The U2 crisis, 1960




Links: site (very good)

Detailed account  

Avalon project: documents



•    The U2 incident



- Giles Hill on the U2 crisis




After 1957, tension grew between Russia and America:


  1. Russia’s Sputnik satellite (1957) and space orbit (1961) gave them a psychological advantage.   Many Americans believed America was in danger.

  2. In 1959, the Communist Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, right next to America.   In 1960, he made a trade agreement with Russia.

  3. Communist China was very aggressive.   When Khrushchev visited America in 1959, the Chinese accused him of going soft; this made Khrushchev demand that America withdraw from West Berlin



A summit was planned for May 1960 to discuss Berlin and nuclear weapons.    The American President Eisenhower wanted an 'open skies' agreement - that Russia and America would let spy planes fly over each other's countries, so that they could be assured the other wasn't preparing for war.   Khrushchev refused - but Eisenhower did so anyway.






On 5 May 1960 – just 9 days before the summit – the Russians announced that they had shot down an American U2 spy-plane  on 1 May.  


At first, the Americans tried to claim that it was a weather-plane that had gone off-course.   However, the Russians put the pilot Gary Powers on trial for spying, and it was clear that he was not a weather-man.   The Americans admitted it was a spy-plane.



Source A

Wreckage of Powers's U2 plane on display at the Central Army Museum in Moscow





Did you know?


When American Vice-President Nixon visited Russia in 1959, he was taken round an exhibition at the US Trade Fair.   At the kitchen display, he and Khrushchev had a public argument - the so-called 'Kitchen Debate'  - about which was better: Communism or capitalism.







Did you know?


Eisenhower gave his memoirs of his time as President 1956-1961 the title: Waging Peace.   It reveals his belief that America had to take an aggressive role in the Cold War during these years.



The results were:


  1. Paris summit ruined; Cold War continues.

    The summit met at Paris on 14 May 1960.   Khrushchev refused to take part in the talks unless the Americans apologised and cancelled all future spy-flights.  


    President Eisenhower agreed to cancel the spy-flights, but would not apologise – so Khrushchev went home; the Paris Summit collapsed.


  2. Eisenhower’s planned visit to Russia cancelled.

  3. Khrushchev and the Russians grew in confidence.

  4. Americans became angry with Eisenhower, who they said was losing the Cold War.   After the U2 incident, America became more aggressive.   They elected John F Kennedy, who promised to be much tougher on communism.



Source B

Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear and burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, for the survival and success of freedom.   


Now the trumpet calls again . . . against the enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war.   Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.

 Inaugural speech of President Kennedy, 1961.  

Did you know?


During the Cold War, the Americans rated their intelligence information according to to two standards: reliability (A-D) and accuracy (1-4).   Very rarely was their information A1(impeccably reliable and irrefutably accurate); it was usually C3 (usually reliable and possibly accurate).

      GCSE pupils asked to evaluate a piece of evidence might bear this system in mind!!!












   To Think About:


Discuss why the U2 incident came at a bad time for the Americans.