Stalin’s 1949 cancellation of the Berlin blockade did not repair the damage it had done. Stalin’s move had been astoundingly counterproductive. In March 1948, before the Berlin blockade, Britain and France had signed a mutual defense pact with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Berlin blockade then led to its expansion into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), signed 4 April 1949, uniting the United States, Canada, and Iceland with nine western European countries. NATO pledged its members to treat an attack on any one as an attack on all. In addition, Stalin had succeeded, only three years after the end of World War II, in making Germans into victims. This removed remaining obstacles to the formal unification of the three western zones into the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, in May 1949. Stalin responded by turning his occupation zone into the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, in October 1949.
The Cold War’s front lines in Europe were becoming increasingly rigid, even more so once Stalin possessed his own atomic weapons. Stalin and the Soviets had downplayed the significance of the atomic bomb, briefly in reality and longer in rhetoric, when the Americans first revealed its existence. When the United States possessed the atom bomb and Stalin did not, it was in Stalin’s interests to dismiss the bomb as not changing warfare in any essential way. His actions suggest a somewhat different view. Stalin took some convincing as to the importance of atomic research, and serious efforts to build a bomb began only after the two atom bombs were dropped on Japan. Aided by espionage, the Soviet atom bomb project successfully detonated its first weapon on 29 August 1949.
The Soviet military first had to figure out how to fight a nuclear-armed opponent without arms of its own. Even after it possessed the atomic bomb, the Soviets lacked bombers or missiles capable of reaching American territory. Partly as a psychological defense mechanism, partly in recognition of the limited power of early atomic weapons, Soviet doctrine and planning downplayed their importance. The Soviets did step up their attention to strategic bombing and air defense. Soviet aviation during World War II had focused on control of the battlefield, not strategic missions, and the Soviets lacked a strategic bomber. American B-29s that had been interned on Soviet territory during the war were dismantled and reverse engineered to produce the Tu-4, the Soviets’ first real strategic bomber in decades. British jet engine designs were purchased to upgrade the Soviet Air Force. In July 1948, Air Defense Forces were reorganized as a separate branch of the Soviet military, on a par with the navy, the air force, and ground forces. At the same time, Soviet military doctrine held that atomic weapons had only limited utility against hard targets like armored vehicles and that speedy operations could overrun air bases and capture foreign territory, greatly reducing the utility of atomic weapons.
Even with the American atomic monopoly broken, the Cold War was still not fully a military confrontation. While NATO represented a joint Western commitment to defense, the creation of NATO did not produce rearmament on any appreciable scale. Some within the U.S. government advocated a major conventional military buildup to counter Soviet strength, but the money and political will for such a step were missing.
A shooting war between the West and the communist bloc changed that. On 25 June 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Like Germany, Korea had been divided at the end of World War II and had two systems imposed: a communist one-party state in the Soviet-occupied north, a pro-Western and capitalist (though not at all democratic) state in the U.S.–occupied south. After the withdrawal of occupation forces in 1948, both North and South Korea wished to unify the peninsula under their own control. The difference was that Stalin gave the North Korean regime his permission to go ahead, along with the equipment and raw materials to fight a war. Stalin’s possession of the atom bomb gave him more freedom to risk military confrontation with the West. After the northern invasion, American troops intervened to defend the South, backed by a United Nations mandate and troop contingents from over a dozen other countries. Though the North almost succeeded in conquering the entire peninsula, in September 1950 a United Nations amphibious landing at Inchon quickly turned the tide, and the North Koreans were driven back in disarray. As the American-led force crossed the 38th parallel and continued north, the recently formed People’s Republic of China, with Stalin’s backing, intervened on behalf of the North. Early in 1951, the front lines stabilized back at the 38th parallel, where they would remain through a 1953 cease-fire. Stalin saw the Korean War as the beginning of confrontation between the capitalist and communist worlds. Indeed, at the beginning of 1951 he warned the leaders of the communist bloc that war with the West was coming soon, and rearmament had to begin immediately.
In addition to giving Kim Il-Sung, ruler of North Korea, permission for the invasion, Stalin assisted in the construction of the North Korean army and the war effort itself. Even after Soviet troops evacuated North Korea, 4,000 military advisors remained to train the North Korean army. During the war, the Soviet 64th Fighter Corps, based in northern China and from August 1951 in North Korea as well, fought secretly against UN forces. Over 20,000 Soviet servicemen and 300 planes were involved at any one time, though the Soviets were careful not to allow Soviet pilots to fly over enemy territory where they might be shot down and identified. The precise performance of Soviet fighters and antiaircraft guns is disputed; almost 300 Soviet servicemen died fighting in Korea.
In these early years of the Cold War, Soviet armed forces had domestic responsibilities as well. The reimposition of Soviet rule, especially on territories that had not been part of the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s, was a violent process. In the Baltics, especially Lithuania, scattered assassinations and partisan resistance lasted well into the 1950s. In western Ukraine, this looked more like a civil war. There, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) engaged in a vicious fight that involved ethnic and religious warfare, not simply opposition to Soviet rule. Only massive use of military and police power brought order. Over the decade after World War II, OUN averaged over 1,000 killings per year of Soviet officials and collaborators. The Soviet regime deported at least 300,000 people from the Baltics and western Ukraine in efforts to pacify the region. Most of this fighting was conducted not by the Soviet army, but by special troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs organized and trained for that purpose. The military itself supported and occasionally participated in these operations.
After the end of the war, Stalin wanted to guarantee a politically reliable military. Unfortunately for Stalin, victory brought great prestige to the Red Army’s high command, particularly Georgii Konstantinovich Zhukov. Stalin had tried in the last months of the war to spread credit to other generals—Ivan Stepanovich Konev and Aleksandr Mikhailovich Vasilevskii in particular—but to no avail. Zhukov’s own conduct, in which he clearly drew attention to his own accomplishments, exacerbated the situation. In the summer of 1946, Zhukov was brought back from Germany and demoted to running the insignificant Odessa Military District as a lesson to other generals. Stalin also maintained political officers and secret police minders as additional systems of control over his military. Within the armed forces, he used a system inherited from World War II to divide power. Authority over the Soviet military was split between the Minister of Defense, responsible for organizing and supplying the military, and the Chief of the General Staff, responsible for training and operational control. Though the Minister of Defense was nominally superior to the Chief of the General Staff, the real distinction was slightly different. The Minister was typically a more political and administrative figure, while the Chief of the General Staff was a fighting general, intended to manage combat.
THE DIVISION OF EUROPE AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
It took time before the western zones of Germany were amalgamated and gained autonomy, and the communists were defeated in the Greek Civil War. The Sovietization of eastern Europe was a steady process, completed with the Czech coup of 1948, and only effectively resisted by Tito, another communist. Austria did not join the ranks of the neutrals until the country was reunited in a 1955 treaty and promised not to confederate with either West or East Germany.
1. from Germany to Poland 1945
2. from Germany to USSR 1945
3. returned to Czechoslovakia from Hungary 1945
4. returned to Romania from Hungary 1945
5. from Hungary to USSR 1945
6. from Romania to USSR 1945
7. to USSR 1940, lost 1941, retaken 1944
8. to USSR 1940, lost 1941-44,
9. returned 1947 o to USSR 1947
10. Federal Republic of Germany formed Sept. 1949