Buster Crabb – what really happened?

Buster ''Crabb when a lieutenant  pictured in  Gibraltar  in 1943 while in charge of an underwater working party.
Buster ''Crabb when a lieutenant pictured in Gibraltar in 1943 while in charge of an underwater working party.
Have your say

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a marvellous talk given by Dr John Bevan about the disappearance of Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb in Portsmouth Harbour in 1956.

It is perhaps the most mysterious of Portsmouth stories and is forever appearing in the press and books of which more than half a dozen have been written.

The cover of Dr Bevan's book.

The cover of Dr Bevan's book.

Crabb was given a mission to dive under the Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze to take photographs of the propellers and anything else that might have been there as the ship was capable of an extraordinary turn of speed.

No one in government has ever owned up to giving the commission to Crabb.

He disappeared and a body, believed to have been Crabb’s, was recovered from Chichester Harbour.

After the post-mortem examination and inquest the remains were interred in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.

The full story of the dive, his disappearance and inquest has been written and published by Dr Bevan in his book Commander Crabb – What Really Happened?

It is a book of questions with some thought-provoking answers. Many photographs and maps give a detailed examination of affairs concerning Crabb and his way of life not to mention what a brave and heroic man he was during and after the Second World War.

Dr Bevan says: ‘He should have been awarded the Victoria Cross, but because much of his work in bomb and mine disposal took place after hostilities he was only awarded the George Medal.’

He got it for ‘gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty’ during hazardous diving operations in clearing mines from ships anchored off Gibraltar.

For the number of lives this man saved it was disgraceful he was only awarded the George Medal.

Bizarrely, at his funeral, officers were ordered not to wear uniform. Even the pall bearers, mostly from the Royal Navy, had to be in civilian clothes.

Dr Bevan believes Crabb should be exhumed and reburied with full naval honours in the naval cemetery at Gosport.

Crabb was only 5ft 5in and could not swim that well, possibly 100 yards without fins. He once admitted that without fins he would drown.

In all, the author gives 13 theories about how or why Crabb died. Much of the information in the book is hearsay and after so many years most of those who had anything to do with the dive or the discovery of his remains have died.

Fort Monckton, the MI6 training centre at Gosport, also features in the book.

Indeed it is one of Portsmouth’s enduring mysteries and the government has put a block on any information being disclosed for a century, yes until 2057, But why? What is there to hide?

You can buy a signed copy of the 100-page book containing more than 40 photographs at £9.99 plus £3 postage from 5, Nepean Close, Gosport, PO12 2BH or from WH Smith and Waterstones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

If any readers have their own memories of the event no matter how irrelevant it might appear, do let me know. If you want to remain anonymous that will not be a problem.