'Buster' Crabb

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The suspicious death of 'Buster' Crabb

Gravestone of Commander Lionel Crabb RNVR.
Gravestone of Commander Lionel Crabb RNVR.

The Navy had released Crabb from active service one year before his death. However, when Crabb died in suspicious circumstances on 19 April 1956 in the waters of Portsmouth Harbour rumours circulated that he was still secretly employed.

Crabb's death created an embarrassing international situation for Britain. The Cold War was at its height and diplomacy with the Soviet Union was of utmost importance. His death occurred when the joint Soviet leaders, Khrushchev and Bulganin, arrived in Britain on the cruiser Ordzhonikidze for a state visit. The British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had banned all intelligence gathering on the vessel and her escort ships.

Many conspiracy theories surround Crabb's disappearance. Officially, the Admiralty declared that Crabb was missing presumed drowned while testing secret underwater apparatus in Stokes Bay, Portsmouth.

There is strong evidence to suggest that Crabb was working for MI6 gathering intelligence on the Russian ships. Some believe that Crabb was discovered and killed during this expedition; others believe that he experienced technical problems which led him to drown.

Yet another theory is that he was still alive and had defected to Russia. Eden's government decided it was not in the public interest to disclose details of Commander Crabb's death.

A corpse was found in Chichester Harbour, West Sussex on the 9th June that year. It was badly decomposed and was without a head or hands. It was hastily identified as Crabb's and buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth. There is still doubt whether it is really the remains of Commander 'Buster' Crabb.


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