Captured U.S. spy pilot sentenced in Russia - HISTORY
Year
1960

Captured U.S. spy pilot sentenced in Russia

In the USSR, captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers is sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for his confessed espionage.

On May 1, 1960, Powers took off from Pakistan at the controls of an ultra-sophisticated Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. A CIA-employed pilot, he was to fly over some 2,000 miles of Soviet territory to BodØ military airfield in Norway, collecting intelligence information en route. Roughly halfway through his journey, he was shot down by the Soviets over Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains. Forced to bail out at 15,000 feet, he survived the parachute jump but was promptly arrested by Soviet authorities.

On May 5, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that the American spy aircraft had been shot down and two days later revealed that Powers was alive and well and had confessed to being on an intelligence mission for the CIA. On May 7, the United States acknowledged that the U-2 had probably flown over Soviet territory but denied that it had authorized the mission. On May 16, leaders of the United States, the USSR, Britain, and France met in Paris for a long-awaited summit meeting. The four powers were to discuss tensions in the two Germanys and negotiate new disarmament treaties. However, at the first session, the summit collapsed after President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to apologize to Khrushchev for the U-2 incident. Khrushchev also canceled an invitation for Eisenhower to visit the USSR.

In August, Powers pleaded guilty to espionage charges in Moscow and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment–three in prison and seven in a prison colony. However, only 18 months later, the Soviets agreed to release him in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a senior KGB spy who was caught and convicted in the United States five years earlier. On February 10, 1962, Powers and Abel were brought to separate sides of the Glienicker Bridge, which connected East and West Berlin across Lake Wannsee. As the spies waited, negotiators talked in the center of the bridge where a white line divided East from West. Finally, Powers and Abel were waved forward and walked past each other to freedom.

Upon returning to the United States, Powers was cleared by the CIA and the Senate of any personal blame for the U-2 incident. In 1970, he published a book, Operation Overflight, about the incident and in 1977 was killed in the crash of a helicopter he flew as a reporter for a Los Angeles television station.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Bill Clinton born

On this day in 1946, William Jefferson Blythe III is born in Hope, Arkansas. His father died in a car accident before he was born, and young Bill later took the last name of his stepfather, Roger Clinton. In 1992, Bill Clinton would be elected as the 42nd president of the United ...read more

Old Ironsides earns its name

During the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy frigate Constitution defeats the British frigate Guerrière in a furious engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. Witnesses claimed that the British shot merely bounced off the Constitution‘s sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than ...read more

Allies raid Dieppe

During World War II, an Allied force of 7,000 men carry out a large daytime raid against German positions at the French seaport of Dieppe. Aided by tanks and aircraft, the commando force–made up of approximately 5,000 Canadians, 2,000 British soldiers, and a handful of American ...read more

Many Americans against a bombing halt

A Harris survey indicates that 61 percent of those polled are against calling a halt to the bombing in Vietnam. President Johnson, in a major speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Detroit, challenged Hanoi to respond to the limitations of the bombing campaign that ...read more

Little person makes big league debut

On this day in 1951, little person Eddie Gaedel makes his big league baseball debut with the St. Louis Browns, and is walked on four pitches in his one at-bat. Gaedel was the lead character in the most famous stunt ever devised by legendary owner and showman Bill Veeck.Bill Veeck ...read more

John Wesley Hardin killed in Texas

John Wesley Hardin, one of the bloodiest killers of the Old West, is murdered by an off-duty policeman in a saloon in El Paso, Texas.Born in central Texas on May 26, 1853, Hardin killed his first man when he was only 15 during the violent period of post-Civil War reconstruction. ...read more

Joseph Conrad becomes a British citizen

On this day in 1886, Joseph Conrad, born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland, becomes a British citizen.Conrad’s father had been a Polish poet and patriot. He was arrested in 1861 for his political activism and exiled to northern Russia. His wife and toddler son joined ...read more

Basinger and Baldwin marry

On this day in 1993, the actors Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin marry in East Hampton, New York. The Hollywood power couple reportedly became involved on the set of the romantic comedy The Marrying Man (1991), in which they played lovers. The film was a box-office flop, as was a ...read more

Fire on Saudi jet kills 301

On this day in 1980, a fire aboard a plane bound for Saudi Arabia forces an emergency landing.The Saudi Airlines flight began in Karachi, Pakistan, headed for Jidda, Saudi Arabia, with a stopover in Riyadh. The first leg of the flight was uneventful, and the Lockheed L-1011 took ...read more

A Jewish youth is killed by a mob

Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting student from Australia, is stabbed to death by an angry mob in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. The crowd, consisting of young black men, had been intent on seeking revenge against Jewish people for the death of seven-year-old Gavin ...read more