Swiss Operational Planning 1939 to 1941

The Swiss operational planning was the reason of a major dispute after the war ended. The general pointed out that there were no operational plans available at the beginning of the war and that one of the lessons learned should be to do operational planning on a certain level of detail.

There are two key issues which drove the Swiss operational planning and the execution of these plans during the war years (and some do still today):

  1. The Swiss army is based on a reserve system. This system allows to get a relatively strong force (more than 10% of the population) under arms. On the other hand the army needs time to get into position (one day to mobilized and another day to get into the positions). This asked for a delaying force a the border which was formed in 1938 with the installation of the border brigade (Grenzbrigade) system. Although the reserve system creates a strong army, it is difficult to maintain the high level of forces over a longer period of time since the citizen-soldiers are removed from the working places, farming and industry grind almost to a halt during periods of full mobilization.
  2. The Swiss territory lacks operational depth. Switzerland is between 150 and 300 kms wide and therefore a defense in depth is difficult if not impossible.

In addition the Swiss armament was still incomplete and outdated in 1939 and would stay to some extent so until 1945.

On the background operational planning seems to have started in early 1939 in earnest and was then driven by the events afterwards.

Operational Exercise 1939

Earlier in 1939 the general staff (including the corps commander Guisan, the later general) was involved in an operational exercise which yielded some form of operational planning for three models:

1 Level Model

Defense only on the borderline Rhine - Jura mountains.

2 Level Model

Defense on the borderline plus a defensive line stretching from Gempen over the heights of the Jura mountains, across the Aare river, along the Limmat river, the Lake of Zurich, the Linth canal, the Walensee to the East at Sargans (two other lines were considered - Napf - Hauenstein and Aare / Saane). In addition the line along the lakes of Bienne and Neuchatel down the gorge of the Mentue to the lake of Geneva.

3 Level Model

In addition to the 2 Level model a defense of the alpine area was considered.

Mobilization & Operationsbefehl No 1 - 2. September 1939

When the army mobilized on September 2, 1939 it moved into its initial all-around defensive positions.  These positions were defined by the Operationsbefehl No 1.

Operationsbefehl No 2 - 4. Oktober 1939

After a month of work the officers entrusted with this task by the general came up with the Operationsbefehl No 2, two level defense with positions along the borders and a defensive line stretching out left and right from the Limmat. There was some controversy after the war, if this delay of one month really had been necessary to prepare a solution which seems to have been largely along the lines of the operational exercise 1939.

Operationsbefehl No 4 - 1. January, 1940 - "Aufmarsch Nord"

In the months after the issue of the Operationsbefehl No 2, the army prepared its position along the Limmat line. There were two issues which had to be solved:

  1. The defense of the alpine area was not organized in a satisfactory manner, all units (the Division 9, the Mountain Brigade 10, the Mountain Brigade 11 and Border Brigade 9) were subordinated directly to the general. The general solved this problem by creating a 4th Army Corps under the command of Oberstkorpskommandant Labhart, his actual chief of staff (with whom he didn't get along well).
  2. There didn't exist a real reserve to support the 7 divisions and 2 brigades (L Br 2 and Geb Br 12) which formed the main line of defense. The solution chosen by the general and his immediate political superior the federal counsel Rudolf Minger was, that the general started talks with the French Army for the support with 4 to 8 divisions in case of a German attack.

To solve these two issues the Operationsbefehl No 4 was put into action.

The agreement with the French was not critical under purely legal considerations of the neutrality, but was critical under a political viewpoint. Especially after the Germans discovered documents related to the agreement in captured French material after the fall of France.

The Operationsbefehl No 4 was amended several times and re-issued on May 14th 1940.

Operationsbefehl No.5 - 2. February, 1940 - The Defense of the Southern Border

Beginning of February 1940 the general gave specific orders on the defense of the Southern border to the newly formed 4th Army Corps (see Operationsbefehl No 4). The main role was to delay the enemy for several weeks until the main body would have been able to regroup.

Operationsbefehl No. 6 - 9. March 1940 - "Aufmarsch West A"

This order defined the defense in case of an attack from the West. It assumed, that the border troops would have been able to delay the enemy and that the main body would have been able to reach the Mentue - Podèze line. It was amended with the order number 8 with a defensive line farther to the East.

Operationsbefehl No. 7 - 12. April 1940 - "Deckung der Südfront im Fall West A"

This order defined the defense of the Southern front in the case of an attack from the West.

Operationsbefehl No. 8 - 22. April 1940 - "Aufmarsch West B"

This order was an amendment of the order number 6. The main line of defense would have run from Basel through Langenthal and then along the pre-alpine mountains to St. Maurice.

Operationsbefehl No. 9 - 22. April 1940 - "Deckung der Südfront im Fall West B"

This order defined the defense of the Southern front in the case of an attack from the West.

Operationsbefehl No. 10 - 20. June 1940 - Defending in all directions

With the German troops reaching the Swiss border in the West on June 17 (Recce elements of 29. ID (mot)) there was a necessity to begin to defend in all directions. The decision was to:

  1. defend the Western front with two divisions (1. Div, 2. Div) one light brigade (1. L Br) and three border brigades (1. Gz Br, 2. Gz Br, 3. Gz Br).
  2. defend the North-Western front with four divisions (3. Div, 4. Div, 5. Div, 7. Div) one ad hoc division (Gempen) and two border brigades (4. Gz Br, 5. Gz Br).
  3. defend the North-Eastern front with two divisions (8. Div, 6. Div) one ad hoc division (Dietikon), two light brigades (2. L Br, 3. L Br) and three border brigades (6. Gz Br, 7. Gz Br, 8. Gz Br).
  4. defend the Eastern front with the fortress Sargans and the 12. Geb Br.
  5. defend the Southern front with one division (9. Div) and three brigades (9. Gz Br, 10. Geb Br, 11. Geb Br).

This plan left the approaches through the Jura mountains lightly defended. A decision which led to a critical situation following the defeat of France on June 26.

It was planned to move units from the Northern parts of the front to the West and the AA troops were given the task to cover the valleys of the Aare and the Reuss to cover these movements.

Six days after this order was issued a meeting between the general and the corps commanders took place in Bern where the idea of the creation of a central redoubt was discussed.

Operationsbefehl No. 11 - 12. July 1940 - The first move to the Central Redoubt (Réduit)

After the fall of France on the 26. June 1940 the Swiss army had to adapt to a situation where the threat could come from almost all directions (just a gap between the region of Geneva and the Grand St. Bernhard pass belonged to Vichy France). The decision was taken to:

  1. Defend the frontiers with the border troops (Gz Br) to cover the mobilization of the main army, and to
  2. Defend the main industrial central region (advanced position / Vorgeschobene Stellung) with four divisions (2. Div., 4. Div., 5. Div. and 6. Div.) an ad hoc light division (L. Div.), and to
  3. Defend the central alpine redoubt (central position / Zentralraum) with five divisions (1. Div, 3. Div, 8. Div, 7. Div, 9. Div) and the three mountain brigades (10. Geb. Br., 11. Geb. Br., 12. Geb. Br.).

Operationsbefehl No. 12 - 17. July 1940 - The Central Redoubt (Réduit) is defined

Only a few days after the issue of the Operationsbefehl No 11, the detailed position order was given with the Operationsbefehl No. 12. Since the position of the army was completely new, the general was already prepared to change this order if it proved to be insufficient. The first change came on 17. August 1940 and consisted mainly of the assignment of the 6. Division to the central position. The adjustments were consolidated into the Operationsbefehl No. 12bis.

One important event which followed the issue of the operational order no 12, was the "Rütlirapport".

[Last Update 30.08.2010]