Beginnings of the Cold War – an annotated timeline 1945-1949

There is no single date on which one can claim that the Cold War began. Mistrust, fear and
incomprehension between east and west in Europe can be traced back well before the Russian
Revolution. During the 1920s and ‘30s communist subversion of left-wing political parties in
the west (and especially in Great Britain) resulted in what might be called an ‘Anglo-Soviet Cold
War’ in which many elements of the later conflict can be identified. However, the beginning of
the ‘real’ Cold War, which was to cast a shadow over global politics and conflict for nearly fifty
years, can be found in a series of inter-related post-war events, policy decisions and public
statements by leaders in both the East and the West. Overtly confrontational rhetoric and actions
on both sides can certainly be found as early as 1946. As the conviction grew bilaterally that cooperation was no longer practical or likely to further either side’s respective aims, the perceived
advantages of confrontation began to outweigh those of maintaining co-operation.
What kept the conflict from developing into a ‘hot’ war was broadly twofold: the awareness that
victory in such a conflict would be enormously costly and could not be assured by either side.
On the western side the role of public opinion was decisive. There was no public enthusiasm and
little willingness to support another war which might equal or surpass the destruction and loss of
life of the Second World War. Despite the efforts of extreme anti-communists in the West to
promote public alarm over the communist threat, most people remained unconvinced that
Stalin’s Soviet Union represented a threat comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich.
February: the Yalta Conference affirmed the continued capacity of the Grand Alliance to
maintain an effective level of co-operation in achieving an unconditional German surrender
despite mistrust on both sides: the West was worried about the future of Eastern Europe and the
East continued to suspect its allies of duplicity in its treatment of Germany (were western leaders
really so different from the Nazis? Not according to Stalin’s Marxist-Leninist perspective).
May: Truman abruptly ended the ‘Lend-Lease Program’ and makes public criticism of Soviet
policy in Poland (NB: the termination of ‘lend-lease’ was not directly aimed at the Soviet Union
– Britain’s programme was also terminated - but the move may have been interpreted by Stalin
as unfriendly).
June: At a meeting of German communists Stalin publicly predicted that there would be ‘two
However, the Soviet Union appeared willing to allow democratic process in its German zone of
occupation, at least in principle (embracing the principle of the ‘united front’: attempts to cooperate with other left-of-centre political parties); France was the most actively obstructive
power in efforts to develop a plan for a post-war united Germany. However, Soviet officials

the West in Italy. the US presidents along with UK and Canadian prime ministers called for the complete outlawing of nuclear weapons and their development. The activities of the Red Army in liberated and occupied territories (notably Poland) confirmed western suspicions that Stalin was not serious about his official commitment to the Declaration for a United Europe made jointly at Yalta. Stalin’s ‘election speech’ revived an analysis of capitalist nations which was common in Soviet rhetoric before the ‘Grand Alliance’ of World War Two. equipped with nuclear weapons. Hungary and Romania). US Secretary of State James Byrnes negotiated a compromise in Moscow allowing the treaties to be negotiated independently. Konrad Adenauer.(apparatchiks) administering occupation zones were often guided by a harsher Marxist-Leninist perspective than Stalin’s overtly conciliatory approach. This was to become. the first chancellor of the German Federal Republic (founded in 1949) was convinced of this. July-August: the Potsdam Conference already reflected heightened tensions as the staunch anticommunist Truman. However. Finland. September: The first Council of Foreign Ministers met for the first time (in London) and clashed over the terms of peace treaties with Italy and nations in East Europe previously allied to Germany (notably. the Soviet Union wanted a harsh treaty for Italy). the East in Bulgaria.e. with modifications. In a joint declaration on 15 November.000 according to D. a referendum of Social Democratic members in Berlin (suppressed in the Soviet sector) voted overwhelmingly to reject the merger (82% against). the Central Executive of the party voted to join the Communist Party in a Socialist Unity Party. Both sides made concessions to ensure the successful completion of the treaties. Western leaders began to plan for a divided Germany as they became convinced by Soviet political activities that the Soviet zone was embarked on its own course.. Both East and West were careful to avoid any confrontation which might interfere with the process in their own sphere of interest (i. an official at the US embassy in Moscow and expert on Soviet affairs. the Baruch Plan which in 1946 failed to gain the support of the Soviet Union over concerns that the UN regulatory body delegated to ensure compliance would be dominated by the USA and its allies. 1946 February: Following liquidations and imprisonment of Social Democrats suspected of being anticommunist in the Soviet occupation zone (up to 20. Williamson). George Kennan. replaced FDR. Stalin reminds his audience that according to Marxist-Leninist ideology capitalist societies are characterized by successive ‘crises . sends his ‘Long Telegram’ which was hugely influential in directing US strategic thinking towards a policy of ‘containment’.

The US argued that this was only possible once Germany had recovered economically and Byrnes argued again for German unity as the only way to achieve this.and catastrophes’ resulting from imperial competition and economic inequality. 1947 January: ‘Bizonia’ was officially launched amid hopes that it would become so prosperous as an economic ‘magnet’ that French and Soviet zones would be drawn into its orbit.S. highlighting the great extent to which Europe was already divided into two ‘hostile camps’. . The Soviets saw this as an attempt to impose a capitalist system in Germany under US domination. Consequently. February: Great Britain informed the U. It was just such a crisis. Spring: The agreement over reparations made at Potsdam came under pressure as concerns grew in the British sector that its large population – augmented by a large number of refugees and ‘displaced persons’ from the east – could not be fed unless the sector underwent a rapid economic recovery. he claims. although there is extensive evidence of voting fraud and coercion. occupation authorities delayed shipments of machinery and raw materials (notably coal) to the Soviet sector in hopes of pressuring the Soviets into accepting an agreement over German economic unity..e. March: Churchill delivered his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in Fulton Missouri. no ‘capital’ city). which caused the Second World War. Only Great Britain accepted the US offer to unite zones economically and plans began for their merger in ‘Bizonia’. The civil war in Greece had resumed with support from Tito for the communist rebels. June: The Soviets took control of 213 German industries and sent their output back to the Soviet Union. July: At the second Conference of Foreign Ministers (Paris) the Soviets demanded a cash payment of $10 billion in reparations from Germany. that after March 31 it would be unable to maintain its economic and military commitment to aid Greece and Turkey against communist insurrection. Stalin responded to Churchill’s speech in an interview for Pravda in which he draws parallels between Churchill’s views and those of Hitler. different departments were located in different cities (i. In an attempt to reassure the Soviets that Bizonia did not represent a nascent German state. Election in Poland results in overwhelming support for the Communist Party.

he departed. plans went ahead to build up Bizonia. The US pressed for a measure of economic integration amongst recipient nations in hopes of establishing a ‘United States of Europe’ (an idea first proposed by Churchill in 1943). This marked the official end of Stalin’s attempts to negotiate with his erstwhile western allies over the economic and political future of Europe and of the ‘united front’ strategy which he initiated in 1936. Western ministers rejected a proposal by the Soviets for the formation of a united German government because it was likely to be subject to undue influence from Moscow.S. According to D. at this point ‘all hope of four power co-operation now disappeared’. Secretary of State George C. December: the fourth Council of Foreign Ministers (London) collapsed in bitter recriminations by the Soviets concerning failures to honour the terms of the Potsdam agreement over reparations.March: Truman addresses Congress to request substantial aid for both Greece and Turkey. June: U. it marked the de facto acceptance on both sides of the status quo: a divided Germany was certain. where the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was founded as a means of co-ordinating party tactics across Europe under Stalin’s leadership. 1948 . which would become an effective counter against Soviet expansionism. Bevin noted that his departure marked ‘the formation of a western bloc’. The arguments laid out in his speech came to be known as the ‘Truman Doctrine’. Molotov was sent by Stalin to participate in the discussions but when it became clear that western nations would insist on joint control of how funds were spent. Called ‘a successful failure’. the British minister devised a counter-proposal which was intended to be unacceptable to the Soviets. When it was duly rejected. March-April: The third Conference of Foreign Ministers met in Moscow where the Soviet minister (Molotov) attempted to force the issue of a unified Germany in hopes of destroying Bizonia. July: Meetings began in Paris between the US and sixteen European states interested in participating in Marshall’s ‘European Recovery Program’ (ERP). Ernest Bevin. A useful line of counterargument might be that any realistic hope of such co-operation had already died several months earlier (as outlined above). Williamson. September: In response to events in Paris. the USSR invited communist party leaders from across Europe to a meeting in Poland. Marshall launched his proposal for the economic reconstruction of Europe through a programme of US grants and loans intended to establish Europe as a successful trading partner and as protection against the further spread of communism.

By the end of 1948 Most of the elements which define the Cold War were in place. with the Soviets gambling that the airlift could not be sustained through the winter. September: efforts to resolve the crisis through mutual agreements failed. of all the East European nations. Four days after that the Soviets introduced the ‘Ostmark’. In Berlin the Soviets introduced tighter controls over the passage of traffic in and out of the western sectors. but the real intention was to develop a western alliance in Europe against any future Soviet aggression. In response. 1949 January: the mild winter and dramatic success in maintaining the airlift led Stalin to propose lifting the blockade in return for talks on the future of Germany and Berlin. Thus US efforts to create a ‘United States of Europe’ in the American image came to nothing. Claims were made that it was a measure to protect the region from a resurgent Germany. The first installment of Marshall Aid (5 billion dollars) was approved by the US Congress. The west was slow to respond. the one which was regarded most ‘western’ in its history. The SED under Walter Ulbricht established a ‘German People’s Council’ (Volksrat) which included delegates from the western sectors in a bid to draft a constitution for a united Germany. June: West German politicians were authorized by the occupying powers to begin drafting a constitution and two weeks later the Deutschmark was introduced. . culture and traditions. This was to become the constitutional basis for the DDR. This development appeared to confirm fears of the Soviet Union’s expansionist intentions and thereby added weight to the arguments of anti-communist politicians in the west to oppose the Soviet Union in any way possible short of a declaration of war. on the night of the 23rd-24th. all road and rail links (and electricity supplies) into West Berlin were cut. although Bevin urged forceful action. March: The Brussels Pact established a mutual defence agreement among western European nations. proposing an airlift as a means to avoid direct confrontation with Soviet troops. Secret talks began toward formulating the North Atlantic Treaty.February: A communist coup toppled the elected government in Czechoslovakia. US efforts to promote an international supervisory body to oversee distribution were frustrated – notably by Great Britain which rejected the principle of any supranational economic control. Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform due to Tito’s refusal to accept Soviet leadership and attmpts to forge a south-eastern European federation under his own leadership. The founding of a single-party state there came as an especial shock to many in the west since Czechoslovakia was.

August: elections were held for a new German parliament (Bundestag). Consider the following questions: To what extent did the Origins of the Cold War represent a continuity of imperial tendencies? Does Gaddis align with an orthodox. however. a High Commission of occupying powers continued to have final say on matters of foreign policy. exports. but also to reassure French concerns over a resu8rgent Germany. Revision Activities: - - Watch CNN documentaries 1-4. Re-read relevant sections of textbook (Alan Todd). The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed.” With specific reference to developments in this period. The first Soviet fission nuclear weapon (Perviya molniya or Joe 1) was detonated on the 29th. to what extent do you agree with this statement? . Learn Dr Kess Windland’s timeline of the Beginnings of the Cold War.April: The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on the fourth and came into effect on 24 August: intended as a defensive alliance against the eastern bloc. September: Konrad Adenhauer became the first West German (FRG) chancellor. May: the blockade was lifted and a Council of Foreign Ministers meeting was convened which achieved little beyond normalizing the status quo in Berlin. as in the west. revisionist or post-Cold War perspective on the origins of the Cold War? (Return to Alan Todd for summaries of historiography). Read Gaddis’ ‘Cold War Empires: Europe’. Complete a response to the following Past Paper question: “Mutual fears and the search for security were the reasons for the breakdown of East–West relations between 1945 and 1949. security. a strong military presence was maintained. October: the Soviet occupation of Germany formally ended with the establishment of the GDR although. in December Chiang Kai-Shek established a rival Chinese ‘National’ government in Taiwan.