Operation Overflight

Title:                      Operation Overflight

Author:                   Francis Gary Powers

Powers, Francis Gary (1970), with Curt Gentry. Operation Overflight: The U-2 Spy Pilot Tells His Story For The First Time. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

LCCN:    74103553

DK266.3 .P64


Date Updated:  May 3, 2016


On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in a U-2 surveillance-equipped aircraft, captured and served up as a dish of crow by Khrushchev in some elaborate summitry complete with trial, sentencing and imprisonment. Dishonored, unsung in his own country, when in those pre-Cuba-Vietnam-Pueblo years, captured Americans were expected to orate like Henry and die like Hale, Powers still smarts in his book from what he considers to be a scapegoat’s burden.

What apparently rankled others at the time was that Powers turned up alive and did not “self-destruct”; that he seemed to have sung like a bird about the secret flight; that he humbly confessed his sins at the trial. Yet the only instructions he had received pertaining to capture were: “You may as well tell them everything, because they’re going to get it out of you anyway.” He did however withhold information on his own initiative primarily in regard to the plane’s altitude. There was no efficient equipment to destroy evidence. Furthermore “confession” was the primary defense in the Soviet court system, and Powers faced possible execution.

Powers recalls the events from his capture through his release and interrogation at home, where he was a political untouchable, with considerable bitterness. He has a good deal to say about messes in high Washington places. These revelations, skillfully transmuted by Mr. Gentry, are a moving study, with some pathos, of an earnest, unsophisticated, honest and wounded man who had been expected to perform as something more (or less) than human.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

This is the late Gary Powers’ account of his career as a U-2 pilot; his ill-fated flight over the Soviet Union; his capture, interrogation, trial, and imprisonment; and his experiences after his release. A number of items of particular interest stand out: the special U-2 missions flown over the Mediterranean area and the Middle East; collection priorities; his claim not to have been briefed on what to do if forced down in Russia; the relatively short version of his interrogations by the Russians; the failure of CIA to train pilots on how to handle interrogations. As for the broad program of the U-2s, Powers himself stated, “U-2 pilots were denied a broad overview. We caught only glimpses.” For some interesting behind-the-scenes views of the Prettyman board, which studied Powers’ performance and of disagreements with its findings, see Thomas Powers’ The Man Who Kept the Secrets[2]. Wise and Ross’ The U-2 Affair[3] is one of the books devoted to Powers’ mission and capture; the authors concluded that Powers was an ordinary man sent on an extraordinary mission.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[4]

First-hand narrative of U-2 operations over the Soviet Union set against the background of the late Gary Power’s career as a U-2 pilot with CIA. Of special interest is Soviet handling of Powers during his trial and imprisonment following his shoot-down over Russia in May 1960.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers describes in considerable detail his recruitment by the CIA, the vast scope of the CIA U-2 operations, his ill-fated reconnaissance flight over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, his imprisonment in the USSR and his return to the United States. The work contains insights into the KGB derived from his treatment and interrogations by that intelligence organization, and insights into the CIA derived from his debriefings.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 380-381

[2] Powers, Thomas (1979). The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

[3] Wise, David (1960), and Thomas B. Ross. The U-2 Affair. New York: Random House

[4] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 52

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 113



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3 Responses to Operation Overflight

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