As drones become more common in the sky, so to do the ways to knock them down. Declassified CIA documents from the Cold War show that the ambition of knocking low-flying recon missions down is a long-standing tradition. As early as 1964, in the region now known as the Congo prompted an unusual response: a thrown spear attack.
In 1960, as the Congo stepped into independence after 75 years of Belgian colonization, a crisis of leadership emerged almost instantly. The region quickly became a proxy for both the United States and Soviet Union, which each country supporting various factions vying for power. Each country had an extreme interest in the Congo’s rich natural resources, particularly the uranium which could be used to further build nuclear weapons.
After the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961, the country sank into further chaos. Lumumba’s followers renamed themselves the Simbas with Soviet backing and while proving a resilient rebel force in the country for years, by 1964 the Simbas had begun to weaken. In a northern city then known as Stanleyville (now known as Kisangani), the rebels began taking hostages.
In preparation for the hostage crisis, the CIA began monitoring the situation remotely. Likely flying in a single-jet U-2 spy plane, the agency was monitoring Stanleyville. The pilot was surprised to see a spear thrown at them, although it did no major damage.
The incident was documented in the CIA’s internal publication Studies in Intelligence in an article titled “President Truman and the Congolese SAM,” due to the fact that it was mentioned in an intelligence briefing for former-President Truman. Deputy Director of Central Intelligence General Marshall S. Carter briefed Truman with a strong sense of condescension for the Simba rebels, calling the spear:
an unrevetted surface to air missile system. The missile, a Mark 1, Mod 1, has a manual inertial guidance system, a mobile launcher with a one-sling power velocity on takeoff, and considerable pucker power on impact. It is, however, of questionable accuracy and has an undetermined C.E.P [circular error probability]. The refire capabilities have not yet been determined.
President Truman was said to be delighted by the briefing. After a joint United States-Belgian mission known as Operation Dragon Rouge to free the hostages, the Simba rebels were defeated. Things did not work out as smoothly for the Western-aligned Congo, however: The country was taken over by the Mobutu Sese Seko, who would change its name to Zaire and lead one of the most corrupt and ruthless dictatorships of the 20th Century.
And while the lone spearman’s attack may have been futile at the time, the tactic has been since been vindicated by history. He was just a little ahead of his time.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics