Gotthard Military Fortress
The Swiss National Redoubt (German: Schweizer Reduit; French: Réduit national; Italian: Ridotto nazionale; Romansh: Reduit nazional) was a defensive plan developed by the Swiss government beginning in the 1880s to respond to foreign invasion.
In the opening years of the Second World War the plan was expanded and refined to deal with a potential German invasion. The term “National Redoubt” primarily refers to the fortifications begun in the 1880s that secured the mountainous central part of Switzerland, providing a defended refuge for a retreating Swiss Army.
The National Redoubt encompassed a widely distributed set of fortifications on a general east-west line through the Alps, centering on three major fortress complexes: Fortresses St. Maurice, St. Gotthard, and Sargans. These fortresses primarily defended the alpine crossings between Germany and Italy and were outside the industrialized and populated regions of Switzerland. These regions were defended by the “Border Line”, and the “Army Position” somewhat farther back.
While not intended as an impassable barrier, these lines contained significant fortifications, but the National Redoubt was planned as a nearly impregnable complex of fortifications that would deny an aggressor passage over or through the Alps by controlling the major mountain passes and railway tunnels running north-to-south through the region. This strategy was intended to deter an invasion altogether by denying Switzerland’s crucial transportation infrastructure to an aggressor.
The National Redoubt assumed great importance to the Swiss in 1940, when they were entirely surrounded by Axis powers, and hence effectively at the mercy of Hitler and Mussolini. The National Redoubt was a way to preserve at least part of Swiss territory in the event of an invasion.
The Redoubt was to be manned by eight infantry divisions and three mountain brigades; the Swiss practiced for war by imitating the battles occurring around them. Switzerland’s Réduitstrategy during World War II was essentially one of deterrence. The idea was to make clear to the Third Reich that an invasion would have a high cost. Simultaneously, economic concessions were made to Germany in the hope that the overall cost of a German invasion would be perceived as higher than the potential benefits.
Despite this, it is clear that Hitler intended to invade eventually and that the Allied landing at Normandy as well as the difficulties faced in invading Russia were pivotal in merely delaying an invasion. Concessions included a national blackout, and the destruction of a secret German radar system that had accidentally landed in Switzerland in exchange for a dozen aircraft.
In their invasion plan, Operation Tannenbaum, Germany planned to capture Geneva and Lucerne while Italy would capture the Alps; the two countries would divide Switzerland.
A tour of the Gotthard Military Fortress is part of our 12-day Swiss Alps Grand Rail Tour. The tour includes 11 of the world’s most legendary trains, including the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Voralpen Express, GoldenPass Line and the Furka Steam Train.
You might be interested in our recent article on The 5 Most Scenic Rail Journeys in Switzerland.