1960 U-2 incident

1960 U-2 incident

The 1960 U-2 incident occurred during the Cold War on May 1, 1960 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, Gary Powers. Coming just over two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit, the incident was a great embarrassment to the United States and prompted a marked deterioration in its relations with the Soviet Union.


In July 1957, Pakistani Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was requested by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower of his government's agreement for the U.S. to establish a secret U.S. intelligence facility in Pakistan and permission for the U-2 spyplane to fly from Pakistan. A facility established in Badaber, convert|10|mi|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 other communications. 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. [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.]

On 9 April 1960, the U-2 spyplane of the special Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit "10-10" crossed the South national boundary of Soviet Union in the area of Pamir Mountains and flew over four Soviet top secret military objects: the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the Tu-95 air base, the Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) test site of the Soviet Air Defence Forces near Saryshagan, and the Tyuratam missile range (future Baikonur Cosmodrome). The plane was detected by the Soviet Air Defense Forces at 4:47 when it flew away by more than 250 km from the Soviet national boundary and avoided several attempts of interception using MiG-19 and Su-9 during the flight. After U-2 left the Soviet air space at 11:32, it was clear that U.S. Central Intelligence Agency successfully performed an extraordinary intelligence operation. In spite of the negative Soviet diplomatic reaction, the next flight of U-2 spyplane from the Badaber airbase was planned on the 1st May. [http://www.webslivki.com/u11.html How Powers was shot down.] ru icon] [http://oldgazette.ru/lib/pauers/07.html The Power's Sentence Issued by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR.] ru icon]

The event

On May 1, 1960, thirteen days before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit conference in Paris, a U.S. Lockheed U-2 spy plane left 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 as necessary".

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 wasn't on duty that day. According to the official version of the event (see below for alternative, plausible versions), the U-2 was eventually hit and brought down near Degtyarsk, Ural Region, by a salvo of fourteen SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missiles. However, the plane's pilot, Gary Powers, successfully bailed out and parachuted to safety, although in doing so he violated his orders to destroy the aircraft were he to be shot down. Powers had been issued with a modified silver dollar which contained a lethal, shellfish-derived saxitoxin, although in the event he did not use it. [http://www.vectorsite.net/twgas_4.html] In bailing out, he neglected to disconnect his oxygen hose and struggled with it until it broke, enabling him to separate from the aircraft. A subsequent missile salvo also hit the aircraft, further damaging it and would likely have killed Powers outright (he was captured soon afterward).

The SAM command center was unaware that the plane was actually destroyed for more than 30 minutes. One of the Soviet fighters pursuing Powers was also destroyed in the missile salvo. [cite book |last=Burrows |first=William E. |title=Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security |year=1986 |publisher=Random House |location=New York |id=ISBN 0-394-54124-3]

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. By photographing the facility, the heat rejection capacity of the reactors' cooling systems could be estimated, thus allowing a calculation of the power output of the reactors. This then allowed the amount of Plutonium being produced to be determined, thus allowing analysts to determine how many nuclear weapons the USSR was producing. Air defence missiles were positioned around Chelyabinsk-65 because of its extreme sensitivity.

American cover-up and exposure

Four days after Powers disappeared, NASA issued a very detailed press release noting that an aircraft had "gone missing" north of Turkey. [cite web |last=Orlov |first=Alexander |url=https://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/winter98_99/art02.html |title=The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers |accessdate=2007-01-08] 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, 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 gracefully 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: [cite book |first=Francis Gary |last=Powers |title=Operation Overflight |year=1970 |edition=Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0340148235 |accessdate=2008-02-22] quote|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 interpolation|the Americans have said.

Not only was Powers still alive, but his plane was also essentially intact. The Soviets managed to recover the surveillance camera and even developed some of the photographs. Powers’ survival pack, including 7500 rubles and jewellery 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. [cite web |title=U-2 Incident |url=http://www.nsa.gov/museum/museu00034.cfm |accessdate=2007-02-10]


The Paris Summit between president Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev 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 23 May to tell their side of the story.UN document |docid=S-PV-857 |type=Verbatim Report |body=Security Council |meeting=857 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=23 May 1960] 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,UN document |docid=S-PV-858 |type=Verbatim Report |body=Security Council |meeting=858 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=24 May 1960] UN document |docid=S-PV-859 |type=Verbatim Report |body=Security Council |meeting=859 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=25 May 1960] UN document |docid=S-PV-860 |type=Verbatim Report |body=Security Council |meeting=860 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=26 May 1960] at the end of which the Soviet Union overwhelmingly lost a voteUN document |docid=S-PV-860 |type=Verbatim Report |body=Security Council |meeting=860 |highlight=rect_142,1005_509,1200 |page=17 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=26 May 1960] on a concise resolution which would have condemned the incursions and requested the US to prevent their recurrence.UN document |docid=S-4321 |type=Document |body=Security Council |year=-1 |document_number=4321 |accessdate=2008-08-29|date=23 May 1960|title=Union of Societ Socialist Republics: draft resolution]

Powers plead guilty and was convicted of espionage on August 19 and sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor. He served one and three-quarter years 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 Mahmood 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." [ [http://www.defencejournal.com/2002/june/loveaffair.htm "Tale of a love affair that never was: United States-Pakistan Defence Relations".] Hamid Hussain. "The Defence Journal", June, 2002.] The communications wing at Badaber was formally closed down on January 7, 1970. [ [http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=101162 "Pentagon's new demands".] Ali Abbas Rizvi. "The News International", March 14, 2008.]

Later versions

For 36 years, the official story of the U-2 incident was that the spy plane had been shot down by one of a salvo of fourteen Soviet SA-2 rockets. This story originated with Oleg Penkovsky a GRU agent who spied for MI6. In recent years, however, new information emerged which differed substantially from the official version.

Igor Mentyukov

In 1996, Soviet pilot Captain Igor Mentyukov revealed that, at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) altitude, under orders to ram the intruder, he had managed to catch 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. [cite book |title=Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 |last=Schwartz |first=Stephen I. |year=1998 |publisher=Brookings Institution Press |isbn=0815777744 |pages=679] [ [,9171,987578-3,00.html TIME magazine. Letter to the editor: STEPHEN I. SCHWARTZ, Director U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project, Brookings Institution, Washington. Dec. 22, 1997] ]

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. ( _ru. "taran")

ergei 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. [ [http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/2000/5/2000_5_36_print.shtml American Heritage magazine. "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". By Sergei Khrushchev. September 2000, Volume 51, Issue 5.] ] Sergei Safronov was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

Victor Sheymov

Sheymov, a former KGB officer, describes the U-2 interception in "Tower of Secrets", beginning on page 136 [cite book |title=Tower of Secrets |last=Sheymov |first=Victor |year=1993 |publisher=Naval Institute Press |isbn=1-55750-764-3 |pages=420]

ee also

*Cold War (1953-1962)
*Lockheed U-2
*Hainan Island incident


Cultural references

*The Cold War Museum (www.coldwar.org), founded by Francis Gary Powers, Jr. in 1996.
*In the show "Quantum Leap", episode "Honeymoon Express", the government funding agency trys to shut down PQL because due to no significant changes being made in history, they do not believe that Sam Beckett is really trapped in the past (since in the show, they only change one persons life at a time). In an attempt to prove that Sam had leaped, Al tried to get Sam to prevent the downing of the U-2. Sam was unable to prevent the U-2 mission, but by saving the life of a young woman and subsequently helping her pass her legal exams, he saved the Project when history changed and the same woman now led the oversight committee and approved the Project's budget.

Further reading

*Nigel West, "Seven Spies Who Changed the World". London: Secker & Warburg, 1991 (hard cover). London: Mandarin, 1992 (paperback).
*Sergei N. Khrushchev, "Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower". State College, PA: Penn State Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0271019277.
*Francis Gary Powers, Curt Gentry, "Operation Overflight". Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0340148235. Potomac Book, 2002 (paperback) ISBN 978-1574884227.
* Oleg Penkovsky, "The Penkovsky Papers: The Russian Who Spied for the West", Doubleday, New York, 1966.
*Jay Miller "Lockheed U-2; Aerograph 3". Aerofax Inc., 1983 (paperback0 ISBN 0-942548-04-3.
*Chris Pocock "Dragon Lady; The History of the U-2 Spyplane". Motorbooks International, 1989 (paperback) ISBN 9-87938-393-3.
*Chris Pocock "The U-2 Spyplane; Toward the Unknown". Schiffer Military History, 2000 (hard cover) ISBN 0-7643-1113-1.
*Chris Pocock "50 Years of the U-2; The Complete Illustrated History of the "Dragon Lady". Schiffer Military History, 2005 (hard cover) ISBN 0-7643-2346-6.

External links

* [http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/u2.htm The U-2 airplane incident] , according to the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/10/newsid_2731000/2731827.stm 1962 Russia frees US spy plane pilot]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/chelyabinsk-65_nuc.htm Chelyabinsk-65/Ozersk]

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