Pierre Clostermann

  Last Wartime Rank:
  Wing Commander
– Royal Air Force
Victories: 33

Born: February 28, 1921
Passed: March 22, 2006
Birthplace: Curitiba, Brazil

Wartime service
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 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
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.

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
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, 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 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.


French decorations
• Grand Cross of the Légion d'Honneur
• Companion of the Liberation - 21 January 1946
• Médaille Militaire
• Croix de Guerre 1939-45, with 19 citation including 17 to the level of the army (palms) and 2 stars
• Croix de la Valeur Militaire with 2 citations
• Médaille de la Résistance with rosette
• Médaille de l'Aéronautique
• Commemorative Medal of security operations and policing in North Africa
• Insigne des blessés militaires
• Commemorative Medal for Voluntary Service in Free France

Foreign decorations
• Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
• Medal of the Order of the Dannebrog - 23 June 1945 (Denmark)
• Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco)
• Grand Officer of the Nichan Iftikhar (Tunisia)
• Distinguished Flying Cross with bar (United Kingdom)
• Distinguished Service Cross (USA)
• Silver Star (USA)
• Air Medal (USA)
• Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Vatican)
• Santos-Dumont Merit Medal (Brazil)