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Swiss Army in WWII

Swiss Army in WWII

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Published by bawb-2
War-time military magazine article on the Swiss military when Switzerland was completely surrounded and cut off from the outside world by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
War-time military magazine article on the Swiss military when Switzerland was completely surrounded and cut off from the outside world by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

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Published by: bawb-2 on Dec 30, 2009
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Switzerland's army of over 500,000 men hasbeen keeping watch at thefront since the beginningof September, 1939.About 250,000 soldierswere demobilized in June,1940.
By Henry W. Steiger 
The Swiss Army is one of the few undefeated armiesof Europe. That is a certain distinction these days, even if it is undefeated because it has not been attacked.Germany might have attacked France throughSwitzerland instead of the Low Countries, but as in 1914,so again in 1940, Germany chose the easier route to get ather enemy.For a country of its size, Switzerland's military conditionis strong. Her entire manhood is trained for defense, in peace time as well as in time of war. So uncomfortablysituated in the midst of powerful neighbors rivalling eachother, the Swiss were forced to work out a system thatwould have the country's maximum military strengthalways in readiness for self defense. They found this in amilitia system based on a constitutional requirement of military service by every male as a condition of citizenship. At the age of 20 the Swiss boy becomes of age,gets the right to vote and the obligation to do militaryservice. No man is exempt. If physically unfit or livingoutside Switzerland, he must pay a tax proportionate to hisfinancial status in lieu of service and is liable in wartimefor auxiliary service.The Swiss find no contradiction between the democraticideals of their country and this constant military preparedness. They began fighting in the 13th century andthey have been good soldiers ever since. The period whenSwiss mercenaries were the most sought-after soldiers inEurope has so completely passed that (except for the VaticanGuard) it is illegal for the Swiss to do military service for any other country. That would jeopardize Swiss neutralityand deprive the country of its full defensive strength.
*Population speaking German. 71.9%; French, 20.4%; Italian. 6%;Romansch, 1.1%; other languages, 0.6%; Protestant population. 57%;Catholic population, 41%.
But compulsory military service fortifies Swissdemocracy in another way. It is a melting pot of classdistinction, because every Swiss must begin his service asa simple recruit, no matter to what rank he aspires. The sonof a distinguished family and a young peasant wear thesame uniform and must share the same work. A spoiledyoungster who has never learned to obey has to swallowhis stubbornness and take orders. Those who have nointerest in sports are built up physically by the rigoroustraining. In a country with four official languages (German,French, Italian and Romansch) and denominationaldifferences,* the unifying effect of such a military systemis most important. The Italian-speaking Tessin boy of Catholic faith may do his service in the German-speaking,Protestant city of Thun, the French-speaking Genevesesomewhere in German-speaking Switzerland. Thus astrong factor in the striking unity of the Swiss is themilitary service in which every citizen, regardless of his background, participates.M
 The Swiss militia system differs from the systems of other countries in that the soldier has not one year or moreof successive military training, but is called in for coursesof short duration, and in accordance with the new militaryorganization of June 24, 1938, the total peace time servicefor an infantryman between the ages of 20 and 48 is 320days. Before that date a shorter period of service wasrequired, but the more complicated modern militarymachines made it necessary to extend the time. The plan of service of a Swiss private is as follows:At the age of 19 he must pass an educational test, whichincludes reading, arithmetic, geography, Swiss history and politics, and composition, and a physical test consisting of  performance of gymnastic exercises. After having passed amedical examination, also, and been pronounced fit for military service, the boy may name the branch in which hewould prefer to do his service and if possible his wishes arefollowed.At 20 he enters the Recruit School, for a course whichlasts 116 days for all branches except cavalry, in which ittakes 130 days. On reporting for service the recruit issupplied with full equipment, including a regulation rifle,all of which he takes home after finishing the course. Buthe is responsible for having his equipment always inreadiness and in perfect order, and yearly inspections at thetime of his annual 19 days' drill course are an effectivecheck-up. When he leaves the army at 48 his equipment becomes his personal property.This practice of having every soldier keep hisequipment, including his rifle, at home has the greatadvantage that the army can be mobilized in a minimum of time. But for reasons of public safety it might not befeasible in many countries. An Irishman who had livedseveral years in Switzerland still found this practiceastonishing. "Why," he said laughing, "think of therevolutions that might be set off! The Irish would think itwas a great opportunity missed." But in Switzerland this isno danger. The Swiss considers himself a part of thesovereign, and is conscious of the responsibility which that puts on him. He is proud to have his arms at home as asymbol of his freedom.The training of the recruits is necessarily rigorous, becauseit is so short. It means eight hours of strenuous daily work,including night work, such as patrolling, entrenching andmaneuvers. From the completion of this course until the ageof 32 the young soldier belongs to the Elite troops (First Lineor 
). In the first six years he is called in each year for a19 days' drill course and afterwards only every other year, sothat at the age of 32 he has completed eight such drillcourses. These drill courses of the Elite troops are arranged to provide an adequate balance of training in smaller tacticalunits and in larger units.
 The second line or 
is composed of the men between 33 and 40 years of age. They are obliged to followtwo drill courses during those eight years and to have their equipment inspected each year.The third part of the Swiss Army is the
theterritorial troops, and is formed by the men between 41 and48 years of age. They are no more bound to follow drillcourses, but are called in yearly for inspections.Until recently a Swiss left the army at 48. But a newregulation provides that men up to the age of 60 can servein the army in case of a general mobilization.The total of 320 days of military service is composed,therefore, in the following way:
 Recruit School at the age of 20............................................. 116First Line (Elite or 
) between 20 and 32—8drill courses at 19 days each............................................ 152Second Line or 
between 33 and 40—2drill courses at 19 days each............................................ 38Annual inspections............................................................... 6Territorial troops or 
, between 41 and48—Annual inspections................................................... 8Territorial troops between 49 and 60, subject toservice only in case of general mobilization.................... .... —— Total........................................................................... 320
Specialists such as gunsmiths, farriers, etc., receive their necessary professional training in special courses. Theambulance corps takes a hospital training course inaddition to the course in the Recruit School.Besides service under the colors, soldiers and non-commissioned officers of the first and second line who arearmed with a rifle or a carbine are required to do a certainamount of rifle practice. All over the country in each townthere is an officially-subsidized rifle club with its ownshooting gallery. It is therefore quite a common picture inSwitzerland to see men in civilian clothes with their rifleson their shoulders going off to a shooting gallerysomewhere in the country. A certain number of hits a year are compulsory and if the man fails to make his points hemust devote three days to unpaid target practice. Shootingis a very popular sport in Switzerland, and local, cantonaland federal shooting matches are great events in Swisssocial life.The new organization of the Swiss Army also comprisesregulations about those exempted because of physicalunfitness. They are used for passive air defense, for whichthey must train, though the period is shorter than for activeservice. Others are classified for many kinds of auxiliaryservices and during mobilization may be called in for anyservice their country needs. This, however, is a recentregulation taken under the pressure of present conditions.A feminine aid service has also been organized, but this,too, is of recent date.O
' T
 We have already mentioned that there is no officer inthe Swiss Army who has not begun his military serviceas a simple recruit. This is not only an ideal democraticmeasure, but it is a great help in forming a good spirit inthe relations between officers and troops. It also opensto any soldier with abilities and interest for a militarycareer the possibility of becoming an officer. Candidatesfor the School for Non-Commissioned Officers areselected from the ranks of the Recruit School. Their course takes only 18 days, or 25 days for artillery andair force. The graduate receives provisionally the 
Photopress, Zurich
Swiss tanks pass in review

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