How did the Cold War develop in the period 1949 to 1963?

AQA Modern World History GCSE revision notes based on the syllabus.

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NATO and the Warsaw Pact

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was set up because war between the USA and the USSR became more likely during the Berlin blockade. The USSR saw this as a threat and formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

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Nuclear weapons and the space race

1945: The Americans developed their first atom bomb.

1949: The USSR detonates its first atom bomb.

1952: The USA detonates first hydrogen bomb.

1953: The USSR detonates first hydrogen bomb.

1954: The USA develops an H-bomb small enough to be dropped from a bomber & the USSR drops H-bomb from a bomber.

1957: USSR develops first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and launches Sputnik satellite.

1958: USA puts satellite into orbit.

1959: USA develops more sophisticated ICBMs and they also develop Polaris missiles which can be fired from submarines.

1961: Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and USSR detonates largest H-bomb ever.

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The Korean War

  • In 1949 the Communist State of China was set up by Mao Tse-Tung – this meant that the USA was also worried by the Communist threat in Asia, and the Cold War extended all the way around that side of the world.
  • In 1950 War broke out in Korea. Communist North Korea went to with South Korea in order to reunite the country - this was seen as a direct challenge from Communism to the West. The USA and the Western powers intervened on behalf of the United Nations to stop communism spreading.
  • The UN ordered an immediate attack against the North Koreans.
  • UN forces landed at Inchon and drove the North Koreans back over the 38th parallel by September 1950.
  • President Truman allowed General Macarthur (UN commander) to invade North Korea - most of the UN forces were Americans.
  • This worried China, who feared a Western invasion.
  • In November 1950, China launched an attack on the UN forces, driving them back and capturing Seoul (the capital of South Korea) by February 1951.
  • Macarthur wanted to attack China but Truman disagreed - after arguing with the President, Macarthur was sacked.
  • Truman looked for peace and a cease-fire was agreed in 1963.
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The Thaw

March 1953: Stalin died - in the next three years, a power struggle ensued.

July 1953: The Korean War was ended after the USSR and USA put pressure on North and South Korea.

July 1955: The Geneva summit. Little was agreed between the Allies and USSR - an end to NATO was unacceptable to the USA and 'Eisenhower's 'open skies' policy was unacceptable to the USSR.

February 1956: In Khruschev's 'Secret Speech', he talked of the need for 'peaceful coexistence'.

April 1956: Khrushchev abolished Cominform (an international Communist organisation).

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The U2 Crisis

  • By the 1950s the Americans had developed a lightweight spy plane that could fly at 75,000 feet.
  • This meant that even if it was picked up on Soviet radar, it was too high for Soviet planes to intercept.
  • On 1st May 1960, just two days before a summit conference, a U2 plane took off from a US base in Pakistan and flew into Soviet territory. The plane took photographs deep inside the Soviet Union.
  • As Powers, the pilot, crossed the Ural mountains, his plane was hit by a Soviet missile.
  • Powers ejected himself from the plane and parachuted to the ground, where he was captured by Soviet forces.
  • As soon as the Americans discovered that the spy plane had been shot down, they began an elaborate campaign to cover up what had happened. If they admitted to the spy plane, the summit talks would be ruined.
  • At first, the Americans announced that a U2 research plane studying weather conditions at high altitude had disappeared somewhere.
  • What the Americans did not know was that the Soviet Union had captured Powers alive and that he had admitted to spying.
  • The USA had been caught spying and there seemed no way it could be denied.
  • Khrushchev demanded a full apology from the USA.
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The Berlin Wall

  • People in Eastern Europe hated Communism, so the only way of escaping Communism was to leave altogether: some left for political reasons, whereas others left because of economic reasons.
  • Living standards in the East of Berlin were tolerable, but in the West, the Capitalist state was better because of massive investment from the Allies.
  • In the 1950's, Germans were allowed to travel from the east to the west and vice versa. By the late 50's, thousands were leaving and never coming back because of the hard-line Communist leader Walter Ulbricht.
  • Most people who were fleeing were highly-skilled or well-qualified managers who the Communists did not want to lose.
  • J F Kennedy was elected in 1961. Khrushchev thought that he could bully Kennedy into withdrawing troops from Berlin. Kennedy refused.
  • At 2 o'clock on Sunday 13th August 1961, East German soldiers erected a barbed wire barrier along the border between east and west in Berlin. This ended all free travel and was replaced by a concrete wall.
  • There was one checkpoint: Checkpoint Charlie. Here, Soviet tanks pulled up and refused any access for the East.
  • JFK: 'A wall is better than a war'.
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Miss E


Thorough set of notes on certain aspects of the Cold War in these years, they cover Nato, Arms and Space Race, Korea, the Post-Stalin Thaw, the U2 Crisis and the Berlin Wall. This isn't everything you need about these years but these aspects are covered well.

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