Soviet Cold War Counter-Diver Ops: From Crabb to Dolphins

 General, History

As we have seen, one of the staples of the Cold War was the scramble by both sides to gather technical information and process it into intelligence so that the deterrent system could be maintained through constant adaptation. In naval operations, knowing the capabilities of enemy vessels was of paramount importance. In April 1956 one of the brand new Soviet Sverdlov-class cruisers, the Ordzhonikidze, visited Portsmouth carrying Nikita Khrushchev on a ‘diplomatic mission’ (read: propaganda and intimidation). A small project was put together by retired Navy Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb to do one of two things: either survey the hull form and propulsion systems of the Soviet ship as she lay at anchor so that her capabilities could be divined, or attach a listening device to the hull to spy on the Soviet Premier and his staff. The exact mission remains unclear. What is clear was that his mangled corpse was found headless and handless in June 1957 still in its wetsuit.

For years there was speculation that Crabb had been captured, brainwashed and led Soviet naval divers. In 2007 an aging Soviet sailor who claimed to be a member of a Soviet special operations unit called “Barracuda”, further claimed to have knifed Crabb as he attached a limpet mine to the cruiser. There is no way of verifying his account one way or another at this time. The prevailing view now was that the Soviets irregularly started up the propellers to deter underwater surveillance activity. It is likely the grievous wounds that Crabb suffered could have been inflicted by the ships propellers.

Apparently, the Soviets moved into a more esoteric means of protecting anchored ships and submarines. Supposedly copying US Navy experimentation with dolphins in the early 1960s, they created several Black Sea bottlenose dolphin units, as UK Diving revealed. There were apparently four separate units. The Soviets even developed a system for the dolphins to inject target enemy divers with CO2 and blow them up while still under water.

Now, when you sail through cyberspace, sometimes you find strange, unverifiable things. Dolphin aficionados cavort all over cyberspace and there are plenty of Flipper websites, but one particular post drew my attention. Allegedly, US Navy dolphins were used to assist in the recovery a lost nuclear weapon off Puerto Rico in 1966. The amusing thing is how badly the environ-dolphin people want to point finger at the US Navy and scream “They were first! They were first!” and completely ignore the existence of the Soviet programme which had a verifiable kill capability. One site even accuses the US Navy of ‘murdering’ dolphins who ‘deserted’ with an electronic explosive collar. Very weird stuff. See “The Pentagon’s Deadly Pets.” Oh wait: the CIA was first….

In the Cold War disinformation department, there is the 1973 film “Day of the Dolphin.” In it the usual conspiratorial right-wing American corporation plans to use trained dolphins to conduct an assassination of the President of the United States by attaching a limpet mine to his ship. The enviro-dolphinists triumph over the nasty corporation and prevent the dolphins from being mis-used. No hint of Soviet complicity, just right-wing corporations.

Sidebar: Intriguingly, the French novel that “Day of the Dolphin” is based on written by Robert Merle, itself was a parody of the Cold War.


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