An American U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia it’s pilot captured and later traded for a Russian Spy.
American Heritage Magazine, Sept. 2000, Vol. 51 Issue 5 p.36, The Day we Shot Down the U-2 by Sergei Krushchev
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This story comes from the American Heritage magazine. The author was Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev’s son. Nikita Khrushchev was the soviet primer during this period of the cold war. The article provides a point of view that many Americans never get to hear. The other sides point of view.
I thought this article was worth mentioning simply because of unique perspective it provides. Following the World War II, the relations between the US and Russia were stressed. In the 1955 Geneva meeting between the four super powers of the time – USSR, US, Great Britain, and France – Eisenhower proposed ‘Open Skies’, which stated that opposing blocs could fly over the territories of adversaries in order monitor their nuclear arms.
Khrushchev denied opposed this agreement. According to the article not because they had any weapons, but instead because they had no weapons. Khrushchev feared that the US might attack if they thought the USSR was in a weak position.
President Eisenhower approved flights of the U2 over Russia even though, Khrushchev had denied signing the Open Skies proposal. The images taken from this plane were truly incredible for their time. They were taken from a height of six miles. The U2 was the pride of Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). It’s designer Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson obtained worldwide fame for the plane. He is also known for developing the SR71 Blackbird. It was thought to be untouchable because of the miraculous height that the plane was able to achieve.
Several U2 flights went near and through Russia. The first of these flights to be fatal was on April 9th, 1960. The plane came from the direction of Pakistan and was detected at 4:47 AM when it was 150 miles from the Afghan border and already deep inside the USSR.
Capt. Vladimir Karachevsky was sent to intercept it. However, his MiG19 lost altitude and crashed into a forest. The U2 plane escaped and Russia said nothing of this incident. The next flight was planned for May 1. It would mark the 24th U2 mission over Russia. The path would be the same as a previous flight. The now famous Francis Gary Powers would be the pilot of this flight. A Su9 and four Mig’s were sent after Powers. The Su9 would get the first chance on Powers. He flew on an intercept course at 1,200 miles an hour, afterburners blazing and flew over Powers. Neither pilot even saw each other.
Powers had no idea he was in danger. The moment Powers plane was within the range of a missile base the instructions to launch three soviet V750 missiles was made. Even though, regulations called for only 2. After the button was pushed only one of the missiles fired. At 8:53 AM Moscow time there was an explosion. The second part of the article written by Powers son states that the missile exploded just behind the plane but near enough to a fragile section to send the U2 into a nose dive.
Powers had been jolted during the explosion in such a way that if he used the ejection seat his legs would be severed. He decided to open the canopy and crawl out of the plane. He successfully made it out of the plane and deployed his parachute. Stories differ on what happened when he landed near Sverdlovsk, Soviet Union. While Powers is floating safely to earth the Russian’s are still trying to decide if they had, in fact, shot him down or not. Another missile battery had already fired three of its missiles toward where they thought the U2 was. Now the only planes in danger were the MiG’s the Su9 had already been told to return home after going through all of his fuel at full afterburners trying to intercept the U2.
One of the MiG’s was low on fuel and dove for the landing strip, but one of the missiles got to him before he could land. The Russian’s had shot down one of their own planes. The excuse for this to the higher ups in the Russian air force was that the MiG’s transponder was not working. This was a lie. The transponder was working it was just using an old code because the ground crew had not updated it. This old code made the friend and enemy and was thus shot down. This was originally brought to light later. I would like to play some of Power’s plea to the Russian Court now.
Powers was tried in Moscow and sentenced to three years in prison and seven years in a corrective labor facility. I find myself wondering which would be better a Russian prison or a quote-unquote corrective labor facility. However, before his sentence could be carried out he was exchanged for a Soviet spy, Coronal Rudolf Abel in 1962.
This is an interview with Powers when he came back.
Many people have the misimpression that CIA operatives are supposed to kill themselves if captured. According to the second article, they are to surrender and be cooperative but withhold any information about the plane.
Powers received the Intelligence Star for valor, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and later his family was presented with the CIA’s Director’s Medal for “extraordinary fidelity and essential service” and the POW Medal. Of course, Khrushchev now has proof that despite what they had agreed upon Eisenhower still approved flight surveillance flights over Russia. Khrushchev demanded and an apology from Eisenhower, and did not receive it. As a consequence, the Paris Summit on May 16, 1960, collapsed. The US’s explanation for the U2 being over Russia was absurd. They said it was part of a weather research project and simply got lost.
Many of the details of this flight are still a mystery. The advances in satellites have made high-altitude surveillance planes unnecessary. American Discover satellites were launched in August 1960 that was developed as part of the CORONA project.
As a final note, the Russians did have spies in the US, even before WWII. They actually penetrated the Manhattan Project (the project that was developing the atomic bomb). They escaped safely back to Russia with 10,000 pages of documents of technical material which Igor Kurchatov (head of the soviet atomic bomb effort) used to create Russia’s first atomic bomb.