On the night of March 30 1944, while flying in an attack on the city of Nuremberg, Germany, whilst 70 miles from the target, Pil Off Barton's Handley Page Halifax bomber was badly shot-up in attacks by two Luftwaffenight-fighters, a Ju 88 and a Me 210, resulting in two of its fuel tanks being punctured, both its radio and rear turret gun port being disabled, the starboard
inner engine being critically damaged and the internal intercom lines
being cut. In a running battle, despite the attacks being persistent and
determined, Barton as captain of the aircraft succeeded by good flying
in throwing off and escaping his faster and more agile assailants.
However, a misunderstanding in on-board communications in the aircraft
at the height of the crisis resulted in three of the 7-man crew bailing out,
leaving Barton with no navigator, bombardier or wireless operator.
Rather than turn back for England, he decided to press on with the
mission deep into the Third Reich's
heartland, against the odds of further attacks in a semi-wrecked
aircraft which was leaking fuel and handicapped by lack of a full crew.
Arriving over the target, he released the bomb payload himself and then,
as Barton turned the aircraft for home, its ailing starboard engine
blew-up. Subsequently he nursed the damaged air frame over a
four-and-a-half hour flight with no navigational assistance back across
the hostile defenses of Germany and Occupied Europe, and across the North Sea.
As his plane crossed the English coast at dawn 90 miles to the north of its
base its fuel ran out because of the battle damage leakage and with
only one engine still running on vapors and at too low a height to
allow a remaining crew bail-out by parachute, Barton crash-landed the
bomber at the village of Ryhope,
steering away in the final descent from the houses and coal pit-head
workings. Barton was pulled from the wrecked aircraft alive but died of
injuries sustained in the landing before he reached the hospital. The
three remaining on-board members of the crew survived the forced
landing. One local man, a miner, also died when he was struck by a part
of the plane's wreckage during the impact of the crash.