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Former Royal Navy frogman Sydney Knowles passes away

Former Royal Navy frogman Sydney Knowles passes away

THE former frogman Sydney Knowles, who was a member of Buster Crabb’s wartime team, has passed away. He was 90.

Mr. Knowles had joined the unit set up by Commander Crabb when he volunteered for hazardous duties while serving in the Navy in Gibraltar during the Second World War.

The unit, which only had basic equipment for working underwater, was soon involved in a deadly battle protecting naval vessels from being sabotaged by Italian divers, who were using nearby Spain as a base.

The unit proved to be highly effective in countering the threat. Although the Italian frogmen had more sophisticated diving equipment, many of them were killed by members of the British unit. Mr. Knowles was Crabb’s ‘dive buddy’ during the operations.

After the Allies landed in Italy, the British frogmen were involved in clearing mines and underwater obstacles ahead of the main US Army force joining the battle. 

Commander Crabb wrote about the unit’s exploits in a book which was published after the war. The film The Silent Enemy (1958) was based on the book with Crabb being played by Laurence Harvey and Michael Craig as Mr. Knowles.

After the war, Mr. Knowles settled down as a civilian but in 1955 he received a call from his old boss asking if he would like to do a small diving job. The job suggested by Commander Crabb, who had also left the Navy, turned out to involve them swimming under the Russian cruiser Sverdlov, which was on a goodwill visit to Portsmouth. Crabb was working for MI6 who wanted information on the technology the Russians used to make the cruiser highly manoeuvrable.

Using some of the Italian diving equipment they had seized during the war, the pair made the dive successfully. Mr. Knowles received £40 for his part in the mission.

However, when Buster Crabb contacted him again in April of the following year to propose another dive, he refused to take part. The dive was to be on the cruiser Ordzhonikidze which had brought the Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev on a state visit.

Crabb went ahead with the dive, although it is not known if he was alone, but he did not return. A year later, a headless body was recovered from the water. Despite problems of identification, a coroner ruled the body was that of Buster Crabb.

Mystery still surrounds what happened to Commander Crabb. Mr. Knowles added to the conspiracy theories when he wrote about the incident in his memoir, Diver in the Dark, which was published in 2009.


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