Early life[ edit ] Clostermann was born in Curitiba , Brazil , into a French diplomatic family. World War II[ edit ] On the outbreak of war in the French authorities refused his application for service, so he travelled to Los Angeles to become a commercial pilot, studying at the California Institute of Technology. He flew air-cover for the through Normandy Landings , and was one of the first Free French pilots to land on French soil, at temporary airstrip B, near Longues-sur-Mer , Normandy on 18 June Clostermann whilst serving with No. He joined No. In an aircraft which he dubbed Le Grand Charles, Clostermann flew an intensive and highly successful round of fighter sweeps, airfield attacks, "rat scramble" interceptions of Messerschmitt jet fighters, and rail interdiction missions over northern Germany over the next two months.
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Start your review of The Big Show: The Classic Account of WWII Aerial Combat Write a review Shelves: military-history , britain , europe Like most boys my age growing up in the s, I was fascinated by both aeroplanes and war, and thus spent many not-so-profitable hours building and painting Airfix kits, one of which depicted a Hawker Tempest.
This particular kit had decals depicting "Le Grand Charles", the personal plane of Pierre Clostermann. My father, when he saw the completed kit, steered me to his copy of The Big Show, which I read again and again during my adolescence. He then moves to City of Glasgow Squadron, defending Scapa Flow before moving south to fly sweeps over the Channel until the emotional moment when Clostermann lands again in France just after D-Day.
There is plenty of fine description of dog-fights and other flying adventures, and of all sorts of other japery that comes from blowing off steam when under threat of death every day.
The strength of The Big Show however is not in these descriptions, but in the way Clostermann communicates how it felt to be in these situations. From the fear that took over his body when a Focke Wulf was on his tail or he blundered over an enemy airfield that was "lousy with flak", to the elation of surviving, the despair at the death of comrades, and the unspoken bonds of loyalty to your friends, Clostermann takes the reader into the heart of the experience.
What has in the past and still today remains interesting for me as reader is how, as victory for the Allies looms closer, the more depressing the "story" becomes. In the early pages, where Clostermann and his good friend Jacques Remlinger fly their first Spitfires, through to their first active missions, there is a joi de vivre that shines through: young men fighting for their country, determined to do their best and enjoying flying the latest technology that Britain could provide.
This contrasts with the last section of the book, where at the front Clostermann and his pilots suffer poor morale as they lose more and more men, and as they struggle with their aircraft against ever-increasing flak and the excellent German pilots. The never-ending round of missions - often four to five a day - wear the pilots out.
When the end comes, there is relief rather than joy: in fact Clostermann and his pilots resent the revellers enjoying the victory.
I must have read this book about twenty times over the years; this new expanded edition adds usefully to the first, and ensures that this classic will remain so for some considerable time to come.
If you are at all interested in this subject, this is a must-read.
The Big Show: The Classic Account of WWII Aerial Combat