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, 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 HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant were severely damaged. The British are worried that this new tactic will give the Italians naval supremacy in the Mediterranean, with the primary target for the Italians being the Royal Navy base at Gibraltar. To counter this threat, Bomb disposal expert Lionel Crabb (Harvey) is posted to Gibraltar. He creates an initially very small team of divers to intercept the Italian attacks and defuse the bombs. Meanwhile, from Algeciras in neutral Spain, an Italian expert on underwater operations, Antonio Tomolino (Foà), 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 torpedo’s and begin to repair it, with the new somewhat stringent Petty Officer Thorpe (James) coming in to take over 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 decides to visit Algeciras to discover where the Italians are operating from. After following a man with an Italian tattoo to an interned Italian ship, the Olterra, he discovers that the ships hold is being used as a workshop and base for the operations with an underwater door being used for the manned torpedo’s and 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 decides to ignore orders and with the manned torpedo repaired he and another diver manage to infiltrate the docks at Algeciras launching a pre-emptive strike on the Olterra destroying the ship, workshop and the 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!”.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: William Fairchild.
- Producers: Bertram Ostrer and Raymond Anzarut.
- Screenplay: William Fairchild.
- Music: William Alwyn.
- Cinematography: Otto Heller.
- Editor: Alan Orbison.
- Production: Romulus Films.
- Distributor: Universal-International.
- Release Date: 04 March 1958 (UK).
- Running Time: 112 minutes.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.