Hunt for the U-2
Europe@War Series No.3
Author: Krzysztof Dabrowski
Publisher: Helion & Company
Instantly recognizable, the Lockheed U-2 has had an incredible and historic past. First flying in the 1950s, the plane proved its value in overflights over the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those same flights also demonstrated the rapid evolution of aviation and defense systems, as the high-flying spyplane quickly went from invincible to highly vulnerable in just a few short years. While many books have covered these covert flights of the U-2 from the viewpoint of the American side, little has been published about the response by those overflight nations.
This book in the Europe@War series aims to fill that gap with what is definitely the most thorough examination of Soviet and Chinese responses to the U-2 and other high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The book begins with the early U-2 overflights over the Soviet Union and the Russian response with surface to air missile systems. While the U-2 flew high, it also flew slow, and as such it was fairly easy to intercept, if the missiles and/or aircraft could reach the altitude. In 1960, that is exactly what happened with the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 over the Soviet Union. The subsequent political fallout of that event forced changes to overflight plans, and even with the advent of the significantly faster SR-71, overflights by aircraft became a thing of the past, supplanted by satellite reconnaissance instead.
The U-2 wasn't done, though, as its next area of use came much closer to home, in the skies over the Caribbean during the Cuban crisis. Occurring after Powers' shootdown, the vulnerability of the U-2 was already known, and further threats arose with the advent of the MiG-21, a fighter capable of intercepting the plane at altitude. With one U-2 shot down over Cuba, reconnaissance flights soon switched to supersonic low-level aircraft such as the Navy's RF-8 Crusader and the Air Force's RF-101 Voodoo.
The final theater of overflights for the U-2 was mainland China, and this saw the first foreign operation of the aircraft. Taiwanese pilots flew the U-2 on many missions over China, where initially the only response available was surface to air missiles. They were successful in late 1962, shooting down one U-2 operating over Nanchang. Over the first half of the 1960s, a single SAM commander was responsible for shooting down four high-altitude Taiwanese spyplanes, three of which were U-2s.
This book does an excellent job of telling the other side of this well-known story, that rapid scramble to find some kind of solution to that particular thorn known as the U-2. Throughout the book are plenty of photographs showing the various systems and aircraft used by both sides, as well as the resultant reconnaissance photos gathered and maps of the areas covered. A handful of color profile illustrations help show the differences between the U-2 and its closest rival the RB-57, as well as the evolution of Soviet interceptors, including the MiG-19, Su-9, and MiG-21. The research is excellent, the text well written and engaging, and the photos & illustrations offer the perfect balance to the story being told. I highly recommend picking this book up if you are at all interested in Cold War aviation history. My thanks to Casemate for the review copy.