May 1, as everyone knows, is the Day of International Workers' Solidarity. However, 61 years ago, this date became a holiday of a completely different kind for the Soviet Union. On May 1, 1960, another myth was destroyed about the technical superiority of the United States over the USSR in the military sphere - over the Urals, the Soviet air defense system shot down an American Lockheed U-2 spy plane, which until that moment was considered absolutely invulnerable to our air defense systems.
Today, at the moment of the next extreme aggravation of US-Russian relations, it will be very appropriate and in time to recall that episode - with all its heroic and tragic details.
... The May Day columns of demonstrators passing by the Lenin Mausoleum were full of flags and banners, many of which illustrated new labor exploits and achievements of the Soviet people. However, at that moment, the head of the USSR, who was shifting from foot to foot on the main platform, was not up to reports on the number of new sown hectares, tons of mined coal and cast metal. He was expecting a completely different report. And only when Marshal Sergei Biryuzov, Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Air Defense Forces, quickly flew up to the Mausoleum, not by rank, and began to whisper something animatedly in Nikita Khrushchev's ear, that he smiled at the top of his mouth, and, pulling off his hat, wiped his sweating bald head off. Well, that's all - now these Americans are with him! Already he will show them Kuzkin's mother ... The story began, the main events in which fell on May 1, 1960, shortly after Stalin's death, in the mid-50s.
It was then that the United States first put forward the concept of "open skies" - mutual familiarization flights over the territories that were in confrontation between the Warsaw Pact Organization led by the USSR and NATO countries. In their process, each of the parties could make sure that the most probable adversary is not making feverish military preparations that indicate an impending attack. Khrushchev, who was no strategist, but at the same time was a genius of lies and intrigue, rejected this option out of the box. This strained the Americans very hard. It was all about the strategic bomber 1954M (or M2 according to the design bureau code of the developer) that appeared in service with the USSR in 4. According to US intelligence, these machines, quite capable of inflicting a nuclear strike on American territory, were a form of devilry.
I want to remind you that there were seemingly unrealistic times in the yard when spy satellites were science fiction, and in order to obtain information, the “knights of the cloak and dagger” had to either personally make their way to secret objects, or be content with those crumbs that could be obtained in the public domain ... In the case of 2M, Americans were most worried about their numbers. The count was carried out according to the side numbers of the cars, which could be photographed somewhere outside their airfields. And here the incomprehensible and frightening began. At first, according to the numbering, there were twenty “strategists”. In just a year, their number reached fifty. However, a year later, the scouts began to record airplanes with ... three-digit numbers. According to them, it turned out that the USSR had already built two and a half hundred such machines. And this could only mean one thing - the Russians are preparing to bomb the United States to smithereens and in half. Or - they bluff, simply slapping more numbers on their own bombers in order to make the Americans fearful. Running ahead of myself, I’ll say that this is exactly how it was. In fact, there were only 2 serial 32Ms built. Khrushchev, reducing the army and not wanting to spend "extra money" on it, simply tried to "lead by the nose" of the Americans, holding them for fools and simultaneously talking about "disarmament."
Nevertheless, there were no fools in the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA at that time. They decided to double-check the frightening data in the only possible way - with the help of aerial reconnaissance. However, this required, first of all, to create an aircraft that could conduct it, while remaining out of the reach of Soviet air defense systems. It all started with its creation, which was carried out at the fastest possible pace.
The pilot flies high ...
Such a machine, indeed capable of flying at an altitude of 21 thousand meters, was developed really in record time under the leadership of one of the best US aircraft designers, Kelly Johnson, Lockheed U-2. The speed of its creation was paid for at the highest price - three pilots died during test flights. U-2 even before its official "birth" began to earn the fame of the "unlucky" machine. Nevertheless, already in 1956, he made the first flights and was soon adopted by the US Air Force. And, by the way, it remains "in service" to this day. At that time, this aircraft possessed incredible spy capabilities - a unique camera, which held almost 2 kilometers of film, made it possible to take pictures from a 20-kilometer height, in which objects less than a meter in size were perfectly distinguishable.
To convince the then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was initially skeptical about the project, U-2 flew over his ranch and photographs were laid on the table of the head of the White House, in which he could count all the cows grazing there ... The main argument in favor of starting a series of espionage flights was the beliefs of the aircraft designers that the Russians are not something that "will not reach it" (the maximum range of destruction of our air defense missiles was then indeed 20 kilometers, and the "ceiling" of fighters was even lower), but they would not even see it on their screens "Bast" radar. They shouldn't have thought so. In fact, the very first espionage flights over the territory of the USSR were recorded by air defense radars. Another question is that it really was not possible to get to the vultures freely frolicking in the Soviet sky.
Nevertheless, already in 1956, the Soviet Union, in an official note addressed to Washington, demanded an end to air "lawlessness". It worked, but not for long - flights resumed at the beginning of next year. The Pentagon, the CIA, and the White House, well, could not resist a colossal temptation - after all, each invasion of our airspace lasted from 2 to 4 hours and brought just a colossal amount of intelligence about the most secret state and, above all, military facilities. The Kremlin was filled with rage, but they could not do anything - until a certain moment. "Thank you" for this was worth the most "dear Nikita Sergeevich", in 1953, he staged a real pogrom in the design bureau, engaged in the development of missile equipment for the Soviet air defense.
The whole point was that, on the personal instructions of Stalin, who attached great importance to this direction, Lavrenty Beria personally supervised him. And one of the leading positions in the design bureau, which developed the Berkut, which protected Moscow from air attacks, was deservedly (according to the reviews of numerous scientists and "techies") occupied by his son Sergo. After Stalin's death, Lavrenty Beria was killed by Khrushchev's henchmen, and Sergo was thrown out both from the profession and from Moscow. If not for this, perhaps the first mobile air defense system S-75 "Dvina" would have been adopted not in 1957, but earlier. However, by 1960, these complexes, which were already able to "compete" with the U-2, were on alert. The Americans were let down, as usual, by their stubbornness and self-confidence. More than two dozen successful spy raids convinced them that this time too, everything will be okay. But it didn’t do it ...
Climbing into our skies on May 1, and even on the eve of the upcoming meeting of President Eisenhower and other European leaders with Nikita Khrushchev in Paris, to which they had been going for a long five years and which was supposed to mark the beginning of the "relaxation of tension" between East and West, was not just super-arrogance, but also outright stupidity from a geopolitical point of view. According to some reports, Eisenhower even hesitated before giving permission for him. But he did. At 5.35 Moscow time, an unmarked U-2 under the control of Harry Francis Powers that took off from the Peshawar airbase nevertheless ended up over Soviet territory. Subsequently, having flown almost half of the Soviet Union, he was supposed to land in Norway - but it did not grow together. We spotted an uninvited guest almost immediately, but what was to be done with him ?!
The despair of the Soviet command reached the point that they were ready to lift into the air the only vehicle capable of competing with the U-2 - the SU-9 fighter distilled from the manufacturer. The problem was that he did not have onboard weapons, and the pilot did not even have a special suit for flights at ultra-high altitudes. In fact, he had only one thing left - to go to the ram with a 2% guarantee of his own death - bailout "naked" from such a height would be suicide. Nevertheless, the pilot Igor Mentyukov reported on his readiness to complete the assigned task. Fortunately, it did not come to this - the ram did not succeed, and the fighter ran out of fuel, so I had to sit down. Disputes about what killed that ill-fated U-8.35 - whether the underestimation of our air defense systems, or the decline to the height that made it accessible, continues to this day. However, these are all particulars. The main thing is that the spy flight at XNUMX ended in the most deplorable way.
The American got the first missile fired by the C-75 division, commanded by Major Mikhail Voronov, smashing the tail ailerons to smithereens and damaging the engine. Alas, the air defense fighters mistook the dispersal of its fragments for dropping heat traps (which the U-2 simply did not have) and fired several more missiles in pursuit. One of them hit the MiG-19 fighter of Senior Lieutenant Sergei Safronov, which was lifted into the sky due to inconsistency in the actions of various types of troops. Unfortunately, there were some casualties on our part ... Powers turned out to be quite alive and well - primarily due to his own sneakiness and distrust of the CIA chiefs. Having looked somehow under the seat of the U-2 catapult, the pilot, to his surprise, found there a charge of 20 kilograms of explosives. Subsequently, he was explained that this is a self-destruction system of the aircraft, which should work in a quarter of an hour after he accidentally leaves the plane.
Nevertheless, the cunning Powers did not take the risk and jumped without any catapult. He landed in the area of the village of Kosulino in the Sverdlovsk region, whose residents have already begun to celebrate May Day with might and main. Powers (who had the most proletarian origin and a completely "Ryazan" face) could have passed for his own, but foolishly addressed the collective farmers in pure English. Well, they tied him, of course. During the search of the would-be spy, they found a pistol, a knife, and not only puffy bundles of rubles and dollars, but even an armful of gold rings and watches, intended to bribe local residents in case of an emergency. But the poisoned needle sewn into the flight suit for self-destruction was readily given by the pilot himself at the first interrogation. He did not at all yearn to die for the "worldwide triumph of democracy" and he began to give the most, that neither is the confessionary testimony very willingly and quickly.
His revelations went sideways to Washington, and how. Cunning Khrushchev, in the first official statement about the downed U-2, made on May 6, 1960, did not say a word that the pilot was alive, giving the Americans full opportunity to try to get out - which they did. They began to "sculpt" tales that the plane, it turns out, belonged not to the CIA, but to NASA, was scientific, meteorological - and just got lost a little. And the bloodthirsty Russians took him and brought him down, monsters! The most unpleasant thing is that even Eisenhower himself voiced this nonsense. And it was here that Khrushchev, as they say, came up with a trump card - he showed the whole world not only the wreckage of the plane collected to a nut, but also a lively pilot, who was filled with a nightingale about all the details of his difficult espionage service - up to the size of the salary that he was put in Langley ... This, of course, was an enchanting scandal ... The meeting in Paris ended almost without beginning - Khrushchev demanded a public apology from the US President, and he flew out of the hall like an offended schoolgirl like a bullet. No "detente" happened, and the world safely continued its "slide" towards the Cuban missile crisis, during which the defeat of our S-75s for the next U-2 almost ended in World War III. However, this is a completely different story.
Harry Francis Powers, who received 10 years in prison for espionage, served only a year and a half and was exchanged for the legendary Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel. At home, a far from warm welcome awaited him - he was already posthumously awarded many of the highest US military awards. By the way, Powers died after his unsuccessful visit to the USSR, having broken with intelligence and the army, in 1977 as a result of a helicopter crash, which, according to some sources, took away from the children playing on the ground. True, his son always believed that what happened was the CIA's revenge for the events of 1960 ...