Cold War: A Military Historyby David Miller, Miller
From 1949 to 1991 the world was overshaowed by the Cold War and the constant threat of global nuclear conflict. Only when it ended did the realities of what had been involved begin to emerge. Indeed, much has remained hidden until now.
- St. Martin's Press
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- 1st U.S. Edition
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'A Bewildered, Baffled and
When the German surrender became official at midnight on 8 May 1945, continental Europe was in ruins. The Allied armies halted where they were and there was a limited amount of celebration, but attention rapidly switched to more pressing problems. The USA and the UK needed to send troops to the Far East for the final phase of the Japanese war, while concurrently reducing their armed forces and starting to return conscripts to civilian life. The Soviet Union needed to recover from the devastation of the war and to ensure that such an attack would never again be possible. Of the other continental European powers, the only one of contemporary significance was France, which was anxious to assert its right to take its place alongside the three major Allies, but also had a pressing need to re-establish the French state and to reassert its control over its former colonial territories.
Meanwhile, all four tried to sort out the problems of a defeated Germany: to feed the population, to restart industry, to round up prisoners of war, to try war criminals, to carry out the denazification process and to enable the people to return to some sort of normality. One of the agreements at the 1945 Potsdam Conference was that machinery and industrial equipment would be exacted as reparations, and, since most industrial facilities were in the Western zones of occupation and most agriculture in the Soviet zone, the Soviets would receive a proportion of the machinery in exchange for food to help feed the population in theWestern zones. Problems then arose owing to the failure of the Soviets to supply the food (which had to be made up by shipments from the UK and the USA), coupled with their insistence on obtaining every piece of machinery they had been offered. In May 1946 the Western Allies refused to send any further reparations to the East. The Soviets objected strongly to this, and started to use their veto to block progress in the Allied Control Council, where the four Allied commanders-in-chief or their representatives met. These first significant post-war disagreements were, with hindsight, indicators of the Cold War that was to come.
In global terms, the war had weakened all the western European countries, eliminated Germany as a European power, and transformed the USSR into a world power. The USA, however, had become the arbiter of Western destinies, having totally displaced the UK as the most powerful non-Communist nation. Among the western European nations, however, the UK, even though it was virtually bankrupt, remained militarily the most powerful nation, primarily because of its extensive empire and the large size of its military forces. There was also the moral debt, relevant in the immediate post-war years, which Britain was owed by other countries of Europe for which it had provided a bastion of freedom and democracy and in many cases a base for governments-in-exile and armed forces during six tumultuous years.
In eastern Europe the Soviet Union was all-powerful. It had the largest armed forces (by a huge margin), and exerted a rigid control over the lands it occupied. In addition, it had considerable influence in the West. There were, of course, the Communist parties, which exerted a major influence in countries such as Italy and France, but, of greater importance, many non-Communists admired the performance of the Russian people in the recent war, praised their powers of resistance, especially at places like Stalingrad, and sympathized with their huge losses and undoubted suffering.
During the course of the war the Soviet Union had pushed its borders westward, so that by 1945 Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, eastern Poland, Ruthenia, Bukovina and Bessarabia had all become integral parts of the Communist state. In addition, the Soviet Union had total control over East Germany, both by right of conquest and by inter-Allied agreement. But all this seemed to be insufficient, and in a speech on 9 February 1946 the Soviet leader Josef Stalin outlined a new Five-Year Plan, which gave absolute priority to rearmament, so that the Soviet Union could defend itself against what he termed 'encroachment and threat'.
The implementation of this policy was clear for all to see as the Soviet Union brought one east-European country after another under its domination as 'satellites': Albania (1946); Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania (1947); and Czechoslovakia (1948). Even Tito's Yugoslavia, while not a 'satellite', appeared at first to be under Soviet domination. The atmosphere of the times was well described by the former British prime minister Winston Churchill, who, in a landmark speech to students at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946, took the opportunity to warn the world of the 'iron curtain' which was descending over eastern Europe.
Undoubtedly, mistakes and misunderstandings were made between East and West, stemming, at least in part, from a difficulty that was to continue throughout the Cold War and which might be termed the 'problem of perceptions'. Thus, at the end of the twentieth century, there is some evidence that the Soviet Union may have been genuinely frightened of western Europe, from whence it had repeatedly been invaded. But there is little merit in using post-Cold War hindsight to claim that Western leaders, politicians and general staffs overreacted in the late 1940s. The fact is that both sides could react only according to their reasonable perceptions at the time, tempered by their background, upbringing and experience.
EUROPE IN THE POST-WAR ERA
One of the strongest influences on contemporary perceptions was the actual state of Europe in the immediate post-war period, with Europeans finding themselves, in Churchill's words, in 'a bewildered, baffled and breathless world'. Europe, apart from the neutral countries, was physically devastated and its many peoples were mentally and physically exhausted by the war they had just been through. Industry had been wrecked, road and rail communications had been largely destroyed, and sea transport was at a virtual standstill because of wartime shipping losses.
One of the major elements contributing to a marked feeling of instability was the mass migration in which, for a variety of reasons, vast numbers of refugees were moving around Europe. It was estimated an exact figure was impossible that some 30 million people (known as 'displaced persons' or 'DPs') were on the move, adding to the already serious difficulties suffered by the transportation, feeding and administrative systems. For a start there were some 9 million foreign workers who had been forcibly taken to Germany from the various occupied territories to bolster the workforce during 1940-44 and who now had to be repatriated. There were large groups of foreigners who had fought on the German side and who now did all they could to resist being returned to their homelands, where they faced retribution. There were also the surviving Jews and others from the concentration camps, who no longer wished to live in Europe and thus sought to emigrate to the USA, the UK, Australia or, in the case of many Jews, Palestine.
The Soviet Union also moved a large number of people by force. A process started in 1941 was continued in the early post-war period by transporting to Siberia people from the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia), the former German territory of East Prussia, the Caucasus and the Crimea. Also, in 1944-5 ethnic Finns were forced to move out of Karelia when it was ceded to the Soviet Union.
In the face of the Soviet advance, ethnic Germans living in East Prussia fled westward, mainly by sea, although many fled overland. The movement continued after the war, with some of the refugees finding temporary asylum in Denmark.
There were also large ethnic German populations living in the Danube basin, mainly in eastern Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) and Hungary, and some of these fled, mainly to Austria, as the Red Army advanced in 1944-5. After the war's end, however, the Potsdam Conference authorized the compulsory expulsion of the remainder of these people from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland a move which rapidly got out of control and resulted in the deaths of some 3 million ethnic Germans. The vacuums created by these moves were then filled by an influx of nationals from the country concerned.
These movements were on such a vast scale and caused such massive disruption that they led to the setting up of the UN-sponsored International Relief Organization, headed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Invasions from the west in 1812, 1854, 1914, 1919 and 1941 and from the east in 1902, 1919 and 1939 were etched in Russian and Soviet folk memories. It was scarcely surprising, therefore, that in the late 1940s patriotic motives should have led the Soviet leadership to defend its territory from further incursions. In addition to that, however, was a perceived need not only to protect the Communist revolution, principally by maintaining the supremacy of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, but also to spread it.
Stalin had become obsessive about defence, and he sought to construct a series of buffer states around the Soviet Union, particularly in the west. As a first step, the Soviet Union occupied East Germany and eastern Austria; then it absorbed a number of smaller areas on its own borders. From 1946 onwards, however, Stalin progressively imposed control over other countries in what was tacitly acknowledged to be the 'Soviet sphere of influence'. In part, he achieved his objectives by a series of bilateral treaties, but where he deemed these insufficient he sought to achieve total control of what came to be termed 'Soviet satellites'.
In Albania, Enver Hoxha took power in 1945 and immediately formed a powerful centralized Communist government which, for the time being at least, was totally loyal to Moscow. Bulgaria, after the Germans left, was governed by the 'Fatherland Front' under the leadership of the Communist Georgi Dimitrov. The monarchy was abolished in 1947 and the Agrarian Party was eliminated, with its leader, Nikola Petkov, being given a show trial and then executed in September. The Communist Party was then the sole political force in the country.
The Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London negotiated with the Soviet government during the war, one outcome of which was an agreement to cede the Carpatho-Ukraine to the USSR. At the war's end the Czechoslovak government was then able to return to Prague with Edward Benes as president; it found the country occupied by Soviet and US troops, although these both departed in December 1945. An election was held in 1946 in which the Communists won 38 per cent of the vote and the resulting 'National Front' government was headed by the Communist leader, Klement Gottwald. One of the earliest items of business was the mass expulsion of the Sudetenland Germans, mentioned above, elements of whom had been instrumental in engineering the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Soviet Union then decided to bring Czechoslovakia to heel and, having banned Czech attendance at the Marshall Plan Conference in Paris in 1947, it sponsored a Communist coup in February 1948, in the aftermath of which the widely respected foreign minister Jan Masaryk died, allegedly by suicide. The trade unions responded with strikes and demonstrations which led to the Communists taking an even firmer grip on power, and when Gottwald took over from Benes as president later that month Czechoslovakia was firmly in the Soviet camp.
Hungary fought during the Second World War on the German side, and on withdrawal of the Germans it signed an armistice with the Soviet Union which included provision for purging fascists and war criminals. Hungarian Communists returning to the country used the armistice as a mandate to eliminate unwanted democrats, and to expropriate property, not only from ethnic Germans and fascists, but also from the Catholic Church. Elections in 1945 resulted in the Small Landholders Party obtaining 60 per cent of the seats, while the Communists gained only 17 per cent, but in 1947 the Communists 'revealed conspiracies' by members of the Small Landholders Party which led to trials of some 220 members. The prime minister fled to Switzerland, but many others disappeared never to be seen again. New elections resulted in the victory of the Communist Party, and the country was forced to sign a trade pact with the Soviet Union on 14 July; thus Hungary too was firmly in the Soviet camp.
Poland had been overrun by the Red Army in 1944-5 and the Soviets stepped in quickly to install a provisional government (known as 'the Lublin Committee'), thus outwitting the government-in-exile, which was still in London. In the post-war border adjustments Poland lost its eastern territories to the Soviet Union, while its western border with Germany was moved westward to the line of the rivers Oder and Neisse. The Polish Communist Party gradually eliminated opposition parties, and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, the leader of the most powerful opposition group, the Agrarian Party, was warned of his imminent arrest in October 1947 and fled to London, thus escaping almost certain death. By 1948 Poland too was fully under Communist control.
In Romania, the small Communist Party formed the national Democratic Front with the Socialists and the Peasant Workers Front. This coalition won 90 per cent of the votes in the 1946 election, and when the opposition sought to dispute the result it was eliminated. In July 1947 Iuliu Maniu, the leader of the National Peasant Party, was tried and sentenced to solitary confinement for life, and in December 1947 the king was forced to abdicate. The 'Unity Party', under the Communist Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej, then took power in early 1948.
In Yugoslavia, the Communist Tito was the predominant partisan leader, and he immediately took power in 1945. Soviet troops, which had arrived in the country in December 1944, left in March 1945. Tito's Popular Liberation Front obtained 90 per cent of the votes in the 1945 election, which was followed by widespread purging of political opponents and the nationalization of trade, industry, bank and social insurance. Yugoslavia signed a Mutual Assistance Pact with the Soviet Union in 1945 and appeared for a short time to be a firm member of the Soviet bloc, but in 1948 Tito broke with Stalin, who then, very unwisely (from his point of view), imposed an economic blockade, which forced Tito to turn to the West.
COMMUNISTS IN WESTERN EUROPE
Soviet activities were not confined to eastern Europe. Virtually all countries in western Europe had a domestic Communist party, most of which during the war had achieved a degree of respectability which stemmed in large part from their role in wartime resistance movements. There was also a widely felt admiration for the role played by the Soviet Union and its people in defeating Germany.
Perhaps the strongest Communist party in the West was in France, where it had numerous seats in the National Assembly, was very powerful in the trade-union movement, and even held four posts in the Cabinet, including that of minister of defence. The Communists managed to perform some extraordinary gyrations, one the one hand dancing to the dictates of Moscow (for example, by generating street violence in late 1947 as instructed at the Cominform meeting in mid-1947) and on the other by cooperation with General Charles De Gaulle in opposition to the Marshall Plan and to NATO.
Italy, too, was in turmoil, with numerous political parties and former resistance groups all jostling for power - the situation being further complicated by the forcible return of 'repatriated' Italians from Yugoslavia and the colonies, and by the purging of the Fascists. The Christian Democrats emerged as the predominant political force, but the Communist Party, led by Palmiro Togliatti, was the second most powerful.
The Greek civil war had started even before the Germans departed in 1944, and British troops were forced to intervene to restore order. After a short-lived armistice, the Communists sought to take the country over by force and initially achieved some success, not least because they were able to operate out of sanctuaries in Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Initially, the government forces did not do well against them, their problems being exacerbated by the British withdrawal of support, for economic reasons, in 1947. But eventually the United States stepped in and ensured the government's victory.
Nowhere, however, did the issues seem to be so well delineated as in the former German capital of Berlin, which had been split between the four wartime Allies in 1945, with the Soviet Union ruling the eastern half, while the three other Allies shared the western half. In the early years, relations between the Eastern and Western occupying powers reflected their disagreements at the United Nations, but Berlin itself occupied the centre of the stage when the Berlin blockade was imposed in 1947, as is described in more detail in Chapter 32.
Efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace treaty began in Paris in July 1946 and continued through to February 1947, with a number of agreements being reached. Among these were that Italy should pay reparations, lose its colonies, and give up Trieste, which would become a free state under UN supervision, while Hungary would revert to its 1937 borders and the Soviet seizure of Bessarabia and Bukovina from Romania was made legal. Finland was treated particularly harshly, the loss of Karelia to the USSR being made permanent, while strict limits were placed on its military capabilities.
Excerpted from THE COLD WAR by David Miller. Copyright © 1998 by David Miller. Excerpted by permission.
Meet the Author
David Miller’s entire 36-year military career in the British Army was spent under the threat of the Cold War. Journalist and author, he has published 25 previous books mostly on defence subjects.
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