JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I can't prove who the two fishermen pulled out of the high tide off tiny Pilsey Island (above)on June 9, 1957. The corpse was probably the earthly remains of Commander Lionel “Buster” Crabb.  But the body had been in the water for so long,  that when they hefted the corpse into the boat, the head fell off and was lost in the mud flats. The hands were already gone, whether by accident or design. Margaret Player, Lionel’s ex-wife, could not identity what was left,  and neither could his current girlfriend, Patricia Rose. At the inquest a diving partner, William McLanachan, identified a scar on the left knee as Lionel’s, but later recanted.
DNA technology was still a half century in the future, but still...The diving suit matched the two piece type Lionel had been wearing. The stature of the corpse matched his. The body hair matched. The clothing Lionel had been wearing under the suit, matched the clothes on the corpse. Even the “hammer toes” of the corpse matched photographs of Lionel Crabb’s feet. The coroner ruled that it was Lionel Crabb and that he had been dead for several days.  And the mystery should have ended right there, in the tidal flats of Chichester Harbor, 17 miles to the east of Plymouth Harbor. But what if the body was claimed to be that of Commander James Bond, would you meekly accept the evidence, or suspect the super spy had pulled off yet another misdirection and double cross, all in the name of queen and country?.  Lionel Crabb didn’t look like the movie version of James Bond, but he was a dead ringer for the Bond from the books. He hated to exercise. He was a chain smoker, and an aficionado of “boilermakers” (whisky with a beer chaser). He distrusted academics and experts (he would have shot Q long ago). And Lionel couldn’t swim three lengths of a swimming pool without collapsing from exhaustion. Still, a friend described him as having, “…a singular ability to endure discomfort…His lack of fear was unquestioned….(a) curmudgeonly but kindly bantam cock,…a most pleasant and lively individual. (However) His penchant for alcohol remained undiminished.”Lionel Crabb started his adventures as a Merchant seaman. And when World War Two began he was already thirty years old, and thanks to his consumption of alcohol. already past his physical prime. He joined the Royal Navy in 1940 and eventually ended up as a bomb safety officer based on Gibraltar, a job requiring calm dedication and not for a dare devil. But that is where the legend of Commander “Buster” Crabb really begins.
Across the straights from Gibraltar, in Algeria, was a force of Italian divers who were skillfully planting limpet mines on British transports and warships in the anchorage of Gibraltar Harbor (above). Lionel became part of the team assigned to protect those ships.
He learned to dive in the war zone, wearing the bulky “Sladen Suits” (above), often referred to as “Clammy Death.".  On his missions, Lionel was using the ancestor of the aqualung, "re-breathers" invented by the American, Dr. Lambersten. The British team didn’t even have swim fins, until two Italian divers where machine gunned by a sentry one night and Lionel retrieved the fins and used them,  out of curiosity.Working often in the black of night,  Lionel slipped beneath the oily water of Gilbrater's harbor, to inspect a warship's hull for any sign of explosives, and if discovered to carefully remove them, bringing them to the surface and disarming them, which was the only part of the job he had actually been trained for.
For his work Lionel was awarded the St. George Medal in 1944. By that time he was commanding the entire unit. Lionel was a pioneer in the field, even teaching himself to disarm the new German magnetic mines. In August of 1945 he was assigned to disarm mines placed by Zionists terrorists on shipping in the port of Haifa. He received another medal for his role in disarming mines and explosives in Europe left over from World War II.
And in 1949 Lionel managed to produce underwater photographs of a British cruiser’s spinning propellers while the big ship plowed through the sea within feet of him. He explored a British submarine lost in the Thames estuary (above), and helped build the outflow system for a top secret nuclear weapons factory. Lionel had become the “go-to guy” on anything involving underwater espionage, and was famous for it, not because he was a genius at it but because he was the only person doing it. Lionel was retired from active service in 1953,  but remained in the reserves. And in October of 1955, when the new Soviet cruiser Sverdlov paid a “good will” visited to Portsmouth, Lionel and a friend, Sydney Knowles, made nighttime dives, examining and measuring the hull, in an attempt to explain the ship’s powerful maneuvering abilities. So both men seemed obvious picks to repeat that dive in April of 1956 when the Soviet Cruiser Ordzhonikidze (above) paid call to Portsmouth, while carrying, Premier Nikolai Bulganin and Communist Party Leader, Nikita Khrushchev on a state visit.Their dive might never have become public knowledge except,  after the visit of the  Ordzhonikidze  the Soviets filed an official protest, claiming a British diver was seen close to the Soviet cruiser on April 19th. Lionel’s war record had made him the most famous diver in Britain, and the day after the Soviet protest was filed, a reporter spotted Lionel's name in the register of the Sally Port hotel in Old Portsmouth (above). for the date of 18 April  The day after his name was spotted, other reporters returned to find that page had been ripped out of the book,  and was now missing. . The British navy eventually claimed that Lionel had been testing new diving equipment in the Solent,  to the West of Portsmouth, when he had disappeared and was presumed to have drowned. But that story seemed so absurd it produced even more speculation.
It is speculated that the new British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden (above),  had hopes of reaching a rapprochement with the Soviet leadership, and had forbidden Lionel from making this second dive inside Portsmouth harbor. But, it was alleged by the press,  the CIA had encouraged Lionel to make the attempt even without official British endorsement. What we do know as fact, is that after press speculation about Lionel's death,  Eden issued a public statement on 14 May saying   “It would not be in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which Commander Crabb is presumed to have met his death. I think it necessary, in the special circumstances of this case, to make it clear that what was done,  was done without the authority or the knowledge of Her Majesty’s Ministers. Appropriate disciplinary steps are being taken.” Shortly thereafter the head of MI6, Britain's intelligence agency, was relieved.
But from this point the stories and myths only multiply. In 2007 Eduard Koltsov claimed he had been a diver aboard the Cruiser Ordzhonikidze when, while on underwater patrol under the Soviet Ship in Portsmouth harbor, he spotted Lionel fixing a mine,  and had cut the spy's throat. Lionel’s fiance claimed in 1974 that he had defected and was still alive, training Soviet frogmen in the Black Sea. Another version says Lionel suffered a heart attack while inspecting the Ordzhonikidze, had been rescued by Soviet divers,  but had later died from his injuries, perhaps under torture, and that the Soviets had dumped his body overboard after leaving English port.What we now know for certain is that on 17 April, 1956, as the cold war was still heating up,  Lionel and another unknown man checked into the Sally Port Hotel, in Portsmouth. On the evening of the 18th, Lionel entered the water from The King’s Stairs Jetty (above), about 80 yards from where the Soviet warship was berthed. Lionel returned to the surface just 20 minutes later, having gotten confused in the dark among the pier’s pilings. The decision was made to try again in daylight.
Lionel returned to the jetty just after 7 a.m on April 18th, in full daylight this time, and re-entered the waters of Portsmouth harbor (above). He came back up just 20 minutes later complaining of problem with his re-breathing equipment. Repairs were made, and within a few minutes Lionel went down again for another try.
But this time he did not resurface, at least not until fourteen months later when his body was supposedly pulled from the shallow tidal inlet some seventeen miles further west down the coast. But was that really the body of Commander Lionel Crabb, or the other unknown man? We still don’t know for certain, and won’t until at least 2057, when the British government has promised to tell all they know.
Of course they had originally promised to do that in 1987, but then they changed their minds. They could do that again, too.  As they say, You Only Live Twice. 
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