Web Page No 2452
26th February 2018First Picture: Buster Crabbe
Second Picture: Soviet Ships tied up in Portsmouth
Third Picture: Buster Crabbe’s Grave
Fourth Picture: One of the many books about Buster Crabbe
Lionel Kenneth Phillip Crabb, OBE, GM was born on 28th January 1909 and presumed dead on 19th April 1956) and was a Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956.
Lionel Crabb was born in 1909 to Hugh and Beatrice Crabb of Streatham. They were a poor family and in his youth Buster held many jobs but after two years training for a career at sea in the school ship HMS Conway he joined the merchant navy and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve before the Second World War.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was first an army gunner. Then, in 1941, he joined the Royal Navy. The next year he was sent to Gibraltar where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit to remove the Italian limpet mines from the hulls of Allied ships. Initially, his job was to disarm the mines that British divers removed, but eventually he decided to learn to dive.
On 8th December 1942, during an Italian attack, two of the Italian frogmen probably killed by depth charges. Their bodies were recovered, and their swimfins and Scuba sets were taken and from then on one set was used by Commander Crabb.
He was awarded the George Medal for his efforts and was promoted to lieutenant commander. In 1943 he became Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy, was assigned to clear mines in the ports of Livorno and Venice; he was later created an OBE for these services. By this time he had gained the nickname "Buster", named after American actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe. After the war he was stationed in Palestine and led an underwater explosives disposal team that removed mines from the maritime force of the Palmach the elite Jewish fighting force. In 1947, he was demobilised.
He moved to a civilian job and used his diving skills to explore the wreck of a Spanish galleon from the 1588 Armada, off Tobermory. He then located a suitable site for a discharge pipe for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston. He later returned to work for the Royal Navy. He twice dived to investigate sunken Royal Navy submarines, the Truculent in January 1950 and Affray in 1951 to find out whether there were any survivors. Both efforts were fruitless. In 1952 Crabb married Margaret Elaine Player but the couple separated in 1953 and divorced two years later.
In 1955 he took frogman Sydney Knowles with him to investigate the hull of the Soviet cruiser Sverdlov to evaluate its superior manoeuvrability. According to Knowles, they found a circular opening at the ship's bow and inside it a large propeller that could be directed to give thrust to the bow. That same year, March 1955, he was made to retire due to his age, but a year later he was recruited by MI6. By this point, his heavy drinking and smoking had taken its toll on his health, and he was not the diver that he had been.
In 1956 MI6 recruited him to investigate the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze that had taken Khrushchev and Bulganin on a diplomatic mission to Britain. Crabb was sent to investigate the Ordzhonikidze's propeller, a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to examine. On 19th April 1956, Crabb dived into Portsmouth Harbour and his MI6 controller never saw him again. His companion in the Sally Port Hotel took all his belongings and even the page of the hotel register on which they had written their names. Ten days later British newspapers published stories about his disappearance in an underwater mission. MI6 tried to cover up this espionage mission. On 29th April the Admiralty announced that Crabb had vanished when he had taken part in trials of secret underwater apparatus in Stokes Bay . The Soviets answered by releasing a statement stating that the crew of the Ordzhonikidze had seen a frogman near the cruiser on 19th April.
British newspapers speculated that the Soviets had captured him and taken him to the Soviet Union. The British Prime Minister disapproved of the fact that MI6 had operated without his consent
A little less than 14 months after Crabb's disappearance, on 9th June 1957, a body in a diving suit was brought to the surface in their net by two fishermen in Chichester Harbour. The body was missing its head and both hands, which made it impossible to identify (using then-available technology). The body had the same height as Crabb, the same body-hair colour, and was dressed in the same clothes. It was stated that given the length of time that the body had been in the water, there was "nothing sinister" about the missing head and hands. Crabb's ex-wife was not sure enough to identify the body, nor was Crabb's girlfriend Pat Rose. The body was in a faded green rubber frogman suit of a type issued to Royal Navy divers, and the remains of a white sweater. The suit had been cut open from the neck to the groin and along both legs. The body was closely examined for a Y-shaped scar behind the left knee and a prominent scar on the left thigh. There were no scars on the body.
The inquest was opened on 11th June 1957 and adjourned until 26th June to allow time for a positive identification. When it was resumed the pathologist reported that he had found a scar in the shape of an inverted Y on the left side of the left knee, and a scar on the left thigh.
As information was declassified under the 50-year rule new facts on his disappearance came to light. Crabb did not dive alone on his fatal last mission: He was given him a buddy diver. Furthermore, other papers indicate that there were other divers investigating the Ordzhonikidze in Portsmouth Harbour.
The spy Harry Houghton wrote a book called "Operation Portland" the explanation of Crabb's death which he claimed to have been given by his Russian handler in July 1956. He claims that shortly before the Soviet visit he had been meeting in a pub in Dorset
The Russians were aware of attempts by divers around the Ordzhonikidze, the Soviet Navy arranged for six underwater sentries to watch the bottom of the ship, which had been fitted with wire jackstays on either side to help them hold on to. When Crabb arrived, a struggle ensued in which Crabb's air supply was turned off and he passed out. He was then hauled on board, and taken to the sick bay and given medical treatment. When he had recovered, the Soviets began to interrogate him; Crabb was making a confession when he collapsed and this time did not recover. The Soviets, aware that they might be accused of causing his death, decided to fix his body lightly to the bottom of the ship so that it came loose once the ship was under way. In the event, the body entangled in something underwater which meant it did not get discovered for fourteen months.
In a 1990 interview a former member of Soviet Naval intelligence, claimed that the Soviets had noticed Crabb in the water and that a Soviet sniper had shot him. Official government documents regarding Crabb's disappearance are not scheduled to be released until 2057.
On 16th November 2007, the BBC reported that a Soviet frogman, claimed to have caught Crabb placing a mine on the Ordzhonikidze hull near the ammunition depot and cut his throat. For which he was awarded the Order of the Red Star medal.
Certain MPs became concerned about Crabb's fate and in 1961, submitted proposals to re-open the case but were rebuffed.
On 26 March 2006, the Mail on Sunday published an article entitled "Buster Crabb was murdered – by MI5" because they knew he had intentions of defecting
A British diving expert wrote in 2007 that Crabb had probably died of oxygen poisoning or perhaps carbon dioxide poisoning, and that Crabb's age and poor health caused by his heavy drinking and smoking had made him unsuitable for the mission. In support of the death by misadventure theory, it was noted that before disappearing on his second attempt to dive the Ordzhonikidze, Crabb had during his first attempt experienced equipment failure, which suggested that Crabb's equipment was not up to standard. Crabb's MI6 officer always took the view that Crabb had suffered equipment failure and/or his health had given way, and that his reputation had been unfairly dragged through the mud.
Whatever was the truth the headless body which was alleged to be Buster Crabbe was interred with all due ceremony in Milton Cemetery.
Will we ever know the truth?
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News and Views:
ON THIS DAY 26th February 1960-1965
On 26/02/1960 the number one single was Why - Anthony Newley and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was not listed and the box office smash was Some Like It Hot. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was USSR wins Winter Olympics
On 26/02/1961 the number one single was Sailor - Petula Clark and the number one album was Tottenham Hotspur. The top rated TV show was The Army Game (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £not very interesting and 13.25 were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Bootsie & Snudge (Granada).
On 26/02/1962 the number one single was Rock-a-Hula Baby/Can't Help Falling In Love - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was John Glenn is 1st US astronaut to orbit earth.
On 26/02/1963 the number one single was The Wayward Wind - Frank Ifield and the number one album was Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard & the Shadows. The top rated TV show was Labour Party Political Broadcast (all channels) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 26/02/1964 the number one single was Diane - Bachelors and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Labour Party Political Broadcast (all channels) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 26/02/1965 the number one single was I'll Never Find Another You - Seekers and the number one album was Rolling Stones Number 2 - The Rolling Stones. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.The big news story of the day was Goldie the Eagle escapes London Zoo.