Cold War brief history, the important events, the virtual museum, the artifacts and photos archive. Prepared by M. Blinov* for:
– Army Museum (Les Invalides Paris, France)
– Tank Museum (Saumur, Loire Valley, France)
– Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget
– Cold War Museum (USA)
The creation of this virtual museum and guide to the Cold War was prompted by the need to describe items from the author’s collection and the “Russian” (Soviet) section in each of the above museums, as well as plans for a large new Cold War exhibition at the Museum of the Army of the Invalides in Paris. Some sections of the guide are presented briefly, some in more detail in accordance with the practical purposes of museum work. This guide can be used as a guide to the uniforms of the Soviet Army and the NKVD-KGB for collectors and museum workers. The guide is constantly updated with new sections, stay tuned for updates.
– Prehistory of the Cold War: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin. WW1 and revolution.
– The Second World War: WW2 Allies against Hitler.
– Cold War, the main periods and the events
– Local wars and conflicts. Special operations abroad
– Uniform and insignias of the Soviet Army, NKVD-MGB-KGB
– Photo archive: the events, vehicles, uniforms, personalities
– Personalities, name index and biographies.
There are no exact dates for the beginning of the Cold War, but Churchill’s March 5, 1946 speech at Westminster College in Fulton, USA, is considered as the main event. The former Prime Minister of Great Britain, in the presence of US President Truman, outlined the political situation after the Second World War, the threat from the Soviet Union and the creation of the Iron Curtain. At this time, President Truman was already ready to use nuclear weapons against the USSR (the “Totality” plan, developed at the headquarters of General Eisenhower).
In reality, the Cold War began a little earlier, in the spring of 1945, when, on the initiative of Churchill, a plan for war with the USSR, Operation “Unthinkable”, was developed. According to this plan, the anti-Soviet armed formations of the KONR (ROA, Cossacks and national units), which were previously allies of Germany, could be used against the USSR. Using military and political pressure on the “allies”, Stalin forced the Yalta agreements to be partially fulfilled, and in the summer of 1945, 2 out of 3 Cossack corps (collaborators) were issued to the Soviets, and later also parts of the ROA of General Vlasov. Many of the old and new immigrants, including former collaborators, were recruited into the US military and intelligence agencies. According to available documents, plans to create an army for the liberation of the USSR from Russian military emigration date back to 1953. See “Cossacks, the Russian Protective Corps and the ROA after the Second World War” for more details.
On September 9, 1945, a military parade of the “allies” took place in Berlin, which was attended by the military-political leadership of the victorious countries. The parade was closed by 52 Soviet heavy tanks IS-3 (Joseph Stalin). The power, armor, the hum of engines and the shaking of the earth during the passage of such heavy equipment of the USSR of a new generation greatly surprised and excited Churchill. According to legend, Churchill dropped his smoking pipe, opened his mouth and said that there would be another world war. These IS-3 heavy tanks were in service with the USSR and then Russia until 1998. The last case of combat use was in 2014 in the war in Ukraine, when the DPR army used the IS-3 tank from the monument. The gun was deactivated, a modern machine gun was installed, but the tank was used as an offensive weapon against the Ukrainian army.
Immediately after the Second World War, the Soviet Union considered heavy tanks to capture Europe, as well as floating tanks to capture Great Britain, as the main offensive weapons. Continuing the “tradition” of the Second World War, there was an increase in the armor and caliber of tank guns. After the successful creation of the heavy tank IS-3, the USSR increased its armor, and the tanks became heavier. Very heavy tanks IS-4 and IS-7 were created, experimental samples of which have survived to this day in the museum on Kubinka. The increase in the mass of tanks had a bad effect on their maneuver, therefore, as a result of the tests, they settled on the IS-10, which, in connection with the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, received the name T-10. In total, more than 1000 T-10 tanks and more than 1000 T-10M tanks with protection against weapons of mass destruction were manufactured to capture Europe in the “special period”. This tank armada, ready to move to Paris and the English Channel in the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons, was in service with the Soviet army until 1998.
The creation in 1949 in the USSR of its own nuclear bomb, including with the help of an espionage, led to the further development of long-range bombers as the main means of delivering a new type of weapon. The training of specialists for the future “Third World War” begins in the combined arms and air force academies. In the same year, a new and original uniform for aviation and tank units was introduced. In 1955, this new form is introduced in all branches of the military and is unofficially called “Zhukovka” in the honor of the Minister of Defense Marshal Zhukov.
In 1954, military exercises with the use of nuclear weapons were held at the Totsk training ground under the leadership of Zhukov. The results of the impact of nuclear weapons on soldiers and officers are classified to this day.
Under Khrushchev, a massive reduction in the size of the army and ground forces began, as the new political leader staked on missiles and nuclear weapons.
In 1956, there was a harsh suppression of the uprising in Hungary, also under the leadership of Marshal Zhukov. In the suppression of the uprising, in addition to the Soviet army, the countries of the socialist community, the Warsaw Pact, took part. As a result of this event, changes were made to the design of the Soviet BTR-152 (the appearance of an armored roof), as well as elements of the field uniform adopted in 1954. Since 1959, on the field uniform, all gold epaulettes and shiny buttons have been replaced by field, khaki. The new full dress and everyday uniform, introduced in 1954, in general, remained unchanged, except for pilots and tankers.
The creation by communist Moscow of high-power thermonuclear weapons and the construction of missile ranges prompted US President Eisenhower’s proposal to Khrushchev to create an “open skies” system for mutual control of the development of strategic forces. Khrushchev rejected this proposal and the US launched a program of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to photograph the area. Air defense systems could detect such aircraft, but could not destroy them. The Soviets began to develop high-altitude interceptor aircraft and anti-aircraft missile systems.
In 1957, the Soviets launched the first artificial earth satellite. The main task was to create a carrier of the nuclear weapons, a missile flying along a ballistic trajectory to the United States. The world’s first cosmonaut Gagarin used a unified warhead, which could also be used to deliver a nuclear bomb, as well as a first-generation space photo reconnaissance satellite of the “Zenit” series. The USSR began to actively build test sites for launching strategic missiles (RVSN) and military satellites.
Beginning in 1956, the United States launched high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the territory of the USSR to photograph space and missile ranges. On May 1, 1960, an American Lockheed U-2 aircraft under the control of pilot Harry Powers made a reconnaissance flight, but was shot down by a new S-75 missile system. May 1, the Soviet communist holiday, the festive mood among the command staff and incomplete air defense crews. At the same time, interceptor aircraft and missile systems were involved with poor coordination. The Su-9 aircraft, which was unarmed, was supposed to destroy the U-2 with a ram, but received incorrect coordinates. The S-75 fired one missile, which shot down the U-2, while the other two failed. After the destruction of the U-2 aircraft, the operators considered it to be continuing its flight and shot down Soviet MiG-19 interceptor aircraft.
After the chaos and poor performance of the air defense, many officials from the Ural Military District, the Air defense Headquarters and the Operational department of the General Staff were dismissed from service.
In 1962, the “Caribbean Crisis” occurred, which almost ended in a nuclear war. In 1958, the USSR deployed medium-range ballistic missiles of the P5 type in the GDR, which created a threat to NATO. In 1961, the United States also responded by deploying medium-range missiles in Turkey, whose flight time to strategic targets in the USSR was much shorter than the ballistic trajectory flight time from the United States. In response, Khrushchev secretly deployed Soviet missiles with R-12 and R-14 nuclear warheads in Cuba. The Cuban government of Fidel Castro was an ally of Moscow’s communists and already had a contingent of Soviet troops on its territory. During the confrontation, reconnaissance aircraft, submarines were used, and the troops were put on full alert. War was avoided and a compromise decision was made, including at the expense of Cuba.
With the mass reduction of the ground forces, Khrushchev began to actively create the Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN). Professional officers of the missile forces were trained in military schools, and graduates of civilian technical universities were also drafted into the army. Systems of silo-based launchers (“points”), as well as protected command posts, were created. I would especially like to single out the 50th Smolensk Army of the Strategic Missile Forces, stationed in the West of the country, in Belarus and with headquarters in Smolensk. In Moscow, on the basis of the metro, “Spare command posts” began to appear, more than 100 objects in total, as well as Metro-2, high-speed secret metro lines outside the capital to places of secret bunkers and command posts of military branches.
In 1968, the USSR crushed the uprising in Prague, Operation “Danube”. A special role was played by the Airnborne units (VDV) and the secret groups of KGB officers who arrived in advance as the “tourists”.
After the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1969, a new uniform was introduced that was more comfortable during military operations. The American experience of military operations in Vietnam was also taken into account, including the impact of fire and napalm. In the old uniform of the 1943 model (tunic), the removal of burning clothes took place through a narrow opening for the head, which made the process long and dangerous. The new uniform provided for a tear along the front buttons in an emergency and a quick “crawling out” of burning clothes.
The paratroopers (“Uncle Vasya” units, General Vasily Margelov) were intensively developed and trained in the order to capture and destroy the important objects in the event of a special period, primarily in Europe. So, for example, the 103rd Airborne Division from Belarus was supposed to take to the air, parachute and destroy military bases in France, where missiles with conventional and nuclear warheads were located. Systems for dropping military equipment (tanks and self-propelled guns) with a crew inside were developed, a risky operation. General Margelov tested this system on his son (successfully), France tested it on a prisoner (crashed). Airborne exercises were conducted, plans were made to capture Europe. But instead of France, the 103rd division was transferred to Afghanistan along with border and other troops in 1979.
The experience of the capturing Amin’s palace showed that it was necessary to train special units for work abroad. During the destruction of military facilities in France, airborne soldiers received a “one-way ticket.” Without knowledge of the French language, the surviving conscripts (serve for 2 years) had to “go into the forest, into the partisans”, as during the Second World War. On the basis of regular servicemen of the KGB border troops, saboteurs and KGB officers, the “Vympel” (Pennant or Pennon) group was created in 1981 under the “C” department of the First Main Directorate of the KGB. The group was the successor of the work of the “Express” team of the INO NKVD under the leadership of Yakov Serebryansky, and then Pavel Sudoplatov, who committed sabotage in France in the 1920s and 30s. The group is intended for sabotage and special operations abroad in all countries of the world. The training of the employees of the “Vympel” group lasted almost 5 years and included the mountain training, the diving, the mine blasting, the hand-to-hand combat, parachuting, shooting from different types of the weapons. The task was to deliver a portable nuclear bomb (16 kg or 4×16 = 64 kg) to destroy important objects. Unlike the soldiers of the Airborne Forces, the “Vympel” fighters were fluent in foreign languages and knew the country where they needed to work. French was considered one of the main languages, as I had to work in Africa and Latin America. In Angola, for example, the fighters of the “Vympel” group were with Soviet instructors (advisers) and used the uniform of the Cuban army.
The participation of Soviet troops in local wars and conflicts, in Vietnam, in the Arab-Israeli wars, in Africa and Latin America is also part of the Cold War, but this will be written separately, as well as about secret special operations abroad.
We single out the war in Afghanistan especially, as it has many different features. It is especially necessary to note the great variety and mixing of the uniforms of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Even in one group of 10 people (squad), we see the uniform of the 1969 model, both regular and summer versions, the new one, called “Afghan” or “experimental”, a wide variety of technical clothing and special-purpose clothing that has appeared. Special Forces soldiers were very fond of light and comfortable uniforms for helicopter maintenance, receiving as a friend or for vodka (the traditional form of currency in the Soviet army). The technical uniform of pilots in Afghanistan served as a prototype for the creation of a special special forces uniform under the unofficial name “Mabuta” (named after the African dictator). This uniform was made of lightweight material, had no identification marks and served for unofficial operations abroad. In Afghanistan, Chinese-made trophy ammunition and grenade unloading belts, jokingly called “Afghan Women’s Bra”, were also used. By the end of the 80s, the Soviet analogue “Belt A” and “Belt B” were made in small quantities. Instead of heavy boots “sapogi” in Afghanistan, foreign Adidas-type sneakers were massively used during the operations.
Important events of the Cold War era include the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This event clearly showed what a nuclear war and radioactive contamination of the area are. The liquidation of the accident was carried out by the army and “civil defense troops”. Many data on the effects of radiation on humans are still classified. During the work, the servicemen used a new, “Afghan” uniform with patch pockets, a dosimeter in their pocket and a respirator on their faces.
The experience of liquidating the Chernobyl accident made changes to the uniform in the event of an offensive by Soviet troops on French territory after a limited (or not) use of the nuclear weapons. Instead of the usual OZK made of dust-moisture-proof rubber, it was planned to wear cotton protective jackets and trousers over the usual uniform, which are more comfortable in hot conditions.
A conventional offensive into Europe as far as Paris and the English Channel during the “special period” has been planned every year since the Second World War. To do this, exercises were periodically held using troops and tanks on terrain similar to the European Theater of Operations. The officers were trained in the offensive operations of tanks in Europe by teachers at the Academy of the Armored Forces (Moscow). Periodically, “command and staff exercises” took place, when Paris was captured by Soviet tanks on maps. In addition to the heavy T-10M tanks, which can go on the attack even after the use of tactical nuclear weapons, there were light amphibious tanks of the PT-76 type. During World War II, on the D-Day of the Allied landings in Normandy, the US and British armies lost a large number of tanks. Waves and enemy fire were the main causes of losses, so Soviet engineers developed amphibious tanks with this sad experience in mind. Soviet amphibious tanks were supposed to land under enemy fire from the English Channel in Great Britain or on the Black Sea on the shores of Turkey, a NATO country.
With the collapse of the USSR, great changes took place, the Cold War was transformed into local wars between the former republics of the USSR, and what is now happening is what is already being called “Cold War v.2.0”