Crises of the Cold War 1955-70

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Phoebe
  • Created on: 27-05-13 13:10


  • Feb 1956 - Khrushchev makes his secret speech
  • Nov 1956 - Soviets crush Hungarian Uprising
  • Oct 1957 - USSR launches first satellite - Sputnik 1
  • Oct 1958 - USA launches Pioneer 1 spacecraft
  • May 1960 - U2 Crisis; Paris 1 Summit Conference
  • Apr 1961 - Soviets launch first man into space; Bay of Pigs 
  • May 1961 - First American in space
  • Aug 1961 - Berlin Wall built
  • Oct 1962 - Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Oct 1963 - Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
  • Aug 1968 - USSR invades Czechoslovakia; Brezhnev Doctrine
  • Jul 1969 - USA lands first man on the moon
1 of 29

Peaceful co-existence

  • Feb 1956 - Khrushchev makes a secret speech denouncing Stalin's brutality and stressing the need for peaceful co-existence with the West
  • However, this change in Soviet policy did not stop the USSR from violently crushing challenges to the Soviet control of communist Europe
  • The rivalry between the USSR and the USA continued and widened into space 
2 of 29

The Hungarian Uprising


  • Hungary had reparations taken from it by the Soviets and a communist government set up with the support of the USSR, established by Rakosi
  • When Stalin died, Rakosi was replaced by the more moderate Imre Nagy, but in 1955 Rakosi seized power again
  • Khrushchev's condemnation of Stalin and events in Poland in June 1956, where riots and disturbances had led to Khrushchev accepting a change of leader, encouraged the Hungarians to protest against Rakosi's leadership
  • Rakosi and his secret police (the AVH) executed 2000 opponents and imprisoned over 200,000
  • The public also protested against the falling standards of living and increased poverty
3 of 29

The Hungarian Uprising - Events

  • Protests increased, and in October riots broke out in Budapest
  • Street fighting lasted for five days and prisoners were released
  • Stalin's statue was pulled down and dragged through the streets
  • Only the security police remained loyal to the USSR
  • Rakosi was forced to resign, and Soviet tanks moved in
  • The more popular Nagy became Prime Minister, and the Soviet troops withdrew
  • It appeared that the USSR had been defeated by one of its satellites
  • The new Hungarian government began to make reforms
  • These would lead to free elections, the end of the secret police and the removal of the Soviet army of occupation - Khrushchev seemed to accept this
  • However when Nagy demanded the right for Hungary to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and follow a neutral role in the Cold War, it was the final straw
  • Free elections could mean the end of Communism in Hungary
  • If Hungary withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, there would be a gap in the Iron Curtain and the Soviet buffer zone with the West would be broken
4 of 29

The Hungarian Uprising part 3

  • 1st November 1956 - Soviet troops re-entered Hungary
  • By 4th November they had reached Budapest
  • Over 1000 tanks moved into the city to crush the uprising
  • Nagy appealed to the West for help but none came
  • The Soviets seized the radio station and there was no organised defence after 4th November
  • Two weeks of street fighting followed, but the Hungarians were no match for the Soviet forces
  • A new pro-Soviet communist government was set up under Kadar
  • Nagy was captured and (although he had been promised a free passage out of Hungary) shot
  • Changes were made to avoid a repeat of events, but Hungary was now firmly in Soviet control
5 of 29

The Hungarian Uprising - Results

  • The USSR claimed that it had gone into Hungary to support Kadar and Hungarian patriots, who had formed a government of revolutionary workers to oppose Nagy
  • The Soviets justified themselves by declaring that the government of Nagy had allowed itself to be dominated by a fascist mob, financed by the imperialist West
  • When the UN looked into the details of the rising, it found no evidence of popular support in Hungary for Kadar's new government
  • Around 4000 Hungarians, mostly civilians, were killed along with 700 Soviet troops
  • Over 200,000 refugees fled to the West
  • There was no active support for the uprising in the West - the Americans simply protested
  • Other satellite states in Eastern Europe did not dare to challenge Soviet authority after Hungary
  • Khrushchev strengthened his position in the USSR and showed the West that peaceful co-existence had its limits
  • It marked a stalemate in the Cold War - the West did not interfere with Soviet activities in Eastern Europe
6 of 29

Nuclear arms and the space race

  • The USSR developed the technology to fire a satellite into space (Sputnik 1 - October 1957) before the USA
  • This upset the pride of the Americans and affected their security
  • The space race was closely tied in nuclear arms development
  • Up until 1957 the USA were always ahead in the development of nuclear weapons
  • To use nuclear weapons against the Soviets, the USA would have to carry them in aeroplanes, which could easily be shot down
  • The launch of the Sputnik meant that the Soviets had developed rockets which could carry nuclear warheads and reach the USA
  • The USA developed its own Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in 1957 and, by 1959, they could be stored underground and ready for use in 30 seconds
7 of 29

More arms and space race

  • The firing of a Polaris missile from a nuclear submarine by the USA in 1960 meant that a missile could be fired from the sea closer to the USSR and therefore be more accurate
  • ICBMs were placed in friendly powers close to America's enemy
  • The USA placed missiles in Turkey in 1959 and the USSR tried to place them in Cuba in 1962
  • In the 1960s both superpowers were intent on having enough nuclear weapons to be able to respond to an attack
  • They kept a check on the progress being made by the other power by a series of spy networks
  • Each superpower possessed enough weapons to destroy the other and therefore they were less likely to use them
  • They had to continue to build up these weapons to keep the balance, which was expensive but prevented war (known as the "nuclear deterrent")
  • By the end of the 60s the superpowers had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the rest of the world (known as Mutually Assured Destruction)
8 of 29

The U2 Crisis

  • As part of his policy of peaceful co-existence, Khrushchev had visited the USA in 1959 and it was agreed to hold a Summit Meeting of the leaders of the USSR, USA, Britain and France in Paris in 1960, in order to solve some of the Cold War problems
  • They hoped that the USSR would sign a peace treaty with Germany
  • These hopes were shattered when, just before the Summit Meeting, an American U2 plane was shot down over the USSR
  • The U2 was a spy plane developed by the Americans, and could fly at high altitudes, out of range of most planes - they were used to successfully spy on the Soviets for fours years
  • 1st May 1960 - Gary Powers took off from a US air base in Pakistan and flew over the USSR, taking photos of military sites in the USSR for the CIA
  • The U2 was hit by a Soviet missile near the town of Sverdlovsk
  • Powers was forced to eject from the plane and was captured by the Soviets
  • The plane was recovered and the photos developed, so Khrushchev now knew that powers had been on a spying mission
9 of 29

Results of the U2 crisis

  • Initially, Khrushchev simply announced that an American plane had been shot down over the USSR
  • The Americans immediately began to try and cover up the truth, announcing that one of their weather planes had gone missing over Turkey and must have gone off course
  • They did not know that Powers had been captured and had admitted to spying
  • Khrushchev had the photos as further proof, and announced this to the world, demanding an apology from the USA and a promise to stop any future flights and punish those responsible
  • The Americans had been caught spying and lying, but Eisenhower refused to apologise
  • He claimed that the USA had to use spying missions to protect itself
  • Khrushchev condemned this response, stormed out of the Summit Meeting and withdrew his invitation to Eisenhower to visit the USSR
  • The Paris Summit and the thaw in relations between the superpower were at an end
10 of 29

The importance of the U2 Crisis

  • It ended the Paris Summit Meeting and the progress towards the solution to the Cold War
  • This meant that there was no Test Ban Treaty and the problem of Berlin remained, leading to the building of the Berlin War
  • Peaceful co-existence was at an end
  • Eisenhower and the Americans were blamed for the failure
  • In the election at the end of 1960, Vice President Nixon was defeated by JFK
  • It was a propaganda victory for the USSR
  • America placed its forces on alert as it expected some form of retaliation 
  • The mistrust created by the U2 Crisis was partly responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Although Eisenhower had promised an end to all American spying missions, it led to an acceleration of work in the USA on new methods and systems for spying
  • The Chinese felt it proved their belief that the USA could not be trusted, so peaceful co-existence would never work
11 of 29

The Berlin Wall

  • 1958 - Khrushchev demanded that the West gave up West Berlin, but backed down when he realised that the Americans would oppose any attempted takeover
  • The Marshall Plan meant that living standards were better in West Berlin
  • This was an advert for capitalism, and many people crossed the border
  • Between 1945 and 1961, over 2 million people defected from East to West Berlin
  • Many were educated/skilled people whom the East could not afford to lose
  • This was a severe embarrassment to Khrushchev and Communism, and in 1961 he decided to put a stop to this movement of citizens
  • Overnight on 13th August 1961, the city was divided in two by barbed wire and the crossing points were either sealed or guarded with Soviet tanks
  • The USA took little action about this other than to issue a protest
  • Kennedy sent his Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, to Berlin with some troops
  • All this did was restore West German morale and make the Soviets realise that the USA would resist any attempt to extend communist influence into West Berlin
  • There was a small confrontation of tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in October which could have escalated, but no shots were fired and the tanks withdrew
12 of 29

The wall goes up

  • The barbed wire was replaced by a massive stone wall 45km long and 3.6m wide
  • Families and friends were separated, and around 60,000 commuters who had travelled daily from East to West Berlin were no longer able to work
  • Anyone trying to cross the wall was shot - more than 40 Germans died in the first year alone
  • Others managed to avoid the guards and escape to the West, normally by climbing the wall in the early days, though later, when the defences were strengthened, by tunnelling
  • Eventually, eight borders crossings were set up (one was Checkpoint Charlie)
  • Visits from West Germany to East Berlin were allowed, but a permit had to be obtained
  • It was much for difficult to obtain a permit to travel from East to West Berlin
  • Its main achievement for the USSR was that it reduced the number of defectors
  • The West accepted the wall with just a protest, but their governments made full propaganda use of the wall, claiming that it was a failure for Communism because the USSR had to cage in their citizens to prevent them from escaping
13 of 29

The importance of the Berlin Wall

  • In 1963 Kennedy visited the wall and made a speech in which he stated that to be a citizen of Berlin was the proudest boast of a free man
  • The speech was greeted with load cheering by the people of West Berlin
  • It reduced the number of defections from East Berlin from over 3 million to 5000 
  • It ended up as a propaganda victory for the West 
  • The shooting of people attempting to defect added to this as the USA criticised the tyranny of communist rule, which needed walls and force to keep its citizens 
  • It stabilised the economy of East Germany - only one currency existed, so the economy grew after the wall was built and the government gained better control of its citizens
  • It was settled peacefully: Kennedy's reaction showed that he did not want to lose face, but did not want a war - he overcame criticism in West Germany who wanted him to fight back
  • Plans for a united Berlin and Germany were ended - there was no longer a fear of a blockade - the USSR had given up all hope of taking control of West Berlin
  • The official number of deaths was 136, but it could have been as many as 200
14 of 29

Castro and Cuba

  • Until 1959 Cuba was ruled by the corrupt dictator Batista, who was friendly with the USA
  • Americans owned property and industry in Cuba and the USA was a major market for Cuban goods
  • In 1959 Batista was overthrown in a revolution led by Fidel Castro
  • Castro became leader of Cuba and got rid of all foreign influence 
  • All American-owned land was seized and businesses nationalised
  • In retaliation, the USA refused to buy the Cubans' main export, sugar cane, so Castro arranged instead to sell it to the USSR
  • The Americans became extremely concerned about Cuba
  • Castro was believed to be a communist, and the USA feared any expansion of Communism
  • Moreover, the USSR now had an ally close to the USA
15 of 29

The Bay of Pigs

  • Before Kennedy came to power, there was a plan to invade Cuba and and link up with the opponents of Castro on the island
  • Kennedy was advised by the CIA that Castro could be overthrown if the USA supported a group of Cuban rebels
  • With American support, a force of around 1400 rebels landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba
  • They were trapped on the beach by Castro's forces and defeated easily
  • Many in the USA blamed Kennedy because he had refused to give air cover to the invasion as he did not want to be seen to be openly supporting the rebels
  • The Americans still had a naval base at Guantanamo in Cuba and Castro feared that they would attack Cuba again, so he turned to the USSR for help as a communist
  • Khrushchev began to provide him with weapons and surface-to-air missiles
  • Kennedy's actions made Khrushchev think that Kennedy was weak, so Khrushchev took advantage of this by supplying Cuba with long-range missiles that could reach the USA
16 of 29

The start of the Cuban Missile Crisis

  • As the Soviets had not yet developed missiles like Polaris, which could be fired from submarines, a base in Cuba -so close to the USA- would enable them to threaten the USA
  • Khrushchev saw the missile bases in Cuba as an answer to the American bases in Turkey
  • The USA suspected that these missile bases were being set up but, when challenged, Khrushchev denied it and claimed that the USSR had no intention of placing missiles on Cuba
  • 16th October 1962 - an American U2 spy plane took photos of launch pads that were being built for long-range missiles on Cuba
  • At this stage, there were no missiles but, when in place, they could carry hydrogen bombs and could reach and destroy most cities in the USA within 20 minutes
17 of 29

The difficulties facing the USA

  • If Kennedy ignored the missiles and simply made a diplomatic protest like with the Berlin Wall, it would appear that he had backed down and was weak
  • If he launched an attack on Cuba to remove the missile bases, it would involve loss of life
  • If it was a nuclear attack it could provoke a nuclear war 
  • Soviet ships with missiles on board were heading for Cuba
  • Kennedy decided that the best course of action was to put a naval blockade around Cuba
  • 22nd October - he announced that the sea within 800km of Cuba would be placed in quarantine and that no ships carrying weapons would be allowed through by the US navy
  • Kennedy called on Khrushchev to withdraw the weapons 
18 of 29

Crisis point

  • Soviet ships carrying rockets approached Cuba - soon they would reach the blockade
  • 24th October 1962 - on seeing the blockade, the ships turned round
  • The immediate danger had been prevented, but the crisis was not over
  • Kennedy demanded that the Soviets remove all their sites and missiles from Cuba
  • 26th October - Khrushchev agreed  to consider dismantling the sites if Kennedy lifted the blockade
  • The next day, Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev demanding that the USA remove its missiles from Turkey in exchange for removing the Cuban missiles
  • Kennedy ignored this second letter and replied to the one of 26th October agreeing to lift the blockade if Khrushchev dismantled the missiles
  • Kennedy threatened to invade Cuba if Khrushchev had not replied by 29th October
  • Once again, the world was on the brink of a possible nuclear war
19 of 29

Incidents that could have provoked war

  • One Soviet ship was boarded and a crate containing nuclear bombs opened
  • 26th October - a U2 plane was shot down over Cuba and the pilot was killed
  • Mr U. Thant, the General Secretary of the UN, urged the two leaders to avoid war
  • 28th October - Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba in return for the lifting of the blockade and Kennedy's promise not to invade Cuba
  • Khrushchev was able to claim that he had guaranteed the safety of Cuba and worked with the UN to prevent war
  • The blockade was lifted and the Soviets began to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba
20 of 29

The results of the Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Nuclear war had been avoided, to the relief of the whole world
  • It was regarded as the nearest that the world has ever been to nuclear war and mass destruction, and the tensest moment in the Cold War
  • The Soviets now had a communist ally near the USA
  • Kennedy's reputation was increased: he was seen as strong because he had stood up to Khrushchev and forced him to back down over the missiles
  • It restored his prestige after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion
  • Khrushchev had successfully protected Cuba and claimed that he was the peacemaker who had listened to the appeal of the UN to avoid war 
  • Both leaders understood how close they had come to war, and realised that this was due to their policies of brinkmanship
  • This led to a thaw in the tension of the Cold War - a telephone link between Washington and Moscow ("the hotline") was set up so the leaders could talk
  • A Disarmament Conference held in 1962 resulted in the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that banned the testing of nuclear weapons in the air or on the ground to avoid polluting the atmosphere (they could still be tested underground)
21 of 29


  • Czechoslovakia was the last of the satellite states to become communist in 1948
  • It had applied for Marshall Aid from the USA but Stalin prevented this
  • From 1948-1968 it was ruled by Novotny, who was loyal to the USSR
  • It had been a democracy from 1919-1938 and objected to Soviet control
  • The Czechs wanted more freedom in their lives and wider trade
  • January 1968 - Novotny was forced to resign and was replaced by Alexander Dubcek
22 of 29

The Prague Spring

  • As leader of the Czech Communist Party, Dubcek believed in Communism, but introduced a more relaxed version - "Communism with a human face"
  • He believed that the government should respond to the needs of the people
  • Censorship of the press and radio was removed and the powers of the secret police reduced
  • Government control of industry and agriculture was reduced and trade unions were given greater powers
  • The borders with the West were opened: Czechs were permitted to trade/travel there
  • Dubcek remembered what had happened in Hungary in 1956 and constantly stressed to the Soviets that the Czechoslovakia was still communist and he had no intention of withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact
  • The reforms, known as the Prague Spring, were popular in Czechoslovakia but caused some concern in the USSR
23 of 29

The USSR's response

  • Brezhnev was worried that the introduction of free speech in Czechoslovakia would lead to demands for more freedom in the USSR and its satellite countries
  • Opposition to Czechoslovakia was encouraged by Warsaw Pact leaders
  • Communist leaders in the satellite countries thought that increased freedom in Czechoslovakia would weaken their position in their own countries
  • Brezhnev was concerned that Czechoslovakia would look more to the West than to the USSR and, in this way, cause a gap in the Iron Curtain which could lead to its collapse
  • Brezhnev tried to negotiate - Dubcek was consulted and the position of Czechoslovakia was discussed by all the Warsaw Pact countries
  • Dubcek constantly maintained that Czechoslovakia was still communist and would remain within the Warsaw Pact
  • It was a great surprise to him and the rest of the world when on 20th August 1968 Soviet tanks and troops from the Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia

24 of 29

The USSR's response part 2

  • Remembering what had happened in Hungary in 1956, the Czech government did not resist, so there was no fighting, only passive resistance by the people of Czechoslovakia - fewer than 100 people were killed
  • There were demonstrations against the invaders and some Soviet tanks were attacked with petrol bombs or covered in whitewash
  • The Soviet troops were surprised by how much the Czech people hated them 
  • Dubcek was recalled to Moscow and replaced by Husak
  • Reforms were withdrawn, oppositions continued and a student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire in Prague in January 1969
  • Dubcek was allowed to return as a minor official, but eventually he was dismissed from the Communist Party
  • After about a year, the opposition died down; the Soviets had restored their control by force
25 of 29

The Brezhnev Doctrine

  • The Brezhnev Doctrine was the name given to the statement to explain Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia
  • The Soviet leader, Brezhnev, made it policy in a speech in November 1968
  • "When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some Socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all Socialist countries"
  • The speech made it clear that any country which attempted to break away from Soviet control would be regarded as a threat to the whole of the Warsaw Pact countries
  • This put an end to any hopes of reforming Communism
  • The Brezhnev Doctrine remained in force until it was reversed by Gorbachev in 1989
26 of 29

The effects of events in Czechoslovakia

  • The suppression of Dubcek's reforms and the Brezhnev Doctrine sent a clear signal to the rest of the satellite countries that the USSR would resist any attempts to break away from Soviet-controlled communist countries
  • It ended all attempts to reform Communism from within - this would not be allowed by the USSR
  • The Czechs became even more resentful of Soviet rule, but realised that there was little they could do about it
  • Over 250,000 emigrated in the years after 1968
  • The West disapproved of the Soviet action but did nothing
  • Relations had been better with the USSR since Cuba and the USA knew that any action of behalf of Czechoslovakia would ruin this
  • It was another example of the USSR being allowed to control its area of influence without any interference
  • The invasion of Czechoslovakia was no threat to the security of the USA or any NATO country so the USSR was left to get on with it
27 of 29

Soviet Leaders 1922-1991

Vladimir Lenin: 1922 - 1924

Alexei Rykov: 1924 – Disputed

Joseph Stalin: Disputed - 1953

Georgy Malenkov: 1953 - 1955  

Nikita Khrushchev: 1955 - 1964 (retired after Cuban Missile Crisis)

Leonid Brezhnev: 1964 - 1982

Yuri Andropov: 1982 - 1984 - OLD

Konstantin Chernenko: 1984 - 1985 - OLD         

Mikhail Gorbachev: 1985 - 1991

28 of 29

US Presidents 1933-1993

Franklin D. Roosevelt: 1933–1945

Harry S. Truman: 1945–1953

Dwight D. Eisenhower: 1953–1961

John F. Kennedy: 1961–1963

Lyndon B. Johnson: 1963–1969

Richard M. Nixon: 1969–1974

Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977

James E. (Jimmy) Carter: 1977–1981

Ronald W. Reagan: 1981–1989

George H. W. Bush: 1989–1993

29 of 29


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Cold War resources »