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back to article Russian: I killed Buster Crabb in 1956 underwater scrap

A new chapter has been added to the evergreen saga of Commander Lionel "Buster" Crabb and his disappearance underwater during the visit of a Soviet warship carrying Nikita Khrushchev to Portsmouth Harbour. A retired Russian sailor has claimed that he killed Crabb. The Commander was already famous for his World War II underwater …

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Pirate

Ok. But...

...remind me why MI6 would want to blow up a Russian Cruiser that was docked in Portsmouth harbour? It'd be obvious the Brits did it, and it'd be very difficult to clear-up.

I guess if the mine had a really long timer then it could blow up on the way home, but it would still point the finger at the Brits.

Maybe it was a listening device or something? Just seems odd to me.

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Black Helicopters

@Bob

Perhaps the idea *was* to detonate the mine while out at sea. If it triggered the ammunition stores as well then there wouldn't be a lot left of the ship to investigate (see HMS Prince of Wales et al) and would probably be suspected to have been the brits but would have to be chalked up to an accident without further evidence. Presumably the target of the op would have been Kruschev himself.

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cor
Black Helicopters

@Bob

You're right of course about the 'finger of blame' being pointed at the Brits, but that was the whole issue: it was 'unauthorised' by parliament, probably for that very reason...

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Alert

Something fishy going on

I agree with Bob. It seems like a bit of a big risk to sabotage a ship conveying the Soviet premier in the middle of the fecking cold war.

Plus the politicians and diplomats in London might be a little peeved - they've convinced the leader of the enemy into travelling to your country to hold talks, then some annoying little bugger blows him up on his way home.

The fallout from such a move would probably be nuclear.

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Boffin

@Anonymous Coward re Prince of Wales

Has HMS Prince of Wales been dived on to show a catastrophic explosion? I do not believe that there was a single explosion that caused the loss of that ship.

She was sunk with HMS Repulse by the Japanese off Malaya in 1941, and was hit by at least 6 torpedoes and several bombs before capsizing and sinking. There was no single catastrophic explosion that caused the ship to be lost. Repulse was lost to a smaller number of torpedo hits as a result of a more lightly protected hull (she was after all, a Battlecruiser, not a Battleship).

I think that the writer must be referring to the Battlecruiser HMS Hood in the engagement (along side HMS Prince of Wales) against KMS Bismark and Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Straits, where a single shell appeared to cause the ammunition in the main magazine to explode. This was due to the poor working paractices in British ships designed around the first world war (I know Hood was launced in 1920, but the design was cast several years earlier). Various anti-blast devices that were intended to prevent explosions following the handling tracks for the shells either did not work, or were open, allowing the blast to reach the powder magazine, which was ignited. This was the same flaw that caused several British ships to be sunk at the Battle of Jutland.

One wonders what would have happened if Hood had had the 1935 refit that would have brought up-to-date the deck armour to prevent plunging shell fire from penetrating the main hull, and also would have updated the shell handling with solid blast doors between sensitive parts of the magazine and turrets.

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Why would the Russians keep quiet about it at the time?

Quite a bit of political capital to be made out of an attempt to destroy a Russian ship in peacetime.

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Anonymous Coward

Extradition request

coming up?

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Spycatcher

This rather sorry saga was covered by Peter Wright in his autobiography Spycatcher in the 80s. He said that the reason Crabbe had been sent in was to get information relating to the propeller design and composition which the navy had requested. It apparently wasn't the first time that they had tried to gather this information on the ship without success.

Wright also released the detail of the SIS officers using their own names in the hotel register, and said it was the Security Service (MI5) that did this when they were called in afterwards to try to hide the affair.

If it was a mine, it would have been more than just sinking a foreign cruiser; it would presumably have been assassinating a foreign head of state, as Khruschev and Bulganin were scheduled to leave on her after the talks. It seems to me a little unlikely that even a thoroughly out of control SIS would attempt this at the height of the cold war. A tracking device seems more likely, if anything was being attached.

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Black Helicopters

Cambridge?

Given that the Soviets were, um, not-exactly-under-appraised of details from the intelegence services at the time, I suppose It's feasible that they were tipped off.

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Related Movie

Silent Enemy, usually showing on Film4. A superb film tribute to Crabb's war exploits:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0052197/

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Black Helicopters

So, where's the beef?

Presumably the limpet would have been removed. If the Soviet diver truly believed it was a mine, there would likely have been a team to (very carefully) remove or defuse it. If inspection showed it was not a mine it would have been taken in for analysis. The outer casing, if not some of the disassembled contents, may still be in an internal agency museum somewhere.

I'd guess it wasn't trumpeted about (like Gary Powers and the U2) because the military/security service had a very vested interest in *not* letting Kruschev know how close they'd let the Brits come.

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cor
Black Helicopters

@Anonymous Coward re @Anonymous Coward re Prince of Wales

"One wonders what would have happened if Hood had had the 1935 refit that would have brought up-to-date the deck armour to prevent....blah blah"

Yes.

Keeps me up at night that one.

A real monkey on me back.

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Anonymous Coward

Red Herrings

It is unthinkable that Commander Crabb would have attempted to sabotage a visiting Soviet ship, just as it is unbelievable that a Soviet diver would murder a British sailor in British Waters. This claim from Eduard Koltsov detracts from the real questions which need to be answered, including just who was staying at the Sallyport Hotel during the time of Crabb's disappearance and why the Government was so desperate to identify the remains of the body found some months later as being that of Lionel Crabb, when they knew it wasn't his.

Why did they put pressure on the Coroner and others to say it was that of Lionel Crabb?

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Stop

@Extradition request.. ?

Why would you extradite someone for bravely preventing a terrorist attack?

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Dan

perhaps

and "and what do you think you're up to comrade" might have been a less extreme initial reaction.

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Re: Prince of Wales

Err... do you mean HMS Hood. Sunk by a single broadside by the Bismark, if I remember PoW was with Hood when it happened.

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Who knows?

I also rather doubt "limpet mine" but it could have as easily been some kind of listening or tracking device. Alternatively, he might have had some manner of camera that was unfamiliar to the Russian diver... There's no indication that whatever Cdr. Crabb was holding was recovered. In fact, I'd rather expect anything in his hands would've been dropped as he struggled for his life. So, I suspect that our Russian frogman, if truthful, has merely assumed that the device was a limpet mine, when it might actually have been one of any number of other manner of device.

@Anonymous John:

Who said the Russians didn't talk it up? They bitched quite publicly about frogmen near their ship. One presumes they didn't much want to announce that they'd actually been *killing* their host country's spies whilst still in that country's harbor... Might make things a bit sticky, you know? Afterwards, there's not much point in bringing it up again.

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What did the Soviets have to gain?

Actually, they had everything to loose - Kruschev represented a thawing with the West, kill him, set the Cold War back alight when some thought maybe it had turned a corner with the death of Stalin.

Of course there were many in the West who stood to loose out on such a reproachment... and many who were violently anti-Soviet and never got a chance to have a crack at a Soviet leader before.

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A Buster Crabb ... quite rare now I believe?

We may by 2057 have managed to re-stock the oceanic areas now so depleted of this very tricky crustacean ... pass the vodka !

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Silver badge

Sounds like rubbish to me

The British government would have stood to gain absolutely nothing from either sinking the cruiser or killing Khrushchev. On the contrary, it would have risked enormous damage had the truth come out - as it was very likely to do. Moreover, Khrushchev was "the devil we knew". Contrary to the more lurid folk-memories of him banging the table with his shoe, etc., he was quite a reasonable, logical leader and far more enlightened than Stalin or many others who might have replaced him.

Blowing up foreign ships in your harbours is almost always a bad idea. The USA may have pulled the opposite trick in 1898, as it used the catastrophic explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana harbour as a pretext for its war against Spain, which yielded Cuba (briefly), the Philippines, and much other territorial loot. The Americans alleged that the Spaniards were responsible, but it was the Americans who gained - the Spaniards lost heavily. Most likely, Maine's destruction resulted from a spontaneous detonation of her magazine - something that happened to numerous battleships of that era, probably the last being the powerful Japanese ship Mutsu in 1943 (although the official Japanese report spoke of "human interference" as a a cause).

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Anonymous Coward

@Anonymous Coward (one of them, anyway)

The Hood did have a refit, however due to the costs involved only the front half of the deck was reinforced. They intended to get around to finishing the job one day but before that happened it was struck by that 'lucky' single shot that landed straight onto the rear deck and went into the rear arms store. The almighty bang this caused then blew right through the ship and set off everything in the forward arms store too! After these two massive explosions the ship sank within a couple of minutes.

Apparently the Germans couldn't believe what they saw (one of them was even filming it). A bit like Kruge in Star Trek 3 when he's baffled at the Enterprise's response to him firing a little torpedo.

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Sam

Title

"and what do you think you're up to comrade" might have been a less extreme initial reaction."

It's not too easy to have a chat with someone whilst swimming around a couple of metres below the hull of a ship.

The whole reason for these patrols is to defend against sabotage, if you catch a stranger who is apparently trying to attatch something to the hull of your ship, one would have to assume the worst & act accordingly.

Perhaps he yelled "Armed Russian sailor" first.

Were there any witnesses?

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@Bob

"It'd be obvious the Brits did it, and it'd be very difficult to clear-up."

Yup. That's exactly the idea. If you're a foreign power (or Dr Evil) and wanted to force two nations into war, what would you do?

Blow up a visiting ship and make it look like the host country did it. Instant war. Plus, you close Portsmouth Harbour, which would be an added bonus.

Sending those two countries to war so soon after the end of WWII, while they were both buggered economically, could have pushed a "neutral" nation to the forefront of economic sovereignty. Much like the way WW2 allowed the U.S.A. to become the world's leading superpower.

Hmmmm.... Americans...

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