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Robert Urqhuart: failed to return

 Flying Officer Robert Urqhuart. Image from 'Dambusters Failed to Return' published by Fighting High.Canadian Flying Officer Robert Urqhuart was the navigator for Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay's Lancaster on the night of Operation Chastise, the Dambusters raid of May 16/17, 1943.

They did not return to RAF Scampton, and all seven crew members were lost after their plane was hit by flak and crashed near Emmerich, on the Dutch-German border.

Urqhuart was born in August 1919 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, central Canada. He originally trained to be a pilot and his first assessments seemed promising, but after just 10 hours of instructed flying time, his instructor called time on his pupil’s aspirations. ‘He shows no promise of getting the hang of flying,’ he wrote.

Instead, Urqhuart trained as an air observer and in 1942 he travelled to Britain to take up a role as a navigator. His first full tour was with 50 Squadron from August 1942, flying with old Etonian Maudslay from December.

In March 1943 Maudslay and his crew were recruited to 617 Squadron at Scampton, though at that time it was still being referred to as Squadron X – a number had not yet been allocated.

The low level training that they undertook over the following weeks was testing not just for pilots but for navigators too, who had a new, unfamiliar view of the terrain not very far beneath them. The navigators needed to study maps carefully for landmarks that would be visible at night, such as rivers and bridges.

On the night of the raid, Maudslay and his crew took off at 2159 as part of the wave of aircraft heading for the Möhne Dam. However, the dam was burst before they got to drop their mine and so they flew to the Eder Dam, where the steep-sided valley made the task more challenging. Maudslay made a number of abortive runs before dropping their bouncing bomb at around 0145. It exploded but did not burst the dam. 

Wing Commander Gibson asked Maudslay if he was all right. After a while he received a faint reply: "I think so. Stand by." It was the last radio contact. At just after 0230 the plane was shot down as it limped home.

There were no survivors. Robert Urqhuart was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The citation stated that: "All times his navigation has been of the highest order and the successes achieved are due in no small measure to his skill."

This blog is in memory of Flying Officer Robert Urqhuart. We have used information from Fighting High Publishing's book Dam Busters: Failed to Return, by Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Fest and Arthur Thorning, to help us write this blog.

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