Clostermann, Pierre Henri, born 28-02-1921 in Curitiba, Brazil, into a French diplomatic family. He completed his secondary education in France and gained his private pilot’s license in 1937. 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. Clostermann joined the Free French
Air Force Britain in March 1942.
Between 27 May and 4 June 1939 around 200.000 British soldiers and 140.000 French troops were successfully evacuated from the beaches to safety in England and 3.700 men operating as an auxiliary force to the British Royal Navy
. In the summer of 1940, as Britain fought the Battle of Britain, around a dozen free French pilots volunteered in the RAF to help fight the Luftwaffe; for comparison, about 140 Polish pilots did the same (though it should be noted that Polish airmen and pilots had had much more time to join the allied cause, since October 1939, and had begun to create an embryonic independent air force in France during the Phoney War. 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 Group de Chasse n° 3/2″Alsace”
, flying the Super Marine Spitfire
. He scored his first two victories on 27-07-1943, destroying two Focke Wulf Fw 190’s over France. In October 1943, Clostermann was commissioned and assigned to No 602 Squadron RAF, nickname “Glasgow’s Own”
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 18-06-1944,
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. In December 1944, Clostermann returned to the front line, on secondment to the RAF as a supernumerary Flight Lieutenant. Clostermann joined No 274 RAF Squadron
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 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 24-03-1945, he was wounded in the leg by German flak and after belly-landing his badly damaged aircraft, he was hospitalized for one week. From April 8, 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 12-05-1945, when during a victory fly past, a 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 ground. Clostermann continued operations with No. 122 Wing RAF, nickname “Tempest Wing”
until he left the military altogether on 27-07-1945, rank Wing Commander. In his 432 sorties, Clostermann was credited officially with 23 victories, 19 solo, 14 shared, most of them against fighters and five “probable’s”, with eight more “damaged”. He also claimed 225 motor vehicles destroyed, 72 locomotives, five tanks and two E Boats, fast torpedo boats. 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 Renauld. 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. 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 apparently praised Argentine pilots for their courage, perhaps as a result of personal ties formed while Argentine Air Force pilots were being trained in France in the 1970s. 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. Clostermann was also a sporting fisherman of international repute.
Pierre Clostermann died old age 85 on 22-03-2006, in his home in Montesquieu des Alb1eres, France. He is buried on the cemetery de Saint German, Chesnay, France.