By March 1945, after seven years of warfare, Allied and Russian forces were converging on Berlin, the Allies from the west and the Russians from the north, east and south. Realising that Berlin was surrounded and that the war was lost, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on the 30th of April 1945.
The Allied forces had reached Berlin in April and Germany’s final stand, known as the Battle of Berlin, ensued. The battle, which commenced on the 20th April, consisted of vicious house to house and street fighting. With few troops in Berlin, the Germans created a defence force of children and civilians to fight both the Allied and the Russian troops. Outnumbered, badly equipped and with no training, this brave but motley group finally surrendered to the Red Army on the 2nd May 1945.
In the process of driving the German forces back to Germany the Russians had made numerous territorial gains, having taken control of eight countries. The Russian plan for Germany was to occupy the country and make it another Soviet Satellite state and part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
For years before the outbreak of the Second World War, America had been paranoid about the spread of Communism both at home and in Europe and the Americans had no intention of allowing Stalin to add Germany to the growing list of Soviet Satellite countries.
A stand-off developed between the Allies and Russia, leaving Russia in total control of East Germany. West Germany was divided into Sectors with each main Sector under the control of an Allied power. The border between the East and the West became known as the Iron Curtain.
Built by the Russians, the Iron Curtain was designed to prevent anyone from East Germany or the Soviet satellite countries from reaching freedom in the West. In the countryside, the Iron Curtain consisted of a high electrified fence with guard posts and minefields. In Berlin it was a high wall, also with minefields and guard posts. Anyone, from the East or the West, who attempted to cross or approach the Iron Curtain or the Berlin Wall was shot on sight.
In the post war months the relationship between Russia and the West deteriorated quickly, with neither side trusting the other.
This led to what became known as the Cold War, a situation which lasted for 46 years, from 1945 to 1991. During this period, both the USA and Russia entered into an Arms Race, with both sides building nuclear weapons and missiles in order to increase each of their own country’s military capability and capacity.
Fearing that Russia had long term plans to attack Germany, and spread its communist message to other European countries, on the 4th April 1949 the United States, the UK, Canada, France, Norway, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg and Portugal created the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with its headquarters in Brussels. NATO members agreed to come each other’s aid in the event of any NATO member being threatened, attacked or invaded by Russia.
Having had to come to Europe’s rescue, at great cost, in both the First and Second World Wars, the Americans had no appetite for another military conflict and proposed that in addition to NATO, the remaining ‘free’ European countries should form themselves into a United States of Europe. This proposal was rejected by most of the European leaders.In May 1955, the United States and the other NATO members, voted to make West Germany a member of NATO. In addition, they agreed to permit the nation to re-militarise. The Russians saw this as a direct threat to themselves.
In response to the rearming of West Germany, on the 14th May 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites signed a Treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defence organization with the Soviets in command of the armed forces of its Warsaw Pact members.
The Warsaw Pact, so named because the Treaty was signed in Warsaw, included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Copying NATO’s aims and purpose, the Warsaw Pact Treaty called on its member states to come to the defence of any member attacked by an outside force and it set up a unified military command under Marshal Ivan S. Konev of the Soviet Union.
The Warsaw Pact remained intact until 1991. Albania had been expelled in 1962 because it believed that the Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, was deviating too much from strict Marxist orthodoxy. The country turned to Communist China for aid and trade.
In 1990, East Germany left the Warsaw Pact and following the fall of the Berlin Wall, was reunited with West Germany.
The rise of non-Communist governments in other eastern bloc nations, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, throughout 1990 and 1991 marked an effective end of the power of the Warsaw Pact. In March 1991, the military alliance component of the pact was dissolved and in July 1991 the last meeting of the political consultative body took place.
Post War Events in Italy
Communism was a popular ideology amongst the populations of most of the post war European countries.
In France, Spain, Italy and Germany Communism had a sizeable following. Germany and Italy also had groups of armed Communist fanatics who opposed all forms of national non-Communist government. Known as the Red Brigades, these groups were actively involved in the murder and kidnapping of politicians and business leaders. Germany’s Red Brigade, known as The Red Army Faction, engaged in a series of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, bank robberies, and shoot-outs with police for more than thirty years, until the group was finally disbanded in 1998.
Post War Italy also had serious political problems and social unrest as a result of conflict between its Socialist and Communist Parties. To the concern of NATO and the West, in the country’s 1976 national election the Italian Communists had scored 34% of the national vote and it was known that the Party was both supported and strongly influenced by Moscow.
Aldo Moro, Italy’s Prime Minister at the time, believed that national harmony could be achieved by creating a ‘national solidarity’ cabinet which would include both the Socialists and the Communists. This proposal was not well received by the super-powers who feared that any Italian government which contained the Communists would enable Soviet agents in Italy to gain information about NATO’s strategic plans and pass the details on to Russia. There was also a risk of Italy becoming another Soviet Satellite country.
At a meeting with Henry Kissinger and an unnamed American intelligence official Moro was warned not to pursue the strategy of bringing the Communists into his cabinet. He was advised by the Americans that if he continued with his plan ‘he would pay dearly’ for it. Moro ignored this warning.
On the 16th March 1978, one month after his meeting with Kissinger, Moro was on his way to the Italian Parliament for the crucial vote on his proposal for a ‘national solidarity’ cabinet when he was kidnapped. Fifty five days later he was murdered by his captors.
Although the Italian Red Brigade claimed responsibility for the murder there was no evidence and despite hundreds of arrests, no one has ever been jailed for the crime.
The assassination raised a number of questions. Why, for example, would the Italian Red Brigade, which was an ardent supporter of Communism, kill a Prime Minister who was arranging to bring Communists into his government?
Is it possible that the assassination had been promoted by either NATO or the Americans in order to stop the Communists being included by Aldo Moro in his cabinet?