Jump to content

Closterman at Scapa Flow - "The Big Show" - clarification/BS/Question


Recommended Posts

So, I'm currently reading Closterman's "The Big Show" memoir. I am aware that all memoirs must be taken with pinches of salt but I am beginning to become rather confused by it. I've already read of the controversy surrounding the "yellow" FW190 piloted by Graff earlier in the book, but this later instance in the chapter I have just finished seems to be more flagrantly contradictory. 

 

In the chapter, "Tussle in the Stratosphere" Closterman describes the interception, as no2 in a pair of HF Spitfires, intercepting a recon 109G that is shot down by his no1 Ian Blair. 

 

HOWEVER ... Ian Blair, the credited victor of this kill, appears to remember it rather differently. 

 

See interview: 

https://www.a-e-g.org.uk/spitfire-over-scapa.html

 

"Sqn Ldr Ian Blair DFM, who had known Clostermann when they both served in 602 Sqn. He pointed out that Clostermann’s claim to have taken part in an incident in the Orkney Islands was incorrect. 

On the pursuit:

 "The Spitfire accelerated very quickly and soon the hostile was rapidly being overtaken. I had to throttle back to prevent this. 
My No 2 failed to do the same and overshot me in the dive. Once in the attacking position he opened fire but his guns failed to operate (he was flying a Mk VI Spitfire)."

 

"My No 2 stayed with me and we set course for Skae Brae, having sent the usual ‘Mayday."

 

All rather different to Closterman's account. Would be chalkable to memory. 

 

But crucially:

"Later in the afternoon, Pierre Clostermann, in the unit Tiger Moth, collected me from Stronsay – his only involvement in the episode."

 

Does anyone else know if there might have been multiple interceptions of this type by 602 squadron that might explain the discrepancy? What other major discrepancies should I be prepared for in his accounts/claims once I reach his redeployment to Europe and his time in Tempests?

 

 I know memoirs and memory recollection can often differ years after the fact, as is a natural with the function of memory. Memory is after all a massively imperfect recording device in which imagined fiction can mix itself with truth and the recollection be truthfully remembered falsely. My wife has pointed out this phenomenon in myself in small details of our shared travels in the past. However, this seems to be flagrantly putting himself into the seat of other pilots. He claims in the preface to have written "no work of literature" and to be a humble collector of his notes, but this just seems total BS. Descriptive recollections of the effects of G forces and a brush with death recovering from the dive in his no2 spitfire with locked controls ... according to Blair didn't take place?

I had thus far been reading with the impression that descriptions of aerial combat were, at least within the bounds of adrenaline clouded memory, faithful to the events. I know feel it is more appropriate to read as a work of literary description more akin to a "based on true story" film. That's fine, and really quite enjoyable in of itself ... just a little disappointing from a "memoir". 

Edited by Murewa
  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Murewa changed the title to Closterman at Scapa Flow - "The Big Show" - clarification/BS/Question

You are quite right, it is a work of literary description based on true events but somewhat embroidered.  You will find his accounts of major losses to horrendous flak low-level over Germany also somewhat exaggerated (perhaps not the flak, but the losses.)

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

If you read the French language edition of the book Blair is not mentioned in the description of the incident, the name of the other pilot is given as Jacques Remlinger, another Frenchman on the squadron. Back then, after capitulation and occupation, France was in need of heroes which may explain some of the "artistic licence".  I've started reading his autobiography, "Une Vie pas Comme les Autres" but I don't read French that fast and I'm a long way from any description of that incident.

 

In later life Clostermann was very clear that "The Big Show / Le Grand Cirque" was not 100% accurate but was intended to give a flavour of events. He was also very clear that other criticisms - e.g of his victory claims - were incorrect, including writing a letter to Scale Aircraft Modelling on the subject.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

For what it's worth, I remember someone commenting that the mix of fact and fiction in "The Big Show" is a recognised French literary genre but I'm afraid I don't recall where I read that, nor can I vouch for its accuracy. 

 

My father had the original 1951 abbreviated English edition, which I devoured as a kid. I now have the 2004 version "returned to its original, unabridged state". It also incorporates some minor corrections: the one that springs to mind is that Clostermann's references to Ta 152s have been changed to specify Fw 190Ds. There's also a little bit more on the loss of Rene Mouchotte when Clostermann was flying as his wingman but clearly much is still left out. "Deere added that with a bit more discipline I had the makings of a very good fighter pilot  but that, since Mouchotte's disappearance, it couldn't be within the French squadron": this isn't explained further but by implication other members of the squadron felt that Clostermann was culpable,

 

I doubt that Clostermann's memoir is the only one that's open to challenge. Even as a child, I found it hard to believe that the downed German pilot who Larry Forrester said that Bob Stanford Tuck machinegunned as he stood next to his downed Bf 110 had, as claimed, produced a "Schmeisser machine pistol" from the cockpit and put a bullet into Tuck's windscreen.

  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

The incident in The Big Show that Clostermann says took place on the 21st February 1944 actually took place on the 20th February. Operational records and combat reports do not mention Clostermann having any part in the combat.

 

On the 20th February F/L W.G.Bennetts and F/O 'Ian' Blair made an uneventful scramble in Mk Vs at 10.55. Two hours later they were called for another scramble. This time Bennetts taking off in Mk VII MB763 DU*W and Blair in Mk VII MD114 DU*G. They climbed to 32,000 ft and saw vapour trails. Ground control confirmed it was an enemy aircraft. Blair gave chase but the EA spotted the Spitfires and turned for home. Blair opened fire at extreme range with no result. Bennett opened fire at 250 yards but his gunsight stop working and he broke off. Blair closed and fired at 200 yards. The starboard wing of the EA broke off and fell into the sea. The pilot, Oberleutnant Helmut Quednau of 1.(F)/120 was killed in his Bf 109 G-6/R3 coded A6+XH. Debris from the EA hit the radiator of Blair's Spitfire and he made a forced landing at Stronsay.

  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

You are quite right, it is a work of literary description based on true events but somewhat embroidered.  You will find his accounts of major losses to horrendous flak low-level over Germany also somewhat exaggerated (perhaps not the flak, but the losses.)

Just out of curiosity, would the low-level flak account be the airfield attack with only two survivors (Clostermann and John "Bay" Adams)?

 

/Finn

Link to post
Share on other sites

This book also made quite an impression on me when I first read it some 60 years ago and inspired a flying model (control line) and a complete rebuild to a reasonable standard of the AMT 1/48 Tempest both in Clostermann's markings. In the ensuing years there was questions asked particularly about his claims and I have a copy of the reply from him to readers of, I think, Scale Aircraft Modelling addressing the issue. About 10 years ago I managed to collect all four volumes of 2nd Tactical Airforce by Christopher Shores & Chris Thomas and in an idle moment went through Clostermann's book and cross checked with the 2TAF volumes, as much as was possible, the dates and losses etc and there is quite a discrepancy. The good news is the losses weren't nearly as bad as written in the book. I have wondered if the last months of the war were a bit of an anti-climax for Clostermann and that he felt the need to spice up the book to make it more exciting. I also got the impression that he felt underappreciated in France after the war for what was a commendable war record.

TRF

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, fastterry said:

This book also made quite an impression on me when I first read it some 60 years ago and inspired a flying model (control line) and a complete rebuild to a reasonable standard of the AMT 1/48 Tempest both in Clostermann's markings. In the ensuing years there was questions asked particularly about his claims and I have a copy of the reply from him to readers of, I think, Scale Aircraft Modelling addressing the issue. About 10 years ago I managed to collect all four volumes of 2nd Tactical Airforce by Christopher Shores & Chris Thomas and in an idle moment went through Clostermann's book and cross checked with the 2TAF volumes, as much as was possible, the dates and losses etc and there is quite a discrepancy. The good news is the losses weren't nearly as bad as written in the book. I have wondered if the last months of the war were a bit of an anti-climax for Clostermann and that he felt the need to spice up the book to make it more exciting. I also got the impression that he felt underappreciated in France after the war for what was a commendable war record.

TRF

I feel or felt the same. As a book, it's actually quite good. As war documentary, well...

 

Recently read J. Braham's account of himself. He was shot down in Denmark and the account from his hand about the final flight is quite unlike the actual events. I suppose no-one is able, or want to, fact check his own account.

 

/Finn

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know whether it's down to publishers trying to sell books, but the only people I know in my lifetime who have written books about their operational or flying experience are the kind of people whose character is of the "I knew best but the morons in authority would never listen to me or give me the credit I deserve" type :hmmm:

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/16/2021 at 6:34 PM, Alan P said:

I don't know whether it's down to publishers trying to sell books, but the only people I know in my lifetime who have written books about their operational or flying experience are the kind of people whose character is of the "I knew best but the morons in authority would never listen to me or give me the credit I deserve" type :hmmm:

 

My experience is somewhat different - many of the accounts I have read are straightforward (and, I hope, reasonably factual!) descriptions of their experiences doing things which people like us find interesting. Off the top of my head, Hermann Buchner and Johannes Kaufmann's memoirs fit straight into this category, as do numerous others - although I have no way of judging the accuracy of most of what they write. Sure, there are some who have an axe to grind...understandably so, in some cases! 

 

Going back to Clostermann, it just seems a shame that he chose to embellish what he actually achieved. I always feel that Hollywood is doing historical figures a disservice by trying to 'sex up' real events for cinema audiences - was the reality not exciting enough, and if so, was it really not possible to portray what actually happened in a sufficiently gripping manner? But I can mostly forgive a film studio executive, forced to reach a compromise between what someone else actually did in the past and the modern constraints of time, budget, and expected profit. A personal memoir shouldn't need to be subject to the same pressures (or at least, not to anything like the same extent). I remember reading the account of a SAR pilot who flew a notable rescue several decades ago, who stated that he had flown two other challenging rescues earlier in the day of the well known mission. As it happened, not long afterwards, I was looking at the operational record of the unit in question, and the first two jobs turned out to be fictional! Probably based on previous experiences, but not even faintly accurate in terms of the day when the noteworthy rescue happened. No doubt others feel differently, but my preference would be to focus on the one real mission (which was a remarkable exploit in itself) than to add in fictitious embellishments. 

 

If I ever achieve something interesting or remarkable, and decide to write about it, I'll tell it like it is, rather than making out that I was cleverer/braver/more successful than was actually the case. But this is all entirely hypothetical! 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, cmatthewbacon said:

Isn’t this just History 101: primary sources ain’t always reliable, it ain’t necessarily so...?

best,

M.


I once went to a very enjoyable and interesting lecture by John Keegan on the different contexts and purposes of “war memoirs” at different points after the First and Second World Wars, with lengthy discussion of Seven Pillars, Goodbye to all that, All Quiet... Enemy Coast Ahead, Cockleshell Heroes, The Golden Horseshoe... all books I and the rest of you probably read as a nipper (or more recently...)

best,

M.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello all

 

I have this book from year 1953 translated to finnish and if I'm at the correct date to this high altitude battle on February 21 1944, the book says following: two pilots that were at standby was to be Ian Blair and Kelly.

The author then says that he and his friend Remlinger relieved the pilots so that they could for lunch or so.

The biggest disinfo according to my opinion is that Clostermann calls those altitude Spitfires as Mk. VIII's and not Mk.VI's or VII's but it is not relevant here.

Is it verified that the German plane was G-6 and not the earlier G-4 ?

 

I have liked his books and I'm aware that they may be fully correct at least the Big Show but again this is not relevant for this topic.

 

Just wanted to share my thoughts with You, pardon if this date and occurance is not what was discussed.

 

Yours

Teemu H

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, torqueofthedevil said:

 

My experience is somewhat different - many of the accounts I have read are straightforward (and, I hope, reasonably factual!) descriptions of their experiences doing things which people like us find interesting.

I meant specifically people I've either met or worked with or know of by reputation. I wasn't pretending to know the motives of everyone who's ever written a memoir! 😂

Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, hajt said:

 

The biggest disinfo according to my opinion is that Clostermann calls those altitude Spitfires as Mk. VIII's and not Mk.VI's or VII's but it is not relevant here. Is it verified that the German plane was G-6 and not the earlier G-4 ?

I

I don't have the original English edition any more but in the revised version he says "We slipped on our Mae Wests, put our parachutes and helmets ready in the two Strato-Spit VIIs. Ian had not flown one yet and wanted the new one with the pointed tail fin." The comment about the "tail fin" (i.e. a broad-chord rudder) was definitely in the previous version but I couldn't swear that Mk VIIs were specified. 

 

The revised edition just identifies the German aircraft as a "Messerschmitt 109 G". I'm pretty sure that the original specified a G-6, as it seems your Finnish translation does. It could very well have been a G-4, as Clostermann mentions that it was fitted with two underwing tanks. "A total of 80 aircraft of the Bf 109 G-4/R3 variant were built by WNF between December 1942 and July 1943. This variant was a long-range reconnaissance aircraft with mountings  for two 300-liter fuel tanks beneath the wings" (Prien  & Rodeike).

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

It seams that in every translation the story is different🙂:

I read the Italian translation as teenager in the mid 1960s.

From what I remember he described the incident as follows:He and Jacques Remlinger started in scramble to intercept the Messerschmitt reconnaissance aircraft.The German pilot made a dorsal turn and went into a dive to escape.The Spitfires followed him with Clostermann firing and hitting the Bf 109 which broke up in the air.Clostermann's Spitfire was damaged by debris and he belly landed on the Island and that he was collected by Remlinger and a mechanic with a Tiger Moth.The mechanic remained on the Island to recover the armament and "secret apparatures".

What Clostermann did not say in his book is that he was transferred from 341 squadron "Alsace" to 602 squadron "city of Glasgow" because on the 27th of august 1943 during an escort mission as wingman he "lost" his squadron Leader Mouchotte with the result that Mouchotte was found dead on the Belgian coast ten days later.

 

Saluti

 

Giampiero

 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

The English translation of the Big Show has Clostermann as the wingman on the Scapa Flow shoot down.

 

For what it is worth, 27 August 1943 the first 8th Air Force strike on a V weapons target, 224 B-17 despatched 187 effective, dropping 368 x 2,000 pound bombs, claiming 7 enemy aircraft shot down, 6 damaged, 4 B-17 missing, 1 category E.  173 P-47 despatched, claiming 8 enemy aircraft shot down, 1 probable and 2 damaged, 1 P-47 missing, with another P-47 damaged by a Spitfire.

 

RAF Ramrod S-8, 4 waves of B-17 at 20 minute intervals, JG26 did the interception, 4 Spitfires lost (2 from 41 and 2 from 341), RAF claiming 8 enemy aircraft shot down, 1 probable and 3 damaged.  341 and 485 squadrons were the escort for the first bomber wave.

 

The Mouchotte Diaries was first published in 1956.  An edited extract of Clostermann's book forms the end piece, around 4 pages.  Summary of the summary,

 

The B-17s were early.  A hundred Fw190 attacking the bombers, 100 more the Spitfires.  Wing bounced by Fw190, fire within 15 yards of Clostermann, who opened the throttle and pulled the stick to try and stay with Mouchotte doing a tight climbing turn.  Clostermann's engine cut for a second and found the rest of his section was 100 yards "further up, climbing in a spiral" so Clostermann did a barrel roll and and went hunting on his own.  He followed an Fw190 that dived away from his fire and shot it down.  Final message from Mouchotte "I am alone."  Clostermann ended up at low level but joined yellow section, under attack from Fw190s for 5 minutes before contrails announced the arrival of the P-47 which caused the Fw190 to break off.

 

Somehow it seems Clostermann must have climbed again after the Fw190 shoot down, given the P-47 description.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

If you search the National Archives for Clostermann you will find some of his later combat reports which are downloadable for free at the moment if you have an account (also free).

 

If you search for Mouchotte you will find some downloadable combat reports including one for the day he was lost which gives a brief description of the circumstances with less detail than quoted above.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I had the pleasure of filming an interview with Ian Blair about ten years ago. A more humble, down-to-earth individual you would be hard-pressed to find. 

 

Chris. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/04/2021 at 13:00, Graham Boak said:

You are quite right, it is a work of literary description based on true events but somewhat embroidered.  You will find his accounts of major losses to horrendous flak low-level over Germany also somewhat exaggerated (perhaps not the flak, but the losses.)

 

On 11/04/2021 at 14:11, rossm said:

Back then, after capitulation and occupation, France was in need of heroes which may explain some of the "artistic licence".

 

Agreed. I've read the book, it's a fantastic story, based around real events.

 

The following is taken from 602 Sqn war record from February 1944, National Archives Reference Air 27-2078/3.

 

"On the second scramble of the day, P/O Blair (red 1) and F/LT Bennetts (red 2), took off in the Spitfire VII's. They climbed to 32,000ft in very smart time. Excitement reached high tide when vapour trails were sighted. Ground control was definite that the aircraft was a bandit, Blair made toward the vapour trails, flying at great speed. The Hun - for Hun it was - saw the Spitfires and immediately turned away and put his nose down. Blair and Bennetts wasted no time  in following, at extreme range, Blair opened fire, but without results. Red 2 overtook Red 1 and opened fire at approx. 250 yards range. Unfortunately his sight packed up and he broke off his attempts. Blair immediately and at 200 yards, or less fired a short burst. Well aimed indeed, as about 4 foot of the Hun's starboard wing broke off, and the aircraft spun into the sea."

 

The official, contemporary account has no mention of Clostermann having any involvement. Clostermann's memory either let him down (which seems unlikely, as his account was written only a few years after the events happened), or claimed involvement to make his book more interesting - after all, he was making money from it.... It is entirely possible that he claimed involvement for ego reasons too - failing to consider that the official war records would be made public.

 

 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 23/04/2021 at 13:47, AWFK10 said:

I don't have the original English edition any more but in the revised version he says "We slipped on our Mae Wests, put our parachutes and helmets ready in the two Strato-Spit VIIs. Ian had not flown one yet and wanted the new one with the pointed tail fin." The comment about the "tail fin" (i.e. a broad-chord rudder) was definitely in the previous version but I couldn't swear that Mk VIIs were specified. 

 

The revised edition just identifies the German aircraft as a "Messerschmitt 109 G". I'm pretty sure that the original specified a G-6, as it seems your Finnish translation does. It could very well have been a G-4, as Clostermann mentions that it was fitted with two underwing tanks. "A total of 80 aircraft of the Bf 109 G-4/R3 variant were built by WNF between December 1942 and July 1943. This variant was a long-range reconnaissance aircraft with mountings  for two 300-liter fuel tanks beneath the wings" (Prien  & Rodeike).

I have a 1954 English version and the wording is the same as you have quoted here.  “VIIs” and “109G”

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...