France was defeated. So too were Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Belgium. Austria and Czechoslovakia had been incorporated into the Greater German Reich and the fascist regime of Francisco Franco held sway over the Iberian Peninsula. In June of 1940, all that remained, surrounded by enemies, was the Swiss Confederation.
Hitler called it a “pimple on the face of Europe.” In the heady days of victory for the Third Reich, a move against the alpine republic seemed inevitable. Even before the Fall of France was made official, plans were being drawn up for ‘Operation Tannenbaum,’ the German invasion of Switzerland. Yet Hitler’s attention was soon drawn towards Britain, and eventually the plan fell by the wayside as he began focusing attention on his Bolshevik neighbor to the East, but his eyes would return to that “Swiss cancer.”
For years, the Swiss had had every reason to expect invasion. After Hitler came to power in 1933, he immediately began making overtures towards the various Nazi and pro-Nazi organizations in German-speaking countries (particularly Austria and Switzerland).The Führer warned against the possibility of Germany ending her days “as a second Switzerland,” serving others as a “slave nation.” Whether cautionary tale, empty rhetoric, or even plain contempt, the Swiss took Hitler’s remarks – and actions – to heart. Everything seemed to point towards German designs on the tiny alpine nation, despite its centuries-old tradition of neutrality and complete disdain for the trendy “pan-this and pan-that” sweeping across Europe.
Textbooks in Germany included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Bohemia-Moravia, the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and western Poland from Danzig to Krakow in maps of Greater Germany.
The author of one of these textbooks, Professor Ewald Banse, responded to Swiss criticisms of his maps by explaining: “Quite naturally we count you Swiss as offshoots of the German nation (along with the Dutch, the Flemings, the Lorrainers, the Alsatians, the Austrians and the Bohemians … One day we will group ourselves around a single banner, and whosoever shall wish to separate us, we will exterminate!” Various Nazis were vocal about the German intent to “expand Germany’s boundaries to the farthest limits of the old Holy Empire, and even beyond.”
In response to this bellicosity, a “sharp increase” in defense spending was approved, with a first installment of 15 million Swiss francs (from a total multi-year budget of 100 million CHF.) to go towards modernization. With Hitler’s renunciation of the Versailles Treaty in 1935, this spending jumped up to 90 million CHF. The budget would only continue to rise as war seemed increasingly inevitable, and this lead in turn to the development of several signature Swiss small arms. The K31 became the standard-issue infantry rifle, and was superior to the German Kar98 in ease of use, accuracy, and weight. By the end of World War II, nearly 350,000 would be produced.
All the branches of the military were in need of modernization, and the Air Force was no exception. The Swiss managed to get the best technology from both parties on the brink of war. The French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 was produced under license in Switzerland starting in 1938. While the general reputation of the 406 leaves something to be desired, the Swiss managed to upgrade the engine and the propeller, re-designating it the D-3800, and giving it something more of an advantage over the various German fighters of the day.
The few Nazis in Switzerland were, despite their numbers, taken very seriously. There is much data to make the case that at least in the early days of the NSDAP, a great deal of funding came from various Swiss sources.
In 1923, Hitler had been invited to give a talk in Zurich by Ulrich Willie, Jr., the son of Switzerland’s World War I commander-in-chief. Hitler returned “with a steamer trunk stuffed with Swiss francs and American dollars.” Two years earlier, a group of “predominantly high-ranking civil servants, university and high school teachers, publicists, some businessmen, and many army officers” had founded the Volksbund für eine unabhängige Schweiz (People’s Union for an Independent Switzerland, or VUS), at first merely to protest Swiss entry into the League of Nations. To the goals of the VUS was soon added the containment of communism in Europe. Thus, there was enough sympathy to generate a not insignificant amount of funding for the NSDAP and other professed anti-communist groups.
The VUS was primarily Zurich-based, but together with likeminded home guards in other regions of the country, the Schweizerischer Vaterländischer Verband (Swiss Patriotic Federation, or SVV) was formed. This slightly pro-Nazi, semi-authoritarian organization could count among its members none other than Henri Guisan. However, as Raffael Scheck points out, the Swiss population as a whole, including many members of the VUS and SVV after Hitler’s ascent to power, was “largely united in hostility to Nazi Germany.”
While the Nazi movement failed to gain a serious foothold in the country, pro-Nazi agitation was seen as a potential precursor to war. Hitler, after all, had relied on far more flimsy pretenses before. The Swiss were not particularly receptive to the idea of a Großdeutschland, and official broadcasts and speeches continually stressed the pluralist, inclusive society that Switzerland had to offer. With its four official languages, Switzerland was proof that a nation did not need to be confined to a citizenry based on ethnicity.
In a message from the Schweizerischer Bundesrat (Swiss Federal Council), the St. Gotthard Pass in the South was held as the embodiment of Europe. The pass, where the Rhône, Rhine, and Ticino Rivers originate, was the spot where the three major cultures of continental Europe – German, French, and Italian – all met. The speech went on to declare:
For the very basis that we reject the concept of race or common descent as the basis of a state and as the factor determining political frontiers, we gain the liberty and the strength to remain conscious of our cultural ties with the three great civilizations. The Swiss national idea is not based upon race or biological factors; it rests on a spiritual decision. The Swiss federal state is an association of free republics: it does not swallow them, it federates them … The respect for the right and liberty of human personality is so deeply anchored in the Swiss idea that we can regard it as its basic concept and can proclaim its defense as an essential task of the nation.
Stephen Halbrook describes the geistige Landesverteidigung of the Swiss, their ‘spiritual national defense,’ as relying entirely on the individual citizen. As a response to National Socialism, the “moral dedication to defense of the homeland and democratic ideas” would be, if necessary, ‘why they fought.’ Federal Councilor Philipp Etter resolved that:
The armed defense of the country is a primary and substantial task of the state. The mental defense of the country falls primarily not on the state but on … the citizen. No…battalions are able to protect right and freedom, where the citizen himself is not capable of stepping to the front door and seeing what is outside.
The ideal man to embody these ideals was Henri Guisan.
Switzerland had a unique form of generalship. In peacetime, there is no officer with a rank higher than that of Oberst (colonel). However, in times of war and ‘of need,’ the Bundesversammlung elects a General to command the army and air force. On August 30, 1939, Henri Guisan was elected with 204 votes out of 227 cast. Despite his membership in the SVV, he would go on to perform admirably, both as a tactician and a morale-booster. Guisan immediately took charge of the situation.
The Wehrmacht had invaded Poland four days earlier, and Britain declared war on Germany immediately afterwards. Guisan called a general mobilization, and issued Operationsbefehl Number 1, the first of what was to be a series of evolving defensive plans.
The first assigned the existing three army corps to the east, north, and west, with reserves in the center and south of the country. Guisan had his Chief of the General Staff increase the service eligibility age from 48 to 60 years old (men of these ages would form the rear-echelon Landsturm units), and ordered the formation of an entirely new army corps of 100,000 men.
In 1938, the Swiss Army had consisted of three army corps, with six infantry and three mountain divisions subordinated to them, plus three mountain brigades. All were commanded by no one higher than the rank of colonel. As 1940 dawned, the Swiss Army had swelled to four army corps and 600,000 men under arms – out of a country of four million. Still, a well-armed citizenry, sizable militia, and possession of that geistige Landesverteidigung would probably not suffice to hold out against the seemingly invincible might of the Wehrmacht.
At the cessation of hostilities in France, the German Army in France consisted of three Army Groups containing roughly 2 million soldiers in 102 divisions. Total casualties amounted to 156,492 for the Germans (with 27,000 dead), and 2.2 million for the French (90,000 of them killed). There existed no clear chain-of-command for the French Army, and most soldiers were concerned with nothing more than returning home, their manhood “milked.”
Unlike many other French units, however, the 179eme Battalion Alpin de Forteresse managed to hold Fort l’Ecluse, just south of Geneva. This prevented a total encirclement of Switzerland until July 3, though the Vichy Regime was not fully installed until July 10. For that week, the Axis powers had Switzerland fully surrounded by military units. After July 10, Vichy France was no longer a potential invasion route. Hitler had, at the last minute, attempted to pass a message to the OKH negotiators demanding that the demarcation line between Germany and Vichy be moved west in order to give Germany a full encirclement of the last true neutral on the continent. Fortunately, the message did not arrive in time.
Just prior to the total French collapse, General Guisan issued Operationsbefehl Number 10, which represented a complete overhaul of existing Swiss defensive plans. With the country now essentially surrounded, Op. Bef. 10 signaled a drastic shift in priorities. The weak state of the Swiss Army through the 1930’s rendered incapable of meaningful resistance on its own. Therefore, a secret liaison with the French General Staff had been established, which arranged for French troops to defend Swiss soil in the event of a simultaneous strike on the two countries. With France out of the picture, so were these plans.
Guisan’s concept of a Réduit national was beginning to take shape (though still within his head). In this scenario, the St. Maurice and St. Gotthard Passes in the south, plus the Fortress Sargans in the northeast, would serve as the defense line. The Alps would be their fortress.
Less easy to understand, though, was the only means by which this would function as an effective defense: 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Army Corps were to fight delaying actions at the border, while all who could would retreat to the Alpine refuge. The population centers were all located in the flat plains of the north. They would have to be left to the Germans in order for the rest to survive.
As Halbrook summarizes, for a small nation such as Switzerland “the strategy was one of dissuasion; total victory was not expected. Such a nation could not win a war with Germany, but it could promise higher losses than would be worth the cost to the aggressor.” Guisan himself outlined the doctrine and its justification on July 12:
Switzerland cannot escape the threat of a direct German attack unless the German high command, while preparing such an attack, becomes convinced that a war against us would be long and expensive, would uselessly and dangerously create a new battleground in the heart of Europe, and thus would jeopardize the execution of its other plans … If we must be dragged into the struggle, we will sell our skin as dear as possible.
Generaloberst Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘C’ (HGr. C), led by Generalleutnant Wilhelm List and the 12th Army would conduct the attack. Leeb himself personally reconnoitered the terrain, studying the most promising invasion routes and paths of least resistance. Menges’ plan called for a pincer movement from German troops in France and Germany focused on taking Bern quickly, with Italian divisions invading from the south. Speed was critical: the plan’s primary objective was to seize the industry in the Solothurn area and capture the railroads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure across the Alps intact.
The plan committed the 12th Army, with three army corps and an independent division (the 12th Mot. Infantry). The SS-“Totenkopf” and 23rd Infantry divisions were kept in reserve, along with a brigade of Fallschirmjäger airborne troops. The three Army Corps, the XV, XVIII, and XII, contained between them 7 infantry divisions, 1 Panzer division, and 1 division of Gebirgsjäger mountain infantry. In addition to 12th Army, Panzergruppe ‘Guderian’ was to be used in the attack – with four panzer divisions and two infantry, his forces were primarily to blitz towards Bern, and capture it before the Swiss could fully realize what was going on. In total, the plan was to make use of 15 divisions.
As Menges noted in his plan (and all subsequent drafts authored by him), he believed that the Swiss resistance was unlikely and that a nonviolent Anschluss was the most likely result. With “the current political situation in Switzerland,” he wrote, “it might accede to ultimatum demands in a peaceful manner, so that after a warlike border crossing a rapid transition to a peaceful invasion must be assured.” The political situation he was referring to was the weak-kneed vacillations of the Federal Council.
Swiss morale was at an all-time low. Despite the looming threat, the Federal Council assumed that with the Battle of France concluded and an armistice signed any immediate danger had passed. The Swiss Army began demobilizing, with a target size of 150,000 men. Federal Councilor Marcel Pilet-Golaz, after consultation with the rest of the Council, made a radio address on June 25 in which he announced the demobilization and warned the Swiss that they would soon have to play a part in a Europe “very different from the Old…and to rely on other foundations.” He made ominous references to the coming “major decisions,” “recovery,” and the breaking of “ancient habits.” His speech was compared to those coming from the newly-minted Vichy regime.
A group of young, patriotic officers began preparing a coup in the case of capitulation, and openly discussed the refusal to obey any order of surrender from any authority whatsoever. The Offiziersbund (Officer’s Alliance) pledged to not obey any orders of surrender, and twenty of the officers were arrested and subjected to “lenient” discipline. Henri Guisan reprimanded them for “not having faith in him.”
With even the officer corps nearing open revolt, General Guisan took a bold step. The most famous moment in his distinguished career came on July 25, 1940. The entire senior officer corps was invited “on a very fine day” to the Rütli, the meadow on which the legendary ‘Oath of the Rütlischwur’ was pledged in 1291, which marked the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederation. The officers took a ferry to the bluff overlooking Lake Lucerne, and gave them a rousing, inspiring address. Invoking the centuries-old Swiss heritage, Guisan pledged that:
Here, soldiers of 1940, we will inspire ourselves with the lesson and spirit of the past to envisage resolution of the present and future of the country … Currently there are, beyond our borders, more troops – and excellent troops – than ever before. We can be attacked on all fronts at the same time, which was not really conceivable a few weeks ago. The army must adapt itself to this new situation and take a position that allows it to hold on to all the fronts. It will thus fulfill its invariable, historic mission … In Europe, for a long time to come, millions of men will remain under arms, and as long as considerable forces can attack us from one moment to the next, the army must and will resist.
The speech was precisely what both the officer corps – and the nation – needed to hear. Coming a month after the Pilet-Golaz address, and by taking the potentially dangerous step of putting his entire officer corps on a single boat to get to the Rütli, Guisan was, as usual, taking huge risks – which resulted in an equally huge payoff. Portions of it were broadcast on the radio and printed in newspapers. Even the Germans were impressed. The German envoy in Bern reported to Berlin on its “surprising declarations.” The orders “warned against the dangers of defeatism and reminded those in the audience to believe in their own strength with which Switzerland, with an iron will, would successfully offer resistance … The Envoy suggests that the Axis powers register a complaint with the Swiss government.” As usual, no one paid him much attention.
Nevertheless, German preparations for invasion – and the Swiss for resistance – were moving straight ahead. The original Menges plan was now outdated, and so after a slight revision, he wrote a new version of it and submitted it to OKH on August 12. Since the original plan was compiled in June, the Swiss Army’s manpower had been halved due to the partial demobilization. During the Battle of France, roughly 42,000 Polish and French soldiers had retreated across the border and were now in internment camps in Switzerland, where they continued to train. As Menges observed, when the Germans invaded, they would surely be released to fight on the Swiss side, but for the time being, guard duty occupied one-and-a-half Swiss divisions in the south, away from the proposed direction of attack.
The new plan was a concentric attack by the Wehrmacht from the north and west, linking up with the Italians invading in the south. Once again, 12th Army would lead the assault, though now without the aid of Panzergruppe Guderian. The plan was merely referred to as “Fall Schweiz” (Case Switzerland).
Only 8 divisions were to be in the first wave, with the same three divisions in reserve as before. While an actual paradrop was considered, it was dismissed. The main goal was to cut off the Swiss retreat to the Alps, but the operational planning had not yet taken into consideration the revised defense plans of the Swiss. Less than half the divisions that were assumed to be along the border and in the lowlands were in fact already stationed in the National Redoubt, and the Germans would have been in for quite a surprise. It was still expected that Switzerland would fall quickly, and Menges said it would be the chore of Germany and Italy to “clear this up.”
Guisan’s Réduit National had been put into effect as an order issued July 17. A drastic, desperate plan, it made military sense, but was risky politically. The most favorable defensive positions were of course, the Alps, but by abandoning the major cities and population centers, the Swiss were in effect leaving 80% of the Swiss population at the mercy of the Germans. All of Swiss industry and indeed, a large swath of the national heritage (including the Rütli) would be left behind.
Operationsbefehl Number 11 served as preparation for that idea, and didn’t define a new defense pattern except to say that “the development of the general situation and its consequences on our borders require a deep change of the current position of the army.” For the time being, this mostly consisted of a shifting divisions to the Zentralraum (Central Area), which would serve as the redoubt and last stand for the Swiss Army.
Switzerland’s greatest defensive strength lay in the terrain, and its fortifications played to this, embodied in the Redoubt concept. From Vallorbe on the French border, to Basel west of Neuchâtel, and on to Konstanz and the Bodensee, the border was heavily armed with a series of fortifications aimed primarily at choking off the narrow valley passes.
The issue of Operationsbefehl Number 12 defined this concept: the army would consider the first priority a “remobilization of the whole army and to secure under all circumstances the possession of the Alpine passes…then to hold the Swiss plateau with its resources as long as possible and to protect the finalization of the preparation of our troops in the pre-Alps as long as possible.”
Op. Bef. 12 divided the country into three tiers. The immediate border areas were heavily fortified but lightly defended. Their mission was mainly to fight a delaying action while full mobilization took place, and the recalled units assembled in the Redoubt. The Vorgeschobene Stellung (Advanced Position) consisted mostly of the interior plains and was home to Luzern, Bern, Fribourg, Thun, and at its northern-most point, Zurich. To the rear, bounded by the Rhine, was the Central Area, home to the National Redoubt and Guisan’s headquarters. It was here the Swiss would fight to the last.
Ten days after Op, Bef. 12 was issued, more than 56 percent of all guns, and 76 percent of the heavy guns (105-150mm) were positioned in the Redoubt, along with 42 percent of the antitank weapons. The Army now contained 8 full divisions (including an ad hoc light infantry division) and 15-20 independent battalions. Half of all Swiss troops had taken up stations in the Redoubt, and stockpiles of small arms, ammunition, and foodstuff had been gathered to last for at least two months.
As a moral strategy, the Redoubt was possibly lacking. While the population was almost universally prepared to personally defend their homes and their country, it has been argued that the population had no idea, despite the explicitly worded orders, that civilians would not be allowed into the Redoubt.
Militarily, though, it was a near-flawless plan. It contained 12 artillery forts and was constructing 19 more, while positions were also to be found for the older 75mm guns without a home. The mountain passes were bristling with artillery, with nearly 100 pieces stationed in the fortresses at St. Gotthard, St. Maurice, and Sargans alone. Aside from the near-universal partisan resistance that could be expected in the cities and plains, the National Redoubt would be a tough nut to crack.
While the second draft of the Menges plan would serve as the basis for all subsequent ones, Halder believed it did not give enough credit to the Swiss (Menges had concluded that the Swiss Army was “suitable only for defensive purposes and completely inferior to its German counterpart”). On August 26, only two weeks after the previous draft, OKH ordered a new study conducted, with the assumption that “Switzerland is determined to resist an invasion with all its might,” and with 12th Army to lead the attack. Leeb passed the order on to List, whose general staff submitted a fresh plan on August 27.
For the first time in the war, it was given an operational name: Fall Grün (Case Green). Fall Grün was a return to the pincer movement centered on Bern, and now featured Fallschirmjäger units dropped directly into the St. Maurice area, and a spearhead of infantry directly towards the Sarfgans Fortress. This plan was approved by HGr. 12, but appears to have never made it to OKH. Nevertheless, on August 28 Leeb approved the plan as operational doctrine for the foreseeable future.
On October 4, 12th Army sent a reworked plan to HGr. 12. It was now known as “Operation Tannenbaum.”Leeb had planned this draft with the expectation of 21 divisions committed to the assault. OKH returned the plan with a downward revision of these figures to only 11 divisions needed.
Halder himself had studied the border areas, and concluded that the “Jura frontier offers no favorable base for an attack. Switzerland rises, in successive waves of wood-covered terrain across the axis of an attack. The crossing points on the river Doubs and the border are few; the Swiss frontier position is strong.” He decided on an infantry feint in the Jura in order to draw out the Swiss Army and then cut it off in the rear, as had been done in France. He sent back Tannenbaum with the divisional requirement cut from 21 to 11.
Still, with roughly 15 Italian divisions prepared to enter from the south, the Swiss were looking at an invasion by somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 men. They figured they could take as many as 200,000 with them.
The initial military conquest may have been a speedy prospect, but the reasons for keeping a neutral Switzerland were many. Historian Gerhard Weinberg attributes much of Hitler’s wavering to his realization that the Swiss served him better as a near-vassal; with the country cut off from the rest of Europe by the Axis, any overt resistance (whether financially or militarily) would provoke immediate German retaliation.
In addition to the benefits a coerced neutral Switzerland brought to the Reich, it was clearly a dangerous proposition. The German Foreign Minister Ernst von Wiezsäcker described the country as “an indigestible lump.” The armed resistance that might plague a Swiss vassal state was of secondary concern, though. It was estimated that the Wehrmacht would be able to “occupy the part of Switzerland assigned to us [all but the south, reserved for the Italians] within about 3-4 days (if the demarcation line runs across the Bernese and Glarus Alps), otherwise within 4-5 days.”
With the ease of occupying Sweden, and believing Switzerland will surrender just as easily, Hitler announces to the German people the initiation of “the final historic campaign that shall forge the Greater Germanic Reich.” Promising a swift conquest, Hitler orders OKH to execute Fall Grün, which has not been reduced in size from the 12th Army version of the plan; 17 divisions are to be committed. After (very) brief consideration, he decided not to consult Mussolini, assuming that when the Germans near victory, Il Duce will invade on his own initiative. Besides, Italian forces were still recovering from the Greek and Yugoslav campaigns.
Guisan immediately orders the full mobilization of the Swiss Army, effective as of midnight on September 6, 1943. The border guards are at full alert, and by 0600, the entire 800,000 man army is at their posts.
In a speech to his general staff, portions of which are broadcast on the radio, Guisan issues a stern rebuke to the German invaders: “For eight hundred years, we Swiss have persevered through the worst conflicts to ravage Europe. We have kept to ourselves, wishing no harm to any nation or people. But if you so much as set one foot across our borders, we will defend them to the last man. There will be no surrender from us.” To his officers, he says “now is the test of our national character. Our spirits are high, and we will win the day.” For his conclusion, Guisan switches to his heavily-accented German and, in a play on the Third Reich slogan, declares that “Wir sind nicht ein Volk, sondern Vielen. Wir sind nicht ein Reich, sondern viele Staaten. Wir haben keine Führer – wir haben jeder Mensch. Wir sind jetzt die Verteidiger der Freiheit im Europa und Welt! Wir werden niemals Verzicht!”
At 0200 on Tuesday, September 7, a massive artillery barrage and intense heavy bombing of the border defenses begins. The 7th Grenzwache (border guard) battalion, many of whom are from the Landsturm reserve, is nearly wiped out in the Thurgau area. The rest escape relatively unharmed. In accordance with Fall Grün, the first wave of Fallschirmjäger is dropped into Bern and the St. Maurice region at 0300. At 0415, German troops cross the Swiss border at Geneva and in the Vaud, Basel, Neuchâtel, Aargau, Zürich, and Thurgau cantons.
Resistance is heaviest in the north, where 3 battalions of border guards are backed by two infantry divisions. The entire German XXV Corps enters there, along with two infantry divisions of the XXVII Corps. In the northeast, three German divisions have been committed against three battalions and a division. Geneva falls in hours. Three Fallschirmjäger battalions dropped into the Olten area are met by the Motorized Liebstandarte SS-Adolf Hitler Brigade at 0530.
In Solothurn on the outskirts of Bern, where much of the industry is, the citizenry has holed up in their homes. Most have weapons. However, Guisan has miscalculated. The traditional assumption was always that if the Germans chose to invade, it would be in order to the secure the mountain passes in the south. Thus, according to plan, the bulk of the Swiss Army fights a retreat back to the Alps. The primary goal of 12th Army is to secure industrial strongpoints. Even so, Fall Grün calls for swift action to secure the alpine transit routes, and this remains unchanged during the military operations.
The manufacturing plants in Zurich and Solothurn remain relatively untouched. Maurice St. Germain, an industrialist, manages to torch his Zeitmesser Fabrikat plant before he retreats to his country home in the Valais canton. The 1st Gebirgsjäger Division splits, sending half its men to Aarberg and the other half to Biel. The Motorized SS-Großdeutschland division is sent from the rear to hold Solothurn, and the various forces in Olten and Solothurn advance on Bern. Legend will have it that the capital falls at, in military time, 1648 – the year of Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire – but regardless of the exact time, by 1700 Bern is in German hands.
Following the same strategy used by their predecessors in Belgium a generation earlier, Leeb opts to bypass and invest the few Swiss strongholds in the lowlands. The major cities are all taken by Day 2 of the invasion, the 3rd Light Brigade in Zurich having held out for thirteen hours longer than any other. A direct assault by the 260th Infantry Division, coupled with the two battalions of Fallschirmjäger that had dropped into Wegen on the Walensee put an end to the siege.
In total, the ‘Advanced Position’ outlined in Op. Bef. 12 had fallen even sooner than expected, and the Germans were closing in on the National Redoubt with three entire Army Corps a day ahead of schedule.
The first (and only, really) Swiss offensive is towards Geneva. The 20th Motorized Division, a part of the reserve force, has advanced to that city to assist the 52nd Infantry Division with occupation duty.
The 42,000 French and Polish soldiers interned, including the entire Polish 2nd Rifle Division, are rearmed with the great stockpiles of arms the Swiss have been preparing, and together with the Swiss 1st Light Infantry division and remnants of the 1st Grenzwache they march on Geneva. The battle is fierce, and lasts over several days, but as soon as the two panzer divisions of Generaloberst Hoth’s XV Panzer Corps are committed, it is over for sure. The French surrender, as do most of the Poles, but the Swiss fight to the last man. There are 18,042 prisoners taken in the Second Battle of Geneva. Only 1,162 are Swiss.
In the south, the Germans take an interesting route. Hoth’s XV Corps travels from Geneva through demilitarized France and attacks the Simplon Pass from the rear. From Geneva, the 4th and 8th Panzer Divisions split into a pincer movement, terminating at Brig. They are joined by several battalions of Fallschirmjäger.
Lying in wait for them, thought, were the 10th Brigade and 1st Division of the Swiss Army at the St. Maurice Fortress. They were armed with a complement of 5 120mm howitzers, 4 84mm guns, and numerous 53mm positions at Fort Savatan and 6 120mm, 2 75mm guns plus 53mm emplacements at Fort Dailly. When Hoth’s panzers reached them on September 16, they managed to repulse the Germans with massive casualties. After two more days of fighting, Hoth withdrew and regrouped. “Die Schweizer können zu ihren verdammt Berg halten,” he spat. He was a patient man. And he did not mind waiting.
It is now September 23 1943. The bitterness of the Battle for Switzerland is something that will live with all Swiss and those German soldiers who participated. Out of the 800,000 Swiss under arms on September 6, 120,000 did not reach the redoubt. Only 15,486 of these soldiers were taken prisoner. In fact, there are more French and Polish prisoners in the German laagers then there are Swiss!
Guisan and his staff are secure in the Redoubt, with the Germans unable to penetrate the massive defense works. However, the Germans are rather unwilling to commit so many forces to the strategically irrelevant alpine region. In the areas at higher altitude, the first snow has fallen, tabling any large offensives until the spring of 1944.
No less than 20 divisions are in occupied Switzerland, and tensions between occupier and occupied are running extremely high. Just as in Czechoslovakia, all popular gatherings have been banned. Weapons and wireless sets owned by private citizens have been ordered to be turned into authorities, including hunting rifles. Wilhelm von Leeb has established his headquarters in occupied Bern for the winter.
The country has not yet been partitioned, as it has not yet been fully conquered. Active resistance in the lowlands is sporadic, and for those 650,000 troops in the alpine redoubt, there is not much to do except wait for an offensive that may never come. In the meantime, Italy moves into southern Switzerland and relieves German soldiers occupying the region.
Despite possessing the majority of Switzerland, Hitler raged at his generals for allowing the Swiss Army to slip away. Advised that with winter only a short time away, any offensive into the Alps would meet with disaster, Hitler opts to wait them out. The Swiss have only five months of provisions, and though they make raids into the countryside for resupply, the Germans quickly make such foraging impossible. Though an ever increasing number of the Swiss Army is starving, they refuse to surrender. After several cautious German and Italian offensives conducted in early 1944 result in heavy casualties, Hitler angrily demands the Swiss be “gassed out.” Though his generals are afraid of the international consequences, Hitler retorts, “I will not follow rules of war drawn up by a people who refuse to fight!”
Systematically, the tunnels of the National Redoubt are filled with Sarin while its fixed positions are showered with gas filled shells. Due to it being odorless, it takes Swiss forces several weeks before they discover what is going on. Hitler’s “delousing” of the Alps, coupled with dwindling supplies, causes the Swiss Army to gradually wither away. Nobly, they fight to the bitter end with several positions holding out well into 1945. Nonetheless, all 650,000 Swiss soldiers die. Coupled with 150,000 Swiss casualties in the opening weeks of the campaign, well over 20 % of the Swiss population has been wiped out costing Switzerland the bulk of its male, especially its young, population. Because of this, Operation Tannenbaum is considered one of the most destructive in human history.
Because of the drop in the male population, young Swiss women begin to socialize with the occupying forces. Within a generation, due to intermarriage between German men and Swiss women, the former republic of Switzerland comes to accept its place in the Reich.