Intended for healthcare professionals


Malcolm Arthurton

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 12 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i887
  1. Janet Fricker
  1. Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Paediatrician who was medical officer to the “Dambusters” squadron

As medical officer to the 617 squadron (known as the Dambusters), Malcolm Arthurton took the opportunity to accompany crews on practice runs to test Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bomb.” Arthurton, who has died at the age of 97, used the flights as a chance to investigate the effectiveness of drugs for air sickness—a problem for those in low flying unpressurised aircraft. Two days before the final raid to breach the Ruhr dams, Arthurton accompanied the crew of ED937 on their last rehearsal.

“We took off at 2150 hours and flew for four hours. I had not the foggiest notion where we were, nor exactly what we were doing. People said very little, and I did not embarrass them with difficult questions as I realised there was something in the wind,” Arthurton recalled in a later book.1

In April 1943 Arthurton had been posted to RAF Scampton as one of three medical officers to the newly formed 617 “Dambuster” squadron. The crews of “Operation Chastise” had just six weeks to hone their skills flying the Lancaster bombers at speeds of exactly 232 mph and altitudes of 60 feet, with the goal of dropping bombs weighing almost 10 000 pounds within a few feet of a target.

After these practice runs, Arthurton was struck by the number of air crew who came into his surgery complaining of air sickness. Determined to help, he volunteered himself as a “guinea pig” to test nausea drugs, including cloretone and hyoscine, on dummy raids. Arthurton’s flying log shows that he accompanied the 617 squadron on eight practices, and on the last practice he noted, “cloretone three capsules, no …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription