Messerschmitt Bf109E-4, W.Nr. 3579 ‘White 14’, Fahnrich Hans Joachim Marseille, 1.(J)/LG.2, Calais-Marck airfield, France, September 1940
As one of the most successful fighter aircraft of all time, the diminutive Messerschmitt Bf 109 saw service throughout the Second World War and was the mount of more air combat ‘aces’ than any other aircraft in history. This particular ‘Emil’ (W.Nr.3579) was responsible for launching the combat career of one of the most celebrated fighter pilots of all time, Hans Joachim Marseille – the famous ‘Star of Africa’. Despite his well-publicised flying achievements, Marseille’s introduction to air combat was less than spectacular and he quickly earned a reputation for ill-discipline, both on the ground and in the air. Initially, it seemed the only thing Marseille excelled at was living up to his growing playboy reputation. Despite claiming 7 air combat victories during the Battle of Britain, Marseille was himself shot down four times, including a soaking in the English Channel from which he was lucky to escape with his life.
Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 W,Nr.3579 ‘White 14’ is thought to have been the aircraft in which Marseille scored his first aerial victory – an RAF Spitfire. Although he was able to shoot down the British fighter, ‘’White 14’ sustained damage during the dogfight - Marseille was able to nurse the fighter back to Calais-Marck airfield, where he made a successful crash landing. Initially thought to be beyond repair, the Messerschmitt was later sent back to Germany for rebuild and upgrade, before going on to serve for a further two years with a number of Luftwaffe pilots on the Eastern Front. In August 1942, the aircraft was shot down by a pair of Soviet Air Force Hurricanes, crashing on marshland in the vast, unforgiving landscape of rural Russia.
Remarkably, the wreckage of the aircraft was discovered in the early 1990s and salvaged for a US Warbird collector. Following an extensive period of restoration in the UK, this genuine combat veteran Bf 109 made its first post restoration flight in California in September 1999, in the hands of experienced Warbird pilot Charlie Brown. Finished in the famous ‘White 14’ scheme worn by the aircraft as flown by Hans Joachim Marseille during the Battle of Britain, this historic fighter is one of only two genuine Daimler-Benz powered airworthy Bf 109Es in the world. After spending many years on the North American Airshow circuit, ‘White 14’ currently resides with the aircraft collection at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar – UK enthusiasts will definitely be hoping to see this rare and historic aircraft flying in 2017.