By Mizutayio with help from Vollketten
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 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 its 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, in a moment’s notice hundreds of bridges and tunnels would have collapsed making passing through Switzerland nearly impossible for trains.
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 peaceful Swiss houses. Back in the day, noone knew of them, not even the Swiss. The army was keeping it so secret that whoever mentioned these bunkers would allegedly have been killed.
This was 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 tire down the infantry, which at that point would be sitting ducks for the massive 10.5 cm and 15 cm cannons built into the walls of cliffs and disguised bunkers, all of which were hidden as I described before, just as random rocks, or even a bunch of trees.
Gun positions built inside the cliff face.
Disguised as a large rock
Can you spot the artillery positions?
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.
Though, having said all of this, it still didn’t stop Germany from making plans to invade Switzerland. The operation to invade the Swiss would have been called Operation Tannenbaum (Fir Tree/Christmas Tree) 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 troops of varying quality and experience. Tank wise, Switzerland had a significant disadvantage: some French cavalry tanks, a handful of Carden-Loyd vehicles from the 1930’s and a couple of modern vehicles of Czech origin.
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 an anti-aircraft vehicle capable of relocating over rough terrain. There were 2 designs proposed: one cheaper design with a light car frame which would have not been expensive 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.
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 to 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 with the turret removed and a 7.5cm L/49 cannon added. 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).
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 the gun mantlet, but given the weight of the turret and the effect that it 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.
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 because the additional weight of the turret and of the gun would slow the tank down.
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 the trip through Swiss tanks in the 1946-1948 period. 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 hope it will happen.