Rank & Name: W/C Robert H Niven DFC
Date of Death: 30/05/1942


Niven was a 28yr old from Calgary, Alberta and had only been in Command of 59 Sqn for a month upon his death. He was a former Spitfire pilot and a pioneer in modern photo recon tactics, efforts which led to the formation of the PDU, which later became the famous PRU.

The following was supplied by Dave Lefurgey, W/C Niven's nephew and also a writer and historian: 21/11/2009


Niven left Canada & joined the RAF and was trained and excelled as a pilot & navigator. In late 1938 he was recruited with Australian Sidney Cotton by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) on a joint operation with the French Deuxieme Bureau. They did a lot of experimentation and development work and were given 3 civilian Lockheed Electra 12A Jrs (little brother to the Hudson) and a Beechcraft, then photographed most German and Italian war preparations and military installations in Germany, Italy, the Mediterranean area, North Africa and parts of the Middle East in early 1939.

When war began: they flew sorties for the Royal Navy and even some over Ireland looking for U-Boat facilites under construction, for Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame). The RAF took over their little unit and they were joined by an RAF English pilot named Shorty Longbottom, then developed photo reconnaissance using Spitfires. Niven & Shorty developed high altitude high speed photo recon and the RAF was very impressed with their work, so set up the PDU (Photographic Development Unit), that on July 1940 became the famous PRU.

In Oct 1940 he was assigned to the MAP, then was sent to St. Hubert, Montreal, Quebec, Canada by Lords Beaverbrook and Bennett to check the progress of Atfero (Atlantic Ferry Command) in it's very early start up stages, then flew a B-17 across the Atlantic himself. Was sent to RAF Silloth OTU as the Operational C.O. to train pilots to attack enemy shipping from Hudsons. In March 1942 he became the W/C C.O. of 59 Sqdn and named it the "Dawn Patrol" after the famous WW1 unit.


Further Information

Dave Lefurgey has been researching Robert Niven for over ten years, although not until recent years has his love of history become a fully realised passion. He has written several published articles and has also been invited to publish his work in book form. To see copies of the above mentioned articles, please contact me for further details, thank you.

My thanks and appreciation to Dave for taking the time to get in touch and his contributions to the site.

Rest In Peace