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The Cold War Era: 1945-1991

There are six pennants, they say aviation, electronics, missiles, engineering, medical, atomic power, there is a destroyer in the background

Missile with Crew. Painting, Acrylic on Illustration Board, by Unknown, C.1960, Unframed Dimensions 27H X 20W  (68-084-A-21)                       

Dawning of the Cold War

Soon after helping defeat Fascist tyranny in World War II, American Sailors faced a new global threat to the United States and the values for which their nation had long been a standard bearer; democracy, basic human rights, and freedom. The USSR, under a murderous dictator, Joseph Stalin, acted to solidify the wartime conquests of the Soviet Red Army and advance the cause worldwide of Marxism Leninism, an ideology that subverted the very ideals most Americans then held sacred.

Working with local Communist leaders and movements in the years after the war, Stalin eliminated the political and economic independence of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other nations in Eastern Europe. He put diplomatic and military pressure on Turkey and Iran in the Middle East and supplied war material to Communists fighting to overthrow the government of Greece. In 1948, the Soviets sparked a confrontation with the United States and its European allies over control of Berlin, the occupied and divided capital of the defeated German nation.

In the Far East, regional Communist movements took the lead, but received military assistance from Moscow in efforts to eliminate opposing movements and governments. Ho Chi Minh led Vietnamese Communists and other nationalists against the French colonial government in Indochina. Kim Il Sung and his Korean Communist supporters engaged in a vicious struggle for political control of the Korean people with Syngman Rhee and his anti-Communist adherents. In 1949, Mao Tse-tung and his Chinese Communist armies pushed the forces of the Chiang Kai-shek government off the mainland of Asia and established the People's Republic of China.

The United States, under the leadership of President Harry S. Truman, had already taken economic, political, and military steps to deal with the new threat posed by the Soviet Union and its allies. American taxpayers provided billions of dollars to restore the war-ravaged economies of Western Europe, under the Marshall Plan, and the similarly devastated Japanese economy. The U.S. government strengthened political ties with many like-minded anti-Communist governments around the globe. Finally, the Truman administration adopted a broad "Containment Strategy," in simplest terms a major effort to build a wall around the Communist world that would be defended by the armed might of the United States and its allies. The United States Navy, its warships and aircraft--and above all its Sailors-- guarded the ramparts of the containment wall from the beginning of the so-called "Cold War" to its victorious end. 

Extracted from "The U.S. Navy in the Cold War Era, 1945-1991," by Edward J. Marolda


Additional Reading

The U.S. Navy in the Cold War Era, 1945-1991, by Edward J. Marolda, Senior Historian, Naval Historical Center

Stalin's Cold War Military Machine: A New Evaluation (Colloquium on Contemporary History No. 6, 18 December 1991)

Conflict and Cooperation: The U.S. and Soviet Navies in the Cold War (Colloquium on Contemporary History No. 10, 12 June 1996)

H-Gram 029-3: A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cold War Aviation Incidents (Excluding Korea and Vietnam)

Forward Presence in the Modern Navy: From the Cold War to a Future Tailored Force, by Thomas G. Mahnken  

Operation Crossroads (overview by Kati Engel, NHHC Communication and Outreach Division)

Operation Crossroads (Navy Library documents)

Strategic Deterrence (collection of essays, articles, and other resources covering the Navy's role in this important Cold War planning concept)

A Brief History of U.S. Navy Fleet Ballistic Missiles and Submarines (photo essay by Randall Fortson, NHHC Histories and Archives Division)

Pueblo (AGER-2)

Notable Dates

Strategic Deterrence and the Undersea Long Range Missile System, later called Trident (31 March 1971)

Cold War Operations

Korean War

Cuban Missile Crisis

Vietnam War




L55-15.01.06 Polaris AX-1 Flight Test Vehicle

Polaris AX-1 Flight Test Vehicle. (L55-15.01.06)

Communist Solidarity

Communist Solidarity. In Hanoi, a large parade poster shows Ho Chi Minh, ruler of North Vietnam, shaking hands with other of his principal supporters, party chairman Mao TSE-Tung of Communist China. Peking backs the North Vietnamese Campaign of Aggression and Subversion against South Vietnam. (65-1277)


USS Dennis J. Buckley (DDR-808) View of ship's bridge wing, showing marker noting that she had been the recipient of communist China's 75th and 76th "serious warnings" for alleged violations of her territorial waters, in the Formosa Straits, in 1959. Note life ring with beacon light. (NH 73691)              

Tuffy, the Naval Missile Center's well-known trained porpoise, responds to an acoustic device like one of those attached to a missile target cradle at Point Mugu. Tuffy found the $4,700 cradle which will now be reused by the Navy. Trainer Wally R...

Tuffy the porpoise. Tuffy, the Naval Missile Center's well-known trained porpoise, responds to an acoustic device like one of those attached to a missile target cradle at Point Mugu. Tuffy found the $4,700 cradle which will now be reused by the Navy. Trainer Wally Ross holds the signal device out for Tuffy to hear. November 12, 1965. (L55-02-02-01.03)

Photo #: 80-G-483656 Soviet-Built MiG-15 jet fighter

Soviet-Built MiG-15 jet fighter is shot down by a Navy fighter over Korea. Photo is dated 17 March 1953, at a time when no enemy planes were shot down by U.S. Navy pilots. This MAY be one of two MiG-15s shot down on 18 November 1952 by VF-781 F9F-5s from USS Oriskany (CVA-34). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (80-G-483656)

QUA.2013-11.16.02 Bikini Atomic Test

Atomic Testing Bikini Atomic Test 25 July 1946. (QUA.2013-11.06.02)

Published: Wed Jun 21 15:22:39 EDT 2023