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H-029-3: A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cold War Aviation Incidents (Excluding Korea and Vietnam)

Lockheed P2V Neptune being serviced at Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, circa 1950s
Lockheed P2V Neptune being serviced at Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, mid-1950s (NH 101816-KN).

H-Gram 029, Attachment 3

Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC

April 2019

Due to the high level of secrecy accorded to intelligence collection flights in the early Cold War, difficulty in finding reliable sources, and ambiguity caused by “cover stories,” this list may not be complete (and some subject to continued revision).

At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin agreed to join with the Allies in the war against Japan three months after the defeat of Germany. True to his word almost to the day, Stalin’s armies invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria on 9 August 1945 and rapidly crushed the Japanese Kwantung Army. (This Soviet invasion was made possible by the massive supply of U.S. munitions transported in neutral ships via the North Pacific during the war, with which the Japanese did not interfere. This will be a future H-gram.) Between Tehran and the surrender of Japan (officially on 2 September 1945) U.S. enthusiasm for Soviet entry into the war had diminished considerably. As U.S. Navy forces under the Seventh Fleet moved to accept the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea and China, there were multiple clashes between 2 and 16 September when Soviet fighters fired on U.S. Navy aircraft in Manchurian (Chinese) airspace, by then occupied by the Soviets and not the Japanese. There were no reported losses from these encounters.

  • On 15 November 1945 Soviet fighters attacked a U.S. Navy PBM-5 MARINER seaplane off Darien (formerly Port Arthur), Manchuria. I don’t know if the aircraft was damaged.

  • On 26 February 1946, a VP-26 PBM-5 Mariner seaplane operating from Tsingtao, China, got lost and flew over Darien, Manchuria. A Soviet fighter fired warning shots with no damage.

  • On 8 April 1950, the PB4Y-2 Privateer (Navy variant of B-24 four-engine bomber) “Turbulent Turtle” of VP-26 Detachment A, based at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, staged from Wiesbaden, West Germany, for a Baltic Sea reconnaissance mission. The Soviets claimed the Privateer was over Soviet-occupied Latvia when four La-11 fighters shot it down (although the aircraft crashed 3–7 miles off the coast of Latvia). All ten crewmen were missing and presumed dead and were not recovered, although parts of the plane were.

  • On 11 May 1950, the Soviets claimed to have downed a USAF B-24 Liberator (which may have been a U.S. Navy PB4Y Privateer), but I can’t find any other confirmation.

  • On 4 September 1950, ten days before the Inchon landings during the Korean War, Ensign Edward V. Lancey, flying an F4U-4B Corsair (VF-53) from USS Valley Forge (CV-45), shot down a Soviet naval aviation Douglas A-20 Box over the Yellow Sea, southeast of Soviet-occupied Port Arthur naval base in China and west of the North Korean coast. The A-20 was a U.S.-built twin-engine medium bomber provided to the Soviet Union during World War II under Lend-Lease. Two A-20s, subordinate to the 36th Mine-Torpedo Aviation Regiment of the Red Banner Pacific Fleet, were on an armed reconnaissance mission when they were intercepted by four Corsairs from Valley Forge. One of the A-20s turned away, but the other continued to press toward U.S. ships. The dorsal (top) turret gunner on the A-20 opened fire, and the Corsairs returned fire, with Lancey receiving credit for downing the A-20. The Americans recovered the body of one crewman, which was returned to the Soviets in 1956.

  • Sometime between October and December 1950, a VP-6 P2V Neptune twin-engine ASW aircraft was intercepted at night off the Soviet coast near Vladivostok by four Soviet MiG-15 Fagot (NATO code name) jet fighters. The Neptune’s tail gunner fired a short 20-mm warning burst when the MiGs got too close, and one of the MIGs exploded. The Neptune dove for the deck and successfully escaped without damage.

  • On 6 November 1950, a U.S. Navy aircraft with a crew of 12 disappeared over Strait of Formosa. The fate of this aircraft is unknown, but shooting incidents between U.S. Navy aircraft and communist Chinese aircraft and surface vessels in the Formosa Strait would become fairly common.

  • On 6 November 1951, two Soviet La-II Fang fighters shot down a VP-6 P2V-3W Neptune conducting a reconnaissance mission near Vladivostok. The Soviets claimed to intercept the aircraft 7–8 miles from shore and it crashed 18 miles from shore. All ten crewmen were missing and presumed lost. The U.S. claimed at the time that the aircraft was conducting a weather reconnaissance mission for the United Nations Command in Korea.

  • On 31 July 1952, two People’s Republic of China (PRC) MiG-15 jet fighters attacked an Iwakuni-based U.S. Navy PBM-5S2 Mariner seaplane over the Yellow Sea. Two crewmen were killed and two wounded, but the seriously damaged Mariner was able to recover in South Korea.

  • On 20 September 1952, a U.S. Navy PB4Y-2S Privateer of VP-28 was attacked by two PRC MiG-15s off the coast of China, but was able to recover on Okinawa.

  • On 18 November 1952, three U.S. Navy F9F-5 Panther jet fighters of VF-781 embarked on USS Oriskany (CV-34) engaged a force of at least four and as many as seven Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters after being attacked overwater in the Sea of Japan south of Vladivostok. At least four Soviet pilots appear to have been lost as a result of the engagement, and one badly damaged F9F successfully recovered aboard Oriskany. Although there were numerous engagements during the Korean War between U.S. pilots and Russian pilots flying Mig-15s with North Korean or Chinese markings overland North Korea, and flying from bases in China, this engagement is unique in that these were Soviet aircraft, with Soviet pilots, flying from a base in the Soviet Union under Soviet ground controlled intercept (GCI) control, and over water. Although some details of the engagement became public fairly quickly, that the engagement was with Soviet aircraft (rather than generic “enemy” aircraft) remained secret for many years. (This will also be a future H-gram.)

  • On 23 November 1952, another VP-28 PB4Y-2S Privateer was attacked, but not damaged by PRC Mig-15s off China.

  • On 18 January 1953, a VP-22 P2V-5 Neptune, based at Atsugi, Japan, was seriously damaged by Chinese anti-aircraft fire from a small island near Swatow, PRC, and the burning aircraft was forced to ditch in the Formosa Strait. A U.S. Coast Guard PBM-5 Mariner seaplane landed in 8 to 12–foot swells and rescued 11 of the Neptune’s 13-man crew while being fired upon by Chinese coastal artillery, but crashed while attempting to get airborne. Ten of the 19 men aboard the Coast Guard Mariner (including five from the Neptune) were rescued by the destroyer USS Halsey Powell (DD-686), three of them during a daring nighttime rescue in shallow water just off the Chinese coast. (Halsey Powell survived a kamikaze hit off Okinawa while alongside the carrier USS Hancock—CV-19—in March 1945.) During the search for more survivors, a VP-40 PB-5M Mariner was fired upon by small-caliber machine guns and the USS Gregory (DD-802) was fired on by PRC shore batteries. Six of the Neptune’s crew were lost.

  • On 23 April 1953, two PRC MiG-15’s attacked a U.S. Navy Martin P4M-1Q Mercator long-range electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The Mercator returned fire, but neither the MiGs nor the Mercator were hit.

  • On 19 Jun 1953, a VP-46 PBM-5S2 Mariner was fired upon by PRC surface ships in the Formosa Strait, and, on 28 June, a P-2V Neptune of VP-1 was also shot at by PRC surface ships. Neither aircraft was damaged. On 8 July 1953, a VP-1 P2V-5 Neptune was fired on by PRC anti-aircraft guns near Natien, China, but was not damaged.

  • On 2 October 1953, a VP-50 PBM-5 Mariner was intercepted by two PRC Mig-15’s 30 nautical miles east of Tsingtao, China, and was hit twice in the tail by 37-mm rounds (during 12 firing passes), but was able to recover safely.

  • On 7 November 1953, a PBM-5A Mariner was lost over Yellow Sea. The PRC claimed to have shot down a U.S. aircraft over the Yellow Sea on 10 November 1953, and it is possible it was the same aircraft, but with the wrong date. The Mariner’s entire crew of 14 were lost.

  • On 18 November 53, two PRC MiG-15’s attacked a VP-50 PBM-5 Mariner near Shanghai, which was not damaged.

  • On 4 January 1954 (after the Korean War Armistice), an Iwakuni-deployed VP-2 P2V-5 Neptune flew a night “combat reconnaissance mission” that included sensitive intelligence collection along the west coast of Korea. It was VP-2’s first such mission after relieving VP-7. As the aircraft approached the PRC border, it reported engine difficulty, and a rapid descent, which might have been the result of hostile attack. (There were later attacks on U.S. Air Force and Allied aircraft in the same area, and it was the logical place to be attacked by PRC aircraft.) The aircraft crashed while trying to reach an airfield in South Korea, all ten aboard were declared missing (and later, missing in action), although three may have been recently accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). There is a report that it may have been mistakenly downed by a U.S. Navy AD-4B Skyraider on night patrol (I am not certain of this report, as the AD-4B was developed as a nuclear bomber, not a night fighter—dropping a nuclear bomb from a single-engine piston aircraft doesn’t sound like a high-probability-of-survival mission). At the time, this was reported as a loss due to mechanical problems, but such missions were at the time kept quite secret.

  • On 12 March 1954, two USN AD-4 Skyraiders of VA-145 and VC-35 Det F flying from the carrier USS Randolph (CVA-15) were conducting a simulated attack on a West German airfield when they were attacked near the Czechoslovakian border by a Czech MiG-15. One of the Skyraiders suffered damage to its tail.

  • On 9 April 1954, a VP-2 P2V was attacked by a PRC MiG-15 over the Yellow Sea, in the same area where a VP-2 P2V had reported engine trouble on 4 January 1954. The MiG made three firing passes and the Neptune returned fire, but there was no damage to either aircraft. (On 27 January 1954, a U.S. Air Force RB-45 Tornado, with an escort of F-86s, was attacked by eight PRC MiG-15s in the same area, and one MiG was downed in the engagement.)

  • On 26 July 1954, two PRC La-7 piston fighters attacked two Navy VF-54 AD-4 Skyraiders from USS Philippine Sea (CVA-47) near Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The Skyraiders were searching for survivors of a Cathay Pacific Airlines DC-4 flying from Bangkok to Hong Cong, which had been shot down by PRC La-9 Fritz fighters near Hainan, with 18 passengers and crew aboard (including six Americans). Ten people aboard the airliner were killed. Other VF-54 fighters and an F4U-5N Corsair of VC-3 joined in the fight, and both Chinese La-7’s were shot down. A PRC gunboat also fired on U.S. aircraft, but there was no damage.

  • On 4 September 1954, two Soviet MiG-15s attacked a VP-19 P2V-5 Neptune 40 nautical miles off the east coast of the Soviet Union. The Neptune was forced to ditch and one crewmen was lost. The other nine were rescued by the prompt arrival of a USAF SA-16 amphibious plane.

  • On 9 February 1955, a USS Wasp (CVA-18)–embarked AD-5W Skyraider of VC-11 Det H was covering the evacuation of Nationalist Chinese from the Tachen Islands, when it was hit by PRC AAA fire and forced to ditch. Nationalist Chinese patrol boats rescued the three-man crew.

  • In February 1955, a P2V Neptune was damaged in the wing by PRC AAA over the Formosa Strait.

  • On 22 June 1955, two Soviet MiG-15 fighters attacked a Kodiak-deployed VP-9 P2V-5 Neptune over the Bering Strait, setting an engine on fire. The Neptune successfully crash-landed in an open area on St. Lawrence Island and the 11-man crew survived, although 4 had been injured by gunfire and another 6 in the landing.

  • On 22 August 1956, a VQ-1 P4M-1Q Mercator electronic intelligence aircraft from Iwakuni airfield, Japan, was attacked at night by a PRC fighter 32 miles off the PRC coast. There were no survivors among the 16-man crew. The destroyer USS Dennis J. Buckley (DDR-808) recovered two bodies, and the Chinese recovered two, which were returned to the U.S.

  • On 12 June 1957, four VA-145 AD-6 Skyraiders from USS Hornet (CVA-12) overflew the coast of the PRC. One aircraft was damaged by PRC AAA fire.

  • During the period 1959–67, the CIA operated three P-3 Orion aircraft, known as “black” P-3s, from Taiwan, conducting low-altitude night intelligence collection missions in the PRC. These aircraft replaced P2V-7U/RB-69A Neptunes operated by the CIA, acquired in 1954, that conducted the same mission. The black P-3s were armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder IR air-to-air missiles. There were unconfirmed reports that sometime between 1964 and 1967 one of the P-3s shot down a PRC fighter. These aircraft were returned to the Navy and converted to EP-3B and then to EP-3E Aires intelligence collection aircraft, until being retired in the 1980s.

  • On 25 May 1968, a Soviet TU-16 Badger bomber buzzed the carrier USS Essex (CVS-9) and her escorts off northern Norway. After a very low pass on Essex, the wingtip of the Badger clipped a wave and the plane cartwheeled into the sea with no survivors.

  • On 4 October 1973, a Soviet TU-16 Badger bomber flew over the USS John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) in the Norwegian Sea and collided with an F-4 Phantom II. The F-4 was able to recover at Bodo, Norway, and the Badger made it back to the Soviet Union.

  • On 1 April 2001, a VQ-1 EP-3E Aries II suffered a mid-air collision with a Peoples Liberation Army Naval Aviation (PLANAF) J-8 Finback II jet fighter off Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The PRC claimed the EP-3 had maneuvered into the Chinese fighter, which is the exact opposite of what occurred. The pilot of the PRC jet ejected, but was never found. The EP-3E made an emergency landing at PRC military airfield on Hainan Island. The 24-man crew were ordered off the aircraft while the Chinese conducted intelligence exploitation. The crew was returned to the United States on 11 April and the disassembled aircraft was returned via heavy-lift aircraft in July 2001.

Major U.S. Air Force losses during the Cold War (excluding Korea and Vietnam):

  • On 13 June 1952, an RB-29 Superfortress was shot down by Soviet fighters over the Sea of Japan (12 dead).

  • On 7 October 1952, an RB-29 Superfortress was shot down by Soviet fighters over the Kurile Islands (8 dead).

  • On 12 January 1953, a B-29 Superfortress dropping leaflets over Manchuria was shot down by Soviet fighters (3 dead, 11 captured and returned in 1956).

  • On 29 July 1953, an RB-50G Superfortress was shot down by Soviet fighters near Vladivostok. The sole survivor of 18 crewmen was rescued by the destroyer USS Pickering (DD-685).

  • On 7 November 1954, an RB-29 Superfortress was shot down by Soviet fighters near Hokkaido, Japan. The 11-man crew bailed out and ten were rescued.

  • On 17 April 1955, an RB-47E Stratojet was shot down by Soviet fighters near Hokkaido, Japan. The three-man crew were all killed.

  • On 27 June 1958, a C-118 flying from Weisbaden, West Germany, to Karachi via Cyprus and Iran flew into what was then the Soviet Republic of Armenia and was shot down by Soviet fighters. Five crew members bailed out and four survived the crash landing, and all were captured by the Soviets. The aircraft was reportedly the plane assigned to Director of the CIA Allen Dulles and had been used to transport CIA VIPs.

  • On 2 September 1958, a C-130A Hercules flying an intelligence collection mission was shot down by Soviet fighters near the Soviet Republic of Armenia. All 17 aboard were killed.

  • Although not a USAF mission, on 1 May 1960, a CIA U-2 high-altitude intelligence collection aircraft flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down by an SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile near Sverdlovsk, Soviet Union. Powers was captured and later released in an exchange for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. A Soviet missile fired at the U-2 accidentally shot down a Soviet MiG-19, killing the pilot.

  • On 1 July 1960, an ERB-47H Stratojet was shot down by a Soviet fighter over the Barents Sea near the Kola Peninsula. Four crewmen were killed, but two survived and were captured by the Soviets and returned in 1961.

  • During the Cuban missile crisis, a USAF U-2 was shot down on 27 October 1962 over Cuba by an SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile, killing the pilot.

  • On 28 January 1964, a T-39 Saberliner on a training flight was shot down about 60 nautical miles inside Communist East Germany, killing the three crewmen.

  • On 10 March 1964, an RB-66 Destroyer (Air Force version of the “Whale”) strayed outside the air corridor to West Berlin and was shot down by Soviet MiG fighters. The three crewmen parachuted from the plane, were captured and later released.

  • On 21 October 1970, an RU-8 Seminole observation aircraft was lost over Soviet Republic of Armenia, and the crew of four was rescued.

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Published: Fri May 03 15:09:03 EDT 2019