On This Day - February 10th

Home » Latest News » On This Day - February 10th

During the late 1950s, with the approval of Pakistani Government, U.S. President D. Eisenhower established a secret intelligence facility in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), equipped with a runway that allowed U2 spy planes to perform secret missions over the majority of the Soviet airspace.

On May 1st 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris, pilot Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Badaber on board its "Dragon Lady" Item 360 for a mission over the Soviet Union. The task was to photograph ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk and land at Bodo, Norway.

The flight was hardly a surprise to the Soviets, as their defences were pre-alerted by the U2 unit "10-10" piloted by Bob Ericson — some weeks before he had overflown some of the top secret military installations such as the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the SAM test site, the Tyuratam missile range and the Dolon airbase with its Tu-95 strategic bombers.

According to Russian sources, just after the U2 was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered all the air unit commanders on duty "to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane's course, and to ram if necessary".

Some fighters took off immediately but like the previous alerts, the airborne attempts to intercept the plane failed. Eventually the U2 was hit and shot down by the first of three S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles fired by a defense battery.

gary-powers-custody
Powers in custody

After the event, the whole Soviet air defense system was obviously in red code but the lack of coordination brought about a curious incident often omitted: the SAM command center was unaware that the foreign plane had been destroyed for more than half so that at least 13 further anti-aircraft missiles were fired, one of them shooting down a MiG-19 and killing his pilot, Sergei Safronov.

In august of that year Powers was convicted of espionage, "a grave crime covered by Article 2 of the Soviet Union's law 'On Criminality Responsibility for State Crimes'". His sentence consisted of 10 years' confinement, three of which were to be in a prison, with the remainder in a labor camp. The US Embassy "News Bulletin" stated, according to Powers, "as far as the government was concerned, I had acted in accordance with the instructions given me and would receive my full salary while imprisoned".

He was held in Vladimir Central Prison, about 150 miles (240 km) east of Moscow, in building number 2 from September 9th 1960 until February 8th 1962. His cellmate was Zigurd Kruminsh a Latvian political prisoner. Powers kept a diary and a journal while confined. Additionally he took up carpet weaving from his cellmate to pass the time. He could send and receive a limited number of letters from his family. The prison now contains a small museum with an exhibit on Powers, who allegedly developed a good rapport with Russian prisoners there. Some pieces of the plane and Powers' uniform are on display at the Monino Airbase museum near Moscow.

On February 10th 1962 Powers was exchanged, along with U.S. student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicized spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as "Rudolf Abel", who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage. Powers credited his father with the swap idea.

When released, Powers's total time in captivity was 1 year, 9 months, and 10 days.