Book Review – Target Switzerland
In Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality In World War II, Steve Halbrook covers some of the history of Switzerland and the Swiss people, the buildup to WW II (1933-1937,) and a year by year account of the Swiss during the war years (1938-1945.) While it is fairly common knowledge that the Swiss were neutral throughout the war, the book reveals what it took to maintain that neutrality. There were several other neutral nations that were invaded by Germany, or convinced to surrender without an invasion, with they Swiss managed to avoid. Switzerland is located between Germany and Italy, and controls a number of routes between the countries, and while trade was allowed using Swiss rail, no military material or troops were allowed through. Due to this situation, and the large number of Germanic Swiss, Switzerland was a prime target for Hitler. To maintain their neutrality and freedom, the Swiss had to be prepared to repel an invasion, or at least make it so costly as to be infeasible.
The Swiss political structure, militia system and natural terrain were well suited to this. There was not sufficient power vested in any individual that could be intimidated into surrendering, the militia system, where everyone kept their militia arms and equipment in their houses allowed the militia to be mobilized very quickly, and meant that arms and munitions were decentralized, making it very hard for an invading army to disarm them. The terrain also worked to the advantage of the Swiss, the mountains being impassible by the Panzers, not conducive to air war, and offering plenty of places to build fortifications, or to hide for sniper shooting.
The Swiss planned to fight to the death, to the point that the people were told that any news of a surrender was enemy propaganda, and should not be believed. This effectively made surrender impossible, as anyone following those orders would not stop fighting, even after a surrender. The troops were ordered, and planned to hold their positions: “The rifleman, if overtaken or surrounded, fight in their positions until no more ammunition exists. Then cold steel is next.”
The Swiss personified the concepts of peace through strength and preparing for war if you want peace. The Swiss remained free throughout the war because they were ready to fight, unlike the other neutrals that fell. By being prepared for the worst, they never had to face it. They had problems throughout the war, especially after 1940, when the Axis controlled all of the land around them.
The book talks about the Swiss battle rifle during the war years, the K31. What can I say, now I want one.
Steve Halbrook did an excellent job of portraying the Swiss during WW II, and the book is well worth the read. I would recommend it to history lovers, freedom lovers, and there is plenty of gun info to recommend it for gun lovers.
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This is very poor work. The author diverted attention away from the Swiss banking practices in conjuction with the Nazis. Bottom line, the Swiss ‘minutemen’ would have eventually lost had Germany invaded in the early part of WW2.
Yes, the Nazis almost certainly could have defeated Switzerland, especially early on. The point is that an armed neutrality made the Nazis question the cost of an invasion to the point that it was never even attempted.
Yes, the Swiss did business with the Nazis. Since they are a landlocked country, not doing any business with them would have cut off supplies the Swiss needed to survive. You can question the morality of this, it is hard to question the effectiveness of the overall Swiss policy in the war.