Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland?

A comment on yesterday’s post got me thinking about this.  Hitler even had plans (Operation Tannenbaum) to invade Switzerland sitting in his desk drawer.   Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?  Books could be written about this.  Heck, there probably already have been.  I did a bit of research and tried to grossly oversimplify things to post a bit about it here.

Switzerland impressively mobilized its army reserves and civilians.  They were well prepared, increasing food production, developing communication networks, etc.  More or less, they did everything they could to avoid an invasion.  In addition to the devastation wrought by war, the Swiss (who’d had a functioning democracy for over 500 years) were terrified of losing their independence.

The Swiss population was overwhelmingly opposed to Nazism.   They were, however, in a difficult position.  Switzerland is a country with no natural resources; it was surrounded by fascist powers, the Axis countries.

Switzerland tried to avoid antagonizing Germany by making it difficult for the Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland.  In 1938, they imposed a special visa requirement for “German non-Aryans” and expanding the visa requirement to all foreign nationals (including Jews fleeing from other countries) the next year.  They closed their border crossings and criminally prosecuted those who sheltered Jews hiding from Nazis.

With Hitler’s rise, the Swiss feared a German invasion and tweaked the National Redoubt (the Swiss national defense plan).  They installed defenses (like the Toblerone line) that were intended to slow down an invasion enough to allow it the military and government enough time to withdraw into the easier-to-defend alpine areas.  Switzerland built oodles of forts (most camouflaged like Fürigen)in the center of the country (we’re hoping to visit more of them).

Essentially, Switzerland was prepared to cede some terrain to Germany in hopes of retaining more easily defendable areas.  Sorry Geneva, you would have been left to the Nazis.   You might have still been able to take part in guerrilla campaign.  Hitler would have had to devote significant forces to conquering and holding the area (and experience huge losses).   Switzerland hoped to deter an invasion by demonstrating that an invasion would have a high cost.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  Germany was able to use Switzerland’s train lines to Italy during WWII. We’ve all heard about the sealed rail cars that passed unchecked through Switzerland from Italy to Germany.  The Swiss rigged every bridge through the mountains with a incendiary devices, destroying the valued Swiss supply lines.  Switzerland also made economic concessions to Germany.  They hoped Germany would do a cost benefit analysis and decide that it wasn’t worth it.

Switzerland conducted a delicate and escalating dance with Nazi Germany.  For example, Germany continually violated Swiss airspace.  Germany threatened the Swiss after they shot down 11 Luftwaffe planes (that were flying over Switzerland).  The Swiss army ordered this stop, they forced the planes to land at Swiss airfields instead.  Hitler (unsuccessfully) sent saboteurs to destroy the pesky airfields.  Relations on a personal level (with bankers) were a little less tense.

In the end, Switzerland may have just gotten lucky that Hitler got busy fighting a war on two fronts (eastern and western fronts).


20 thoughts on “Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland?

  1. I read a good book about this subject by Author Stephen Halbrook which I found on the iBook store online. It’s called: The Swiss and The Nazis – How the Alpine Republic survived in the Shadow of the Third Reich.
    It tells the story from both sides and includes many historical documents as well as eye witness reports from cilivians and military personnel from Switzerland and Germany.

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  4. In my opinion as a Swiss, there were three reasons, only two of which get usually mentioned because there’s no proof for the third:
    1. The Swiss really did a good job on deterring an attack (historically it helped to have a reputation of being pretty much invinceable).
    2. There was a certain amount of cooperation – necessarily because Switzerland does not have any proper oil, coal, and iron ore worth mentioning and it was surrounded by fascism.
    These first two reasons are actually not reason enough to explain why Switzerland was spared because Hitler was never a reasonable person to begin with – remember: that’s the guy who started a war with the Soviet Union when he was still battling the British Empire.
    3. So in my opinion, the decisive factor lies in Hitlers psychology and worldview. I think he kind of admired the Swiss for our history and looked upon us as a kind of a living example of what he thought to be an ‘arian prototype’. So he just hoped the Swiss would join the Third Reich. Our stance against naziism therefore angered and hurt him but he knew that if he attacked us, he would definitely lose our sympathy, therefore he didn’t.

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  9. what a load of donkey dung, they paid the war machine on both sides and laundered all sides ill gotten gains and they have done this for many years… if you need to find evil, look no more this country hides all truth… not the people but the puppet masters;

    • Yes. The Bank of Intternational Settlements in Basel still share out war winnings, after deductons for financial services of course.
      Thre population, just guards at the bank.

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  11. Hitler know the Swiss were actually not willing to hand over their mountain passes. The Geans would have lost half their army trying to take on the Swiss in the mountain passes. They didn’t need tanks, just anti-talk weaponry. Which they had. When he figured it wouldn’t be worth taking an area with no land resources. It is recorded that Hitler said himself, “They can have their mountains.”

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