Template:Infobox military attack The 1960 U-2 incident occurred during the Cold War on 1 May 1960, during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and during the leadership of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, when a United States U-2 spy plane was shot down over the airspace of the Soviet Union.

The United States government at first denied the plane's purpose and mission, but then was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when the Soviet government produced its intact remains and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers, as well as photos of military bases in Russia taken by Powers. Coming roughly 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.

Background[edit | edit source]

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

On 9 April 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).[3]

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 USSR diplomatic reaction,[vague] the next flight of the U-2 spyplane from Peshawar airport was planned to take place on 29 April.[3]

The event[edit | edit source]

File:U2 GrandSlam.png

U-2 "GRAND SLAM" flight plan on 1 May 1960.

On 28 April, a U.S. Lockheed U-2C spy plane, Article 358, was ferried from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to the US base at Peshawar airport by pilot Glen Dunaway. Fuel for the aircraft had been ferried to Peshawar 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, Bea Ericson. On the morning of 29 April, the crew in Badaber was informed that the mission had been delayed one day. As a result, Bob Ericson flew Article 358 back to Incirlik and John Shinn ferried U-2C Article 360 from Incirlik to Peshawar. On 30 April, the mission was delayed one day further because of bad weather over the Soviet Union.[3]

The weather improved and on 1 May, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit conference in Paris, captain Francis Gary Powers, flying Article 360, 56–6693 left the US base in Peshawar on a mission with the operations code word GRAND SLAM[4] to overfly the Soviet Union, photographing ICBM sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk, then land at Bodø in Norway. Mayak, an important industrial center of plutonium processing, was another of the targets that Powers was to photograph.[5]

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".[6]

Because of the U-2's extreme operating altitude, Soviet attempts to intercept the plane using fighter aircraft failed. 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 aircraft since it was not on duty that day. The U-2 was eventually 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]

In bailing out, the plane's pilot, Francis Gary Powers, neglected to disconnect his oxygen hose and struggled with it until it broke, enabling him to separate from the aircraft. He successfully bailed out and parachuted to safety. He was captured soon after parachuting down onto Russian soil.[6] Powers carried with him a modified silver dollar which contained a lethal, shellfish-derived saxitoxin-tipped needle, but did not use it.[7]

File:Francis Gary Powers U2 at Moscow.jpg

Part of the U-2 wreckage.

The SAM command center was unaware that the plane was destroyed for more than 30 minutes.[6] One of the Soviet MiG-19 fighters pursuing Powers, piloted by Sergei Safronov, was also destroyed in the missile salvo.[3][8] The MiGs' IFF transponders were not yet switched to the new May codes because of the 1 May holiday.[9]

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.[10] From photographs of 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.[11]

American cover-up and exposure[edit | edit source]

File:U-2 Spy Plane With Fictitious NASA Markings - GPN-2000-000112.jpg

U-2 with fictitious NASA markings and serial number at the NASA Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, on 6 May 1960 (NASA photo).

File:Khrushchev U2.gif

Khrushchev visits display of U-2 wreckage.

File:NSA museum.jpg

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.[12] 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 "spy-plane" 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",[13] and attempted to continue the facade by grounding all U-2 aircraft to check for "oxygen problems."[citation needed]

On 7 May, Khrushchev sprang his trap and announced:[14]

"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 largely 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.[15]

Today a large part of the wreck as well as many items from Powers's survival pack are on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. A small piece of the plane was returned to the United States and is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum.[16]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]


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 16 May.[citation needed]

The Soviet Union convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 23 May to tell their side of the story.[17] 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,[18][19][20] at the end of which the Soviet Union overwhelmingly lost a vote[21] on a concise resolution which would have condemned the incursions and requested the US to prevent their recurrence.[22]

Powers pleaded guilty and was convicted of espionage on 19 August and sentenced to three years imprisonment and seven years of hard labor. He served one year and nine months of the sentence before being exchanged for Rudolf Abel on 10 February 1962.[12] The exchange occurred on the Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam, East Germany, to West Berlin.[23]

The incident showed that even high-altitude aircraft were vulnerable to missiles. The United States emphasized high-speed, low-level flights for its bombers and began developing the supersonic F-111.[24] The Corona spy satellite project was accelerated. The CIA also accelerated the development of the Lockheed A-12 OXCART supersonic spyplane that first flew in 1962 and later began developing the Lockheed D-21 unmanned drone.[citation needed]

The incident severely compromised Pakistan's security and worsened relations between it and the United States. As an attempt to put up a bold front, General Khalid Mahmud Arif of the Pakistan Army, 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."[25] The communications wing at Badaber was formally closed down on 7 January 1970.[26]

Later versions[edit | edit source]

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 missiles. This story was originated by Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU agent who spied for MI6.[27] In 2010, CIA documents were released indicating that "top US officials never believed Powers’ account of his fateful flight because it appeared to be directly contradicted by a report from the National Security Agency" which alleged that the U2 had descended from 65,000 to 34,000 feet before changing course and disappearing from radar. One contemporary reading of the NSA's story is that they mistakenly tracked the descent of a MiG-19 piloted by Sr. Lt. Sergei Safronov.[28]

Igor Mentyukov[edit | edit source]

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.[29][30]

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 aerial ramming. Mentyukov asserted that Soviet generals concealed these facts to avoid challenging Nikita Khrushchev's faith in the efficacy of Soviet air defenses.[30]

Sergei Khrushchev[edit | edit source]

In 2000, Sergei Khrushchev wrote about the experience of his father, Nikita Khrushchev, in the incident. He described how Mentyukov attempted to intercept the U-2, but failed 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.[9] Sergei Safronov was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Banner.[6]

See also[edit | edit source]


Analogous incidents:

References[edit | edit source]


Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • 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 978-0-271-01927-7.
  • 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. Template:OCLC
  • 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 978-0-340-14823-5. Potomac Book, 2002 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-57488-422-7.
  • Phil Taubman. Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. ISBN 0-684-85699-9.
  • 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[edit | edit source]

Template:Aviation accidents and incidents in 1960 Template:Dwight D. Eisenhower

bn:১৯৬০-এর ইউ-২ ঘটনা ca:Incident de l'U-2 (1960) cs:Aféra U-2 es:Incidente del U-2 eu:U-2ren istripua fr:Incident de l'U-2 ko:U-2기 사건 it:Crisi degli U-2 he:משבר מטוס הריגול U-2 hu:U–2 incidens ms:Peristiwa U-2 1960 ja:U-2撃墜事件 no:U2-affæren pt:Incidente com avião U2 em 1960 ro:Incidentul cu avionul de spionaj american U-2 din 1960 sk:Aféra U-2 sr:У-2 криза из 1960. fi:U-2#U-2 ammutaan alas sv:U-2-affären tr:U-2 Krizi


  1. Walsh, Kenneth T. (6 June 2008). "Presidential Lies and Deceptions". US News and World Report. http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/politics/2008/06/06/presidential-lies-and-deceptions.html. 
  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. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Pocock, Chris (2000). The U-2 Spyplane; Toward the Unknown. Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0-7643-1113-0. 
  4. "NRO review and redaction guide (2006 ed.)". National Reconnaissance Office. http://www.fas.org/irp/nro/declass.pdf. 
  5. Oleg A. Bukharin. "The Cold War Atomic Intelligence Game, 1945–70". Studies in Intelligence (Central Intelligence Agency) 48. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol48no2/article01.html. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 How Powers plane was shot down. Template:Ru icon
  7. Goebel, Greg (1 July 2010). "A History Of Biological Warfare (1)". Vectorsite.net. http://www.vectorsite.net/twgas_3.html. Retrieved 31 December 2011. 
  8. Burrows, William E. (1986). Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-54124-3. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 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.
  10. Powers, Francis Gary (1971). Operation Overflight. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-14823-5. 
  11. Global Security.org discussion of estimates of the Israeli nuclear stockpile
  12. 12.0 12.1 Orlov, Alexander. "The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers". Archived from the original on 13 July 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060713154414/http://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/winter98_99/art02.html. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  13. Fontaine, André (1968). History of the Cold War: From the Korean War to the present. History of the Cold War. 2. Pantheon Books. p. 338. 
  14. Powers, Francis Gary (1970). Operation Overflight (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0-340-14823-5 ed.). 
  15. Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 27. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 
  16. "U-2 Incident". Archived from the original on 22 June 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080622112428/http://www.nsa.gov/museum/museu00034.cfm. Retrieved 10 February 2007. 
  17. Template:UN document
  18. Template:UN document
  19. Template:UN document
  20. Template:UN document
  21. Template:UN document
  22. Template:UN document
  23. "Three days in 300 years: Spies on the bridge". http://www.glienicke-bridge.com/pageID_1283824.html. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  24. Lax, Mark. From Controversy to Cutting Edge: A History of the F-111 in Australian Service. Canberra, Australia: Air Power Development Centre, Department of Defence (Australia). pp. 15. ISBN 9781920800543. http://airpower.airforce.gov.au/Publications/Details/431/From-Controversy-to-Cutting-Edge.aspx. 
  25. "Tale of a love affair that never was: United States-Pakistan Defence Relations". Hamid Hussain. The Defence Journal, June, 2002.
  26. "Pentagon's new demands". Ali Abbas Rizvi. The News International, 14 March 2008.
  27. Penkovsky, Oleg (1966). The Penkovsky Papers: The Russian Who Spied for the West. Collins. 
  28. CIA documents show US never believed Gary Powers was shot down
  29. Schwartz, Stephen I. (1998). Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940. Brookings Institution Press. p. 679. ISBN 0-8157-7774-4. 
  30. 30.0 30.1 Schwartz, Stephen I. (22 December 1997). "Letter to the editor: Stephen I. Schwartz, Director U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project, Brookings Institution, Washington.". Time. Archived from the original on 17 October 2009. http://web.archive.org/web/20091017212434/,9171,987578-3,00.html. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.