The Background

The Swiss defence against Luftwaffe incursions
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The Background

Post by Moggy »

Switzerland's Role in World War II

The Nazis developed a full ideological critique of Swiss obstinacy. Nazi theorist Ewald Banse accused the German Swiss of "calculating materialism" and "unlimited self-reliance" and said their aloofness from their fellow ethnic Germans arose from a "belief, doubtless justified in the Middle Ages but long since obsolete, that liberty and equality - those most sacred of human possessions - are at stake." Hitler himself denounced the Swiss repeatedly as "despicable and wretched," "misbegotten," "renegades," "repugnant," and "a pimple on the face of Europe" which "cannot be allowed to continue." (Stalin couldn't stand them either.) The Fuhrer despised their purely defensive military philosophy: "An army whose only goal is to secure peace" is craven, he said. "In addition to all the other characteristics of the Swiss that Hitler disliked," Halbrook adds, "he hated them because of their free market capitalism, which he associated with Judaism." The ever-abusive Volkischer Beobachter resorted to the epithet Berg-Semiten: mountain Jews.

Again and again, Hitler ordered his generals to draw up plans to invade Switzerland - but never followed through. Why didn't he? One reason was that military crises elsewhere kept intervening. But another was Switzerland's convincing, if purely defensive, military posture. German troops referred to Switzerland as a porcupine (Stachelschwein); the Swiss air force consisted of 250 planes, none of them bombers. The most famous element of Swiss defense were the sabotage plans: At the moment of German invasion, the Simplon and St. Gotthard tunnels would be blown up, as well as all bridges over the Rhine, power stations, and air fields. Avalanches and landslides would be set off to block armor and infantry movement.

Another key deterrent factor, Halbrook suggests, was Switzerland's tradition of a popular army - "the people in arms." At one point an astonishing 20 percent of the Swiss population was under arms, a figure unheard of in a modern country officially at peace - or even most countries at war. Every Swiss home had a rifle. Sharpshooting was and is the national sport; each weekend the hills are alive with the sound of gunfire, with fathers delighting in instructing their kids in proper technique. Swiss youths were trained to shoot at 300 meters, Germans at 100. German generals had to consider the example of the Finns, another small nation of skiers and riflemen who had recently held off a Russian invasion far more tenaciously than outsiders expected.
Finally, Swiss defensive preparations drew strength from an unrivaled display of the spirit of resistance. Soldiers were ordered to hold their positions to the last cartridge and then fight on with bayonets. Secret munitions caches were distributed through the countryside, and the populace was trained in how to organize partisan warfare. Unlike any other country in Europe, Halbrook says, Switzerland proclaimed that any reports that the federal council or army high command had agreed to surrender were to be ignored as inventions of enemy propaganda. This remarkable policy tied the leadership's own hands for the sake of maximum deterrent effect, and was thinkable only in a nation where a long tradition of decentralization had distributed the spirit of initiative far and wide. By way of contrast, "Hitler was able to conquer much of Europe by bluffing the central authority of various countries into capitulation," as when the Belgian king surrendered at a point where many of his countrymen would have preferred to fight on. "Switzerland was the only country in Europe that had no political leader with the authority to surrender the people to the Nazis."

But the more balanced view remains Winston Churchill's. "I put this down for the record," wrote Churchill to Anthony Eden in a December 1944 memo reprinted in Triumph and Tragedy. "Of all the neutrals Switzerland has the greatest right to distinction....What does it matter whether she has been able to give us the commercial advantages we desire or has given too many to the Germans to keep herself alive? She has been a democratic State, standing for freedom in self-defense among her mountains, and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side." ... 41908/pg_1

Machiavelli said of the Swiss, ‘they are the most armed, and the most free.’ In the summer of 1940, the German High Command had at least three active plans for outflanking France’s great chain of forts, the Maginot Line, by invading Switzerland. A month after the fall of France, in June, 1940, Hitler’s and Mussolini’s high commands prepared plan ‘von Menges,’ under which Germany would seize the northern two thirds of Switzerland, while Fascist Italy annexed the portion south of the Alps.

‘I will show those herdsmen and cheese-makers,’ Hitler vowed.

Far from bowing to German threats, as did most other European nations, Switzerland, which then had under 4 million inhabitants, mobilized 700,000 soldiers- one citizen in five. On 25 July, 1940, Swiss commander-in-chief, General Henri Guisan convoked his senior officers to the Rutli Meadow, where the Swiss Confederation, the world’s oldest democracy, was proclaimed in 1291.

The officers knelt, and vowed to defend Switzerland at all costs. Guisan issued his famous order to the army: fight to your last cartridge, even if you are alone; then fight with your bayonets. No surrender; die where you stand!

The ‘herdsmen’ and ‘cheesmakers’ stood ready to single-handedly battle Germany and Italy with the same, legendary ‘furia helvetica’ their pike and halbard-wielding forefathers had shown against earlier tyrants, like the Austrians at Sempach and Morgarten, or the Charles the Bold at Nancy.

Switzerland’s mighty ‘national redoubt’ composed of hundereds of small and large mountain forts, anchored on the strongholds of Sargans, the Gothard Pass, and St. Maurice in Valais, was readied for action. These were extremely powerful forts, as I have seen visiting some major works, such as Festung Gutsch, overlooking the Gothard Pass, and Sargans. The Swiss Army’s troops prepared to pull back into the high mountains, sacrificing 75% of their land, their homes, and, most significantly, their wives and children, who could not be fed or sheltered in the mountain forts.

Each Alpine valley and every pass would become a Thermopylae. The vital rail tunnels connecting Germany and Italy were readied for destruction. The small Swiss Air Force shot down 11 Luftwaffe aircraft that overflew Switzerland; hundreds of pro-Nazi Swiss were arrested, and at least 17 soldiers shot for treason - by their own comrades.

As author Stephen Halbrook points out in his excellent work on this subject, ‘Target Switzerland,’ unlike other European nations, Switzerland was deterred from caving in to Nazi Germany by its highly decentralized system of government. The weak-willed federal government in Bern, which flirted with capitulation, simply could not order its independent-minded cantons, nor their citizens, to give up and surrender to the Nazis- as did centralized governments in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. The rifle clubs to which many Swiss men belonged became centers of patriotism and national resistance to Nazi threats.

According to the Swiss Constitution, each man must perform annual military service and bear arms, which he keeps at home. In Switzerland’s direct democracy, the right and duty to bear arms is equal to and an integral part of the sacred right to vote. In the dark days from 1940-1945, Switzerland’s armed citizen soldiers would not accept surrender, or any form of subservience, to Hitler. Though totally surrounded by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and dependant on them for oil, food, and raw materials, tiny Switzerland remained defiant. In the face of Nazi threats, the Swiss took in 37,000 Jewish refugees - exactly 37,000 more than were accepted at the time by the US or Canada.

In June, 1940, as France lay dying, Mussolini attacked southern France with 350,000 men. The small, 35,000-man French Army of the Alps, Gen. Olry commanding, dug in behind the forts of southern arm of the Maginot Line, extending from Switzerland to the Riviera at Cap Martin. The guns of the forts crushed the Italian offensive. The German and Italian high commands were appalled at the deadly effectiveness of the French mountain forts, concluding they would suffer huge losses attacking the powerful Swiss fortress system.

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy did not invade Switzerland because they needed it, as revisionist critics currently claim, for money-laundering and gold trading: Germany also conducted such transactions through Sweden, Turkey, Portugal, Argentina, and even the USA which, let’s recall, was still a neutral when the Swiss were shooting down Luftwaffe ME-109’s over Basel.

Switzerland remained free because its citizen soldiers were ready to fight to the last man against Nazi Germany. ... isioni.php
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