Lionel “Buster” Crabb achieved fame for his wartime exploits in Gibraltar as a member of the Royal Navy’s, ‘Underwater Working Party’ – a team of volunteer divers that could be speedily deployed to search ships hulls for explosive devices.
(Named for a former American swimmer and Olympic athlete, Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe, who starred in the weekly science-fiction serial about the adventures of ‘Flash Gordon’, the, “Star Wars” of their day when they were first screened, in the late ‘thirties, and who had played an instrumental role in the development of swim fins, the nick-name, ‘Buster’, was applied to anyone with the surname, ‘Crabb’)
Standing at the gateway to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, in 1941, was a gathering point for allied shipping convoys. Presenting wonderful targets for attack, a daring group of Italian divers – based just across the bay in the neutral Spanish port of Algeciras – would regularly plant limpet mines and other timed explosives on the hulls of merchant ships.
Using Siebe, Gorman & Co’s, Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus – oxygen sets designed for escape from a crashed submarine – goggles, nose clips and a rope tied around their waists, people like “Buster” Crabb and Able Seaman Thomas – a bloke who, once accepted onto the team, admitted that he couldn’t swim – were on constant call to search for and dispose of explosive ordnance attached to the ships’ hulls.
In April 1956, Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb – then a civilian – made world headline news when he mysteriously disappeared while on an underwater spying mission, using a CDBA set, beneath the Russian Cruiser, ‘Ordzhonikidze ‘ that was carrying the Soviet Union’s leaders, Bulganin and Kruschev to the UK on a diplomatic ‘goodwill’ visit. Crabb’s disappearance became the subject of numerous books, in which conspiracy theorists claim that he was kidnapped and later served with the Russian Navy.
However, 14-months after his disappearance, a dry-suit clad body identified as Crabbs – despite the lack of head or hands – was fished from the waters of Chichester Harbour.
(Crabb’s exploits in Gibraltar were featured in a 1958 movie, ‘The Silent Enemy’, starring Lawrence Harvey as “Buster” Crabb.)