Pierre Henri Clostermann
One of the most famous French Fighter Aces of WW2 - fought in the RAF . He is still alive and wrote an excellent book "Le Grand Cirque" (in french) or "The Big Show" (in english) revealing the very details of his long fighting experiences as well as those of his colleagues . It is worth reading these unique books for their thrilling details of air combat , the atmosphere of the life in fighter squadrons mingled with the deepest of emotions . Additionally Clostermann's work stands well as a good historical source of certain details for which no other evidence exists
He flew with Spitfires Mk Vb , VII , IX and Tempest Mk V fighting mainly against Fw190s and Me262s
The photo above was taken from the cover of an excellent plastic model kit scale 1/48 of the Czech company Eduard featuring the Tempest MkV (JF-E) of Clostermann fighting Me262s in 1945
He later joined De Gaull's party after the war , became a PM in France , was involved commercially with general aviation , wrote another 2 books related to the WW2 and the Algerian War, as well as ...fishing .
Closterman in 1945
The only child of French parents born on the 28th of February 1921 in Brazil . When he was still 9 he was sent to Paris to study . It was in 1935 who first took himself in the air aboard hydroplanes at Biscaros SE France near a vacation place . He became immediately fond of flying . When back to Brazil he joins a local flying club . By the force of destiny he is instructed by a German named Karl Benitz , an already famous air acrobat , who will eventually become an enemy pilot to P.H. Clostermann during the war . he gets his license on the 27th 1937 and in 1938 he takes a scholarship to study to the Air College of Engineers 'Ryan' in USA . In parallel he flies as a commercial pilot in San Diego California .
Clostermann as trainee flyer in San Diego
At the outbreak of WW2 he tries to join the French air force but he is considered too young to fly at the time . So he has to continue his studies but in March 1942 when he is 21 he takes his chances and joins the FAFL ( Forces Aériennes des Français Libres) the Free French Air Force under the British RAF in Squadron 'Alsace' commanded by another famous French fighter Rene Mouchotte .
The Badge of FAFL
(Free French Air Force)
The Badge of
Sq. 341 "Alsace"
His joined as an NCO and his friends will call him "Clo-Clo" .
He will be detached later to the RAF Sq. 602 with a mixture of British and foreign pilots in RAF . They fly with Spitfires V and specialise on ground attacks over occupied France .
One of the Spitfires Mk IX flown by Clostermann
RAF Sq 602 City of Glasgow
After having achieved a good number of kills in 2 years due to the stress and effort , he is grounded for health reasons . He insists to return to the active duty and despite the will of general De Gaull not to jeopardize the life of such a prominent French fighter he is sent to Holland , the base of Volkel , already trained on the Tempest Mk V , the top RAF fighetr of its time. He was first posted to the 274 squadron (code-letters JJ, and flying in the Tempest JJ-W) from February to March 1945, then he just flew some few missions with the 56 squadron (code-letters US, flying on a Tempest coded US-G and another US-W) from mid-March to the begining of April 1945, and finally was posted to the 3rd squadron (code-letters JF, flying two JF-E, serial NV 994 and NV 724) as a squadron leader until the end of the war, on 8 may 1945. The three squadrons belonged to the 122 Wing. In the last weeks of the war, he was posted as provisional Wing Leader of 122 until the arrival of the next official Wing Leader
Clostermann's Tempest Mk V (JF-E) based at Volkel (Holland) named
"Le Grand Charles"
At the end of the war he had achieved the following victories :
In the air he shot down :
1 Heinkel 111
On the ground he destroyed :
Add to it some 72 locomotives , 5 tanks , 1 submarine and 2 destroyers
He was awarded the DFC Distinguished Flying Cross and DSO Distinguished Service Order
The last paragraph of his book "The Great Circus" is representative of the spirit of those days and stands as 'a grand finale' of an heroic era :
"The Circus is over. The public was satisfied . The menu was rich and not so bad , except that the lions have torn apart the tamer.
We'll remember them again later and even when all will be forgotten , the music , the fireworks and their nice costumes , at the center of the square the trace of the big tent will remain , until the following rain shall erase it for ever.
My friends that survived the Big Circus have , luckily , not realised it - me neither for that matter- and that will be our final reward."
" We are mere objects in a general disorder.
Pieces of a large structure that need more time ,
more silence and meditation to discover
how the entire thing is assembled "
Ant. de Saint Exupéry ('Pilot at War')
Recent photograph of P.H. Clostermann
(Courtesy of Manuel Perales)
You may buy on line the 'Big Show' illustrated by Manuel Perales
on the following address
During his youth , when he was a young pilot and while at a very late age , just before his death in March 2006,
Pierre had the same smile and the same , warm and eloquent pen in his writing
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