Divers of note- Lionel “Buster” Crabb

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Lionel "Buster" Crabb

Lionel "Buster" Crabb

Lionel “Buster” Crabb was born to a poor family from Streatham, South West London on the 28th January 1909 where he grew up and eventually joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve prior to World War 2.

Buster joined the Royal Navy in 1941 and the following year he was transfered to Gibraltar where he joined a mine and bomb disposal unit, at first his job was to disarm mines that were brought up by the divers but soon decided he wanted to learn to dive himself.

Busters first job as a diver was to guard the ships anchored in Gibraltar from Italian frogmen who would lay mines on the ships hulls or attack with manned torpedoes.

Diving equipment was at this time unsophisticated to say the least and when Buster did his first diving work they used Davis Escape Sets which were designed for escaping submarines and without fins they used to swim by breaststroke. That is until on the 8th December 1942 when Italian frogmen, Lt. Visintini and Petty Officer Magro were killed during an attack, their bodies were recovered, their fins and scuba equipment were commandeered and from that point onward were used by Buster and his colleague Sydney Knowles to carry on their perilous work.

Eventually Buster was awarded the George medal for his work, promoted to Lieutenant Commander  and in 1943 was made the Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy where he worked clearing mines in the ports of Livorno and Venice.

After the war Buster was transfered to Palistine where he  lead an underwater explosives disposal team and was assigned the job of removing mines placed on the ships by the militant Zionist group Irgun.

When Buster left the Royal Navy in 1947 he continued diving and had a diverse range of jobs from exploring the wreck of a spanish Galleon to surveying an area for the discharge pipe for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston.

His services were soon required again by the Royal Navy and during this time Buster dived on the sunken submarines HMS Truculent which sank in January 1950 and HMS Affray in 1951. In 1955 Busters role as a diver became more covert and with his long time colleague Sydney Knowles was assigned the job of investigating the hull of the Soviet cruiser Sverdlov to try and find the secret behind it’s superior maneuverability. On this dive they found that the Sverdlov had a bow thruster which at the time was virtually unheard of, it would be rare to find a large ship these days without one.

During that same year Buster was forced into retirement because of his age but not long after he was recruited by MI6 for whom Buster would do his last dive, surrounded in mystery to this day.

In this year, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin came to England on a diplomatic mission that was ultimately to end in failure. Their visit however gave MI6 the opportunity to survey the Ship that brought Khrushchev and Bulganin to England. This was the new Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze which had a new propeller design that naval intelligence were itching to get their hands on.

On April 19th, 1956 Buster began his covert mission in Portsmouth Harbour and was never seen again. In true secret service fashion, Busters controller removed his belongs from the hotel he was staying in and even removed the page from the hotel register where they had written their names.

On the 29th of April Buster was reported missing during trials on a new type of breathing apparatus, some reports state that he was working on an experimental mine. The Soviets told the papers they had seen a diver near their ship on the 19th of April after which rumours started to spread that Buster had infact been captured by the Soviets.

On the 9th of June 1957, nearly 14 months after Buster disappeared, a body outfitted in diving gear was found floating near Pilsey Island. The body was missing both hands and the head making it impossible at this time to identify. However, eventually the coroner announced that he was satisfied that this was indeed the body of Buster Crabb.

Several theories and stories over Buster’s death have come to light over the years, most believe the Soviets were involved. The government and MI6 at the time denied that Crabb was working for them, however documents released in 2006 proved that Crabb was infact an MI6 operative. Apparently all other documents connected to the case have been classified until 2057.

In a Russian Documentary filmed in 2007, retired sailor Eduard Koltsov told the film crew that he was onboard the Ordzhonikidze at the time and was on guard duty at the time. He saw a diver trying to attach a mine to the hull of the vessel so attacked him and slit his throat. Many find this story dubious at best as it was highly unlikely that the British would have attempted to blow up a Soviet ship while on a diplomatic mission as of course this would have been a severe blow to Soviet and British relations.

At this time, members of Buster Crabb’s family are partitioning the government to release all documents related to the incident so hopefully in the near future we will all know the full story behind one of divings great mysteries.

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published on April 26, 2011 by jason
tags: , , , category: scuba diving

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