For Valour: Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton’s Victoria Cross

Officer Joe Barton

In the third of a new series of blogs, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the stories of the 29 RAF personnel whose valour earned them the Victoria Cross. This post covers Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton who gained the Victoria Cross on 30 March.

Location: 30 March 1944
Who: Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton 5 June 1921 – 31 March 1944

On 30 March 1944, Pilot Officer Barton was Captain of Halifax LK 797, coded E and named Excalibur, of 78 Squadron, based at RAF Breighton. That night, 30/31 March 1944, was a “Maximum Effort” against Nuremberg by 795 Lancasters and Halifaxes. Barton took off at 22.12 hours.

That night also saw the heaviest-ever Bomber Command losses, some 94 bombers going down over Germany and almost the same number again succumbing to the unforgiving North Sea or crashing/crash-landing in Britain. Crew losses were 500 airmen.

Joe Barton's Victoria Cross

Cyril Joe Barton’s Victoria Cross which is part of the Museum’s collections and on display in the Midlands.

The LONDON GAZETTE reported on 27 June 1944:

“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery — Pilot Officer Cyril Joe BARTON (168669), R A F V R , 578 Squadron (deceased). 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 life, 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.

Grave of Joe Barton in Kingston Cemetery

Pilot Officer Barton is buried in Kingston-upon-Thames Cemetery.

Letter from Cyril to his mother, written to be posted should he not survive.

Log Book of Cyril Barton, opened to the page stamped Killed in Action.


Citation: London Gazette 27 June 1944

 Additional biographical details: For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.

The Bombing of Nuremberg: James Campbell, Futura Publications 1973


P.O. Barton: RAF Museum

Victoria Cross: RAF Museum

Grave headstone: The War Graves Photographic Project (

Halifax: RAF Museum

About the Author

Norman Brice: Volunteer

Volunteer Norman Brice

It all started very many years ago when, lying in my pram, I was awoken by what I later knew as Spitfires on their finals to RAF Biggin Hill, just a handful of miles away. As a schoolboy I was captivated by the annual September Battle of Britain Days at Biggin Hill with a vast range of visiting aircraft, including all three V-Bombers in gleaming anti-flash white.

Fast forward very many years past retirement I joined the RAF Museum London as a volunteer as a Vulcan and Cold War tour guide.