Timeline of the Cold War


1945: February 4-11— The Yalta Conference convened at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the USA, and Winston Churchill of Great Britain were there to discuss the aftermath of World War II and the governing of Germany. Stalin’s ideas on the structure of post-war Europe differed from those of his allies and the relationship between the “Big Three” began a slow deterioration. The seeds of the Cold War were planted.

1945: August 6 – The United States ordered a B-29 bomber, called the Enola Gay to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. This was the first time that any nation used an atomic bomb in war. While the initial explosion killed about 100,000 people, the lingering effects of radiation led to 200,000 casualties within 5 years of the blast.

1945: August 8 - Russia declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. Manchuria was part of the Chinese mainland, but it had been under Japanese occupation since 1931.

1945: August 14 – World War II ended when the Japanese foreign affairs minister boarded the USS Missouri to sign official documents of surrender.

1946: March – Winston Churchill was at Westminster College in Missouri when he delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech. Officially titled “The Sinews of Peace”, this speech popularized the phrase “Iron Curtain” in terms of the Soviet Bloc. This was a marked difference in the way the West had viewed the Soviet Union’s growing control in Europe.

1947: March – Under the Truman Doctrine, which declared that the US would support democracies and fight Communism in the world, Greece was given $300 million in military support during the Greek Civil War.

1947: June – The countries of Europe were invited to join the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan was an attempt to rebuild Europe’s economy and infrastructure through cooperation and economic support. The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries declined to join.

1948: February -- Communists took control in Czechoslovakia after achieving a majority government during popular elections.

1948: June 24 – The Berlin Blockade begins as Soviet forces close off Berlin to the West. The Western Nations created the Berlin Airlift to fly in supplies to West Berliners and circumvent the blockade. This was one of the first tense moments in the Cold War.

1949: July – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was ratified. The United States and 11 other nations signed the treaty that was designed as a mutual defense pact against Soviet aggression.

1949: May 12 – The Berlin Blockade ended, in part, as a result of Western economic embargoes against Eastern Bloc countries.

1949: September – The Communist leader, Mao Zedong takes control of China and declares it to be The People’s Republic of China. Though China now aligned itself politically with the Soviet Union, the relationship was never a close one.

1949: September – The Soviet Union shocked the West by exploding its first atomic bomb. With the realization that the Soviet Union now had atomic weapons capability, Truman called for an arms build up by the United States. The Arms Race began.


1950: February – Senator Joseph McCarthy began an era of paranoia by announcing that he had a list of 205 Communists. McCarthyism became synonymous with the witch hunts that marked the second Red Scare in US history.

1950: JuneKorea had been divided at the 38th parallel after WWII. Soviet forces had occupied North Korea and American forces had occupied South Korea. When North Korea invaded South Korea, the UN requested world forces to help. The US entered the Korean Conflict.

1951: January 12 -- The Federal Civil Defense Administration was established to encourage the building of bomb shelters and disseminate information on how to protect oneself in the event of nuclear attack.

1953: June 19 – US citizens and Communists, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as Soviet spies. The case was controversial, as there were many people using it as a political platform. Opened documents have revealed that Julius was a Soviet spy, but any information that was passed on to the Soviets was insignificant. Ethel seems to have been completely innocent.

1953: July – An armistice was signed after Dwight D. Eisenhower won his presidential election on a platform of ending the war. Casualties had been heavy on both sides and little was accomplished by the war.

1954: March – The intelligence and security organs of the Soviet Union were reorganized into the KGB. It was responsible for domestic security and foreign intelligence.

1954 -- CIA aids and supports overthrows of regimes in Iran and Guatemala in favor of governments friendly to US interests.

1954: July – The Geneva Accords ended conflict between the French colonial government and Vietnamese Communist Nationalists. It also split Vietnam at the 17th. The United States is one of the few nations that continues to support anti-Communist activities in the region.

1955: May – The Warsaw Pact was formed as a response to NATO. Eastern Bloc countries signed an agreement of mutual protection, under which they would come to each other’s aid in the event of outside aggression.

1956: October – November - Soviet forces brought tanks into Budapest to put down a massive uprising in Hungary. Hungarians from all walks of life rebelled against Stalin’s regime, but were eventually defeated.

1956:  After Britain and the United States withdrew financial support for the Aswan Dam, Egypt took control of the Suez Canal and nationalized it. It was later learned that the USSR provided a loan for the project.

1957: October 4 – The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit.

1958: November – Khrushchev demanded the withdrawal of Western troops from Berlin. When his demands were not met, Khrushchev approved the building of the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin.

1959: January – After leading a nationalistic revolution, Fidel Castro took power in Cuba. He declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. One of his first acts in power was to nationalize American companies.

1959: September – During Khrushchev’s visit to the United States there were many tense moments. One such incident included Khrushchev exploding in anger when he found out that he would be unable to visit Disneyland due to security concerns.


1960: May – An American U-2 spy plane was shot down while conducting espionage surveillance over the Soviet Union. Immediately after the incident, the United States denied that it was a spy plane, but the Soviets had the wreckage and the live pilot. Francis Gary Powers, the pilot, was released in 1962 as part of a prisoner exchange. 

1960: November – After an extremely close election, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon to become president of the United States.

1961: April – The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a CIA operation that had been planned during the Eisenhower administration. It was supposed to support Cuban rebels against Castro. After support was pulled during the invasion and a cover-up was attempted, the horribly, botched exercise proved to be an embarrassment for the Kennedy administration.

1961: July -- Kennedy requested a 25% increase in military spending to counter-act the Communist threat.

1961: August 13 – East German authorities closed the border between East and West Berlin. They then cut off West Berlin by closing many of the crossing points which gave it access to the rest of East Germany.

1961: August 17 – Construction of the 96 mile Berlin Wall began. The wall dividing East and West Berlin reached a height of about 11.8 feet in most places and was topped with barbed wire.

1962: - The US increased its involvement in Vietnam and by the end of the year, there were 11,300 US troops in South Vietnam.

1962: October – The Cuban Missile Crisis provided some of the tensest moments of the Cold War. Khrushchev had installed Soviet missiles in Cuba and Kennedy’s government insisted that they be removed. Both sides held their ground for 14 days until Khrushchev relented. This time has been noted as the closest the world had ever been to nuclear war.

1963: July – The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was ratified. This prohibited the explosion of nuclear devices in the atmosphere, under water, and in space.

1963: November – While riding in an open car through Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was assassinated by Harvey Lee Oswald.

1964: August – The Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred when American destroyers engaged North Vietnamese torpedo boats. This resulted in The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Johnson the right to assist any Southeast Asian government that was threatened by Communist aggression. This gave him the justification to increase US involvement in Vietnam.

1965: April - U.S. forces invaded the Dominican Republic, after the leftist leader, Juan Bosch was elected. Johnson feared the birth of another Cuba.

1965: July – Lyndon B. Johnson announced that 150,000 US troops were being sent to Vietnam. Draft call-ups were doubled to 35,000 a month.

1968: January – The US navy spy ship, USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea. Eighty-two crew members were held prisoner for 11 months.

1968: August – In an incident known as “Prague Spring,” Soviet troops were sent into Czechoslovakian to put an end to a revolt that was started by a reform movement.

1969: July 20 – The world watched as American astronaut, Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon. Apollo 11’s moon landing put the United States ahead in the space race.


1970: April - President Nixon brings the war in Vietnam to Cambodia through bombings and covert operations to hunt Vietnamese troops. The real extent of the bombings weren’t known until classified documents were revealed many years later.

1972: July – The first series of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) take place between Nixon and Brezhnev. Under the SALT I agreements, the existing number of ballistic missile launchers was frozen.

1973: January – Following peace talks in Paris, Nixon ordered a cease fire on North Vietnam, but air assaults continued against Communist troops in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

1973: September – Salvador Allende, the Communist president of Chile was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by General Augusto Pinochet. The United States provided financial and military support for the overthrow.

1973: October – Egypt and Syria coordinated a joint attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Egypt’s request for Soviet aid was later dropped when it became apparent that Israel would not be defeated.

1974: August – Amid the Watergate Scandal, President Nixon concluded that he no longer had a strong political base in Washington and resigned from office.

1975: April 17 – The president of South Vietnam was forced to resign and admit defeat at the hands of North Vietnam. He accused the United States of betrayal for failing to deliver promised military and financial aid.

1979: July – The SALT II treaty was signed by Brezhnev and President Carter, but was not ratified due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets agreed to abide by the terms of the unratified treaty, but Reagan later accused them of breaking their resolution.

1979: November – The Shah of Iran was overthrown after years of tyrannical rule. He had been friendly to the US government and was given support by the American government. When he fled Iran, he went to the US. This led to anti-American feeling and armed militants stormed the American embassy, taking about 70 Americans hostage.


1983: - President Reagan introduced and proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Also known as “Star Wars”, SDI was intended to intercept Soviet missiles at various stages of their flight.

1983: October – After a coup left a left wing leader in power in Grenada, U.S. troops invaded the small island and overthrew the regime.

1985: - The events that were later referred to as the Iran-Contra Affair occurred. The CIA sold arms were sold to Iran and the profits were used to fund contra activities in Nicaragua.

1985: - Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union.

1986: - Gorbachev cut economic aid to the Soviet satellite states. Eventually this led to new policies on military and political policy.

1986: October - Reagan and Gorbachev have successful talks and agree to remove all intermediate nuclear missiles from Europe.

1986: November – The details of the Iran-Contra Affair were revealed to the public and congressional investigations ensued.

1987: October – The talks between the United States and the Soviet Union continue to make progress when Reagan and Gorbachev signed a treaty that would eventually remove all medium and short-range nuclear missiles from Europe.

1989: January – After many casualties and little success, the Soviet Union was forced to admit defeat in Afganistan and withdraw its troops.

1989: June – Poland’s solidarity movement was successful and Poland gained independence.

1989: - What started as a series of demonstrations for democracy and governmental reform came to a bloody end in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government rolled in tanks and the military killed an estimated 3,000 protesters.

1989: September – In a peaceful revolution, the Communist party of Hungary was voted out of office and Hungary became independent.

1989: November – After months of East Berlin authorities tolerating greater movement across the Berlin border, they finally ordered the opening of several gates. The wall was breached and excited Berliners climbed the wall and chopped out chunks of it.

1989: December – The so-called 1989 Revolutions brought about the disintegration of the Soviet Empire when the Communist governments of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania collapse.


1990: March - Lithuania declared its independence. While the USSR sends in military forces to try to suppress the independence movement, the Lithuanians are not deterred.

1990: May 29 - Boris Yeltsin, who had been seen as a radical reformer within the Soviet government, resigned from the Communist party. After becoming a rival to Gorbachev, he was elected as President of Russia.

1990: October 3 – East and West Germany were reunited under one government.

1991: April – The Warsaw Pact ended with the dissolution of the Soviet satellite states.

1991: August – Hardline Communists within the Soviet Union staged a botched coup against Gorbachev. The result was that the Communist Party was weakened and the Soviet Union crumbled. The Cold War was over.