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Swiss Armored Formations

Swiss armored formations have a long and rich history that explains the special spirit of the "charistes". Subjected to harsh selection for the privilege of entering the first battle tanks, the main characteristics of charistes are to be male volunteers, motivated, engaged and especially proud. Until 1848, the Swiss cantons were fully sovereign militarily, so there were 25 small armies in Switzerland. During the creation of the federal State, the cantons retained control over infantry (until 1874), but federal authorities took immediate charge of the training of special troops. This was the case of the cavalry, dragoons, who were distant relatives of today charistes.

At the end of the 19th century, the Swiss army had about 3,000 dragoons forming the cavalry battle. They were divided into four brigades. Dragoons are likely to fight either on horseback and on foot. The essential quality of the dragoon is to stay in the saddle as long as possible on all fronts by providing for his horse. To improve firepower when fighting on foot, horseback machine-gun company assigned to cavalry brigades in 1898. The operations at that time gave the dragons a reputation for bold riders.

As reported by the time a cavalry captain in the newspaper The Illustrated 1972: "The best team spirit prevailed at all levels of the hierarchy, from the youngest to the most experienced dragoon colonel... nothing frightened us and we attacked with knives without hesitation all that was within our reach." However, the cavalry showed little enthusiasm to fight on foot, a form of combat that becomes yet paramount during World War II.

First half of the 20th century, the tank entered the lists. From the Great War, several weapons or devices were becoming increasingly important on the battlefield. The tank ensured the combination of fire, shock and movement, while providing the necessary protection to its crew.

Switzerland lagged behind in the use of tanks. The cavalry continued to exist alongside the development of armored vehicles. The riders dismounted before going into battle. But gradually, the horse lost importance against the chariot.

In 1921, Switzerland acquired two Renault FT 17 tanks, developed by France at the end of the Great War. These tanks were not inducted, given the defensive nature of the Swiss army. They aimed to inform the Army of the existence of this new type of gear that soldiers must now wait to encounter on the battlefield. After brief trials in 1931, Switzerland, acquired six British Vickers Carden-Loyd armored vehicles in 1934. According to the 1936 plan, the tanks were to be allocated to exploration groups. The Swiss army however never progressed beyond the planning with these Vickers.

During World War II, a shortage of hay and oats was rampant and the mobilization of dragoons and horses penalized agriculture responsible for production. At the end of active service, the Chief of the General Staff, Jakob Huber proposed the deletion of the cavalry, a militarily justifiable solution, but politically and economically difficult. Over 158,000 people in 1947 signed a petition in favor of keeping the cavalry. v In 1939, Switzerland decided to purchase 24 Czechoslovak armored Praga such a special version (especially with a turret for two people instead of three), to train six detachments subordinate to exploration group divisions. A six-week conversion course is then organized to volunteers wishing to serve in the tanks. The great success surrounding this modern weapon allows the army to select only the best military. That's when the pride of chariste emerges as manifested by its special commitment.

In 1940, six detachments were reorganized into three tank companies incorporated in the light brigades. Lacking sufficient tanks to fight on against blitzkrieg, General Guisan, in June 1940, in the national lowland in the alpine area, entrusted the task light troops to delay the enemy the tray. The Praga light tanks were the only armored force available to Switzerland during the war. Their mission was to patrol along the northern border. To avoid confusion with the German tanks of the same type, Swiss Praga are characterized by yellow painted initials CH on the sides of the turret and the front of the box.

After the war, the light brigades did understand that motorized dragoons were the future of armored personnel. After World War II, the issue of anti-tank weapon was asked for the defense of the country. Between 1946 and 1947, no fewer than 158 copies of the G 13 Czechoslovak tank destroyer were purchased and incorporated in the light brigades.

In the West, in the immediate postwar period, a mystical faith in strategic nuclear weapons caused indiscriminate dismantling of armored divisions. The emphasis on tanks decreased until the time of the Korean War, which marked the beginning of a new armor arms race between East and West. With the miniaturization of the bomb appeared the tactical nuclear weapon. It had little power; its action remains localized, but the accuracy of the shot could destory concentrations of enemy troops. The appearance of the atom on the battlefield revalued ??all tanks categories.

In the early 1950s, Switzerland debated the acquisition of combat tanks. With a budget of 400 million francs available, the Swiss army approached the United States to acquire the M47. Involved in Korea, however, the Americans can not meet the order within a short time. The problem was the same with the British Centurions, which is why Switzerland acquired in 1951 in emergency and transitional basis, some 200 copies of the French AMX-13 light tank. This armored vehicle was designed both as a tank destroyer and as a reconnaissance vehicle. Training on the new tank call for volunteers subjected to selection, further enhancing esprit de corps of Swiss charistes. They are distinguished from the rest of the troops by their particular uniform, as well as the port of the revolver and the gun instead of the carabiner.

Following the supply woes in armored vehicles, Switzerland began to consider the possibility of developing its own tank model. However, in the short term, to meet their needs tanks, the Swiss Army turned to Britain, which was now able to provide tanks. The Centurion MK III, built by Vickers-Armstrong company, were acquired in 1955 and the same quantity of the MK VII model was purchased in 1957. Three years later, while the Swiss draft tank was delayed, the army acquired Centurion MK V built in 1953, used tanks from South Africa. As battle tanks, Swiss Centurions were intended to be engaged on the Plateau for violation of neutrality by the armies of the Soviet bloc. The Centurions were the backbone of the Swiss armored formations until the early 1990s.

With the Army 61, Centurions MBT had an important strategic role. The number of tanks allowed offensive actions on the Plateau, conducted by regiments or battalions of Centurions in three mechanized divisions. Meanwhile, the acquisition of the American M113 in 1965 was intended for grenadiers, mine thrower tanks, sappers, transmitters and staffs of mechanized troops. In 1961 there appeared the first tank made ??entirely in Switzerland by federal ateliers de Thoune workshops (except the motor and a French turret). The Army acquired 150 pieces of this first series of the tank 61, then 390 other tanks in 68 different versions (notably with the introduction of the tracks with pads) between 1968 and 1978, of which 170 were provided with an enlarged turret. The workshops produced Thoune Swiss Tanks 61 and 68 to replace the Centurions. In 1967, the Swiss army had 24 tank battalions (against 220 infantry battalions). The mechanized divisions received the armored howitzer M-109.

At the dawn of the 1970s, the question of the removal of dragoons kept coming back on the agenda. Squadrons decreased from 30 in 1938, 24 in 1951, 18 in 1961, 12 in 1972, so the decision was finally taken by parliament to permanently delete the cavalry. Switzerland was the last country in Europe to maintain horse mounted combat formations.

The 3,500 dragoons of the Swiss Army were then put to the tank service. The conversion of the 12 squadrons of tanks grenadier companies takes place in 1973, but the spirit characteristic of the cavalry corps accompanying dragons mutated in the tanks. After the commissioning of the tanks 61 and 68, the development of arming systems became increasingly complex, and proved beyond the possibilities of the Swiss military industry. This reality was already imposed in the 1950s for aviation. The tanks 61 and 68, made ??by Thoune construction workshops, are provided with turrets that were too small. The model 68 has meanwhile many flaws that it seems difficult to correct.

In the 1970s, the army sought to provide a main battle tank with greater mobility. Manufacturers were to ensure protection of its essential organs by internal partitioning, lowering the profile and effective shielding against multiple tactical nuclear weapons. The development of a new battle tank manufactured in Switzerland, launched in 1975, was abandoned in 1979.

On the basis of the tanks 61 and 68 were comply with the various special vehicles developed, tested and implemented in part.

  • entpannungspanzer 65 later 65/88
  • brckenpanzer 68, later 68/88
  • Target vehicle 68 (only for training tion)
  • armored artillery cannon 68 (only proto- type, not introduced)
  • antiaircraft Panzer 68 (only prototype, not inserted).

The Swiss Army gradually withdraw its Centurions from service. The choice of successor was the German Leopard 2 heavy tank (57 tons)with modern technology. The purchase of German Leopard saved about 25% of costs. Swiss industry had to settle for the production of parts and final assembly. Between 1987 and 1993, 380 Leopard 2 were built under license, of which 224 remained in service as of 2010.

The years 1990 and 2000 were the electronic age. In the early 1990s, Switzerland had about 900 battle tanks, 1500 tanks and 500 armored grenadiers howitzers. Army 95 aligned five armored brigades. Two Army XXI (bridles 1 and 11, about 10,000 men each). In 2007, the army had some 230 Leopard 2 tanks of 180 grenadiers CV 9030 (Swedish), 220 howitzers (M-113 has been removed). The infantry, previously not motorized, since 1993 had 250 Piranha wheeled grenadier vehicles, which provide protection, enable fast movement and, to some extent, to fight from the vehicle.

Generally, the materials are used as long as possible. However, the need to be equipped with modern weapons and the recent restructuring led to withdrawal of some of the tanks. The sale in other countries is often not possible for political reasons. However, the development of the armed forces in recent years revealed that the tank is not retired. Instead, a new generation of tanks, capable of carrying heavy weapons, are emerging. With a speed and enhanced autonomy, equipped with an automatic loading and riddled electronic device to meet new combat situations (including the shot without visibility through thermography), the float raises, despite the constant increase in its cost and vulnerability in urban areas, new interests in armaments strategies.






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Page last modified: 21-06-2016 19:00:13 ZULU