COLD WAR WARMING UP 1948-1957external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSm6E7KXHDFrNg9KVTh5-_PJ0Hk9r6QP194ApzOaiNE5KfrQCpkXwexternal image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQHxOL3tUkvkgcCiWr0ydIHu1k881xBhKN5JupfKjtHoaeXr17Y

THE BIG QUESTIONHow secure was the USSR’s control over Eastern Europe, 1948–1956?
HEADLINE QUESTIONSHow had the USSR gained control of Eastern Europe by 1948?Why did the USA get involved in the Korean War?Why was there opposition to Soviet control in Hungary in 1956?How did the USSR react to this opposition?Why did the USSR launch Sputnik in 1957?

CONTENT THAT YOU NEED TO KNOWThe nature of Soviet control in Eastern Europe from 1948;The details of what happened in the Korean War 1950-1955;The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and the Soviet reaction;

Background to the Space Race.

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What was the Iron Curtain?

  • The Iron Curtain was the name given to the border between east and west in Europe that was set up by Joseph Stalin, the ruler of the USSR in the years after the Second World War. The name came from a speech made by Winston Churchill in 1946.
  • The Iron Curtain became a thousand mile fence cutting off the Communist countries of Eastern Europe form the non-communist west.

Why did Stalin build the Iron Curtain?

  • He wanted to set up a buffer zone of countries in Eastern Europe to protect the USSR against another invasion by Germany.
  • He did not trust Germany – there had been two invasions in his own lifetime - 1914 and 1941.
  • Stalin was determined to prevent this happening a third time. He wanted to make sure that Germany was kept weak, whereas the western Allies wanted Germany to be allowed to recover from the effects of the war.
  • During the years 1945 –48, all the countries which had been occupied by the Red Army at the end of the war were brought under Soviet control (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary).
  • The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been absorbed in 1940 and then kept as part of the Soviet Union). In Czechoslovakia the leaders were simply murdered.
  • He did not trust the west, Britain and the USA, because they had invaded Russia in 1919 and he believed they had delayed the invasion of France until 1944.
  • Stalin was trying to prevent western influence reaching the west and refugees leaving the east for Western Europe.

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How did Stalin secure control of Eastern Europe?

  • When countries were liberated from the Nazis, Stalin ensured that Soviet troops remained there.
  • In Hungary and Romania, two countries which had fought on the Nazis’ side, Stalin felt justified in keeping Soviet troops there as occupying forces.
  • Stalin ensured that any new governments were coalitions which meant that the Communist Party would have a say in the running of the country.
  • Gradually the Communist Party would infiltrate the key areas of government and security organisations.
  • When elections took place, the Communist Party used any means necessary to discredit and frighten opponents.
  • Such tactics enabled the Communist Party to take over the government of the country and then began to establish a one-party country – a communist state.


  • The Communist Party was the largest party in the coalition government by 1947. Stalin ordered Gottwald, the Communist leader to remove the non-communists in the government.
  • In 1948, all communist opponents were removed. Masaryk, a leading opponent of Gottwald was found dead.


  • Having been a member of the coalition for two years, the Communist Party fixed the elections of January 1947.
  • The Polish Communist Party set up a government which took its orders from Stalin in Moscow.


  • The November elections of 1945 were fixed and the Communists won a majority of seats and in 1946, a one-party sate was established


  • The Communist Party secured a large share of the vote and took over the government following the general election of August 1947.
  • All other parties were then banned and the Communist leader, Rakosi, established a Stalinist regime.


  • By the November election of 1946, the Romanian Communist Party had won a huge majority and set up a government which then forced King Michael to abdicate in 1947.
  • Soviet domination was thus complete.

How was Germany governed after the war?

  • When the Allies met at Potsdam to decide how to govern Germany at the end of the Second World War, they agreed to divide the country into four zones, one each for the USA, the USSR, Britain and France.
  • Each of the four allies was to be responsible for its own sector. Decisions affecting Germany as a whole would be taken jointly and it was intended that Germany would be reunited in the future.
  • Berlin the capital of Germany was inside the Soviet zone, so this was also divided into four sectors. It was governed by the Joint Kommandatura, which contained the military leaders of the four allies.

West Berlin

  • West Berlin was formed by the US, French and British sectors in Berlin from 1945 to 1991.
  • West Berlin was very awkward for the Soviet Union and East Germany. It allowed people behind the Iron Curtain an opportunity to see what life was like in the West.
  • West Berlin benefited from Marshall Aid, which began after the Truman Doctrine was published in March 1947, but East Berlin and East Germany did not.

How did the USA react to Soviet expansionism?

  • In February 1947 the British government informed the USA that it could no longer afford to support the Greek government against Communist rebels.
  • The US government stepped in with an offer of $400,000,000. Harry Truman also took the opportunity to extend the offer of aid to Turkey.
  • The Truman Doctrine was announced by Harry Truman, the president of the USA, in March 1947.
  • He offered to help any country that was being threatened either from within or from without its own borders. He did not name any country, nor did he specify what sort of aid would be given.

Why was the Truman Doctrine published?

  • Truman wanted to help the countries of Europe recover from the effects of the Second World War.
  • He had seen the devastation, which the war had caused and he wanted the USA to play a part in recovery. Marshall Aid was announced at the same time.
  • Truman was trying to stop any other countries in Europe becoming Communist. Already the Iron Curtain had cut Europe in two; he did not want that to go any further.
  • Truman also hoped that he might be able to persuade some of the countries of Eastern Europe to break away from Communism. Marshall Aid was also intended to help here.
  • While the Truman Doctrine did not actually mention the Soviet Union, it was obvious that it was intended as a warning to Stalin that Truman was not going to let him get away with any more attempts to take control of Europe.
  • Truman had said that he was going to ‘get tough with Russia’; this was one example of his policy.

How did Marshall Aid work?

  • Marshall Aid was an attempt to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. It put the ideas of the Truman Doctrine into effect.
  • In March 1947 President Harry Truman offered grants of American money to all European countries. The plan was named after his secretary of state George C Marshall.
  • Truman intended that Marshall Aid would be made available to all countries in Europe, but in fact only countries in the west accepted it.
  • The USSR and other eastern countries attended the first meetings in 1948, but withdrew when they discovered that they would have to join the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation.
  • The Marshall Plan would control how Marshall Aid would be spent. Individual countries would not be able to decide for themselves
  • This would mean that the USA would be able to influence the countries of the east and undermine communism. This was what Truman had hoped would happen.
  • When the Soviet Union realised what Truman was up to, other Eastern Bloc countries, Czechoslovakia and Poland in particular, were forced to withdraw applications for Marshall Aid.
  • Altogether seventeen countries received a total of $13,750,000,000, which allowed them to recover from the war much more quickly than the countries of the east.
  • Italy, which had been an ally of Germany during the war, received $600,000,000. Britain got more money than any other country, receiving $2,600,000,000 in total.
  • Marshall Aid was one of the reasons why Stalin tried to force the west out of West Berlin in 1948.


  • Stalin set up a Soviet Version of Marshall Aid, COMECON, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance on January 25 1949. It was intended to be the Soviet Union's response to Marshall Aid.
  • Stalin offered aid to communist countries to help them recover from the effects of the Second World War.
  • But COMECON was only a pale shadow of the economic institutions of the West.
  • The Soviet Union lacked the financial strength of the USA and the attempt to set up a communist rival led to bankruptcy and ruin.
  • COMECON was a major drain on the resources of the Soviet Union and helped to bring about its economic downfall in the 1980s.

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The Berlin Blockade

  • At first travel between the four sectors in Berlin had been easy; people could live in one sector and work in another. Then in June 1948 Stalin blockaded West Berlin.
  • From June 1948 until May 1949, Joseph Stalin ordered that all traffic between West Germany and West Berlin should be stopped.
  • He was able to close the road, canal and rail routes, but was not able to prevent the western allies, Great Britain, France and the USA from bringing supplies into West Berlin by air.
  • The Berlin airlift lasted ten and a half months and one plane landed in West Berlin every ninety seconds.

Why did Stalin blockade Berlin?

  • The main reason for the blockade was that Great Britain and the USA had made it clear that they intended to rebuild the economy in their zones of Germany.
  • In 1947 the British and US zones were joined together in ‘Bizonia’ and the French zone was added in 1948 (Trizonia).
  • Stalin believed that Germany should be kept weak to prevent any risk of further trouble. He also wanted to get reparations from Germany to help rebuild the Soviet Union.
  • In 1948 the western allies announced that they were going to introduce a new currency in the west to help the economy get going again.
  • This would mean that east and west would be separate economically.
  • The West was in fact breaking agreements made at Yalta and Potsdam. All changes to Germany had to be agreed by all four occupying powers.
  • West Berlin was also a temptation to East Berliners. In the west the Marshall Plan was beginning to make life much better.

  • Already East Berliners and East Germans were leaving for the west.

How did the Allies react?

  • They were determined that Stalin should not succeed. General Lucius Clay the US commander in Berlin said, ‘If West Berlin falls, West Germany will be next’.
  • Clay offered to fight his way out of West Berlin, but was ordered not to by Truman.
  • The Allies believed that if they gave in Stalin would behave as Hitler had in the 1930s. More and more countries would be taken over.
  • The Allies began to bring supplies into West Berlin by air. 4,000 tonnes were needed every day. Eventually they were bringing in 8,000 tonnes; even coal was brought in by plane.
  • More than 320,000 flights were made altogether and 79 pilots died.
    • In May 1949 Stalin gave up. It was obvious that the West was not going to give in so he ended the blockade.

What were the immediate consequences of the Berlin Blockade?

  • Many East Germans began to try to leave the Soviet zone for the other three.
  • NATO was set up in 1949.
  • The Federal Republic of Germany was set up in 1949.

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What is NATO?

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  • NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was set up in 1949 after the Berlin Blockade.
  • The West believed that they were now under threat from Stalin and needed to protect themselves from a possible invasion.
  • It was a sign that relations between the Superpowers were now so bad that some form of military alliance was necessary.
  • Thirteen countries joined in 1949, including Britain and the USA.
  • It led to US troops and aircraft being stationed in European countries to protect them against a possible attack by the countries of Eastern Europe.
  • The most important aspect of the alliance was that if anyone of the member countries was to be attacked, all the others would immediately protect it.
  • Since 1949 most countries of Western Europe have joined NATO and in the last years some of the former communist countries, such as Poland and Hungary have joined. Since the alliance was set up, none of the members has been attacked.

West Germany

  • After the Berlin Blockade the Allies decided to create the Federal Republic of Germany, with its capital at Bonn in the Rhineland. This became known as West Germany.
  • West Germany existed as a separate country from 1949 to 1990. It became a member of the UN and was admitted to NATO in 1955, although it was never allowed to have nuclear weapons. The Allies continued to occupy it and there are still British forces in Germany today.
    • In 1949 the Soviet Union also exploded its first atomic bomb. This led to an Arms Race between the superpowers.

The two Superpowers had now given up any pretence of co-operation. The Cold war had begun in earnest.