The Silent Enemy (1958 film)

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The Silent Enemy
Original US release film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by William Fairchild
Produced by Bertram Ostrer
Raymond Anzarut
Screenplay by William Fairchild
Based on Commander Crabb
by Marshall Pugh
Starring Laurence Harvey
Dawn Addams
John Clements
Michael Craig
Sid James
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited by Alan Osbiston
Distributed by Universal-International
Release date
Running time
112 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Silent Enemy is a 1958 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, it was made following the publicity created by Crabb's mysterious disappearance and likely death during a Cold War incident a year earlier.

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


The story begins with a dramatisation of the Italian manned torpedo raid on Alexandria (1941) in which two British battleships were damaged. The British are worried that this new Italian tactic will give the enemy naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. From Spain, an Italian expert on underwater operations is secretly watching the British base in Gibraltar and planning new attacks.

Bomb disposal expert Lionel Crabb is posted to Gibraltar to head the British response. He creates an (initially very small) team of divers to intercept the Italian attacks and defuse the bombs.

The Italians plan a major attack on a British convoy, but Crabb and another diver manage to infiltrate the Spanish docks from which the Italians are planning the attack, identifying the ship (the Olterra) which the Italians attack from.

Crabb leads an unauthorised pre-emptive strike on the ship carrying the torpedoes and destroys it, winning the George Medal.

The British divers are shown as using Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus.


This film does not represent real events accurately:-

  1. In particular, in the reality there was no attack on the Olterra, and no underwater hand-to-hand battle between Italian and British frogmen.
  2. The breathing sets used by the film's actors representing the Italian frogmen are British naval type rebreathers (with fullface masks with oval windows like an eyes-and-nose mask's, and not with large rectangular windows as used by British frogmen and naval divers more recently[1] and not authentic Italian rebreathers, because the Italian frogmen were acted by British naval divers, riding British-type manned torpedoes representing Italian maiali.
  3. In the film Crabb dives on the wreck of a recently crashed B-24 Liberator that had gone into the sea just after taking off from Gibraltar Airport. This scene was based on the accident in 1943 in which Polish general Władysław Sikorski was killed. In the film the submerged wreck of a Lockheed P2V is used as a stand-in for the Liberator.
  4. The part in the film showing the Liberator crashing into the sea is at Camp Bay. The crash actually happened off the eastern end of the runway crashing into the Mediterranean Sea.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ They seemed to be UBA's in mixture (= nitrox) mode with a third cylinder of another shape above the two oxygen cylinders, all across the belly; the only thing on the back was a weight pack like on a Siebe Gorman CDBA)

External links[edit]