Written by staff reporter Friday, 21 April 2006 00:00
Second World War diving hero Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb was killed by MI5 because he was planning to defect to Russia, according to one of his diving assistants.Second World War diving hero Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb was killed by MI5 because he was planning to defect to Russia, according to one of his diving assistants. The controversial claims were made by Sydney Knowles, who worked with Crabb on secret diving projects during the 1950s.
This month sees the 50th anniversary of Crabb’s disappearance while on a secret dive to investigate a Soviet cruiser berthed in a British harbour. Crabb had made his name during the war, when he took on the task of removing limpet mines from ships in Gibraltar Harbour.
The official story is that he disappeared on 19 April 1956, while carrying out a secret dive underneath the Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze, which had brought Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to Portsmouth on a diplomatic visit. A year later, a headless and handless corpse was found off Chichester and subsequently identified as being that of Crabb.
It was always assumed that Crabb’s death had been t he result of an accident, but Sydney Knowles contacted writer Tim Binding – author of Man Overboard, a fictionalised account of Crabb’s life – with information that was even stranger than the wildest of fictions.
Knowles, now 85, said that Crabb had been discontent with civilian life and wanted to defect to Russia, where he thought he would have more opportunities for diving. According to Knowles, the need to dive and be recognised as a master diver were more important to Crabb than his famous patriotism.
Knowles says he informed MI5 of the situation, and later declined to join Crabb for the Ordzhonikidze mission. Knowles believes that Crabb was murdered by the unnamed new dive partner before they even reached the Ordzhonikidze, and says that he was later pressured into identifying the headless body by an MI5 operative, who told him it was for the good of the country.
The full story will not be known until 2057, when the papers on Crabb’s death will become available to the public. ‘Diving historians find it very hard to believe that this man, who prided himself on being a patriot, would have seriously considered defecting,’ said Reg Vallintine of the Historical Diving Society. ‘Crabb was very fond of being a hero, and it is hard to imagine him jeopardising that status.’