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Cold War Shootdown 1955

Waring Hills Jun 22, 2011

VP-9 P2V Neptune (bureau number 131515) shot down by the Soviet Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Tom Bigley, Cdr, USNR-TAR (ret))

On 22 June 1955 a P2V Neptune from Navy Patrol Squadron Nine (VP-9) was flying a routine maritime patrol in the Bering Strait. The aircraft was at 8000 feet altitude and 40 miles west of  Saint Lawrence Island. Suddenly the P2V was attacked by two Soviet MIG -15 fighters and the plane commander  Lieutenant Fischer saw tracers past under his starboard (right) wing. He dove his aircraft into the cloud deck, which luckily was just 100 feet below him. Fischer also turned his aircraft towards the nearest land, Saint Lawrence Island.

Gambell on Saint Lawrence Island and the relative positions of NAS Kodiak and Elmendorf Air Base at Anchorage, Alaska (Google Earth).

LT Fischer soon learned that his port (left) engine was on fire and three of his eleven crew members ( Ensign Assard,  AT3 Benko and AQ2 Lerg) were wounded by the Soviet attack. His attempts to put out the engine fire failed and he shut it down. However, the fire continued to burn and spread on the port wing.  Soon the aircraft broke out of the overcast at 1500 feet and Saint Lawrence Island was in sight. LT Fischer informed the crew to prepare for a gear up landing on the tundra. The Neptune made a smooth landing on the tundra, but halfway through the slide a gas tank in the bomb bay burst into flames. The crew exited quickly, but several received burns from the flames. LTJG Lockhart broke his leg jumping from the cockpit to the tundra, but all eleven crew members would survive the day.

P2V Neptune of VP-9 in 1955, notice the rear guns, top gun and nose gun (US Navy).

Natives at the nearby village of Gambell saw the burning aircraft approach the island. They quickly mobilized a rescue party of skin boats with people, rescue equipment and the village nurse. The crew were well cared for and returned to the village, where eventually an Air Force C-47 arrived at their airstrip and evacuated the VP-9 crew to the Elmendorf Air Base hospital at Anchorage, Alaska. Seven crew members were hospitalized. The remaining four crew returned to Naval Air Station Kodiak.

Some of the crew of the VP-9 aircraft shot down. Only crew identified are Chief Radioman Jenke with the head bandage and LTJG Lockhart on crutches (Photo US Navy).

At the height of the Cold War from 1950 to 1970 there were at least 20 American aircraft shot down by Soviet military forces. It was only a Cold War if you were not being shot at…read more about other Cold War shoot downs here…

For more detail on VP-9’s shoot-down story and other pictures visit the VP Navy site here…

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16 thoughts on “Cold War Shootdown 1955

  1. Kathy Driscoll says:

    My father, John F. Rump, is in the center back row of this picture. He was the radarman on the plane and uninjured in the crash.

    1. Don Bidwell says:

      Hi Kathy,
      I have just sent all my research on the shootdown to Air and Space magazine after one of the editors evinced and interest. It was a pretty terrifying event for all involved. I had researched the incident after learning about from a scopedope buddy I was stationed with at Campion AFS on the Yukon in Alaska in 57-8. After I retired from teaching, I began my research communicating with your dad, Dick Fischer, the pilot, and Dave Assad, one of the navigators. Unfortunately, I sent your dad’s letters along with Dick’ and Dave’s to the editors. They will look at it and decide if they want to do a story on it.
      If you wish, I will contact you about the outcome.

      Don Bidwell
      2890 Mt View Rd. E.
      Pt. Orhard Wa 98366

    2. Alaska’s Adjutant General, will present State Awards to the last three remaining Alaskan Scouts that rescued the 11 Navy crewmembers of VP-9. We are looking for crewmembers that are still alive and would like to be there on our expense? vr//Forrest (907) 334-0872

  2. Patricia Lockhart says:

    My husband, Dave Lockhart is not on crutches, he is on the far left in uniform. I’m sorry to say he passed away on March 14, 2013 after having a stent put in his carotid artery. He loved his Navy experiences and was able to buy his Cessna 182 in 1980 to continue flying the rest of his life. Anyone out there interested in buying a great plane? I wish he could have seen this article. Patricia

  3. Leonard Shapiro says:

    I was on St. Lawrence Island as a USAF airman at that time. I was attached to Air Force Security Service.

  4. Bud White says:

    We used to fly over this plane while deployed to Kodiak NAS in 1958 with VP-22 but never knew the full story. However, it is eerily similar to an incident I was involved in at Olga Bay while flying out of Iwakuni MCAS on our Japan deployment in 1957. The following is an excerpt from an email sent to me by our pilot Lt Al Kelley: “We passed over the entire Russian far east fleet as it entered Olga bay,I could see all of the Komar patrol boats AA guns tracking us as we came out of the low clouds right over the fleet at 100′, also the cruisers etc as we eased off to the right a bit to get the pics and went right over the long breakwater made out of three prong cement pieces like the old jacks used as kids…….then up and over the breakwater to the left climbings and the ship’s AA weapons tracked us all the way…as we passed three thousand the migs appeared out of nowhere and you know the rest of the story!!! The ships never fired at us but the MIG-15’s were a different story!!! Weather in the sea of Japan was too bad for any other flights to get Pics….we broke out around 3 to 5000 feet right over them. While avoiding them later in sharp bank to left with gear down and full flaps I could see their cannon fire hitting the smooth sea”. The MIG’s continued firing at us and we kept tight to the deck and ran a zig-zag pattern out to the 12 mile mark where we entered international waters. Our 3 turrets had been manned but the gunners were ordered not to move the guns. At the 12 mile mark they were allowed to fire back but the MIG’s turned off at that point. This episode has been kept secret for years as we almost caused an international incident.

  5. Nevada Smith says:

    I flew over this plane during a USCG SAR mission in the area in August 1998. I got some great pictures. Crash sites looks the same.

  6. Robert Carlton says:

    My father, Lt. Col. Robert Carlton was one of the C-47 pilots who took the injured back to Elmendorf. He was making a supply run to one of the Northern Alaskan radar sites, and had stopped in Nome to let off some supplies when they got the word about the accident. They were asked to go see if they could help. He wrote that the men told him they were shot down by the Russians. He also wrote that one of the men was injured badly enough that a helicopter was used to transfer him from the Elmendorf flight line to the hospital.

  7. Sidney White says:

    Used to fly over and look at that crash site while flying patrols with VP-22 in 1958. We were constantly getting jumped by MIG’s in that area.

  8. The man in the bottom left corner is my grandfather’s friend, David Lockhart.

  9. Laura Smith says:

    My grandfather is the one in white with the head bandage on.

  10. Charles Gray VP-931 AT says:

    I was a VP-931 Aviation Electronic Tech, electronic countermeasures (ECM) who flew over 100 of the noted “surveillance” low altitude, spy missions over Siberia, Arctic Circle, Kamchatka Peninsula, Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea. Etc. from December 27, 1951 to July 31, 1952. We were “escorted” by either AF hi-altitude SRB-47’s or SRB-50’s. According to Navy history our squadron was first to perform overflies of USSR Northwest territories. Our “rabbit” flights were made public in 2007.

  11. Ken Shemberg says:

    I June 1955 I was a 19 year old Teleman 3rd standing watch at the Naval Communication Station Kodiak Alaska. That day the teletype rang with a Flash Message; a plane from Kodiak had been attacked. What I remember from that moment on is a giant blur. All I can say was that we were certain the Island would soon be under attack. My parents were also alarmed and I was mortified to have them call the message center thru the Red Cross to see that I was alive and well. It took many weeks to live that one down.

  12. Patricia says:

    The man on the far right with the cast on his left arm, is Edward “Eddie” Benko. He was a Sailor at the time, he was in the rear of the plane and the Russions were shooting a machine gun at the Navy Plane. Eddie was shot in the upper arm and the bullet took out the bone, he wore that full upper body cast for nine months, After the crew were hospitalized in Alaska, they later were transferred to Oak Knoll Hospital in Oakland, Ca. We visited the hospital often and Eddie would visit and stay with our family, he was the younger brother of my Dads best friend from Scranton, Pa. My mom cut all his civilian shirt up the side to place snaps.

  13. Gary Westrup says:

    I was stationed on the ARD/31, Naval Station, Kodiac, when this incident happened !

  14. Diane Janke says:

    My father Elmer Janke chief radioman died June 22, 1998. Same day as the crash but 43 yrs later.

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