Early Developments and First Berlin Crisis, 1946-49

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
    • 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;
    • October 7th: German Democratic Republic or East Germany established.


  1. 1946: The War of Words

    • Edexcel, pp. 72-73.
    • John D. Clare devotes a page to this key moment in 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 (the so-called Long Telegram).

    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.


    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



    • With reference to the war of words only, complete the C question on Edexcel, p. 73 ‘Why had the Wartime alliance between the USA and the Soviet Union broken down by the end of 1946? (N.B. What is required for full marks in a C question?)


  2. 1947: The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan



    The effect of the ‘war of words’ was to make both governments believe that they were facing war. Britain’s inability to continue fighting the communists in Greece led the latter to call for American help in March 1947. 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; abandoned America’s traditional isolationism since US security now depended upon the liberty of other states and should embrace a policy of containment which would involve the US becoiming the ‘world’s policeman’ and being willing to send aid and supplies to countries trying to remain free of communism. This was the unofficial declaration of the Cold War.




    • Individual/group task: Copy and complete the mind map on p. 75 of the Edexcel textbook.
    • B Question: Explain one effect of the Marshall Plan on the relations between the USA and the Soviet Union.

  4. Stalin’s Salami Tactics

    Read: Edexcel, pp. 76-79.

    The Hungarian communist leader, Rakosi, described Stalin’s tactics as ‘slicing salami’ – cutting off opposition slice by slice. For an overview of Stalin’s actions in Eastern Europe during the period, which provide a backdrop to East-West relations, see John D. Clare’s page on Stalin’s Salami tactics.


    1. Make a spidergram showing all the factors that helped Communists take power.
    2. Explain how the case of Hungary illustrates ‘salami tactics’.
    3. Use Sources A, C and D to explain how the West saw the Russian takeover of eastern Europe.
    4. Complete the table on p. 79 of the Edexcel textbook.
    5. Homework: Complete the C question: Why did Stalin launch Comecon in 1949? Explain your answer [N.b. What is required to get full marks on a C question?].

  6. 1948-1949: The Berlin Blockade: the First Confrontation of the Cold War




    • Complete the activities on p. 83 of the Edexcel textbook.
    • 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]

  8. Reaching Conclusions
    • Group task: Produce a mind map showing the main reasons for the Cold War:
      • Rank order the reasons clockwise beginning with the most important at 12.0. clock
      • Draw lines to show links between the reasons. Explain links along each line.
    • Test your understanding


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