John Nicholas Rede Elliott (born London, 15 November 1916; died London, 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, Berne 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] Template:TOCLeft 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 | edit source]

Elliott was 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 Neville 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 (one son, and one daughter, deceased).

Intelligence career[edit | edit source]

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]

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 spreculated 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 Russians, 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.

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.

References[edit | edit source]

Web[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Obituary by Stephen Hastings in The Independent, 19 April 1994
  2. D. H. Macindoe, Elliott, Sir Claude Aurelius (1888–1973), rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, (2004)

External[edit | edit source]

Memoirs: Never Judge a Man by his Umbrella (1991); With My Little Eye (1994).

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