The Communist takeover
The Soviet-backed Communist takeover of Eastern Europe went ahead fairly rapidly in 1947 and 1948.
Early in 1947, the Hungarian Communist Party, with strong Soviet support, began strong criticism of the main opposition party, and arrested numbers of its leaders. At elections, the Communist Party became the largest party and formed the government of Hungary, although without a majority in the parliament. In November 1947 all other parties were dissolved, and Hungary became a one-party communist state.
In August 1947, the Communists accused the leader of the main opposition party of plotting to seize power. He was arrested and executed after being accused of fascist sympathies – the opposition party was banned. The Bulgarian Communist Party took over the running of the country.
In October 1947, the main opposition party was banned, and its leaders arrested. King Michael of Romania was forced to abdicate and flee the country.
A similar process took place in Poland, with the main opposition parties and groups being banned and their leaders arrested. The Communist Party soon gained control of the country.
Before World War II, Czechoslovakia had been a successful democracy and it took the Communists a little longer to establish control. However, by the start of 1948, President Benes had been forced to resign and a new government, dominated by the Communists, had taken over. In March 1948, Jan Masaryk, the last non-communist government minister, died in mysterious circumstances. All other parties were banned and the Communist Party’s grip on power became secure.
1. For this task, imagine that you are a foreign correspondent or a journalist working for a leading British newspaper. You have been sent on a tour of Eastern Europe to investigate the changes that have been taking place there, as communist governments become established. You have now to prepare your report for the newspaper.
Your report should try to include some of the following:
why Josef Stalin was so keen to establish Soviet control over Eastern Europe
the methods used to establish this control
what life was like in the East European states after the Soviet Union had gained control and set up communist governments.
Section 3: The pace quickens: the Berlin Crisis, 1948–9
The main area of concern for the Western powers now moved to Berlin.
Since the end of the war, Germany had been placed under four-power control – the USA, USSR, the UK and France. The city of Berlin, which was inside the Soviet occupation zone, was similarly placed under four-power control.
By the early months of 1948, it was obvious that relations between the USA and the USSR had deteriorated badly, and that a crisis was developing over Germany.
The West had become concerned at Russia’s refusal to reveal how many resources it had removed from Germany in reparations for war damages.
The Russians were annoyed at the decision to merge the British and American occupation zones into a unified economic area, seeing this as an attempt to begin the revival of a powerful Germany. This was intensified by the announcement that there would be a single unified currency in the Western zones to come into operation in June 1948. On 20 March 1948, the Russians walked out of the Allied Control Council.
Stalin now made the decision to confront and challenge the West over Berlin.
Stalin’s move: the blockade of West Berlin
Stalin’s aim was to put pressure on the West by an economic blockade of the three Western sectors of Berlin. By closing off all access to the city by land, Stalin believed that Berlin would rapidly face major shortages of food and fuel, with the people facing hunger and cold. The Western powers would be unable to cope with these problems, and the city would collapse into chaos and despair. He reckoned that the only option for the West would be to abandon West Berlin – and leave the Western occupation zones to be taken over by the USSR.
The Western powers, led by the USA, could challenge Stalin’s action, and attempt to open the land routes to Berlin by force. However, this would
almost certainly mean war with the USSR, and Stalin did not believe they had the courage to challenge him in this way.
On 1 April 1948, the first restrictions on access to West Berlin across the Soviet zone came into effect. Within a few weeks, all road, rail and canal links to the city had been cut. Stalin believed that all he had to do now was to wait – West Berlin would descend into chaos, the three Western powers would pull out, and Russian forces would move in. Stalin would have won a major victory, and American weakness would be obvious to the entire world.
The West’s counter-move: the Berlin Airlift
The response by the West was to begin supplying West Berlin by air, with flights using the ‘Air Corridors’ agreed in 1945 for access to the city. Organised by General Lucius Clay, the US Air Force, supported by the RAF, began round-the-clock flights by transport planes to West Berlin. All the city’s needs were supplied by air – food, medication, raw materials for factories, even coal for Berlin’s power stations. By May 1949, over 2 million tonnes of supplies had reached the city.
Stalin could have ordered the Red Air Force to attack and shoot down the transport planes. However, this would be an act of war – and the Western powers did not think that Stalin wanted this. The West was responding to Stalin’s move. He clearly wanted to get control of West Berlin, but was he prepared to risk going to war with the United States?
Stalin’s bluff had been called!
The West was right – Stalin was not prepared to risk going to war. In May 1949, the blockade of West Berlin was lifted; the land and canal routes were reopened. Stalin’s attempt to force the Western powers to abandon West Berlin had ended in failure.
The Western powers had achieved a major success in a serious confrontation with the USSR.
1. Describe how disputes developed between the USA and the USSR in the early months of 1948.
2. Explain why the West’s response to Stalin’s action over Berlin was so successful.
3. Imagine that you are a leading adviser to President Truman. You have been sent to West Berlin to study the developing crisis there, following from the closure of the land routes by the Russians, and the West’s response of the airlift. You have to prepare a report for the President, setting out how serious the risk of war is over Berlin.
The Berlin Airlift had been a clear success for the West led by the United States. Stalin had met with a decisive check to his plans to extend Soviet power further in Europe, and the West could be satisfied with the outcome of the crisis.
However, the Berlin Crisis of 1948–9 had one further important effect. The United States was now totally convinced that communism, under Soviet direction, was posing a frightening challenge to democracy everywhere, but particularly in Western Europe. The USA had already become alarmed at the Soviet takeover of the East European states, particularly Czechoslovakia. The events in Berlin now raised the prospect of a threat to Western Europe.
The West European states were simply not powerful enough to stand up to the Soviet Union. Therefore, the USA would make a commitment to support the struggle against the pressure from Soviet Communism. From now on, United States armed forces would be committed to the defence of Western Europe.
The formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April 1949. The Treaty was signed by 12 countries: the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Portugal. Later, other countries also joined – Greece and Turkey in 1952, and West Germany.
By signing this Treaty, the countries were committing themselves to an alliance in the face of communist aggression, and to a common defence policy. The USA, with its immense power and its developing nuclear forces, was by far the strongest member of this alliance. Bases for American military forces began to be established in Western Europe.
The North Atlantic Treaty was concerned with defence – it would only come into effect if any member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was attacked. The Treaty made this very clear:
‘… an attack on any one member shall be regarded as an attack on all members …’
NATO rapidly established command and organisation structures. There were frequent meetings by representatives of member governments. Regular exercises by combined land, sea and air forces took place with American forces actively participating. The message to the USSR was being made very clear – NATO meant business!
1. What were the key reasons for the formation of NATO in 1949?
2. In your opinion, what did each of the following gain from NATO membership?
The states of Western Europe
The United States
3. NATO has always stressed that it was a defensive alliance. Why do you think this was important, as the Cold War developed?
Section 4: The nuclear arms race
The nuclear arms race was the permanent and persistent theme of the Cold War. From the later 1940s onwards, the Superpowers engaged in a frantic competition to develop and construct larger and more sophisticated nuclear weapons with which to threaten each other. Each side was motivated by the urgency of the arms race to improve and modernise its stockpiles of nuclear weapons – before the other side did so.
As the nuclear arms race developed, a new fact became increasingly apparent. The two sides could not take the risk of going to war with each other. If this happened, there was a real possibility that both could be destroyed – that neither side could win. People began to speak of the idea of mutually assured destruction – that in a nuclear war, the Superpowers would destroy each other.
Thus, it can be argued that one important effect of the nuclear arms race was actually to prevent war between the Superpowers. There were many times of crisis and tension during the Cold War, but both sides were aware of the risks and took steps to try to avoid confrontations. As each crisis of the Cold War unfolded, both sides were usually working hard to find ways of resolving it, and of getting out of the difficulty, before a disastrous confrontation occurred.
It remains a fact that the Cold War remained a cold war – the USSR and the USA confronted each other, threatened and squared up to each other, but they never went to war with each other. The leaders of the Superpowers were intelligent and rational individuals – they knew the risks they faced, and took care never to go too far and risk war. The stakes were far too high for that.
The development of the arms race
‘And I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds.’
This quotation from Hindu scripture was made by Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the team of American scientists who developed the first atomic bomb, on witnessing the first nuclear test in the desert of New Mexico on 16
June 1945. Oppenheimer had no illusions about what the development of nuclear weapons might mean for the world.
In 1945, the USA led the development of nuclear weapons. The test in New Mexico was followed by the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of World War II.
Some key dates
September 1945: President Truman authorised the programme of American nuclear weapons development.
September 1949: The first Soviet nuclear test of an atom-bomb – the Arms Race had commenced.
November 1952: The USA successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, with a power of 3.5 megatonnes.
August 1953: The first test of a Soviet H-bomb – of 15 megatonnes.
At the same time as the development of the weapons, both sides began to develop methods of getting them to their targets
Long range bombers
In the late 1940s and 1950s, both sides built fleets of bombers to carry nuclear weapons – the most well-known of these were the American B-47 and B52.
Long range missile technology was improving and, by the later 1950s, these were being adapted to carry nuclear warheads. As the range of the missiles extended, they were entitled Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs. Both sides developed methods of protecting their missile sites from surprise attack. For example, the American Minuteman missiles were placed in heavily protected underground launching chambers called silos, from which they could be launched with just a few minutes warning.
Submarine launched missiles
This was very much a development of the 1960s, with the USA taking an early lead with the Polaris missile. Missile carrying nuclear submarines were constantly on the move, and difficult to detect.
Tactical nuclear missiles
These were less powerful, shorter range weapons designed for use on the battlefield, against enemy ground forces.
This was a development of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Existing missiles such as the Polaris and Minuteman could be equipped with a number of warheads, each capable of being directed to a separate target. For example, a Polaris submarine, carrying 16 missiles, could now fire 48 warheads – a vast increase in destructive power.
Mutually assured destruction
By the 1960s, both Superpowers were building up increasing stocks of nuclear weapons. Both sides were fully aware of the terrifying power of these weapons, and what would be the likely consequences if they were ever to be used. Both sides would suffer unimaginable loss of life and destruction – neither side would win a nuclear war. The Americans expressed this situation very realistically through the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
1. Draw up a table to show the development of the nuclear arms race from 1945 to the 1960s.
2. What effects did the arms race have on relations between the Superpowers?
3. Now for something a bit scary! Can you think of any sets of circumstances or situations where the unthinkable could have taken place, and nuclear weapons might actually have been used?
Source exercise: worked example
As you know, the questions in the examination make use of sources. Your first exercise on source work is shown below. This is a worked example – you will be given some advice and guidance as to how you should tackle it. There are more worked examples for you to tackle, further on in this booklet – there are also other sources for you to try on your own!
However, this time … you get some help!
From The Cold War, by J W Mason, 1996
‘The half decade from 1957 to 1962 has been called the ‘nuclear epoch’, a time when the danger of nuclear war was greater than ever before or since. On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, called Sputnik, into orbit around the earth. It was a spectacular scientific achievement that alarmed the United States, not least because of its military implications. If the USSR had a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit they could also produce a rocket with sufficient thrust to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead against a target in the USA. At a stroke, the USSR seemed to have changed the East–West strategic balance.’
1. How useful is Source 1 as evidence of the development of the nuclear arms race between the Superpowers at the time?
You should begin by looking carefully at the question … and getting very clear exactly what you are being asked to do. Note that in the exam you will be giver given some further support as to how you tackle it – you are asked to consider the origin, possible purpose and content.
This question is quite clear – you are looking for evidence of the development of the nuclear arms race within the source, and you should be looking carefully at the three headings to help you.
Read the source again: underline any words or phrases that you think are relevant to the question and write them down in the space below.
Now, start thinking about any points from recall, not in the source, that are relevant to the question. These points could come from this booklet, a textbook or your class notes.
Write down these points in the space below.
Compare your answers with a partner. Check each other’s work – what have you missed?
Finally, turn to the reference sheets at the end of this booklet, and fully check your answer there.
Section 5: The Cold War in Asia
In the 1950s, there was a significant growth in tension in Asia, as the Cold War spread to a new area of the globe. For the United States, this became a matter of major concern and led to a serious increase in American fears of Communist expansion.
The Chinese Communists, under the leadership of Mao, won victory in 1949 in the long-running Civil War, and created the People’s Republic of China. The USA saw this as a major challenge to its position in Asia, and began to develop policies of checking the advance of Communism in that part of the world. In particular, the USA became concerned that Russia and China would act together to extend Communism to other Asian countries.
The USA increasingly developed the view that it was its role to check the advance of Communism in Asia, by whatever means possible. Accordingly, the USA did not extend diplomatic recognition to Communist China, and instead gave support to Nationalist China under Chiang Kai Shek, based on the island of Taiwan. The Americans also viewed with concern the collapse of French authority in Indo-China.
This American concern with developments in Asia reached its culmination in the 1960s, with the massive deployment of US forces in the Vietnam War.
The Korean War 1950–3
For many years, Korea had been controlled by the Japanese Empire. With the collapse of Japan in 1945, the country was partitioned into two states. The communist state of North Korea was established with Soviet support, under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. In South Korea, elections were held and the anti-communist Syngman Rhee emerged as leader. Stalin provided extensive military support to North Korea, and the USA gave aid and support to South Korea.
The course of the war
1. The war began on 25 June 1950, when eight North Korean army divisions invaded South Korea. South Korea’s armed forces were speedily defeated, and Seoul, the capital city was overrun.
2. President Truman saw this attack as a deliberate move by communism to extend its power by force, and moved rapidly to give military support to South Korea. Within a few weeks, substantial US ground forces were on their way to Korea, supported by powerful naval and air forces. The United Nations Security Council also supported South Korea, and authorised action by forces from other UN members.
3. At this stage, the Korean War took a dramatically serious turn, with the surprise intervention of 350.000 troops from China. General Macarthur had made a number of statements which had alarmed the Chinese who feared that he might invade China. The Chinese troops were officially classed as ‘volunteers’, but, very obviously, the Chinese government had acted deliberately.
4. By November 1950, the UN forces (predominantly American) in the North had been driven back south of the 38 Parallel of Latitude, into South Korea. By January 1951, the Communist offensive had captured Seoul for the second time.
5. From January to April 1951, UN offensives gradually drove the Communist forces back and, by the summer, the battlefront had stabilised around the 38 Parallel, roughly where the war had started. From this point onwards, the war in Korea became relatively static, with few major advances being made by either side. Ceasefire talks began in an effort to bring the war to a conclusion.
6. In July 1953, an armistice was signed, bring the fighting in Korea to a conclusion. The two states remained divided, with a peace-line, controlled by the United Nations, being established between them.
1. Why did the United States become so concerned at the Communist victory in China in 1949?
2. Make up your own outline of the course of the Korean War, 1950–3, showing who the main participants were, and explaining the main events of the struggle. In addition to this, do you think that there was ever a risk that this war could have led to a serious confrontation between the Superpowers?
Section 6: The Hungarian uprising of 1956
1947–56 across Eastern Europe
Hungary appeared to be a very typical satellite. In 1947 elections were held, under Soviet control, which ensured that the Hungarian Communist Party became the largest party. Led by Matyas Rakosi, the Communist Party took control of the police, and all levels of administration. Rakosi used his power ruthlessly: all other parties were banned; Lazslo Rajk, Rakosi’s main rival, was executed after a show trial.
In 1952, Rakosi combined the posts of General Secretary of the Communist Party and Prime Minister. Hungary appeared to be a loyal and docile satellite state, with all the typical apparatus of censorship, propaganda, secret police organisations, and ruthless suppression of opposition.
1953: The Death of Josef Stalin
Stalin’s death in 1953 marked a watershed in post-war European history. The removal of the dictator, and the question of a successor (or successors) within the USSR, created uncertainty in Eastern Europe.
The post-war structure of rigid, centrally controlled, one-party states was the Stalinist system. But Stalin was gone. There were bound to be changes – even in the USSR itself, things were changing. What would happen in Eastern Europe?
East Germany, 1953
The Communist East German government pushed ahead with heavy industry development and the collectivisation of agriculture. In May 1953, workers demonstrations led to strikes in East Berlin and demands for economic change.
On 17 June the Red Army intervened – the strikes were broken up. Leaders were imprisoned and 40 were later executed.
Many Poles hoped for change, following the introduction of reform policies in the USSR under Khrushchev. After a series of strikes and demonstrations, a reforming government was established, with Wladsylav Gomulka as First Secretary of the Communist Party. Gomulka introduced economic reforms, reducing central control. However, Poland remained a one-party state, and a member of COMECON, and the Warsaw Pact.
By mid-1953, Hungary was facing difficulties:
a bad harvest – which led to higher food prices
problems with central planning
growing unrest among the people.
Following this, changes were ordered – by the USSR.
Rakosi remained as First Secretary of the Communist Party, but was forced to hand over the premiership to Imre Nagy, who had strongly criticised the over-centralisation of planning. Nagy slowed down the collectivisation of agriculture, allowed greater use of private workshops, and increased agricultural investment.
Nagy’s reforms antagonised the hard-line Stalinists within the Hungarian Communist Party – in March 1955 Nagy was sacked, and Rakosi resumed the premiership.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Independent political clubs began to appear from mid-1955. Liberal and nationalist pressure groups such as the Petofi Circle developed from writers and literary organisations. A major boost to this pressure for change came with the publication of Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ in February 1956, in which he denounced Stalin, and Stalinism. The fact that the Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party had delivered a massive attack on the entire system created by Stalin had a major impact on developments inside Hungary.