View Full Version : Expanded edition of Clostermann's memoirs

27th Apr 2004, 17:21
Pierre Clostermann's memoir of Spitfire and Tempest flying for the Free French in the RAF, "Le Grand Cirque", was re-issued in an expanded edition a year or two ago, but was only available in French until recently. Now the updated "Big Show" is out in English. In my opinion this, with Geofrey Wellum's "First Light", ranks as the best of the pilot memoirs of WW2.

Vive Monsieur Clostermann, still alive and a great European.

27th Apr 2004, 22:47
Thanks for bringing that to my attention FNG.

Just ordered a copy.


28th Apr 2004, 12:17
This might be a case of light blue touch paper and retire:

But didn't Dr Alfred Price suggest that Clostermann was not the ace he claimed to be? Seem to remember comments in Price's book about Late Marque Spitfire Aces

28th Apr 2004, 22:16
TD&H, there is a discrepancy between Clostermann's claimed 33 victories (19 individual and 14 shared) and the details tracked down by Christopher Shores and Clive Williams for Aces High.

They concluded that some of the victories Clostermann lists were scored by strafing and 'in the case of the shared victories, he appeares merely to have been present on these occasions, and not to have actually fired at these aircraft concerned'.

From their research, Shores and Williams credit him with between 11-18 kills 3-5 probables, 9 damaged and 2 destroyed on the ground (with the possibility that four victories listed by Clostermann as air victories are in fact ground victories).

However, I've seen evidence that some records credit Clostermann with air-to-air victories when he didn't claim them - there is, IIRC, an instance where the French Air Force granted him an a-a victory over a German aircraft that was in the process of taking off and which landed rather smartly when Clostermann appeared in its rear-view mirror; he then destroyed it by strafing.

On the evidence I've seen about these differences, I don't think we can assume (and this *isn't* a pointed remark in your direction after reading an inference in your comment, TD&H !) that Clostermann was being dishonest; rather that he is a classic example of how trying to record victories is rather more awkward than people might allow.

29th Apr 2004, 05:44
It was notoriously difficult to be credited with a kill in the RAF, and it might be that the real totals for Clostermann and for other Allied pilots were higher than the official totals. Clostermann was eventually forced to speak out after some sniping at his record in a spotter magazine, and even unfounded suggestions that he was not entitled to his decorations. The motivation for the sniping may have been some low-key remarks which Clostermann (born in Brazil, but an Anglophile Frenchman) was reported to have made praising the Argentinian pilots in the Falklands (who did, after all, deserve praise for their efforts, albeit in a bad cause).


M. Clostermann's own words, from http://koti.mbnet.fi/~jjuvonen/pilots_eng/cloclo_letter_eng.html

Dear Neil

I was a little disgusted by Adam Holden's letter, which you published in SAM Vol 22/3 May 2000. On principle I never usually answer letters of this sort, but in view of my Tempest friends from No 3 Squadron, I feel I owe them an answer. First the Falklands War . I never wrote to an Argentinian newspaper, but sent a letter to a group of Argentinian pilots who were pupils of my son, (then an Armée de l'Air Mirage pilot), at the Mirage Academy in Dijon. I knew them and they even came to my house when they were on leave. When I read the insults printed in the UK tabloid newspaper, the 'SUN', (greasers, tango dancers etc.), I wanted to tell these 'underdogs' that some people admired their courage. It is an admitted fact today by all - (including the US Air Force and the RAF) - that "the courage of your enemy honours you", and it should not be forgotten. Also, being an MP, with political responsibilities I am entitled to my opinions. They had nothing to do with my long-standing friendship and love for the RAF.

Secondly, I was never married to an 'Argentinian beauty'. I have been married for 53 years to a French girl.

As to my claims, they never changed. They were painted on my Tempest, (see accompanying photo), (The photograph that Pierre sent with his letter, with him in the cockpit of 'Le Grand CharIes'~, NV724, JF.E of 3 Sqn., circa July 1945, showing the twenty-three black crosses representing his accredited confirmed 'kills', and the nine white outline only crosses for 'probables' and 'ground kills'.) and are substantiated by the following citations and letters. My two DFC citations, by Air Marshal Slessor and AOC 83 Group Sir Harry Broadhurst, are enough for me.

"DFC 26/8/44 This officer has displayed outstanding courage and devotion to duty throughout his operational career in the course of which he has destroyed at least 11 enemy aircraft and damaged other military objectives". "Bar 28/5/45 since being awarded the DFC this officer has participated in 70 new operational missions during which he has destroyed a further 12 enemy aircraft. Throughout, Lieutenant Clostermann has displayed outstanding courage and ability, and has proved to be a source of inspiration to all". 23 black crosses and 23 confirmed by my DFC citations. I never personally asked for anything else.

There were I suppose two problems; ONE, I have been in so many Squadrons; Nos 341, 602, 486, 274, 56, and 3, that the forms 540 and 541 'Logs of Claims' were quite spread out. TWO, the French Air Force - as well as the US 8th Fighter Command, considered aircraft 'probables' and destroyed 'on the ground' as victories. This may explain some of the ridiculously inflated claims we found in the press, about me and many American pilots. Not my fault. I tried to rectify often, but to no avail! Finally, the statement about the the DSO. I am a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur, which, as a French national, takes precedence over my DFC, and therefore is worn 'in front' of it. It is red with a blue tinge - as is the DSO.

Pierre Clostermann
Montesquiei des Albères

astir 8
29th Apr 2004, 08:02
Le Grand Cirque 2000 is brilliant - it'll be interesting to finally see an English version. The detail about his early education and arrival in England is excellent. As is the extra detail throughout the text. I gather that the original "Big Show" was edited due to post-war paper shortages.

There are certainly a few strange differences between the text included in the original "Big Show" in English and Le Grande Cirqu 2000 - e.g in "2000" it was Jacques Remlinger who shot down the recon Me 109 over Scapa Flow while in "Big Show" it was someone else - can't remember who just now. I wonder why?

And sadly the bit about some city gent unwisely referring to "those good for nothing RAF types" within the hearing of 602 squadron is not in "2000"

May Pierre Clostermann live a lot longer yet!

What I'd really like to see now is an English version of "Rene Mouchotte - Mes Carnets"

29th Apr 2004, 08:27
Seconded, Astir. My French is just about good enough to read "Mes Carnets", but not to translate it. The photo of Mouchotte in Clostermann's book, taken twenty minutes before the Commandant's death, is quite haunting.

astir 8
29th Apr 2004, 11:00
Certainly when you see the photo of Mouchotte just after his escape to Gibraltar - a very fit, healthy looking man compared with the pictures of him in 1943, and especially the one just before he was killed - you realise the kind of stresses those people must have been under.

29th Apr 2004, 12:29
Yes, and then as a reward in later life, if they make it that far, they get armchair experts and subscribers to aero modelling magazines questioning their credentials.

ps: TDH, that is not a dig as you, as you did not start the hare running, but it is a hare that, if followed, goes nowhere.

30th Apr 2004, 09:12

No I was not trying to imply that Clostermann over-claimed. Yes it was obviously difficult to substantiate victories, and as we have all read far more aircrat were genuinely claimed as destroyed than records prove were shot down. In the heat of battle it must have been very difficult to know if your definite really did crash or your possible/probable didn't make it home.

No belittling of person intended, merely for discussion, which has happened, and thanks for those who took up the gauntlet and added their two-pennyworth.

Cheers H

astir 8
11th Jun 2004, 13:09
So anyone read "Big Show 2000" in English yet?

Any views?

15th Jun 2004, 05:26
Astir 8, I have just looked in my 1953 edition of "The Big Show" and it is an Ian Blair that is credited with shooting down the ME-109 over the Orkneys.
I bought the book in '54 while a schoolboy and probably had it memorised shortly thereafter. I also have somewhere "Flames in the Sky" whichwas published later.
Along with Mike Lithgow's, Neville Duke's and Adolph Galland's books, not to mention the Brickhill books on Douglas Bader and "The Dambusters" my interest in flying started.
It lead to a career of Air Force and Airline that I feel very lucky to have had.

15th Jun 2004, 09:51
'The Mouchotte Diaries' is currently in print, published in softback by Cerberus, ISBN 1841450243, £8.99 in the UK.

15th Jun 2004, 14:22
If the new English release is extensive as the French reprint, don't miss the final chapter. Here Mr Clostermann recounts a couple of missions during the Algerian civil war. Then a reserve officer, he accepted a tour of duty by flying single radial engined and twin tailes Max Holste Broussards on observation and light reco flights.

15th Jun 2004, 15:47
My copy of the new English version of Le Grand Cirque is still unread. The translator is uncredited. I have Mouchotte's Carnets in French and may get the English copy also.

There used to be a Broussard at North Weald: a very chunky machine. Interesting that they did not put Clostermann into a Fenec for ground attack in Algeria, although I suppose that he must have been around 40 at the time.

16th Jun 2004, 12:59
Some ideas as reasons
-his age, probably the prime reason which had him off any combat aircraft
-he got his demob in 1946,
-he kept however a status of reserve officer
-prior to Reims Aviation, he was an active exec with Max Holste.
-obtained the permission to fly with a light recco/squadron flying the Broussard.

25th Jun 2004, 09:30
Dipping into it this week, with the French text also to hand. No Algerian war stuff in the new English edition.