The Gary Powers Incident - a compilation from WWW resources.


For many years after the Korean War the United States in company with its allies had sought to lessen or even to eliminate threats ...... so that man could go about his peaceful business without fear. Many proposals to this end had been put up to the Soviet Union.

The US President's open-skies proposal of 1955 to allow free access to all airspace was followed in 1957 by the offer of an exchange of ground observers between agreed military in the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and other nations that might wish to participate. The Russians declined.

In May 1956, To counter the 'Iron Curtain',  a U-2 air reconnaissance wing of 4 planes and 6 civilian pilots was established by the CIA with Turkey providing an air base at Adana. The first U-2 reconnaissance flight over Russia from Adana to Bodo, Norway, a distance of 3788 miles at 80,000 feet, took place in June 1956 and was detected by Russian radar. The Russian spy Selmer Nielsen at the Bodo air base gave the Russians the time and routes of the U-2 flights but they were unable to be reached by Russian missiles.

In the "Spirit of Camp David" Eisenhower had halted the U-2 flights in September 1959 but they were resumed April 9, 1960, to gather information for the Paris Summit Conference planned for the middle of May 1960.

The drama unfolds

Soviet Note to the United States, May 10, 1960

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics considers it necessary to state the following to the Government of the United States of America.

On May 1 of this year at 5 hour 36 minutes, Moscow time, a military aircraft violated the boundary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and intruded across the borders of the Soviet Union for a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers. The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics naturally could not leave unpunished such a flagrant violation of Soviet state boundaries.

When the intentions of the violating aircraft became apparent, it was shot down by Soviet rocket troops in the area of Sverdlovsk.

Upon examination by experts of all data at the disposal of the Soviet side, it was incontrovertibly established that the intruder aircraft belonged to the United States of America, was permanently based in Turkey and was sent through Pakistan into the Soviet Union with hostile purposes.

In response the following Statement was released by The Embassy of the United States of America by instruction of its Government:

The United States Government has noted the statement of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, N. S. Khrushchev, in his speech before the Supreme Soviet on May 5 that a foreign aircraft crossed the border of the Soviet Union on May 1 and that on orders of the Soviet Government, this aircraft was shot down. In this same statement it was said that investigation showed that it was a United States plane.

As already announced on May 3, a United States National Aeronautical Space Agency unarmed weather research plane based at Adana, Turkey, and piloted by a civilian American has been missing since May 1. The name of the American civilian pilot is Francis Gary Powers, born on August 17, 1929, at Jenkins, Kentucky.

In the light of the above the United States Government requests the Soviet Government to provide it with full facts of the Soviet investigation of this incident and to inform it of the fate of the pilot.

The mission

The U2 'Black Lady' had been flown from Adana, Turkey to Peshawar, Pakistan on April 30, 1960 just a few hours before it was due to take off for the USSR. The pilot had been flown to Pakistan by transport plane and given only two and a half hours' warning before the flight.

On May 1st, 1960, first reports came out of the East, that a U-2 had been downed... brought down from its lofty perch, and the U-2, once unreachable, now joined the growing list of Cold War casualties.

Francis Gary Powers was the pilot of the U-2. The route was elaborated beforehand. It included all of secret factories and objects in the western part of the USSR. The reconnaissance flight promised much. For Powers it was everyday work. It the evening he had to have supper with his fiancee.

The Russian Response

The aircraft U-2 had been followed by Soviet "MIGs" although at an inaccessible height. It looked as if "imperialist" provocation was to go unpunished. But Politics is a game that must be won at any price. Therefore the KGB and the VAD (air defense) decided to use the most up-to-date and secret "ground-to-air" SA-2 missile. This meant removing the security, but they got their way. The first missile was launched. In five minutes the report had been received: "A soviet "MIG" has been shot down, the remainder clearing off". The second missile went a little sideways and slowly disappeared in clouds. In ten minutes a message was received: "The target has been been hit. The pilot has baled out".

SA-2 Missile -1

SA-2 Missile -2

The aftermath

Eisenhower learned that Powers was alive on May 7, and Khrushchev displayed the recovered parts of his U-2 plane in Moscow on May 11. Eisenhower departed for Paris on May 14 for the summit conference. On May 15 Khrushchev made a threat against U-2 bases and the U.S. went on DefCon 3 alert.

On May 16, Khrushchev canceled Ike's Moscow visit and walked out of the Paris summit. On Aug. 19, Powers made his confession during his trial that he was "deeply repentant and profoundly sorry" for his actions.


He was jailed in Russia until exchanged for Rudolf Abel in Feb. 1962. Gary Powers died in 1977.