Sailor spills beans on Buster Crabbe


One of the Cold War's most baffling mysteries has been solved after an elderly Russian man admitted to killing a British spy in the fifties.

Cdr Lionel "Buster" Crabb disappeared while spying on a Soviet warship in 1956.

The vessel was en route to Portsmouth Harbour, bringing Soviet leaders to Britain for talks.

At the time, the Navy feared that Cdr Crabb had drowned in the nearby Stokes Bay.

But several months later, the diver's headless corpse was found floating along the coast.

Now the final moments of Cdr Crabb's life have been put together after a retired Russian sailor told a documentary he needed to clear his conscience before he died.

Eduard Koltsov told filmmakers he cut the Englishman's throat as he caught him placing a mine on the Soviet ship Ordzhonikidze, which was bringing Joseph Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders for meetings with the British prime minister Anthony Eden.

Mr Koltsov, who was 23 at the time of the James Bond-style incident, says he had been ordered to keep a watchful eye for any suspicious activity around the ship.

It was then that he apparently saw Cdr Crabb planting the mine to the hull of the ship.

In an action that would see him secretly awarded for his bravery, the frogman cut the throat of the impostor with a dagger which he revealed to the Russian film crew.

"I saw a silhouette of a diver in a light frogman suit who was fiddling with something at the starboard, next to the ship's ammunition stores," Mr Koltsov said.

"I swam closer and saw that he was fixing a mine."

Cdr Crabb, decorated with the George Medal and an OBE for his actions during World War II, was 47 when he disappeared.

The murky incident in Portsmouth sent relations between the Soviet state and Britain into freefall, ending any hopes of a rapprochement.

The Russian envoys maintained that they were being spied upon and Mr Eden's conservative government was lambasted in the Commons for their loose grip on the security services.

I wonder how much he got from the film makers? :roll:
I'd be astonished of the late Cdr Crabb was actually setting a mine.

listening device, maybe; but blowing up the Sovs could possibly be taken as a teeny weeny act of War.
I must admit I raised an eyebrow at the "planting a mine" bit, why would an RN officer be planting a mine on a Soviet ship in 1956?

Sounds like we have someone wanting to clear their conscience (sp) but very aware that he lives in a country that still doesn't like people putting the government in a bad light. So by implying that Buster Crabbe was planting a mine it legitimises his actions.

bag of Bollox IMHO


I think it's quite likely that the Soviets might have thought he was planting a mine whereas, if my hazy memory serves, he had simply been sent to inspect the hull of a warship which was thought to be somewhat technologically advanced. Again, if my hazy memory serves, Crabb was by then an alcoholic in poor physical shape who was a very weak swimmer when not in his diving gear. Having his throat cut might explain why his head subsequently came off.
Did he also slit his wrists?

"On 9th June 1957, a headless body in a frogman suit was discovered floating off Pilsey Island. As the hands were also missing it was impossible to identify it as being that of Lionel Crabb His former wife inspected the body and was unsure if it was Crabb His girlfriend, Pat Rose, claimed it was not him but another friend, Sidney Knowles, said that Crabb, like the dead body, had a scar on the left knee. The coroner recorded an open verdict but announced that he was satisfied the remains were those of Crabb."

IF he was after the ship – but not to blow it up on our doorstep :roll: – and the Reds got him, just disappear him on board? If they wanted to ‘send a message’, why de-ident the body? De-ident it as a ‘terror’ tactic – utter balls, might frighten an Ubangi goat-herder. IF the Reds got Crabb, like the downed U2 pilot he would have been show-trialed. :wink:

The gravy train rolls on:
"For decades, the conspiracy theories have gone in several directions: a) that Crabb was sent by MI6 to inspect the Ordkhonikidze and died; b) that Crabb was duped into diving under the Ordkhonikidze by the Russians, who wanted to capture him for his diving expertise; c) that Crabb happily defected and spent the rest of his life working for the Russian Navy in the Black Sea; or d), the story suggested by Crabb's fiancée, Patricia Rose, that the Russians wanted Crabb to defect and that MI6 encouraged him to but then deserted him as a patriotic double agent, longing to come home. We think this is a sensible stab at the facts."
Times article a year ago:

And, what did the post-mortem state? Cause of death and amputation or mutilation? OK, so body in the sea the head’s usually the first to go (eventually), but the hands???

According to Peter Wright in his autobiography, Buster Crabbe was sent to survey the Ordzhonikidze Hull paying particular interest to the Propeller.

His disappearance was initially put down to his physical condition which was somewhat out of shape, and the considered feeling was that he may have had a heart attack.

Peter Wright alleges that the Russians had made approaches to the Admiralty to ask about "the frogman" long before a body actually turned up.
I thought i had read somewhere that he had been shot by a Russian marksman who had seen a suspicious shadow in the water by the boat. Could be wrong though !...
According to his WWII diving partner on The Today programme tonight, this Russian chap is spouting tosh.

He has written his own memoires in which he puts forward his theory, but has yet to find a publisher!
Concrete_Marmoset said:
I thought i had read somewhere that he had been shot by a Russian marksman who had seen a suspicious shadow in the water by the boat. Could be wrong though !...
That has been one explanation, that a Soviet sailor with a rifle that fired subsonic ammunition (why, there is no explanation) shot him in the head when he surfaced with difficulties, and that his head came apart as a result. There was also another theory at the time that the ship ran its propellers and that took his head off, but again, its all theory.

There was an interesting article on this in Eye Spy magazine a couple of years ago. It may turn up online in a search.


The fate of Lionel "Buster" Crabb, the Royal Navy commander who disappeared while spying on a Russian ship, is one of the great Cold War mysteries.

But now the question of what happened off Portsmouth in 1956 may have been solved.

A retired Russian diver has 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, 74, 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.

However his claims have been dismissed as yet another cover-up by relatives of the dead man.

Cdr Crabb's body, minus hands and head, was discovered floating in the sea months after his disappearance.

The mystery over how he was killed has spawned numerous books, films and conspiracy theories. Cdr Crabb's extraordinary exploits were said to be Ian Fleming's inspiration for the superspy James Bond.

But no one has come close to explaining the last moments of Cdr Crabb's life - until now.

Mr Koltsov, who was 23 at the time, told the film team that he was ordered to investigate suspect activity around the ship Ordzhonikidze, which had the future Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev on board, as it was anchored in Stokes Bay near Portsmouth harbour.

He claimed to have spotted Cdr Crabb fixing a mine to the hull. A fight ensued and Mr Koltsov said that he killed the Navy frogman.

"I saw a silhouette of a diver in a light frogman suit who was fiddling with something at the starboard, next to the ship's ammunition stores," Mr Koltsov said.

"I swam closer and saw that he was fixing a mine."

Cdr Crabb, awarded the George Medal and OBE for his actions during the Second World War, was 47 when he disappeared. The murky incident sent relations between the Soviet state and Britain into freefall.

Russian envoys maintained they were being spied upon and Anthony Eden's Conservative Government was lambasted in the House of Commons for its loose grip on the security services.

The Navy claimed it had not authorised Cdr Crabb's mission and it is thought he may have been working for MI6 when he went missing.

One account of his death claimed he had been captured and brainwashed by the Russians, and that the body later found was a fake.

That theory is still favoured by Cdr Crabb's last surviving relative. Lomond Handley, 61, said she was appalled by the latest development which she claims has been made to discredit a book called The Final Dive about Cdr Crabb that is published today.

Miss Handley, from Poole, Dorset, believes Cdr Crabb was not killed but was kidnapped by the Russians and that British governments have been covering up the truth ever since.

Her late mother Eileen, who was Cdr Crabb's cousin, campaigned for much of her life to find out what really happened to him.

"I find it astonishing and don't believe that any member of the Soviet services, for whom I have great respect, would suddenly admit to the murder of a British sailor," Miss Handley, said.

"I don't regard it as a coincidence that this has happened now, just before a book is due to be published on the entire episode.

The Final Dive is written by Don Hale, a journalist and writer who successfully campaigned to free Stephen Downing from jail 27 years after he was convicted of murdering Wendy Sewell, a legal secretary, in the so-called "Bakewell Tart" case.

He said the commander 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.
Seems in the light of Philby & co and various planes, subs, satellites etc including ‘smart’ rocks, little point in cloaking such 50 year old events? Where is any National Security/foreign relations problem? Who would/could be embarrassed? Who’s playing puerile games?

Think the fellow MIGHT be telling the truth, "after his lights", but - of course - does not know the whole story.

My theory: Crabbe was killed whilst attempting to attach some sort of monitoring device to the Soviet ship's hull. The Soviets DID train teams of divers specifically to counter this type of threat against their ships when berthed in foreign waters: given the context of the visit to Portsmouth - height of Cold war paranoia, plus the general paranoia of all Soviet leaders! - I think it unlikely that such a team would not have been on board, and certainly would have been deployed at the slightest hint of anything suspicious.

Having killed Crabbe, they let the body drift: why wouldn't they? Not their problem, but a huge problem for their hosts.

Crabbe's corpse was subsequently recovered by those who'd ordered the operation, and the mutilation was done to "muddy the waters"/ create uncertainty, which was certainly achieved.

This is, I stress, ONLY MY THEORY, and I make no special claims - it could be totally wrong! It is, however, a theory entirely consistent with the few established facts of the case.

This outcome suited both sides - each would have had more to lose than gain by disclosure of anything specific. Disclosure now - under the guise of "old man easing his conscience" etc, and "spiced up" with the dubious assertion that the wicked Brits were attempting to blow up a Soviet warship sends a number of messages of potential utility to Putin:

1. We're prepared to be "open" about past events - all, of course, in the name of historical veracity!

2. Given recent accusations of nefarious acts by our intelligence services in Georgia, London, and elsewhere, it's as well to be reminded that everyone can play dirty. In short, stop being so self-righteous.

3. Don't ever forget that when push comes to shove, the Russian state will stop at nothing to protect its interests - even in your back garden.
So, theres a Russian warship heading into Portsmouth, presumably going to dock alongside or close to HM Dockyard or similar establishment and we plant a mine on board close to the magazine. Something seems more than slightly off kilter with this theory.
rebel_with_a_cause said:
So, theres a Russian warship heading into Portsmouth, presumably going to dock alongside or close to HM Dockyard or similar establishment and we plant a mine on board close to the magazine. Something seems more than slightly off kilter with this theory.
No - of course not, and I never suggested such!

The Russians have asserted that Crabbe was attaching a "mine". They claim said "mine" was intended to detonate when the ship was en route home through the North Sea - at which point, the wicked Brits would have suggested their ship must have run into a WW2 vintage seamine: "Oh dear, how sad; never mind!" etc..

I don't believe that - as I thought I'd made clear! But it probably suits Putin & Co to suggest that we might have tried such an act.

It is, however, a matter of public record that a group within the Secret Intelligence Service (and, no doubt Naval Intelligence!) was more than a little interested in the ship's hull configuration, performance etc.. Crabbe & a "Mr Smith" DID check into a Portsmouth hotel just before the visit: why? "Mr Smith" has never subsequently been publicly identified. Eden was furious about the Crabbe incident, and clearly knew that someone had played silly bugger, but - of course - in 1956 the very existence of SIS was officially denied, so there was never any reference to any subsequent enquiry/ disciplinary action.

BTW, the Russian ship was not in the dockyard/ beyond the "Black Gates" etc - it was a fair way off-shore in the general harbour area.
”in 1956 the very existence of SIS was officially denied, so there was never any reference to any subsequent enquiry/ disciplinary action.”

Can’t quite see what this may or may not establish? The organisation of intelligence underwent another review after WWII, and while they were ‘hush hush’ they weren’t denied, just extremely **** – and quite right too. Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt were all Red before WWII and after it, so there’s no doubt the Soviets knew our structure in the 50’s. The items that appear credible and reasonable – whatever they may be worth – suggest Naval Intelligence, (who had units skilled and practised in various underwater), were advised in advance by the government to leave this ship alone. However, [a version], the Admiralty were interested if the ship’s design could explain it’s perceived exceptional speed. Being told they couldn’t deploy their men, they asked SIS for help. At that time SIS enjoyed a type of latitude in service of the Nation not shared by other departments – a contentious position. Disagreement between SIS and MI5/FO over Philby an issue at the time. Hugh Sinclair, then head of SIS, asked his Foreign Office liaison, Michael Wright, to ask for clearance, which he maintains was given though subsequently the FO said was not? SIS brought Crabb out of retirement (again?). Later the Sally Port Hotel in Portsmouth had their guest book entry for Lionel Crabb and Bernard Smith removed by police on instruction from ‘high authority’, a fact discovered by the Daily Mail who headlined the story and started the Hue and Cry – Eden, questions in the House etc.

Michael Wright was relieved and Hugh Sinclair ‘resigned’. In the grand scheme of things, at such time as Sinclair would resign he was to be succeeded by Jack Easton, as ordained by Stewart Menzies and sanctioned by Anthony Eden. However, this episode was seized as an opportunity to break this reign of SIS and, after a ‘war in heaven’, Norman Brook succeeded in pulling SIS into the Civil Service fold and MI6 became led by Dick Goldsmith-White, the head of MI5. DGW purged most of the military school from MI6 for, ostensibly, civilians – i.e. no more James Bonds. Easton stayed a Deputy Head for a couple of years but virtually no other major Menzies’ men endured.

Whether Bernard Smith knows anything of the specifics of Crabb at the ship is really a matter of OpSec and should be boxed with him if not already the case. It’s not down to Smith to stop playing the white man, IMHO, it’s down to top level. If the file stays closed till 2057, it’s 2057. Though I won’t see it, my 50p says it will disappoint and be found to be filleted. :wink:

Anyway, what happened to Crabb, turned this up from a Beeb release of Jan this year:
”Sydney Knowles was the diving partner of Lionel "Buster" Crabb,………… Mr Knowles, who now lives in Spain, said he did not believe the body he identified was that of Crabb……………..He told BBC News: "I said, 'I know Commander Crabb very well and he had a scar at the back of his leg on the calf, and there's no scar there at all, it's not him'." He said he was told to say the body discovered was Crabb for the good of the country. Mr Knowles added that Crabb had been "disillusioned" about Britain and had been talking about moving to Russia. He said he thought his friend may have been murdered to prevent him from defecting.”

Re the body and my views on the autopsy report, I asked a medical mate who, though not a forensic specialist, knows far more than I on these matters. After a lengthy ”it all depends” sermon, he asked approx. how long the body was in the sea? When I said could be about 14 months he thought I was taking the Mick. If I understood correctly, a body initially sinks and then floats (if not weighted or anchored) as natural decomposition gasses cause it to rise. A quicker process in warmer/sunlit water and slower in colder/’black’ water. Whichever, unless anchored it should surface by about a month. Other major point is the destruction by sea creatures. IF the body was in the sea for 14 months it would have been well feasted on, even to the extent of becoming a husk or virtual skeleton – ‘it all depends’? :roll:

So, had the body been bobbing about the bay for a year? Was it anchored on the bottom for a year? Was it only put in a month or so before discovery? Whichever, seems unlikely to be Crabb – Maj. Martin 2nd, that was Naval handiwork? 8O :lol:

I was given to understand that Crabb was trying to find out if Vairiable Pitch Propellers where in use on the Rooshin cruiser.
Mines properganda.

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