Interview with Eric Reginald Barton


Interview with Eric Reginald Barton


Flying Officer Eric Barton flew operations with Bomber Command. Eric Barton talks about the various aircraft he flew in, and recalls an incident at Banff in Scotland where following a night exercise his tyre blew out on landing. He gives an account of an operation to at Skagerrak in Norway where they were sent from Lossiemouth to drop mines on the German battleships; Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the return journey where they ended up flying back on two engines. He talks about the losses of Bomber Command and how he feels they should be remembered.



IBCC Digital Archive




Tracy Johnson


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00:38:52 audio recording






BJ: Ok. It’s Barry Jackson continuing the interview with Eric Barton. Eric, we spoke before about your training and, and where you came from and all that sort of stuff. When you were flying different types of aircraft were there the good, the bad, what was the good things about the good aeroplanes and what was the bad things and was there anything that you thought was, that you remember about the different types of aeroplanes?
EB: Yes Barry. Well first up of course was the Tiger Moth and mastering the art of flying and I can recall nearly getting scrubbed as a pilot because I used to land about twenty feet up high and the CFI said where do you look and I said straight ahead and he said that’s wrong look out to the side you’ll see exactly where you are at forty-five degrees. And I did a first one it was a greaser, a three pointer and he said OK you’re off, away you go. And I remember that all throughout my flying years that no matter where, what sort of aircraft, if you looked out to the side you’d see exactly where you were and I was able to do, what we call then, three pointers. Just as a side comes to my mind, we had a thing with the crew my rear gunner used to come up on the intercom after we’d like come back from a raid and he’d say we’d land back at base and he’d say excuse me skipper but tell me have we landed and I [laughs]
BJ: Showing off now [laughs]
EB: That got to be a real line shoot you know. So —
BJ: Yes. Yes.
EB: Never, never forgotten that.
BJ: And what about —
EB: We, going from the little Tiger to a war plane type situation like with the Anson was the next one. Which was a twin engine, Canadian Ansons. Finally, when we went to Canada in Macleod and Alberto which was we went through winter and summer but the early twin engines, that our first twin engine aircraft the old Ansons was a wind up under carriage so it was about, I don’t know about sixty or seventy winds of the crank handle to wind the wheels up and sixty or seventy to put them down. And, of course, when you are doing circuits and bumps you were supposed to take off, flying the wheels up do your circuit and wind your wheels down to land. Well, being Aussies we didn’t take too kindly to all that bull, bull dust so we would give her a couple of turns and the wheels were still there. Half way through our training they, they replaced those aircrafts with the, the Canadian built Ansons which I see had Jacobs L6 motors and they were hydraulic and that was, they were then constant speed propellers, the early ones were fixed speed which entails a different way of flying. Constant prop and hydraulic landing so that was our, our thing to a, a good war type aeroplane. From Ansons we went to Oxfords and then we did our final training as far as twins are concerns then a little bit more into Wellingtons. Wellington was of course and ex, early bomber in the early RAF days that was a very good bomber and very, very good aircraft to fly. A beautiful aircraft to fly. From there we went, we went, we went to, to OTU. That’s where we crewed up. You’ve probably have heard stories about how you crewed up. Very briefly you were — pilot would be told OK you go and select your crew and go and get yourself a cup of coffee or something I don’t think it was a lager or beer. Go to this big hanger and there was milling around a lot of chaps, find yourself a navigator a wireless operator, bomb aimers and so on and so forth. The first crewing up situation was the pilot, would be select your navigator, your wireless operator and later on, further you would select your bomb aimer and your air gunners. The air gunners were the, were the last to be selected. At, at the point of first selection you were put in with New Zealanders, Aussies, Canadians, South, South Africans, all the, the British Empire chaps. They were the ones that were that supplied the pilot, navigator, wireless op, bomb aimer, if you like, the highly technical like people. The gunners were all British, RAF they were. There was no gunners from the Empire outside. So [clears throat] I was fortunate, I think, to get together a bunch of fellows that all filled in together. The thing that comes to my mind just now I’m thinking, when you first made your selection as a pilot you started to be accepting some responsibly. Up until that time I was just a bit of a wild boy I, I was living for myself doing whatever the hell I wanted to do and it was lovely flying airplanes and so on and so forth. When I got to get a crew I thought, I remember thinking to myself, my god I’m going to be responsible for these fellows’ lives for the next what, however long we live.
BJ: And how old were you then?
EB: I was then just turning nineteen
BJ: Right.
EB: And I’d never accepted any responsibility for anything.
BJ: Yes.
EB: And it was when. I can still remember the first time I sat in a Lancaster ready to go I thought this is it, this is where the whole thing starts from now.
BJ: Big responsibility?
EB: Yes. There by, their lives are in my hands.
BJ: Yes. Can I ask you —
EB: Banff in Scotland. There were two Banff I was at actually one was Banff, Calgary, Alberto which was up in the Rockies and the other Banff was in Scotland which was the Northern most part of —
BJ: Was probably just as cold [laughs]
EB: Lands End, Lands End to John O’Groats. But anyway, we were at Banff in Scotland and we were doing a night flying exercise at the end of my training there. We did start to do a cross countries we came back in with I think two, two crew, a navigator and myself. I can’t remember if it was more. Anyway, we came in and we put the thing down a perfect three pointer on the runway but the Oxford had a, sort of a nose, it’s three pointer was the wheel in the front and two wheels under the wing so it was a tricycle sort of under carriage. We landed and the front tyre blew out and with the result that it ended up on its nose and I can remember sitting, the Oxford has a plexiglass nose you can look through it from the pilot seat. You look between your legs and down through the instrument panel you see the runway and I can remember flying and hearing next to you and I’m on the runway and I can see sparks and I thought what a pretty sight.
BJ: [laughs]
EB: Here’s, here’s two wheels and I’m sliding along on the thing on the runway until it finally came to a halt. Fortunately, it didn’t go off to one side and stick it’s nose in and turn ourselves upside down but we’re still strapped in and I thought now, what do I do now. How the hell do I get out of this jolly thing? First time I’d had a really good prang in an aircraft and I thought perhaps I better get out of this quick smart as there’s bloody petrol and all that which I did. And later on, I got castigated from my mates who were sent flying around and around and around in circles until they got Barton off the end of the bloody runway to make room. Cause there was only one runway [laughs]. So that was that. Now then we went to Stirlings and throughout [phone ringing] now you know you are going to ops and how good a pilot I am I’m still a pilot and flying and [long pause]. The Stirling was a very difficult thing to taxi and take off. It had breaks and a, and the, the steering wheel had clamps which is how you steered it. Taxi wise it was absolutely terrible. Very difficult but once you got it up in the air it was, it was – no we were talking about the Stirling actually and its way of taxiing but once you got it up in the air it was a beautiful aircraft
BJ: Yep.
EB: But we didn’t do too much, too many hours in the Wellington but that was my first four engine aircraft and I can see in my log book that we only did about a month in training of a four engine then we went straight onto Lancs because they needed pilots very quick smart.
BJ: Yes.
EB: So, we didn’t get too much training as far as going from twin engines to four engines. The, the Stirling had huge [unclear] legs and you could drop, drop it in from a great height so it didn’t matter very much.
BJ: Yes.
EB: But going from twins to four engines wasn’t to my mind, wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. You had to have a flight engineer. Be aware that the Aussie RAF and I think most of the RAF we didn’t have second pilots. We had a pilot and we had a flight engineer. The engineer was responsible for checking your mechanics of, of the thing, how much fuel you got and motors were ticking over alright, etcetera, etcetera. So [pause] going from twins to four engines taxiing wise you, you used your two outer motors because that was, so to enable it to be manoeuvred easily rather than the inner motors. So, you’d land with four engines, get off the runway with four engines and shut, not shut down but idle the inners and use the outers for steering and so forth. Very quick. The important thing was you had to manoeuvre and get yourself off the runway very quickly because you had mates coming in behind you. Some needed urgently to land, pretty much I, I was never in a bind or a problem in landing. Two or three times I had to land on three motors, couple of times I ended up with two motors which is something that is very, very difficult to do. Talking about three motors, the [laughs] I’m trying to remember which motor was the worst. If you lost an inner it wasn’t too bad, losing an outer was bad enough. I’m sorry but I forget which ones had the hydraulics and which ones didn’t. The inners had hydraulics to them I think, some of the outers had [pause] dynamos charging, charging your batteries, charging things. The, an occasion I can recall we lost one motor we were hit by flak on one motor and it burst into flames and I said to the flight engineer, a fellow of the, the port outer and it’s on fire, further put it outer and pull the tip. Which is pull the fire extinguisher. In his panic, and we were over, we were under, under attack from various sources, in his panic he fell at the port inner but when I told him to pull the tip on the port inner, the fire extinguisher, he pulled the wrong one, so the fire extinguisher went off on the starboard inner, so with the result that we ended up with two motors instead of three. Fortunately, they were on either side.
BJ: Yes.
EB: Rather than two on one side. We were able to fly, just to maintain height and things with two motors. From memory I think we were pretty close to the target, but I can’t remember where the target was but if I look in here I can find where the target was, but we were able to get to the target on two motors and get rid of the bombs and then gradually come home. I don’t whether we’ve touched on one of the raids I did on Skagerrak in Norway. Did we do that? Did we touch on that one?
BJ: No.
EB: When you, when you done your briefing and all the rest of it and all the crews are all clued up and ready to go. We probably, mostly we did night time trips and usually we’d do our briefing early, sometimes it was put back a little bit so we’d end up at the pub and we’d have quite a, I reckon I used to fly better when I had a few beers in, pretty damned happy than when I didn’t. Traditional thing is as you know is to piddle on the tyre, as you kick the tyre and piddle on that’s for luck. Everybody climbs on board so by enlarge you, you [unclear] on board personally and a fair amount of liquid inside [laughs]. A pilot cannot, he has a parachute which he sits on, he can’t easily leave the stick but operations, the reason is the pilot, you kept, you did, the Lancaster does have an automatic pilot but the automatic pilot is hydraulic so any pilot worth his salt never ever left it or engaged the automatic pilot because it was a) too hard to get rid of the jolly thing if you wanted to cancel it out and b) by the time you sorted it out if somebody was attacking you and had a good go at you before so you always flew with your hands on and you [phone ringing] always sat. So, on one occasion I can recall having a need to do a whizzer in fifteen, sixteen thousand feet and icy conditions and I had an ability that I adopted through my pilots window just to slide it back a bit. They were sliding windows, we call them windows and I used to be able to in those days being much younger, quite easy to get the proverbial, necessary things organised and I’d let the whiz go just, must beside the venturi and out, the liquid would be sucked out quite easily.
BJ: [laughs]
EB: So, we’re flying along in icy conditions in a very nice clear lovely night and the mid upper gunner came up and he said skipper, skipper please get down quickly, get down we’re icing up, we’re icing up and I looked out my, my cockpit, my window and I said what’s wrong Jordy you’re crazy man, there’s nothing wrong it’s beautiful up here. Oh, my cockpit’s all covered in ice, I’m iced, I’m iced up I said oh my god I’m sorry mate I just let, let go. He said I’m all covered in, in brown ice, oh my god. Oh, I said I had to let it go. Oh, you dirty rotten nasty skipper, you’ve [laughs]. That was that sort of a situation
BJ: [laughing]
EB: As I say a couple of times we lost loaders we got shot at a few times. The three main things. The three main areas of, shall we say, activity that you were very aware of. One was search lights. We were routed to go zig zag routes towards the target never in a straight line for the reason that a) the, the in the wisdom the bosses had planned out that the track to be taken to dodge search light, known search light stations, known pockets of search lights, anti-aircraft guns, fighter aerodromes and so forth. So, you had to zig zag right a sort of a zig zag situation and, and [pause]. So, yes, the three main things were search lights. Now there’s two types of search lights, the blue search light and the normal white search light. You got caught with a search light it’d shine in your eyes and most uncomfortable you couldn’t see instruments and so on and so forth so, you’d immediately do a zig zag or take evasive action to get out of the, the white of the search light. Now if you were caught with a blue search light however, that’s the master search light and if you got caught with that, which is, they are all electronically controlled and he fixed onto you it was very, very difficult to get away from him but more importantly he controlled probably eight to ten other search lights so the key search light the blue one. So, if ever you got caught in a blue one you could start counting where, where you might be or where you might not be. To get a search light whether blue or white, evasive action could be called for importantly and a Lanc had a, a very nice aircraft to fly in in all respects and it was easy to, to do evasive action. I’m trying to think of evasive action you used to just about every facet of your, your hands, your ability, your feet, your rudders, ailerons, throttles, pull the throttles up, stall the aircraft pretty near. Do everything but stick it on its back. Some people got stuck on their back and that was very difficult with a loaded aircraft. I can recall a guy in one, one of our aircraft, XYG, it had, had a bad back door a crook lock on the back door and they were trying to fix it but eventually they did but on this occasion they didn’t and so I said to wireless op, I said Johnny, go down and shut the jolly back door and so he went down to shut the back door and as soon as he did we got caught in the search light and I remember taking evasive action [clears throat] and half way through that there was an almighty scream on the intercom and Johnny said what the bloody hell are you doing I’m, I;, shutting the back door and next minute half I’m out of the aircraft and the next minute I’m back in again oh Jesus Johnny I’m sorry mate I forgot you were down there, so that felt, was not accepted very well either but anyway. So, the search lights are the other thing, fighters were always around. I had pretty good gunners we used to do a lot of training, air gunnery training though at the attack from above or behind and often you, you knew when you were going to get attacked, my other mates would let you know they would see you in a, in a stream. You would sometimes still see your mates from one side or the other so we kept, kept lookout for each other but the worst fighter, and I’ll talk about a raid we did which was [pause] in a moment, but the worst fighters was called the Schlarge[?] fighter which is a Messerschmitt, or [unclear] or one of those twin engine things with a, a vertical firing cannon, gun. So, he would fly under your belly and pull his trigger firing straight upwards and it was very, very difficult to get out of those they were responsible for many, many losses of our mates. If you didn’t know you had a fighter under your belly you were pretty near had it.
BJ: You were relying on your crew to spot it weren’t you?
EB: Yes, and more importantly of course the, they gunners were the ones and the bomb aimer when the bomb aimer is also the front gunner and he was also a gunner to look down.
BJ: Yes.
EB: So, he was pretty near the only one that would, could spot a fighter under your belly. Of course, the mid upper obviously can’t and the rear gunner can’t they were looking out for aircraft attacking from either side anyway.
BJ: Yeah, yeah.
EB: Shall we, shall we talk about, one raid which was, was quite important and I was chosen, myself and two other aircraft to lay mines in the Skagerrak in Norway in the Norwegian Fjords. A special very heavy parachute mines to trap the, the two German battleships, the Scharnhorst, the Gneisenau and also the Emden later but the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were in dock, they were in, they were our target. The idea was they’d send three of us to Skagerrak in Norway which are in the Fjords where these battleships, German battleships would hide and rest at night. They would rest rather. They would come out of the Fjords into the Atlantic and pounce on the, on the convoys coming from the States full of aircraft and, and supplies and these two battleships would wreak havoc very badly to the, the [pause] supply ships, shall we call them. So, we were sent to Lossiemouth north of Scotland. My aircraft was a newly issued, I’d bent the other one [laughs] and they gave us another new one and she had beautiful motors. She had a, a, the Lancaster Merlins Mark 12, Mark 14’s.
BJ: Wow.
EB: Packard Merlins not Rolls Royce. No sorry Rolls Royce Merlins the previous one was a Packard the American Merlin but the Rolls Royce Merlin was a much better Lancaster. There was three of us we were recruited to go across to the Skagerrak and lay two mines. We had very good navigators who were trained to be Pathfinder navigators. We did some raids but not many we weren’t proper Pathfinders we were attached to go on some of their raids. So, our navigator was pretty good, and we were to fly at two hundred feet from Lossiemouth across the North Sea to the Skagerrak, lay our mines exactly latitude and longitude where they said they were because it had to be exactly, because the British Navy had to know exactly where the mines were.
BJ: Um.
EB: So here we go, night time, they fitted us with lay lights, twin lights similar to the technology of the Dambusters. Two hundred feet, black, pitch black, no lights no nothing starring down your, your front nose because your altimeter was no good to fly at two hundred, two hundred and fifty feet across. Four and a half hours, I think it was about an eight-hour trip there and back, about four hours across the North Sea. It wasn’t too bad going across but later on, I’ll come back to it, it started to get a bit blowy and bumpy but we got to the coast, up, up to three thousand, four thousand feet over the, the mountains, the ridge, down to about three thousand, lay your mines exactly where they were and get rid of them and climb up, out and, and off ideally straight back home at full pelt. But we did lay the mines and all the rest of it, however what we didn’t know was that it was near a German fighter base just over the other hill. We got hit with one fighter, it got one of our motors just as we got to the top of the ridge so it wasn’t too bad we were able to come down on the three. The Lanc can climb on three.
BJ: Right.
EB: Which we, we basically did pretty much but anyway we got down onto the thing so I thought oh well, ok. Now I was planning on going back home at about five or six thousand feet, you know just literally a quick thing back home. But I thought now hang on this thing is a Schräge fighter which is the first time I’d been attacked by a Schräge fighter well if that bugger is going to have another go at us we better get down on the Sea again so it can’t get under our belly, so we did. Well that was alright until we got about half way across, not far, not too far away from home, and the other motor packed up because the, the wind had blown up and the water had, had we’d got hit by the spurt or something and had buggered up the carburettor. So, we ended up with two motors. And so, I said to the fellas, well we’ve only got two I don’t know whether, we can, we got, you got two or three chances what should we do. We could throw out, we could ditch it but not too good at ditching a Lanc or an aircraft. We could be successful or we could not. We could, it’s too low to jump out with a parachute, so that’s, that’s out. The only other thing is I’ll try to make and go for base should you join me I’ll take the aircraft back, yes, they say, they all said yes, yes, yes. So, we threw, throw everything out and anyway cut a long story we did and we got back home quite safely on two motors. We landed at the big drome, I think it was called Manston or something, where you can just put any sort of an aircraft down and it’ll, it’ll got plenty of room to land. So that was showing you what fighters can do and what a good Lanc can do.
BJ: Yeah. OK Eric, one last question. How do you think Bomber Command and the sacrifices of the men who served in it should be remembered by future generations?
EB: Um, Barry that’s a very good, a very good question and I can just answer that in a, in a couple of little fashions. One we know today and some of the, our, our people, the Vets, who are, we’re still alive we feel very, very bad, very disappointed that the British Government that the British didn’t remember Bomber Command. You’ll know from your history that there was never a Bomber Command medal struck whereas there were for other services. After the war because of our, our ability to wage a very good war, we wiped out a lot of targets and that was necessary. I didn’t touch too much on the Dresden raid, but we did the Dresden raid and I saw the, that devastation so there is, hasn’t been a proper memorial until now. I think it is very, very important that a, a, a solid memorial is, is struck and, and erected, shall we say, a, a physical thing that children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and generations can look to and say well what, I, I understand my grandfather, my heritage goes to a man who served in Bomber Command and he achieved certain things and he and he’s, a lot of his mates gave their lives for safety of a country that we now have. If it wasn’t for the sacrifices that, that our people made we wouldn’t have the country we’ve got. Now we talk about Bomber Command. Bomber Command waged a war which was very successful. We carried out our duties, our duties very successfully. Its been written up in history how effective it was. I’m not forgetting of course there are a lot of fellows in the Navy and lots of fellows in the Army who did likewise sacrifices, but for the fifty-five thousand people in Bomber Command that didn’t come back, their contribution far exceeds the blood, sweat and tears, shall we say. So, they gave to wage the war and so I, I think it’s terribly important that we have a physical memorial and that once a year is recognised and there’s a dedication carried out in, in any, every little part of Australia in particular and other countries that I think the Australians we do it very well compared to a lot of other countries. So, I think that’s terribly important too.
BJ: Well done.
EB: Is that sufficient?
BJ: Yeah, no that’s good.


Barry Jackson, “Interview with Eric Reginald Barton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2019,

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