The Arms Race, 1945-1962

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Key terms you will need to familiarise yourself with:

  • The Arms Race
  • Deterrence
  • Hydrogen bomb
  • The Space Race
  • The Missile Gap
  • U2 Spy Planes
  • ICBMs (Atlas and Minuteman)
  • SLBMs (Polaris)
  • First Strike
  • Second Strike
  • MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction)

Key developments

1945 – July 16th: Trinity Test
1945 – August 6th and 9th – Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
1949 – USSR tests its first missile
1951 – US Strategic Air Command adopts policy of constant readiness
1952 – November: America tests its first Hydrogen Bomb
1953 – August: the Soviet Union tests its first Hydrogen Bomb
1954 – March: US develops and H-bomb that can be dropped from bomber;
1954 – September: USSR develops H-bomb capable of being dropped from bomber;
1956 – July: US develops U2 Spy plane
1957 – May: USSR develops 1st ICBM
1957 – October: USSR launches Sputnik
1958 – January: USA puts Satellite into orbit
1959 – USA develops Atlas and Minuteman ICBMs; USA also develops Polaris that can be fired from Sub. US public fear USSR has more weapons than USA. Eisenhower knows this is false but doesn’t tell the public.
1961 – April: Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes 1st man in space
1961 – October: USSR detonates largest bomb ever seen.
1962 – October: Cuban missile crisis
1962 – August 5th: USA and USSR sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in Moscow, agreeing not to test any more new nuclear weapons.


  • N. Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72,
  • Walsh, pp. 343-346
  • More videos about the arms race can be found here


  • Create a mind map or some other graphical presentation of the key terms of the arms race (listed above) explaining the significance of each
  • Create your own timeline of the key events in the arms race between 1945 and 1961

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