Switzerland was a neutral country during World War II, but adjacent to and at times completely surrounded by Axis countries. On several occasions Allied bombing raids hit targets in Switzerland resulting in fatalities and property damage. Such events led to diplomatic exchanges. While Allied forces explained the causes of violations as navigation errors, equipment failure, weather conditions, and pilots’ errors, in Switzerland fear was expressed that some neutrality violations were intended to exert pressure on the country to end its economic cooperation with Nazi Germany. In addition to bombing raids, air attacks by individual fighter planes strafed Swiss targets toward the end of the war.
Allied use of Swiss air space
During World War II Swiss air space was violated by both sides. The Swiss Air Force was not in a position in terms of size of force or modern equipment to defend Swiss air space effectively. Thus, during the war, over 7,000 siren alarms were initiated in Switzerland. Some Allied bombers took advantage of this situation by using Swiss air space as a safer route than enemy air space on their bombing runs to and from targets in Germany, but more often, bombers in distress preferred to descend to neutral Switzerland for asylum rather than in German territory. As a result Switzerland ultimately interned 1,700 American airmen.
The daylight bombing of Schaffhausen on 1 April 1944 by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) was the most serious of all incidents. Approximately 50 B-24 Liberators of a larger force misidentified Schaffhausen as their target Ludwigshafen am Rhein near Mannheim (about 235 km north of Schaffhausen), and dropped bombs that led to 40 fatalities, numerous injuries, and property damage. At the insistence of the Swiss government for an explanation, Allied investigations into the incident found that bad weather broke up the American formation over France, and that high winds that nearly doubled the ground speed of the bombers confused the navigators. (Two other widely scattered cities in Germany and France were also mistakenly bombed during the same mission.) As Schaffhausen is situated on the right bank (north side) of the Rhine river, it was apparently assumed to be the German city. By October 1944, 4 million dollars had been paid in restitution.
Stein am Rhein
On 22 February 1945, thirteen USAAF air attacks took place with Stein am Rhein receiving the most damage. Other places included Taegerwilen, Rafz, and Vals. Overall these attacks led to 21 fatalities.
Zurich and Basel
On 4 March 1945, six USAAF B-24H bombers hit Zurich with 12.5 Short ton of high explosives and 12 tons of incendiaries resulting in five fatalities. The intended target had been Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt am Main (290 km north). The six bombers had gone off course and believed they were bombing Freiburg. At virtually the same time, other bombers dropped 12.5 tons of high explosives and five tons of incendiaries on Basel.
On 1 October 1943, bombs were released by the USAAF over Samedan leading to property damage. 1944 saw attacks that included Koblenz, Cornol, Niederweningen, and Thayngen. Attacks in 1945 included Chiasso twice. Basel was bombed on 4 March 1945. The last air attack occurred in Brusio on 16 April 1945.
Regarding the Zurich bombing, a court-martial proceeding took place in England on 1 June 1945. Col. James M. Stewart, the famous actor and wartime B-24 pilot, was the presiding officer of the trial. Accused were the lead pilot Lieutenant William R. Sincock and one of his navigators, Lieutenant Theodore Q. Balides, for violating the 96th Article of War, Sincock specifically for having "wrongfully and negligently caused bombs to be dropped in friendly territory". Weather conditions and equipment failure were found to be at fault; the defendants were found not guilty of criminal culpability.
In addition to the US$4 million paid by October 1944, the United States government agreed to pay 62,176,433.06 Swiss francs (then equivalent to $14.4 million, or $193 million at current prices) to the Swiss government as full and final payment for damage to persons and property during World War II on 21 October 1949.
- Helmreich JE. "Diplomacy of Apology". http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj00/sum00/helmreich.html. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
- Swiss History, World War II (German)
- Tanner, Stephen. Refuge from the Reich: American Airmen and Switzerland During World War II.
- Helmreich JE (2000). "The Bombing of Zurich". Aerospace Power Journal. http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj00/sum00/helmreich1.htm.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
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