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?Soviet Airfield?

a response

Subject: "Soviet Airfield source unknown"
From: "LP Temple" < >
Date: Sun, Oct 13, 2019 8:00 am

Hello –
The image on your website labeled “?Soviet Airfield?” is Saratov-Engels airfield outside of Moscow. The image itself is famous because it was known as the “million-dollar” picture – it put to rest the feat that there was a bomber gap between the US and the Soviets. The image was taken on the second U-2 overflight of Russia, flown by Carmine Vito and his mission on 5 Jul 1956 was to photograph the Moscow area, particularly Saratov-Engels.

That Long-Range Aviation base was home to the entire Soviet fleet of BISON bombers. With the exception of a couple that were out flying training missions – we know this because of the absence of snow in a couple of parking places – there were just over 30 bombers visible (I counted 34). The Air Force had been claiming the Soviets had over 100 of the BISONs, and therefore needed several million dollars more for more B-52 (which already outnumbered the Soviet bomber force based on Vito’s picture.)

Eisenhower called the image the “million-dollar” image because he wanted to use that to calm fears of the bomber gap and to deny the Air Forces supplemental budget request for several more millions of dollars. In the end, Ike lost this one, the Air Force got more B-52s than it really needed, but it doesn’t change the importance of the image putting the bomber gap into perspective. Anyway – your image is no longer unidentified – it was an incredibly important piece of intelligence in the middle of the Cold War’s hottest days.

I related this story in my book, “Shades of Gray – National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance.” Carmine’s flight is discussed on page 70.


Dr. L. Parker Temple III

Commentary by Ed Thelen

Somewhat related to the later "Missile Gap", used by John Kennedy in his successful presidential election bid -
beating Richard Nixon.
Apparently, even before the election campaign, Kennedy had been advised that to the best intelligence knowledge, no such gap existed.