US Navy Privateer down - Baltic Sea, April 1950

Saturday 8 September 2012

The Danish daily Politiken, Wednesday the 12th of April 1950.

This selection of Danish newspaper clippings come from a scrapbook I bought some years ago in a Copenhagen antiquarian bookshop. They concern the search operation for a US Navy Privateer plane shot down over the Baltic Sea near Latvia on the 8th of April 1950 by Soviet aircraft. There’s a brief account of the event at

In 1956 the United States accused the Soviet Union of holding a number of airmen prisoner from the crew of the US Navy Privateer shot down in 1950 and from the crew of an Air Force B-29 list in the Sea of Japan on June 13th 1952 (see TFR 27-86 here). The Soviet Union denied this (see TFR 27-8).

In 1975 the Pentagon acknowledged the plane was on an intelligence mission, not a training flight as originally claimed. AP reported US Navy officials as saying that there was ‘no credible evidence’ that any of the crew escaped the plane and ended up in Soviet prison camps.

Speculation revived in June 1992 after comments by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to NBC News that American prisoners of war from Vietnam were sent to Soviet labor camps and some might still be alive. Later that month US envoy Malcom Toon in Russia following up reports of missing Americans expressed doubt about Yeltsin’s comments, but in November 1992 Russian emissary Dimitri Volkogonov presented a letter from President Yeltsin to the US Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs stating that the USSR under Stalin had executed some American prisoners after World War II, and forced others to renounce their citizenship. Dimitri Volkogonov also talked of more than 730 US airmen being imprisoned in the Soviet Union, some of whom were executed.

The lost crew were Jack Fette, Howard W Seeschaf, Robert D Reynolds, Tommy L Burgess, Frank L Beckman, Joe H Danens, Jack W Thomas, Joseph J Bourassa, Edward J Purcell, and Joseph N Rinnier Jr.

Here’s a 1956 news story on the reaction of the remarried wife of Howard W Seeschaf to claims that he might be alive.

And here’s a 1994 story on Jane Reynolds Howard, remarried wife of Lt Robert Reynolds, who was told in 1958 that her first husband was still alive by a man who said he was a former cellmate of Reynolds’ in a Soviet psychiatric hospital. And another from 1997, still searching.

Politiken, Thursday 13 April 1950.
Berlingske Tidene, Thursday 13 April 1950.
Berlingske Tidene, Saturday 15th April 1950.
Berlingske Tidene, Monday 17 April 1950.
‘The Americans are leaving’, undated clipping.

Wikipedia lists several other planes and crew lost in Cold War air to air combat between the US and the USSR, mostly but not all US losses.

In 1952, two Swedish military aircraft were shot down by Soviet aircraft over the Baltic in events very similar to the downing of the US Navy Privateer in 1950. The first was a Swedish military DC3 with a crew of eight on a signals intelligence mission in co-operation with NATO, shot down on June 13th 1952. Like the 1950 US Navy flight, the cover story maintained for decades was that the DC3 was on a navigation training mission. The second plane was a Swedish military Catalina flying boat, part of the search operation for the DC3, shot down three days later off the coast of Estonia. All five of the Catalina’s crew were rescued.

The RAF also lost one plane with its entire seven man crew to an attack by Soviet aircraft over Germany on March 12th 1953, two days after another attack where Soviet Mig-15s downed a US jet. The same day, between four and eight Soviet fighters were alleged to have conducted a mock attack on a civilian BEA Viking airliner on the Berlin-Munich run. The Glasgow Herald reported ‘a prevailing view in Germany’ that Soviet attacks at the time on British and American aircraft were counter-actions after the Danish Government’s retention of a Polish MiG fighter that had landed the week before on the Baltic island of Bornholm.