International Situations at the Time
In 1949, the former Soviet Union completed a test explosion of atomic bomb. Within the next 5 years, it had produced hydrogen bombs and long-range strategic bombers, and greatly improved its military technology. Under this precarious situation, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a proposal from the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a high-altitude reconnaissance plane that could fly above 70,000 ft.
The Korean War erupted in 1950, U.S. government at the time wanted to know the status of military assistance provided by Chinese communists to North Korea, and the reconnaissance mission could only be accomplished by long-flying planes taking off from U.S. bases in Okinawa, Japan. In addition, Mainland China was technically supported by the former Soviet Union to establish an experimental heavy-water plant in Beijing in order to develop atomic bombs. Furthermore, it had set up nuclear reactors in Lanzhou and Baotou, located more than 3,000 km away from Taiwan, to produce U-235 for atomic bombs. In the meantime, a missile test-launch facility was built at Ussuriysk in the north of Baotou. All these pieces of intelligence, which could be gleaned by U-2s, were critical to U.S. decision-making for strategic deployment. The Republic of China (ROC) signed a “Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of China,” in 1954, and was accordingly identified as sided with the “democratic camp.” Consequently, considering the efficiency and effectiveness of the mission and its possible flight routes if the U.S. would like to assign U-2s to fly into the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, the sovereign territory of the ROC, was a much better alternative of basing, and the “Project Razor” was thus conceived.
ased on the interests of the ROC and the U.S. and the instruction of Chiang Ching-kuo, Deputy Secretary-general of the National Defense Council, the ROC Air Force (ROCAF) selected its elite pilots, who were going to conduct high-altitude reconnaissance missions, to receive training at a strategic AFB in Texas, U.S, starting from April 1959. However, the required air assets failed to arrive as expected, so the pilots didn’t receive the training in the U.S. until July 1960. Afterwards, U.S. technicians started to move in Taiwan from November 1960, and the mission was ready to go in the next year, 1961.
On 1st February 1963, the “Weather Reconnaissance and Research Section” was formally set up and put under the jurisdiction of the Office of Deputy Chief of Staff/Intelligence (A2) in the General Headquarters (former body of the Command Headquarters) of the ROCAF, and the section was the de facto “35th SQ” as it was known in the public. In 1967, the agreement for “Project Razor” was sign by representatives from both countries with a validity from 13th January 1962 to 24th May 1974. During the period, 220 reconnaissance missions had been conducted to span a coverage of more than 10 million km2 over 30 more provinces in the Chinese mainland.
Stories of Brave Souls
During the period of its operations, the Black Cat Squadron lost 6 U-2s (5 among them were downed by the People’s Liberation Army) with 4 pilots killed in action and 2 captured. On 9th September 1962, Lieutenant Colonel Chen Huai (posthumously renamed as Chen Huai-sheng by then President Chiang Kai-shek) flew U-2C #378 from Taoyuan AFB heading to Xi’an for a reconnaissance mission, and he was shot down by SA-2 missiles of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) over Nanchang, Jiangxi Province.
On 1st November 1963, Major Yeh Chang-di (Robin) flew a U-2 on a reconnaissance mission for suspected nuclear facilities in Wuhan, Hubei Province. He was shot down by PLAAF SA-2 missiles in the vicinity of Yin’tan, Jiangxi Province, and was later captured as a prisoner. On 10th November 1982, he and Major Chang Li-yi (another downed U-2 pilot) were released in Hongkong, and both of them were later arranged to live in the U.S. by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
On 7th July 1964, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Nan-ping (Terry) flew a U-2 from U.S. Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines to reconnoiter PR China’s supply route from Hainan Island to the borderlines between Mainland China and North Vietnam. He was hit by a PLAAF SA-2 SAM over Chenghai, Fujian Province, and perished after a failed ejection.
On 10th January 1965, Major Chang Li-yi (Jack) flew a U-2C from Taoyuan AFB to conduct an IR photo reconnaissance mission at night via Shandong Peninsula en route to Baotou in Mongolia, so as to discern the production status of PLA’s A-bomb factories in the area. He was shot down around 0230 hours by SA-2 SAM, and bailed out. But he was captured, and sent to a labor camp. On the Double-Tenth (National) Day in 1983 [sic], he and Major Yeh Chang-di were released in Hongkong, and were arranged by U.S. CIA to live in the country.
On 8th September 1967, Captain Hwang Rung-pei (Tom) was assigned a reconnaissance mission over Jiangsu Province, and he was shot down and killed by a PLAAF HQ-2 SAM, a reverse-engineered SA-2 SAM, in Jiaxin, Zhejiang Province.
On 16th May 1969, Major Chang Hsieh (Billy) was assigned a reconnaissance mission at night over the coast of Hebei Province, but encountered a flight control failure over the Yellow Sea. After a week of aerial and maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations around the mishap area, not a single trace of the plane was found.