Russian: I killed Buster Crabb in 1956 underwater scrap
Cut throat of MI6 frogman beneath Soviet cruiser, apparently
A new chapter has been added to the evergreen saga of Commander Lionel "Buster" Crabb and his disappearance underwater during the visit of a Soviet warship carrying Nikita Khrushchev to Portsmouth Harbour. A retired Russian sailor has claimed that he killed Crabb.
The Commander was already famous for his World War II underwater efforts removing limpet mines from the hulls of British warships. When the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze docked at Portsmouth, bringing Khruschev for talks with the British government, Crabb vanished. The Soviet delegation protested to Britain that a frogman had been seen near their ship, and the incident caused a diplomatic crisis.
The navy said Crabb had drowned during an unrelated dive some distance from Portsmouth, but that story has always been widely discounted. The then British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, told Parliament that:
"It would not be in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which Commander Crabb is presumed to have met his death.
"While it is the practice for ministers to accept responsibility, I think it is necessary in the special circumstances of this case to make it clear that what was done was done without the authority or knowledge of Her Majesty's ministers. Appropriate disciplinary steps are being taken."
Sir John Alexander Sinclair, then chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) was subsequently forced to resign. Richard Tomlinson, the exiled former MI6 operative, has said the Crabb affair was a bungled MI6 operation, and that new officers are taught about it during training as a cautionary tale.
Several pages of a Portsmouth hotel register were found to have disappeared in the aftermath of the affair, and Tomlinson says this was because MI6 officers overseeing the operation had filled in their real names while staying there.
There appears to be no real doubt that Crabb was sent to dive on the Ordzhonikidze covertly by MI6, without political authorisation, and that he never returned.
Now a Russian named Eduard Koltsov is claiming that he was a member of the Ordzhonikidze's crew, and that he cut Crabb's throat in an underwater struggle. He apparently says Crabb was placing a limpet mine on the Soviet cruiser's hull, not just looking at it.
"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," he told Russian documentary film-makers, according to the BBC.
"I swam closer and saw that he was fixing a mine."
Koltsov, 23 at the time and now in his seventies, displayed the knife which he says he used to kill Crabb, and a minor Soviet medal he was supposedly awarded for doing so.
UK Cabinet documents relating to the Crabb affair will be released in 2057 under the hundred year rule. ®