Early Developments in the Cold War, 1945-49

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Key learning aims:

  • To be able to explain:
    • the key developments in the Cold War in the years 1945-49 including Soviet expansion, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan;
    • the causes, events and results of the Berlin Crisis;
    • the difference between central and peripheral events in the Cold War

Key developments:

  • 1946 – the War of Words
    • February: Stalin’s election speech, Bolshoi Theatre;
    • February: Kennan’s Long Telegram;
    • March: Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech at Fulton Missouri;
    • March: Stalin’s responds – Churchill the warmonger, compared to Hitler;
    • September: Novikov’s Telegram.
  • 1947 – The Cold War declared
    • 1st January:
    • February: Britain (which had spent £85m on Greece since 1944), asked US to step in;
    • March: President Truman announced the end of isolationism and the need for containment (Truman Doctrine)
    • June: Marshall Plan announced – suggests economic aid for reconstruction in Europe and USSR – ‘dollar imperialism?’
    • June: at a meeting in Paris, Molotov says USSR will not accept and Stalin instructs communist-run states to refuse American ‘dollar imperialism’ and launches Molotov Plan
    • June 1st, Bizonia established;
    • September-October 1947 – both Cominform and CIA established.
  • 1948 – Marshall Aid approved; Berlin Blockade
    • February-March imposition of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia
    • March 10th – Defenestration of Jan Masaryk – a prominent pro-US official in the Czech government sees Congress reluctantly approve the Marshall Plan and $17 billion to 16 countries in 4 years
    • March 17th: Brussels Pact, agreed;
    • June 20th: US and Great Britain introduce a new currency into Bizonia
    • June 24th: Stalin stops all road and rail traffic into Berlin; the Blockade begins and the Airlift follows (using B-29s).
  • 1949 – Comecon; NATO; Blockade ends; Russia tests bomb; Chinese revolution
    • January: Comecon, established
    • April 4-8th: French merges sector with Bizone to create Trizone
    • April 4th: Setting up of NATO – ‘imperialism by invitation?’
    • May 12th: Blockade ends
    • May 23rd: FRG or West Germany established;
    • August 29th: Soviets test their first Atomic Bomb;
    • October 1st: Revolution in China – 800 million become communist;
    • October 7th: German Democratic Republic or East Germany established.

1. Soviet Expansion into Eastern Europe

Map of Soviet expansion

Read: Kelly, pp. 20-23.


Key points

  • One of the key causes of the Cold War after 1945 was Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe.
  • As Churchill had expected, the Soviet Union’s Red Army, which had liberated the Baltic States, never left Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia never left, effectively incorporating them into Russia.
  • Other states ‘liberated’ by the Red Army and in which Stalin had promised in Yalta’s ‘Declaration of a Liberated Europe’ to hold free elections, were effectively brought under Soviet control by means of ‘free elections’ that were controlled by intimidation and by what the Hungarian Communist leader, Matyas Rakosi called ‘Salami Tactics’ (see John D. Clare’s page on Stalin’s Salami tactics), because opposition was cut down, ‘slice by slice’.
  • Cominform (created in 1947) played a key role in infiltrating Communist parties in eastern and western Europe to ensure Russian control.
  • By 1947, Poland, Romania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria (East), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Yugoslavia, had either been brought firmly under Soviet control or were in danger of becoming so.
  • Yugoslavia was never a satellite state because the Red Army did not occupy it and remained independent. It’s leader Tito wrote to Stalin: ‘Stop sending people to kill me! We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send a very fast working one to Moscow and I certainly won’t have to send another.’
  • Fear for the future of Greece triggered the Truman Doctrine.



      1. Explain what is meant by satellite states and why the Soviet Union wanted to establish them
      2. Create mnemonic to help you remember the names of all the countries affected
      3. Make a spidergram showing all the factors that helped Communists take power.
      4. Explain how the case of Hungary illustrates ‘salami tactics’.


2. 1946: The War of Words


  • N. Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72, pp. 21-24
  • John D. Clare devotes a page to this key moment in the origins of the Cold War.

9th February 1946 – Bolshoi Theatre Speech – Stalin made a speech to the Bolshoi Theatre broadcast live to Russia in which he stated that Capitalism progressed through war and that war between East and West was therefore inevitable. More importantly, he accused America of using the Atomic Bomb for imperialism.

February 1946 – The Long Telegram: Soon after the speech, in February 1946, Truman received a secret report from George F. Kennan, America’s ambassador in Moscow since 1933 (the so-called Long Telegram). So the Telegram was addressed to the President, but it would later be published and read by many Americans as a paper entitled ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’

The Telegram reported that:

  • Stalin had given a speech calling for the destruction of capitalism;
  • there could be no peace with the USSR while it was opposed to capitalism;
  • The USSR:
    • WAS building up its military power.
    • WOULD take every possible opportunity to extend its power where allowed
    • WOULD test Western resolve
    • WOULD NOT run the risk of real conflict, so would back down where force was a genuine threat
  • The best way to keep communism from spreading into other countries was to keep people in those countries prosperous and happy

Above all Kennan stated that the Soviets WOULD back down against a show of force. This idea, developed by the American government, eventually turned into the Truman Doctrine, and the policy of containment:

Soviet power … does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, it is highly sensitive to logic of force.

These ideas became the basis of the idea of ‘containment’ in the Truman Doctrine announced by Truman in March 1947.

Kennan stated his belief that, if the US had the ‘courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society’, and if ‘our public is educated to realities of Russian situation’, the menace of Soviet Communism could be resisted. This would best happen, he said, by making sure that people remained wealthy, happy and secure, and by waging a propaganda war to make sure that they were aware of the benefits of Western Freedoms. This became the basis of the Marshall Plan. More specifically, as a result of the Long Telegram, the USA put pressure on Russia to withdraw from Iran, it stopped giving loans for the reconstruction of Czechoslovakia, and made plans for interventions in Greece and Turkey to help democratic governments there.

See also the excellent John D. Clare webpage on the Long Telegram

March 1946, Iron curtain speech: At Truman’s invitation, Churchill made a speech at Fulton Missouri, in March 1946, synonymous with the phrase ‘Iron Curtain’ and which denounced the Soviet sphere for exerting a very high and increasing measure of control over ancient European cities, from Moscow.

Stalin’s response (March 1946): Stalin responded by declaring that Mr Churchill was a warmonger [clearly an insult, since it is far worse to be a warmonger than a cheesemonger, fishmonger or ironmonger -ed.]; that Churchill was not alone, that he had friends in the US as well as the UK, and that they bore a striking resemblance to Hitler and his friends!

The Novikov Telegram (September 1946): The Soviet ambassador to America, Novikov sent a similar secret telegram to Stalin in September 1946, whose complete text can be found here, that had a similarly worrying effect on Stalin and his advisers. It said that America:

      • wanted to dominate the world
      • without Roosevelt, had no interest in co-operating with the USSR
      • was preparing its public for war with the USSR


  • Complete the Activities on page 28 of Kelly
  • Activity: B question practice
    • Explain two effects of the Long Telegram on superpower relations
    • Explain two effects of Churchill’s Fulton address on superpower relations

3. 1947: The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan


N. Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72, pp. 25-29

John D. Clare’s excellent page on the Truman Doctrine/Marshall Plan

The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were direct responses to Soviet expansion and the Long Telegram. These marked the formal adoption of the advice given by Kennan on how to prevent the spread of Communism. The trigger event for the speech that contained the new doctrine of containment – was Britain’s inability to continue fighting the communists in Greece. When Britain asked for American help in March 1947 Truman sent aid and supplies. Greece mattered because it was considered a strategic lynch-pin for three continents – Europe, the Middle East (Turkey in particular would be at risk if Greece fell) and North Africa. As a result, Truman made a speech to Congress in which he set out a new policy to deal with the threat of communism, which became known as the Truman doctrine. It declared that the world had a choice between communist control or democratic freedom; he declared America’s abandonment of its traditional isolationism and though he didn’t use the expression, the adoption of a policy of containment. He did talk about the USA as the ‘world’s policeman’ and being willing to send aid and supplies to countries trying to remain free of communism.

Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan became the ‘European Recovery Programme’ or ERP. It involved sending over $12 billion (roughly 100 billion in today’s terms) to help western Europe’s recover from the devastation of WWII. America’s thinking was straight forward: poverty made countries susceptible to communism. If Europe could be helped back to recovery, not only would America prevent the spread of communism, but it would also help Europe contribute to the growth of the world economy again. Much of the aid came in kind, so the American taxpayer funded a boom in American industry and American companies benefited from the ERP.

The ERP operated for four years from April 3rd 1948. The largest recipient of aid was the United Kingdom (26%), followed by France (18%) and then by West Germany (11%).

Although aid and supplies were forwarded to Greece and other European countries, it was only in March 1948 that Congress gave its formal approval – because of news of the Communist crackdown in Czechoslovakia which saw the defenestration of Jan Masaryk and later the the removal of Edvard Beneš.


  • Complete the Activities on page 28 of Kelly
  • Activity: B question practice
    • Explain two effects of the Long Telegram
    • Explain two effects of Churchill’s Fulton address
  • B question:Explain two effects of the Truman Doctrine
  • B Question: Explain two effects Marshall Plan

4. 1948-1949: The Berlin Blockade: the First Confrontation of the Cold War

Berlin after WWII


Key learning points

If Germany was a key concern for each side in the Cold War (as Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov stated, “What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe.”) Berlin was absolutely central, both because it had been the former capital, but also because it contained western territory 100 miles within the Soviet territory.

  • The First Berlin Crisis – or the Berlin Blockade/Airlift – was a direct result of America’s policy of containment through the European Recovery Programme or Marshall Plan, which was – as much as anything – a means of persuading the French that Germany could be helped into economic recovery.
  • The USA, Britain and France knew that Germany would have to be supported economically if communism was to be resisted.
  • The allies wanted a strong, democratic Germany acting as a buffer against the communist states of Eastern Europe. By contrast, Stalin wanted Germany to become dependent upon the Soviet Union. The growth of the Berlin economy with the European Recovery Programme was a direct threat to those aspirations and a potential advert for the success of capitalism 100 miles inside the Soviet zone.
  • At a meeting in London in January 1948, Britain and the USA joined their zones together to create Bizonia to make it easier to administer these areas. France would later join and they changed the name to West Germany. Stalin was neither invited to the meeting nor sent its minutes. Perhaps this prompted the communist crackdown in Czechoslovakia in March. Stalin believed that this went against the agreement at Yalta and Potsdam.
  • The Soviets had devalued the German Reichsmark by excessive printing, so that Germans were reduced to barter. As a result America and Britain decided to introduce a new currency – the Deutsche Mark – into Germany on 21st June.
  • It was this that prompted Stalin to sever land and water connections between East and West Berlin. Rail and Barge traffic was halted. The West responded by stopping the shipment of coal and steel from West Germany into East Germany. On June 25th, food supplies were stopped into East Berlin and so to eventually were electricity supplies.

The Airlift


  • In order to keep West Berlin from being starved into submission, the US and UK launched an airlift – which would place Stalin in the awkward position of having to shoot down humanitarian aircraft that carried no military threat. Stalin was not willing to risk a war and did not attempt to do this.
  • The Airlift lasted for eleven months until the Blockade was lifted in May 1949.
  • At its height, a plane from the Western powers landed at Berlin’s Templehof Airport every minute. It cost the USA $350 million and Britain £17 million.

Consequences of the first Berlin Crisis

    • The allies were now determined to build up West Berlin as a showcase for capitalism.
    • The blockade speeded up the process of West German integration, with France merging its zone with the bizone in April 1949.
    • Many Germans from the Soviet zone crossed into West Berlin.
    • Germany and Berlin would remain a source of tension in Europe for the duration of the Cold War.
    • In April 1949, the USA, Britain and France officially announced the formation of the German Federal Republic (West Germany).
    • By 1949 there was a worldwide awareness of a Cold War.
    • The British and French invited America to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), before the crisis had been resolved, because they feared Soviet military expansion in Europe and wanted American nuclear protection.
    • All members agreed to go to war if any one of them was attacked, but in reality NATO was really about bringing western Europe under US nuclear protection.
    • In response, the Warsaw Pact (formed in 1955) was an alliance of the communist countries of Eastern Europe formed in response to NATO.


  1. Complete the exam style question on page 32 of Kelly
  2. Complete the exercises on page 33 of Kelly
  3. Whole class: create a mind map to explain the causes of the Berlin Blockade (CABAN), why it failed“, and its consequences (CENA). [For mnemonics see JD Clare above]
  4. Test your understanding

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