Photo: Courtesy of Villa Castagnola
Bridges wired to blow. Artillery hidden in farms. A vast honeycomb of tunnels bored into mountains, ready to house a division of troops.That’s just the price of neutrality for Switzerland, evidently.
Over at BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh writes about John McPhee’s La Place de la Concorde Suisse, a 1984 look at the Swiss military, specifically the extent they were willing to go to stymie an invasion.
The whole article is really worth a read.
The devotion to defence at any cost is evidently high in the small, mountainous European nation.
The Swiss were the first to institute mandatory military service from every single able-bodied male citizen, a model later adapted with immense success by Israel.
But the kicker is how the Swiss engineered their nation to collapse. Literally.
Manaugh quotes this fascinating section from the book:
To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two.
The Swiss are completely willing to do whatever it takes to make an invasion tiresome and difficult for possible invaders. They’ve also planned on making that hypothetical a particularly deadly one.
Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage.
For a nation legendary for its militant neutrality, those sort of fortifications are probably crucial. As a nation that maintained neutrality since 1815 — through dozens of European wars, two world wars, and the Cold War — it’s important to have a very secure insurance policy against overeager invaders.
Manaugh also quotes from the book how much the Swiss have prepped for an insurgency should push come to shove.
Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them.
Manaugh describes how the Alps have seen significant subterranean construction, and that Switzerland built titanic underground fortresses to withstand an attack, all hidden below sleepy villages.
In short: Switzerland is devoted to extreme neutrality. But were a nation to test that, they’re prepared to mess an invader up.
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