The Cold War

HideShow resource information

Ideological differences - Stalin vs Truman

  • Politics - America was capitalist, Russia was communist.
  • Lifestyle - America had freedom and a two-party democracy; Russia had secret police and a one-party state.
  • Aims - America wanted Germany to recover as a trading partner; Russia wanted to weaken Germany and create a buffer zone of friendly states around Russia.


1 of 13

The Yalta and Potsdam conferences

Yalta and Potsdam - the basics

Yalta - February 1945: Germany was not yet defeated, so, although there were tensions about Poland, the big three - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - managed to agree to split Germany into four zones of occupation, and to allow free elections in Eastern European countries. Russia was invited to join the United Nations, and Russia promised to join the war against Japan when Germany was defeated.

Potsdam - July 1945: Germany had been defeated, Roosevelt had died and Churchill had lost the 1945 election - so there were open disagreements. Truman came away angry about the size of reparations and the fact that a communist government was being set up in Poland. Truman did not tell Stalin that he had the atomic bomb.

2 of 13

Soviet power in Eastern Europe

Twenty million Russians died during the Second World War, so Stalin said he wanted a buffer zone of friendly states around Russia to make sure that Russia could never be invaded again.

Stalin was planning the takeover of Eastern Europe. During the war, Communists from the occupied countries of Eastern Europe escaped to Moscow and set up Communist governments in exile there. As the Red Army drove the Nazis back, it occupied large areas of Eastern Europe and Churchill in the so-called percentages agreement - agreed that Eastern Europe could be a Soviet "sphere of influence".

In the countries that the Red Army "liberated", communist-dominated governments took power. The Communists made sure that they controlled the army, set up a secret police force, and began to arrest their opponents. Non-Communists were gradually beaten, murdered, executed and terrified out of power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, were hard line Stalinist regimes.

In 1946, in a speech at Fulton in the USA, Churchill declared that an Iron Curtainhad come down across Europe, and that Soviet power was growing and had to be stopped. Stalin called Churchill's speech a "declaration of war". In 1947, Stalin set upComintern - an alliance of Communist countries designed to make sure they obeyed Soviet rule.

3 of 13

The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan

In 1947, two important events occured: firstly, President Truman warned the American Congress that it was America's job to contain Communism - this became known as the Truman Doctrine - and secondly, General George Marshall came up with a plan to help Europe recover from the war using American money - this became known as the Marshall Plan. In this Revision Bite, you will learn about these policies.

4 of 13

The Berlin Blockade and airlift

In 1945, the Allies decided to split Germany into four zones of occupation. The capital, Berlin, was also split into four zones. The USSR took huge reparations from its zone in eastern Germany, but Britain, France and America tried to improve conditions in their zones.

In June 1948, Britain, France and America united their zones into a new country, West Germany. On 23 June 1948, they introduced a new currency, which they said would help trade.

The next day, Stalin cut off all rail and road links to west Berlin - the Berlin Blockade. The west saw this as an attempt to starve Berlin into surrender, so they decided to supply west Berlin by air.

The Berlin Blockade lasted 318 days. During this time, 275,000 planes transported 1.5 million tons of supplies and a plane landed every three minutes at Berlin's Templehof airport.

On 12 May 1949, Stalin abandoned the blockade.

5 of 13

The Korean War

In 1945, Korea was split along the 38th parallel between a communist north led by Kim IL Sung, and a non-communist south led by Syngman Rhee.

But communism was growing in the Far East. In 1949, the Communists had taken power in China. The US developed the 'domino theory' - the idea that, if one country fell to communism, others would follow like a row of dominoes. Then, in 1950, a report by the American National Security Council ('NSC68') recommended that the US stop containment and start to roll back communism.

The war

  • In 1950, after getting the support of Russia and China, Kim IL Sung invaded South Korea.
  • The North Korean People's Army (NKPA) easily defeated the Republic of Korea's army (the ROKs).
  • By September, the NKPA had conquered almost the whole of South Korea.
  • The USA went to the United Nations and got them to send troops to defend South Korea.
  • The Russians couldn't veto the idea because they were boycotting the UN at the time.
  • In September, UN troops, led by the US General MacArthur, landed in Korea and drove the NKPA back.
  • By October, the UN forces had almost conquered all of North Korea.
  • In November 1950, Chinese People's Volunteers attacked and drove the Americans back.
  • They recaptured North Korea, and advanced into South Korea.
  • The Americans landed more troops and drove the Chinese back to the 38th parallel, where Truman ordered General MacArthur to stop and sacked him when he disagreed.
  • The war went on as border clashes until 1953 when America's new president, Eisenhower, offered peace, but threatened to use the atomic bomb if China did not accept the offer.

Recently, historians have shown that the Korean crisis almost led to a third world war - many US advisers wanted to use the atomic bomb.

6 of 13

International tension

When Stalin died, it looked like a new era was beginning between East and West. The new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advocated a peaceful co-existence - so did relations improve between East and West?

1953-1960 - changes

In 1953, Stalin died and Nikita Khrushchev became the Soviet leader. He was a jolly man, who said to prevent the most destructive war in history, there needed to be "peaceful co-existence" between the superpowers. He said Stalin was a terrible tyrant and he wanted to "de-Stalinise" Eastern Europe.

Everyone hoped that it would improve East-West relations.

It did not. In fact, the period 1953-1960 was the time of greatest danger in the Cold War. America and Russia competed with each other in the arms race, in sport, and in the space race.

7 of 13

international Tension (Part 2)

Why did 'peaceful co-existence' make the Cold War more dangerous?

  1. Khrushchev's statement that he wanted to "de-Stalinise" Eastern Europe led to anti-Soviet rebellions in 1956 in Poland and Hungary, and Khrushchev sent in Russian troops to re-establish Soviet control.
  2. Russia and America waged an arms race, developing H-bombs and ICBMs.
  3. Khrushchev set up the Warsaw Pact in 1955 - a military alliance of communist countries - to rival NATO. America responded by increasing the number of NATO troops in Germany.
  4. Russia and America competed in every way possible - eg in sport, and in the space race. Russia launched the first satellite - Sputnik - in 1957, and sent the first man into orbit - Yuri Gagarin - in 1961. Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space in 1961, and President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon by 1969. This was not just a propaganda war, it was a clash of ideologies as both sides tried to prove that their way was best.
  5. America responded aggressively. Senator McCarthy led a series of public trials of suspected Communists - the so-called witch-hunts.
  6. Both sides spied on each other. The Americans also used U2 spy planes to spy on Russia.
8 of 13

The Hungarian Revolution

Hungary had been controlled by Russia since 1945. The death of Stalin brought people in many Eastern European countries the hope of freedom and change, but as the 1956 uprising in Hungary proved, this was not to be the case.

Hungarian revolution

  • The statue of Stalin lies broken (

    1. The death of Stalin led many Hungarians to hope that Hungary also would be 'de-Stalinised'. In July 1956, the 'Stalinist' Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, Rakosi, fell from power.

    2. During October 1956, students, workers and soldiers in Hungary attacked the AVH (the secret police) and Russian soldiers, and smashed a statue of Stalin.

  • Russian troops leave Budapest (

    3. On 24 October 1956 Imre Nagy - a moderate and a westerniser - took over as prime minister.

    4. Nagy asked Khrushchev to move the Russian troops out. Khrushchev agreed and on 28 October 1956, the Russian army pulled out of Budapest.

9 of 13

The U2 incident

By the late 1950s tension had increased between the two superpowers, the USSR and USA. A summit was arranged in Paris to try to sort things out, but shortly before it was due to take place an American U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and the summit collapsed.

The U2 incident and the Paris summit of 1960

By the end of the 1950s, there was massive tension in the Cold War:

  • The arms race - both sides accepted the need for some kind of Nuclear Test Ban treaty.
  • Berlin - the Russians were furious that many East Germans were fleeing to the west through West Berlin.
  • Cuba - the Americans were worried because Fidel Castro, a Communist, had seized power there in 1959.
  • A summit meeting was arranged for Paris to try to sort things out.

On 1st May 1960 - thirteen days before the summit - an American U2 spy plane wasshot down over Russia and the pilot, Gary Powers, was captured. At first, the Americans tried to say that it was a weather plane, but they were forced to admit that it was a spy plane when the Russians revealed that much of his plane had survived, and that they had captured Gary Powers alive.

When the summit met on 14 May, the first thing Khrushchev did was to demand that the US president, Eisenhower, apologise. When Eisenhower refused, Khrushchev went home.

The Cold War had just become substantially more dangerous.

10 of 13

The Berlin Wall

By the 1960s Berlin was still divided - the USSR controlled the East and the USA guaranteed freedom in the West. Thousands of refugees escaped to West Berlin each day - much to the embarrassment of the USSR - so in 1961 Khrushchev closed the border and ordered the construction of a wall to stop people leaving.

The problems in West Berlin

West Berlin was a worry and an embarrassment for the Soviet Union in 1961:

  • Nearly 2,000 refugees a day were fleeing to the West through west Berlin - hardly proof of the Soviet claim that the Communist way of life was better than capitalism!
  • Many of those leaving were skilled and qualified workers.
  • The Soviets believed (rightly) that West Berlin was a centre for US espionage.

At the Vienna Summit of June 1961, therefore, Khrushchev demanded that the USleave West Berlin within six months. Kennedy refused and instead guaranteed West Berlin's freedom.

On 13 August, Khrushchev closed the border between East and West Berlin and started building the Berlin Wall. At first, the Russians regarded it as a propaganda success, but as time went on, it became a propaganda disaster - a symbol of all that was bad about Soviet rule.

11 of 13

Causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962, the Cold War was at its coldest. The Russians had built the Berlin Wall the previous year. Kennedy who had been elected because he promised to get tough with the Communists felt that Khrushchev had got one over on him at the Vienna Summit in 1961. In April 1962, the Americans put nuclear missiles in Turkey.

Also, in 1959, a rebel named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, an island just 90 miles away from Florida. Before Castro took over, the government - led by Colonel Batista - had been a corrupt and right-wing military dictatorship, but the Americans had many business interests in Cuba.

When Castro came to power, however, he nationalised American companies in Cuba. In retaliation, the Americans stopped all aid to Cuba, and all imports of Cuban sugar. This was a blow to Castro as sugar was the mainstay of the Cuban economy. Castro was forced to look to the USSR for help, and, in 1960, the USSR signed an agreement to buy 1 million tonnes of Cuban sugar every year. Castro, who had not been a Communist when he took power, became a Communist.

America was alarmed. In April 1961, with Kennedy's knowledge, the CIA funded, trained, armed and transported 1,300 Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. They landed at the Bay of Pigs and made an attempt to overthrow Castro. The invasion was adisaster, and President Kennedy was humiliated.

12 of 13

The Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy did not dare to invade Cuba, because that action could have started a world war - yet he could not let the missile sites be completed. With his advisers, he decided on a naval blockade to prevent Russian ships delivering the missiles for the Cuban sites.

Khrushchev warned that Russia would see the blockade as an act of war. Russian forces were put on alert; US bombers were put in the air carrying nuclear bombs; preparations were made to invade Cuba. There was massive tension in both Washington and Moscow. Everybody thought the world was going to come to an end. Secretly, the Americans suggested a trade-off of missile bases - US bases in Turkey for Russian bases in Cuba.

The Russians made the first public move. The ships heading for Cuba turned back, and Khrushchev sent a telegram offering to dismantle the Cuban bases if Kennedy lifted the blockade and promised not to invade Cuba. Then, as though having second thoughts, he sent a second letter demanding the dismantling of the Turkish bases. At the vital moment, a US U2 spy plane was shot down.

However, Kennedy ignored the U2 attack and agreed publicly to the first letter, and secretly to the second. The crisis was over.

13 of 13


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

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