Tag Archives: USA
This short podcast presents an overview of how and why Stalin chose to end the Berlin Blockade.
On May 12th 1949, the Soviet Union ended its blockade of West Berlin. Instigated on the 24th June the previous year, the blockade prevented all rail, road, and water transport between Berlin and the West of the Germany.
Germany had been divided into four parts at the end of World War 2 with Britain, France, the USA and the USSR each administering one area. Buried deep in the Soviet zone, the Berlin was also divided into four sectors. It was to the area controlled by the Western powers that the USSR blocked access.
Faced with the possibility of all-out war if they forced their way through the blockade, the Americans opted to make use of the three air corridors that provided unrestricted aerial access to Berlin. The USSR knew it risked war if it shot down any aircraft, and was therefore powerless to stop them. Launched four days after the blockade, the Berlin Airlift went on to see over 200,000 individual flights transport up to 8,500 tons of supplies each day.
The pilots and ground crews soon settled into an efficient rhythm. An unusually short winter also helped to keep the airlift running. By the spring of 1949 it was clear that the Western powers had achieved the impossible by supplying West Berlin by air alone. On the 15th April the USSR expressed a willingness to end the blockade and, after a period of negotiation, it was lifted at one minute past midnight on 12 May 1949. The blockade was over, but the Cold War had just begun.
On the 29th August 1949, the Soviet Union successfully detonated its first nuclear weapon codenamed RDS-1 and nicknamed First Lightning. The explosion had the power of 22 kilotons of TNT, and was 50% more destructive than its designers had expected.
The USSR started its nuclear program in 1943 after discovering the USA, Britain and Canada had begun bomb development. Assisted by intelligence from sources inside the USA’s Manhattan Project, the Soviet Union’s program developed quickly as the Soviets were able to replicate American successes while avoiding some of their costlier mistakes. Consequently, although the majority of Cold War academics accept that the USSR’s success had a lot to do with domestic expertise they recognise that intelligence helped to reduce the time it took for them to develop the bomb.
Work was accelerated after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in secret, purpose-built cities dedicated to the nuclear program known as Atomgrads. By 1949 the Soviets had developed two types of bomb, but opted to detonate the simpler of the two designs first since it was similar in design to the successful Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
The RDS-1 test was conducted in secret in an attempt to avoid the USA increasing its own nuclear program, but the US Air Force began to detect radioactive fallout from the explosion a few days later and tracked the trail. Soviet success had occurred up to 4 years ahead of Western estimates, and the knowledge that the USSR now had ‘the bomb’ dramatically increased tensions in the early years of the Cold War.
On the 4th July 1950, Radio Free Europe – founded the previous year to transmit uncensored information to audiences behind the Iron Curtain – completed its first broadcast.
Although the station was uncensored in the sense that it shared information that was suppressed within the Communist Bloc, it’s important to remember that it was still a propaganda tool founded and principally funded by the United States government.
The task facing the journalists who worked for RFE was daunting. Since they broadcast to states that suppressed a range of information and news, the gathering of intelligence to provide broadcast material was an enormous challenge. They often relied on risky contact with émigrés and people who had traveled behind the Iron Curtain for eye-witness accounts, and closely monitored print and electronic media from the communist governments. It’s even been suggested that the quality and quantity of information was so comprehensive that the communist governments themselves used Radio Free Europe to gain information about what was happening within their own countries.
However, RFE was still fundamentally a broadcaster that promoted anti-communist ideas and was therefore a significant threat in the countries it targeted. The USSR tasked the KGB with establishing expensive radio jamming facilities to try to block broadcasts, while in 1981 a terrorist group funded by the Romanian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu detonated a bomb at RFE’s Munich headquarters.
Despite these challenges Radio Free Europe and its partner station Radio Liberty continued broadcasting, and even after the end of the Cold War has continued to broadcast to countries where a free press is not established.
On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade.
To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy’s address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard’s spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three weeks before that. Taking on the USSR at a technological game that they were already leading appeared reckless.
An underlying issue was that, as part of his election campaign, Kennedy had promised to outperform the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence. In his famed television debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy had mocked the fact that Nixon was proud of the USA being ahead of the USSR in terms of colour television while trailing in terms of rocket thrust. Gagarin’s flight had proved to the world that the USSR was currently ‘winning’ the Space Race, and so put pressure on Kennedy to increase spending on the Apollo space program. Having received a memo from Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in which he reported that the USA was unlikely to ever outperform the USSR under the current spending arrangements, Kennedy launched the largest peacetime financial commitment ever made.
The $24 billion dollars did work, however, and Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy’s goal by landing on the moon on 20th July 1969.
The world’s first satellite television broadcast took place on July 11th 1962 when the Telstar satellite relayed an image of a flag outside its base station at Andover Earth Station to the Pleumeur-Bodou earth station in France.
The 190 French technicians successfully tracked Telstar during the 20 minute period that Telstar was visible to both the USA and France and watched the broadcast at 47 minutes past midnight. The first public satellite broadcast took place almost two weeks later, on July 23rd.
Telstar was launched almost five years after the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was put into low Earth orbit by the USSR. For this reason Telstar is seen as being part of the Space Race between the USA and the USSR, but it’s interesting to note that Telstar was actually an international project to develop trans-Atlantic communication involving AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories and NASA in the USA as well as the GPO and National PTT who were responsible for communication technology in the UK and France respectively.
Telstar was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on the day before the first broadcast, with costs shared between the international partners. Telstar was therefore also the first privately sponsored space launch. However, despite partly being a product of the Cold War it was also a victim. High-altitude nuclear tests had created artificial radiation belts that overwhelmed the electronics on Telstar and led to irreparable damage that caused the satellite to completely fail nine months later. By the time it went out of service, Telstar I had relayed over 400 separate transmissions.
On the 3rd January 1961, the United States of America severed its diplomatic relationship with Cuba and closed the American embassy in Havana. The move came in the wake of the nationalisation of industries in Cuba that were owned by US citizens, which increased as the American government gradually introduced a trade embargo.
The overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement heralded a dramatic change in US-Cuban relations. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially recognised the new socialist government, but the situation quickly deteriorated as Cuba introduced agrarian reforms and the nationalisation of US-owned interests.
In response the USA stopped buying Cuban sugar and banned the sale of oil, so Castro’s government turned to the USSR for assistance. This led to a further deterioration of relations with America. However, a complete trade embargo only came about after Cuba nationalised the three American-owned oil refineries in the country in October 1960.
Further nationalisations over the next three months – including that of private property owned by Americans – led the Eisenhower administration to cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba on the 3rd January. Meanwhile, a group of Cuban exiles in the USA, known as Brigade 2506, were being trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. This plan, which resulted in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, was followed through by John F. Kennedy after he became the 35th President of the USA less than three weeks after the closure the embassy.
Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were finally restored on the 20th July 2015, although a trade embargo still exists.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was launched by the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506.
The invasion saw over 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Castro had come to power in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution which toppled the previous president, General Fulgencio Batista. The new government quickly began introducing agrarian reforms and nationalising US-owned interests. These actions led to the USA imposing a trade embargo against Cuba from late 1960, after which Castro began to further develop his relationship with the USSR.
As concerns grew over these developments, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorised the CIA to begin devising a way to overthrow Castro. He allocated $13.1 million for them to begin training counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles and, on 4 April 1961, his successor John F. Kennedy authorised the final invasion plan.
While the seaborne invasion force gathered in Guatemala, a smaller group of Cuban exiles attacked Cuban airfields on 15 April using CIA-obtained B-26 bombers painted to appear like they were captured Cuban planes. That evening the Cuban government tabled a motion to the United Nations, accusing the United States of being behind the attacks. Consequently a series of airfield attacks planned for the early hours of the 17 April were cancelled by Kennedy.
The amphibious assault went ahead as planned but quickly began to go wrong. The exiles from Brigade 2506 were pinned on the beach by a counterattack from the Cuban Army and assorted militiamen, leading to 114 exile deaths and the capture of over a thousand others. In the aftermath, Cuba developed even closer links with the USSR that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.