June 22, 2019

Morgarten, Switzerland – Here, in 1315, a force of Swiss mountaineers ambushed an invading force of Austrian feudal knights who had come to reassert Hapsburg feudal rule over the rebellious Swiss.

The burly Swiss farmers and woodsmen from the forest cantons Unterwalden, Uri and Schwytz fell upon the close-packed Austrian knights and men-at-arms, using long pikes or deadly pole axes known as halbards, and massacred them without quarter.

Two years later, a second Austrian expeditionary force was caught by the Swiss peasant infantry near Lucerne at Sempach and crushed.

These fierce battles were the first time in modern history that foot soldiers had withstood heavily armored mounted knights. These epochal encounters marked the beginning of the end of European feudalism and the rise of infantry armies. They also freed Switzerland’s forest cantons of Austrian rule, creating Europe’s first independent democratic state, the Swiss Confederation.

The always astute Machiavelli said of the Swiss warriors: ‘Most heavily armed, most free.’ Indeed, most free to this day.

Those who think of Switzerland as a quaint land of cuckoo clocks and chocolate are sorely mistaken. To paraphrase Voltaire’s bon mot about Prussia, Switzerland is a giant fortress, disguised as a country.

I attended school and university in Switzerland. Over the decades, I kept hearing about mountains opening up to disgorge warplanes, or cliffs studded with hidden artillery. But even my Swiss friends didn’t know much about these seemingly fantastic sightings.

Fifteen years ago, I was the guest of the Swiss Fortress Guard Corps, a top-secret military outfit that operates Switzerland’s mountain fortresses. I was one of the first non-Swiss to be shown the mountain forts that guard the heart of the nation’s ‘Alpine Redoubt.’ What I was shown astounded me – and continues to do so.

In the late 1930’s, as one European nation after another bowed down to Hitler’s demands, the Swiss military and its popular rifle clubs, banded together and decided their nation would not bend the knee as the Czechs, Dutch, Norwegians, Belgians, and then the French had done.

A feverish program of fortress construction was begun across the Alps. Some 900,000 troops were mobilized. Orders went out from Gen. Henri Guisan: ‘leave your families behind in the lowlands. Man our mountain forts. We have no place or food for civilians in them. Fight to your last cartridge; then use your bayonets. No surrender!’

Every road and bridge was mined; all mountain passes were rigged with explosives. Particularly so the rail lines and tunnels that linked Germany to its erstwhile ally, Italy.

Hitler was furious. He denounced the Swiss as ‘insolent herdsmen.’ Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, rightfully feared tangling with the tough Swiss mountaineers who had ravaged Italy during the Renaissance. The Pope’s Swiss Guards are a memento of the era of ‘Furia Helvetica.’

Working 24/7, Swiss engineers created a warren of tunnels and gun positions guarding the main entry points into Switzerland at St. Maurice, Gothard, Thun and Sargans. These forts were equipped with 75, 105 and 150mm cannons, machine guns and mortars emplaced in mountain sides and camouflaged so they are almost invisible.

Inside the forts are barracks, engine rooms, headquarters, clinics, observation posts and magazines filled with shells. The hidden forts interlock their fire and support one another. Unlike the less heavily gunned Maginot Line, each fort was protected by a special infantry unit on the outside, linked by telephone to the underground garrison.

In addition, Switzerland built bomb shelters for most of its people.

The Swiss only began decommissioning their forts in the 1990’s – after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Switzerland was a prime target of the Soviet Red Army. Advancing from Czechoslovakia, the Soviets planned to race across lightly defended Austria into eastern Switzerland.

Then, into the Swiss lowlands on a Basel-Neuchatel-Lausanne axis to Geneva. From there, the Group of Soviet Forces powerful armored divisions would erupt into France’s Rhone Valley and drive north for the Channel ports, taking US and NATO forces in the rear and cutting their supply lines. It would have been a replay of Germany’s brilliant Ardennes offensive in 1940.

But Swiss forts and solid Swiss citizen troops stood in the way. The sons of the heroes of Sempach and Morgarten were on guard.

When Swiss mountaineers vote, they always carry rifles and swords as a symbol of how their freedom was attained and preserved.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

This post is in: Switzerland

13 Responses to “A FORTRESS, DISGUISED AS A COUNTRY”

  1. tumbleweeds says:

    Off topic but reply to Dik. Canada’s notwithstanding clause allows a Parliamentary majority to override s. 2 and 7-15 for five years and allows a new Parliamentary majority to extend. We can count on one hand the number of times it’s been used. It was absolutely forced on Trudeau senior by conservatives who opposed constitutional rights for vulnerable people. Trudeau senior accepted it as a necessary compromise to get the Charter and guessed correctly that future governments would (mostly) find that overriding constitutional rights was political suicide. Back to our most excellent host Eric.

  2. OK, this isn’t a comment on the above article but on the drone incident. I’m sure US and Israeli drones have been flying over Iran for years.

    The Iranians showed wreckage from the drone. If it went down in international waters, why didn’t the US recover it? Once the shock of the success of the rocket attack sunk into both sides after several minutes, would not the first priority be to recover the wreckage?

    The US simply couldn’t tolerate the top secret gear falling into the hands of the Iranians/Russians/Chinese. If the drone came down in international waters, I’m sure the US would have spared no effort to safeguard it and gotten off the mark quickly. If it came down in Iranian waters, they had no recourse.

    Where the drone came down by no means confirms where it was when it was hit. At 60,000 ft or 18km up, the wreckage or partially flying drone could easily travel 20km to point of impact.

    I hope Eric deals with this in his next column.

    • From News18:
      .
      Tehran: Iran gave two warnings before downing a US reconnaissance drone over the Gulf of Oman, the commander of the aerospace arm of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Friday.
      .
      “Twice we… sent warnings,” Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh told the state television.
      .
      Hajizadeh said that even pilotless drones, like the one shot down on Thursday, had systems to relay warnings and other communications to their operators thousands of kilometres (miles) away in the United States.
      .
      “This aircraft possesses a system which allows it to relay the signals and information it receives to its own central system,” he said.
      .
      “Unfortunately, when they failed to reply and the army gave a second appeal at 3:55 a.m. (2325 GMT Wednesday) and they kept on getting nearer and the aircraft made no change to its trajectory, at 4:05 a.m. (2335 GMT) we were obliged to shoot it down.”
      .
      It appears the Americans continue to lie.
      .
      Dik

    • and further, from American Military News:
      .
      An Iranian general said Iran decided not to shoot down a U.S. Navy plane with a crew of 35, opting instead to shoot down a nearby U.S. Navy drone, as a warning to the United States.
      .
      Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh claimed the U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk drone and nearby Navy P-8 aircraft were violating Iran’s airspace, prompting Iran to shoot down the drone as a warning to the American “terrorists,” according to Iranian state media Fars News Agency on Friday.
      .
      “We intended to send a message to American terrorists in the region,” Hajizadeh said.
      .
      “Along with the American drone was an American P8 aircraft with 35 on board, and it was also violating our airspace and we could have downed it too,” he said, adding, “But we did not do it, because our aim was to warn the terrorist forces of the U.S.”
      .
      Dik

    • Zeeshan7 says:

      I completely agree, if it were in international airspace, why did it fall in Iran, that too right on the heels of so-called Iranian attacks on oil tankers (conveniently done in UAE territorial waters). Just a bunch of false flags to initiate war on behalf of Israel and Saudi interests. I’m gonna give credit to Trump for openly stating that his advisors were forcefully pushing him toward a war, which he does not want.

      • Steve_M. says:

        You are right that EU pressure pushed the Swiss into adopting much stricter gun controls, but it was because Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement and wants to continue the open borders with its EU neighbours. If they had voted against the gun restrictions, Switzerland might have been expelled from the Schengen Agreement and would the see border controls put in place by France, Germany, Austria and Italy.

      • Steve_M. says:

        Trump might also have been warned by Putin not to attack Iran. Whether or not the US decides to go to war against Iran will depend on what Russia has said.

  3. When I was younger, I used to admire the Americans for their Constitution’s Second Amendment. Canada has a Charter, but, has a ‘notwithstanding’ clause that voids the entire document. You can thank Trudeau senior for this item.
    .
    Our Charter isn’t worth the powder to blow it to h*ll. With the American government as it now stands, their Second Amendment falls into the same category and the reason for it is no longer required.
    .
    I’ve always admired the Swiss for their democratic activity in the manner they run their country. Active participation at the highest levels… even requiring Muslims to shake hands with their schoolmasters (I’m not an Islamophobe). It’s fundamental tradition and was viewed as such by those voting.
    .
    I’m a little disappointed in the Swiss recent move to disarm the populace, removing automatic weapons from the hands of their ‘militias’ to conform with EU requirements. This could be the beginning of the end of ‘Furia Helvetica.’ It was, in typical Swiss fashion, agreed to by democratic vote.
    .
    Dik

    • Steve_M. says:

      Switzerland is not and never has been a member of the EU. It is a member of the European Free Trade Agreement and still uses the Swiss franc.

    • Steve_M. says:

      You are right that EU pressure pushed the Swiss into adopting much stricter gun controls, but it was because Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement and wants to continue the open borders with its EU neighbours. If they had voted against the gun restrictions, Switzerland might have been expelled from the Schengen Agreement and would the see border controls put in place by France, Germany, Austria and Italy.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.