French Spitfire pilot Pierre Closterman opens his score

Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vs banking over Tunisia during a sortie to provide top cover for Allied bombers.

Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vs banking over Tunisia during a sortie to provide top cover for Allied bombers.

Pierre Closterman had joined the Free French, No.341 Squadron in the spring of 1943. Now based at the famous RAF station at Biggin Hill in the south of England, under the leadership of Henri Mouchotte, they were as experienced as any squadron in Fighter Comamnd.

Twenty two year old Closterman had spent time developing his skills under the tutelage of the older pilots, including Mouchotte and Martell, but he had not yet made a name for himself. When the time came for him to open his score, he did so in dramatic fashion. They were engaged in a sweep over France when suddenly a dozen Focke Wulfe 190s attempted to ambush them out of the sun:

Led by a magnificent Fw 190 A-6 painted yellow all over and polished and gleaming like a jewel, the first were already passing on our left, less than a hundred yards away, and turning towards us. I could see, quite distinctly, outlined on their long transparent cockpits, the German pilots crouching forward.

‘Come on, Turban Yellow, attack!’

Martell had already dived straight into the enemy formation. Yellow 3 and Yellow 4 immediately lost contact and left us in the middle of a whirlpool of yellow noses and black crosses.

This time I did not even have time to feel really frightened. Although my stomach contracted, I could feel a frantic excitement rising within me. This was the real thing, and I lost my head slightly. Without realizing it I was giving vent to incoherent Redskin war-whoops and throwing my Spitfire about.

A Focke-Wulf was already breaking away, dragging after him a spiral of black smoke, and Martell, who was not wasting any time, was after the scalp of another. I did my best to play my part and back him up and give him cover, but he was far ahead and I had some difficulty in following his rolls and Immelmann turns.

Two Huns converged insidiously on his tail. I opened fire on them, although they were out of range. I missed them, but made them break off and make for me. Here was my opportunity!

I climbed steeply, did a half-roll and, before they could complete the 180° of their turn, there I was — within easy range this time – behind the second one. A slight pressure on the rudder and I had him in my sights. I could scarcely believe my eyes, only a simple deflection necessary, at less than 200 yards range. Quickly I squeezed the ring-button. Whoopee! Flashes all over his fuselage. My first burst had struck home and no mistake.

The Focke-Wulf caught alight at once. Tongues of flame escaped intermittently from his punctured tanks, licking the fuselage. Here and there incandescent gleams showed through the heavy black smoke surrounding the machine. The German pilot threw his plane into a desperate turn. Two slender white trails formed in the air.

Suddenly, the Focke-Wulf exploded, like a grenade. A blinding flash, a black cloud, then debris fluttered round my aircraft. The engine dropped like a ball of fire. One of the wings, torn off in the flames, dropped more slowly, like a dead leaf, showing its pale yellow under-surface and its olive green upper- surface alternately.

I bellowed my joy into the radio, just like a kid: ‘Hullo, Yellow One, Turban Yellow Two, I got one, I got one! Jesus, I got one of them!’

The sky was now full of Focke-Wulfs, brushing past me, attacking me on every side in a firework display of tracer bullets. They wouldn’t “let me go; a succession of frontal attacks, three-quarters rear, right, left, one after the other.

I was beginning to feel dizzy‘ and my arms were aching. I was out of breath too, for manoeuvring at 400 m.p.h. a Spitfire whose controls are stiffened by the speed is pretty exhausting work – especially at 26,000 feet. I felt as if I was stifling in my mask and I turned the oxygen to ‘emergency’. All I could feel was a hammering in my damp temples, my wrists and my ankles.

Moments later Closterman was ‘flabbergasted’ to shoot down a second German, see Pierre Closterman: The Big Show.

Sous-Officier Pierre Clostermann, when serving as a pilot a with No. 341 (Alsace) Squadron of the Free French Air Force.

Sous-Officier Pierre Clostermann, when serving as a pilot a with No. 341 (Alsace) Squadron of the Free French Air Force.

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