Thursday 17 January 2019

Clostermann & Demozay - 'modest and exemplary heroes' . Two controversial French aces in the latest issues of 'Avions' and 'Aces' magazines

Above; Probably one of the most famous Tempest photos ever taken!  The date is 27 August 1945,   Pierre Clostermann's last day in the RAF, and he is seen here on his new JF-E NV 724 (note no 'Le Grand Charles' inscription but with the addition of the white cross of Lorraine on the radiator. This aircraft made a wheels-up landing on 10 November 1945 at Fassberg). Photo reproduced here with the kind permission of 'Avions' magazine. See the latest issue 'Avions' (no. 227) for the best and most authoritative recent account of Clostermann's RAF career and more especially his combat record.

Clostermann's NV 724 was the last of his JF*E Tempests. Although barely visible in this washed-out repro note the scoreboard ahead of the cockpit - 23 confirmed and nine probables. Perhaps best known today as the author of one of the finest of all WWII flying memoirs with over 3 million copies sold, "Le Grand Cirque - The Big Show", Pierre Clostermann's record has in recent years been the subject of some considerable controversy and re-evaluation. The doyen of French aviation historians Christian-Jacques Ehrengardt wrote in his 1999 history of French fighter pilots; " the official archives are there to prove it, only 12 victories of Clostermann's can be identified with Clostermann's case 'probable victories' would tend to mean 'improbable.."

In the subsequent court case (Clostermann sued during the year 2000!) the offending book was pulped and substantial damages awarded. Indeed Clostermann spent the latter years of his life seeking to redress and re-establish the 'official' record, even writing in to Scale Aircraft Modelling back in 1982 to rebutt accusations that he had over-claimed his number of actual aerial victories and that he was now wearing a medal (the D.S.O.) to which he was not entitled. Clostermann responded thusly:

" ..As to my claims, they never changed. They were painted on my Tempest, (see accompanying photo,  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.... "

Having covered Clostermann's record in detail in previous issues of Avions magazine ( nos 100 and 151, a commemorative issue devoted to Clostermann's life) 'Avions' editor and friend of Clostermann, Christophe Cony examines Clostermann's wartime record in detail over 42 pages in the latest issue of 'Avions' (no. 227)

Cony writes;

" When I first met Clostermann in 2004 we spent a lot of time discussing Spitfires, Tempests and air combat, but he was unable to respond with any certainty to one of my questions about his exact victory tally...

" Understand ", he said to me, " that during the war I just carried out my job as a fighter pilot. I fired on enemy aircraft. But after that I had nothing to do with the attribution of victory confirmations. That's why I can't say with any certainty what my final victory tally might have been. All I know is that the British validated 23 claims for aircraft destroyed as confirmed. That total is all I've ever claimed. And nothing else.."

Cony continues;

"..That's why I believe that 'Cloclo' might have appreciated this latest study in which I have detailed for the first time his complete wartime record and how he earned his victories. I have done so by thoroughly examining all the sources - his two logbooks, including the Tempest logbook, the ORBs of the five squadrons he flew in and the existing combat reports. This article is the result of more than ten years of research. Many surprises, but also many mysteries solved!.."

Modellers should note that Clostermann flew at least four Tempests - only one of them, SN222, carried the inscription 'Le Grand Charles' despite what you can read almost anywhere on the internet. Clostermann's JF-E NV 724 in July 1945 as seen in the photo above is thus a postwar machine with "parade" markings. For a wartime version wearing similar markings, use NV 994, minus the kill markings, the "Grand Charles" inscription, rudder crest and cross of Lorraine. The spinner is black and the upper wing roundels should have the yellow outline (as seen on a period photo). Closterman shot down 2 FW-190 D-9's  on April 20 1945 with this aircraft. For more on this encounter on this blog go here

In their previous Clostermann special (issue 151) Cony refers to 'The Big Show' as a 'roman' - or novel - and no attempt was made to detail his score. In 'Avions' No. 100 Clostermann's score was given as 24 confirmed and nine probables, making Clostermann the leading French ace of WWII. His 'official' score as promulgated by the French Air Force historical service (formerly SHAA, now SHD) is still 33 victories.

Thierry Dekker artwork from 'Avions' No. 151 reproduced here with the permission of editor Michel Ledet and the artist

Above; S/Ldr Jean Demozay (second from the left) leaning against the prop of one of 91 Squadron's Spit Vbs, September 1941, Hawkinge, Kent. (photo credit via Peter Hall of Ashford, Kent. Peter's history of 91 'Nigeria' Sqn in the Osprey Aviation 'Elite' series is still the best English-language reference on Demozay)

If Clostermann was an enigma then French ace Jean Demozay was a riddle wrapped in a mystery!  Editor of 'ACES' magazine Many Souffan has just published part one of a very lengthy bio of France's second ace in the latest issue of 'ACES' (no. 9) having previously published an in-depth review of his career in 'Avions' magazine and a multi-part series in Replic before that.  But there is much new material here. Not only that but 'ACES' magazine is a fine glossy A-4 card-covered publication with spine, each issue has around 100-pages (text in French) with quality production values.

 Demozay's story - if you don't know it- is pretty incredible. He had attempted to join the French Air Force pre-war but had been turned down. He thus never joined the l'Armee de l'Air and  never trained as a pilot - apparently he just 'pretended' he had when he was finally sent to the RAF's 'Advanced Air Strike Force' in September 1939 in Reims in northern France as an interpreter - his English was fluent as he had spent a number of his teen years at boarding school in Southsea near Portsmouth where a family friend was a teacher. His first flights were in the liaison Magister used by No. 1 Squadron and it was the British pilots that taught him to fly circuits in their off-duty hours. He claimed he need a bit of refresher training, his pre-war pilot's licence having long since lapsed ( another big 'fib'). He was subsequently one of the first French 'pilots' to reach the UK after the fall of France arriving on 17 June 1940 having piloted a Bristol Bombay twin and a complement of passengers across the Channel. At the time he didn't even possess a (car) drivers licence, let alone any flying qualifications! He then managed to wangle his way into operational training unit 5 OTU which as luck would have it was commanded by his 'old' Squadron CO 'Bull' Halahan, proving the old adage 'its not what you know...'. He started his first 'real' flight training course on 20 June 1940 - but really there is no way he should have been there. His CO in 'E flight' 5 OTU was another former 1 Squadron Hurricane ace, Pilot Officer 'Boy' Mould, the first RAF pilot to shoot down a Luftwaffe aircraft over France on 30 October 1939. Demozay finished his training in October 1940 and joined 1 Sqn at Wittering and flew several sorties before 31 October 1940 - the 'official' Battle of Britain cut-off date. As such he was one of just thirteen French pilots that officially participated in the Battle of Britain and his name is inscribed on the memorial wall at Capel-Le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover. As for his achievements in combat - well it is a matter of record that he commanded 91 'Nigeria' Squadron at Hawkinge and there is a street named after him in the village..officially he returned some 19 victories although many of his claims were made when flying alone out over the Channel and over France...

This well known image of Jean 'Moses Morlaix' Demozay was taken on 16 November 1941 at Hawkinge. At this time Demozay had around 11 victories and four probables. One month previously he had been awarded the DFC, presented to him by Leigh Mallory Trafford. A few months later he received a bar and a DSO. The Spitfire behind him is the Mk V of his S/L J N Watts Farmer W3175/ DL.W. Under his wings you can see (from L to R) the ribbons of Ordre de la liberation (Green & black) the 7 palms of his Croix de Guerre and his new DFC

An in-depth look at ACES magazine from Heimdal on this blog here

The latest issue no.9 does have some specific Luftwaffe content -a lengthy photo feature on the Luftwaffe's RK award winners for the year 1940 based on Chris Goss' recent Frontline 'Knights of the Battle of Britain' book - and while it has a terrible title, this Goss volume ( and ACES article ) features comprehensive biographical details on Knights Cross holders well illustrated with contemporary photos, a number of which were new to me and is certainly a worthy addition to the library.

Heimdal's site for ACES back issues and more