Major General Eric Barton, who has died aged 87, was appointed Director of Military Survey in 1980 shortly before the outbreak of the Falklands War.
When the conflict started in 1982, Military Survey received a deluge of requests from the Task Force. The Army needed the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey (OS) map to navigate, plan and conduct operations. In particular, they needed to be able to call in fire support, mostly from ships, because so little artillery was deployed.
The Royal Navy needed up-to-date charts of an area which for decades had been a low priority for map-making purposes. The RAF required large-scale air charts for operations, and moving map display film-strips for their Harriers.
Not the least of the problems was the difficulty of reconciling the map projections between two grid zones and the sheer logistical task of producing several hundred thousand map sheets at the shortest of notice. Photogrammetry (the science of using photography for mapping) and the full exploitation of digital imagery and geodetic positioning for terrain analysis, visualisation, target identification and precise positioning were in their infancy. But because of the urgency of the situation, the technology had to take a huge step forward and Barton, with his excellent management and communication skills and first-rate intellect, was at the forefront. His leadership during this exacting period, in which his team was in constant touch with Northwood HQ, was greatly appreciated by all three services.
Eric Walter Barton was born on April 27 1928 and was educated at St Clement Danes School, London, before taking a degree in Engineering at the Royal Military College of Science.
Commissioned in 1948 into the Royal Engineers, his first three postings were to Libya, Egypt and the Arab Legion in Jordan. Having qualified in surveying, he was posted to the Directorate of Overseas Surveys in Kenya.
Back in Britain, he instructed at the School of Military Survey. Teaching air survey involves drawing geometric figures on the blackboard precisely so that circles intersect where they should and tangents touch at the right point. Barton’s pupils were struck by his ability to produce perfect diagrams, until forensic work on their part revealed the fact that the figures were drawn first in pencil invisible to the class and then traced over in chalk.
After qualifying in photogrammetry he was posted to the Joint Air Reconnaissance & Intelligence Centre, where his outstanding work was recognised by his appointment as MBE.
Command of 13 Field Survey Squadron in Aden came next. This was during the final phase of the British presence in the former Protectorate, and attacks by nationalist groups were a continual hazard. A spell at HQ Allied Forces Central Europe was followed, in 1977, by a move to OS as Director Surveys and Production.
It was during his time as Director that Military Survey was restructured following the lessons of the Falklands war. He was appointed CB in 1983 and retired from the Army the next year.
Barton was Colonel Commandant Corps of Royal Engineers from 1982 to 1987 and served on the governing bodies of the Royal Geographical Society, the British Schools Exploring Society, the Photogrammetric Society, and as chairman of what is now the Defence Surveyors’ Association.
He enjoyed sailing, water polo and competitive swimming among many other activities, and joined the Caravan Club as director of club sites for nine years.
Eric Barton is survived by his third wife, Pamela Frimann, whom he married in 1984 and who devotedly cared for him through the past decade; two sons by his second wife, and Pamela’s daughter by her previous marriage.
Major General Eric Barton, born April 27 1928, died March 11 2016