Edition 3, 2002: Reformation & Resistance - Switzerland's Secret Strategy for Survival


"If you want peace, prepare for war."
"Peace is achieved through superior firepower."

These quotes 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 - and until now 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 either to 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. 

The Unstoppable Offensive

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. Holland fell 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. 

Yet, despite Hitler's frequently repeated threats to invade, "liquidate" and annex Switzerland to his Gross- deutschland, (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 an 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. 

A Legacy of Liberty

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 republic and 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 representative republic, 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. 

Many would 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 were 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 1940 alone, 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. 

While Hitler 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. 

Swiss Sanctuary

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.

Resistance to Tyranny

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. 

Later he 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. In 1315, at the Battle of Morgarten, 1 400 Swiss peasants ambushed 20 000 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 people. 

In 1339, 6 500 Swiss infantrymen defeated 12 000 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, 4 000 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 10 000 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). 

In 1495, 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. 

Even the 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, including the Second Amendment. 

Subversion and Betrayal

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 by 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. 

Learning from Defeat

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. 

Peace Through Superior Firepower

In 1847, the Protestant cantons put down a separatist revolt by Catholic revolutionaries. In 1857, the Prussian Kaiser mobilised over 150 000 soldiers to invade Switzerland over a border dispute. The Swiss mobilised 30 000 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 soldiers 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. 

In sharp 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 maneuvers, 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 twice!" 

In 1911, 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 300 000 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." 

The Great War

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. 

The Nazi Threat

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. 

From the 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." Their SSV 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 1933, "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; … one day we will group ourselves around a single banner and whoever wishes to separate us, we will exterminate!" 

United in Resistance

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 ranges. 

Explosives 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. 

Major rearmament 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 that some 500 Gestapo agents were in Switzerland, conducting espionage. 

In 1935, 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. 350 000 K31 rifles had been produced by 1945. 

In 1938, 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). 

Isolated But Defiant

As Austria ceased to exist as an independent state, the Swiss Parliament issued the following declaration: "It is Switzerland's mission in Europe to guard the passage over the Alps in the interests of all. It is the unanimous and unshakeable will of the Swiss people to assure the respect of its independence at the price of its blood … the Swiss people are united in the determination to defend at any cost, to the last breath, and against anyone, the incomparable country which is theirs by God's will." They also noted that while "the Swiss people are prepared to consent to the sacrifices necessary for the National Defence, but the military armament of the country would be useless, if it did not rest on the spiritual and moral forces of the whole people." 

Military service was extended. Fighter planes and tanks were purchased, pill-box fortresses were built along the Italian, Austrian, French and German borders. A New York Times article in 1938 noted: "Switzerland is the oldest republic in the world, the purest democracy in the world, an island of liberty in a sea of dictatorship … a citadel of peace through stormy centuries … grimly waiting in their calm, undramatic way with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets." Hitler and Mussolini now ruled a combined 120 million people. The Swiss numbered but 4 million. Zurich, it's largest city, numbered 300 000. 

Disarmed and Dismembered

Yet, instead of its expected attack on Switzerland, the Nazi's next turned their attention to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia resembled Switzerland in that its people consisted of an ethnic and linguistic mix, and were neutral. However, Czechoslovakia had a highly centralised government, and a mostly disarmed people. They were ripe for Hitler's attention. Through bullying, bluffs and intimidation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered, piece by piece, and fell without a shot being fired. The country ceased to exist and was absorbed into Nazi Germany, Hungary and Poland. The Swiss were well aware that, from the first day of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, posters were placed up in every town, ordering the inhabitants to surrender all firearms. The penalty for disobedience was death! To the Swiss, the connection between firearms and freedom was obvious. Tyrants prefer disarmed victims. Those who want freedom must be willing to fight for it. 

Armed and Resolute

As the Gestapo were energetically disarming citizens all over central Europe, the Swiss government were ensuring that every home was well equipped with weapons and ammunition. The Swiss also lowered the age for national service and increased the obligation to serve in the Swiss military to age 60. 

General Guisan, in his book "Our People and its Army" asserted that military defence has two essential components - moral force and material force. Guisan emphasised some of the special Swiss customs: "a young man at his confirmation received a sword and could not marry unless he possessed a Bible and firearm." The local assemblies (Landsgemeinde) of law makers each carry a sword as a symbol of liberty when they gather for legislation. Days of military recruitment were festivals with processions, flags and music. "Being capable of military service is a physical certificate of health; our girls know it well!" The warrior spirit exhibits itself in the arts, literature and architecture. The army is the incarnation of the Federal Republic . "The people are the army, the army is the people." The army provided education for citizenship. Switzerland's strength was based on diversity. "It would be as vain to want to unify Switzerland as to attempt to level her mountains!" We must be "united, strong and vigilant."

The League of Nations had failed, only the Swiss army itself could preserve Switzerland’s neutrality and sovereignty. “We have a small army, yes, but it is made strong by our traditions.” “The nation would continue to exist only if it was strong enough to defend itself.” Guisan insisted that “the oldest army in Europe must know neither defeatism nor fear; dignity forbids it!”

The SSV published this plea: “We owe it to our ancestors, who always appreciated freedom and independence … but we owe it also to those who will live after us … we must trust to God on high and never be intimidated by the power of man. It is better to die than to live in slavery!” 

Preparing for War

The Swiss established anti-aircraft batteries around all major towns. Most households were equipped with gas masks. Mines under all bridges and roads leading into Switzerland were in place already from 1938, and all these roads and bridges were under 24-hour guard. During one emergency, the entire Swiss army was mobilised within 2 hours. The population was instructed to stockpile food. Vast quantities of foodstuff and ammunition were stockpiled in fortified emplacements in the Alps. Many women's groups also began to get armed and firearms training. 


There were many attempts by the Nazi's to intimidate Switzerland into curtailing their free press from criticizing the Third Reich. Spies and saboteurs were a constant danger, and on 1 September 1939, WW II was launched by Hitler's invasion of Poland. For the first time in history, the world witnessed the tactics of blitzkrieg - lightning war - in which tanks would slice into and surround an enemy's front and planes would swarm behind the enemy lines as mobile artillery. Much of the Polish Air Force was caught by surprise and destroyed on the ground. As Warsaw fell, the Nazi's conducted house-to-house searches to confiscate all firearms. Persons found in possession of firearms were executed. 

As Britain and France declared war on Germany, the Swiss faced a new threat. The French considered invading Germany through Switzerland's Geneva Gap. The Swiss mobilised to resist both German and French invasions. From 22 September, Swiss anti-aircraft batteries began firing on German war planes violating Switzerland's air space. They also had to fire on French war planes near Basel. 

On 30 November 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland. The Swiss were encouraged by the effective resistance of the Finns, also a nation of marksman on skis. The Finns demonstrated throughout the winter war that a small population could, in fact, successfully resist a strong aggressor. 

Neutral Nations Fall

The Nazi press began a systematic journalistic barrage against the Swiss, which always preceeded a Nazi invasion. Swiss Intelligence learned of Germany's plans to invade Denmark and Norway in April, and passed this information on to the allied chiefs of staff, who discounted it. When the German invasion of Denmark and Norway came, they were ill prepared. For the first time in history, air transport played a major role in an offensive, placing German forces in key positions behind and among the Norweigan defences. Even when the Germans enjoyed no numerical superiority, they won easy victories. General Dietl's mountain troops at Narvik, although numbering only 4 500 against the 25 000 allies, routed the British, French and Norweigan troops. The Swiss noted that a German attack on the Swiss Alps would inevitably employ paratroopers, gliders and specially trained mountain divisions. Switzerland recognised that they were facing the greatest threat in their history. 

Total Resistance

In sharp contrast to the highly centralised structures in other countries, the distinctive Swiss command was for each individual soldier to act on its own initiative: "Where no officers or non-commissioned officers are present, each soldier acts under exertion of all powers of his own initiative." The entire nation was mobilised for invasion, and the Widerstandsgeist (the resistance spirit) was the most determined and pervasive in Europe. 

As Berlin complained about the incessant anti-Nazism of the Swiss press, the Swiss government responded that it was: "the duty of our press to reject the domestic and foreign policies of the national socialists clearly and forcefully." 

Aerial Dogfights

As the Western front opened on 10 May 1940 with a German invasion of Holland, Belgium and France, 27 bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe on Northern Switzerland, and Swiss anti-aircraft guns drove away German bombers and fighters. A Swiss squadron of pursuit planes engaged the Luftwaffe and a Swiss ME-109 shot down a Heinkel-111, twin-engine bomber. This was the first of many instances in which the Swiss used aircraft, initially purchased from Germany, to shoot down Luftwaffe warplanes.

German reconnaissance aircraft, equipped with cameras, flying over the fortified Northern frontier of Switzerland, were driven away by anti-aircraft fire. On 1 June, 36 German bombers entered Swiss air space and were attacked by Swiss ME-109’s. Two HE-111 bombers were shot down. The next day another HE-111 was shot down by a Swiss fighter. On 4 June, as the British army was being evacuated from Dunkirk, the Swiss Air Force was engaged in an intensive dog-fight with 29 German planes. Both Luftwaffe and Swiss planes were shot down. 

One German aircraft had the following order on board: “Lure the Swiss fighters into battle and shoot down as many as possible.” On 8 June, it was David against Goliath again – 15 Swiss aircraft engaged 28 Luftwaffe planes, resulting in the downing of 2 Swiss and 3 German aircraft.

"Invasion Inevitable"

World wide, the question was not whether the Wehrmacht would attack the Alpine Republic, but when. By 13 May, over 700 000 Swiss soldiers were mobilised - nearly 20% of the Swiss population, the highest percentage of any country in the war. As Italian troops massed on their Southern border, more divisions were rushed to the South. The League of Nations, the International Red Cross and the American Consul fled Geneva, Zurich and Basel in anticipation of the inevitable invasion. Aerial dog-fights between German and Swiss aircraft intensified. The USA urged all Americans in Switzerland to evacuate immediately. Holland and Belgium folded, and the British and French armies reeled back in retreat. 

To guard against sabotage, over 70 000 old rifles were issued to the Ortswehren or local defence units. And in reaction, the German government complained that the Swiss military was dispersing ammunitions and organising local citizens to wage partisan war if invaded! 

The military penal code was amended to provide for the death penalty for betrayal of military secrets and for treason. This was applicable to both soldiers and civilians. The Swiss prepared for the demolition of tunnels, bridges and railways in the event of invasion. 

On 16 June, 9 Nazi saboteurs were apprehended with large amounts of explosives, destined for Swiss air bases. Several Swiss were killed when the British Air Force accidentally bombed Geneva and Renens on 12 June. 14 June, Paris fell without a shot being fired. Gestapo spies were captured with lists of Swiss citizens to be seized, imprisoned or executed, upon occupation. Throughout the war, Nazi infiltrators and saboteurs continued to be apprehended. 18 June, Hitler and Mussolini discussed the conquest and division of Switzerland, between Germany and Italy. With the French surrender on 22 June, 1940, Switzerland was effectively surrounded. 

German publications stated: "Switzerland must quickly be swallowed … Switzerland must not be allowed to stay out of the reorganisation of Europe." Several military plans for the invasion of Switzerland were drawn up throughout WW II. After France was conquered and Italy entered the war, Switzerland offered the most direct route to transport men and supplies, between Italy and Germany. After the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, Germany's need to swiftly deploy more troops and supplies into Italy became even more urgent. With the Allies advancing in 1944 - 45, the Nazi leadership planned to make a stand in the Alps. 

Yet, on each occasion, the prospect of tackling the stubborn and obstinate resistance of an entire nation of sharpshooters on skis, caused the German High Command to repeatedly postpone the unpleasant task. 

The Alpine Republic's policy of armed neutrality was a complete success. Switzerland alone, among all the nations of Europe, successfully resisted 12 years of Nazi propaganda offensive, infiltration and subversion, and stared down repeated threats of invasion with calm determination and thorough preparations. The land of William Tell, Ulrich Zwingli, William Farrell and John Calvin, with its deep distrust of central governments, its abiding love for God's Word and for life and Liberty, remained a bastion of freedom in a continent overrun by tyranny. 

As Europe became an ocean of conflict, Switzerland stood firm as a island of liberty. Those who desire peace and prosperity would do well to learn from their inspiring example. 

Dr. Peter Hammond

Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa info@christianaction.org.za - 021-689-4481 - www.christianaction.org.za
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