This Cold War timeline contains important dates and events from 1945 to 1991. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors:
February: Yalta Conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt concludes
July 24th: US president Harry Truman informs USSR leader Josef Stalin and that US has atomic weapons.
August 6th: US drops atomic weapon on Hiroshima. USSR declares war on Japan two days later.
August 14th: Japan agrees to sign an unconditional surrender, marking the end of World War II.
February 22nd: US diplomatic George Kennan sends his ‘long telegram’, evaluating the leadership of the USSR.
March 5th: Former British prime minister Winston Churchill speaks of the ‘Iron Curtain’ descending on Europe.
September 6th: US secretary of state James F. Byrnes speaks of America’s desire for a future free Germany.
December 19th: French troops land in Vietnam to reassert colonial rule and are engaged by the communist Viet Minh.
January 1st: The American and British sectors of western Germany are combined to form one zone: Bizonia.
March 12th: US president Truman promises to assist Greece and Turkey to prevent the rise of communism.
May 22nd: In line with the promises of the Truman Doctrine, the US issues $400 million of aid to Greece and Turkey.
June 5th: US announces an economic assistance plan for war-ravaged European countries (the Marshall Plan).
June 24th: At Stalin’s order, Soviet troops commence the blockade of Allied zones in Berlin.
June 28th: The US and its allies begin airlifting food and other cargo to the western sectors of Berlin. The operation continues until July 1949.
October 1st: Communist leader Mao Zedong proclaims the formation of the People’s Republic of China.
October 7th: Soviet zone in eastern Germany declared as the German Democratic Republic (GDP).
June 22nd: North Korea invades South Korea. United Nations commits a coalition force to assist South Korea.
October 22nd: Chinese forces invade North Korea. Within weeks United Nations troops are forced back south.
January 4th: Chinese forces capture the South Korean capital Seoul.
September 1st: The US, Australia and New Zealand sign ANZUS, a tripartite defence treaty.
October 10th: The US passes the Mutual Security Act, providing aid to foreign allies.
June: Finalisation of the Marshall Plan. European production now above pre-war levels.
October 2nd: The United Kingdom tests its first atomic weapon, becoming the world’s third nuclear power.
March 5th: Death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
June 19th: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executed in the US for espionage, for passing atomic secrets to the USSR.
July 27th: Fighting ends in the Korean War. A demilitarised zone is established between North and South Korea.
September 7th: Nikita Khrushchev becomes leader of the USSR.
May 7th: Communist Viet Minh forces defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu. The French later withdraw from Vietnam.
June: Senator Joe McCarthy alleges that communists have infiltrated the CIA and the military.
July 23rd: Gamal Nasser, a former military officer with pro-Soviet views, seizes power in Egypt.
September 8th: Formation of the eight-nation South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) to resist communism.
May 9th: West Germany granted membership of NATO and begins receiving military assistance.
May 14th: Warsaw Pact military alliance signed by the USSR and seven of its satellite nations.
February 25th: Nikita Khrushchev delivers a speech denouncing the personality cult and crimes of the Stalin era.
July 26th: Egyptian ruler Nasser, now aligned with the USSR, seizes and claims ownership of the Suez Canal.
October 23rd: Anti-Soviet demonstrations in Hungary become violent, leading to a Red Army invasion days later.
October 29th: A three-nation force enters the Suez, expels Egyptian troops and regains control of the canal.
October 1st: The US Strategic Air Command begins an around-the-clock watch for incoming Soviet missiles. This continues for the duration of the Cold War.
October 4th: The Soviets launch Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite in orbit.
November 3rd: The Soviets launch Sputnik II, containing the first living creature in space, the dog Laika.
November 7th: US president Dwight Eisenhower declares a ‘missile gap’ and orders the construction of nuclear shelters.
July 29th: Formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
August: US deploys ‘Thor’ medium-range missiles in England, capable of launching a nuclear strike on Moscow.
November: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev issues the Western allies a six-month ultimatum to depart Berlin.
January 1st: Fidel Castro wins power in Cuba, overthrowing the US-backed dictator Batista.
July 24th: USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev and US vice-president Richard Nixon engage in the ‘kitchen debate’.
September: Khrushchev undertakes a controversial fortnight-long visit to the US.
February 6th: France becomes the fifth nuclear power, after testing its first nuclear weapon in Africa.
April: US deploys Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey, allowing it to launch a short-range nuclear strike on the USSR.
May 1st: Soviets shoot down a U2 spy-plane and detain its US pilot, Gary Powers, sparking an international incident.
July 31st: British and Commonwealth forces defeat communist guerrillas in Malaya.
January 3rd: US severs diplomatic ties with Cuba
January 20th: John F. Kennedy inaugurated as US president, after defeating Richard Nixon in the November 1960 election.
April 12th: USSR launches the first man in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
April 15th: CIA-backed invasion of Cuba via the Bay of Pigs is defeated.
June: The US begins installing nuclear-capable Jupiter missiles in Turkey, increasing its capacity to launch against the USSR.
June 4th: Khrushchev issues another ultimatum on Berlin, giving the Allies six months to withdraw from the city.
July 25th: John F. Kennedy calls for increases to the US military, in response to Khrushchev’s ultimatum.
August 13th: East German troops close the border with West Berlin and begin construction of the Berlin Wall.
October 27th: Beginning of a tense two-day stand-off between US and USSR tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
October 31st: USSR detonates ‘Tsar Bomba’, at 50 megatons the most powerful nuclear device ever tested.
February 10th: Detained U2 pilot Gary Powers is returned to the US, in exchange for a captured KGB agent.
October 15th: CIA reports that surveillance photographs reveal the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
October 22nd: John F. Kennedy speaks on television, announcing a naval blockade of Cuba to extract the missiles.
October 26th: US military sets DEFCON 2, prepares ballistic missiles and stocks B-52 bombers with nuclear weapons.
October 29th: Khrushchev announces the withdrawal of the missiles, following backroom negotiations with the US.
June 20th: The US and USSR agree to install a hotline to allow direct communication in the event of a nuclear crisis.
July 25th: The US, UK and USSR sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits non-underground nuclear test-firing.
November 2nd: South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem is assassinated during a CIA-authorised coup.
November 22nd: US president John F. Kennedy is assassinated in the streets of Dallas.
March 30th: A military coup in Brazil, possibly supported by the CIA, overthrows left-wing president Joao Goulart.
April: US president Lyndon Johnson and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agree to reduce production of nuclear weapons materials.
August 4th: The Gulf of Tonkin incident, where North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly fire on the USS Maddox. The US becomes directly involved in the Vietnam War as a result of this incident.
October 14th: Leonid Brezhnev replaces Khrushchev as Soviet leader.
October 16th: China tests its first atomic weapon, becoming the second nuclear-capable communist state.
March: US combat troops begin arriving in Vietnam. By 1968 there will be a half-million American soldiers deployed there.
April 28th: US forces invade the Dominican Republic to head off a communist revolution there.
June 23rd: US president Lyndon Johnson meets Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin in New Jersey.
August 8th: Five nations sign the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) declaration in Bangkok, a commitment to co-operate in the struggle against communism.
January 30th: The Tet Offensive in Vietnam suggests that a US victory there may be years away, or possibly unachievable.
August 20th: Soviet and Warsaw Pact armies enter Czechoslovakia, resulting in the rollback of the Prague Spring liberal reforms.
January 20th: Richard Nixon is inaugurated as US president.
March: Tensions between the USSR and China reach flashpoint, with the worst of several border clashes.
July: Nixon’s policy of ‘Vietnamisation’ begins, with US combat troops gradually withdrawn from Vietnam, their roles taken by South Vietnamese troops.
July 20th: The US space program reaches its pinnacle, with the landing of two Apollo XI astronauts on the Moon.
September 1st: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seizes power in Libya and forges links with the USSR.
March 5th: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty comes into effect.
March 18th: General Lon Nol seizes power in Cambodia, overthrowing Norodom Sihanouk, who had forged ties with the USSR and China.
October 24th: Marxist politician Salvador Allende becomes president of Chile.
February 21st: US president Richard Nixon pays a surprise visit to China, meeting Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders.
May 26th: Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) signed, freezing production of ballistic missile launchers.
January 27th: The signing of the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending American military involvement in the Vietnam War.
March: The last American troops leave Vietnam.
September 11th: Salvador Allende, the elected socialist leader of Chile, is overthrown and murdered by a CIA-backed coup.
August 9th: US president Richard Nixon resigns after the Watergate scandal. Gerald Ford sworn in as president.
September 12th: Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie is removed from power by the Derg, a left-wing military junta.
April 17th: The Khmer Rouge, a communist group led by Pol Pot, seizes power in Cambodia.
June: Communist groups seize power in African nations Angola and Mozambique. Both countries eventually fall into civil war.
July: The US and USSR undertake their first joint space mission, the Apollo-Soyuz project, marking the end of the ‘Space Race’.
August 1st: The signing of the Helsinki Accords, with 35 states agreeing to improve relations and communication with communist nations.
November 29th: The Pathet Lao, a nationalist-communist group, seize power in Laos.
March 24th: A military junta overthrows Argentine president Isabel Peron.
July 2nd: North and South Vietnam formally united. Formation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
September 9th: Death of Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong.
January 20th: Jimmy Carter is inaugurated as US president.
June 30th: The South-East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) is formally dissolved.
June 18th: US president Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT-II treaty, limiting nuclear weapons.
July: Carter authorises the CIA to provide aid and equipment to the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
December 24th: Soviet forces invade Afghanistan to support the weakening communist government there.
January 4th: US halts wheat sales to the USSR, as a sanction against its invasion of Afghanistan.
July 19th: Olympic Games begin in Moscow with 65 nations not attending, most because of a US-led boycott.
August 31st: Seeking to end a series of general strikes, the communist government in Poland improves civil rights and allows the formation of non-communist unions.
January 20th: Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as US president after defeating Jimmy Carter the previous November.
December 13th: The communist regime in Poland implements martial law, in response to growing unrest and support for the Solidarnosc trade union.
February 24th: Ronald Reagan unveils the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a plan to extend friendly economic terms to regional governments at risk from communism.
November 10th: The death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. He is replaced four days later by Yuri Andropov.
March 8th: Reagan describes the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”.
March 23rd: Reagan unveils SDI or ‘Star Wars’, a program to research missile defence using space technology.
September 1st: 269 people, including an American congressman, are killed after Soviet MiG fighters shoot down a Korean civilian jet in Soviet airspace.
September 26th: A Soviet air force offer averts nuclear war by ignoring false computer reports of incoming missiles.
October: US forces land in Grenada to overthrow the communist military regime and expel Cuban troops there.
November: NATO’s Able Archer, an operation to test missile warfare firing procedures, leads to Soviet forces being shifted to high alert.
February 13th: Konstantin Chernenko becomes general secretary of the USSR, following the death of Yuri Andropov.
July 28th: Los Angeles Olympic Games commence. They are boycotted by the USSR and most communist nations.
December 16th: UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher holds cordial meetings with Soviet Politburo member and future leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
March 11th: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes general secretary and leader of the Soviet Union.
August 6th: USSR declares a five-month moratorium (ban) on nuclear testing. The US refuses to reciprocate.
November: Gorbachev and Reagan meet in Switzerland and agree to more future summits.
April 26th: Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, explodes, killing 56 people and contaminating a large area.
October 11th: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland.
June: USSR president Gorbachev announces new policies of open debate (glasnost) and economic reform (perestroika).
June 12th: While visiting Berlin, Ronald Regan delivers a speech calling on Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”.
February 22nd: Naval clash between US and USSR vessels, after US ships enter Soviet waters in the Crimean Sea.
May 29th: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and sign a treaty restricting intermediate-range nuclear forces.
January 20th: George Bush Snr. is inaugurated as US president, replacing Ronald Reagan.
February 2nd: Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
June 4th: Protests against the Chinese communist government lead to the killing of civilians in Tiananmen Square.
August 24th: Tadeusz Mazowiecki is elected prime minister of Poland after free elections there.
October 18th: Hungary adopts a new constitution, allowing for multiple political parties and free elections.
November 9th: The East German government announces that it will shortly open checkpoints in Berlin, prompting the storming and eventual fall of the Berlin Wall.
December 3rd: Mikhail Gorbachev and US president George Bush end a summit in Malta, proclaiming a new era of peace.
December 25th: Romanian dictator Nikolae Ceausescu is overthrown after 34 years in power, then swiftly executed.
December 29th: Playwright and anti-Soviet dissident Vaclav Havel is elected as the president of Czechoslovakia.
January 31st: The first McDonald’s store opens in Russia.
March 11th: Lithuania declares its independence from the Soviet Union.
October 3rd: Germany is formally reunified.
July: The formal dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.
August 19th: Communists launch a coup attempt in USSR, arresting Gorbachev. The coup collapses after two days.
December 25th: US president George Bush Snr. delivers a Christmas speech and declares that the Cold War is over.
December 25th: Gorbachev resigns as president.
December 26th: The Supreme Soviet meets to formally dissolve the USSR.