Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Pierre Clostermann interview French TV documentary (Tempest JF*E, JG 26 Fw 190 Dora )

Pierre Clostermann filmed at Hendon in 1975/76 with a Tempest painted as his 3. Squadron machine JF*E for a French TV documentary. The aircraft is in fact NV 778, a machine built post-war. In this video extract Clostermann tells us how good the best Luftwaffe pilots were, especially those veterans of Spain and the early campaigns, and relates an account of the combat in which he was shot down on 21 April 1945.  He introduces his remarks by stating that the Luftwaffe made its pilots fly until they got shot down, without any rest and thus they acquired hugely superior levels of competence and experience and "had to be avoided in the air like the plague". He was himself shot down twice, 12 May 1943 and 21 April 1945. Towards the end of the clip Clostermann relates what it was to suddenly realise that one of these superior pilots was in front of you as on April, 21st, 1945 - sheer terror and fear and the realisation that you had no hope of escaping. The German ace they came up against that day fought alone against Clostermann and the 7 pilots of his squadron, the German pilot according to Clostermann downing three of them, including Clostermann himself. Unfortunately not identified by Donald Caldwell in his JG 26 War Diary - only two 3. Sqd Tempests being lost that day-  this German pilot - had he existed - would almost certainly have been a JG 26 Fw 190 Dora pilot...The interviewer asks Clostermann who the German pilot was... (my translation);

 ".. I never knew. He could have killed me because, just as my engine stopped, I saw the shell exploding, zipping past the canopy just above where the crosses are ..[Clostermann turns back and points out the victory markings in front of the canopy.]. But that day, I wasn't flying my own aircraft, because every time I had to fly a plane that was not mine, usually because of technical problems, I got into a bit of a mess. I saw the shell, I felt the impact and when the engine stopped, I thought "That's it, I'm finished." And I was too low to bail out. I curved into a turn and the German passed above me, I saw the pilot very well because he rolled onto his back above me, very slowly, I saw him 10 metres above me while he was looking at me. I saw he trying desperately to slow down. He was perhaps wary that I could get a shot at him because he was faster than me. He swept away, I put the aircraft down... It was near Dümmer Lake, it was marshy and the aircraft was covered in mud and I scrambled out of the cockpit as fast as possible. I unbuckled my parachute, I slid out onto the wing, I fell, I saw him coming back and thought "He's gonna open up at me! It's unbelievable, he won't do it." I'd never do that. And as luck would have it, he didn't.."

Note the inscription under the Tempest cockpit, 'Le Grand Charles' - this inscription, Clostermann's hommage to Charles de Gaulle, was in fact only painted on SN 222. None of Clostermann's other Tempests were photographed with this inscription despite what you can read just about anywhere on the internet, includng the Hawker Tempest site!

However - according to the most authoritative recent account (Avions No. 151 special issue to commemorate Clostermann's passing) Clostermann had bellied in on the 20th after combat with two Fw 190 Doras and flak damage. After downing one Dora north of Bremen, JF*E had been hit by heavy ground fire and the pilot had taken some splinters in his calf but managed to put down at Hopsten. In the ensuing crash landing Clostermann dislocated his shoulder and hit his head on the gunsight and did not return to his squadron until early May. According to 122 Tempest Wing's war diary for the 20th, " a good day, the 'mad Frenchie' got another two Fw 190s.."