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Aces of Aviation

Hawker Tempest Mark V of Pierre Clostermann

Hawker Tempest Mark V of Pierre Clostermann

Hawker Tempest Mark V from the 3rd Squadron of the RAF, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Pierre Clostermann, the 4th May 1945.

Wingspan: 12.50 meters.

Length: 10.26 meters.

Height: 4.90 meters.

Engine[s]: Napier Sabre II of 2180 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 685 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 11125 meters.

Range (normal): 1190 kilometers.

Armament: Four Hispano 20-millimeter cannons; eight rockets or bomb load of 907 kilograms under the wings.

Pierre Clostermann, sometimes credited with a record of 33 enemy aircraft destroyed, was actually the second French pilot of highest record who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. His record of 33 victories was set with some difference regarding the system generally used in the RAF, being actually 19 the number of aircraft destroyed. Thus, it was Flight Commander Jean Demozay who topped the list of French pilots serving in the RAF, with 21 aerial victories.

Leaving his home in Brazzaville, in the French Congo, at the age of 19, Clostermann travelled to England to enlist in the RAF, beginning then the training to become a fighter pilot. His first combat position as Sergeant Pilot was in the Free French 341st Squadron, the 21st January 1943, piloting the Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX. He achieved his first victories the 27th July of that year, when he destroyed two Focke-Wulf Fw 190 over France, flying as the subaltern of Captain Christian Martell. He destroyed another Fw 190 the 27th August, during an air battle over St. Omer in which René Mouchotte, his popular Squadron Commander, was downed. Clostermann was still piloting the Spitfire Mark IX when, the 28th October, he was sent to the 602nd Squadron, based in Glasgow.

Parallely to scoring occasional aerial victories, Clostermann began to accumulate as well a good number of destroyed ground targets. The 2nd July 1944 his record of aerial victories reached nine, all of them German fighters, and thus he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The 602nd Squadron had been transferred to France, in expectancy of the amphibious landings of the D Day, and after receiving his condecoration Clostermann was transferred back to England. Then he had the chance of piloting the fighters Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest Mark V, obtaining permission the 1st March 1945, as a result of repeated requests, to enter active service as Flight Lieutenant in the 122nd Tempest Flight of the 274th Squadron, based in Volkel, Netherlands.

The ten following weeks witnessed the extraordinary combative eagerness of the young French pilot. The 5th March he destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109, claiming another fighter the 14th day. A week later he was sent to the 56th Squadron, and the 2nd April he downed another Fw 190, over Ahlhorn airbase. His aerial attacks were, from that moment, often rated as destructive against enemy airbases, motorized convoys and trains. Clostermann was awarded with a bar for his Distinguished Flying Cross and assigned to the "A" Flight of the 3rd Squadron, where he continued piloting the Tempest Mark V from Volkel.

Shortly after the 3rd Squadron moved to Fassberg, in Germany; flying from there, Clostermann increased his record the 20th April, when he destroyed another two Fw 190 over Skagerrak, taking part as well in the destruction of a Junkers Ju 290 heavy transport airplane. Until the end of the war, Clostermann continued flying with the 3rd Squadron (whose badge, a cockatrice on a monolith, appears in the illustration), regularly claiming victories over German aircraft and ground targets.