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Swiss Army - 1890

The inhabitants of Switzerland were always a hardy and independent race, but their high military reputation dates from the middle of the 13th century, when the comparatively ill-armed and untrained mountaineers signally defeated Charles the Bold of Burgundy and the flower of the chivalry of Europe, in the battles of Granson, Morat and Nancy. The Suabian war, towards the end of that century, and the Milanese war, at the beginning of the following one, added to the fame of the Swiss infantry, and made it the model on which that arm was formed all over Europe. The wealthier countries vied with each other in hiring them as mercenaries, and the poor but warlike Swiss found the protession of arms a lucrative one. Whatever discredit may attach to the soldier who sells his services to any country or cause, and f1ghts for money alone, the Swiss at least have done much to redeem the position by their unswerving loyalty to their employers. The devoted faithfulness of Lous XVI's Swiss guard is proverbial, and has been commemorated with just pride by their countrymen. The French Revolutionary armies overran Switzerland, as they did all the small neighboring states, and during Napoleon's career she had to submit to his rule, and furnish her contingent to his armies.

On the fall of Napoleon she regained her independence, and returned to her old trade of furnishing soldiers to sovereigns and powers of Europe. Charles X. of France had at one time as many as 17,000 Swiss in his pay; Naples and Rome had each four regiments. The recruiting for those foreign services was openly acknowledged and encouraged by the Government. The young Swiss engaged usually for a period of four or six years; they were formed in separate regiments, officered by countrymen of their own, and received a higher rate of pay than the national regiments ; and at the close of their engagement returned with their earnings to settle down on their paternal holdings. A series of revolutions, however, expelled them from France and Italy, and recently the advance of liberal ideas, and the creation of great national armies based on the principle of personal service, has destroyed their occupation. Switzerland is now remarkable in a military sense as being the only country that maintains no standing army : and the fact that, with an annual expenditure of only $1,000,000, she shows a force of 200,000 men, has made her military institutions the studv of economists and the model for many military reformers.

The 13th article of the constitution of 1848 forbids the maintenance of a standing army within the limits of the confederation; but every citizen is required to bear arms for the defence of the country, and for this purpose a certain military training is given at all schools. The actual forces of the republic consists of a militia divided into three classes,-the "auszug" or elife, the reserve, and the landwehr. The strength of the elite is fixed at 3 per cent, of the population, and that of the reserve at 1 ^ per cent.; the landwehr includes all who have passed the Site and reserve up to the age of 44. The total service is limited to twenty-five years. Within these conditions the cantons are allowed to raise their contingents and distribute the service as they please; and it thus happens that service in the elite lasts for five years in some cantons, and for fourteen years in others. Exemptions from service is granted to certain Government and public officials, to the clergy, surgeons, &c.; all other citizens become liable on attaining the age of 20. No substitutes are allowed, and any one rejected for bodily infirmity, or exempted from any cause.

Of these, however, the landwehr exists on paper only, and may be left out of consideration; and the available force is estimated at about 105,000, of whom 70,000 belong to the "auszug" and 35,000 to the reserve.

The infantry are armed and equipped by their cantons, the recruit himself having to bear a portion of the expense. Before being placed on the rolls of the "auzsug" he has to undergo a training of four weeks for the line, or five weeks for the rifles ; and subsequently an annual training of eight days, while in the elite, and six days in the reserve. Practically, however, the elite are commonly called out every second year only, and the training of the reserve is often omitted altogether. The cavalry, artillery, and engineers have a recruit's courseof six weeks, and an annual training of (nominally) a fortnight; hut in practice the latter has been reduced to eight days every second year. The cavalry resemble the English yeomanry, consisting of a wealthier class of men, who find their own horses ; the engineers are selected from men following suitable trades.

The whole army was formed in six divisions, and annually one or two of these were assembled for divisional manoeuvres. A handsome federal barrack for infantry and cavalry and a permanent instructional establishment exist at Thun. Officers are required to go through a six weeks' course at this federal school, and to attend one course of recruit training on appointment. The nomination of officers, and promotions up to the rank of captain, are made by the cantonal governments ; promotion to the higher grades and appointments to the staff by the federal authorities, though usually on the recommendation of the cantons. Candidates for the staff are required to go through a two month's course at a staff school which is annually opened for the purpose.

A study of the military system of Switzerland will at once explain its apparent cheapness. The expenditure shown in the federal budget is only a portion of the real cost of the army : to it must be added the expenses borne by the cantons and by the men themselves. The actual cost is estimated by the best authorities at 2,665,000 per annum, or about 25 per head, for an effective strength of 105,000. In England the annual costof the militia is about $40 per head, of the volunteers $15. The Swiss so-called army may take its place between the English militia and volunteers. The men are less trained than the English militiamen, but are generally better educated and of a more intelligent class.

The off1cers were in all respects inferior, and that class who had previously seen service in the army is wanting. In equipment the army was far behind the English auxiliary forces, and an attempt made in 1872 to improve its organization generally, and give the federal authorities more power, was successfully resisted by the cantons. During the war of 1870-71 five divisions of the Swiss army, amounting in all to about 37,000 men, were mobilized and assembled on the frontier; and superficial observers were enthusiastic in their praises of the organization and efficiency of this citizen army. But their own commander reported that there was "incredible friction in the mechanism of the whole force;" that many of the battalions were in the lowest condition of discipline and efficiency; and that "to march against an enemy with such troops as these would indeed be a bold enterprise ;" and urged that "it would be far preferable to have an army weaker in point of numbers, but of belter quality."

What becomes of such forces when opposed to a real army has been abundantly illustrated by history of the French gardes mobiles in the war of 1870. Switzerland exists by the sufferance of her powerful neighbors, and her military institutions are suited to such conditions, but not to a power thut relies on itself for its independence.

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Page last modified: 07-06-2013 18:37:14 ZULU