In the initial years after World War II (1939-1945), there remained hope for a continuation of the Soviet-American wartime alliance, but suspicions on both sides opened a rift between the two superpowers.
In the initial years after World War II (1939-1945), there remained hope for a continuation of the Soviet-American wartime alliance, but suspicions on both sides opened a rift between the two superpowers. The new phenomenon of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, combined with the introduction of intercontinental missiles in the late 1950’s, had made a third world war “unthinkable,” giving the “war” its name. Still, over the four decades of the Cold War confrontation, a number of crises defined the U.S.-Soviet relationship and affected the nations’ military preparation.
In 1948 the Soviet Union cut off access to the western sectors of Berlin, located in Soviet-controlled East Germany. The United States and its allies defeated this strategy without resorting to war by using massive
After the death of Soviet dictator
In 1960 the improving relations between the superpowers suffered a setback–the U-2
In the early 1960’s a number of Cold War crises further disturbed the efforts at political relaxation. In 1961 East Germany erected the Berlin
Soviet Cold War leader Nikita Khrushchev speaks at the Fourth Convocation of the Fourth Session of the Supreme Soviet in January, 1956.
After a period of economic setbacks and political difficulties, Khrushchev was dramatically and suddenly replaced by
During the 1980’s the Soviet Union softened its confrontational stance, especially after
The Soviet Union prepared for any eventual confrontation while hoping to deter the United States. Moscow continued to develop offensive and defensive weapons systems and strategies, despite mutual attempts at limitation. Like the United States, the Soviet Union came to depend on military complexes that greatly affected the economy, politics, and social structures. The military’s prestige, which had fallen substantially during the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s, increased in great measure. After World War II the Soviet Union established its dominance over Eastern Europe. In one sense Moscow saw this dominance as its “right,” a part of the spoils of war. However, much of the territory was land that Russian imperialists had coveted since the time of the czars; some of it had actually been part of the old empire. However, Moscow did not incorporate these countries of Eastern Europe into the Soviet Union, as it had done with the Baltic states and parts of Finland and Romania that it had taken over in 1940 and 1941. Instead, the
A major factor in the Soviet control of Eastern Europe was fear of another massive land attack and invasion of its territory across the northern tier of states, as France had done in 1812 and Germany had done in 1941. Thus tighter military control was maintained over Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany than over Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania, the southern states, which had more leeway for independent action. Stalin expelled
A U.S. Air Force C-54 landing at Berlin’s Templehoff Air Base during the Berlin Airlift in 1948.
Soviet armed forces were stationed in force in the northern tier. During the mid-1980’s there were 194 active divisions including tank, motorized rifleman, and airborne. Sixty-five of these were stationed in the western Soviet Union, and thirty in Eastern Europe.
Outside the territory of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, during the Cold War, Soviet military advisers were active in a number of countries, and Soviet soldiers were occasionally employed in an advisory capacity. Certainly the Soviet Union was keen to test its weaponry, and Soviet planes were used in the
Actively engaged in the
The Soviet weapons of the Cold War were planes, missiles, nuclear weapons, submarines, and tanks. The country also kept and employed conventional armies and weapons. Moscow carried out military invasions against Warsaw Pact allies Hungary and Czechoslovakia, engaged in a border skirmish with China (1969), and waged war in Afghanistan. Like the United States, the Soviet Union maintained large stockpiles of thermonuclear
The Soviets had surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, and air-to-air
By 1989 the Soviets had upgraded their ICBMs to the SS18-MOD5, SS-25 for road-mobile units, and SS-24 for rail-mobile and silo-launched missiles, replacing earlier missiles that had included the SS11, SS17, SS18-Satan, and SS19-Stiletto.
Soviet airborne brigades were sent into Afghanistan by helicopter. The Soviets would also encircle Afghan villages and then move in from different directions. After 1982 they began to use smaller, more flexible units, but their reliance on helicopters led to the United States arming the Afghan resistance with surface-to-air missiles, which changed the nature of the war considerably.
By 1984 Soviet equipment losses included 546 aircraft, 304 tanks, 436 armored personnel carriers, and more than 2,700 other vehicles. Soviet forces in Afghanistan were attached to the Fortieth Army in Soviet Central Asia. Initially they sent five airborne and four motorized rifleman
The highest Soviet command structure consisted of three parts: the
Shortly after Germany’s partition, signs appeared in West Berlin warning residents about the new international boundaries; this one says, “Pay attention–only ten meters [away].”
The Stavka also stood in command above the various armed services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, and the National Air Defense. Special troops such as the chemical, engineering, signal, and civil defense corps were directly under the ministry of defense.
Each of the five services had a commander in chief, one or more first deputy commanders in chief, and a chief of political administration equal in level to the first deputies. There were in addition several deputy commanders. The army and air force were deployed in sixteen military districts within the Soviet Union. The navy was deployed in four fleets. The countries of the Soviet allies were integrated into Moscow’s command structure through the Warsaw Pact.
West Berliners look across the wall at East Berlin in 1961.
Soviet military doctrine had two aspects: political and technological. The political aspect was linked to the principles of
Although publicly denying it, Moscow did not rule out the use of a preemptive strike. The Soviets kept their nuclear arsenals ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. The Stavka developed massive retaliation, second-strike, and flexible response strategies. The country’s arsenal included tactical nuclear weapons.
In 1968, as
The Soviet Union’s most serious “hot” war of the Cold War era was in
The invasion of Afghanistan extended the Brezhnev Doctrine beyond Eastern Europe. However, unlike Czech leaders in 1968, the Afghani leaders were not moving away from Marxism. Their factional fighting caused instability and opened the door for counterrevolution. The invasion took place during the
Among the most important contemporary sources on the Cold War are the various Jane’s Information Group’s military series, especially All the World’s Aircraft, published annually, and Jane’s Missiles and Rockets. The Defense Intelligence Agency published a series entitled Soviet Military Power (1979). There are a number of collections of documents including Edward H. Judge and John W. Langdon’s The Cold War: A History Through Documents (1999). Memoirs of Soviet leaders include those of
Carbonnell, Nestor. And the Russians Stayed: The Sovietization of Cuba a Personal Portrait. New York: Morrow, 1989. Gabriel, Richard A. The Mind of the Soviet Fighting Man: A Quantitative Survey of Soviet Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. Koch, Fred. Russian Tanks and Armored Vehicles, 1946 to the Present: An Illustrated Reference. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer, 1999. Mathers, Jennifer G. The Russian Nuclear Shield from Stalin to Yeltsin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Reese, Roger R. The Soviet Military Experience: A History of the Soviet Army from 1917-1991. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 2000. Rottman, Gordon L. The Berlin Wall and the Intra-German Border, 1961-89. New York: Osprey, 2008. _______. Warsaw Pact Ground Forces. New York: Osprey, 1987. Schwartz, Richard Alan. The Cold War Reference Guide: A General History and Annotated Chronology, with Selected Biographies. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997. Ward, Robin, and Geoffrey Jukes. Soviet General’s Database. Canberra: Australian National University, 1999. Zaloga, Steven J., and James Loop. Soviet Bloc Elite Forces. New York: Osprey, 1985. Afghan Breakdown. Feature film. Lenfilm, 1990. Cold War. Documentary. Warner Home Video, 1998.
The Cold War: The United States, NATO, and the Right
The Cold War: The Nonaligned States
Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
China: Modern Warfare
Colonial Wars of Independence
Warfare in Vietnam
Warfare in Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict