Everyone knows the heavy involvement of American soldiers quite openly in Korea and Vietnam, and less openly in South American and African wars. It’s widely known that the war between ‘North Korea’ and ‘South Korea’, for example, was really a war between the Soviets and the Americans in Korea using Korean politics as an excuse. (BTW, how did the Soviets supply East and Southeast Asian allies with China in the way?) What we don’t hear about are Soviet soldiers in Korea or Vietnam flying all those Soviet aircraft and driving those Soviet tanks that were (officially) being used by North Korean or North Vietnamese pilots and crews. We also don’t hear much about Chinese soldiers leaving the Middle Kingdom to fight in the proxy wars. (BTW, which proxy wars were mainly American-Soviet and which were mainly American-Chinese? Korea seems to have switched partway through and I don’t know about Vietnam, beyond the fact North Vietnam unambiguously used Soviet weapons.)
By sea, I imagine. After the end of the Vietnam War, the Soviets even had a significant naval presence at Camh Ray Bay, built by the Americans during the war.
The Sino Soviet split happened after the Korean War. During it, the Russians and Chinese were largely on the same side, with the Russians providing significant material support to the Chinese. After the Korean war, the Russians then presented China with a bill for all their stuff, to the dismay of the Chinese, and it all went downhill from there.
Both the Chinese and the Soviets supported the North Vietnamese, but in largely separate efforts. The North Vietnamese were definitely in the Soviets’ sphere, however, and Chinese support dropped off after Nixon’s visit to China. This would cumulative eventually in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, which could be thought of as a proxy war between China and the Soviet Union.
The other large proxy war off the top of my head was the Angolan civil war in the 1980s, where the Soviet/Cuban/Warsaw pact backed MPLA fought the Chinese and US backed UNITA.
Afghanistan as well. The Americans and Chinese sent large amounts of material to the Afghan Mujahedeen against the Soviets. If the various books written by rather sketchy special forces types of the era are to be believed, the Chinese received many captured examples of Soviet weapons, like the SA-7 shoulder fired SAM and the AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher, from Afghanistan via the CIA, as part of a scheme for the Chinese to produce copies of these weapons to be shipped back to the Afghans.
I’m going to look for my own cite on this one, but I can’t say I seriously doubt you right now. History is a very strange place.
Huge numbers of chinese fought in the Korean war (Wikipediasays 780,000), in fact its probably incorrect to describe it as a “proxy” war. It was fought directly by Chinese troops on territory bordering China.
In terms of Soviet troops in the other proxy war, I’d say the number were pretty small. They definitely provided pilots and “advisors” but not large numbers of ground troops (except in the conflicts they fought in directly, such as Czechlovakia and Afghanistan). Which actually brings me to a question I’ve been meaning to ask in relation to this. Did regular US ground troops ever fight regular Soviet ground troops anywhere in the cold war ?
Edited my post to include some other stuff I remember about Afghanistan.
There was a “honeymoon” period of sorts during the 1980s between the US and China, especially after the Chinese started serious economic reforms in the second half of the 1980s. There were all sorts of plans for various Sino-American military co-operation, including a huge upgrade of the Chinese Air Force by American aerospace companies. The one program that ended up happening was the sale of UH-60/S-70 Blackhawk helicopters to the Chinese. These were stationed in Tibet, as the Chinese had no helicopters of their own with similar levels of high-altitude performance.
The honeymoon ended in 1989 with the Tiananmen Square crackdown and the collapse of the common enemy, the Soviet Union. None of the other plans ever came to fruition.
Neither country was involved in proxy fights because, as communist nations, they didn’t believe in holding shares of stock.
It is little known in the West, but one of the first Chinese casualties of the Korean war was Mao Ze Dong’seldest son, a junior officer killed by an American air raid. It was said that the American bombs left nothing to with which to identify his remains, other than his wristwatch.
It’s not the Cold War proper, but there was the Polar Bear Expedition.
Ken Burns hasn’t made a documentary about that one, yet.
I’m not quite sure that it would count as a proxy war, but the israelis mentioned their air force pilots regularly went head to head with blond arabs in the yom kippur war.