Star of Africa
Luftwaffe Legends
Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille
by Julius J. Cassani

By Rob Tate

Whenever I critique an aviation print, I have a mental checklist of sanity items I go through in determining what I feel to be the true value, both aesthetically and historically, for the particular piece. Artist Julius J. Cassani has recently produced another of the many Hans- Joachim Marseille prints that can be readily obtained on the market. This print, Star of Africa (not a very original name for a Marseille print), is the first print from the Luftwaffe Legends series and is sold by The Military Art Gallery of Mt. Clemens, MI.

The first part of my mental checklist deals with the overall appeal, look, and feel of the print. For myself, anything linked to Marseille immediately gets my attention and although I have other pieces that I do not particularly find attractive, since they deal with my favorite subject I have acquired them just the same. This piece however, is one that stands out as a print that I find relatively appealing and pleasant to look at. The colors are softer than most other combat prints on the market but still gives an interesting feel to the print. Most prints dealing with combat aviation are one of two kinds. They tend to either be a picture of an airplane(s) or they will be a portrait of an ace with perhaps the partial fill of an airplane behind him. Cassani has done a good job of incorporating and blending several portraits of Marseille, different types of combat aircraft, and the colorful I/JG-27 emblem into a single, attractive presentation. The background is not nearly the quality you might find in a Robert Taylor or Nicolas Trudgian print, but the overall impression and feeling of the print is nice, albeit a bit sophomoric in quality, but a print that you would nevertheless not be ashamed to add to your collection.

The next stage of the sanity check is to look at the print and see if the artist has captured the overall essence of his chosen topic. Is it really a Messerschmitt 109 the viewer is looking at? Hopefully so. Does the pilot look like Willie Nelson in a German uniform? Hopefully not! Cassani does a good job easily passing through this intermediate appeal level. The viewer can easily determine that there are Messerschmitt 109s, JU-88s, and a Curtiss type fighter in the picture, and when looking at Marseille, there is no doubt that it is Marseille, the greatest of all combat pilots that Cassani has successfully portrayed.

At the next level, I look closer at the aircraft in minute detail and try to see if it is in fact not just a Messershcmitt 109 but indeed a Messerschmitt 109 F-4 Trop, F-2 Trop, G-6, K-4, or whatever the artist is actually trying to present. Are the panel lines consistent? Are the air and oil coolers correct? Is the canopy realistic? At this level I am looking for any serious, major flaws in the aircraft itself that would signify the artist did not do all the detailed research he should have done. Another critical aspect is the color scheme of the aircraft in the picture. Is the paint scheme realistic? Are the squadron markings correct? Are aircraft fuselage numbers in the correct place or the correct color? Is this paint scheme consistent with an aircraft actually flown by the ace sitting inside of it? Things of this nature are important to the overall quality of the print. In these more detailed areas, Cassani has also done a relatively good job of giving us a good picture of a Messerschmitt 109 F-4Z Trop saddled with a paint scheme known to have been flown by Marseille in June of 1942.

There are however some minor flaws in the artist's rendition. Marseille's 109 F-4 in the foreground has the external stiffeners on the tail which were standard on the F-2 and could occasionally be found on F-4 variants with WkNrs. between 7000 and 8330. Since this WkNr. flown by Marseille is 10137, the stiffeners should not be included. Also, this particular 109 flown by Marseille has 101 kills on the tail. If we assume the crew chief did not paint the 12 victories on the tail from the previous two sorties earlier on 1 September, Marseille's rudder still should display 104 victories from the three kills he achieved on 31 August which were added to the 101 he had gained from 17 June. As for "Yellow 7" in the background, it doesn't appear Cassani focused as much attention to detail as he could have. That particular 109 has a significantly misshapen rudder, a swastika too large for the vertical stabilizer, appears to missing a pitot tube on the left wing, and contains a couple of other minor detractors.

With the inclusion of the portrait of an ace, especially Marseille, I look for other signs to see the level of detail the artist has achieved. Is Marseille's uniform correct? Although not important to the print, I like to see if the ace's pose in the print was taken from an actual photograph or was it made up in the artist's mind? In Cassani's print, Marseille's uniforms appear to be correct and only a little artistic license was taken where you see Marseille standing next to the rudder of his aircraft while his crew chief is painting victory number one hundred on the tail of his 109. In reality, this scene recreates Marseille's fiftieth victory on 21 February, 1942. But it still looks acceptable and does not detract too much from the overall visual quality of the print.

The final stage of the sanity check is the most critical for any would-be historian/critic. At this level I try to check the historical accuracy of the scene or scenes the artist has put to canvas. Unfortunately it is here that Mr. Cassani has faltered and fallen on his artistic face so to speak. In the main scene, according to the print's advertisement flyer, the artist has tried to capture "the moment the 'Star of Africa' claimed his final victory over the RAF" on 1 September, 1942. The Certificate of Authenticity states, "The next day, Marseille shot down a stunning 17 planes, including the 5 Kittyhawks in 7 minutes." On that day, I think we all know Marseille was credited with 17 victories over allied aircraft. The problem arises in that the aircraft being downed by Marseille in the print is an American made Curtiss type fighter. When researching the records of that day, one will find that Marseille shot down 3 Curtiss fighters and one 92nd Squadron Spitfire on his first sortie of the day, eight Curtiss fighters in 11 minutes on his second sortie, and after engaging 10-15 RAF Hurricanes in the late afternoon, shot down 5 of those in 7 minutes on his third and final mission of the day. Although Marseille did engage and shoot down 10 Curtiss aircraft earlier in the day, on this final mission and for his 17th victory of the day, his victim was indeed a Royal Air Force Hurricane, most likely attached to 213 squadron - not a Curtiss fighter as depicted in the print. This is a major discrepancy in Cassani's work.

Next, when we take a look at the airplane being flown by Marseille in this print, it is his 109 F-4 Z Trop WkNr. 10137 that has been depicted. It was painted with an upper surface of sandgelb 79 with a blau 78 on the bottom. Common to the aircraft in the desert theater, the sandgelb demarcation line often ran midway down the side of the fuselage. This is an accurate scheme of an airplane known to have been flown by Marseille when he scored his 95th thru 101st victories on 17 June, 1942. After this victory, due to severe combat fatigue and the opportunity to receive his Swords from Hitler himself, Marseille returned to Germany for leave did not return to the desert until late August. Upon his return, Marseille began flying a 109F-2Z WkNr. 8673. It was an older airplane and was painted the standard sandgelb 79 and blau 78 but the demarcation midway through the fuselage gave way to the sandgelb color extending all the way down to the bottom of the fuselage. Actually, this is the only 109 F model flown by Marseille known to carry the distinctive I/JG 27 emblem on the cowl. In other words, the 109 pictured is likely not the aircraft Marseille flew on 1 September, 1942.

Lastly, and the thing that first got my attention to the faulty research done by the author/artist was the text that was printed on the Certificate of Authenticity. The certificate, included many errors that I know to be wrong and several that I suspect to be incorrect. For example, Cassani writes that Marseille's father was an army officer and World War I pilot. It is well known that his father was an army officer in World War I and died in Russia during World War II. It must be stressed however, that it is more than likely and highly logical that considering all the books, articles, and biographies that have been written by Marseille, it would have come to light that his father was indeed a WW I pilot. Since this is not the case, Cassani's claim of Major Siegfried Marseille's aviation pedigree can be seriously questioned. Cassani also states that Marseille was raised amid army traditions but it is clear that his mother and father divorced when he was young and was in turn raised by a police official named Reuter when his mother remarried. Marseille did keep in contact with his father while he was growing up but to the extent of being raised in a "military atmosphere" is questionable. Many other "facts" asserted by Cassani, both on the print itself and on the Certificate of Authenticity are also incorrect. For example, Marseille had run his score to 101 kills at the end of June 1942, not 100; while in the desert, Marseille shot down 151 aircraft not 150; on 31 August, 1942 Marseille shot down 3 aircraft not 10; Marseille's initial grave was in Derna, Egypt not Dema; 2 Germans, Marseille and Muencheberg, received Italy's Gold Medal for Bravery not 3; on 3 September, Marseille's victories reached 132 not 128; and 29 aces scored higher than Marseille not 28. From my perspective, all of these errors were glaring, distracting, and easily avoidable. Basic high school level research would have found most of these errors and not given an overall impression that the artist cared less about the factual content of his work. Actually, I am somewhat disappointed with Mr. Cassani in this respect. If he paid someone to do his research for him, I sincerely hope he asks for his money back! Although the Certificate of Authenticity is not necessarily integral to the print itself, the facts presented on it will certainly misinform all but the most dedicated students of HJM and his career. It would be much the same as a print depicting an incredibly well done scene of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor having a certificate stating, "On 27 December, 1941 Japanese forces attacked the American port at Pearl Harbor, sinking 3 aircraft carriers, 15 battleships, and 25 destroyers. . ." The facts would be wrong, and no matter how attractive the print would be, there would always be that element of disappointment attributed to the poor research accomplished. Likewise, it tends to leave the impression that there must be some other details amiss within the work itself since the artist failed to check the facts on what should have been the easiest portion of the entire project.

Overall, especially at the basic appeal level, Star of Africa is not bad and for $95, probably worth having. Especially if you are a HJM nut like myself. It should go nicely with all of the other Marseille prints I have and the novice walking into my Marseille "shrine" will probably say, "Hey, that's a pretty nice picture." To the avid historian on the other hand, I recommend you just ignore the detailed historical significance of the print, don't read the certificate of authenticity for indisputable factual content, and you too will most likely enjoy this print as well. You can order Julius J. Cassani's The Star of Africa by calling The Military Art Gallery at 1- 800-362-8567.

Major Robert F. Tate Maxwell AFB, AL

Major Robert Tate can be contacted at

Statements in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the USAF

Hans-Joachim Marseille