How the Swiss stood up to Hitler

Twenty-six members of Bishopsteignton Probus Club enjoyed a zoom presentation by David Hinchliffe about Switzerland, which is double the size of Wales and despite its image as an alpine nation, the reality is that the alpine territory is limited to the south of the country.  It is multilingual with sixty-five per cent of its people speaking a Swiss form of German.  It is renowned for watch-making, chocolate, walking in picturesque landscapes and for its neutrality during conflicts.  In reality, the Swiss had a reputation for exceptional fighting skills in the middle ages and it is the Swiss Guard still protects the Pope today.

Despite its fame as a neutral country, it came as quite an eye-opener to club members when David said it became one of the most fortified countries during World War Two with artillery emplacements hidden throughout the country, camouflaged in a wide variety of places, including wooded areas, tunnels and in the mountains. Fortifications included reinforced concrete bomb shelters in the basements of homes and anti-tank guns camouflaged in homes and in thousands of tunnels, plus road blocks and mines    Their bridges and tunnels incorporated masses of inbuilt dynamite and they built air strips for their small but effective air force.

The fortification of Switzerland occurred very quickly after the start of World War Two.  The country had an agreement under which France would come to their aid if Germany invaded Switzerland, but France was one of the first countries to be taken over by Hitler.  This worried General Henri Guissan, Commander of the Swiss Army, and Swiss national leaders because it meant they were surrounded by countries under Hitler’s power: Germany; Austria; Italy; France.  It was this fear that led to such extensive “armed” neutrality and no national invasion of the country by Hitler.

Photo: Speaker David Hinchliffe in Switzerland

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