The Full Wiki

U-2 Crisis of 1960: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to 1960 U-2 incident article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A U-2 aircraft similar to that shot down.
Part of the U-2 wreckage.

The 1960 U-2 incident occurred during the Cold War on May 1, 1960 (during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower) when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. At first, the United States government denied the plane's purpose and mission, but was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when the Soviet government produced its remains (largely intact) and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Coming just over two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit in Paris, the incident was a great embarrassment to the United States[1] and prompted a marked deterioration in its relations with the Soviet Union.



In July 1957, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower requested permission from Pakistani Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy for the U.S. to establish a secret U.S. intelligence facility in Pakistan and for the U-2 spyplane to fly from Pakistan. A facility established in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), 10 miles (16 km) from Peshawar, was a cover for a major communications intercept operation run by the American National Security Agency (NSA). Badaber was an excellent choice because of its proximity to Soviet central Asia. This enabled monitoring of missile test sites and infrastructure and other communications. The U-2 "spy-in-the-sky" was allowed to use the Pakistan Air Force portion of the Peshawar airport to gain vital photo intelligence in an era before satellite observation.[2]

On April 9, 1960, a U-2C spyplane of the special Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit "10-10", piloted by Bob Ericson, crossed the southern national boundary of the Soviet Union in the area of Pamir Mountains and flew over four Soviet top secret military objects: the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the Dolon air base where Tu-95 strategic bombers were stationed, the Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) test site of the Soviet Air Defence Forces near Saryshagan, and the Tyuratam missile range (Baikonur Cosmodrome). The plane was detected by the Soviet Air Defense Forces at 4:47 when it had flown more than 250 km over the Soviet national boundary and avoided several attempts at interception by MiG-19 and Su-9 during the flight. The U-2 left Soviet air space at 11:32 and landed at an Iranian airstrip at Zahedan. It was clear that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had successfully performed an extraordinary intelligence operation. In spite of the negative Soviet diplomatic reaction, the next flight of the U-2 spyplane from the Badaber airbase was planned to take place on April 29.[3]

The event

On April 28, a U.S. Lockheed U-2C spy plane, Item 358 was ferried from its base in Incirlik Turkey to the US base in Badaber by pilot Glen Dunaway. Fuel for the aircraft had been ferried to Badaber the previous day in a US Air Force C-124 transport. A US Air Force C-130 followed, carrying the ground crew, mission pilot Francis Gary Powers and the back up pilot, Bob Ericson. On the morning of April 29, the crew in Badaber was informed that the mission had been delayed one day. As a result, Bob Ericson flew Item 358 back to Incirlik and John Shinn ferried U-2C Item 360 from Incirlik to Badaber. On April 30, the mission was delayed one day further, due to bad weather over the Soviet Union. [3]

The weather improved and on May 1, 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit conference in Paris, Francis Gary Powers, flying Item 360, left the US base in Badaber on a mission to overfly the Soviet Union, photographing ICBM sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk, then land at Bodø in Norway. All units of the Soviet Air Defence Forces in the Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Ural and later in the U.S.S.R. European Region and Extreme North were on red alert, and the U-2 flight was expected. Soon after the plane was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered the air-unit commanders "to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane's course, and to ram if necessary".[4]

Due to the U-2's extreme operating altitude, Soviet attempts to intercept the plane using fighter aircraft failed. Moreover, the U-2's course was out of range of several of the nearest SAM sites, and one SAM site even failed to engage the violator since it was not on duty that day. The U-2 was eventually hit and brought down near Degtyarsk, Ural Region, by the first of three SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missiles fired by a battery commanded by Mikhail Voronov.[3] The plane's pilot, Francis Gary Powers, successfully bailed out and parachuted to safety. Powers carried with him a modified silver dollar which contained a lethal, shellfish-derived saxitoxin-tipped needle, although in the event he did not use it.[5] In bailing out, he neglected to disconnect his oxygen hose and struggled with it until it broke, enabling him to separate from the aircraft. He was captured soon after parachuting to earth in Russia.[4]

The SAM command center was unaware that the plane was destroyed for more than 30 minutes.[4] One of the Soviet MiG-19 fighters pursuing Powers, piloted by Sergei Safronov, was also destroyed in the missile salvo.[3].[6] The MiGs' IFF transponders were not yet switched to the new May codes due to the May 1st holiday.[7]

A close study of Powers' account of the flight shows that one of the last targets he had overflown was the Chelyabinsk-65 plutonium production facility.[8] By photographing the facility, the heat rejection capacity of the reactors' cooling systems could have been estimated, thus allowing a calculation of the power output of the reactors. This then would have allowed the amount of plutonium being produced to be determined, thus allowing analysts to determine how many nuclear weapons the USSR was producing.

American cover-up and exposure

U-2 with fictitious NASA markings and serial number at the NASA Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, on May 6, 1960 (NASA photo)
Khrushchev visits display of U-2 wreckage.
U-2 incident exhibit at the US's National Cryptologic Museum

Four days after Powers disappeared, NASA issued a very detailed press release noting that an aircraft had "gone missing" north of Turkey.[9] The press release speculated that the pilot might have fallen unconscious while the autopilot was still engaged, even falsely claiming that "the pilot reported over the emergency frequency that he was experiencing oxygen difficulties." To bolster this, a U-2 plane was quickly painted in NASA colors and shown to the media.

After learning of this, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and thus the world, that a "spyplane" had been shot down but intentionally made no reference to the pilot. As a result, the Eisenhower Administration, thinking the pilot had died in the crash, authorized the release of a cover story claiming that the plane was a "weather research aircraft" which had strayed into Soviet airspace after the pilot had radioed "difficulties with his oxygen equipment" while flying over Turkey. The Eisenhower White House acknowledged that this might be the same plane, but still proclaimed that "there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been", and attempted to continue the facade by grounding all U-2 aircraft to check for "oxygen problems."

On May 7, Khrushchev sprang his trap and announced:[10]

I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well… and now just look how many silly things [the Americans] have said.

Not only was Powers still alive, but his plane was also essentially intact. The Soviets recovered the surveillance camera and even developed some of the photographs. The incident resulted in great humiliation for Eisenhower's administration, caught in a lie.[11]

Powers’ survival pack, including 7500 rubles and jewelry for women, was also recovered. Today a large part of the wreck as well as many items from the survival pack are on display at the Central Museum of Armed Forces in Moscow. A small piece of the plane was returned to the United States and is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum.[12]


Powers' trial.

The Four Power Paris Summit between president Dwight Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Harold Macmillan and Charles de Gaulle collapsed, in large part because Eisenhower refused to accede to Khrushchev's demands that he apologize for the incident. Khrushchev left the talks on May 16.

The Soviet Union convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on May 23 to tell their side of the story.[13] The meetings continued for four days with other allegations of spying being exchanged, as well as recriminations over the Paris Summit, and a US offer of an "open skies" proposal to allow reciprocal flights over one another's territory,[14][15][16] at the end of which the Soviet Union overwhelmingly lost a vote[17] on a concise resolution which would have condemned the incursions and requested the US to prevent their recurrence.[18]

Powers pleaded guilty and was convicted of espionage on August 19 and sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor. He served one year and nine months of the sentence before being exchanged for Rudolf Abel on February 10, 1962. The exchange occurred on the Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam, East Germany, to West Berlin.

Another result of the crisis was that the U.S. Corona spy satellite project was accelerated, while the CIA accelerated the development of the A–12 OXCART supersonic spyplane that first flew in 1962 and began developing the Lockheed D-21/M-21 unmanned drone.

The incident severely compromised Pakistan security and worsened relations between the Soviet Union and Pakistan. As an attempt to put up a bold front, Pakistani General Khalid Mahmud Arif while commenting on the incident stated that, "Pakistan felt deceived because the US had kept her in the dark about such clandestine spy operations launched from Pakistan’s territory."[19] The communications wing at Badaber was formally closed down on January 7, 1970.[20]

Later versions

The original consensus about the cause of the U-2 incident was that the spy plane had been shot down by one of a salvo of fourteen Soviet SA-2 missile. This story was originated by Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU agent who spied for MI6.[21]


Igor Mentyukov

In 1996, Soviet pilot Captain Igor Mentyukov claimed that, at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) altitude, under orders to ram the intruder, he had caught the U-2 in the slipstream of his unarmed Sukhoi Su-9, causing the U-2 to flip over and break its wings. The salvo of rockets had indeed scored a hit, downing a pursuing MiG-19, not the U-2. Mentyukov said that if a rocket had hit the U-2, its pilot would not have lived.[22][23]

Though the normal Su-9 service ceiling was 55,000 feet (16,760 meters), Mentyukov's aircraft had been modified to achieve higher altitudes, having its weapons removed. With no weapons, the only attack option open to him was ramming. Mentyukov asserted that Soviet generals concealed these facts to avoid challenging Nikita Khrushchev's faith in the efficacy of Soviet air defenses.

Sergei Khrushchev

In 2000, Sergei Khrushchev wrote about the experience of his father, Nikita Khrushchev, in the incident. He described how Mentyukov attempted but missed intercepting the U-2, failing even to gain visual contact. Major Mikhail Voronov, in control of a battery of anti-aircraft missiles, fired three SA-2s at the radar contact but only one ignited. It quickly rose toward the target and exploded in the air behind the U-2 but near enough to violently shake the aircraft, tearing off its long wings. At a lower altitude, Powers climbed out of the falling fuselage and parachuted to the ground. Uncertainty about the initial shootdown success resulted in thirteen further anti-aircraft missiles being fired by neighboring batteries, but the later rockets only hit a pursuing MiG-19 piloted by Sr. Lt. Sergei Safronov, mortally wounding him.[7] Sergei Safronov was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Banner.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Walsh, Kenneth T. (2008-06-06). "Presidential Lies and Deceptions". US News and World Report. 
  2. ^ Amjad Ali, the Pakistani ambassador to the US at the time, narrated in his book "Glimpses" (Lahore: Jang Publisher`s, 1992) that the personal assistant of Suhrawardy advised embassy staff of the Prime Minister's agreement to the US facility on Pakistan soil.
  3. ^ a b c d Pocock, Chris (2000). The U-2 Spyplane; Toward the Unknown. Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0-7643-1113-0. 
  4. ^ a b c d How Powers plane was shot down. (Russian)
  5. ^
  6. ^ Burrows, William E. (1986). Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-54124-3. 
  7. ^ a b Khrushchev, Sergei (September 2000) "The Day We Shot Down the U-2: Nikita Khrushchev’s son remembers a great turning point of the Cold War, as seen from behind the Iron Curtain". American Heritage magazine. Volume 51, Issue 5.
  8. ^ Powers, Francis Gary (1971). Operation Overflight. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0340148235. 
  9. ^ Orlov, Alexander. "The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers". Archived from the original on July 13, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  10. ^ Powers, Francis Gary (1970). Operation Overflight (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0340148235 ed.). 
  11. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 27. ISBN 0465041957. 
  12. ^ "U-2 Incident". Archived from the original on June 22, 2008. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  13. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 857 on May 23, 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)
  14. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 858 on May 24, 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)
  15. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 859 on May 25, 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)
  16. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 860 on May 26, 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)
  17. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 860 page 17 on May 26, 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)
  18. ^ United Nations Security Council Document 4321 Union of Societ Socialist Republics: draft resolution on May 23, 1960
  19. ^ "Tale of a love affair that never was: United States-Pakistan Defence Relations". Hamid Hussain. The Defence Journal, June, 2002.
  20. ^ "Pentagon's new demands". Ali Abbas Rizvi. The News International, March 14, 2008.
  21. ^ Penkovsky, Oleg (1966). The Penkovsky Papers: The Russian Who Spied for the West. Collins. 
  22. ^ Schwartz, Stephen I. (1998). Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940. Brookings Institution Press. p. 679. ISBN 0815777744. 
  23. ^ TIME magazine. Letter to the editor: STEPHEN I. SCHWARTZ, Director U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project, Brookings Institution, Washington. Dec. 22, 1997

Further reading

  • Michael R. Beschloss. May-Day: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair. New York: Harper & Row. 1986. ISBN 978-0-06-015565-0.
  • Sergei N. Khrushchev. Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower. State College, PA: Penn State Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0271019277.
  • Jay Miller Lockheed U-2; Aerograph 3. Aerofax Inc., 1983 (paperback) ISBN 0-942548-04-3.
  • Oleg Penkovsky. The Penkovsky Papers: The Russian Who Spied for the West, London: Collins, 1966. OCLC 2714427
  • Chris Pocock. Dragon Lady; The History of the U-2 Spyplane. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1989 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-87938-393-0.
  • Chris Pocock. The U-2 Spyplane; Toward the Unknown. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7643-1113-0.
  • Chris Pocock. 50 Years of the U-2; The Complete Illustrated History of the "Dragon Lady". Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7643-2346-1.
  • Francis Gary Powers, Curt Gentry, Operation Overflight. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0340148235. Potomac Book, 2002 (paperback) ISBN 978-1574884227.
  • Phil Taubman. Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. ISBN 0684856999.
  • Nigel West, Seven Spies Who Changed the World. London: Secker & Warburg, 1991 (hard cover). ISBN 978-0-436-56603-5. London: Mandarin, 1992 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-7493-0620-5.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address