American spy plane downed in hostile territory (1960)

Downing on an American unmanned drone over Iran recalls a bitter Cold War episode, writes IP.  

On May Day 1960, a U2 flight left the US base in Pakistan to photograph ICBM sites inside the Soviet Union; the flight was supposed to take advantage of the Soviet holiday, but all units of the Soviet Air Defence Forces were on red alert and the plane was subsequently shot down.

As the rumors spread that Moscow shot down an American spy plane, the US government believed that the plane was fully destroyed and its pilot dead, and declared that it was a research vessel. On May 7, however, Soviet Premier Khrushchev angrily revealed that the pilot was alive and had the wreckage of the plane exhibited in the Chess Pavilion in Moscow’s Gorky Park Moscow — where captured German military equipment was put on display during the war.

To the invited diplomats and journalists, Khrushchev told that he does not intend to bring up the plane incident at the impending summit meeting with President Eisenhower, but his glee was palpable. Life photographer Carl Mydans, who took the picture above, was soon hustled out of the building by two Soviet officers who thought he was a spy because he was “taking pictures too systematically.” However, they did not confiscate his film.

Although Mydans was not employed by the U.S. government, it didn’t stop the Pentagon from using his photos. The designers of U-2 spy plane was able to learn what happened and what sort of missile hit the plane based on their analysis of Mydans’ photographs of the wreckage. How the plane was brought down was never fully explained, but his pictures and the intactness of the wreckage casts doubt on Khurschev’s claims that a SAM2 missile downed the plane at high attitude.

The U-2 incident marked the birthpangs of another era of Soviet-American confrontations after a few years of calm following Stalin’s death. Coming just over two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit in Paris, it poisoned the atmosphere around the meeting. An invitation for the President to visit the Soviet Union was abruptly withdrawn, and Eisenhower left office without fulfilling his dreams of ending the Cold War.

Ironically, for all the trouble it caused, the U2 was already outdated by the time the Soviets shot it down. Three months later, it was quietly replaced by the Discoverer spy satellite; The doomed flight was in fact the last U2 flight over Soviet territory.

(See the wreakage here)

The U-2 Incident

On May Day, 1960, Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Peshawar on a mission to photograph ICBM sites inside the Soviet Union. It would be the twenty-fourth U-2 spy mission over Soviet territory. Although it was a Soviet holiday, all units of the Soviet Air Defence Forces were on red alert as they suspected a U-2 flight and Powers was subsequently shot down.

The United States used NASA to issue a statement saying the plane was a research vessel, but soon Moscow was full of rumors of a downed American spy plane. THe American story was made up using the assumptions that the plane was fully destroyed and that Powers was dead. However, Nikita Khrushchev gave a detailed account of the American version of the U-2’s flight and then disproved it point by point to the Supreme Soviet. It was an international humiliation for Eisenhower administration.

On May 11, the Soviet government suddenly convened journalists and diplomats to the Chess Pavilion in Gorky Park. Khrushchev surveyed the big room filled with aircraft debris. LIFE photographer Carl Mydans was among those invited over, and he began taking photos as much as he could. After some time, two Soviet officers hustled me out the door for the Soviets suspected that he was a spy for he was “taking pictures too systematically.” However, they did not confiscate his film. Although Mydans was not employed by the U.S. government, it didn’t stop the Pentagon from perusing his photos. The designers of U-2 spy plane was able to learn what happened and what sort of missile hit the plane based on their analysis of Mydans’ photographs of the wreckage.

The U-2 incident marked the birthpangs of another era of Soviet-American confrontations after a few years of calm following Stalin’s death. Coming just over two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit in Paris, it poisoned the atmosphere around the meeting. An invitation to the President to visit the Soviet Union was abruptly withdrawn, and Eisenhower finished his presidency with his dreams of ending the Cold War unfulfilled. In August 1960, the need for the U2 disappeared with the use of US Discoverer spy satellites; Powers’s was the last U2 flight over Soviet territory.

The Elderly Butcher Boy of Fascism

Even today, Italy has one of the least free presses in Western world. Although press-censorships were not created with the Fascist state Benito Mussolini forged, Mussolini’s Ministry of Popular Culture — which administrates everything that appeared in newspapers, radio, printed works, theatre, cinema or any form of art — did cast a long shadow. In a move worthy of today’s language bastions, it banned usage of non-Italian words; the ministry’s lackeys were posted to publishing houses to immediately oversee what is being printed, and there were public bonfires of forbidden books. However, noting Italian efficiency, all actions were more Kafkaesque than Orwellian.

In a hierarchical system where the government appointed directors and editors and distributed printing paper, self-censorship was easily accomplished by individuals currying favor with the regime. Although many international publications, writers and photographers were left untouched by censors before the war, the beginning of the WWII changed the landscape.

Working for Time and Life magazines, Carl Mydans arrived in Rome in May 1940. Tensions were high; Mussolini was thought to be on the brink of declaring war on the Allies (although in reality he delayed another month). At the public events, Mydans was repeatedly prevented from taking pictures by Blackshirts who blocked his cameras. He remembers the events that happened next: “On May 9, Mussolini appeared at the Victor Emmanuel II monument to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Italian Empire. A circle of security men barred me from the ceremony. But as Mussolini was departing, he strutted right past me. The security men were compelled to applaud as he went by, and I was able to make one quick frame between their shoulders. The picture appeared across a page of LIFE several weeks later with the caption, “The Elderly Butcher Boy of Fascism”. The photo, which appeared in LIFE on June 24th, caused the responsible staffers of TIME and LIFE being immediately expelled from Italy. Rather than sending a new bureau staff, they closed down the Rome Bureau, writing “In the face of wartime censorship there was no chance in Italy for TIME’s kind of reporting.”

MacArthur Comes Ashore

macarthur

General Douglas MacArthur and photographer Carl Mydans both experienced jarring twists of fate in World War II’s Pacific Theater before arriving at this moment. MacArthur was driven from the Philippines by the Japanese in March 1942, declaring emphatically, “I shall return.” Two months earlier, Mydans, covering the war for LIFE, had been taken prisoner in Manila; he was held for nearly two years before being repatriated in a POW exchange.

MacArthur made good on his pledge in October of ’44. Above photo, taken during American landings at Luzon-Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines, is invariably used to commemorate “the return.” Many insisted that the picture was staged–an allegation Mydans disputed through his life. He would point out that MacArthur was usually uncooperative with photographers and insist that the general only did the walk once.

The picture was not posed but it was actually taken three months later, at a different beach than that of the original landing side at Leyte. Mydans was on the landing craft with MacArthur, and he rushed ashore on the pontoons army engineers put out so that MacArthur would not get his feet wet. But then he saw MacArthur’s landing craft turn away parallel to the shore. Mydans ran along the sand until the craft headed inwards, and as he had expected: “I was standing in my dry shoes waiting.” His photograph showed MacArthur sloshing towards the camera in his open-necked uniform and signature dark glasses, accompanied by staff officers and helmeted troops.

See MacArthur’s various landings here.

November 22nd, 1963

Mydans22

Headlines, November 22, 1963, on a train to Stamford, Connecticut. By Carl Mydans

Carl Mayer Mydans worked with LIFE magazine for 36 years of its existence as a weekly journal. The veteran photographer’s elegantly photo included those of Frenchwomen punished for collaborating with the Nazis, the liberation of the Santo Tomas prison, the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri, the 1948 earthquake in Fukui, Japan, and the above picture of American commuters reading newspapers the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He also created memorable portraits of historical figures, such as Indira Gandhi and Winston Churchill.