AND FREEDOM - Switzerland's Secret Strategy For Survival
by Peter Hammond
you want peace, prepare for war.
Peace is achieved through superior firepower.
sum up the Swiss attitude towards peace and freedom. A momentously important
new book: Target Switzerland Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, by
Stephen Halbrook, provides the incredible untold story of how Switzerland,
alone among all the nations of Central Europe, successfully resisted the
Nazi juggernaut during the Second World War. Switzerland was the one nation
on the European Continent, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Volga River,
that never succumbed to either the Nazi threats or military occupation.
How this small republic succeeded in maintaining its independence, while
completely encircled by aggressive totalitarian nations, needs to be remembered.
Neighbouring Austria succumbed to Nazi intrigues and threats and fell
without a shot being fired in 1938. Czechoslovakia was likewise bullied
and threatened into giving up without a fight. Albania was occupied by
Fascist Italy. Poland fell after just 20 days of intense fighting in September
1939. Denmark surrendered within 4 hours of receiving an ultimatum. The
Danish King and his government capitulated and prohibited any resistance
to the Nazi occupation. The Norwegians put up a spirited resistance, aided
by British and French troops, but were quickly outmaneuvered by German
paratroopers and mountain divisions. Sweden allowed the Nazi's to transport
troops over its soil to Norway. It would later allow the transportation
of an entire German army division across its neutral territory,
to be used in the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941.
before the German Blitzkrieg in just 5 days. Belgium held out for almost
17 days before surrendering to the invading German army. France was conquered
in under 6 weeks. Paris fell without a shot being fired.
despite Hitler's frequently repeated threats to invade, liquidate
and annex Switzerland to his Grossdeutschland, (with maps even being printed
on the day of the Anschluss of Austria, showing Switzerland as incorporated
into the 3rd Reich), Switzerland succeeded where all other neutral nations
failed. Switzerland remained a heroic island of freedom in a sea of Nazi
tyranny, throughout Europe. It was to answer this question of how Switzerland
so effectively resisted tyranny during a time when every surrounding nation
failed, that this incredibly timely book Target Switzerland was written.
Sharpshooters on Skis
The spiritual and military strength and resolve of the tiny Swiss nation
to resist the overwhelming totalitarian threat should continue to inspire
freedom-loving people everywhere. This great land of the Reformation, with
its long tradition of a decentralised, constitutional Republic, has long
been renowned as a nation of marksmen on skis. Every man in Switzerland
has at least one rifle in his home. Switzerland was the only European nation
which proclaimed that, in the event of an invasion, any announcement of
surrender was to be regarded as enemy propaganda, and that every soldier
must fight to the last cartridge, and then with the bayonet. Their published
and openly proclaimed military strategy was to make any invader pay a severe
penalty for violating their neutrality. The order was: Keep Fighting. No
surrender. No retreat. Fight to the last bullet and blade.
With the large number of totalitarian dictatorships, vicious wars and
lack of freedom in large parts of the world today, the lessons and example
of Switzerland should be carefully studied and learnt from. Switzerland
is the oldest democracy in the world. It also has the distinction of having
the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world. In contrast to the
rest of Europe, which had highly centralised governments, Switzerland
had a very weak central government. The first unit of authority in Switzerland
was the individual and the family. Then came the village or city, then
the canton and finally the federal government. As a direct democracy,
power was decentralised. Power was exercised from the bottom up, not from
the top down. Therefore, whereas Hitler was able to conquer much of Europe
by bluffing and bullying the central authority of various governments
into capitulation, in Switzerland there was no central authority, which
could betray or surrender the nation. The Swiss solution to Hitler's total
war was total resistance by the entire population.
be surprised to hear that Switzerland achieved the highest military mobilisation
of any population in World War II. A full 20% of the total Swiss population
was mobilised to resist the Nazi threat in WW II. Some Swiss towns were
bombed. Swiss pilots shot down at least 11 Luftwaffe planes in dog-fights
during WW II, to the loss of only 3 of their own aircraft. Repeatedly
through WW II, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy mobilised hundreds of thousands
of troops, including mechanised divisions, on the border of Switzerland
in preparation for invasion; unleashing intensive journalistic barrages
of anti-Swiss articles, in preparation for occupation. Only to be faced
down by hundreds of thousands of incredibly determined and well-trained
Swiss troops, ready to repel any invaders.
attacked every super-power of the time, France, Britain, Soviet Union
and the USA, and every neighbouring neutral country, including Denmark,
Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Austria, Switzerland was the only
nation which successfully deterred the Nazi war machine from invading.
The extraordinary courageous efforts of the Swiss military to prevent
invasion and preserve a haven in which individuals were protected, enabled
many thousands of refugees and escaped prisoners of war to find sanctuary
in Switzerland, in the midst of the savagery of WW II. Switzerland protected
50 000 Jews and over 100 000 interned soldiers during the war. Most of
these soldiers were allies, 1 700 were American pilots who had been shot
down over Europe and escaped to Switzerland.
On 25 July 1940, General Henry Guisan, commander of the Swiss Army, summoned
600 of his senior officers to a jagged mountainside in central Switzerland,
near Lake Lucerne. During the preceding weeks, Denmark, Norway, Holland,
Belgium and France had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany. The British
Army had evacuated the continent, leaving its heavy equipment behind. Poland,
Austria, Czechoslovakia and Albania had fallen in the preceding two years.
Hundreds of thousands of German troops were massing on Switzerland's northern
border, and fascist Italy threatened Switzerland's southern border. Surrounded
by totalitarian aggressors and occupied lands, the Swiss stood alone.
Standing on the Rütli Meadow, overshadowed by the Alpine peaks, General
Guisan addressed his officers: I decided to reunite you in this
historic place, the symbolic ground of our independence, to explain the
urgency of the situation and to speak to you as a soldier to soldiers.
We are at a turning point in our history. The survival of Switzerland
is at stake. His order was to fight to the last man - never surrender.
It was on the Rütli Meadow that the Swiss Confederation was first
formed on 1 August 1291. For 650 years, Swiss fighting men had earned
the reputation as the most ferocious in Europe. Their determined refusal
to live under the rule of foreign kings, was legendary. Most people know
the story of William Tell, the hero who refused to bow before the Austrian
governor Gessler. He was condemned to shoot an apple off the head of his
6-year old son at 120 paces. If he refused, both father and son would
be executed. In a remarkable display of archery skill, William Tell succeeded
in hitting the apple and missing his son. Congratulating Tell, Gessler
asked why he had another arrow in his quiver. Tell responded that, had
he injured the child, he would have sent the remaining arrow into the
governor's heart. Tell was condemned to life imprisonment for his insolence,
but he escaped while being transported across Lake Lucerne.
ambushed the governor and shot the reserved arrow into his heart. This
instigated the rebellion in which the Swiss successfully overthrew the
Austrians, who had been ruling them, and it was on this Rütli Meadow
that the Swiss cantons swore loyalty to each other.
at the Battle of Morgarten, 1400 Swiss peasants ambushed 20000 Austrian
knights and infantry in a narrow Alpine passage, showering them with rocks
and driving them into a lake, where many drowned. At this battle, the
Swiss killed 2 000 of the invaders, for the loss of only 12 of their own
6 500 Swiss infantrymen defeated 12000 German invaders at the battle of
Laupen. This was the first battle on the European continent, where infantrymen
defeated armoured cavalry in open terrain. In 1386, at the Battle of Sempach,
4000 Austrian knights were defeated by 1 300 Swiss peasants. In 1388,
650 Swiss successfully defeated an Austrian force of 15 000 invaders in
the Alps. The Austrians lost 1 700 men to 55 Swiss. In 1476, a French
army of 20 000 invaded. 412 Bernese troops in Grandson Castle were persuaded
to surrender. All 412 Swiss were then hanged or drowned by the French.
The Swiss mobilised immediately and at the ensuing Battle of Grandson,
they routed the French with heavy losses. At the Battle of Morat, another
French army of 23 000 was destroyed by a surprise attack, with the Swiss
killing 10000 French invaders, for the loss of only 410 Swiss. After the
Battle of Morat, the Swiss infantry were the most renowned in Europe,
and deeply sought after as mercenaries. (In fact, over 1 million Swiss
served as mercenaries over the centuries).
the Holy Roman Empire attempted to impose a tax on the Swiss, and this
resulted in the Swiss defeating the Holy Roman Empire at the Battle of
Dornach in 1501.
cynical and sinister Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, observed
that the Swiss were: masters of modern warfare and the
Swiss are well armed and enjoy great freedom.
The Swiss example of a decentralised federal Republic and a well-armed
citizen's army, attracted the attention of English and American political
observers in the 18th century, including many of the founders of the American
Republic. The American Founding Fathers drew much inspiration from the
Swiss example and incorporated many of their principles into the US Constitution.
Switzerland's history of standing unconquered by foreign aggressors since
1291, has not, however, remained unbroken. In 1797, Napoleon succeeded in
occupying Switzerland by a combination of threats, a propaganda war and
persuading the French-speaking cantons not to resist the New French Order.
Geneva and Lausanne, fell to the invading French without any resistance.
When the German-speaking Swiss put up a brave resistance at Fraubrunnen,
they were ill-equipped, many armed only with pitchforks. They were slaughtered
by the French artillery and cavalry. Resistance movements soon sprang up
that included thousands of Swiss citizens waging guerilla warfare in the
Alps against the French occupiers. Many thousands of Swiss were killed during
the brutal Napoleonic occupation.
After the disastrous years under French occupation, the Swiss were determined
never to allow an invasion again and spent the next century building a
strong citizens army, that anticipated new threats. They expended great
effort and expense to improve both their weapons and their military tactics,
to ensure that they preserved peace through superior firepower.
The Swiss also recognised that the enemy had only succeeded in overthrowing
them because the Swiss had failed to remain united in the face of a pan-European
revolutionary idea. After the French occupation, the Swiss were determined
never again to allow foreigners to sow disunity amongst them through strategies
of divide and conquer. As a result, in the 1930's, although 72% of the
population of Switzerland were German speaking, they successfully resisted
all Nazi propaganda and subversive activities in the country. Under the
new 1815 Constitution, universal male military service was instituted.
The Swiss Shooting Federation (SSV) was formed in 1824 to the promotion
and perfection of the art of sharp-shooting, an art beautiful in itself
and of the highest importance for the defence of the Confederation.
Shooting festivals became one of the most important unifying activities
in the communities.
through Superior Firepower
In 1847, the Protestant cantons put down a separatist revolt by Catholic
revolutionaries. In 1857, the Prussian Kaiser mobilised over 150000 soldiers
to invade Switzerland over a border dispute. The Swiss mobilised 30000
of their own troops to counter. One German observer remarked that the
Swiss militia was worth half a dozen standing armies in Europe. In 1866,
Bismarck suggested dividing up Switzerland between Italy, France and Prussia.
In 1867, the Swiss invented a revolutionary new repeating turnbolt rifle
with tubular magazine, holding 12 metallic cartridges. In 1874, the Federal
Constitution provided for the government, for the first time, to equip
every male citizen of military age with a modern rifle, uniform and ammunition.
These were to remain in the hands of the soldier at their home. (Up until
this point Swiss soldiers had been expected to obtain their own weapons).
In 1889, the Swiss developed a new straight bolt rifle, using the Swiss
designed 7.5mm cartridge.
contrast to the increasing centralisation of power in other countries
in continental Europe, in Switzerland the federal government became more
and more responsive to the wishes of the individual citizens and introduced
the referendum in 1874, as a means of determining new legislation.
In 1912, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany visited Switzerland. Observing Swiss
army manoeuvres, Kaiser Wilhelm questioned what a ¼ million Swiss
soldiers could do if invaded by ½ million German soldiers. The
famous Swiss response was: then everyone of us will have to shoot
the Swiss developed the Schmidt-Rubin infantry rifle, model 1911, which
had a detachable 6-round magazine and a fast-acting straight pull bolt.
Over 300000 of these model 1911 rifles were manufactured and distributed
to the population. The greatly outnumbered Swiss placed great emphasis
on superior military marksmanship and equipment. In 1911, American Colonel
Bell noted that the Swiss had an unsurpassed love of country, spartan
patriotism and valour. While the Swiss believes in peace and desires
it above all else, his good sense tells him that this is best assured
by preparedness at all times.
When the Great War broke out on August 1st, 1914, with combatants on every
border, the Federal Council mobilised the entire army, some 450 000 men.
The army was well equipped with Maxim machine guns and modern artillery.
Both aviation and anti-aircraft defences were introduced at this time.
A 1916 US Senate report The Military Law and Efficient Citizen Army
of the Swiss noted that while the French army only trained at shooting
ranges of 40 yards and were singularly poor even at this, and while the
German soldiers do better than the French and train at 100 yards, the entire
Swiss army had to be categorised as all good marksmen training
at an average of 300 yards. There was absolutely no question that the Swiss
had the highest standards of marksmanship in Europe, if not the world.
From the moment Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany on 30 January
1933, a reign of terror began. All rights to assemble and to a free press
were removed. The Nazi's began house searches, seizing firearms from private
citizens on a wide scale. Random searches and seizures were authorised.
By March, Hitler was an absolute dictator and the regional German states
had been overwhelmed by the central government.
beginning, the press in neighbouring Switzerland was the most vocal in
exposing the dangerous trends and threats of the Nazi regime. The Nazi
professor of military science, Ewald Banse, openly published his assertion
that in a war against France, Germany would need to invade through Switzerland
to outflank the French fortified Maginot Line, punching through the Geneva
gap. Despite its majority German-speaking population, Banse used Nazi
racial theories to describe the Swiss as inferior.
While most of the world paid little attention to the disturbing trends
of national socialism in Germany, the Swiss were repelled from the start.
On 12 May 1933, the Swiss Federal Council prohibited the wearing of Hitlerite
uniforms and insignia, and subjected violators to imprisonment or deportation.
The 1933 military manual issued to every Swiss citizen stated: it
is every man's duty to constantly maintain his rifle, and to practise
constantly in both prone and kneeling positions at their local shooting
society. To fire accurately, one should not shoot fast, but pull the trigger
slowly using intelligence and judgement, remembering that the victor always
has another cartridge in his rifle. The trigger was only to be pulled
if the target will be hit. One has to shoot more accurately than the enemy
and more skillfully use the terrain.
came out strongly in its publications against totalitarianism of both
the right and the left. Swiss shooting matches were extended to 400 metres.
Considering that the German army only trained up to 100 metres, the Swiss
marksmen would have a serious advantage over any invader.
In September 1993, A plan for the invasion of Switzerland
was published. The theme was: Geneva is the gateway to France and particularly
important for the seizure of Lyons with its surrounding arms and ammunition
factories. With violation of Swiss neutrality being publicly discussed,
the Swiss massively increased appropriations for armaments.
On the first
page of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler had declared that common
blood must belong to a common Reich. He made it clear that one of
his main goals was to reunite Austria and Germany into one Reich, and
he also alluded to the integration of Switzerland into his Grossdeutschland.
During the Middle Ages, Switzerland had been part of the Holy Roman Empire,
the first Reich in Nazi terminology. The Nazi's now were proclaiming that
they intended to expand Germany's boundaries to the furtherest limits
of the old Holy Roman Empire and even beyond. Prof. Banse wrote:
We count you Swiss as offshoots of the German nation;
day we will group ourselves around a single banner and whoever wishes
to separate us, we will exterminate!
It is remarkable that, unlike the Napoleonic War and WW I, when many Swiss
were divided along ethnic lines with French and Italian speakers leaning
towards France and Italy, and German-speakers sympathising with Prussia
and Germany, the Swiss were united from 1933 on in their opposition to
national socialism. Switzerland proved that French, German and Italian
speaking citizens could live together harmoniously. Alone amongst the
European nations, Switzerland remained immune to the infectious virus
of the New World Order proclaimed by the Nazi's. In fact, the German-speaking
Swiss became the most vehemently anti-Nazi group in the world. A war of
words took place in Swiss and German newspapers. Swiss defiance of tyranny
and zeal for justice and liberty soared. The people flocked to the shooting
being smuggled across Lake Constance from Germany were intercepted. Four
Swiss-Nazi's stood trial in Bern for promoting racial hatred. The Swiss
began building fortifications along their borders. From 1935, as violations
of Swiss air space increased, Switzerland began regular air raid drills.
An attempt to introduce strong centralised government was overwhelmingly
defeated by referendum!
programmes escalated. A federal police force was introduced to counter
pro-Nazi and Italian 5th column activities. Numerous espionage plots by
both Nazi's and communists were uncovered. On 18th February 1936, the
Federal council ordered the immediate suppression of all Nazi organisations
in Switzerland. In 1937, the Communist Party and all other parties affiliated
with foreign organisations were outlawed. A report surfaced, alleging
some 500 Gestapo agents were in Switzerland, conducting espionage.
a new rifle the K31 carbine was introduced into the Swiss army. The Swiss
design was far superior to all existing military rifles in the world at
that time in terms of accuracy, weight, handling and ease of loading.
Almost 350 000 K31 rifles had been produced by 1945.
when neighbouring Austria was swallowed up by Nazi Germany, without a
shot being fired, it was widely believed that Switzerland would be next.
Simultaneously, Switzerland was flooded with Nazi propaganda and attacked
by a journalist offensive. To counter Gestapo espionage, the Swiss military
organised the counter-spy SPAB (Spionage Abwehr).
CONTINUED IN NEXT EDITION.
with the outbreak of World War II