Secret intelligence pilot Francis Gary Powers' U-2 plane was shot down on the 1st May 1960 by a Soviet surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. The target destination of Powers' espionage mission had been the site of the Kyshtym Disaster.
Powers parachuted to the ground and was captured by Soviet troops, crucially he was unable to activate his U-2's self-destruct mechanism before evacuating the plane. Back in America CIA didn't realise this failure to destroy the vehicle and so when Powers' plane finally landed (almost fully intact) Soviet intelligence were able to study its surveillance equipment and learn about U-2 technology.
Francis Gary Powers was the first pilot to be successfully hit by a Soviet S-75 surface-to-air missile, new Soviet technology that finally enabled them to counteract US espionage missions which had been taking place some 70,000 feet above the Soviet Union for some years. CIA didn't know that Soviet Union now had the technology to hit U-2 planes as they were so high up, causing sceptics to doubt the circumstances of Powers' crash and subsequent capture and some worried how much information has been sucked out of him during interrogations.
On August 17th 1960 following a very high profile trial Powers was sentenced by the Soviet Union and imprisoned for three years and then made to serve seven years of hard labour in Vladimir Central Prison (where Powers developed a good rapport with his fellow prisoners).
This British PathÃ© has coverage of the 1960 trial. This first reel "Powers Trial -
Big Eye Deers Test -
and one more for luck
Eisenhower also appears in this British PathÃ© reel "President Defends Spying" discussing U-2 planes and stating "no one wants another Pearl Harbor. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of massive surprise attacks."
On February 10th 1962 Powers was exchanged along with an American student Frederic Pryor for the Soviet Colonel Vilyam Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel like in British PathÃ©'s reel) who had been captured by the FBI in Berlin. Upon his return Powers was awarded CIA's Intelligence Star, but was criticised by some for the various imperfections of his failed mission.
The Exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers
British Pathe have this video of the exchange in the archive called "Headlines In The U.S. - The Abel For Powers Exchange" with a commentary by Peter Roberts. The narrator explains how it was lucky that Abel had not been sentenced to death by the Americans upon capture as this would have meant they couldn't swap him for Powers.
Who was Rudolf Abel?
The original arrest of Rudolf Abel is shown in this 1957 newsreel "Red Spy Nabbed" filmed in Brooklyn. Used a building within view of the Assistant US Attorney's office and had an office studio with high-powered radios. "He is the highest ranking Russian ever arrested here on spy charges, he could pay with his life."