Swiss Air Combat in World War 2

The revealing story of Switzerland’s military operations to defend its airspace from Axis and Allied aircraft during World War Two

Blotted with deathly-black balkenkreuz wing insignia denoting them as war machines of the German Luftwaffe, droves of bulky Bf-110 twin-engined Messerschmitt fighters, far above the tree-topped mountains and valleys of the Jura Canton, droned menacingly in circles. A flock of more nimble craft whizzed in to engage them; Bf-109E Messerschmitts, except these Bf-109s were emblazoned with an insignia seldom depicted in the annals of modern warfare, another cross painted the white of peace yet over the red of warning; these were Swiss fighters defending their homeland. The blaze of tracer round quickly filled the sky as German hardware was pitted against each other. 

As is well known, the Swiss stayed out of the Second World War. So, what was its airforce doing getting into dogfights with the Nazis, and even later the Allies? This is the little known story of Switzerland’s fight to defend its territory during ‘The War’. 

To Have Peace, One Must Prepare for War

Since the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1815, Switzerland, that diminutive nation bristling with jagged mountain peaks to deter potential enemies, has stood as a salient of peace when war has raged all around. In 1939, hostilities in Europe recommenced as the German Reich set forth once more in its recurrent quest to assert hegemony over its neighbours.

The unbridled military success of the Nazi Third Reich in the early stages of WW2 is well-told of course; nation after nation crumbled under the might of their hammer blows. Hitler and his generals felt that their southern neighbour could maintain their time-honoured neutrality, however, and the Swiss were more than happy to stay out of the epic clash of arms raging around them. 

The dynamic between the two states was a wary one. On one hand, there was an ideological incentive to absorb the Swiss into the burgeoning Nazi empire as it included German speaking people who Hitler described as “a misbegotten branch of our Volk.” Yet Switzerland’s position was optimally balanced; it was sufficiently tough to be conquerable only with some difficulty whilst having insufficient natural resources to make it tempting to try. Also, Switzerland was a valuable wartime trading partner of the Third Reich’s, buying up its plundered gold to fuel the Nazi war-engine.

Switzerland perceived its position akin to that of a hedgehog known to a voracious but well-fed wolf. Its strategic aim was straightforward enough; stay off the German military’s radar whilst maintaining cordial enough relations to keep the supply of natural resources flowing for which it was heavily reliant. For its military, this meant ensuring that it wouldn’t be easy prey if ever the wolf came sniffing around. No matter how passive any country’s army may be, its most fundamental mission is to maintain its territorial integrity, and this the Swiss vigorously carried out for the next six years of war.

Along with all the major European powers, Switzerland established its airforce during WW1. As the storm clouds gathered again in the 1930s the Swiss saw it prudent to develop an effective air-defence force of modern combat planes plus anti air flak units. To that end, modern Morane-Saulnier D‐3800 fighters were procured (a French aircraft built under licence in Switzerland). The latest Messerschmitt Bf-109E was also acquired – an embarrassing sale by the fledgling Nazi Germany in view of later events. By early 1940, the Swiss Luftwaffe was almost 200 aircraft strong including 60-odd Bf-109s and over 30 of the less mechanically sound D-3800s. This against the 3000 aircraft of the German Luftwaffe, it would be David vs Goliath.

Swiss Army anti-air gunners successfully caught a number of trespassing planes in their crosshairs (pinterest.com)

The trouble between the two states began with the Battle of France from early May, 1940 and reached boiling point before tensions cooled with the onset of the Battle of Britain three months later. With the German Luftwaffe swarming over France, it no doubt felt to them that Europe was its playpen with little concern for what the Helvetic Cantons to their south might think of their military largesse. German incursions began to occur frequently and 197 Luftwaffe sorties violated Swiss airspace subsequently.

Luftwaffe Vs Luftwaffe

Yet Swiss fighter squadrons zealously defended their airspace. Between the 10th of May 1940 and 17th of June the Swiss shot down 11 German aircraft while suffering the loss of three of their own aircraft in several skirmishes. Intercepting foreign aircraft was initially a real struggle due to their rudimentary command and control assets exposed early on when, for instance, a light bomber crossed into the western Jura sector and almost made it 400 miles (640 km) out at the other side at the eastern sector before being shot down, crashing into Austrian territory.

By June the 1st, Belgium had fallen and the British had scurried back across the ‘moat’ of the Channel to the security of ‘fortress Great Britain’. As the Germans manoeuvred to deliver the coup de grace to France, it brought them closer to Switzerland and in an attempt to test the fortitude and capacity of the Helvetic defences Hitler and Goring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, ratcheted up the pressure.

As the tally of German planes shot down over Switzerland grew, an aggravated Goring decided to bait the Swiss into a showdown. On June the 4th, dozens of fighters and bombers were sent to fly just on the French side of the border to flit in and out of Swiss airspace with the aim of drawing Swiss fighters into engaging them over France. This would give Goring a propaganda instrument against the Swiss as they could be smeared as aggressors. Three German squadrons crossed the border looking for trouble yet none was encountered. In the afternoon, however, almost 30 Bf-110s plus a single bomber took up position just north of a border town in the Neuchatel Canton to goad the Swiss into action. Eight Messerschmitts and Moranes accompanied by an observation plane attacked the Germans, destroying two of them for the loss of one in return. Now, Goring had what he wanted. He angrily proclaimed a ‘violation of international law by Swiss fighter planes’ aggressively attacking German aircraft over France.

The Swiss were teetering on the edge of war as the Krauts turned the screws further. On June the 8th, there were no less than 133 violations into Swiss airspace, mainly over the Porrentruy and Schaffhausen territorial salients that jut into France and Germany respectively. Before noon an unarmed Swiss recce plane was caught unawares and its two aircrew were fatally wounded before the plane crash-landed. That afternoon, the Germans charged over the border with three squadrons of 28 to 32 Bf-110s looking for a fight. They employed the ‘vineyard’ tactic whereby each squadron took up a defensive carousel formation but each at altitude intervals of 2000m. The Swiss rose to the challenge. 10-15 Bf-109s led by no less than three squadron leaders were let loose on the trespassers. As they roared in, fierce and frantic fighting erupted. The Germans had prepared their trap well yet their adversaries, well outnumbered but fighting with their backs against the wall, were drilled to fly their more nimble 109s against the larger, lumbering 110s so as not to be overwhelmed by the swarm of Germans. They held their own. By the fight’s end the Swiss had lost a Bf-109 but downed three German fighters, including one caught by Swiss anti-aircraft flak.

The diplomatic situation was now on a knife edge. Swiss diplomats were struggling to mollify the increasingly incandescent Third Reich leadership. It must be remembered how heavily the Swiss depended on their northern neighbour for material imports. By July the 1st, the Swiss were sent a diplomatic note informing them it would be the last one they would receive in protest over their attacks on German aircraft ‘over French airspace’ and in future ‘other means’ would be used to protect themselves.

Indeed, since June the 8th, Hitler was beginning to eye the Swiss more predatorily. Now at the height of his pride and vanity, the humiliation wrought by the swashbuckling Swiss pilots was enough to make the dictator consider it might we worth dealing with the pesky southerners once and for all. He was especially riled that German military hardware was being used to shoot down the Third Reich’s own planes. Hitler ordered his generals to draw up an invasion plan titled Operation Tannenbaum but, of course, this would never be carried out.

As a result of political pressure from within as much as from without, the Swiss military command buckled. General Guisen, the Swiss Commander-in Chief, ordered his squadrons to stand down. Their border patrols were halted and they were ordered to hold fire in all but self-defence. To further appease the Germans, the Swiss returned all interned planes and pilots – a clear violation of the Geneva Convention that stipulated neutral nations must intern military personnel and hardware of either belligerent’s until the war’s end.

But these diplomatic efforts were prudent. By mid July, Britain’s battle for survival began and as fighting intensified over England, Swiss Germanic relations were put on ice. Hitler, now placated, withdrew his Messerschmitts from the border.

As the war raged on, Switzerland showed little bias to either the Axis or Allies whenever their air units violated its borders. British bomber incursions began in 1940, using Swiss airspace as a safe route to reach the Fatherland, and were high level night-time missions that the Swiss lacked the means to intercept. Allied bomber incursions then dwindled for a few years because the Swiss turned out their lights to make navigation through their airspace too difficult, but by 1943, their numbers surged once the RAF was augmented by the mighty USAF with its vast numbers of heavy bombers. Allied incursions occured either deliberately, due to errors of navigation or when stricken aircraft desperate to land chose to be interred by Swiss authorities over being captured as prisoners of war. 

An American P51 Mustang crash-landed in Switzerland, though likely not due to Swiss gunfire. (swissinfo.ch)

Allied Bombs

By this point, numbers of Swiss anti-air flak units had increased and more combat aircraft had been acquired. But more capable Allied aircraft operating in much larger formations than whatever the Third Reich employed made defending Swiss airspace even more daunting, yet the Swiss continued to guard their airspace, though much more passively given the Allies’ vast numbers and strength. The first Allied aircraft to be shot down were two RAF bombers flying low over Swiss territory in July 1943, caught by Swiss anti-aircraft fire. Later in October, an American bomber was shot down and only three of its crew survived. More than 100 B-17s and B-24s bombers in total were either shot down or, more commonly, forced to land – over a thousand allied aircrew interned for the duration of the war. Another source states six Allied aircraft were shot down by Swiss Air Force fighters and four by anti-aircraft cannons, killing 36 Allied airmen. One notable incident was when American P-51 Mustangs escorting a damaged B-17 bomber crossed into Swiss airspace and were confronted by Swiss Bf-109s. Whether the 109s actually attacked the Americans is not known but the P-51 pilots, perhaps unsure of their nationality, perhaps not, attacked the Swiss aircraft, shooting down one and damaging the other.

Much more gravely for the Swiss, the Allies bombed Switzerland repeatedly. The most serious incident to occur was when 50 B-24 Liberators misidentified Schaffhausen as their German target that was actually 146 miles (235 km) to the north. They dropped sixty tons of bombs on the town. Although an air raid alarm sounded, it had been set off so many times prior without any attack that complacency had set in and the locals failed to take cover. A total of 40 people were killed and about 270 injured. Other cities hit during the war included Geneva, Basel, Zurich and the historic town of Stein am Rhein. Officially speaking, these were all tragic accidents and that Swiss diplomats complained loudly over and received grovelling apologies from the Allied high command in response. Alternative narratives suggest that at least some of these bombings were quite deliberate in order to punish the Swiss for attacking Allied aircraft and to send a warning to halt their economic and industrial co-operation with the Axis powers. It was known, for example, that Switzerland were allowing trains to transport war matériel between Germany and Italy. 

The aftermath of the Allied bombing of Schaffhausen where some 400 bombs were dropped (swissinfo.ch)

Allies bombed Swiss towns on a total of 70 occasions, killing 84 civilians. In the end, the Americans paid the Swiss over $18 million in compensation for these ‘accidents’.

So, the war was not a peaceful period for the Swiss even if they were ‘at peace’. They demonstrated to the world that their placid stance to war was not one borne of meekness. Perhaps one day they will have to show their resolve to protect themselves again.

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Saddam Hussein Given Keys to Detroit, 1980

Saddam Hussein was public enemy no.1 throughout the ’90s, so how did he come to receive the ‘keys to Detroit city’ in 1980? Read on to find out.

From the day his tanks rolled over the Kuwaiti border in 1990 until he met his demise in 2006 Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, was public enemy no.1 in the USA.

First he invaded Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait in an act of naked aggression and conducted himself disgracefully during the 1st Gulf War. Then, for the rest of the ’90s Iraq remained a pariah state under his tyrannical rule until rancour across the West climaxed with the second Gulf War in 2003.

This time Saddam was firmly in the crosshairs; he was hunted down like a dog before being executed three years later.

What may surprise a lot of people then is that just ten years prior to the First Gulf War President Hussein was seen in a very different light within America. So much so, in fact, Saddam was bestowed the key to Detroit City — a symbolic meaning evoking medieval walled cities when the gates would be guarded during the day and locked at night.

The key symbolises the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will as a trusted friend of city residents.

In 1979 Reverend Jacob Yasso of the city’s Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church had sent a congratulatory message to the newly appointed president. 

Flattered, Hussein responded with a $250,000 donation to the church. A year later Yasso was welcomed to Hussein’s palace and there Yasso presented the president with a key to the city and kind words passed along by then-Detroit mayor, Coleman Young. Upon hearing of a debt on the church, Hussein soon sent another $200,000 Yasso’s way.

Looking back in a 2003 Associated Press interview Yasso recalled: “He was a very kind person, very generous, very cooperative with the West.”

(insh.world)

How Native English Speakers can Communicate Better with Non-Native English Speakers in Business

Here are five ways to help your international business contacts avoid misunderstandings that could cost you dearly.

Assuming you’re a Briton, American or another native English speaker (NES), imagine you are holding a video conference with half a dozen proficient non-native English speakers (NNES), say some departmental managers of a manufacturing firm in Spain.

Because the meeting is in English would you assume that you are the easiest to understand in the ‘room’? If so, you’d be wrong.

I’ll explain why and ways you can help your international business contacts avoid misunderstandings that could cost you dearly.

Particularly across the European Union (EU), there is a heck of a lot of business dealings and liaison. In an economic bloc that counts 24 official languages, a lingua franca is needed and invariably that is English.

Yet in a room full of reasonably proficient NNESs it is often the NES in the room who is hardest to understand. Why is that so?

The European Union average showed that 56% of people speak at least one foreign language. In contrast just 38% of Britons speak at least one foreign language. As a Brit myself I’m surprised it is even that high.

For Americans, it is just 20% who can converse in two or more languages.

The result? It is not just that we anglospherics are ignorant of foreign languages, we’re ignorant of how hard our language is to translate and learn, especially for those who lack the aptitude for languages to learn intuitively.

So, does your business do a lot of cross border trade? Ever been in a meeting where every NNES seems to nod and smile at what you are saying but looks blank, anxious or uncomfortable?

Ever been in a meeting where everyone seems to nod and smile at what you are saying but looks blank, anxious or uncomfortable? (forbes.com)

As an ex English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher, let me highlight five mistakes NESs may be making and how you can rectify them.

Phrasal Verbs

They. Are. A. Nightmare. We use them so much yet they make little logical sense.

What’s a phrasal verb? A two word combination of a verb followed by an adverb or a preposition, e.g: keep off, lock up and turn down.

If you were a beginner English student, you could easily grasp what ‘look’ and ‘up’ mean. The minefield becomes apparent when you see the differences in meaning between:

Look upSearch someone’s name or a piece of information

Look up (at) — See something above

Look up (to) — Admire someone

That is why they’re so confusing. The solution is to find simple synonyms to replace the phrasal verbs, e.g:

Turn downReject

Lay offRemove staff from company

Bring upMention topic/issue

Back upSupport

Break downStop working

Idioms

Another nightmare. These are groups of words the meaning of which is completely unrelated to the meaning of the individual words. Examples being: ‘Caught red handed’, ‘Pull the wool over someone’s eyes’, and ‘move the goalposts’.

Again, used frequently.

So many NESs simply assume NNESs are familiar with the terms.

Again the solution is to replace them, e.g:

Move the goalpostsChange the rules

Catch red-handedSee someone doing something banned/illegal

Don’t touch with a bargepoleDon’t get involved with something

Vocabulary

This applies to the vocabulary you use. Of course many terms are industry-specific and, in technical fields, only long, fancy words will do. Still, if you are quite verbose, then be mindful of finding simpler synonyms without patronising the NNES who is on the receiving end.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost in the past due to vocabulary misunderstandings.

DelegateGive tasks to junior team members

MaintainKeep something working well

TurnoverMoney taken by a business; number of staff which have started and finished working for a company

GuidanceAdvice

Acronyms

OOO’, ‘FYI’, ‘RSVP’ ‘BTW

Do you know what all these mean? You can bet your bottom dollar some of your NNES email recipients certainly won’t. The simple solution is to be mindful of their use and stop using them.

Accents

A more well-known consideration yet one so often overlooked by NESs with no experience of learning foreign languages. Even on the small island of Great Britain there is a dizzying array of regional accents, and it is hard enough for a Brit from the north to understand a Brit from the south. So, imagine how bad it is for someone not even born in the UK!

(youtube.com)

Again be mindful of your audience and make the effort to enunciate, slow down and cut up the flow of sentences a bit. Again don’t go overboard so far that you patronise your audience.

Conclusion

If you’ve been struggling to get the results you’ve desired from your dealings with foreign English speakers, bear these points in mind and you may find they make a big difference!

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