The Soviets have always exhibited a certain paranoia about what they call their airspace, and I am going to share with you an event that actually happened off the northern Japanese islands in 1952 where several US Air Force personnel lost their lives. Other examples would include the shooting down of a passenger jet several years ago.
Below is a passage from Mushroom Cloud: Book One of the first Strike Series:
October 7, 1952 – 0654 Hours
91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
324th Reconnaissance Squadron
Yokota Air Force Base, Japan
Captain John Robertson Dunham wheeled his RB-29J onto the main runway, pulled back the throttle on his four Wright R-3350-CA-2 fuel-injected engines, and was airborne and cruising at 21,000 feet in less than half an hour. His crew consisted of First Lieutenant Paul Brock, the pilot; Captain Eugene English Jr., the chief intelligence officer in charge of signal intercepts; and five enlisted men who ran the SIGINT (signals intelligence) operation and the six cameras. Their mission was to locate the outer limits of the Soviet radar stations near the Kuril Islands.
About two hours into the mission, Staff Sergeant John Hirsch keyed the intercom. “Captain Dunham, we are being tracked by radar installations with a bearing of 330 degrees and a range of 65 miles.”
“Roger that, Hirsch,” Dunham said. He turned to Brock. “Maintain course and altitude at 31,000.”
Eight minutes later, it was Staff Sergeant Samuel Colgan’s turn. “Captain Dunham, I have picked up communication intercepts from tower control to hostile fighter aircraft. Nemuro radar is tracking two bogeys inbound from 270 degrees at 15,000 feet doing over 400 miles per hour— believed to be Fangs.”
Airman First Class Thomas Shipp spoke. “Captain, be advised that three F-84s are on their way. Intercept should be in twenty-two minutes.”
Dunham did some quick mental calculations. He knew the F-84s would not be able to reach them in time. “Alter course. Full throttle, 90 degrees east.”
Airman Second Class Frank Neil and Airman Second Class Fred Kendrick spotted the incoming hostiles. Five minutes later, they opened fire. Dunham sent out a mayday call and then said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The F-84s arrived ten minutes later. Search and recovery looked for five days over the Sea of Okhotsk before calling off the search.
Dunham’s craft was the second RB-29 shot down by Soviet fighters near the Sea of Japan in the previous four months. The first claimed twelve lives. It was clear to the Air Force that Soviet air defenses had improved significantly. There needed to be a new strategy to keep the reconnaissance planes out of the reach of Soviet fighters.
All the while, Stalin was preparing Operation Mighty Handful.
The Legendary RB-29
RB-29J from 91st Reconn Wing As part of Strategic Air Command (SAC), the 91st wing was one of SAC's longest-lasting and most versatile wings. It was a strategic reconnaissance wing from 1948 to 1957 and a B-52 bombardment wing from 1963 to 1968. Its men flew every plane in the SAC inventory. It became a missile wing in June 1968.