Pierre Clostermann, the leading French ace in World War II, left home in 1941 at the age of 19 to join the Free French Air Force in Britain. In January 1943, he was assigned as a sergeant pilot flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX fighter with the newly formed No. 341 "Alsace" Squadron at RAF Biggen Hill. He achieved his first air victories in late July by destroying two Focke-Wulf 190s over France. Later that year, he gained a commission and was posted to fly with the Royal Air Force. By July 1944, he had accumulated more than 300 combat missions, including fighter sweeps, bomber escorts, and ground attack sorties against airfields and V-1 rocket sites in Normandy. After a brief rest from combat, Clostermann returned to action and flew the Hawker Typhoon and new Tempest Mk V fighters.
As a 23 year old flight commander assigned to various RAF squadrons in France and Holland, he often led large numbers of aircraft on fighter sweeps and armed reconnaissance missions. He flew 420 combat sorties during World War II and achieved 32 aerial victories, most of them in engagements with fighters. He again saw combat in 1956 as a Reserve officer in command of an F-84G squadron in the Suez war. As a civilian, he served eight terms as a member of the French Parliament (National Assembly). He is also the author of several books, including his classic wartime autobiography, The Big Show. Clostermann later became a Senior Vice President of Cessna Aircraft Company and a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Game Fish Association. His numerous decorations include the Grand Officer of the Legion d'Honneur and the Cross de Liberation, France's highest awards for service and gallantry.
Late in the afternoon of 3 May 1945, Flight Lieutenant Pierre Clostermann led 24 aircraft of No. 122 Tempest Wing in an attack on Grossenbrode naval air base in northern Germany. The Tempest pilots were met by more than 100 enemy fighters over the target, while on the beach and at anchor, approximately 100 flying boats and transport aircraft were being used to evacuate the base. After positioning 20 of his force to face the enemy fighters, Clostermann led the remaining aircraft down to attack the airfield. He made three high-speed strafing passes in his "Le Grande Charles" and destroyed four aircraft on the ground and in the water, and shot down a transport and two armed flying boats in the air. After completing his attack on the air base, Clostermann engaged the enemy fighters and shared in destroying two of them. Following the battle, only 13 of the original 24 Tempest aircraft returned home. Four days later, on 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered.