reading.

The picture below shows the heavy recovery vehicle in action, in this case on captured almost certainly during CRUSADER, when the workshops of both German armoured divisions fell into the hands of the Allied troops.

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TANK HOSPITAL IN THE WESTERN DESERT. A CAPTURED GERMAN FAMO ZUGKRAFTWAGEN F3 18 TON HALF TRACK HAS BEEN PUT TO VERY GOOD USE FOR HAULING A DAMAGED BRITISH CRUSADER TANK BACK TO THE HOSPITAL. Courtesy AWM.

 

Post-CRUSADER – Guidelines for the use of 88mm AA guns in the D.A.K.

The following instruction was issued on 22 May 1942, just before the start of the Gazala campaign. It is interesting in terms of lessons learned, and likely intended to serve as a reminder to commanders who had served in the D.A.K. for a while, as well as instruction to newly arrived commanding officers. It shows well the multi-tasking roles assigned to the heavy AA batteries. A bit of new information to me is about the speed discrepancy between the 8.8cm gun prime movers and the reconnaissance battalion vehicles.

The instruction can be read against a similar British document at this link.

C o p y

SECRET

Deutsches Afrikakorps, H.Q. 22 May 1942

Ia/Flak No. 661/42 sec

Guidelines for the Use of AA Batteries

I. Heavy AA Battery 8.8cm

A) General:

The heavy AA battery 8.8cm is equally useful for the task of:

a) AA batterie
b) Tank accompanying battery
c) Ground target battery, especially at a range of 8-14km

From its anti-air firing position at least half the guns can immediately engage tanks and ground targets. The re-grouping of the other guns for engagement of tanks will only require a few minutes. When tasks of tank or ground target engagement are expected, a more linear or trapezoid placement can be chosen from the start, which will bring almost all the guns into fire immediately.

Smashing successes are to be obtained in all three tasks in the most easy manner when the 8.8cm battery is tasked together.

The assignment of single 8.8cm guns to infantry units often leads to an early loss of the guns since they offer too large a target in the forward line.

On assignment to Reconnaissance Battalions the prime movers cannot sustain the speed of the mostly much faster moving Reconnaissance Battalions, breakdowns of prime movers and loss of the guns are therefore the consequence. The assignment of heavy A.A. batteries to Reconnaissance Battalions is therefore to be restricted.

B) On stops of more than 30 minutes duration, refueling, resting, concentration etc. the heavy battery enters into air defense position as a matter of course.

C) On concentration of tank forces the 8.8cm batteries are to be held back initially and only shortly before the start of the attack to be pulled into the tank concentration.

D) During spreading out. Heavy A.A. batteries are most usefully put between the 1st and 2nd waves of tanks. The battery commanders should as much as possible be assigned a command tank with  a radio.

E) The use of the 8.8cm tank accompanying battery is generally on one wing of the tank force, to achieve flanking impact.

II. 2 cm AA Battery:

The 2cm batteries of the AA artillery are less useful for defense against surprise enemy strafing attacks than the self-propelled AA companies of the Army.

On the other hand, they can fire from a fixed position foundation with much higher hit probability against air and ground targets than the guns fitted on top of self-propelled mounts and trucks.

The use of 2cm guns against armoured cars only promises success under 800m of distance.

On stops the 2cm guns go into firing position in all cases. During combat moves the 2cm guns are as far as possible to be placed on the outside of the combat groups.

For the Deutsche Afrikakorps

The Chief of the General Staff

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A soldier examines a German 88mm gun believed to have been knocked out by the RAF in the Western Desert, 10 September 1942. (Courtesy of the IWM)