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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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Bomber Command Crest
30/31.03.1944 578 Squadron Halifax LK797 LK:E Fg Off. Cyril J. Barton VC

Operation: Nuremberg

Date: 30th/31st March 1944 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit No: 578 Squadron (motto: 'Accuracy')

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LK797

Code: LK:E Excalibur

Location: Ryhope Village Colliery, Co. Durham


Pilot: Fg Off. Cyril Joe Barton VC 168669 RAFVR Age 22. KiA.

Flt Eng: Sgt. Maurice Edward Trousdale DFM 1676395 RAFVR Age? Injured (1)

Nav: Sgt. Leonard Lambert 1563537 RAFVR PoW No: 3459 *

WOp/Air Gnr: Plt Off. John Alfred Kay 169188 RAFVR PoW No: 4147 **

Bom Aimer: Fg Off. Gerald Watson Crate J22053 RCAF PoW. No: 4137 **

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Harold Clifford Herbert Dudley Wood DFM 1409549 RAFVR Age? Injured (2)

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Frederick Charles Brice DFM 1850681 RAFVR Age? Injured (3)

* Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).

** Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.


Mr. George Dodds Heads Age 58. Killed

Fg Off. Barton’s crew: left standing, Sgt. Kay, wireless operator; Fg Off. Crate, bomb aimer; Fg Off. Barton, pilot, Sgt. Lambert, navigator; and Sgt. Trousdale, flight engineer. At the front are Sgt. Bryce, rear gunner, and Sgt. Wood, mid-upper gunner. (courtesy Brian J Rapier)


Took off at 22:14 hrs. from RAF Burn, to attack the city of Nuremburg. Part of a massive force of 795 aircraft - 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitoes. The most disastrous night of the war for Bomber Command, with the loss of 95 bombers.

The citation to the posthumously awarded Victoria Cross (VC) to the then Plt Off. Barton describes the circumstances of the mission. He was the only Halifax pilot so honoured.

On the night of 30th March, 1944, Pilot Officer Barton was captain and pilot of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Nuremberg. When some 70 miles short of the target, the aircraft was attacked by a Junkers 88. The first burst of fire from the enemy made the intercommunication system useless. One engine was damaged when a Messerschmitt 210 joined the fight. The bomber’s 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 4½ 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 engines 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 lie, but his three comrades survived.

Pilot Officer Barton had previously taken part in 4 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 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.

Tragically a local miner Mr. George Heads was killed on his way to work by flying debris on the gangway leading to Ryhope Colliery.

The wreckage of LK797 - Excalibur, in the yard of Ryhope Colliery. (Courtesy Chris Blanchett)

Above: Image discovered on eBay in July 2014 - signed by some members of the crew. Right: Newspaper article: Kate Tame Archive

(1) DFM was awarded to Flt Sgt. Trousdale whilst with 578 Sqn. London Gazette 22nd August 1944. Citation: "This airman has taken part in a large number of attacks on enemy targets in the role of flight engineer. He has displayed a high standard of. skill and throughout his conduct in the face of the enemy has been exemplary. On one occasion the aircraft in which he was a member of the crew sustained extensive damage in an encounter with 2 enemy fighters. Nevertheless, the pilot flew the damaged aircraft back to this country, but crashed whilst attempting a landing. Flight Sergeant Trousdale suffered minor injuries and was considerably' shaken. Since then, he has completed numerous sorties and has displayed great keenness and resolution."

(2) DFM was awarded to Flt Sgt. Wood whilst with 578 Sqn. London Gazette 17th November 1944. Citation: "This air gunner has participated in numerous sorties against many of the enemy's most heavily defended targets. Throughout he has displayed outstanding tenacity of purpose and despite most harassing and critical circumstances has maintained the highest standard of zeal, courage and devotion to duty ".

(3) DFM awarded to Flt Sgt. Brice whilst with 578 Sqn. London Gazette 26th September 1944. Citation: "1850681 Flight Sergeant Frederick Charles BRICE, RAFVR, 578 Sqn. As air gunner this airman has participated in a large number of sorties, including attacks on such targets as Berlin, Stuttgart and Frankfurt. On one occasion his aircraft was badly damaged in an engagement with 2 enemy fighters. When coming in to land at base the aircraft crashed and Flight Sergeant Brice was injured. Since his recovery he has undertaken many sorties and has displayed the greatest keenness, determination and devotion to duty".

Burial Details:

Fg Off. Cyril Joe Barton VC. Kingston-Upon-Thames Cemetery. Class C. (Cons,) Grave 6700. Inscription: "AND WE KNOW THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THEM THAT LOVE GOD". Born on the 5th June 1921 at Elveden, Suffolk, the son of Frederick J. Barton and Ethel Barton, of New Malden, England.

Civilian. Mr George Dodds Heads. Sunderland Rural District, Durham, England. Husband of Margaret Heads, of 8 South View, Ryhope.

Researched by Mike Harrison. Image of Fg Off. Cyril Joe Barton VC (Courtesy Paul F. Wilson) With thanks to the following: Chris Blanchett 'From Hull Hell and Halifax', Brian J. Rapier 'Halifax at War, Kate Tame Archives. Updated by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) (Jan 2022). Thanks to Helen Kay, daughter-in-law of Plt Off. Kay for his correct details (Oct 2022). DFM citations added by Aircrew Remembered (Oct 2022).

Other Sources list below:

RS 27.10.2022 - Correction to name and details for Plt Off. Kay and DFM citations added

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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