Lionel Kenneth Phillip Crabb, OBE, GM, known as Buster Crabb, was a Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956.
Born: 28 January 1909, London
Died: 19 April 1956
Battles/wars: Second World War
Years of service: 1941–1947
Battles and wars: World War II
Education: HMS Conway, Brighton College
Awards: Order of the British Empire, George Medal
Ordzhonikidze was a Sverdlov-class cruiser similar to that shown in this photograph (Alexander Nevsky).
MI6 recruited Crabb in 1956 to investigate the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze that had taken Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin on a diplomatic mission to Britain.
According to Peter Wright in his book Spycatcher (1987), Crabb was sent to investigate Ordzhonikidze's propeller, a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to examine. On 19 April 1956, Crabb dived into Portsmouth Harbour and his MI6 controller never saw him again. Crabb's companion in the Sally Port Hotel took all his belongings and even the page of the hotel register on which they had written their names. Ten days later British newspapers published stories about Crabb's disappearance in an underwater mission.
MI6 tried to cover up this espionage mission. On 29 April, under instructions from Rear Admiral John Inglis, the Director of Naval Intelligence, the Admiralty announced that Crabb had vanished when he had taken part in trials of secret underwater apparatus in Stokes Bay on the Solent. The Soviets answered by releasing a statement stating that the crew of Ordzhonikidze had seen a frogman near the cruiser on 19 April.
British newspapers speculated that the Soviets had captured Crabb and taken him to the Soviet Union. The British Prime Minister Anthony Eden apparently disapproved of the fact that MI6 had operated without his consent in the UK (the preserve of the Security Service, "MI5"). It is mistakenly claimed that Eden forced director-general John Sinclair to resign following the incident. In fact, he had determined to replace Sinclair with MI5 director-general Dick White before the incident.
Eden told MPs it was not in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which the frogman met his end