Armed Neutrality: Swiss Tanks Part 1

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By Mizutayio with help from Vollketten

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Many people may know Switzerland as that small and peaceful country in the heart of Europe with a small army and only a few tanks. While that could be the first impression, Switzerland has a lot more to offer than you’d think. This is Part 1 of a series so I thought it would be a good start to ‘set the scene’ for Switzerland as we progress deeper into their tanks.

Switzerland has the misfortune of being surrounded by a few very big nations: Germany, France and Italy. During the Wars, Switzerland was heavily focused on defense. That is for WW1, WW2 and the cold war. During these tough times, Switzerland managed to stay out of trouble the entire time. Especially during World War II when Switzerland was surrounded by the Axis. It seems like a mystery on why Hitler didn’t invade us straight away.

Well there would be a few reasons as to why an invasion didn’t happen. One of which would be the natural resources of Switzerland, of which it had none; so invading a country that couldn’t give any resources would have been pointless. Second; the location of Switzerland and it’s natural defences. Switzerland was, as mentioned before, surrounded by Germany and Italy.

Passing through Switzerland is the fastest North to South connection from Germany to Italy; the Gotthard railroad tunnel. This is a massive tunnel that cut transportation times from a day to a few hours. While that part would have been a very good reason to invade there was a guaranteed destruction of the North-South connection. This would have seperated Germany from Italy. This was all part of the defensive tactics of Switzerland, a lot of railway tunnels and bridges were packed full of explosives so that in case of an invasion and in a moments notice hundreds of bridges and tunnels would have collapsed making passing through Switzerland nearly impossible for trains.

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This would have had severe consequences for the Third Reich since they used the Gotthard line to bring ammunition, rations and other goods to Italy and Germany with relative ease. In addition to this not only rail bridges would have been blown up, but also roads would have been destroyed so that in order to cross deep valleys, they would have to take long detours which would have been tiring for the soldiers and would cost a lot of fuel for vehicles.

In addition to cutting off any transportation routes, multiple factories and other industrial buildings were ready to be blown up as well so even if Germany would have invaded Switzerland, they would have had no place to produce any vehicles or weapons. making them lose far more than they would have gained.

If all of that wasn’t enough to stop the Axis from invading we still had the ‘Reduit’ (‘The Redoubt’), a series of forts built inside mountains or bunkers, some disguised as normal barns or peacefull Swiss houses. Back in the day no-one knew of them, not even the Swiss. The army was keeping it so secret that whoever mentioned these bunkers would allegedly have been killed.

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This is the layout of the Reduit defences, with the biggest and most important fortifications being St. Maurice (bottom left) Gotthard (Middle) and Sargans (on the right). The job of the forts in the border area and the advanced positions was to weaken the enemy as much as possible so that they would reach the Central area with weakened and depleted forces.

In addition to that, fields were to be flooded in order to create swampy ground which would slow down any attacking ground forces and tiring down the infantry, which at that point would be a sitting duck for the massive 10.5 cm and 15 cm Cannons built into the walls of cliffs and bunkers disguised all of which were hidden as I described before or just as random rocks, or even a bunch of trees.

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Gun positions built inside the cliff face.

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Disguised as a large rock

and here…

Can you spot the Artillery positions?

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It’s safe to say that Switzerland would have been a hard time for anyone to invade us. Bombing the reduit was pretty much pointless since some of the bunkers would have been impossible to make out from the air and it would have had no effects on a mountain.

Having said all of this though it still didn’t stop Germany from making plans to invade Switzerland. The operation to invade Switzerland would have been called Operation Tannenbaum and it was estimated that Switzerland would have to fight between 300,000 and 500,000 men from the axis side. Against this the Swiss could muster some 350,000 Swiss troops of varying quality and experience. Tank wise Switzerland had a significant disadavntage, some seized French cavalry tanks, a handful of Carden Loyd vehicles from the 1930’s and a couple of modern vehicles of Czech origin.

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During the War there was no way for Switzerland to obtain any vehicles from foreign countries. To be fair, there was no real need for Tanks in the Defensive strategy of the Swiss so we didn’t focus on tank development. One of the threats to Switzerland was German and Allied aircraft accidentally crossing the swiss airspace. It happened multiple times that Allied bomber squadrons mistook swiss cities for German ones and bombed them. As a result, in 1941 a Project was started to create a anti-aircraft vehicle capable of relocating over rough terrain. There were 2 designs proposed: one oheaper design with a light carframe which would have been cheap to build, but since it would have been mounted on a light chassis, it would have lost a lot of accuracy since there was almost no stabilisation.  

 

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Wheeled version

The other Version was a much more expensive, yet a much more stable tracked vehicle which had a much better terrain passability. It was a Panzer 39 with a few minor modifications and an additional pair of wheels increase stability and reduce ground pressure. The 34-Pz.K.41 would make for an interesting Tier 2 Tank destroyer in World of Tanks. This vehicle also was later known as the NK I which was made in 1946 and basically was the same 34-Pz.K.41 chassis, but they have removed the turret and added a 7.5cm L/49 cannon.  The Pz.K.41 also was planned to be equipped with the 4.7cm Inf.Kan.35/41 or the 7.5cm Kanone 38/39 L/30 (which would be a tier 2 SPG)

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Tracked version 34-Pz.K.41

I’m currently researching more development in Switzerland for this platform and others during the war but skipping ahead to 1946 and beyond Switzerland had quite a lot of tank projects two of which were the NK I and the NK II projects.

As mentioned above, the NK I was based off the 34-Pz.K.41 which again has been modified again to make the NK 1 we know today equipped with a 7.5cm L/49 gun. Part of the same project was a special turret with a 7.5 cm gun L/42 either to be mounted on a Panzer 39 or the NK I chassis although which one is not definitively clear.

A Panzer 39 with that turret and gun would be a good tier 4 vehicle. The turret front was about 75mm thick without gun mantlet but given the weight of the turret and the effect that would have on the Panzer 39 I’d expect the hp/ton to go down to about 12 hp/ton which will make the vehicle much less mobile.

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Another Project on the Panzer 39 chassis was a 4.7cm PaK. 41 in an enlarged turret. Armour thickness would have been the same, and again, it would have lost mobility through the additional weight of the turret and gun would slow the tank down.

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So that’s it for part 1 – I’ve set out the strategic position of Switzerland particularly for WW2, and the origins of tank development. In the next part we are going to continue a trip through Swiss tanks with the 1946-1948 period, on onwards. I will reveal several previously unknown Swiss tanks and projects too. So if I haven’t yet persuaded you to reconsider Switzerland being added to WoT yet then I soon will I hope.

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38 comments on “Armed Neutrality: Swiss Tanks Part 1

  1. Carlos Escudero says:

    Nice read! I was alwa TD curious as to how Switzerland managed to stay out of the war and stuff.




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  2. Sy says:

    Good article, please continue it (but I have to admit, my favorite part was that ‘why Germans did not attack your country’ history lesson) 🙂




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  3. Gabriel Maia says:

    nothing in common with the post but, I have to say, when will 9.15 arrive? next week apparently, on wednesday?




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  4. unable2pwn says:

    When’s part two coming out?




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  5. Loch7009 says:

    SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONIES!. Great article, this is. Not necessarily for the tanks point of view but for the defence system. Holy cow it would of been a bitch to take down




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  6. DecoNoir says:

    Kudos to the authors. A good read and I look forward to future parts!




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  7. Anonymous says:

    For anyone interested, a small French news segment on Swiss fortifications: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEOLonBfaD8




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  8. Hedgehog1963 says:

    Yes. Excellent work.




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  9. Holy hell, Hetalia wasn’t kidding about Switzerland’s wall of permanent neutrality 😛




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  10. sidofthenorth says:

    Nice article, interessting stuff! Looking forward to the next 🙂




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  11. Superlemmon says:

    The Reich did not invade Switzerland because they depended on their banking system for international trade.
    Swiss banks came also in handy for hiding war lootings.




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  12. Alder says:

    Nice article, but a bit one-sided in its defense of the reduit myth. Contemporary historians agree that it was mostly pointless, because it would sacrifice all primary (agrarian) and secondary (industrial) capacity, and all major cities, and leave the army hiding in the mountains to defend – what exactly? The transit to Italy was not that important, and alternative routes in the west and east were available. The main reason why Switzerland was not invaded was that it collaborated with the Axis quite nicely – no need to waste troops.




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  13. Concombre says:

    Same as other: really interesting article, I’m waiting to read the next parts 🙂




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  14. Swatdennis says:

    Great article, but there is one thing, the swiss did not stay neutral, they kept all the money from the nazi’s, so they were not neutral!




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    • Swatdennis says:

      ^edit, they were the bankers from the nazis, there are a lot of jewish treasures found in switzerland and that is no coincidence!




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      • plesioth says:

        Please… Switzerland worked with everyone, not just the Nazis. Neutrality doesn’t mean they can’t have contact with anyone, its just easier to make business with the group that surrounds you.




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  15. Anonymous says:

    “…the panzer 58 mutz has no armour , because switzerland forgot what its like to be shot at…”

    I laugh every time




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  16. Anonymous says:

    “I hate these filthy Neutrals, Kif. With enemies you know where they stand but with Neutrals, who knows? It sickens me.” – Zapp Brannigan




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  17. exocet6951 says:

    The Swiss may be neutral, but they were far from peaceful.

    They shot down German and US planes flying over their airspace with no second-thoughts.




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    • Planon says:

      Considering the Allied track record of bombing/shelling the wrong places, I can understand why they’d shoot down American aircraft.




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      • exocet6951 says:

        No argument here, an FFL pilot once admitted he almost started shooting at B-17s when they got spooked and dropped their bombs early on residential areas just to go home faster.

        Still, the point is that the Swiss, while neutral, weren’t peaceful. Being extremely defensive to the point of shooting down anything that goes over your airspace, putting thousands of guns in hidden bunkers, and boobytrapping tunnels is pretty damn warlike.
        Smart of them, and I don’t blame them in the slightest. I would have done the same. But not peaceful nonetheless.




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    • Mizutayio says:

      That was neccesary in order to stay neutral.




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  18. zombietropa says:

    Great article, looking forward to the rest :).




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  19. Interesting stuff. Great, I am always very interested in those obscure and secret things that neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden developed during and after the war. Keep up the good work




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  20. PUNISHER989 says:

    Nice, being half Swiss, this was a pleasure to read.

    Great read and explanations, although from what I know, the Swiss also maned and rebuilt alot of the old Castles and medieval forts. Also they shot down USA and German aircraft on more than one occasion.




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  21. skivster says:

    Read: “Armed Nudity”




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  22. novaprime64 says:

    Tick tock, your clock tocks. Soon your life shall lock, what a shock.




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  23. Leobeard says:

    What is this saying that swiss are the most paranoid people in europe.. 😀




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  24. sense says:

    Very interesting article. A couple of points:

    1. It’s wrong to say that Switzerland had no natural resources that would have been useful to Germany’s war effort. It had various mineral resources etc, however the wider point about an invasion offering a poor return for the effort involved is certainly true.

    2. “Back in the day no-one knew of them, not even the Swiss. The army was keeping it so secret that whoever mentioned these bunkers would allegedly have been killed.” I think this is a bit of a myth. Many of these defensive features are near inhabited areas. The locals certainly would have been aware of their existence, despite the generally effective disguises adopted. They would have seen them being built, and in all probability, would have been involved to a degree in their construction.




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  25. Tanta says:

    bunkers? fortifications? pls don’t insult us, those did nothing to deter a german invasion, France had those and a little known fact Greece had those. Fortifications did nothing to stop the Germans in either case French and Greek Bunkers stood firm till the end of the war for their countries and the soldiers in them had to surrender when their countries surrendered. The fact that Germany didnt invade is only down to two things politics and interests.




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    • sense says:

      This is factually incorrect (regarding the French defences anyway). In simple terms, Frances defences did not cover the whole of the border. The Germans went around them (through the low countries) and, in fact, also broke through them directly (after a delay), prior to the fall of France.

      Also, comparing defences on a vast, largely open, border, like the French eastern one to those in a small, mountainous country like Switzerland is of very limited relevance.




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  26. ol_Cajun says:

    The Germans would have also found an extremely well armed population, who are said to be excellent shooters.




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    • PUNISHER989 says:

      This is true, every house had a underground bunker aswell incase of bombings, and every family was armed with bayonet rifles. (I still have those Rifles actually) I must see what exactly what designation they have.




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  27. […] In part 1 I set the scene for the Swiss defensive mindset and hopefully you will see the defensive needs refelcted in Swiss tank design. Having looked at WW2 and the Panzer 39 projects next we shall look at the last project of the 1946-1948 period and take a look at the NK II, probably one of the most ridicilous looking, yet oddly charming tanks I’ve ever seen. After that some completely new deisgn I hope shall pursuade you to support a full SWiss tree for World of Tanks. […]




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