When I was a kid I read Pierre Clostermann´s The Big Show and later “The sky in flames”, and a whole host of other books, though I was limited to what was translated into Norwegian. Even now, 30 years later, I can smell that fug of old library books. It was great adventure, even more so for being somewhat embroidered by dear old Clostermann. What was his machine – the JF-E? That was the awesome Hawker Tempest. And he was a great romantic, and Gaullist, which is why his plane was nicknamed The Grand Charles. But all this was lost on me then. Only later did I realise that the plane he was flying at the end of the war, the Tempest, in 122 Wing, was a very particular show, engaged mainly in low-flying operations attacking ground targets in the Netherlands. One of the chapters is called Clouds, snow and Focke-Wulfs. He saw some of the T152 Long Nose in action, and the Dornier 335 in flight. And his wing went chasing ME262s. But this was really a sideshow. The bulk of the flying was elsewhere, mostly high up in the bomber formations.
As an adult I have re-read Clostermann and added a few other books to the list, lately “First light” and “Most dangerous enemy”, in previous years also books like “I flew for the Führer” and the “Luftwaffe War diaries”. First light is beautiful, Most dangerous enemy almost revisionist. “Samurai” well worth reading. Clostermann´s claims are most probably exaggerated, just like Bubi Hartmann´s and Jochen Marseille´s, and his “Sky in flames” is heavily touched up wrt history. Great read, though…
Most people don´t read this stuff, and they live and die with the myths. Myself I went from fascination, where war was like a game, to becoming a pacifist and conscientious objector. I can´t believe in the great moralistic stories about war. I think the reality is far more complex and generally dirty than that, and generally power and domination are involved. And I don´t want to wed myself to that, so I refused military service for my NATO country. Today, the reasons are even more compelling.
This summer I saw a Spit over Oslo for the first time, this “piece of obsolete engineering” with “that wing” (Spit: beautiful, feminine. ME109: brutal and angular). It was emotional. I enjoyed it. Just behind us as we watched was Victoria Terrasse where the Mosquitoes missed Gestapo HQ on the last day of 1944 and killed about 100 civilians (Norwegians and Germans) instead.
Then in October we were in Berlin, and it was like walking through the ruins of a bombed city, concrete houses showing where the original buildings had been reduced to rubble in ´44 and ´45. It was very emotional for me.
The myth and the stories cling to history like cobweb, altering its shape, hiding details, often completely distorting facts.
But the Spitfire will live forever in our imaginations.
PS there is an interview with Clostermann on Youtube, of course. Powerful for me to watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDGzT-0zSZA