Never will our people agree to weaken our democracy; it will defeat dictatorial ideas from whichever side they come. Never will our people accept a German-style Gleichscbaltung [conformity]. In Swiss fashion we will hold in order our Swiss house. For this purpose we do not need extra shirts nor extra flags; the white cross in the red field will suffice. The Swiss will also defend the right to utter his opinion freely... We will ever hold dear our federalist attitudes and be happy our people encompasses different languages and races. This is the best guarantee that our nation will, in times of war and of great international tensions, not be seduced by irresponsible political temptations.
For the Swiss, the "armed" in armed neutrality was not merely a matter of maintaining a strong national defense force, but imposed responsibilities on the individual citizen. The 1933 edition of the manual issued with the rifle given to every Swiss male on reaching military service age stated:
In combat, I have my rifle to overcome the enemy. It is the symbol of the independence and force of my fatherland, Switzerland, which I love and which I want to defend all the way to the last drop of my blood.
The Swiss rifle "bible" went on to explain that a man must make it a pleasure to maintain his rifle. It was to be stored in a closet at home. One was to practice constantly in both prone and kneeling positions and should be an active member of a shooting society. These voluntary shooting societies were considered an important element in the defense of the country.
To fire accurately, the manual asserted that one should not shoot fast. Instead, one should pull the trigger slowly, using intelligence and judgment, and remember: "The conqueror always has another cartridge in his rifle." The trigger was to be pulled only if the target would be hit. After each shot in combat, one should pause and observe. One had to shoot more accurately than the enemy and skillfully use the terrain. Furthermore, each soldier was required to be engaged in marksmanship activities outside service until past age 40. This was a military duty one was obliged to fulfill each year with his own rifle and in a shooting society.
The SSV, or Swiss Shooting Federation, was the backbone of the armed citizenry, which the New York Times termed in an August editorial "the army in civil life." The SSV's strong opposition to totalitarianism of both right and left was clear: "We want to think Swiss and to remain Swiss. Away with all foreign behavior. We need no brown, green or red uniforms or shirts; we marksmen know only one uniform and that is our field-gray, our honorary dress."
While Swiss rifle shooting matches were conducted at the standard 300 meters, soldiers were trained in marksmanship at 50 to 300 meters and even shot at 400. These were very long distances compared to the relatively short ones from which infantrymen typically fired at one another during the world wars. But the ability to snipe at such distances in mountain terrain would have given the Swiss a great advantage in combat with the Germans, who were only trained to shoot at 100 meters.
Hugh Wilson, American Ambassador to Switzerland from 1927 to 1937, described the Swiss citizen soldier: "The Swiss citizen retains his uniform and rifle at home, ready for instant mobilization; and he spends many of his Sundays qualifying for marksmanship awards with his friends in his community as men of other nationalities spend their leisure at golf, fishing, or other recreation."
Hitler would in time be able to conquer most of Europe and much of Russia, but the armed Swiss population was an unappetizing potential conquest for the much larger German Army. In Switzerland, every man was trained with a rifle and was used to shooting accurately at 300 meters. No other European country offered this kind of disincentive to aggression.
On August 9, 1933, Nazi police trespassed on Swiss soil at Basel to search for Communist leaflets. Nazi demonstrations near the border later that month were making the Swiss very uneasy. Large crowds gathered in support of Swiss democratic institutions and the army. Nazi meetings, though well advertised in the German-speaking Swiss cantons, drew few enthusiasts. The New York Times observed the political climate in Switzerland:
The decline of Hitlerism can be ascribed to two main causes. First, there has been a revival of Swiss patriotism as a consequence of psychological errors in the German Nazi propaganda. The Swiss also feel that the Nazi movement may at any moment threaten their independence."'
In its September 12 issue, the Journal de Genève reported Swiss sentiment as follows: "The attitude of Berlin toward Vienna proves to us that Hitlerism is an article of export.... Swiss independence counts for no more beyond the Rhine than does Austrian autonomy. No one need therefore be astonished if Swiss opinion remains agitated and anxious in the presence of the evolution of the Third Reich."
The Petit Parisien published an article in September by the English journalist "Augur" (the pen name for M. Poliakoff) entitled "A Plan for the Invasion of Switzerland Preferred by the German General Staff.." It created a sensation in the international press and was, of course, carefully analyzed in the Swiss newspapers. Augur was described as a well-informed political commentator.
The theme of the plan was "Geneva, Doorstep to France." It expressed a low opinion of the ability of the Swiss Army to resist, arguing that its soldiers were good but lacked training in modern armaments and equipment. Arms and munitions factories were located predominantly in the north, near Germany, and could be readily destroyed. To avoid a decisive defeat as early as the first day, therefore, the Swiss Army would withdraw to the mountains of central Switzerland, where it would be cut off from France. The wives and children of the battalions from the northern districts would remain in the hands of the Germans as hostages, which would undermine the troops' morale, for fear of reprisals.
Without encountering any serious opposition in the northern Swiss plain, the German Army would then march right to the Jura. The German forces would rush to the south of Belfort, France, under its fortifications, and the main army would quickly march alongside the Jura, its right flank protected by the Lake of Neuchâtel. The initial goal to reach was the Léman Line, close to Geneva. Geneva was the gateway to France and particularly important for the seizure of Lyons, France, with its surrounding arms and munitions factories.
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