Military History Q&A Series Q16

Brett’s Question: How was Switzerland able to successfully stay neutral and avoid Invasion by Germany?


Picture: Map of Europe in June 1944 (before D-Day); notice Switzerland’s geopolitical position.

Justin’s answer:

Armed neutrality. Heavily armed neutrality.

First, the Swiss had mined every approach and placed demolition charges on every bridge leading from Germany into Switzerland. If you (Brett) recall your time in Switzerland, it was a very mountainous country.


Secondly, in strategy and tactics, you usually need a 3 or 5 to 1 ratio of attackers against defenders. In mountain terrain, that ratio is almost 10 to 1. The Germans didn’t have that manpower, not if they were needed in Russia, France, Italy, North Africa…

Third, the terrain itself favors the defenders in so many different ways.

  • Lines of communications and angles of attack; in the mountains, with so little available routes, you can’t attack on a broad front.
  • Equipment doesn’t always work. In modern times, the US Army operating in Afghanistan needed new tolerances for existing equipment, like helicopters and aircraft.
  • Level of physical exertion; less oxygen in the mountains. If you have to move about, charging up the hills, you tire quicker. Conversely, if you’re sitting in a hut and just shooting, you can last longer.
  • Psychological;
    In 1798, the French army defended Switzerland against Russian armies. The Russians who were used to broad steppes that hills that rise almost vertically upwards found it frightening. Suvorov_crossing_the_alps
  • In the Second Punic Wars, the Romans thought the Alps was so impervious to attack as a natural barrier that when Hannibal emerged from the mountains with 40000 soldiers and a handful of war elephants, the Romans panicked. hannibal-crossing-the-alps

Fourth, the Swiss army is a highly professional army. Just as you don’t mess with Texas, in Europe, no one bothers the Swiss. Not just because they have your money and are trusted bankers, but like Israel, pretty much everyone is a reservist. And you also get to keep your rifle and sidearm at home.


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