There is a saying on submarines, that if you can smell something nasty and there is no-one standing behind you, mister it’s you!
Lionel “Buster” Crabb Served in the Merchant Navy and when WWII began he was commissioned into the Royal Navy and volunteered for mine and bomb disposal. He trained as a diver and had an impressive war record receiving numerous commendations including the George Medal and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He left the RN in 1948 and his CV shows him working in the private sector for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston. He also spent time searching through sunken Spanish Galleons.
He returned to active duty in the RN in 1952 where he is reputed to have spent time searching and investigating sunken submarines. In 1955 he worked with another frogman (Sydney Knowles), investigating the hull of a Soviet ship, the Sverdlov. It became later known that he had been recruited by the funny folk at MI6 and was assigned to perform surveillance on another Russian cruiser, the Ordzhonikidze, which supposedly had a propeller of an innovative design, (probably a bit of cold war propaganda). It was moored in Portsmouth Harbour where it had carried the Soviet Premier Bulganin and Future Premier Khrushchev on a diplomatic mission. Crabb got as far as inspecting the hull of the cruiser but disappeared and was never seen again.
At this time I was also a frogman stationed HMS Vernon the shore station of the Royal Navy Torpedo and Anti Submarine Branch which trained Clearance Divers and Minehunters. To say that the crap hit the fan is to put it mildly, all we were told was that one of ours was missing and all available diving teams were carrying out evolutions in Langston Harbour for about two weeks.
This was an unforgettable time for me. Portsmouth harbour is famous for its thick black mud which is commemorated today with a bronze statue at Portsea Hard of the Pompey Mudlarks the kids who used to dive for coins for centuries. Somewhat less remembered is that this nasty black slime covers the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour, it is somewhat over a fathom deep, it’s black and it stinks to high heaven. It is full of centuries of detritus, a mixture of the contents of millions of gash buckets heaved over the side of every ship that has moored there since Tudor times.
Oh my Lord! It wasn’t just the kitchen waste of millions of ships it was also the bodily waste of Billions of sailors and my shipmates and I were feeling our way through this foul slime looking for a dead body. It wasn’t just MI6 who were in the sh*t, we were spending some six hours a day groping around in it. One of our teams gave us a laugh when he related that as he probed through the slime he thought he had found a head and when he brought it to the surface found that he was holding a large head of cabbage that had gone over in the gash. I think that is called ‘gallows humour’ or as Neitzche put it ‘any experience that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. All I can confirm is that we smelled very strong.
It was about two weeks before that story got into the newspapers and we were pulled out and given a few days leave, sworn to secrecy. The legend of Buster Crabb, with rumour and speculation goes on even today. MI6 is supposed to operate outside of Britain, while MI5 operates within the country. For some reason, Prime Minister Anthony Eden forced the resignation of John Sinclair the Director General of MI6.
N. B. British government documents related to the Buster Crabb incident will not be released until 2057 – I should live so long!