Robert Henry "Bob" Niven

RAF   W/C   -   DFC

use switches
Fighter Pilots
Air Gunners
Navigators/Radar Operators
Other Aircrew
Gallery Gallery
Misc. Miscellaneous

Bob Niven

use switches
Site Map Sitemap
Sources Slang
Acknowledgements Thanks/
About Us About
Links Links


NIVEN, F/L Robert Henry (37267) - Distinguished Flying Cross - Photographic Development Unit
Awarded as per London Gazette dated 8 March 1940

No citation other than "for gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations."

Specifically listed in AFRO 1292/41 dated 7 November 1941 as a Canadian in the RAF who had been decorated as of that date. Air Ministry Bulletin 439 refers.

Two of the officers [in the awards list] have been pioneers in a new method of aerial photography. They have taken overlapping photographs of many enemy defences.


Born in Calgary, 1913.
Son of Andrew and Lillian Niven, of Calgary, Alberta.
Husband of Andrea Niven.
Educated in Calgary.
Appointed Acting Pilot Officer on Probation, RAF, 16 September 1935.
Posted to RAF Depot, Uxbridge.
To No.3 Flying Training School, Grantham, 28 September 1935.
Posted to No.75 (Bomber) Squadron, Driffield, 15 March 1937.
Promoted to Flying Officer, 1938.
To Flight Lieutenant, 1939.
As of 3 October 1939 he formed the nucleus of a special flight at Heston consisting of six officers plus other ranks to investigate photo reconnaissance development (the other pilot was F/O M.V. Longbottom).
Conducting trial sorties from 18 November 1939 onwards.
Remained with that unit until mid-August 1940, when he went to Ferry Command. Later in No.59 Squadron.
Numerous sorties listed in cards compiled by Wing Commander F.H. Hitchins and held by Directorate of History. A notable one was 2 January 1940 photographing Kaiserlauten and northeast to Wiesbaden; when trying to pick up a map from the floor he blacked out at 32,000 feet, regaining consciousness at 25,000 feet but was unable to recover from spin until he had reached 5,000 feet.
Acting Squadron Leader, November 1940.
Confirmed in that rank, 1 December 1941.

KIA 30 May 1942 attacking a German convoy in a 59 Squadron (Coastal Command) Hudson near the Frisian Islands

Commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 64


One Flier in Every Six a Canadian, London Reports Say

London, May 31, 1942 - (CP) - More than 1,000 Canadian airmen took part in Saturday night's aerial smash at the heart of the industrial Ruhr and the Rhineland, it was authoritatively estimated tonight.
Four squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, including one flying four-engined bombers for the first time, and hundreds of other Canadians in the R.A.F. flew in this aerial armada which crossed its target at the rate of one bomber every six seconds.
It was estimated that about one in six of the more than 6,000 airmen taking part in the gigantic raid was a Canadian. The others were Britons, Australians and airmen from other parts of the Empire and the Allied Air Forces — Poles, Czechs and Free French.
The R.C.A.F. bombing squadrons were commanded by Wing Commanders D. A. R. Bradshaw of London, Ont.; Johnny Fulton of Winnipeg, Johnny Fauquier of Ottawa and A. C. P. Clayton of Vancouver. While they were laying waste the German city, other Canadian airmen in Coastal Command aircraft and a fleet of Boston bombers - were playing a part in diversionary raids.

"Piece of Cake"
Fauquier, who has been on many raids before, said he found the night's work one of his easiest operations. Squadron Leader Len Fraser of Winnipeg, another veteran bomber, called it "a piece of cake." Pilot Officer L. G. Higginson of Montreal, captain of the first aircraft to return in his squadron, gave the ground crews and station personnel first news of damage done.
He estimated the smoke column over Cologne at 8,000 feet, and Fauquier, who landed a little later, added another 2,000 feet to that figure. Still later reconnaissance this morning showed smoke had risen to 15,000 feet.
"It was a bigger blaze than Luebeck," said Higginson, referring to the smashing attack last March of the German Baltic port. Others in the squadron who had been in both operations agreed.
"I'd estimate nearly seven eighths of Cologne was in flames," Fauquier said. "When we got there I almost felt like leaving to find another target. It didn't seem possible we could do any more damage than had already been done."
Pilot Officer H. J. M. Lacelle of Toronto, a rear gunner, said he saw London burning during the Battle of Britain and "that was nothing compared with Cologne."
"Cologne was like a sea of flame," was Fraser's comment.
Many navigators were able to reach the target without the aid of instruments, as soon as they came within 100 miles of Cologne.
"The glow in the sky told us where it was," said Pilot Officer W. H. Baldwin of Ottawa, navigator in one huge four-engined bomber. "We couldn't miss it."

"Mass of Flames"
"I've never seen anything like it," added Sergeant H. W. (Happy) Porritt of Vancouver. "I don't know how the bomb aimers managed to do their aiming. There was such a mass of flames below you couldn't pick out one spot from another."
Similar reports of huge fires blazing fiercely throughout the city were given by Flight-Sergeant J. R. Morrison of Winnipeg, Rear-Gunner Pilot Officer P. E. M. Leith of Toronto, Navigator Pilot Officer F. A. G. W. Gerty of Abbotsford, B.C., and Flight-Sergeants H. S. Hill of Montreal, and W. L. Scott of Yorkton, Sask., both pilots.
The squadron flying four-engined machines had only recently switched over from Wellington bombers and this was their first operation — and the first for any Canadian unit in such huge aircraft. The raid came as a birthday present for this squadron because it was formed just one year ago.
In addition to the damage caused by the bomber squadrons, a Boston bomber unit of the R.C.A.F. plastered runways of two enemy airdromes with bombs as they helped the main force by keeping German fighters from intercepting.
Taking part in this operation were Pilot Officers O. A. J. Martin and S. P. Marlatt, Flight Sergeant A. Best, Sergeants E. S. Cook, J. J. A. Field, D. H. Alcorn, E. F. Morton, J. Davis, D. J. McKay, H. D. Baker, H. M. Haskell, R. G. Ratcliffe, Paul C. McGillicuddy and H. A. Potter.

In Paris Raids
Today R.C.A.F. fighters flown by Pilot Officer J. F. Parr and Sergeants H. F. Anderson, M. Johnson and H. J. Murphy, attacked barges between Ostend and Dunkirk in an early-morning hop across the Channel.
It was the second night in succession of heavy activity by Canada's airmen.
Friday night five Canadian squadrons flew with the R.A.F. in smashing factories near Paris and a convoy off the Frisian Islands, the Netherlands.
Crews from squadrons commanded by Fulton, Clayton and Bradshaw took part in the raid on the Gnome-Rhone engine works at Gennevilliers, near Paris, while Flight Lieutenant Ralph Christie of North Bay, Ont., and Wing Commander E. L. Wurtele of Montreal led Coastal Command squadrons in the shipping raid.
Wing Commander R. H. Niven of Calgary also took his R.A.F. dawn patrol squadron into the shipping engagement in which eight German ships were hit by bombs, four of them apparently being set afire.


Eight Missing Airmen Now Presumed Dead

Ottawa, 7 June 1942 - (CP) - The Royal Canadian Air Force in its 284th casualty list of the war yesterday reported three men killed on active service overseas and six missing as a result of overseas air operations.
The overseas section of the list also contained the names of one man previously reported missing and now reported prisoner of war; eight men previously reported missing and now, for official purposes presumed dead; one dangerously injured on active service and one seriously injured on active service.
The list gave the names of three Canadians serving overseas in the Royal Air Force who are missing after air operations.
Following is a partial list of casualties and next of kin:

Niven, Robert Henry, Wing Commander, missing after air operations with the R.A.F. overseas.
Mrs. A. B. Niven (wife), Rye House, Skineurness, Silltoh, Cumberland, England.


"I'm currently writing a book on my uncle's (W/C Robert Henry Niven, DFC) experiences. Born in Calgary in 1913, he joined the RAF in the first class of their 'big expansion' in Sept. 1935 and trained as a pilot at Grantham. Canadians Alf Bocking (also on your fighter pilot website) and Moose Fulton (Niven called him "Old Cariboo" from Kamloops) were in the senior class ahead of Niven. Lionel Gaunce (also on your website) was a friend too, among other Canadians that Niven mentions in his letters home during his time as a CANRAF. Niven excelled as a pilot and navigator, then in November 1938 he was recruited by Australian Sidney Cotton into Britain's Secret Intelligence Service/MI6 on a joint operation with the French Deuxieme Bureau. They were provided with several civilian Lockheed 12A Electra Jrs and rigged them with hidden compartments for photo recon. Starting in March 1939, they photographed much of the German & Italian war preparations and military installations in North Africa, parts of the Middle East, around the Mediterranean Sea, Italy and inside Germany. When war began, they photographed the Irish coastline looking for any u-boat facilities being built, for Churchill (as First Lord of the Admiralty) and Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) with naval intelligence. The RAF took over their unit and named it No.2 Camouflage Unit, an experimental unit. Cotton/Niven were joined by an English pilot named Shorty Longbottom (later became a test pilot and did much of the testing of the big bomb and the Lancasters used for the Dambusters Raid). After special modifications, Niven & Shorty took one of their two Spitfires to France in late October 1939 for operational testing as the detached PDU unit, the Special Survey Flight. They were so successful developing high-speed high-altitude photo recon, that the RAF formed them into the PDU (Photographic Development Unit), with the detached unit in France now called 212 Squadron in January 1940. Shorty stayed at their home base of Heston and worked as the PDU's only experienced operational Spitfire photo recon pilot, primarily to photograph the German North Sea ports. Niven was sent to France, where he was the only experienced operational photo recon pilot with 212 Sqdn, but within a month or two he was named as the acting S/L operational Commanding Officer of 212 Squadron (I've attached his French identity card). He divided his time between France and Heston, where he set up the PDU's photo recon training course and trained new pilots in their new techniques. The French offered Niven/Shorty the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor for the work, but the RAF gave them the DFC instead. Among the new pilots Niven trained were Blatchford (also on your website), Christie (also on your website) and Johnny Kent (also on your website, and who Niven had known from pre-RAF days in Calgary). Niven recruited as many CANRAF Canadians as he could into the PDU and by the time Germany invaded France & the Low Countries in May 1940, he had trained about 10-12 photo recon pilots (I think I have photos of most of these pilots from their PDU time); all the PDU had to that point. During the Dunkirk evacuation, Niven likely flew sorties from Lille-Seclin for Lord Gort's counter-attack from Arras, but had no fuel and had to destroy his photo recon Spitfire. He & the men with him joined the refugee columns and the refugees provided disguises until they could get back to the PDU's main aerodrome at Coulommiers/Meaux/Tigeaux outside Paris. There to meet him at the end of May, was his old friend, Johnny Kent. Cotton/Niven took their spy Lockheed down to Corsica and had Shorty start Spitfire photo recon flights over Italy, then later sent Christie on the sortie where he won a DFC.
The one where Christie forced an Italian bomber to force land when he had no guns on his Spitfire. The PDU evacuated to England and became known as the PRU (Photographic Reconnaissance Unit) in July 1940 at Heston. By October 1940 Niven left the PRU to do a secret mission for Lord Beaverbrook (Canadian Max Aitkin) & Canadian/former Prime Minister of Canada R.B. Bennett, then in February 1941, they sent Niven on secret mission to Montreal, likely to help sort out problems with finding/training competent trans-Atlantic navigators for Atfero (Atlantic Ferry Organization, precursor unit to Ferry Command). By late spring, Niven was made the acting S/L operational CO of an OTU in Silloth. In early 1942, he was promoted to acting W/C as the CO of RAF 59 Squadron based at North Coates. In late May/early June, Niven went missing attacking a German convoy in a Hudson near the Frisian Islands, on what may well have been a diversionary attack for the first 1,000 Plane Raid over Cologne. His name is on the Runnymede Memorial."

Niven's 212 Sqn. ID card


No Known Victories




Thanks to nephew Dave for the photos & infos !

top     home

All content should be considered the property of the contributers and/or The Canadian Fighter Pilot & Air Gunner Museum - unless otherwise noted