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Posted on Feb 3, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

The Lost Photographs of the Star of Africa

By Danny Bouchard

But the path was not always smooth:

Forum posting by user Moondog on 14th April 2004:

Rstory has done some nice work, however, after looking at the picture of Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert and our mystery officer side-by-side, I believe I can say without a doubt that our mystery officer is NOT Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert.

Our mystery officer has pointed ears (pointed out by Rstory nice catch…..but Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert has rounded ears.

Our mystery officer has a pointed nose as well……but Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert has a rounded nose and upon closer inspection it appears that his nose might have a "split" similar to that of Carl Malden the movie star….only not as prominent.

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I am posting the side-by-side I created and if anyone would like to see it larger…..let me know by PM or on this board and I’ll e-mail it to you. Our mystery officer is on the left and Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert is on the right…..look carefully at the nose and ears. There ARE other differences…..but these are the most prominent.

And then, the breakthrough:

Posted by user “John T” on 22/07/04:

The Luftwaffe officer in the photos (and in the avatar) is Hans-Joachim Marseille, accidentally killed Sept 30 1942 as a Captain and Staffelkapt of 3./JG 27 near El Alemein.

Amazingly, with his first (and only) posting, John had apparently managed to identify the officer in the ‘photo. John would disappear, never to be heard of again…

Forum posting by user Lance Williams on 23rd July 2004:

So Danny is that what your search has finally determined? That would certainly explain all of the medals. Maybe the guy your wife’s grandfather captured was a relative, because Marseille would have been dead a couple of years by 1944.

Who was the wallet obtained from?:

Forum posting by user Danny Bouchard on 23rd July 2004:

Yeah that’s what my theory is. Grandfather’s memory is being tested but he seems to remember that Marseille was a brother, cousin uncle something like that.

Following submission of the name, Danny quickly searched for the name on the Internet and found a website dedicated to Marseille. He began to read through the website and saw a photograph and was unable to believe his eyes. The photo on the website dedicated to Hans Joachim Marseille was indeed of the same officer who was on the photographs in the wallet. A giant and crucial first step in the investigation had finally been accomplished, the identity of the officer was now known.

But who was this Hans Joachim Marseille? Who was this second man in our story?

Hans Joachim Marseille was a fighter ace of World War 2 in Egypt. Flying BF109’s, he had a total of 158 confirmed kills. He was highly decorated and was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds on the 3rd of September 1942. Since he was clearly wearing this decoration around his neck in the photographs and the landscaping appeared to be European and not desert, it was safe to assume that these photographs were taken on the 3rd of September 1942, when Marseille was decorated and promoted to Captain.

Following his award, Marseille returned to the African desert and died on the 30th of September 1942 when he bailed out of his aircraft, his parachute having failed to deploy.

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The final resting place of Hans-Joachim Marseille

Now, with the first part of the investigation covered, Danny needed to look for a relative. He duly contacted the author of the website on Marseille and made contact with him. The author was an expert on Marseille and agreed to view the photographs from the wallet to confirm if they were indeed those of the pilot ace. Danny soon received confirmation that the photos were of Marseille.

This same website author further advised that Marseille did have a living relative, a brother who was still alive and living in Nuremberg, Germany. Finally he advised Danny that he knew a person who used to baby-sit Marseille’s brother while she lived in Germany and that he would be willing to contact her for him.

At this point, Danny’s excitement reached fever-pitch, and it became clears that his investigation was drawing near to a successful conclusion and that he would soon be able to report to Mr Béland that not only had the officer been identified, but that a relative was living in Germany.

Marseille’s baby-sitter was able to confirm that Marseille’s brother was Hans Rudolph Marseille and substantiated the fact that he still lived in Nuremberg, Germany. Still having contacts with him, she promptly telephoned him on behalf of Danny and advised him of the investigation and the photographs in the wallet.

During this, another member of the forum read the thread detailing the investigation and volunteered to assist. Revealing that he lived about 15 minutes away from Marseille’s brother, a phone call was made, a conversation struck and it was agreed that the wallet would be returned to the family.

And so, thanks to Danny and the forum members of Armchair General, the wallet was returned to the Marseille family in February 2005, the recipient being one Hans Rudolph Marseille, also a veteran of World War 2.

The power of determination, an investigation, technology and blind luck were needed to return this piece of history and militaria to its rightful family. Although the “Star of Africa” died in 1942, his legacy is still alive and well in books and on websites.

References:

Hans-Joachim Marseille

Thread on the Armchair General Forums

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