Frank Charney's Sunday Postcard
February 25, 2007
A personal World War II discovery
At the Northern Virginia grocery store where my wife and I mostly shop, we have become acquainted with a petite lady named Vivian who has worked in the delicatessen for years. I learned Vivian comes from a town in northern Italy not far from Florence and her husband Victor is a native of Schaffhausen, a northern Switzerland town. They have lived most of their married life in Northern Virginia, but return yearly to their native countries where they enjoy vacations with relatives. I found it interesting recently when Victor related to me that he witnessed his native Swiss town being bombed on April 1, 1944, by American B-24s. In a wartime mission on the wrong target, American planes dropped 1200 100-pound bombs on Schaffhausen when the objective was the Ludwigshaven Chemical Works. See map below.
He also related that Jimmy Stewart, the noted actor and Indiana, Pennsylvania, native, participated in the raid. I wasn't able to confirm this fact, but did discover that Col. James M. (Jimmy) Stewart presided over a court-martial trial where the pilot and the navigator of the lead plane in a similarly mistaken raid on Zurich, Switzerland, were tried and acquitted of any war crimes violation. Bombing Swiss territory was considered very serious as the United States certainly wanted to be a friend of Switzerland. Also did you know that the Swiss Air Force was instructed to destroy either Allied or German planes that violated the country's air space?
Which leads me to the next question. Why didn't Hitler invade Switzerland like he did Austria and Poland? One deterrent might have been that Switzerland demonstrated military readiness with the mobilization of 430,000 troops, and the Swiss head general affirmed that his Army would retreat into the Alps if attacked and conduct guerilla warfare. This type of action would certainly tie down several divisions of Nazi Germany's army sorely needed elsewhere, either on the Russian front or to guard against any Western Front invasion.
Also Switzerland's railways were important for transports between Germany and its Axis ally, Italy. In case of an attack on Switzerland, the Swiss Army would have destroyed important bridges and tunnels that would have paralyzed the railway system. The Swiss compromise offer to Germany and Italy was, that Switzerland would allow transports between Germany and Italy in sealed box cars without checking the contents - in exchange for the supply of vital raw materials and goods. This obviously was more attractive to Germany than a destroyed railway line.
I hope my Sunday Post has added new facts to your knowledge of World War II, a subject that seems to be in vogue these days.
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