Pierre Clostermann

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Pierre Henri Clostermann
Pierre Clostermann.jpg
Pierre Clostermann c. 1945
Born(1921-02-28)28 February 1921
Died22 March 2006(2006-03-22) (aged 85)
Montesquieu-des-Albères, France
OccupationAviator, author and politician
Known forAviator, war flying ace, author, engineer and politician.

Pierre Henri Clostermann (28 February 1921 – 22 March 2006) was a French flying ace.

Joining the Free French Air Force in Britain in 1942, Clostermann scored 33 recorded victories, earning the accolade "France's First Fighter" from General Charles de Gaulle. His many decorations included the Grand-Croix of the French Légion d'Honneur, the Croix de Guerre, and the DFC and bar. His wartime reminiscences The Big Show (Le Grand Cirque) became a notable bestseller. After the war, he worked as an engineer and became a député (Member of Parliament).

Early life[edit]

Clostermann was born in Curitiba, Brazil, into a French diplomatic family. He was the only son of Madeleine Carlier from Lorraine and Jacques Clostermann from Alsace. After receiving flying tuition from German pilot Karl Benitz (died in 1943, Russia), he completed his secondary education in France and gained his private pilot's licence in 1937.

Wartime service[edit]

On the outbreak of war the French authorities refused his application for service, so he travelled to Los Angeles to become a commercial pilot, studying at the California Institute of Technology.[1] Clostermann joined the Free French Air Force in Britain in March 1942.

After training at RAF Cranwell and 61 OTU, Clostermann, a sergeant pilot, was posted in January 1943 to No. 341 Squadron RAF (known to the Free French as Groupe de Chasse n° 3/2 "Alsace"), flying the Supermarine Spitfire.

Spitfires 1943–44[edit]

He scored his first two victories on 27 July 1943, destroying two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s over France. With 33 recorded victories to his name, he received at only 24 years of age, a Commendation by General Charles de Gaulle, who called him "France's First Fighter". While serving in Lincolnshire, Pierre met and married Lydia Jeanne Starbuck at St Denys Church in Sleaford.[verification needed]

In October 1943, Clostermann was commissioned and assigned to No. 602 Squadron RAF, remaining with the unit for the next ten months. He flew a variety of missions including fighter sweeps, bomber escorts, high-altitude interdiction over the Royal Navy's Scapa Flow base, and strafing or dive-bombing attacks on V-1 launch sites on the French coast. Clostermann served through D-Day and was one of the first Free French pilots to land on French soil, at temporary airstrip B-11, near Longues-sur-Mer, Normandy on 18 June 1944, touching French soil for the first time in more than four years. Clostermann was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross shortly afterwards, after which he was reassigned to French Air Force Headquarters.

Tempests 1945[edit]

Clostermann whilst serving with No. 341 Squadron RAF "Alsace"

In December 1944, Clostermann returned to the front line on secondment to the RAF as a supernumerary flight lieutenant. Clostermann joined No. 274 Squadron RAF flying the new Hawker Tempest Mk V. In an aircraft which he dubbed Le Grand Charles, Clostermann flew an intensive and highly successful round of fighter sweeps, airfield attacks, "rat scramble" interceptions of Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters, and rail interdiction missions over northern Germany over the next two months.

In March 1945, Clostermann briefly served with No. 56 Squadron before a transfer to No. 3 Squadron. On 24 March 1945 he was wounded in the leg by German flak and after belly-landing his badly damaged aircraft, he was hospitalized for a week. From 8 April he was commander of "A" Flight, No. 3 Squadron RAF. Clostermann was awarded a bar to his DFC for his successful tour of duty. He had to bail out for the first time on 12 May 1945, when during a victory fly-past, another Tempest collided with his aircraft, and as a result of this horrific collision the four planes of his flight went down, with three pilots dying. Clostermann's parachute opened just a few yards above the ground. Clostermann continued operations with No. 122 Wing RAF until he left the military altogether on 27 July 1945 with the rank of wing commander.

In his 432 sorties, Clostermann was credited officially with 33 victories (19 solo, 14 shared, most of them against fighters) and five "probables", with eight more "damaged". He also claimed 225 motor vehicles destroyed, 72 locomotives, five tanks, and two E-boats (fast torpedo boats). Many references credit him with 29 to 33 victories, although these probably include his "ground" kills of enemy aircraft. Recent, more detailed analysis of his combat reports and squadron accounts indicate that his true score was 11 destroyed, with possibly another seven, for a total of 15–18 victories.[2][3]


Clostermann wrote a very successful book, The Big Show (Le Grand Cirque), on his experiences in the war. One of the very first post-war fighter pilot memoirs, its various editions have sold over two and a half million copies.[4] William Faulkner commented that this is the finest aviation book to come out of World War II. The book was reprinted, in expanded form, in both paperback and hardcover editions in 2004. It was also adapted in comic book form by Manuel Perales, in close collaboration with Clostermann.[5] Clostermann also wrote Flames in the Sky (Feux du Ciel) (1957), a collection of heroic air combat exploits from both Allied and Axis sides.

After the war, Clostermann continued his career as an engineer, participating in the creation of Reims Aviation, supporting the Max Holste Broussard prototype, acting as a representative for Cessna, and working for Renault. In parallel, Clostermann had a successful political career, serving eight terms as a député (Member of Parliament) in the French National Assembly between 1946 and 1969.[6]

He also briefly re-enlisted in the Armée de l'Air in 1956–57 to fly ground attack missions during the Algerian War. He subsequently wrote a novel based on his experiences there, entitled "Leo 25 Airborne".

During the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the UK, Clostermann praised Argentine pilots for their courage. As a result of this perceived "betrayal" of the RAF, Clostermann attracted hostility from parts of the English press. He also attracted controversy in France for his vehement anti-war stance in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War. (See letter sent to Argentinian Pilots[7]).

Tributes and honours[edit]

On 6 June 2004, a road in Longues-sur-Mer, near temporary airstrip B-11, was named after Clostermann.

French decorations[edit]

Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg Grand Croix de la Légion d'Honneur
Ordre de la Liberation 2nd ribbon.svg Compagnon de l'Ordre de la Libération - 21 January 1946
Medaille militaire ribbon.svg Médaille Militaire
Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 ribbon.svg Croix de Guerre 1939-45, with 19 citations including 17 to the level of the army (palms) and 2 stars
Croix de la Valeur Militaire ribbon.svg Croix de la Valeur Militaire with 2 citations
Medaille de la Resistance avec rosette ribbon.svg Médaille de la Résistance with rosette
Medaille de l'Aeronautique ribbon.svg Médaille de l'Aéronautique
Medaille (Insigne) des Blesses Militaires ribbon.svg Insigne des blessés militaires
Medaille commemorative des Services Volontaires dans la France Libre ribbon.svg Médaille commémorative des services volontaires dans la France libre
Medaille commemorative de la Guerre 1939-1945 ribbon.svg Médaille commémorative de la guerre 1939–1945

Foreign orders and decorations[edit]

UK DFC w bar BAR.svg Distinguished Flying Cross and bar (United Kingdom)
Distinguished Service Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Cross (US Army)
BEL Croix de Guerre 1944 ribbon.svg WWII Croix de Guerre (device(s) unknown) (Belgium)
Ordre du Nichan Iftikhar GO ribbon (Tunisia).svg Grand Officer of the Nichan Iftikhar (Tunisia)
OESSG Cavaliere BAR.jpg Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Vatican)
Ordre de l'Ouissam Alaouite Commandeur ribbon (Maroc).svg Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco)
Santos-Dumont Medal of Merit Ribbon.png Santos-Dumont Medal of Merit, Brazilian Air Force
DNK Order of Danebrog Knight BAR.png Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog
Order of Glory (Ottoman Empire) - ribbon bar.png Grand Officer of the Order of Glory (Ottoman Empire)



  1. ^ "Obituary: Pierre Clostermann" (PDF). Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology. 6 April 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  2. ^ Shores and Williams 1994, p. 180.
  3. ^ Thomas 1999, p. 86.
  4. ^ Wings Encyclopedia of Aviation p. 593.
  5. ^ "Manuel Perales". Lambiek Comiclopedia. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  6. ^ "Pierre Henri Clostermann". Assemblée nationale (in French). Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Reconocimientos" [Acknowledgements]. Fuerza Aérea Argentina (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2016.


  • Clostermann, Pierre. The Big Show. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. ISBN 0-297-84619-1.
  • Shores, Christopher and Clive Williams. Aces High. London: Grub Street, 1994. ISBN 1-898697-00-0.
  • Thomas, Chris. Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War 2. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-85532-779-1.
  • Wings Encyclopedia of Aviation. London: Orbis Publishing, 1979.

External links[edit]