Bomber Command did not normally bomb during the full moon (but see comments below)- 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:
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.