Switzerland in WW2....Any comments?

Discussion in 'General' started by spidge, Apr 21, 2006.

  1. spidge


    No European country remained truly neutral during WWII. Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland all worked to some extent with the Axis. In Switzerland, the people who lived through the war wanted to believe that it was their army and fortifications that kept the Nazis out. Historical research and documents clearly show that if the Nazis wanted to invade Switzerland, it would have been quick and relatively easy. The reason Germany spared its tiny neighbor to the south was because Switzerland proved much more useful as an independent state than as a satellite. The Swiss made many useful weapon components (aluminium for the Luftwaffe, spark plugs for jeeps taken from the Russians, timing devices for bombs, among other things), and thus their factories were not bombed every night. The Swiss National bank bought gold from the Reichsbank, the Reichsbank was given Swiss francs in exchange, and used them to buy cobalt, nickel and tungsten from the other “neutral” countries. The Turks, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish, who were all under heavy pressure from the Allies not to accept direct gold payment from the Reichsbank, then exchanged the Swiss francs for gold. The problem was that the German gold came from the Belgian National bank reserves (not from concentration camps as some sensationalists would have it) and the neutrals knew it. Finally, the Swiss allowed trains to carry food and non-weapon supplies from Germany to Italy, with dozens of trains every day on their way to Africa. But did Switzerland have any other choice? Probably not. Totally surrounded by the Axis, most of its coal supply came from Germany every week, and all of its exports had to go through Axis controlled territory. For a landlocked country with no natural resources, this meant the Swiss had to work out some form of accommodation with their neighbors. The problem is that the postwar generations have been raised to believe that it was the Swiss army, and not the country’s usefulness to the Germans, that protected it from the wrath of war. The Swiss are now coming to terms with this part of their history, as for example the people of France and Japan have. As a foreigner, it is best to avoid passing judgment on them and giving lessons, at the risk of offending your hosts.

    Courtesy of http://switzerland.isyours.com/e/swiss-business-guide/wwii.html
  2. Warulfsdottyr

    Warulfsdottyr Junior Member

    with 60% of the swiss speaking german and living in "southgerman" culture I would say that the swiss/hitler might have done the same as with austria.
  3. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    Just been reading about the Swiss in WWII.
    Were they neutral? Swiss soldiers were ordered to fire upon any USAAF airmen trying to escape from it's borders.
    Reading about USAAF airman Dan Culler makes me think again. The guy was put in a camp after being caught escaping. Russians (in the camp with him) stuffed straw in his mouth, held him down and they sodomized him repeatedly. Not even his own govt believed him when he interrogated after the war about what happened.
    The Swiss dealt with the Nazis nearly right up to the bitter end of WWII.

    Daniel Culler at Wauwilermoos Federal Prison in Switzerland.
    Remembering World War Two Airmen: Dan Culler--An American Hero

    Makes me look upon the Swiss with a whole new outlook.
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Did the Swiss have much choice but help their powerful neighbour it's too damned close?
    Having drove along the south side of the Bodensee last week from Germany into Austria and then into Swizterland and back into Germany you are always aware that the Germans could have walked in at anytime.
    By working with them and keeping them "sweet" Switzerland stayed unoccupied/annexed.

    Having the Channel to keep us British safe and the Atlantic for the North Americans we mustn't be too harsh on them.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Going by the first line of the quote in Spidge's post:
    "No European country remained truly neutral during WWII."

    Just wondering if there are any stories about 'pro-Allies' Swiss?

  6. Herakles

    Herakles Senior Member

    I would have thought all the above was accepted.

    And I have always believed that the country's neutrality was most useful to the Allies also.
  7. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    I understand the Swedish treatment of fallen airmen was far more acceptable.
  8. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would dispute that Portugal is among the those who did not hold neutrality.However Portugal was one of those neutrals whose location was used by both sides as a conduit for the the passage of intelligence.A place where agents could find themselves on adjacent tables in a restaurant but the nation was one of being pro British.

    Spain was an entirely different matter.Franco was offered Gibralter if he would allow the passage of German troops through Spain and the means to take it.However Franco knew the risk he would be taking and resisted Hitler's offer.Had he been drawn into the Axis fold,Franco would have lost power in 1945 or earlier and the right wing grip on Spanish politics would have ended within 10 years.Without doubt during World War 2, Spain was still engaged in the continuation of the Spanish Main conflict.If Spain could have seen Great Britain's neck wrung at this point she would have enjoyed it.(To my mind,the conflict in the Falklands saw Spain's postion being anti British but on this occasion they could not do much against Britsh interests.)

    Spain were definitely pro German and the country was a hot bed of German spies and intelligence.(They were hoodwinked famously as people will recall.).Not a very good place to be for evading Allied personnel who were usually incarcerated for months in vile conditions.Matters were normally eased when the British Consul could intervene and quicker the better or the British Consul was prewarned of personnel entering Spain through networks such as the Comet Line.Entry was usually over the top via the Pyrennes and valuable aid was given by pro Allied guides, some of whom were dye hard Republicans.However some of the entries failed due to various reasons on both sides of the border.From Spain, escapes entered Gibralter for the flight home if they were important personnel or by ship if they were mere foot soldiers.

    Switzerland was "neutral" to both sides and tended to be a receiving area for escapees from the Nazis.Again these people required the intervention of Allied Consuls and the sooner the better.There are many details of agents crossing from France into Switzerland when their postion became precarious.Switzerland was also the venue for informal meetings between Nazi dissidents and the Allied powers especially towards the end of the war when the "writing was on the wall".It was a certain a location where meetings could be held for whatever reason away from Nazi prying eyes.

    There are a number of examples where Switzerland also gave a blind eye to anti Nazi organisations. It tended to be a safe haven for those fleeing Nazi terror, a place which an escapee could use as a stepping stone for freedom.One example springs to mind when two Dutch SOE agents escaped from certain death in Holland to Switzerland and broke the "Englandspiel" German counter intelligence plan.As it was, this game cost SOE 40 agents, mostly put to death at Mathausen.Had there not been a "neutral" Switzerland, this tragedy would have gone on until Holland was overrun and that was almost at the wars end.

    I cannot recall an occasion when those seeking a safe haven in Switzerland were refused entry and that really was the same position for others entering the other neutrals although the Spainish internment camps were very harsh, the one at Miranda being notorious. It has to be said that the Vichy internment camps were similar to Miranda (Vichy France declared war on Great Britain as one of her first policies) and British POW escapees recorded inhumane treatment at the hands of Hitler's new Vichy ally. Spanish Republicans were treated very badly by Vichy in their internment camps.These escapees from Franco in many cases joined Maquis or FTP groups when they could.You may find these people as "Inconnu" on French war memorials.

    Switzerland, of course protected its borders and usually this took the form of AA fire against their airspace intruders when Allied aircrfat diverted for whatever reason.This was all part of the Swiss authorities enforcement of her neutrality.It has to be said that Nazi Germany could have overrun Switzerland at anytime.The Swiss Army would have been no more effective in the field as Denmark's army were.The fact is quite simple, Nazi Germany required a conduit for its financial dealings,Switzerland would be hardly the country that would have been drawn into any Allied alliance and for their part the Allies viewed a neutral Switzerland as having some advantage for them and not from the point as abase for direct military action.

    If Switzerland is to be condemned, it has to be for its secretive banking system which allowed the Nazis as a nation and as individual Nazi icons to safely deposit their loot in Swiss banks without the fear of discovery.I notice that Swiss banks issued public notices only a few years ago for victims of Nazism to claim monies from these accounts which had been formed from the illegal requisition by the Nazi regime of individuals accounts and holdings in Germany and those seized similarly from those in occupied countries.

    All neutrals traded,it depended on what their manufacturing industry could offer.I would say that of all these neutrals, Switzerland excelled in it banking proficiency but Sweden must be the one with a close affinity with Nazi Germany.Latepost war,it has resulted in some soul searching by young Swedes but the facts basically are that while Germany was well represented in Stockholm,the British equally were represented in terms of intelligence and as a conduit for escapees from Nazi Germany to the repatriation of downed aircrews from diversions.

    Sweden collaborated with Germany when they allowed German troops safe passage to northern Norway to secure the safe passage of Swedish iron ore from Norwegian ports.No doubt Sweden suppplied Germany with the material of war, the supplying of special additives for the manufacture of high quality special steel comes to mind.However Britain prospered by sourcing ball bearings from Sweden.Mosquito flights,almost a daily service was set from Sweden to Great Britain for these supplies in addition to the transporting of POW escapees (not many ) and RAF aircrew internees (far better treatment than Spain).These arrangements were organised and carried out under the noses of the Swedish authorities without official complaint.

    For the RAF, noticing Swedish air space with their lighting unrestricted gave an instant navigation fix for aircrew and a divertion to Sweden as number of RAF aircraft had to undertake was known to be met with civilised authority and a quick contact with the British Consul and a return to Great Britain.

    Amusingly,I read a letter recently from a veteran RAF pilot on the point of officialdom and financial settlements.His Lancaster diverted to Sweden and landed with all the crew intact.They were eventually received by the British Consul who made arrangements for air repatriation.As the boss, he was given the equivalent of £5 in Swedish Krona to cover toiletries for himself and his crew.For the administration of the accounts, he had to give a signiture to the Britsh Consul against his advance. He records they were back quickly in Great Britain and back on operations when found that the £5 had already been deducted from his monthy pay.

    Sweden was also the safe haven achieved by the Norwegians after their successful destruction of the Norse Hydro Heavy Water factory.It must have been a reassuring feeling that they would not be detained and reurned back to Norway into the hands of the German authorities.

    Neutrality of a country gives both sides engaged in conflict, certain advantages which at the time are seen as appropriate in waging of war and are not necessarily identical.The outstanding example where "neutrality" was one sided was the neutrality of the US prior to December 1941 where the US,after some dificulty at home was more than generous to Great Britain in its interpretation of "neutrality"
    von Poop, dbf and Owen like this.
  9. smc

    smc Member

    The problem is that the postwar generations have been raised to believe that it was the Swiss army, and not the country’s usefulness to the Germans, that protected it from the wrath of war.

    I'm currently reading Clair Wills - This Neutral Island about the Republic of Ireland during the Second World War (Great in places but the author is an Irish Literature specialist rather than a historian which shows) and it seems De Valera pushed exactly the same viewpoint across with the Irish during WW2 even though he knew the Irish Army was little more than impotent (No navy, a handful of obsolete tanks, outmoded weaponry). Seems the point here and may well have been the same for Switzerland is the need for the government of the time to somehow to give the mindset that it is the government of that country in control rather than the reality that they have no control over the events outside their jurisdiction. The result is of course that after the event this official review becomes historical and isn't questioned until much later.

    Saying that, the Swiss did mobilise in 1939 and began preparing before the fall of France. Its air force did shoot down Luftwaffe planes violating their airspace during that campaign as well as American bombers who did the same in 1944-45. It was threatened with invasion from July 1940 and its army staff did draw up plans based on a guerilla war of attrition something quite easy to do in mountainous terrain. It also made it known that both Gotthard and Simplon Tunnels were to be destroyed in the event of an invasion which provided the best form of communication between Germany and the south something they needed as the theatres in North Africa and the Balkans developed. Needless to say once surrounded the Swiss had to rely on the Axis to survive and really didn't have much choice economically until southern France fell in late 1944. The banking sector on the hand is another matter, the Swiss Franc was the only freely convertible currency available during the war which meant both sides traded heavily in gold which with the Nazis was often not theirs.

    I think with neutrals you have to look into their situation without looking through Allied tinted glasses, a number of countries sat out WW1 and near enough all of them wanted to do the same the second time round. Hitler's invasion of a number of neutral states actually scared a lot of the remaining neutrals and often gave them stark choices; do you stand up to a big bully or agree to his demands in the hope that doing something useful for them they won't attack you.
  10. deadb_tch

    deadb_tch the deadliest b#tch ever

    Reading about USAAF airman Dan Culler makes me think again. The guy was put in a camp after being caught escaping. Russians (in the camp with him) stuffed straw in his mouth, held him down and they sodomized him repeatedly. Not even his own govt believed him when he interrogated after the war about what happened.
    The Swiss dealt with the Nazis nearly right up to the bitter end of WWII.

    Daniel Culler at Wauwilermoos Federal Prison in Switzerland.
    Remembering World War Two Airmen: Dan Culler--An American Hero

    Makes me look upon the Swiss with a whole new outlook.

    Damn! First time I hear something like this :huh::huh::huh:
  11. Herakles

    Herakles Senior Member

    Two fascinating posts that trebled my knowledge on this subject. All I knew before was what I gleaned from reading the book The Wooden Horse.

    I would like someone to now post something on the role of American neutrality prior to Pearl Harbor.

    Although it's slightly off-topic, I know the Americans were most useful to British and Australian POWs interned in Turkey because of Gallipoli. Which is as well as their treatment was dreadful.
  12. WotNoChad?

    WotNoChad? Senior Member

    A well detailed thread which I wish I had more time to respond to.

    Would add that the Swiss neutrality worked both ways. For example it allowed Fritz Kolbe to contact Allen Dulles with some quite incredibly detailed information by the bucket-load, and for that data to be transported back to friendly hands typically through France with the help of the Marquis and Swiss citizens.

    Not nice but it needs saying, that info alone was worth more than the lives which were lost by the negative Swiss actions.


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