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The Disappearance Of Lionel “Buster” Crabb

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posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:27 PM
This is an edited version of the enduring story. All my sources are listed at the end.

On 9 June 1957 Constable Ronald Williams went to an urgent call at Chichester Harbour. Local fishermen had found the body of a Frogman on the shore, near Pilsey Island (which is now joined to Thorney Island by a sandbank at its Southern most tip). This in itself was not unusual. Bodies of drowned sailors would often wash up on the South Coast of England. What was unusual was that fact that the body was missing its head and both hands, was wearing an Italian made double-rubber diving suit and also, the body had rusty markings around both the ankles, as though the body had been chained underwater.

With the technology available at the time, identifying the body was virtually impossible. However, fourteen months prior to this, a former British Royal Navy Diver called Lionel “Buster” Crabb (nicknamed after the American Film Star) had disappeared somewhere off the coast of Portsmouth. The ex-wife and girlfriend of Crabb were both asked to identify the body. Unfortunately neither could be sure that the body was his. A fellow diver, Sydney Knowles, said that the body had a scar on the left knee, identical to the one Crabb had. However, there were inconsistencies. The hairs on the body of the headless corpse, were black, whereas Crabbs were light brown. His ex-wife also noted that the size of the legs on the body were clearly not the same as those of her ex-husband. So an inquest jury returned an open verdict but the coroner announced that he was satisfied that the body was that of Lionel Crabb.

After what seemed to be a hasty identification, the remains were given to Crabbs mother. On the 5th July, the remains were buried at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth. The headstone simply read 'In Loving Memory of My Son, Commander Lionel Crabb R.N.V.R. G.M. O.B.E. At Rest At Last.' At the time there was doubts whether the remains were really that of Commander 'Buster' Crabb. His mother didn’t believe so and after fifty years the doubts still persist. Was Knowles, knowing that it wasn't, “ordered” to identify the body to be that of Lionel Crabbs?

What was to ensue would involve the British and Russian Cold War governments, MI5, MI6 and possibly the CIA. The incident, which would become known as the “Crabb Affair”, would also inspire Ian Flemings, James Bond adventure Thunderball. A measure of how sensitive the Government still finds the matter is the fact that the Cabinet Papers concerning the “Crabb Affair”, which should have become open to the public under the 30-year rule in 1986, are now to remain sealed until 2057. The British Prime Minister at the time, Anthony Eden would say to MPs, that it was not in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which the frogman met his end. Commander J.S. Kerans, of HMS Amethyst and Yangtse River fame, then MP for Hartlepool, opened the matter publicly in 1960 by saying:’ I am convinced that Commander Lionel Crabb is alive and in Russian hands - the Government must reopen this case'. The answer was 'No'. Four years later in 1964, MP Marcus Lipton again raised the topic and submitted what he called 'new evidence' to the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, but he too refused to respond.

Known as 'Buster' and ‘Crabbie’ to his friends, it took Lionel Crabb two attempts to join the Royal Navy. In 1939 he first became a Merchant Seaman Gunner and then transferred into the Royal Naval Patrol Service. He was barred from sea service on medical grounds (a weak left eye), which led him to specialise in mine and bomb disposal and then in diving.

He was a man averse to fitness, a chain smoker, who could only swim three lengths of a swimming pool. But his work as a Royal Naval diver took steely courage and bravery earning him the George Medal, the second highest gallantry award a civilian could be awarded, in 1944. Crab’s work was key in the development of new diving techniques providing the Royal Navy with new ways of defending and attacking ships.

His story started in Gibraltar 1942 as a mine and bomb disposal expert. The real enemies in the vicinity were the Italian divers. It was they who were successfully destroying vessels of all kinds. Here, Crabb worked with the Mediterranean Fleet Clearance Diving Team. His job was to make the Italian laid mines and warheads safe after the British divers had recovered them. After seeing the British Divers work and thinking he could do the job better himself, underwater, Crabb volunteered to be a diver; Lieutenant Bailey who was in charge of the team accepted him because of his expertise in mine and bomb disposal.

At the time, the navy divers had no suits (only overalls), no fins (just plimsolls), and used Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus to breathe. Crabb made his first dive with this primitive gear and from then on was part of the underwater defence of shipping at Gibraltar. Very soon after his first dive he found and removed a mine clamped to the bilge keel of the steamer Willowdale, and although the mine was of a type unknown to anyone in Gibraltar, Crabb safely defused it. From then on Crabb's life was basically focused on one mine after another. It involved diving from dawn to dusk, usually 12 hours a day, every day for weeks at a time.

When Italy signed an armistice in September 1943 and left the war. Crabb managed to visit the Olterra. This was a shipwreck 5 miles away, near Spain, which the Italian Divers were using as a base. It was here they were developing their human torpedoes. He found parts of their equipment in good condition. Using what he recovered, Crabb and a team of torpedo experts were able to reconstruct a torpedo and conduct trials, further developing the Royal Navy's offensive techniques. For his efforts Crabb received an OBE in December 1945 and his last job for the Royal Navy was searching the bottoms of ships in Haifa in Israel for limpet mines placed there by the Jewish Forces in 1948.

The Royal Navy recalled Crabb into active service again in 1951 and released him in 1955. However, following his suspicious death in 1956, some argued that Crabb was still working for the Royal Navy. Although The Navy claimed it had not authorised any missions for Crabb. According to The Royal Navy, he may have been working for MI6 when he went missing.

An incident of interest, during this period of his career, was his part played as an investigating diver in the suspicious death (and possible assassination) of General Sikorski head of the Polish Army. Sikorskis B-24 Liberator aircraft crashed near Gibraltar in 1943 immediately after take off. Also involved in that investigation was Kim Philby the British intelligence member who worked as a double agent before defecting to the Soviet Union. Did Philby kill Sikorski, if so for whom? Was it for one of the other Allies? The Russians or Churchill? Was Crabb involved to help cover-up the evidence?

This is a whole other conspiracy though. Two mysterious passengers on board, the late arrival of a Polish courier boarding the flight with Top Secret Documents from Poland. Bags of Mail, that had been on the plane that mysteriously and without explanation managed to find themselves on the runway. The Navy recreated the incident with an identical plane but couldn't explain a way in which the Mail Bags could exit the plane.

continued ...........
edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: grammar

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:28 PM
According to the authors of ‘Frogman Spy’, Sydney Knowles was approached by Crabb in October 1955 to join him on 'a small job in Portsmouth'. This 'small job' turned out to be a hull inspection of the Soviet cruiser Sverdlov, which both the British and Americans considered fantastically manoeuvrable and wanted to know why. The ship was in British waters to take part in the Spithead naval review, and the job was to be carried out under the auspices of America's CIA. Knowles says that he and Crabb dived under the Sverdlov at night. At the bow they found a large circular opening in the bottom of the hull. Knowles waited at the edge while Crabb went up inside the hole where he examined a large propeller, which it seemed could be lowered and directed to give thrust to the bow.

MI6 recruited Crabb in 1956 to investigate The Sverdiovs sister ship, the Soviet Cruiser The Ordzhonikidze. It had brought Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin on a diplomatic mission to Britain. According to Peter Wright in his book Spycatcher (1987), Crabb was sent to investigate the Ordzhonikidze's propeller, a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to find out more about. Crabb had great success in the examination of the hull of the Sverdlov, even entering up inside a hatch in the underside of the Soviet ship, to make notes (used by Fleming in James Bonds, Thunderball).

So on the evening of Tuesday, 17th April 1956, together with another man, (unknown, perhaps Matt Smith See 'CIA section' below or perhaps a Second Diver, See Section below) he took two rooms at the Sally Port Hotel in High Street, Portsmouth.

On the 18th April The Ordzhonikidze and two escorting Russian Destroyers arrived in Portsmouth Dock. That evening Crabb had drinks with old friends in Havant and was last seen catching a train back to Portsmouth (approx 8 miles distance). This was the last known sighting of Crabb. After that he simply disappeared. He was never seen alive again.

On the 19th April 1956 what is definitely known is that Crabb didn’t appear in the morning for breakfast at the Sally Hotel. He had probably already dived into Portsmouth Harbour in the early hours of the 19th. His MI6/CIA controller never saw him again. His companion paid the bill in cash for the two rooms and left, carrying both men's bags and even the page of the hotel register where they had written their names. Crabb's room had been cleared of all his belongings, including his sword-stick, which he always had with him.

Ten days later, following the departure of The Ordzhonikidze, the first story broke in Fleet Street papers, just a brief paragraph about the famous frogman Buster Crabb, saying that he had failed to surface from a dive/underwater mission near Portsmouth. MI6 tried to cover up this espionage mission. On 29th April, under instructions from Rear Admiral J.G.T. Inglis, (the Director of Naval Intelligence) the Admiralty announced that Crabb had vanished when he had taken part in trials of secret underwater apparatus in Stokes Bay on the Solent. Soviets answered by releasing a statement stating that the crew of The Ordzhonikidze had seen a frogman near the cruiser on 19 April.

British newspapers speculated that Soviets had captured Crabb and taken him to the Soviet Union. The British Prime Minister Anthony Eden apparently disapproved of the fact that MI6 had operated without his consent in the UK, which was the preserve of the Security Service, MI5.


Certain Members of Parliament and Michael Hall became concerned about Crabb's ultimate fate and in 1961, Commander J.S. Kerans (and later in 1964 Marcus Lipton) submitted proposals to re-open the case but were rebuffed. Various people speculated that Crabb had been killed by some secret Soviet underwater weapon; that he had been captured and imprisoned in Lefortovo prison with prison number 147, that he had been brainwashed to work for the Soviet Union to train their frogman teams; that he had defected and became a commander in the Soviet Navy; that he was in the Soviet Special Task Underwater Operational Command in the Black Sea Fleet; or that MI6 had asked him to defect so he could become a double agent

In a 1990 interview Joseph Zwerkin, a former member of Soviet Naval intelligence who had moved to Israel after the breakup of the Soviet Union, claimed that the Soviets had noticed Crabb in the water and that a Soviet sniper had shot him.

continued ........
edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: grammar

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:28 PM
Pat Rose, Crabbs girlfriend, also noted that in recent times Crabb became very friendly with a suspicious man named Matthew Smith. She did not know who Smith was, but, in her opinion, he was 'not the most pleasant type'. Smith was thought to be the CIA–MI6 go-between. Since 'The Sverdlov' had arrived in Portsmouth at the invitation of the British government, British intelligence were obliged to leave her alone. But the British had devised a way to circumvent this obstacle. If any friendly foreign power, say the U.S. were to hire a diver to secretly inspect the ship, the British authorities could declare (if things went wrong) that they had nothing to do with it. The diver of choice would had to have being Crabb. Leading the operation for the Americans would be Smith.

On 26 March 2006, the Mail on Sunday published an article by Tim Binding entitled "Buster Crabb was murdered – by MI5". Binding wrote a fictionalised account of Crabb's life, ‘Man Overboard’ in which he stated that, following the book's publication, Sydney Knowles contacted him. Binding alleged he then met Knowles in Spain and was told that Crabb was known by MI5 to have intentions of defecting to the USSR. This would have been embarrassing for the UK, Crabb being an acknowledged war hero. Knowles has suggested that MI5 set up the mission to the Ordzhonikidze specifically to murder Crabb, and supplied Crabb with a new diving partner who was under orders to kill him. Binding stated Knowles alleged that he was ordered by MI5 to identify the body found as Crabb, when he knew it was definitely not Crabb. Knowles went along with the deception. Knowles has also alleged that his life was threatened in Torremolinos in 1989, at a time when Knowles was in discussions with a biographer.

Sydney Knowles, a former diving partner of Crabb's, stated on televised interview on a BBC TV program ‘Inside Out - South’ broadcast on 19th January 2007 that Crabb didn't dive alone on his fatal last mission. "He told me they’d given him a buddy diver."
Furthermore papers released under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that there were other divers investigating the Ordzhonkidze while she was in Portsmouth Harbour.

In 2007 a retired Russian diver, Eduard Koltsov, then 74 years old, claimed he cut the British frogman's throat in an underwater fight after catching him placing a mine on a warship, which was bringing Soviet leaders to Britain. Eduard Koltsov says that he confessed to a Russian documentary team to clear his conscience. He even produced a dagger he said he used and the Red Star medal he claims he was secretly awarded for his bravery. Don Hale, a journalist and writer, said Crabb would never have been planning to blow up the ship. "Placing a mine would have started World War Three, it would have been an act of war," he said. But he added: "It could have been surveillance equipment."

This theory that Crabb was placing a mine on the ship doesn't sound plausible. It has been suggested that Crabb might have been removing a mine which had been placed there by 'White Russians' whilst it was in British protection, for the obvious reason of causing political tensions.

If he wasn't placing a mine on the Ordzhonkidze then why would Eduard Koltsov say he was. Why would a 74 year old come forward to tell a lie over something that most people have long since forgotten? Perhaps he did kill a man in a divers suit. But was it Buster Crabb?

On the shore was found a bottle with a letter addressed to Crabbs mother. She recognized the handwriting of her son. What was written in this letter is not known.

Some time later, Pat Rose, his girlfriend, saw two photographs published in a newspaper in East Germany. These were her own photos, which she had given to Crabb, of which there were only two sets in existence. She had one set and Crabb had the others. How could they be in East Germany? Then she began to receive messages and phone calls, purportedly from the Soviet secret service, that Crabb was alive.

Reporters found evidence that after The Ordzhonikidze had moved out of British waters; a helicopter landed on the deck of the ship and took a diver on-board. This was witnessed by sailors on a Danish frigate, which was nearby.


edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: grammar

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:43 PM
reply to post by region331

Excellent read my friend!!

S&F for you..

I love a good mystery and that's a good one...

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:50 PM
Just to add;

A skull did later wash up (perhaps conveniently?) some time later in Chichester Harbour.

Also, the infamous Kim Philby (connected via the1943 General Sikorski Assassination) apparently claimed to have caused Crabbs death.

If the body was that of Crabb then it may have been chained and released once the Russian-British talks had finished (14 months later though?). Otherwise it may have caused, at best, embarrassment and at worst, political tension.
edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: grammar

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 04:59 PM
Great story! abley documented and quite a good read, my friend!
A star and Flag seem paltry recompense.
thanks ................s

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 05:21 PM
reply to post by stirling

Thanks. What I find fascinating is that the Cabinet Papers concerning the “Crabb Affair” aren't going to be released until 2057. Why are they sealed for a 100 years? That must be unprecedented? What the hell's in them?
edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: grammar

posted on Mar, 10 2013 @ 06:45 PM
Perhaps Crabb did defect to Russia but the Government didn't want to admit to anymore leaks in the intelligence community. Especially not one where a war hero was concerned. And not so soon after Burgess and Maclean.

Burgess and Maclean (the first 2 Double-Agents and Defectors), had disappeared to the USSR in the summer of 1951 but the information was not made public for nearly 5 years. And that was only because Burgess and Maclean made a Press Conference in Moscow on Feb 11th 1956. I'm sure the British government would have preferred that world not know.

Crabb disappeared 2 months after their press conference on the 19th April 1956.

edit on 10-3-2013 by region331 because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 11 2013 @ 04:52 PM
reply to post by region331

perhaps a mutual exchange of intelligence assets was the order of the day. maybe corpses are kept on ice for use at a later date for such a possible ruse.
it's something i heard about growing up in a naval town. star and flag


posted on Mar, 11 2013 @ 05:51 PM
Great read here is a link to a Pravda report about a former Russian naval diver whom claimed he killed crabb,
Personally I would also like to know the truth but weather he lived or died he was a heroic figure with gut's to spare.

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 07:08 AM
Very interesting read, especially with my breakfest at work
I loved the suspense and mystery, but I wanted more
I wanted to know what happened to him, but we will probably never know what truly happened to him as It must be very secret.

It's hard to say what actually happened to him, if he really did defect, or got caught and tortured.. Or maybe he knew he was getting set up so, maybe he set up a diver and who ever killed the diver thought it was crabb. So maybe hes living some place safe, maybe Germany as where the pics were, or somewhere else..But, he would have to be under deep cover and not talk to anyone he once knew, and change his appearance and get new documents so there wouldn't be a trace of him again and live a happy new life!

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 08:08 AM
That was a very interesting read and very well put together thank you, a real 007 story what a hero, I really enjoy reading about WW2 something I wasn't interested in before until last year and because of well put together info like your thread. My son just loves this kind of info and for a change his mammy can tell him about a good war story instead of what i'm cooking for dinner lol won't he be surprised.
The real hero's are hid in books at the bottom of the pile and I'm glad you found this one
you have to now hunt them out which is a big pity as stories like this one should be well at the top for the next generation to read about.
The story about Buster would make an excellent film though how they would end it would be a bit of a problem as no one really has an idea if he was murdered or defected all the more exciting for the movie goers i suppose!!
Maybe you should put your info together and make it into a blockbuster.
Did you find this story about Buster by accident or had you heard his name involved in other stories.
s and f for this excellent find well done

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 04:58 PM
Something else to ponder on.

Apparently there is a strong possibility that there were actually 2 separate operations conducted on The Ordzhonikidze at the same time.

1. The CIA operation coordinated by Matt Smith (alias Teddy Davies) involving Crabb.
2. A Naval Intelligence operation using four other Navy divers from the HMS Vernon.

After Crabb went missing and the medis got hold of it Rear Admiral J.G.T. Inglis, (the Director of Naval Intelligence) released information saying Crabb was working for them equipment testing - and a result went missing. Although he wasn't he was working for the CIA. Did they do this to cover up any evidence of CIA collusion? Or was it done to keep the four man mission a secret? Or both? Keeping attention/newspapers focused on Crabb may have kept anyone from looking elsewhere and finding out about the Four Diver mission.

Perhaps Crabb was the Oswald in this?
Rear Admiral Edmund Nicholas 'Nico' Poland CB, CBE decribed the following in his book, 'The Torpedomen';
Crabb met with the Commander of the HMS Vernon as well as Lieutenant George ‘Frankie’ Franklin, a diving officer at HMS VERNON. He also met with the local Police. Chief Constable, Mr A C West, who assigned Superintendent Jack Lamport as Crabb’s police liaison officer. Franklin acted as Crabbs dresser for the dive.

Franklin used the HMS Deepwaters launch (HMS Vernon diving training ship), On the 18th at 1730 Crabb made his first dive from Kings Stairs on the South Railway Jetty. Which was about 80 yards around the corner from where the Soviet ships were berthed. Crabb got trapped in the jetty pilings and aborted the dive after only 20 minutes.

Early on 19th April, Crabb, Franklin, possibly ‘Smith’ and one or more police officers, all went to the HMS Deepwater launch where Franklin helped Crabb get ready for the Dive. He entered the water at around 0700 but returned 20 minutes later after experiencing some difficulty with his equipment. After a while, he returned to the water but was never seen alive again.

Perhaps Crabb was not aware of the other dive team. Why have 2 missions though? Unless Crabb was the Patsy and was always intended to be the cover story.

The government papers released to Kews National Archives in 2006 verify Rear Admiral Polands account of events but don't actually name Franklin. But why not release the cabinet papers until 2057? Or is there something else to the story?

The problem was, only three divers returned from the four diver mission and fourteen months later a body washed up. Assuming that was the body of the missing fourth diver, what would have happened if the identity of that diver had been revealed? He could have been associated with the HMS Vernon and perhaps the Naval Intelligence Operation.

Either way what happened to Crabb?

The last paragraph here is the one of most interest
edit on 12-3-2013 by region331 because: LInk added

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 05:07 PM
Regarding the identification of the body;

His ex-wife Margaret Player (whom he was married to for only a year) couldn't say if the body was Crabb or not but Pat Rose, his girlfriend flat-out said it wasn't. According to Don Hale in his book 'The Final Dive' Rose said that Crabb had webbed toes, the dead body had normal feet!

Also in one of the many messages she received from the Soviet Union, she received a message where she was described as the “Old Grey Witch” which was Crabb’s pet name for her.

Apparently she admits to knowing that Crabb was connected to Philby.

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 05:13 PM
reply to post by ballymoney50

I think it could make a very good film too. Unfortunately, to stop the audience feeling cheated, I think a writer would have to commit to an ending. And that might spoil the mystery......... maybe.

I had heard about Crabb before but got re-interested in it via the Sikorski incident. Which is another good story.
edit on 12-3-2013 by region331 because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 05:14 PM

Originally posted by fakedirt
reply to post by region331

perhaps a mutual exchange of intelligence assets was the order of the day. maybe corpses are kept on ice for use at a later date for such a possible ruse.
it's something i heard about growing up in a naval town. star and flag


You've got my attention. Can you expand?

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 05:44 PM

Originally posted by LABTECH767
Great read here is a link to a Pravda report about a former Russian naval diver whom claimed he killed crabb,
Personally I would also like to know the truth but weather he lived or died he was a heroic figure with gut's to spare.

What I don't understand about Eduard Koltsov is why he came forward to say anything at all. He's either lying or telling the truth.

If he's telling the truth, then he believes he killed someone. But did he kill Crabb? There's evidence to suggest that Crabb wasn't the body that washed up, so who did he kill?

If he's lying why? For money, attention or because someone asked him too? If it's the latter why? Why try to raise the attention of an incident from fifty years ago. An incident, which on the surface, has little consequence to anyone. What's so important to keep the matter alive (from the Russian side)? Perhaps the same reason the British want to keep it a secret for another 44 years. That's assuming that they don't extend that for another 70 years again!

edit on 12-3-2013 by region331 because: more info

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 05:45 PM
Compliments for your work!
There will certainly be some good reasons to keep the documents on this one under lock and key.
Maybe it contains/suggests at least one message: If you allow yourself to become a tool - expect to be treated like one.

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 06:06 PM

Originally posted by DerUtho
There will certainly be some good reasons to keep the documents on this one under lock and key.
Maybe it contains/suggests at least one message: If you allow yourself to become a tool - expect to be treated like one.

Lock and key for 100 years though?

It can't be because of embarrassing the Soviet Union because it doesn't exist.

It can't be so as not to expose Government for incompetence. Everyone, of significance, associated with the incident is dead.

The official story is that Crabb was diving freelance for the Navy and died or was killed whilst spying. The Russians and the British haven't directly disputed this story in fifty years. His body then turned up over a year later.

Do the remaining government papers not bear out the official story? Or is the official story true? Is it that the cabinet papers add something else, that's new to the story?

edit on 12-3-2013 by region331 because: Additional

posted on Mar, 12 2013 @ 06:56 PM
A very interesting mystery. Obviously there is something of national importance in this story, else the papers would have been released after 30 years, not 100 years.

Who misses The Cold War? I was only around for the last twenty years and them God damn Ruskies used to scare the living daylights out of me. I wonder if he did go over to the dark side? I would like to think he didn't, but if he was given anything he wanted (well almost) in return for his expertise then why wouldn't he?

Thanks for sharing.

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