Nicholas Elliott

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Nicholas Elliott

John Nicholas Rede Elliott, known as Nicholas Elliott, (15 November 1916 – 13 April 1994) was an MI6 Intelligence Officer; Honorary Attache, the Hague 1938-40; Acting Lieutenant, Intelligence Corps 1940-45; Head of Station, Secret Intelligence Service, Bern 1945-53, Vienna 1953-56, London 1956-60, Beirut 1960-62, a director 1963-69; executive director, Lonrho 1969-73.[1] He was awarded the US Legion of Merit for his services to the Office of Strategic Services.[2]

His MI6 career was notable for his involvement with the Commander Lionel Crabb affair in the 1950s and the flight of traitor Kim Philby to Moscow in 1963.

Personal life[edit]

Elliott was born in London, the son of Claude Aurelius Elliott, a don at Cambridge and Headmaster at Eton, where Nicholas was sent after Durnford School, a prep school on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.

After leaving Trinity College, Cambridge, Elliott was offered a post in 1938 as Honorary Attache at the Hague by Sir Nevile Bland. His career in secret intelligence came by chance, like many before and after him. Sir Hugh Sinclair, Head of MI6, happened to visit the Hague, took to Elliott and offered him a job.

In 1943, he married Elizabeth Holberton, with one son and one daughter, deceased.

Intelligence career[edit]

Elliott's intelligence career was marked by two publicly noted events, the death of Commander Lionel Crabb and the flight of traitor Kim Philby to Moscow. Elliott and MI6 suffered criticism in both cases and he felt this deeply to the end of his life.[1]

Death of Commander Crabb[edit]

In 1956, during Khrushchev's visit to Britain, the Soviet Sverdlov class cruiser Ordzhonikidze visited Portsmouth Harbour. The Royal Navy was interested in anti-submarine warfare equipment carried under the cruiser's stern. Elliott arranged for Crabb, an experienced ex-naval frogman, to investigate. He made one successful run under the ship, came back for an extra pound of weight for his next attempt and failed to return from the second dive. Elliott speculated in his autobiography that Crabb suffered equipment failure. Subsequent criticism of Crabb, whom Elliott believed to be a brave and honourable officer and who had undertaken successful operations of the same kind before, was resented by Elliott.

The Soviets, who had reported a diver in trouble near the stern, did not complain, but also denied responsibility for Crabb's death. But the matter leaked. Prime Minister Anthony Eden protested that he had not been informed and adverse publicity ensued. Elliott claimed he had been told the operation had been cleared by the Foreign Office.

Escape of Kim Philby[edit]

In With My Little Eye, Elliott gives an account of his last contacts with Kim Philby, in 1963.[1] Philby, with whom Elliott had worked in Beirut, had been a friend, and Elliott felt his betrayal bitterly. He volunteered to confront Philby, in an effort to obtain a full written confession of his espionage. Though Philby did confess in person to Elliott, he delayed signing a written confession and, instead, immediately fled to Moscow, where he was granted Soviet citizenship. Public criticism of MI6, which had failed to guard against his escape, was significant. However, Elliott felt he could not have prevented Philby's flight.

Suggestions of collusion in escape of Philby[edit]

According to author Ben Macintyre, who wrote a book on Philby, it is possible that Philby was allowed to flee to Moscow to avoid an embarrassing trial; and he records suspicions that a typical British Establishment old boy network had intervened for the mutual convenience of MI6 and Philby.[3] Philby himself also speculated that this was the case, according to Macintyre.


Elliott died in London on 13 April 1994, aged 77.


  1. ^ a b c Hastings, Stephen (19 April 1994). "Obituary: Nicholas Elliott". The Independent. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  2. ^ D. H. Macindoe, Elliott, Sir Claude Aurelius (1888–1973), rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, (2004)
  3. ^ Macintyre, Ben (2014). 'A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1408851722.
  • Elliot, Nicholas (1991). Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella. Michael Russell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0859551823.
  • Elliot, Nicholas (1994). With My Little Eye. Michael Russell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0859552004.