Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she thinks Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker in the UK plays a chilling but important role in teaching and reminding us about the Cold War – and the power of nuclear weapons.

This follows Shannon’s articles on Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie (here) and Topography of Terror (here).

Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. Source: Espresso Addict available  here .

Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. Source: Espresso Addict available here.

I’ve been studying history for quite a while now. I am only 22, yes, but if you count school and the years I spent doing exams, plus my nerdy extra-curricular research and reading, I’m fairly well versed in the general history of the world. I studied war specifically for three years and like to think I am continuing to each day with my work and personal reading. There isn’t much about war that scares me anymore, besides perhaps a gas mask which I do not wish my eyes to linger on for long; a fear born out of an episode of TV show Doctor Whoback in 2006. But aside from irrational fears made from fiction and exacerbated like a child’s head does, there aren’t exactly many elements of war left that give leave that sick, anxious feeling in my stomach. Many would call it desensitisation, and I am inclined to agree to an extent. Being exposed to images of the trenches, the Blitz, the Holocaust, time and time again, I guess I would have to agree the actual images start to lose an impact. Never the meaning though, and what it represents. The day I no longer find the thought of these events appalling is the day I want someone to fire me from the sector, because from that moment on I would consider myself useless.


Changing Warfare

However, in defence of the desensitisation argument, I would also argue that these elements of war perhaps do not scare me because I am aware they will never be repeated on a major scale. Never again will a world war be fought on soil, with soldiers dug in shelling each other across an empty space of land that belongs to no man. Never again will two countries bomb civilians in a tit for tat fashion to break morale. War doesn’t work like this anymore. The next major war won’t be fought with boots on the ground, with an occupying force in a country, or with the movements of heavy weaponry. The world faces a far worse fate than that. Total war has been replaced by the potential for total annihilation. Nuclear war is now the only warfare left on the cards, and the only element of conflict that terrifies me to my core. Why? It will be the most catastrophic thing the world has ever seen. Correction; the world won’t see it. Because there won’t be a world left, just by sheer nature of the implement.  

Now this may all seem very dramatic and like I am scare-mongering. And I’ll admit, to an extent I am. Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD theory, is the best thing to come from nuclear weapons and makes me 90% sure the world is safe for a little longer. This concept states that while two opposing countries both hold nuclear weaponry, they will never fire upon the other, for the second they do, they will also be fired upon themselves, therefore destroying themselves. The fear of what it will do to them and their own people prevents them from inflicting it upon others. Kind of scary, kind of neat. I suppose if the world must have nuclear weaponry then let us kept this mind set flowing amongst as many countries as possible. It will keep us safe for now. But there are constant reminders of how close we have already come to utter decimation.


Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker

There is a bunker, mostly in the middle of nowhere, near a town called Nantwich in the UK. This bunker is known as Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. And yeah, not so secret. But that’s the beauty of it. This bunker was to be one of a network across the UK that would have taken politicians and other groups of vital and important people into them upon the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker is mostly in the state it was left in; room after room of technical equipment, radios, med bays, shelters. It really is the perfect step into the past, specifically back to around 1962 and the event of the Cuban Missile Crisis; the moment the world held its breath and nuclear war was an inch away from actually happening. This event, in comparison to many parts of major warfare, is fairly recent history. My dad was five at the time. That isn’t all too long ago! My grandfather was part of the Royal Observer Corps, and his job was to effectively be waiting and looking out for the nuclear missiles that could come the way of Great Britain. Not that my dad knew it at the time, but the days of October 16thto October 28th1962 must have been some of the most stressful days of my granddad’s life. For him and hundreds of thousands of other people across the world, of course. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis began when Soviet Russia placed armed nuclear missiles onto the island of Cuba, then run by Fidel Castro. America’s answer to this was to blockade Cuba and demand for them to be removed. What followed was probably the most tense 13 days of President Kennedy’s life as he tried to negotiate these missiles off the island.

The range of the missiles covered nearly the entirety of America. And let’s face it, with the way nuclear weaponry works, even areas outside of range weren’t exactly safe! This was the closest that the world has ever been to full out nuclear war. If the US had been fired upon, it would have retaliated, and chances are the UK, due to treaties and agreements, would have followed suit. We would’ve been looking at full world destruction in seventeen minutes. That is the closest the world has come to full destruction. That we know of at least. I won’t go into all the conspiracy theories on the number of times something similar has happened since and we have never been told about it, because we would be here all day. But that’s exactly my point. The reason this topic and this type of warfare still has the ability to scare me so much is because it could still happen. We have some pretty mad and unpredictable leaders out there at the moment. Trump, Kim Jong-un, Putin. They’re erratic and power crazy; I feel like if they were bought the wrong type of eggs for their breakfast in the morning, by 11:30 they would’ve decided to launch a nuclear weapon at the country their chef was from, providing it wasn’t their own of course.


The Realities of Nuclear War

And this is what Hack Green so chillingly brings to life. From this museum you can begin to understand the conditions that people worked in - underground for days on end without seeing daylight. You squint when you walk out at first, after having spent at least four hours in a concrete box with no windows. This museum also provides a fantastic element of fear to the proceedings, without being ‘cheesy’ or ‘crude’. They have ghost walks, and these are rather popular, but sometimes you can’t blame a site for capitalising on its theme. The element of fear it brings to the everyday visitor, however, is far more subtle. In the background there are multiple warning alarms and sirens going off. Occasionally an announcement will sound for everyone to take shelter. The control rooms house radar and machines that ominously bleep. Geiger counters crackle threateningly in the distance. This exceedingly clever atmospherics is something that many museums are now beginning to adopt; adding in those noises that people would’ve heard every day they were there, bringing their world to yours. One room in the bunker is a sort of cinema room, and in here they show the BBC’s Threadsfrom 1984. This is the definition of chilling; a film set during the nuclear apocalypse of Great Britain and details what would happen to the population. I would highly recommend checking it out (Amazon USAmazon UK)

Witnessing the implications of what these people were working on through visuals only adds to the tension of the place. Perhaps one of the key aspects of the bunker is the bomb shelter, a room with the full sirens and noises of lighter bombing. However, every few minutes they simulate the noise of the nuclear bomb falling. This near as damn stops your heart. Obviously, the noise level is replicated to a safe point, (no ear drums are hurt in the duration of the simulation) but that only makes you more aware of the earth-shattering noise that would have been experienced. It really gives you a jolt. You then step back out, and in perfect curation style, you continue your journey around the museum to discover what would have happened post-bomb. This genius way of subtly taking the visitor around a timeline as if you were a member of the workforce in the bunker having to combat the issues faced gives a fantastic immersive experience. The museum is everything a museum should be; giving you a reality check about your own life as you experience, just for a moment, someone else’s. 



I have to admit, I left with a rather sick feeling in my stomach. It was a hot day and the light was blinding as we walked out. I got in the car and looked back at the imposing yet unassuming structure of the bunker and thought ‘one day everything I’ve just seen from history could be a reality’. Einstein once said, in the perfect eloquence he always had; ‘I do not know with what weapons World War Three will be fought, but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.’ Hack Green beautifully (perhaps a bad choice of adjective, but you follow my point) presents what will happen before those sticks and stones. It gives a brilliantly immersive reality to those that wish to understand just how much of a knife edge we once sat on, and continue to, in my opinion. Take a deep breath as you enter though; the inspired curation and presentation of this museum serves as a stark reminder of the power we hold against each other. Hack Green in essence masters what science has still failed to achieve; time travel. But perhaps not just the past, maybe the future too.


What do you think of the article? Have you visited any nuclear bunkers? Let us know below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she loves museums and why she was less than pleased while visiting the famous Cold War crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie, in Berlin.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

The importance of museums

I will hold my hands up and admit that I am a museum nerd. It may seem a little niche and uninteresting, but I love museums. From a very early age, my parents took me to historical sites, castles, battlefields and museums. My love must have begun there. Not only was I learning (yes, I am that child that loved to learn), but I was also in a place where it was totally acceptable to enjoy learning what was around you. More than that, you were learning in a totally different way to sitting in a classroom being talked at for hours on end. I was interacting, I was playing with objects, I was touching things were hundreds of years old and I learning how they worked. This bought a huge amount of joy to me as a child, and thankfully it never wore off. Still to this day, I step into a museum and I feel at peace. It feels familiar, it feels safe and it feels homely. If you, like me, just love to be around knowledge and learning, you too will have a place which evokes the same kind of emotions. 

As I became older and began visiting the museums I had loved as a child in my adult years, it started to become clearer to me why these places were so important to me. They continued education and knowledge in such a way that you don’t realise you are learning. Yet days later you are still thinking about and remembering something you read or did in a museum. It then became my mission to try and get myself into these environments on a day-to-day basis and perhaps create this kind of feeling for another that could then fall in love with museums in the way I once had. 

Because of my love for these places, presenting themselves in old buildings, new buildings, caves, tunnels, rooftops and walls, wherever I go I seek out a museum. I am lucky enough to have the people closest to me sharing similar interests (or at least putting up with my interest) and so any holiday, day out or trip away can involve finding a new museum to explore. At the end of last year I travelled to Berlin. I don’t recall a day I didn’t visit a historical site or museum. It was there that I began thinking about this; a museum’s role in remembrance and commemoration, and how some places do it better than others. Yes, I can be critical of museums too!


Visiting Berlin


The first time I visited Berlin, I was eighteen years old. I was heading to university two months later still with a huge passion and love for history. The trip was with school; a bunch of us from history class and our favourite teachers. It was July and baking hot. On our school-arranged itinerary was the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I was excited and fascinated with this museum, having not had a chance in school to study the Cold War and was fuelled by my own interest and research. 

Checkpoint Charlie was, as you perhaps could guess, a checkpoint in central Berlin that during the Cold War when Germany was cut in two, allowed passing between the two sectors. West Germany, or the FRG, was controlled by the British, Americans and French. East Germany, the GDR, was controlled by the Soviet Union. This line, a crack through the country and indeed through the world, represented two very separate lives for the people that were zoned into these sectors. Checkpoint Charlie was a break in the physical wall that had been put up from August 13, 1961, and became a symbol of separation during the Cold War. After the wall came down in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany, Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. 

You will see Checkpoint Charlie featured in many Cold War films, novels, and historical articles. It is a focal point, and an incredibly important site in history. I remember being upstairs in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and from one of the windows you could look down onto the street and see the checkpoint. It remains as it was; the signs indicating the various sectors, the booth which housed the patrolling soldiers, it is all still standing. A snapshot of history preserved as it once was, hopefully forever, to remind people what happens when you build walls. I looked for a while, because to me it was captivating. Then I noticed there were ‘soldiers’ at the checkpoint. I say it like that, ‘soldiers’, because it was clear they were reproduction uniforms with an attempt to be historically accurate and failing pretty badly. Even me, aged eighteen, could see that it wasn’t right. Not only that, but they weren’t saluting correctly for the country that they were supposedly a soldier of. I remember pointing this out to my classmates, and my teacher, who all laughed along with me at how absurd the entire scene was. 

It clearly stuck in my head though, as I remember saying I wasn’t too bothered about seeing Checkpoint Charlie again as I found it over-commercialised and unnecessary. It was probably then, some five years later, that I began to consider what this commercialisation of such an important historical site actually meant for the preservation of the memory.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Presenting History as it was

I am what I guess you could call a ‘historical purist’ or ‘historical prescriptivist’. Basically, I believe in presenting historical fact in the purest form. Present it how you wish, in as many different forms as you wish; writing, TV, movies, plays, exhibitions, podcasts, the world is your oyster. Just make it accurate. None of this embellishment for dramatic effect. No need to change the facts to make it interesting. Trust me, present it right and the history will speak for itself. Now apply this logic to Checkpoint Charlie. You have the original signs each side of the street, making it clear to everyone standing there just how close capitalism and communism lived for the best part of 29 years. You have the booth where the soldiers would have stood, hour after hour, day after day, in freezing Berlin winters, patrolling a border that they themselves were probably affected by. Throw in a few photos of the wall, the roadblocks, the tanks and place them around they booth with a few well-written info plaques and hey presto, you have yourself a thought provoking, accurate historical site. You don’t need people dressed up, charging for tourists to have photos with them. You don’t need the visual of dressed up soldiers at all. 

Now you may be thinking ‘chill out. It’s just a bit of harmless tourist fun’. And yes, in a way it is. But here’s the way I look at it. Those soldiers they are impersonating were once real people, with real lives. In fact, the likelihood is they are still around today, perhaps even in that city. They had family, friends, lovers and enemies. They lived and breathed that city, that conflict, right off the back of the biggest war the world had ever seen. The wall went up practically overnight and the checkpoint followed. The men that had to work at that checkpoint perhaps lost family the other side of the wall or had to leave their life long friends behind. If you want to think about it in a darker manner, those soldiers being impersonated perhaps had to stop or even shoot people that were attempting to escape through the checkpoint, whether they agreed with the ethics of the wall or not. Some 136 people died between the years of 1961 and 1989 at the Berlin Wall. There are not clear numbers of how many of them were at the checkpoint in question. But chances are those soldiers had to perform violent acts that morally they were not at peace with. Do you think it is morally correct for people to then pretend to be these soldiers? I doubt it would sit well with the actors if they thought about it, and it would certainly baffle those that lived through the iron curtain.


Maybe that is more the point I am making. Perhaps I’m getting too hung up on the smaller intricacies of the topic. My overall point is this; people lived through the thing that is now being (badly, may I add) impersonated for money. I feel the concept to be a little weird and overall needless. There are many fantastic ways of presenting facts, of making history come to life that is accurate and respectful. And I am in no way against visual representation. There are some really good TV series and films that are as accurate as possible, for example Darkest HourDunkirk, and the absolute masterpiece that was Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old. Similarly, I have seen re-enactments, and what I believe is called in the business ‘costumed interpreters’ that have fantastic reproduction uniforms and costumes that provide a deeper and more visually impactful experience for the visitor. But it is done more tastefully, and with a far greater respect for the historical significance.


Recent History

There is also the question of this with regards to recent history. My parents vividly remember when the Berlin wall fell. I was born eight years later. My mum always says how when she was in school in the 1970s they didn’t teach history on the Second World War because it was too fresh and recent to make it a historical subject. While I don’t agree with that wholly, and do believe that it should be taught no matter how recent, there is a lot to be said for the way in which the topic is presented and what is respectable when there are still people living in that city that lived through a time when Checkpoint Charlie was actually operational. 

I do get angry when I think about all of this in context. When I was in Berlin last November, we were killing time before heading for food, and I said to my boyfriend ‘lets walk past Checkpoint Charlie, just so I can glare at it’. The people that are stood taking photos with the soldiers and instagramming it are entirely missing the point of, well, everything. It isn’t a place of remembrance and commemoration. To them, it’s a ‘how many likes can I get’ challenge, and the significance of the place goes right over so many people’s heads because it isn’t being presented in the right way. To me, it is beyond disrespectful. I guess you can only hope for change in the future. 

As I’m sure you can tell, this is a topic that I am very passionate about. Not just Checkpoint Charlie, but the overall controversial topic of how to present a museum, the commercial aspects of public history, and what is to be done when the topic in hand is sensitive. This series will seek to explore these different aspects of museum and heritage sites, using not only my knowledge but definitely my opinion, from the countless visits I have done to numerous places. Don’t worry, the whole thing won’t be me ranting consistently. I have some positive things to say too! I hope together we can explore and have a general discussion about this. If you love museums too, this is the place to be!


I hope you can come along with me on this exploration. Don’t hesitate to comment, feedback, and you could even email me for a chat about all this on I would really love people to get involved in this. After all, history and museums are for us all! So don’t be shy! History is cool, and history is now. 

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

In the early days of the Cold War, during the years after World War II, spies became a key weapon for the USSR and USA. But perhaps the most important spies were those American-born Soviet spies who provided secrets about America’s nuclear weapons program, the Manhattan Project, to the Soviet Union. Scott Rose tells us about Cold War nuclear weapons spying in the USA.

Lona Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Lona Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Morris Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Morris Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

In summer this year, an alleged Russian spy named Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, DC, where she currently awaits trial, charged with conspiring to act as an agent for a foreign government. However, Russian espionage in the United States is not a new phenomenon, actually beginning in earnest during the Soviet era, particularly during World War Two. During the war and the years immediately afterward, Russian spies in the U.S. gained unprecedented access to the American atomic research community.

Soviet spying took on all sorts of forms through the years, from homegrown Russian agents who took on American appearances to American citizens who betrayed their country and stole highly sensitive information, including the data needed to build the Soviet Union’s first atomic weapon.


The Race to Build the Bomb

The United States knew that Nazi Germany was actively trying to develop atomic power during World War Two. In 1942, the U.S., along with Great Britain and Canada, began what was called the Manhattan Project, with the purpose of building atomic weapons before the Germans could develop their own. The Soviets also started an atomic development program, though much smaller than the American project. The Soviet research team consisted of about 550 people; whereas the Manhattan Project at its peak employed over 130,000. With so much more money and manpower at work, the Americans were seemingly light years ahead of Soviet atomic research.

The Germans surrendered in April of 1945 without succeeding in building atomic weapons, and in July, the Manhattan Project tested its first atomic device at Los Alamos, New Mexico. On August 6th, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb. Three days later, the second bomb destroyed Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrendered six days later.  

The Soviets realized that the United States had become the world’s first superpower with its development of the atomic bomb. They also knew it would take many years to catch up with American atomic abilities, unless they gained access to the Manhattan Project’s research. Even before the war ended, the Soviets used espionage for the purpose of acquiring America’s atomic secrets.

The scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project included some of the top researchers and mathematicians from America, Britain, and Canada. The Soviets aimed to glean information from scientists with leftist leanings, and in time these efforts bore fruit. In the 1940s, a young American from Philadelphia named Harry Gold began working for the Soviet Union. His orders were to make contact with a Manhattan Project scientist named Klaus Fuchs, and to move atomic information from Fuchs to the Soviets. Born in Germany, Fuchs had emigrated to Britain, becoming a citizen there. By the time he reached his early 30s, Fuchs was respected as a brilliant physicist, and his work would contribute greatly to the American development of the atomic bomb. Fuchs gave critical information on the Manhattan Project’s research to Gold during the war, unbeknownst to the Americans. In 1946, he returned to Britain to work for the new British atomic program, and he continued to pass information to Soviet agents in Britain.

Another of Gold’s sources was David Greenglass, a U.S. Army machinist from New York who had worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Greenglass had been recruited into espionage by his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were committed Communist Party members, and some of the information Greenglass collected was passed to them. They in turn passed the same information along to their Soviet handlers.

The Soviets had taken several German atomic scientists back to the U.S.S.R. after the war, and although the Germans had failed to produce an atomic bomb, these scientists were a huge boost to the Soviet atomic program. With the accelerated pace of Soviet research, and stolen atomic secrets from America, the Soviets were able to make up ground quickly. Still, America was shocked when the Soviets tested their first atomic device in August of 1949. Now the world had two superpowers instead of one.

The American military distrusted the Soviets, even during the war, when the two countries were allies, and the U.S. suspected the Soviets were in the business of using Americans to gather intelligence. In 1943, the Army launched the Venona Project, a program using complex mathematics to decode secret messages from the Soviets to their operatives in other nations. Venona was so secret that President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t even know about the program when it commenced.


The Dominos Fall

One month after the Soviet atomic test, Venona hit a home run when it identified Klaus Fuchs as a Soviet spy. This information was passed along to British intelligence, and Fuchs was questioned about his activities. Fuchs denied having ever been a spy, and was not held in custody. However, in January of 1950, Fuchs contacted the British authorities and confessed to having passed atomic information to the Soviets through Harry Gold. Immediately arrested and put on trial for espionage, Fuchs was convicted, sentenced to 14 years in prison, and stripped of his British citizenship. He served just over nine years before being released early for “good behavior.” Upon release, Fuchs left Britain for East Germany, where he got married and went to work for that country’s nuclear research program, before passing away in 1988 at the age of 76.

When Fuchs was arrested in 1950, his confession led to the arrest of Harry Gold in the United States. Gold was interrogated, and confessed to having been a Soviet spy since 1934; he admitted to passing Fuchs’ atomic information to the Soviet General Consul. During Gold’s confession, he spilled the beans about his other espionage contacts, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs. At the beginning of the year when Fuchs was arrested, Julius Rosenberg had given Greenglass $5,000 in order for Greenglass to escape to Mexico with his wife and children. Instead, the Greenglasses had stayed put and used the money to hire a lawyer. In June of 1950, the FBI arrested David Greenglass, charging him with espionage. 

Not long after Greenglass was arrested, he gave up his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, and at first, Greenglass denied his sister Ethel’s involvement in the spy ring. A couple of months later, Greenglass changed his story and implicated his sister as well, claiming Ethel had typed the notes he had passed from the Manhattan Project. Greenglass stated that Ethel had originally recruited him to become a spy, after being persuaded by her husband Julius. One of the Rosenbergs’ assistants, Morton Sobell, was arrested while on the run in Mexico City, and he was extradited to stand trial along with the Rosenbergs.

The trial began in early March and lasted 3 weeks. Greenglass testified that he had given Julius Rosenberg illustrations of atomic bomb research, and Harry Gold testified that he had worked as a courier for the Rosenbergs, who never admitted their guilt. The couple and Sobell were convicted; while Sobell got a 30 year sentence and was sent to Alcatraz, the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death. Judge Irving Kaufman, during sentencing, claimed the Rosenbergs crime was “worse than murder”. He blamed the Rosenbergs for giving the Soviet Union access to atomic weapons, which he argued had led to the communist aggression in Korea that cost thousands of American lives.

Many people around the world felt the sentence was overly harsh. There was a worldwide campaign for clemency, and many leading artists, writers, and scientists of the day joined the movement. Even Pope Pius XII asked President Eisenhower to reduce the Rosenbergs’ sentence, but the president refused. After two years of appealing their sentence, the Rosenbergs were executed on July 19th, 1953, meeting their fate via the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing prison. 

The other members of the spy ring were much luckier than the Rosenbergs. Sobell was released from prison in 1969 and wrote a book, spoke on the lecture circuit, and maintained his innocence for many years before finally admitting his guilt in 2008, claiming that by aiding the Soviets, he had simply “bet on the wrong horse.” Sobell is still alive and residing in New York at the age of 101. Harry Gold was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but didn’t serve even half of his sentence before being paroled. He died in 1972 and was buried in his hometown of Philadelphia. David Greenglass only served nine years in prison before returning to New York and changing his name. He gave an interview to the New York Timesin 1996, claiming he had exaggerated his sister Ethel’s involvement in the spy ring in order to protect his own wife from prosecution. During the rambling interview, Greenglass declared “My wife is more important to me than my sister. Or my mother or my father. OK?”


To Russia with Love 

The Rosenbergs were not the only American couple to help the Soviets attain atomic secrets. Another New York couple, Morris and Lona Cohen, were united by their Marxist ideologies, and proved to be valuable agents for the U.S.S.R. Morris had served in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and he was recruited into Soviet intelligence at that time. Lona was an eager partner in her husband’s espionage activities, and the couple established contact with several Manhattan Project scientists. When Klaus Fuchs was arrested in Britain, the Cohens didn’t wait for the trail to lead back to New York, leaving immediately for the Soviet Union. In 1954, the childless Cohens re-emerged in London as “Peter and Helen Kroger”, operating a small antique book shop. They were also operating a new espionage network for the Soviets. Seven years after their arrival in England, the Cohens were caught with a houseful of spying equipment and arrested. Put on trial and convicted, luck would intervene for the “Krogers” in 1969, when they were traded to the Soviet Union for British prisoner Gerald Brooke. Many Britons criticized the exchange, claiming the Soviet Union should have been forced to pay a higher price for the Cohens, as by this time it was known that they were two of the most dangerous spies on the planet. They would live out the remainder of their lives in Russia, where they died in the early 1990s.

When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, old Soviet espionage files were opened that detailed the contributions made by spies to the Soviet atomic program. These files showed that while the Rosenbergs gave valuable information to the Soviets, the secrets gathered by the Cohens were most vital to Soviet development of the atomic bomb. Seemingly confirming the Cohens’ importance was the fact that during the last years of the Soviet Union’s existence, commemorative Soviet stamps were printed honoring both Morris and Lona Cohen. The honors bestowed on the couple in Russia seem an ironic twist, given the fact that these Americans did so much, in the name of idealism, to hurt their own country.


What do you think about Soviet spies in the USA during the Cold War? Let us know below.


Chester B. Hearn, Spies & Espionage: A Directory, Thunder Bay Press, 2006

Slava Katamidze, Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers: The Secret Services of the USSR 1917-1991, Barnes & Noble, 2003

Robert McFadden, “David Greenglass, the Brother who Doomed Ethel Rosenberg, Dies at 92”, The New York Times, October 14, 2014

Sam Roberts, “For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets”, The New York Times, September 12, 2008

Allen Hornblum, The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb, Yale University Press, 2010

Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1995

Robert Chadwell Williams, Klaus Fuchs: Atom Spy, Harvard University Press, 1987

The Cold War was becoming part of international relations by 1955. Here, some of the key events and trends at the time are explained: the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and between the US and Europe in general. And how the fledgling CIA operated is also considered. Bill Rapp, author of Cold War Spy thriller The Hapsburg Variation (Amazon US | Amazon UK), explains.

Kim Philby, an important member of British Intelligence who would later defect to the Soviet Union. 

Kim Philby, an important member of British Intelligence who would later defect to the Soviet Union. 

The most realistic thing about The Hapsburg Variation is the general background set at the height of the Cold War, as well as the developing relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom--a relationship that has been labelled as "special" for several decades now.  Following my own recent assignment in London, I can attest that it truly is special--especially in the fields of intelligence and diplomacy.  I enjoyed an extremely close working relationship with my British colleagues.  In fact, I even held a building pass to the Foreign Office that allowed me to move about the halls un-escorted.  I did often get lost, but that had nothing to do with the "special relationship," but more with the elaborate design and recent remodeling that steered British diplomats in the wrong direction on occasion.


That relationship has not always been as close as it is today, nor even that friendly, especially at the time of The Hapsburg Variation.  The British had just gone through the painful experience of having two of their rising stars (Burgess and Maclean) flee to Moscow as they were about to be exposed as Soviet spies, and suspicion for their warning and flight fell heavily on Kim Philby.  As Philby was also considered one of the darlings, and even a possible future leader of MI6, the British resisted the American push to have the man sacked, or at least have his security clearance revoked.  Not only did London resist, but he was even cleared shortly after the Maclean-Burgess affair by a government inquiry.  Washington, of course, remained suspicious and was eventually proven right when Philby disappeared from his Beirut posting and then resurfaced in Moscow as a hero of the Soviet Union some six years later.  Not that some in the American intelligence community hadn't been complicit in their refusal to accept Philby's guilt.  James Jesus Angleton, the head of the Agency's Counter-Intelligence bureau, had spent many a boozy and extended lunch sharing operational secrets with Philby, who promptly reported them to Moscow.  Readers will no doubt pick up Karl Baier's cautious and at times negative attitude toward his British counterparts in Vienna and London, an attitude driven by the CIA's disappointment with MI6's and London's refusal to face the proverbial music on the spies in their midst.  It would takes years for the "cousins" to regain the Americans’ full trust.


An important year in the Cold War

1955 also marked a high point in the Cold War.  Several of the events that precipitated the change in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union from that of wartime ally to peacetime nemesis were part of the very recent past: The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, the Communist coups in Czechoslovakia and Romania, the Greek civil war, the Korean War, the East Berlin uprising and its suppression.  But not all the developments were negative.  Khrushchev had already decided that the Soviet system was badly in need of reform, and that the USSR would undoubtedly benefit from a relaxation in tensions with the West.  In fact, he had probably already begun to draft--or at least consider--his speech for the 1956 party congress that would denounce the crimes of Stalin and usher in a short-lived period of mild reforms at home and in the satellite states of the Warsaw Pact.  This almost certainly helped inspire the agreement to negotiate the reunification of Austria, the withdrawal of all foreign troops, and the restoration of full Austrian sovereignty, all of which culminated in the State Treaty of May, 1955.  Of course, Khrushchev did not enjoy unanimous support at home for this shift, and this opposition that would come to the fore during the Hungarian Revolt a year later.


The impact on European History

Then there is the broader sweep of European history and the part of the United States in that, thanks to the cultural and political legacy the country carries.  Europe had just emerged from two devastating wars, which would end its role as the preeminent geopolitical region. That role would fall first to the United States, and secondly to the Soviet Union, with China waiting in the proverbial wings.  And it would fall to Washington to ensure that the liberal and democratic traditions that were inherited from their European settlers would not be lost in their homelands.

The Second World War also accelerated the fracturing of Europe that emerged from the collapse of the three great Central and Eastern European empires in 1919.  Although World War II had helped the nations of Western Europe to put their nationalistic and even xenophobic pasts behind them, further east it strengthened those national and ethnic animosities that continue to bedevil American and European policymakers to this day.  Nonetheless, there have always been some who regretted the loss of the Hapsburg Empire in particular, viewing it as the best answer--with some serious reforms, of course--to the divisive animosities that have undermined the region's stability and prosperity ever since.  Herr von Rudenstein represents those who moaned the loss of that world, a feeling captured in the numerous studies of fin de siècle Vienna, the novels of Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig, and more recently the film The Budapest Grand Hotel.  Such nostalgia should never have a part in policy-making, but you would never convince the likes of Herr von Rudenstein that his dreams were not the stuff of realistic goals.  The history of the twentieth century in the region would suggest that he might have had a point.


The Central Intelligence Agency

Finally, there is the matter of a young Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), just eight years old at this point.  The CIA was still emerging from its apprenticeship as the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, during World War II.  From those early years the Agency carried an unfortunate, in my mind, fascination with covert, paramilitary action that did gain some notable--if momentary--successes with the coups in Iran and Guatemala, but also a host of unmitigated disasters in futile attempts to foment revolts in the Communist states of Eastern Europe.  The Agency was also, again in my mind, too reliant on the British “cousins” in those early years, an admittedly natural dependency given their long history in the business of espionage.  It would take the Americans some years to develop their own capacity for recruiting and handling agents in hostile environments, learning how to vet and protect them, and provide the sort of human intelligence that can best inform policymakers in Washington.  But the Americans were learning in 1955, and they would soon emerge as the more powerful and more successful of the two.  This is the sort of environment Karl Baier was operating in during his tour in Vienna, and he was prone to many of the same assumptions, resentments, and expectations that governed the outlook and perspectives of his real-life colleagues in those days.  But he also learned to overcome the challenges those presented and reach his goals, occasionally with the help and assistance of his hosts and his British partners.


Let us know what you think about the article below.

Bill’s book, The Hapsburg Variation, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


Eight years into his career with the CIA, Karl Baier once again finds himself on the front line of the Cold War. He is stationed in Vienna in the spring of 1955 as Austria and the four Allied Powers are set to sign the State Treaty, which will return Austria's independence, end the country's postwar occupation, and hopefully reduce tensions in the heart of Europe. But the Treaty will also establish Austrian neutrality, and many in the West fear it will secure Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and create a permanent division. Asked to help investigate the death of an Austrian aristocrat and Wehrmacht veteran, Baier discovers an ambitious plan not only to block the State Treaty, but also to subvert Soviet rule in lands of the old Hapsburg Empire. Then Baier's wife is kidnapped, and the mission becomes intensely personal. Many of his basic assumptions are challenged, and he discovers that he cannot count on loyalties, even back home in Washington, D.C. At each maddening turn in the investigation, another layer must be peeled away. Even if Baier succeeds in rescuing his wife, he faces the unenviable task of unraveling an intricate web of intrigue that reaches far back into the complicated history of Central Europe. Book 2 in the Cold War Thriller series, which began with Tears of Innocence.




Bill Rapp recently retired from the Central Intelligence Agency after thirty-five years as an analyst, diplomat, and senior manager. After receiving his BA from the University of Notre Dame, an MA from the University of Toronto, and a PhD from Vanderbilt University, Bill taught European History at Iowa State University for a year before heading off to Washington, D.C. The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in the Cold War Spy series featuring Karl Baier. Bill also has a three-book series of detective fiction set outside Chicago with P.I. Bill Habermann, and a thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife, two daughters, two miniature schnauzers, and a cat. For more information, go to

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Forty years ago, on March 16, 1978, a tragic airplane crash claimed 73 lives, including a number of elite Polish cyclists. Shrouded in Cold War secrecy, the crash remains unexplained to this day.

Written by Matthew Stefanski. Matthew interviewed Dr. Leszek Sibilski, a member of the Polish Olympic Cycling Team at the time, to write the article.

Leszek Sibilski (center) with Marek Kolasa (left) and  Krzysztof Otocki (right). Sprint, Youth Spartakus Games in Lodz, Summer 1977. Kolasa and Otocki perished in the crash.

Leszek Sibilski (center) with Marek Kolasa (left) and  Krzysztof Otocki (right). Sprint, Youth Spartakus Games in Lodz, Summer 1977. Kolasa and Otocki perished in the crash.

When tragedy strikes the sporting community, it tends to captivate the world’s attention. Athletes who are competing and striving for victory one day, can simply be gone the next, as was the case in the Manchester United Munich Air Disaster or the luging accident during the Vancouver Olympics. Perhaps it is because the competitiveness and passion of sports is thought to safeguard athletes from worldly vices that these tragedies seem so unfair. Whatever their cause, society can oft only respond with grief expressed in a need to commemorate and remember the victims long after their untimely passing. 

Unfortunately even in sports, tragedies can fade. March 16 this year marks the 40th anniversary of an airplane catastrophe which claimed the flower of Polish cycling. Shrouded in Cold War secrecy, it remains unexplained to this day; forgotten by all but those closest to the victims.


Training in Bulgaria

“Bulgaria was the cradle of spring trainings for the Polish cycling team. In Poland March was very tricky. We needed to build mileage on our bikes and to do so we needed dry roads and sunshine” explains Dr. Leszek Sibilski, professor of sociology at Montgomery College in Maryland.

In 1978 Sibilski was a member of the Polish Olympic Cycling Team. That March, as they often did, the team traveled to Bulgaria for spring training as they prepared for the coming season and worked towards qualify for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. The team was composed of short and medium distance cyclists, some 20 athletes in all. They were young, passionate and the best cyclists Poland had. 

The training in Bulgaria progressed as any other, with the mild Balkan weather melting away the cyclist’s winter blues.

On March 16, the team split. The medium-distance athletes continued to train in Bulgaria, while the six short-distance sprinters, who were on a different training regime, prepared to depart for Warsaw aboard a Balkan Bulgarian Airlines flight.


The crash and its aftermath

The Tu-134 aircraft with 73 passengers and crew aboard departed Sofia but never reached its cruising altitude. Less than ten minutes after takeoff, due to still undetermined reasons, the airplane crashed near the village of Gabare, 80 miles from Sofia. There were no survivors. 

The crash site was quickly cordoned off by the Bulgarian military and a cloak of secrecy and unanswered questions descended over the area.

As word of what happened spread, the Polish cyclists who had remained in Bulgaria quickly traveled to the site only to be turned away by military personnel. Few answers were forthcoming, and little more would be learned over time. 

The incident was briefly covered by the Polish press, which then was still subject to Communist censorship, but overall the cyclists were quickly forgotten. The funerals were private, and no public commemorations were organized. “The topic was avoided, it was painful, inconvenient, and became easy to forget,” explains Sibilski. 

Following a superficial investigation the official cause of the crash was described as electrical circuit malfunction, but theories quickly began to circulate. Was the aircraft shot down by the Bulgarian armed forces, some wondered, or did the crash have anything to do with the secret military base located near Gabare? The year, however, was 1978 and both Poland and Bulgaria were behind the Iron Curtain. With an atmosphere not conducive to prodding questions, the theories went unanswered. 

So, just like that, with the victims buried and crash site cleared, the incident creeped out of public consciousness. 

“At a certain age, you begin to reflect and analyze your life. You look back on your mistakes and your successes. I consider this catastrophe the most defining moment of my life” asserts Professor Sibilski, “This incident haunts me. I am very lucky that I was not aboard that plane, and I want to pay it back.”

Professor Sibilski points out that education saved his life. Had he attended the spring training in Bulgaria, he would most certainly have been aboard that fateful plane together with the other sprinters. As was the case, his university schedule did not allow for him to take part in this particular training, so he remained instead in Poland to attend classes. 

“I lost five of my very close friends, my teammates, and no one is doing anything to find out what happened.” No one - that is - except Sibilski. 

Photo 2 caption: Leszek Sibilski (first), Marek Kolasa (second), Spartakus Youth Games in Lodz, 1977, Sprint final,

Photo 2 caption: Leszek Sibilski (first), Marek Kolasa (second), Spartakus Youth Games in Lodz, 1977, Sprint final,

Trying to resolve the mystery

A recent self-described empty nester, Sibilski has long suppressed if not the memory than certainly the emotions of this painful chapter in his life. But recently, as he approaches 60, reflections on his life have led him to confront those memories, and to commemorate his lost teammates. 

Two years ago, following an impromptu mini-reunion of former Polish cyclists during the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, VA, Sibilski initiated an action that would result in the first official public commemoration of the five lost cyclists. In November 2016 a plaque was unveiled at the entrance to the velodrome in Pruszków, near Warsaw, Poland. 

It reads “The living owe it to those who can no longer speak to tell their story. In memory of: Marek Kolasa, Krzysztof Otocki, Witold Stachowiak, Tadeusz Wlodarczyk and Jacek Zdaniuk, the cyclists of the Polish National Team who died on March 16, 1978 in unsolved circumstances in a plane crash near Gabare, Bulgaria.”

Sibilski thought that this action would be the end of it. But, as he now explains, when he watched the unveiling ceremony and the moving reactions from the victim’s family members, something within him continued to stir. 

“Questions. Unanswered questions. So much is still unknown,” demurred Professor Sibilski when I spoke with him ahead of the fortieth anniversary.

Professor Sibilski is working with interest researchers in Poland and Bulgaria to study the declassified Communist archives for clues that could finally remove the cloak of silence that had descended over that fateful crash. “We are so close. The answers are surely in the archives. It’s time to shake people up; to give them an opportunity to find answers, perhaps I can be that spark to make something happen.”


Let us know your thoughts below.


Matthew Stefanski serves as the press advisor at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The photographs in this article are from Dr. Leszek Sibilski’s private collection and are used in this article with permission.

The American space program was a key part of the Cold War, especially after the Soviet Union propelled a human into space before the U.S. did. The U.S. government initially hugely supported the industry, and here Jeneane Piseno explains the role of the American consumer in supporting the space industry - and how the industry has evolved since the end of the Cold War.

The joint U.S.-Soviet crew of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first two-nation cooperative space mission.

The joint U.S.-Soviet crew of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first two-nation cooperative space mission.

Cold War Consumerism

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union propelled humanity into outer space via Sputnik, launching a national purpose for the United States aimed at preeminence on several fronts including military, technology, ideology, and culture.[i]  Space, the new battleground in the Cold War, mandated the necessity of a national organization to deliver international superiority. Thus, on July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act, establishing a government-supported civilian agency responsible for peaceful enterprises in outer space.

NASA’s mission to thrust Americans to the forefront of global leadership also ignited one of its most important assets, the consumer market. The space-age consumer provided momentum to policies produced by the convergence of the Cold War and technological developments in both government and corporate sectors. The objective to form a national identity through legislation, innovation, and mass advertising transported American leadership to outer space from the 1950s through the beginning of the twenty-first century. 


Free Market Culture

Thus, Cold War consumerism impacted the onset of the “space race” by shaping modern cultural attitudes towards spending based on political superiority.  Post World War Two spending focused on the perception of power presented to the public by capitalizing on selling a free market ideology.[ii]  For example, at the height of the Cold War, consumer advertisers unleashed a barrage of technological prospects aimed at securing freedom from the evils of Communism.

Products that materialized in the 1950s and 1960s captured the emotions of “ordinary American families” as a result of post-World War Two geopolitical and economic technological development.[iii]  Rocket design, nuclear fusion production, and fear of Communism reinforced policy and legislation aimed at the “space race”, which in turn influenced the economy through the production of consumer goods. Influence in this sphere resulted in accelerated research in science, technology, and defense intended to provide Americans with the biggest and best of everything, including the vehicle that propelled them to the Moon. The Cold War marketed the idea that “a thrill would come from fascinating new products” inspired by space-age technology.[iv]


The Space Industry

At the height of the Apollo program, government spending on space reached unprecedented levels, causing Congress and media representatives to take a closer look at the reasons for U.S. domination of the space environment. Escalating costs reinforced delays in mission operations, which in turn drove up costs. As the threat of global Communism slowly ebbed in the late 1980s, once staunch advocates of the American space leadership model abdicated their support in favor of more private sector participation.  Although the private sector characteristically supported space exploration initiatives, reliance on commercial capabilities rose in the field of robotics and aeronautics, grounding any notion of manned space-flight activities beyond low Earth orbits, thus minimizing the exhibition of space in popular culture.

While more commercial involvement, such as the development of launch technologies; the construction of the international space station; and scientific and medical research enhanced production capabilities, the consumer attraction to “space race” related merchandise eventually declined. However, with help from Hollywood films like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, this market emerged as a subset of popular culture and helped keep space interests alive. Consumer goods continued to display alien fascination through the marketing efforts of the entertainment industry.  Furthermore, American innovation, NASA, and the space transportation system (STS) created a symbolic American icon that represented global supremacy which helped foster consumer interest in outer space.


National Identity

Presidents from Kennedy to Bush ‘43 further recognized the importance of an American presence in outer space and the necessity of commercial expansion and support of this endeavor. Interests outlined in their respective space policies sanctioned private sector contributions as part of the national mission.  Each president recognized the vital importance of continuing research into aeronautical development and environmental science, areas of research application resulting from the national space program.  With the end of the STS, a vision for future transportation and space-oriented goals evolved in the Orion spacecraft development and Constellation human spaceflight program defined in the Vision for Outer Space Exploration and the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. This act specifically called for expanded private-sector contribution toward outer-space exploration.

Thus, in 2010 the U.S. space program reduced its responsibility concerning the management of space exploration in favor of commercial leadership in human outer-space endeavors. The impact of diminished American global importance as the intrepid helmsman signified a reduced geopolitical dominance, but also created opportunities to lead on multiple platforms in the private sector.

Ascertaining the connection between the reduction in authority of the national symbol and the expanded industrial complex seems simple: in a market economy the private-sector acknowledges the burden of responsibility for seemingly discretional government spending.  But this shift in fiscal responsibility possibly surrenders influence of the future American presence in space. Maneuvering from the “national identity” posture towards a solely business infrastructure also begs the question of who will pilot commercial ventures in outer-space, establish ethical responsibility and government, or even organize any type of social structure for the people of Earth in a more universal context.  


The Space Consumer

Just how did the United States government rely upon the modern consumer market and commercial entities to promote an American presence in outer space in order to achieve global preeminence?  The answer: the birth of the space consumer. The story of this interstellar customer reveals a strategy of commercial transition in American space endeavors through an apparent magnitude of policy, technology, and media.

Research in the field on the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, the space race, and consumerism reveal that many factors played a role in the promotion of American leadership in the latter half of the twentieth century, but the most prominent strategy for American success appeared in mass consumption. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s homes displayed modern kitchens and appliances, through the deployment of communications satellites, millions of people witnessed television, heard more radio broadcasts; and ordinary people enjoyed overall economic improvement over their Soviet counterparts, enticing them to purchase products.[v] Additionally, Americans purchased toys, automobiles with rocket-shaped fins and cruise control, space food sticks and energy drinks and snacks.


Pop Culture

Initially, the American image arguably made the greatest contribution to space program because it became synonymous with freedom and success. Later, as the “space race” fervor subsided, an atmosphere of cooperation drove consumer interests into space, reflecting a greater commercial involvement with the general public through a subset of space consumerism primarily through the entertainment industry. The commercialization of space through media occurred well before Star Wars entered the market place. Movies dating back to the beginning of the “space race” often included themes related to the Cold War and the possibility of either invasion by aliens, or unification of Earth against other terrestrial forces, or of human manifest destiny to conquer space. Movies such as Destination Moon (1950), The Day the Earth Stood Still, and When Worlds Collide (1951), Invaders From Mars, It Came From Outer Space, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds (1953), Spaceflight IC-1(1965), all tapped into the alien-contact market.[vi] The outer space ethos allowed Hollywood producers to capitalize on associated cultural influences through the medium of film creating an explosive subculture in outer-space entertainment. Additionally, Hollywood movies served as glamorous and alluring advertisements for the possibility of a Western or American standard of living through the continued expansion of space-related endeavors, one of the primary foundations supporting the exceptional position of the United States existed in consumerism.

The transition in private-sector involvement that resulted in a heavy reliance on consumer power to market its position in the world presented the realization that glamorizing the American image at home and abroad was a key factor to a successful space program. The U.S. government accomplished this task through purchasing power, media advertising, technological exhibitionism and commercialism. Commerce established early on between government and civilian entities, including the military and corporate organizations, contributed to the ongoing technological advances well into the twenty-first century.

By 2010, the nearly total reliance of commercial organizations to facilitate the continued American presence in outer-space exploration represented another perspective from which to examine future activities space. Though the onset of the space program was born out of a military mission, consumerism played a key role in its continued existence. Today, government participation reflects the growth of the commercial sector as it takes on the majority of the responsibility for building, operating, and possibly eventually deciding upon what future goals to strive for, what challenges and risks to accept, and in what form established space structures will exist. This exceptional journey will no doubt continue advancing at light speed with the space spender at the helm.


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[i] Richard Fox and T.J. Jackson Lears, The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History,1880-1980. (New York: Pantheon Books ,1983). 177.

[ii] Stephen Bates. “Cold War, Hot Kitchen. “Wilson Quarterly 33, no. 3(Summer 2009:12-13). American History and Life. (Accessed August 1, 2012).

[iii] Roland Marchand,. Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business. (Berkley: University of California Press, 1998). 313.

[iv] Ibid, 341

[v] Victorian De Grazia. Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth Century Europe. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2005). 100-125.

[vi] Science fiction films about space.


AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
6 CommentsPost a comment

In an unstable world, how do you know who your friends and enemies are?

You don’t.


The Cold War was international affairs for the second half of the 20th Century. Nuclear weapons testing, civil wars in all corners of the globe and the race for economic dominance were all key spheres of the Cold War, although they were just a few elements of a very complex global puzzle. More so than the great battles between Carthage and Rome in Ancient times or the Napoleonic Wars, the Cold War defined our world. But, there was one key difference between the Cold War and earlier major wars. Due to advances in technology and communications, the Cold War touched most countries on earth.

Get the book on Amazon

This introduction to the middle years of the Cold War tells the story of the great clash between the Communist Soviet Union and the capitalist USA. It considers events in an intriguing age for international relations. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, there were calls to avert the risk of another nuclear near-miss, and this did lead to an improvement in the super-power relationship; however, underneath this improvement, there remained great tension. To further complicate the situation, China and Europe both became increasingly powerful and assertive. In the world of the 1960s and 1970s, it was hard to know who to trust and who to fear.

Get the book on Amazon

The topics in the book include:

  • The Vietnam War and its impact on the Cold War
  • Decolonization and the opportunities that arose from it for the super-powers
  • The growing power of Western Europe and a major change in Czechoslovakia
  • The historic changes in the relationship between Mao Zedong’s China and the super-powers
  • The super-powers as friends? Détente, Richard Nixon, and Leonid Brezhnev
  • The major nuclear agreements and the arms race
  • How serious tensions emerged once more

The approximately 90-page book is the perfect complement to the Cold War History audio series that is available as part of the ‘History in 28-minutes’ podcasts.

Do you know why the world came to the brink of nuclear war?

Two words – ‘Cold War’.

The Cold War was international affairs for the second half of the 20th Century. Nuclear weapons testing, civil wars in all corners of the globe and the race foreconomic dominance were all key spheres of the Cold War, although they werejust a few elements of a very complex global puzzle. More so than the greatbattles between Carthage and Rome in Ancient times or the Napoleonic Wars, the Cold War defined our world. But, there was one key difference between the Cold War and earlier major wars. Due to advances in technology and communications, the Cold War touched most countries on earth.

Get the Book on Amazon

This introduction to the early years of the Cold War is the debut book from George Levrier-Jones. He tells the story of the great clash between the Communist Soviet Union and thecapitalist USA. George’s fast-paced, concise writing style will allow you to quickly learn about the key events of the Cold War, and to find out how the world came to the cusp of nuclear annihilation.

Get the Book on Amazon

The topics in the book include:

  • The origins of the Cold War and why the USSR and USA emerged from World War 2 as super-powers
  • How the Soviet Union and the USA quickly went from war-time allies 
  • to enemies
  • The key changes in post-war Europe
  • The Berlin blockade and the building of the Berlin Wall
  • Events in East Asia - the Chinese Civil War and why the Korean War became integral to the Cold War
  • Nuclear weapons development
  • Uprisings and revolutions in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, including the Hungarian revolution
  • The most dangerous event of the early Cold War years, the Cuban Missile Crisis

The approximately 80-page book is the perfect complement to the Cold War History audio series that is available as part of the ‘History in 28-minutes’ podcasts.

The Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States defined much of the latter half of the twentieth century in international relations. But was the only time that the superpowers actually came to blows when they were allies in World War Two? Mykael Ray explains.

An image reflective of the Cold War. Source: Anynobody, available  here .

An image reflective of the Cold War. Source: Anynobody, available here.

As history shows us, there is limited adhesive holding America and Russia together. Though there has been peace between them for many years, there have been a number of occasions in which tensions ran much higher than is comfortable between the two countries.

Simply mentioning the Cold War is enough to make this point, but even now, there is “The Mutual-Hostage Relationship between America and Russia”, which is described by Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky as essentially a nuclear standoff between the two nations that creates a system of balance and fear based peace in the world.

With both countries having their hands on the most powerful weapons, other nations can be kept in a state of unwillingness to act on a large scale - just in case one of the triggers gets pulled.

Despite the amount of tension found between the two, direct conflict has never truly ensued.

Or has it?


Friendly fire?

On October 7, 1944, American P-38 Lightning pilots bombed ground troops near Nis in Yugoslavia on their way to assist Soviet troops. What actually happened was that the American fighters rained down upon the Soviets themselves. Out of response to the situation, the Soviets put their own Yak fighters in the air, which resulted in a 15-minute dogfight between the two supposed allies.

US planes must have realized the error a little too late, or maybe not even at all. Or, for all anybody truly knows, they could have realized it from the start and followed through anyway. On the other hand, instead of trying to call off the attacking Americans, the Soviets fought back at full strength, killing an undisclosed number of American airmen.

Accounts vary greatly as to how the friendly fire fight happened. Some believe that the Americans strayed up to 400 kilometers off course, and misidentified the Soviet fleet as hostile German forces. Others claim that the Americans were due to meet up with the Soviets to provide air support, but the Soviets traveled faster than anticipated, putting them 100 kilometers ahead of schedule, leading to the same end result.

Regardless of whose fault it was, both countries are keeping their records of the situation classified, and speculation will continue to be the only explanation for the “misunderstanding”. Even with certain facts regarding the incident being omitted, there are aspects of the battle that bring up a resounding question about the relationship between the two superpowers.

Was there some sort of bad blood between the two powers in south-eastern Europe at the time? Assuming that it was actually a case of mistaken identity, once the Soviets put their planes into action, the American pilots would have instantly been made aware of the true identity of their targets after seeing the blaring red star being brandished on the side of the airplanes. At that point, an unwavering ally would have ceased the attack and pulled away from the area. Instead, the battle extended 15 minutes after Soviet pilots were in the air.


So what happened?

Why do we not know the details? The embarrassment surrounding the situation must be shared equally between the two countries. We do not know the exact facts about what happened because both governments have classified as much information about it as possible, leading to much speculation that either both parties regret the event in its entirety, or that there is a mutual benefit to both of them in keeping it secret.

Of course, this was not the only time that the two countries faced each other in battle in the twentieth century. In 1950, during the Korean War, the Soviets provided the Chinese and North Koreans with their MiGs 15 fighters and pilot training. Soon after, evidence revealed that Soviet pilots actually flew against American fighters.

However, the Russian military to this day deny involvement in any direct confrontation in Korea. And with the Russians not taking responsibility (or credit) for the accusations, Nis remains the only direct confrontation between the two powers in which both admit to having participated in.

The debate around Nis will have to continue until the documents are declassified and made public. Whether it was a secret government conspiracy, or an embarrassment swept under the rug, there is an irony in the details.

Over 70 years later, despite many decades of tension between these two superpowers, one of the few times that the the Soviets and Americans actually came to blows was potentially due to a simple case of mistaken identity - and shortly after their alliance during World War Two, the Cold War began.


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Wolfgang K. H. Panafsky “The Mutual-Hostage Relationship between America and Russia”

Norwich University “10 Largest Air to Air Battles in Military History”, “USAAF Lightnings vs Soviet Yaks over Yugoslavia 1944”

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Episode 1 of's series on the Cold War is available now.

Episode 1 - Paris 1944.jpg

It provides an introduction to the Cold War and answers a range of questions, including who the major groups involved in the Cold War were and just where the Cold War got it's name from.

Happy listening!

George Levrier-Jones

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones