Old Photos: The U-2 Incident

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 and prompted a marked deterioration in its relations with the Soviet Union.

Although the American plane was shot down long before my time, I knew about it from my parents. The Soviet leadership made the biggest possible deal out of this incident with a show trial, press conferences and even a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The U-2 flight was just one in a long line of the CIA failures and the aftermath embarrassed President Eisenhower who was reluctant to authorize the mission in the first place.
If you have some spare time you can read the original Life Magazine articles about the trial here and here.

©Time

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

©Time Carl Mydans

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev at the press conference.

©Time Carl Mydans

  • Burrowowl

    I think it says something very kind about human nature that the USSR and the USA never actually started up a direct shooting war, with political tensions they way they were. Technically sending your military craft into another country’s territory is an act of war if you don’t have permission ahead of time. Happily the Russians just used it as temporary PR leverage.

  • In my favorite book about the CIA blunders this one was cited as a particular painful kick in Ike’s balls. He was against it, especially before the upcoming conference, CIA pretty much lied and begged to get him to OK the mission and when it failed they made him participate in the cover-up which immediately blew up in his face.

  • KC Lowlife

    What I find intriguing is that the planes are still in use. Basically the newer planes are a bigger pain in the ass to maintain and keep operational.

  • I remember this incident. I was very young but it was a very big deal. Right up there with Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs.

    It was this event that triggered development of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

    http://www.lockheedmartin.com/aboutus/history/SR71Blackbird.html

    Top speed in excess of Mach 3, operating altitude above 80,000 feet. Nobody ever shot one of those down.