The Silent Enemy (1958 film)

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The Silent Enemy
Original US release film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byWilliam Fairchild
Screenplay byWilliam Fairchild
Based onCommander Crabb
by Marshall Pugh
Produced byBertram Ostrer
Raymond Anzarut
StarringLaurence Harvey
Dawn Addams
John Clements
Michael Craig
Sid James
CinematographyOtto Heller
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Music byWilliam Alwyn
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
4 March 1958
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Silent Enemy is a 1958 British action film directed by William Fairchild. It stars Laurence Harvey as Lionel "Buster" Crabb and describes his exploits during World War II. Based on Marshall Pugh's book Commander Crabb, the film followed the publicity created by Crabb's mysterious disappearance and likely death during a Cold War incident a year earlier. It was the first Universal Pictures film in SuperScope.

The film depicts events in Gibraltar harbour during the World War II Italian frogman and manned torpedo attacks, although the film's depiction of the events is highly fictionalised.


During the Italian manned torpedo raid on Alexandria (1941), two British battleships, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, are severely damaged. The British are worried that this new tactic will afford the Italians naval supremacy in the Mediterranean and the ability to strike their primary target, the Royal Navy base at Gibraltar. To counter this threat, bomb-disposal expert Lionel Crabb is posted to Gibraltar. He organises an small team of divers to intercept the Italian attacks and defuse the bombs. Meanwhile, from Algeciras in neutral Spain, Italian expert on underwater operations Antonio Tomolino is secretly watching the British base in Gibraltar and planning new attacks.

After the Italians mount a failed attack upon a cruiser in Gibraltar, Crabb and his divers recover one of the manned torpedoes and begin to repair it. Petty officer Thorpe takes command of physical and diving training.

After a further series of attacks against ships in Gibraltar harbour and an attempt to recover secret documents from a wrecked aircraft, Crabb visits Algeciras to discover the Italians' base of operations. After following a man with an Italian tattoo to the interned Italian ship the Olterra, he discovers that the ship's hold is being used as a workshop and base for the operations. The ship's underwater door is used for the manned torpedoes and by frogmen, which leaves them undiscovered by Spanish authorities. Crabb reports the discovery of the Olterra to his superiors, but under the laws of neutrality, he cannot arrange an attack without top-level authority.

Meanwhile, the Italians plan a major attack on a British convoy. Crabb ignores orders and, with the manned torpedo repaired, he and another diver infiltrate the docks at Algeciras, launching a preemptive strike on the Olterra that destroys the ship, workshop and crew.

The next morning, with the convoy leaving Gibraltar, Thorpe informs Crabb that for his bravery in this operation he has been awarded the George Medal, commenting to his men: "You all deserve the ruddy medal!"



The film was announced in June 1957. Filming took place in England, Malta and Gibraltar.[1]

Harvey was injured in the leg and hospitalised during filming in Malta.[2]

Michael Craig had been suspended by the Rank Organisation for refusing the lead in The Gentleman and the Gypsy but was removed from the project after James Woolf of Romulus Films offered Craig's annual salary to Rank. Craig said that Laurence Harvey "was good company, generous to his friends and, in spite of his reputation as a user, I liked him a lot."[3]

Historical inaccuracies[edit]

The British divers are shown as using Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus, with the Italians using the British Chariot manned torpedoes rather than Italian Maiale manned torpedoes.

In reality, Crabb spent several months deactivating mines brought ashore by other divers before learning to dive himself.

The real divers did not initially wear flippers. Crabb and Knowles were the first to use them after removing them from the Italian chariot divers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BRITISH PLAN FILM ON 'SILENT ENEMY': Laurence Harvey Will Star in Story Based on Life of Comdr. Lionel Crabb 'Ben Hur' Advances By THOMAS M. PRYOR The New York Times13 June 1957: 37.
  2. ^ James Novel Submitted to Bergman; Injuries Hospitalize Harvey Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 20 July 1957: B3.
  3. ^ Craig, Michael (2005). The Smallest Giant: An Actor's Life. Allen and Unwin. p. 79.

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