published by National Geographic, see here.
On July 25 1940, after the French capitulation to the Nazis, Switzerland was in a tight spot surrounded by opposing forces. Swiss General Henri Guisan delivered a historic address to his entire corps of officers and shared with them his idea of the “Defense du Réduit” strategy. The idea was to abandon a large part of the country and retreat, not unlike a James Bond villain, with the government and the army’s commanders to large facilities hidden inside the Alps. Guerilla warfare and the destruction of tactical elements for the enemy would be masterminded from the war rooms of the gigantic fortress inside the Alps. Looking back, it seems shocking to neglect the public; the wives and children to the enemy. But like so many other parts of national propaganda in the 1940s that appear questionable from today’s perspective, the Reduit was Switzerland’s last and only resort for hope.
There were plans to invade Switzerland. “Operation Tannenbaum” had 11 German and 15 Italian divisions attack Switzerland with a surprise attack in 1940. But the invasion never happened.
One can only guess, what it was that saved Switzerland from being taken over. Was it the economic ties to Nazi Germany? Was Hitler really too concerned to attack the “most disgusting” country with its “miserable people”? Were the Nazis and their allies intimidated by the strategically clever “Reduit National”? Or was it the pure luck, “being forgotten and dispensed, treated as a fossil” as Friedrich Dürrenmatt had it which would eventually, during the post war years lead to false heroism with the “Réduit” as its monument of truth?
After Guisan’s initial idea, contractors and servicemen were hired or ordered to begin work, digging miles and miles of tunnels and filling in the infrastructure in record time. The stationed soldiers were not allowed to talk about it with fellow troops, friends or even family. There’s no photographic record of life inside those facilities during wartime because it was all top secret. This loyalist codex continued throughout the Cold War almost into the 21st century. In late 1990 the Swiss government made most of the facilities public and visitors were able for the first time to see these monuments of an era filled with paranoia and fear. But many facilities are still kept hidden and top secret while this mythical tale continues. The account of Switzerland’s controversial history during WWII remains ambiguous - behind those thick walls lies an adventurous story of heroic idealism and superb technical achievements.