Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Now considering the developments in the Cold War, the Korean War really caps this particular period of time. And Ross, when we’re looking back over what we’ve done in this first week already, just reflecting back, how early after the Second World War did the Grand Alliance between East and West really start to unravel? DR.
Skip to 0 minutes and 27 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: Well, as we’ve previously discussed, it’s unravelling as the war ends, to be fair– to be completely honest. By the time of the Potsdam Conference, towards the end of the war. You can see the problems, and they become quite evident at Yalta earlier in the year. And then you see a crescendo of effect, if you like, Churchill’s iron curtain speech that we’ve discussed. And eventually you get to point of the Berlin airlift in 1948, which is– if you want to date the size of the Cold War, it’s a convenient date, because it’s a major crisis point. But the effect that’s been going through the breakdown in relations between East and West leads up to that point.
Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds And so, you have seen this breakdown in the Grand Alliance, simply because, as we mentioned before, they don’t really understand each other. They’re not communicating in a meaningful way, despite the fact that you see the creation of institutions, such as the United Nations, which allows for that dialogue. But they want different things for their security of their respective zones of influence. DR.
Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: I appreciate it. In terms of zones of influence, 1949 is the end of the Berlin airlift, but it also marks the communist victory in China, and the first Soviet atomic test. So in those intervening four years, from ‘45 to ‘49, did Truman’s atomic diplomacy really change the agenda? DR.
Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: I mean, of course, the development of the bomb is a major influence on the development of the period. The Soviets have developed the bomb. There is, of course, the story that when Stalin is informed about the bomb at the Potsdam Conference, we believe he clearly knows about it. The NKVD have infiltrated the Manhattan Project. He already has scientists working on the bomb. He sees the fact that he needs one, because the Americans have one. The Americans use it, the Americans have the bomb. No other country does. We see that during the Berlin airlift, the decision to deploy bombers to the UK.
Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds And the American decision to withdraw forces, significant forces, from Europe, because the belief is that they’ve got the bomb. The bomb is the ultimate line of defence. That changes in 1949 when the Soviets test their bomb. And communist victory in China also changes the influence. But, of course, there is also an internal schism within communism between– that will emerge in the ’50s and into the ’60s between the Soviet Union and China, and who’s the leading communist nation. So that’s also an interesting dynamic that’s not quite evident in 1949, but will become increasingly so as we move on through the Cold War. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 9 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: And as we move on through the Cold War, the next stopping point is unfortunately Korea in 1950. And that is where we have the first real proxy war, between the forces of East and West. And Truman did consider– and rejected– the use of nuclear weapons in Korea. We’re standing in front a MiG-15 at this point, which showed how far the Soviets had moved forward with their technology. But from the perspective of the RAF, what was their involvement in the Korean War? DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: Well, for the British, more broadly the context of Korea is actually campaigns in the empire. In particular, the Malayan Emergency, which breaks out in 1948. So actually, the British do contribute to the war effort in Korea, but it’s not as significant as it might have been, because they are fighting communist forces elsewhere. Globally, Korea is probably the first major crisis point into the physical war, proxy war. But actually, we’re already fighting communist insurgences elsewhere. This means that in terms of the British army, for example, the army deploys– there is a Commonwealth Division that has as Canadian-Australian forces in it.
Skip to 4 minutes and 18 seconds In terms of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Air Force essentially deploy three flying boat squadrons to do maritime patrol around the Korean peninsula. And then there are pilots on loan. There’s a Royal Australian Air Force Meteor squadron deployed, some RAF pilots. And RAF pilots serve on loan and exchange with the United States Air Force, they do see service. For example, the MiG-15’s counterpart, F-86 Sabre. And the RAF is also playing a transport role, so it is bringing in and bringing out troops from the Korean peninsula. And that’s essentially its contribution, but that’s because it is also fighting. It’s quite significant– deploying significant forces to Malaya. So we might say, oh, we don’t play a significant role.
Skip to 5 minutes and 9 seconds But actually, in the global war against communism, you tend to contain– to use the Kennan terminology– to contain communism. The RAF is actually playing a significant role, just not in Korea. DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 22 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Thank you very much, Ross. We’ll be coming back to the RAF’s participation in the Malayan Emergency next week. But at this point, I think we’ve largely rounded out what we want to say about the early years of the Cold War, and the role of the RAF. Thank you very much.
The Korean War
In this video we consider the following:
- Breakdown of the Grand Alliance;
- the Bomb and;
- the RAF in the Korean War
The questions we aim to address are:
We spoke earlier about ‘preparation for the next war’ - how early after the Second World War did the ‘Grand Alliance’ unravel?
Did Truman’s ‘Atomic Diplomacy’ really change the agenda?
Soon after the Berlin Air Lift we had the Korean War - what was the RAF’s involvement there?
While these questions were largely for us - and we answer them in the video - your comments on these themes are welcome.
Confrontation on the Korean peninsular
The year 1949 was blighted, from an American perspective, by the fall of China to communism, and the first Soviet atomic test. The shock of both had reverberations in America. General MacArthur’s occupying force in Japan ceased trying to re-engineer Japanese society, and effectively handed the country back to Japanese direction to ensure that they returned to the capitalist fold. The Soviet A-Bomb test prompted the US into a ‘crash’ programme to develop the ‘super’ (the H-Bomb), and a substantial escalation in the embryonic Cold War arms race.
Which brings us to 1950. Famously, the vote on United Nations intervention in Korea was the one occasion where the Soviet delegate failed to attend a UN Security Council vote. Therefore, we had the first of the ‘proxy wars’ of the Cold War, with the Soviet-backed, Chinese supported, North Koreans fighting the South Koreans with a UN force made up of troops from 15 nations providing assistance. Formally, British and American pilots did ‘square up’ against China and the Soviet Union. Practically, Soviet pilots flew in the uniforms of the Chinese and North Korean air forces, taking to the air in the MiG-15 jet fighters Stalin had supplied to the conflict. U. pilots in F-86 Sabres – and a range of other aircraft – engaged with them, including in ‘hot pursuit’ over the border into China. Some historians suggest now that the Soviets may have deliberately boycotted the UN Security Council Resolution 84 of 7 July 1950 to see how far the United States would pursue the defence of an East Asian nation. After the fall of China, the answer came back as ‘to the hilt’, with US forces still stationed in and defending South Korea today. The actions of the West in South-East and East Asia pre-dated the Korean War – notably Britain, New Zealand and Australia in Malaya from 1948 and the French in Indochina from 1946. However, in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa, the western battle against communism played out as the US in particular tried to prevent what President Eisenhower described on 7 April 1954 as the ‘domino theory’, with adjacent countries falling to communism as successive regimes were taken over. The settlement of the Korean War and Stalin’s death, both in 1953, did not end tensions in that regard – the French unilateral withdrawal from Indochina in 1954 emphasised the problem. The Cold War was fully-fledged by 1954, and we might see 1953 as simply the end of the first phase, rather than the last possible point of its beginning.
© Royal Holloway, University of London and the RAF Museum, Hendon