Monday, November 17, 2014

Demining Switzerland

To the tourist Switzerland is a beautiful country with flowery alps in summer and sunny ski slopes in winter, a country of cheese, chocolate, and the Swiss franc, i.e., therefore expensive.

Few of those visiting Switzerland know that the country is still a military fortress where every male not only has to serve in the armed forces but keeps his assault rifle together with a soldered up can of ammunition in his wardrobe. Somehow this is a tradition for in the Middle Ages Swiss soldiers were known for their crossbows, their halberds, and their bravery. On many occasions they had fought and won battles against the Kaiser and the Habsburgs. As a result the Eidgenossen (confederates) eventually gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Swiss soldiers were coveted by European powers and were fighting on all fronts. In many a battle Swiss stood against Swiss and frequently the country paid a high death toll. Nowadays the only Swiss soldiers serving outside Switzerland are those of the Swiss Guard protecting the Pope.

Defending the Swiss border in 1914 (© DLM)
The Swiss Wehrwille (combat spirit) to defend the country was strengthened during the two World Wars. They built the Alpenfestung (Alpine Fortress) and mined strategic roads, tunnels, and bridges particularly those crossing the High Rhine. Special caves located inside the foundations were permanently filled with TNT to be exploded in case of an invasion from the north. If it was not for the Germans it was aimed against the Warsaw Pact forces during the Cold War.

Even the historical wooden bridge crossing the Rhine at Bad S├Ąckingen
had explosive chambers filled with TNT (©dpa)

Only recently Switzerland had emptied all
Explosive chamber in the
Bad S├Ąckingen bridge (©Lipp/Der Sonntag)
foundations of bridges of their permanent TNT loads. Red Baron does not know how often in the past he had passed over tons of TNT crossing the Rhine between Switzerland and Germany. Swiss experts assured the somewhat astonished traveler that in case of a fire TNT will not explode but simply burn and stink. For an explosion you need a detonator and they were always kept apart in good custody.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the article! It's great seeing all this information all in one place, I've gleaned much of this on several trips to Switzerland. On one occasion, I had driven to the end of the road above Elm, I had crossed the last one lane bridge where I was greeted by soldiers with rifles, they were completing their yearly service by guarding the military installation built into the mountain. Since then I have also visited a de-commissioned installation on the Gotthard Pass. We attended a lecture in a underground muster room and viewed several underground living quarters and mechanical rooms before heading on a 3 km tunnel walk (straight and uphill!) we surfaced quite a distance from where we entered! The TNT issue was also brought to our attention about destroying the big guns that were also in the installation. We stayed overnight at the hotel at the top of the pass. The next day we stopped when we saw the old Post carriage pulled by a team of horses, this was in 2011 the same year we crossed paths in Murten!