"Swiss Army" in WWII

Discussion in 'General' started by phylo_roadking, Nov 27, 2009.

  1. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    All, I'm looking for some general assistance.

    There is VERY little I can get at across the Internet with any DECENT level of detail on the WWII Swiss Army - lots of LOW level stuff, and I can get at a lot of VERY top-level stuff....but nothing that will answer a question that has arisen elsewhere....

    The Swiss Army consisted of a very small cadre...and from September 1939 to May 1940 28 reserve classes by-year from the age of 20 (the calendar year in which a recruit was 21) to 48 (50 and 52 for some small officer groups).

    These 28 reserve classes were divided into FOUR groups (formerly THREE)

    The Auszug (12 years' reserves)
    The Landwehr I (4 years' reserves)
    The Landwehr II (4 years' reserves)
    The Landsturm (8 years' reserves)

    (Formerly the TWO Landwehr groups had been one LARGE 8-year class group)

    The yearly classes numbered from 22,600 up to 25,000, giving the Swiss "Army" a paper strength of 632,000 to 700,000 men....

    Except it wasn't THAT simple...:D (what ever is????)

    It LOOKS from a number of sources that the SWISS themselves subdivided those reserve classes into TWO at a higher level - the Auszug and Landwehr were the "Field Army", while the Landsturm was the "Territorial Army"....

    thus when a LOT of sources, modern and period, talk about the Swiss "Army" they're ONLY talking about the FIELD Army! :mellow:

    This is, in many cases, borne out by the numbers. Take a look here, for instance...Schweizer Armee and go to the table halfway down.

    THERE you can see the table is headed "FIELD Army"....and the total of men available in May 1940, the second of two "General" mobilisations by the Swiss Army is some 433,000 men or so....

    And just by chance, if you ply a calculator, the PAPER total for the "Field Army" IF it is defined as JUST the Auszug and Landwehr - is ~450,000 men! :)

    ....and there should be ANOTHER 180,000 to 200,000 Landsturm - the "Territorials" - accounted for somewhere else! :mellow:

    Strangely enough - a lot of sources confirm that anywhere from 600,000 to 700,000 men IN TOTAL including "auxiliaries" WERE mobilised in 1940 :huh: So THERE the 180-200,000 or so Landsturm have at last materialised.

    Can ANYONE confirm if I'm reading all this right? Or is it merely coincidental that the numbers all happen to work out approximately right??? Or can you direct me to a DECENT resource on the Swiss Army ( of whatever definition??? :lol:) Preferably on the Net, but on paper if it be so...
     
  2. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Phylo,

    Switzerland demonstrated military readiness with the general mobilization in 1939 and border occupation by 430,000 troops (20 % of the employed persons). However, their equipment was not very up to date. Eugen Bircher, a Swiss colonel at the time, probably made a correct assessment of the situation when saying that the Germans would have been able to advance towards the Swiss capital Berne with a single tank regiment easily.

    Switzerland's Role in World War II

    Similar number to those you already mentioned.

    Regards
    Tom
     
  3. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    I often wondered why the Germans didnt invade - was it seen as not desirable?
     
  4. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Senior Member

    I often wondered why the Germans didnt invade - was it seen as not desirable?

    I'm being flip here, so don't hold it against me. It may have been that Hitler saw no point in robbing his own bank and making train travel between Germany and Italy more difficult?
     
  5. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    I'm being flip here, so don't hold it against me. It may have been that Hitler saw no point in robbing his own bank and making train travel between Germany and Italy more difficult?

    @brndirt1; it is slowly just getting boring to read such stereotype bullshit again and again.

    May you would be so kind and have a look on any map showing the situation in 1940 and then tell me, what you would have done, if you would have had to decide in place of Switzerland? Where would you have got your food and coal from if not from Germany in fact completely encircling you? How would you have paid for such deliveries?

    Or would you have attacked the Germans after they had kicked all the stronger armies in Europe?

    Switzerland was lucky that it did no have to prove the value of its defense strategy and its army and I would be the last to say, that everything Switzerland or Swiss people did during WW2 was just/right/good.

    But it is simply not true what you state above. Being Swiss national I had the chance to talk to many people who had lived in this period - and I truly believe that they were willing to fight as other nations did.

    It is 'fashionable' today to point on "black spots" of the past and to accuse the people who lived and had to decide then.

    Great!

    I would like to read what people after 65 years from now will write about you (and me :)) with all their knowledge they will have then.

    Personally, I wish that the todays Gouvernment of my Country would only have a quarter of the courage and that our people would be willing to give only 10% of what our grandfathers did. It is not a shame, what they did and probably had to do during WW2, it is a shame how WE judge them today and what WE are willing to do for our country today.

    (Don't kno, if this is only applicable fo Switzerland or for other Nations as well...)

    My opinion. Sorry for deviating from the original question.
     
    Owen and Heimbrent like this.
  6. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    @ phylo_roadking; remembering my service time with the CH Army (which ended in the 1990s, before all these fancy 'reformations'), we had still the same structure as you listed it above and the number of "available soldiers" was counted at 650'000. Don't know, if this helps a lot but I guess that everybody was counted, including the Landsturm.
     
  7. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Kuno - I've indeed got a lot of POST-war references to the Swiss Army that DO indeed mention the "Field Army" level - it's WWII and just before that I'm short of confirmation on!

    Ger - the Swiss fastened - after the Fall of France out them in a REALY precarious position - for a policy that became known as Dissuasion. Basically - while at the same time making trading and transport concessions to the Germans, and supplying war materiel...they ALSO made it VERY clear they would resist to the utmost ANY invasion by ANYONE - and kept the "Army" (it's just WHICH part I'm trying to find out!!!) mobilised from then to the end of the war to one extent or another.

    The Swiss - under Gen. Henri Guisan - completely rejigged their previous "Border" defence plans to a scheme of mere delaying stands on the borders and in the Swiss lowlands, allowing the Swiss Army time to retire into the Alpine
    Reduit - the National Redoubt, that covered about a third of Switzerland's map area. There they stockpiled supplies and munitions for the Army for six months, along with the half a million Swiss who normally lived there in the Highlands...and THEN they built the HUGE set of underground defences that Switzerland has been known for ever since to deny the Germans entry into the Redoubt.

    This plan went hand in hand with plans to demolish EVERY factory, road, railway and bridge in the country ahead of any german advance....and finally to drop the Gotthard and Simplon railway tunnels - thus denying to any invader the only "strategic" reason for occupying Switzerland...

    Thus an invader would be faced by

    1. An army of at least 630,000 UNIFORMED men, and several hundred thousand more pre-military service youths/old men in the Ortswehr and Burgerwehr home guards

    2. a strategic defence position that would be impossible to assault once winter started, and through until the rivers went out of spate AFTER the Spring thaw - say five months of the year???

    3. ....that could form the nucleus for very effective Finnish-style operations in winter behind the lines of the German forces encircling the Reduit...

    4. The occupied lowlands would be FILLED with armed Swiss citizens ready to resist...

    5. and EVERYTHING of ANY use or interest to an invader destroyed!

    The policy of Dissuasion was simply making Switzerland TOO expensive an conquest for very little return. NOTHING that the Germans actually got out of Switzerland peacefully would be theirs if they resorted to war...while that would tie down German forces for months if not years and cost thousands of casualties.

    (In the Dolomite Campaign in WWI for example, in the Tyrol - AVALANCHES alone killed 60,000 Austrian and Italian soldiers!)

    In OTHER words...it relied to telling people that "it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters - but the size of the fight in the dog!" It ALSO meant that the Swiss were very open about military affairs and SOME plans, and carried out training, military manouvers etc. in the full glare of what passed for press coverage (Switzerland had a very restricted press in WWII - most Neutrals did, it as a way of ensuring nothing annoying was said about the Great Powers/Belligerents) It ALSO meant they had to defend their borders very vigorously - which in the air they did! ;)
     
  8. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    The problem on numbers however is -

    We have two VERY reliable comments - one of them fromm Allen Dulles, OSS head-of-station in Berne from 1942 onwards...that the Swiss could muster a total of 850,000 men in their "armed forces"....the other from the historian Neville Wylie stating the same total number of all arms.

    Note - "armed forces".....NOT the "Army" ;)

    This number included...

    The "regular "army, with it's lowest intake age now lowered to 19, and divided into the three named sections we see above;

    An "unarmed" landsturm...men who are of Landsturm age but not fit enough to bear arms; THEY could carry out non-combat roles;

    And a whole raft of other "volunteer" organisations - the Home Guards, the Ortswehren and Burgerwehren (boys 16-19, men 50-60 I.E. OUTSIDE Army "reserve" status, but still able to fire a rifle!), various Civil Defence organisations...AND an unknown number of Swiss WOMEN who joined volunteer iorganisations - AND voluntarily underwent weapons training!

    What I'm trying to find out NOW is totals for all those - and a DEFINITIVE list of the names EACH organisation was known by. There are SO many loose references to "auxiliaries" when they should mean Landsturrm/Ortswehren, for instance...

    Under the Swiss constitution, there WAS a "report" by Gen. Guisan after the war to the federal government at Berne regarding the conduct of the Swiss armed forces during the ENTIRE "emergency", and everyhting I need to know would be in THERE - but I don't have access to it :(
     
  9. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    @ phylo; I must admit that whilst I believe to have read your figures as well - although years back, I cannot just confirm them. I will see, if I can find some addresses whom might be helpful in that case but Ifear that there is a lot just sitting in the archives, waiting for somebody to discover it...
     
  10. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    ...and that's exactly the problem; the Swiss Federal Archives (the SFA) aren't "get-attable" via the Internet. You CAN tease out listings of what's in there, but then that means legwork....and more importantly at this time of year - wallet work! :(
     
  11. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    ...there was no only the famous Reduit. As far as I recall, only short before war broke out, the borders against Germany were fortified in a rush. Who was not in the army was employed in one way or the other.

    Along the river Rhine, a line of bunkers was erected. They had no frontal defence weapons but were overlapping each others. Concrete thickness was 3 metres. Thea weapons were only machine guns (obviously, nothing else was available) but they were installed with panoramic photos so that shooting was possible on command from outside without the gunner had to see the enemy.

    A second line was some kilometres behind and passages were heavily blocked by A/T walls, trenches & cubicles.

    Attached picture shows one of these bunkers near where I have grown up. As you can see, it is buit directly into the river Rhine. The access is granted via a small bridge. I remember, when I was a child, to have asked one of those who ocupied these bunkers during the war about eventual secret tunnels to escape once the enemy would have crossed the river...

    He said, that their strongest weapon probably was, that the Germans knew for sure that they could not withdrew.

    Maybe only silly paroles. But it gives an indcation on how common soldiers thought.
     

    Attached Files:

  12. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Yep - these were of course still to be used as part of the local delaying tactics - but it was these that Guisan decided to abandon in 1940 as a full strategic defensive position....

    They were a bit pointless as part of a full BORDER defnce - when after mid-June the Germans could come in time of war via FRANCE...
     
  13. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Just as an aside - there ARE hints here and there in what's available publically that the Swiss DID plan to use the Bernese Oberland as a redoubt even before the Reduit was planned, as part of a final fallback position to their original "border" defence.

    I'm ALSO trying to find out what materiel and stores they had already moved into there between September 1939 and late June 1940, when the Reduit was being planned.
     
  14. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    They were a bit pointless as part of a full BORDER defnce - when after mid-June the Germans could come in time of war via FRANCE...

    Agree. I don't know, if after the French surrender, the Borders against France wer fortified as well (or if they have already been...)
     
  15. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    (or if they have already been...)


    No. Until the Fall of France, there were COVERT plans for the French to actively cooperate with the Swiss if they were invaded by the Germans....for the long pass from Southern Germany via Lake Geneva was regarded as one of the natural invasion routes into France!

    Thus the border wasn't fortified at all....and the FIRST thing that had to be done after the Armistice was redeploy the ENTIRE Swiss Army in an attempt to secure the WHOLE frontier....including ITALY, after all, who was NOW in the war!

    Obviously this simply couldn't be done :( NOT in anything like enough strength to make any ONE part of the border secure....hence the move at THAT point to the more - "condensed"? - Reduit Plan.
     
  16. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    to secure the WHOLE frontier....including ITALY, after all, who was NOW in the war!.

    After the Italian performance against France was seen, I think the danger from the South had not to be considered as too big B)
     
  17. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    After the Italian performance against France was seen, I think the danger from the South had not to be considered as too big


    PERFORMANCE is one thing...but SIZE was something completely different ;) As in being a suitable diversion at the same time as a German attack....!
     
  18. Kuno

    Kuno Very Senior Member

    I start to recognize, that if I return to Switzerland, I will have plenty of interesting WW2 stuff t study there :)
     
  19. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    That's the problem :D I think anyone interested has to BE in Switzerland to get the real goods!
     
  20. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Senior Member

    @brndirt1; it is slowly just getting boring to read such stereotype bullshit again and again.

    May you would be so kind and have a look on any map showing the situation in 1940 and then tell me, what you would have done, if you would have had to decide in place of Switzerland? Where would you have got your food and coal from if not from Germany in fact completely encircling you? How would you have paid for such deliveries?

    Or would you have attacked the Germans after they had kicked all the stronger armies in Europe?

    Switzerland was lucky that it did no have to prove the value of its defense strategy and its army and I would be the last to say, that everything Switzerland or Swiss people did during WW2 was just/right/good.

    But it is simply not true what you state above. Being Swiss national I had the chance to talk to many people who had lived in this period - and I truly believe that they were willing to fight as other nations did.

    It is 'fashionable' today to point on "black spots" of the past and to accuse the people who lived and had to decide then.

    Great!

    I would like to read what people after 65 years from now will write about you (and me :)) with all their knowledge they will have then.

    Personally, I wish that the todays Gouvernment of my Country would only have a quarter of the courage and that our people would be willing to give only 10% of what our grandfathers did. It is not a shame, what they did and probably had to do during WW2, it is a shame how WE judge them today and what WE are willing to do for our country today.

    (Don't kno, if this is only applicable fo Switzerland or for other Nations as well...)

    My opinion. Sorry for deviating from the original question.

    And for ignoring the sacrasm implied in my post, "just being flip", I take no offense. I apologize to you, obviously you didn't interpret my post as anything more than a "joke" reply, and not sterotypical BS insulting to the Swiss.
     

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