We’ve seen our strange 20th century story begin with Messrs Khrushchev and Bulganin arrival in Britain and our ‘introduction’ to Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Crabb.
Your scribe promised the next steps would arrive on Saturday 29th April 2017. You will also have noticed that nothing appeared. That can be blamed on a late arrival of the newspapers if you wish but the truth is that what I was going to post didn’t ring quite right and that the following here today does a better job. Sorry!
It was on Monday 30th April 1956 that a number of London newspapers reported that a Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Crabb had been killed while engaged in trials while on trials “connected with secret new underwater equipment”. The accident was said to have occurred in the Stokes Bay, two miles south to the Navy’s submarine headquarters at Gosport.
Portsmouth was soon full of newsmen and buzzing with rumours about the death of ‘Buster’. One popular theory was that Buster had been captured alive by the Russian while operating under the keel of the Ordzhonikidze and that he had been kept a prisoner on the cruiser and taken back to Russia where the Soviet Intelligence hoped to extract British Naval secrets from him.
While these stories were circulating other stories and questions were being posed.
‘What was Commander Crabb doing in Portsmouth Harbour on April 18th?’
‘Was he now dead and, if so, where was his body?
While this was all going on, the Admiralty maintained a strange curtain of silence and refused to make any sort of official statement that would end the rumours.
It was on Friday 4th May that it was reported that a watchman on one of the Russian ships had claimed to have spotted a frogman coming to the surface near the Russian ships on the day after they had entered Portsmouth Harbour. The frogman, claimed the Russian, had been on the surface for only a few seconds. Then he had disappeared and had not been seen again. At Portsmouth, Captain John Grant, the commanding officer of the naval diving school, said: ‘If a frogman was seen near the Russian cruiser he certainly did not come from here.’
In Parliament the Labour MP Mr John Dugdale immediately tabled a question asking the Government to make a statement in the Commons about the disappearance of Commander Crabb. The death of the naval frogman was fast becoming an important political issue.
A response came a few days later. We’ll be there to hear what it says!