Heavy losses as RAF Bomber Command targets Nuremberg

Squadron Leader Peter Hill, briefs crews of No. 51 Squadron RAF

Squadron Leader Peter Hill, briefs crews of No. 51 Squadron RAF on the forthcoming raid to Nuremberg, Germany in the Operations Room at Snaith, Yorkshire. The Station Commander, Group Captain N H Fresson, sits third from the left in the front row. No. 51 Squadron lost six Handley Page Halifaxes that night (30/31 March 1944), suffering 35 men killed (including Sqn Ldr Hill) and seven made prisoners-of-war.

Three Lancaster B Mark IIIs of No. 619 Squadron RAF,

Three Lancaster B Mark IIIs of No. 619 Squadron RAF, airborne from Coningsby, Lincolnshire. The aircraft in the foreground, LM418 ‘PG-S’, was destroyed in a crash-landing at Woodbridge Emergency Landing Ground after returning from the ill-fated Nuremberg raid of 30/31 March 1944 on two engines. Its crew survived the crash, but were all killed in action later.

Bomber Command did not normally bomb during the full moon – but the weather forecast for 30th/31st March suggested cloud cover over Germany to conceal the bombers. Unfortunately a late meteorological reconnaissance flight by a Mosquito which suggested otherwise was ignored.

A total of 795 aircraft were sent all the way to Nuremberg, and the bright moonlight without cloud cover proved ideal for the night fighters, which began their attacks almost as soon as the bomber stream crossed the coast over Belgium. Navigation was again badly affected by high winds and to make matters worse the target itself was covered with cloud. Little damage was caused to Nuremberg and some aircraft attacked Schweinfurt, 50 miles away when it was mistakenly target marked by two Mosquitos. Here, as at Nuremberg, most of they bombs fell outside the town.

A total of 95 aircraft were lost – at 11.9% the highest rate for Bomber Command for the whole war. Despite the obvious risks they had pressed on regardless. One man was to exemplify this attitude above all others during this night, and he paid the ultimate price:

Pilot Officer Cyril Barton VC

Pilot Officer Cyril Barton VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery :-

Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton (168669), RAFVR, 578 Squadron (Deceased)

On the night of 30th March, 1944, Pilot Officer Barton was captain and pilot of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Nurenberg. Whem some 70 miles short of the target, the aircraft was attacked by a Junkers 88. The burst of fire from the enemy made the intercommunication system useless. One engine was damaged when a Messerschmit 210 joined in the fight. The bombers machine guns were out of action and the gunners were unable to return the fire.

Fighters continued to attack the aircraft as it approached the target area and, in the confusion caused by the failure of the communications system at the height of the battle, a signal was misinterpreted and the navigator, air bomber and wireless operator left the aircraft by parachute.

Pilot Officer Barton faced a situation of dire peril. His aircraft was damaged, his navigational team had gone and he could not communicate with the remainder of the crew. If he continued his mission, he would be at the mercy of hostile fighters when silhouetted against the fires in the target area, and if he survived he would have to make a 4 1/2 hours journey home on three engines across heavily-defended territory. Determined to press home his attack at all costs, he flew on and, reaching the target, released the bombs himself.

As Pilot Officer Barton turned for home the propeller of the damaged engine, which was vibrating badly, flew off. It was also discovered that two of the petrol tanks had suffered damage and were leaking. Pilot Officer Barton held to his course and, without navigational aids and in spite of strong head winds, successfully avoided the most dangerous defence areas on his route. Eventually he crossed the English coast only 90 miles north of his base.

By this time the petrol supply was nearly exhausted. Before a suitable landing place could be found, the port engine stopped. The aircraft was now too low to be abandoned successfully. Pilot Officer Barton therefore ordered the three remaining members of his crew to take up their crash stations. Then, with only one engine working, he made a gallant attempt to land clear of the houses over which he was flying. The aircraft finally crashed and Pilot Officer Barton lost his life, but his three comrades survived.

Pilot Officer Barton had previously taken part in four attacks on Berlin and 14 other operational missions. On one of these two members of his crew were wounded during a determined effort to locate the target despite the appalling weather conditions.

In gallantly completing his last mission in the face of almost impossible odds, this officer displayed unsurpassed courage and devotion to duty.

Halifax B Mark III, LV857, in flight shortly after completion by the Handley Page Ltd works at Radlett, Hertfordshire. In its brief service life, this aircraft served with Nos. 35, 10 and 51 Squadrons RAF before crashing at Schwarzbad while returning from a raid on Nuremberg on 31 May 1944.

Halifax B Mark III, LV857, in flight shortly after completion by the Handley Page Ltd works at Radlett, Hertfordshire. In its brief service life, this aircraft served with Nos. 35, 10 and 51 Squadrons RAF before crashing at Schwarzbad while returning from a raid on Nuremberg on 31 May 1944.

Fire-damaged De Havilland

Fire-damaged De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XVII, ‘O’, of No. 85 Squadron RAF, back at its base at West Malling, Kent, following the destruction of an enemy bomber on the night of 24/25 March 1944. Flying Officer E R Hedgecoe (pilot), and Flight Lieutenant N L Bamford (radar operator), flying ‘O for Orange’ intercepted the Junkers Ju 188 off Hastings, closing to 100 yards to deliver a burst of cannon fire upon which the enemy aircraft suddenly exploded, enveloping the Mosquito in burning oil and debris. The fabric covering of the aircraft caught fire and it was enveloped in flames. Hedgecoe ordered Bamford to bale out, but had second thoughts when the fire went out and he found the Mosquito to be stable in flight, despite the loss of rudder control due to the fabric being burned off. After wiping a clear patch in the soot-blackened cockpit canopy, Hedgecoe flew back to a safe landing at West Malling. Hedgecoe and Bamford were an experienced night-fighting crew, Hedgecoe having shot down eight enemy aircraft and Bamford taking part in the destruction of ten, before both were killed in a flying accident on 1 January 1945.

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