Switzerland’s hidden artillery placements and bunkers

Plenty of countries have built massive defenses in case of invasion (the Great Wall of China comes to mind), but few have taken it quite as far as Switzerland, which built an incredible network of hidden bunkers and artillery placements across the country, many of them disguised as rock formations, hillside chalets, or even regular homes. The enormous fortress chain was built in the 1940s, at an estimated cost of $10 billion in today’s dollars, after Germany started invading countries as part of its global expansion. There are believed to be more than 8,000 of them, known as the Swiss National Redoubt.

One of Switzerland’s artillery installations disguised as a rock outcropping

The most important parts of the redoubt were the fortifications of Sargans, St. Maurice, and the Gotthard region. Besides cannons and howitzers, the infrastructure in many of these caverns and tunnels consisted of dormitories, kitchens, field hospitals, rooms for the sick, bakeries, and enough space to accommodate 100 to 600 soldiers for up to several months.

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Swiss Army rules also mandated that bridges, hillsides and tunnels be designed so that they could be remotely destroyed in order to deny highways and railroads to the enemy. Fuses and compartments for high explosives were built into bridges, roads and tunnels, although the explosives themselves were apparently not in place during times of peace. There are at least 3,000 such points, including entire hillsides, although many expect the figure is higher than that.

A 17-room, $200 a night hotel inside the Gotthard mountain pass
A machine-gun bunker, part of a former Swiss artillery fortress called Fuchsegg, is camouflaged as a stable, beside the Furka mountain-pass road near the village of Realp

From John McPhee’s 1984 book  La Place de la Concorde Suisse: “To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage.”

A former infantry bunker is camouflaged as a medieval house in the town of Duggingen. Notice the half-circle windows, which appear to have been painted on

“Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively,” McPhee writes. “Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. There are cannons inside pretty houses. Where Swiss highways happen to run on narrow ground between the edges of lakes and to the bottoms of cliffs, man-made rockslides are ready to slide.”

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If you look closely, you can see a massive door in the hillside that would swing open
A Swiss Air Force Mirage III RS outside its mountain hanger.
A Swiss Air Force Mirage III RS outside its mountain hanger.
The Villa Rose, former disguised Swiss fortification. Its 8.5-foot thick walls protected hidden anti-tank cannons.
The Villa Rose, former disguised Swiss fortification. Its 8.5-foot thick walls protected hidden anti-tank cannons.

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