In December 1940, as an acting lieutenant colonel, Urquhart was appointed chief of staff of the 3rd Infantry Division. In March 1941, he took command of a battalion in the 4th Infantry Division, and in April 1942, he was assigned to the 51st Highland Division and saw action in North Africa. Promoted to brigadier general, Urquhart commanded the 231st Malta Brigade. Redesignated the 231st Infantry Brigade, the unit fought in Sicily and on the Italian peninsula. Urquhart was wounded in the amphibious operation near Pizzo on 8 September 1943.
He then served in a staff assignment with XII Corps in the United Kingdom. In January 1944, Lieutenant General F. M. "Boy" Browning selected Urquhart to command the British 1st Airborne Division in Britain as a major general. Not an airborne soldier, he was selected because of his battle experience.
Urquhart's 1st Airborne Division participated in Operation market-garden, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's abortive effort to secure the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem and end the war in 1944. The 1st Airborne Division, which had jumped in North Africa and in Italy but not in the Normandy Invasion, had the most difficult assignment in the operation to seize the bridge at Arnhem. Not parachute-qualified, Urquhart flew by glider to the Arnhem landing zone on 14 September. The 8,000 British forces there were widely scattered and soon encountered German armor; Urquhart himself barely escaped capture. His force held out much longer than intended, but with the land force not making contact, the 2,200 survivors were evacuated on 25–26 September.
Urquhart reverted to his permanent rank of colonel after the war and served in the War Office. Promoted again to major general, he commanded the 16th Airborne Division during 1947 and 1948; thereafter, he was given appointments as commander in Malaya from 1950 to 1952 and commander of British troops in Austria from 1952 to 1955. He then retired and became director of a civilian engineering firm in Glasgow, Scotland. He also published a book on his experiences at Arnhem. Urquhart died at Menteith, Scotland, on 13 December 1988.
James M. Bates
Baynes, John. Urquhart of Arnhem: The Life and Times of Major General R. E. Urquhart, CB, DSO. London: Brassey's, 1993.; Middlebrook, Martin. Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle, 17–26 September. San Francisco: Westview Press, 1994.; Ryan, Cornelius. A Bridge Too Far. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.; Urquhart, Robert E. Arnhem. New York: Norton, 1958.