Webster Geneva Faculty Visit Historic Swiss Fort Dailly

| December 19, 2012
Webster University faculty visit Switzerland's Fort Dailly

While the main forts are no longer used, Fort Dailly is still the home of a training center of the Swiss armed forces.

Visiting professor and military historian Martin Van Creveld led a Webster University contingent to historic Fort Dailly on Dec. 6. Located in the Swiss Alps and guarding the entrance of the Rhone valley, near St. Maurice, the area has been a historic axis of invasions, from Hannibal’s army and elephants crossing into Italy, to Napoleon’s famous crossing of the St. Bernard pass.

With the creation of a Modern federal state in 1848, Switzerland started to erect considerable fortifications in the Alps, in the Western approaches of the Rhine valley (St. Maurice), in the Eastern approaches (Sargans) and, of course, at the heart of the Alpine massive (St. Gothard).

Webster University faculty visit Switzerland's Fort Dailly

Fort Dailly’ network of over 20 km of underground tunnels leads to shelters, command facilities, storage, machinery, even field hospitals.

The initial plans were laid in the mid 19th century, and construction started swiftly, as Northern Italy was at the time subject to incessant strife and invasions from rivals France and Austria. While the initial walls and artillery allowed to take the river and alpine passages under fire, the World Wars saw a considerable extension of the Swiss fortification efforts.

With the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, the declaration of war by Italy in 1940 and the fall of France that same year, Switzerland was no longer able to hope for any external assistance, in case of a German invasion.

Unable to compete with the Axis’ numbers and technology, the Swiss General Guisan decided to concentrate all of the country’s armed defense in a “National Redoubt” in the heart of the Alps. The rest of the country –its urban centers, roads, factories- would be the object of a “scorched earth” delaying action, thereby defeating the purpose of an invasion. At the time, considerable work and effort went into digging kilometers of tunnels, arming bunkers and artillery forts. This infrastructure continued to be used, and modernized, until the mid 1990s.

Dailly is one of the three major Swiss fortification bastions. At the height of its service, over 2,000 soldiers were serving its many artillery and close-in defensive weapons, able to inflict considerable casualties to an invader marching from the Southern or Western borders. Over 20 km of underground tunnels and bunkers effectively shielded the garrison from even nuclear and chemical weapons.

Van Creveld was given a VIP tour, organized by Col. (GS) Christian Bühlmann and Lt. Col. (GS) Alexandre Vautravers – who is also head of the International Relations Department at Webster University’s campus in Geneva. Several members of the Webster faculty also took the opportunity to join the visit.

Webster University Geneva offers the following courses each spring: INTL 3800 on International Security, INTL 5550 War and Diplomacy, as well as INTL 5860 Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution. These courses are connected to our yearly Security Forum – next year’s conference will be held on Feb. 8, 2013, on the theme of “Water and Security.”

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Category: Faculty, Featured, International & U.S. Campuses, Military

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