Adventures in Bookland: The Big Show by Pierre Clostermann
There have been many, deserved, accolades for Pierre Clostermann’s account of his service as a Free French pilot flying for the RAF during the Second World War. For myself, I just want to say it opened my eyes to something that I had never considered before in reading accounts of the closing year of the war. Scan the histories of the campaigns from the Normandy landings to the fall of Berlin and you’ll see bland statements along the lines that the Allies had complete aerial superiority, that German armour and troop movements had to take place at night to avoid being strafed by marauding Typhoons and Tempests. In comparison to the Battle of Britain or the Bomber offensive, it all sounds pretty straightforward. Turns out, it wasn’t that at all. Clostermann flew through to the end of the war and the struggle he describes, with the Luftwaffe, who were a long way from being completely beaten, and even more with the anti-aircraft batteries that clustered around the targets they were assigned to attack tells a very different, and seldom told, story. How much more difficult to fly into a wall of flak when you know that the war is all but over and the instinct for self-preservation grows ever stronger. That pilots such as Clostermann did so, for precious little praise afterwards, says volumes for their courage and their dedication. I can only stand in awe before their sacrifice and steadfastness.