South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.253 Cape Town Branch FEBRUARY 1999

After the Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291, the ensuing 550 years were filled with a succession of wars not only with major powers but also with cantons or groups of cantons fighting each other. In addition, Swiss citizens served in Russia, France and Italy as soldiers, in India and in the French Foreign Legion, even with the V.O.C. in the Cape and on Ceylon. All this changed drastically in 1848, when a new Constitution was approved. Here it was stated that Switzerland was to be neutral in all future Conflicts and that it had a right to defend its neutrality, which it so successfully did in WWI.

Committee member Bob Buser presented an extremely well researched paper giving details on the state of military preparedness in Switzerland between 1919 and 1930, which at that time was Zero. Only from 1933 onwards did the country's budget allow the purchase of a limited number of small and medium arms for its large militia army and the erection of fortifications along Swiss borders with Germany which was perceived as the biggest threat due to its process of acquiring new territory by peaceful or belligerent means.

Once WW2 began the landlocked Swiss were forced to continue trading with the Axis of Germany/Italy, albeit unwillingly, but they had to rely on imports of raw materials for their own weapons industry. At the same time they acted as a convenient listening post for espionage on and by everyone. To maintain strict neutrality became somewhat difficult, with the danger of a German attack across Swiss territory on France hanging over them. Undoubtedly, the French and Italians had similar military aspirations, while the other powers, US, Russia and Britain, made full use of the Swiss espionage network which was controlled by a Swiss national and received intelligence from Great Britain (Ultra), and from Germany; the communist Rote Kapelle. But all the time Switzerland built up its military strength, especially along its borders, erected tank traps and mined mountain passes especially the Gotthard and Simplon passes leading down to Italy. It improved the armament of its artillery and anti-aircraft defences, introduced a few tanks, and gradually changed its transport system from horse-power to motor power.

In the end, no Swiss units were involved in the fighting, save the anti-aircraft defences who guarded against bomber attacks both from German and Allied aircraft, with the USAAF notoriously losing their way and dropping their bomb loads on Swiss towns and cities, and the Germans landing the occasional aircraft on a Swiss runway. by mistake.

Thank you Bob, for presenting us with a unique chapter of European military history.

The Battery Press of Nashville, Tennessee are offering the two-volume German Official History of the Boer War at the discounted price of US$ 79.95 plus $ 5.00 for surface mail. Anyone interested can obtain further details from John Mahncke.
Fellow Member Dr.Edgar Bolton Hacking passed away in December last year at the age of 87. Dr Hacking was a cheerful and beloved family member and a renowned anaesthetist with notable achievements in the medical field. He was awarded the military MBE for gallantry in action in 1943 and also territorial decorations for distinguished service. He is survived by his wife, Dr Evangeline Hacker, and five children to whom we extend our deepest and heartfelt sympathies.

Guerino Renzo Bozzoli, honoured and loved Vice-Chancellor of Witwatersrand University, died of cancer in December 1998 at the age of 87. As an engineer he was involved in the development of the very early RADAR system in South Africa in WW2.

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December) at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 3.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

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