The Swiss Manual on Guerrilla Warfare Advises Hiding in Atomic Ruins
Unofficial guide taught how to resist a Soviet invasion
In the 1957 military manual Total Resistance—which describes how to wage an insurgency—Swiss army Maj. Hans Von Dach sketches out a scenario.
Soviet paratroopers and tanks are overrunning Switzerland during World War III. The army has collapsed and defeat is imminent.
“One thing is certain,” the guide states. “The enemy will show no mercy.”
“The enemy will snuff out one life, dozens, hundreds or thousands without any qualms if this would further his aims. The captured soldier will face deportation, forced labor or death. But so will the worker, the employee, the self-employed and the housewife.”
Von Dach’s proposed solution was to arm and prepare these everyday people for a guerrilla war waged from mountains and the radioactive ruins of Swiss cities.
For a lot of reasons, the Swiss military never officially adopted the manual. The 173-page guide begins with the assumption that the Swiss army no longer exists as a cohesive fighting force in the aftermath of an invasion.
Yet the book was arguably more influential outside the country. German left-wing terrorists studied it during the Red Army Faction’s heydays during the 1970s and 1980s.
The German Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons banned the book—only putting it up for review in 2013.
Total Resistance is still a terrorist’s guide in Germany. Tino Brandt, the neo-Nazi leader of the Thuringia Homeland Defense Group possessed several copies of the book. Brandt is now in custody and charged with 157 counts of aggravated child sexual abuse.
Brandt’s organization also had ties to the terrorist National Socialist Underground, which is responsible for the murders of nine immigrants between 2000 and 2006.
It’s the only Swiss book to ever land on Germany’s banned books list. That didn’t stop people from reading it.
Translations spread globally, according to the Zurich newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. America’s Special Operations Forces read it. The book circulated in Lebanon during the country’s civil war. Vietnamese insurgents allegedly studied it during the 1960s.
But there’s not much evidence the Swiss military took the book very seriously. During the Cold War, the Swiss army maintained its own formal underground resistance network known as Projekt-26, which envisioned a more top-down command and control system than what’s in Total Resistance.
The book is more like a Swiss version of Red Dawn, with civilians waging guerrilla warfare alongside isolated soldiers, largely in a self-organized fashion.
“The enemy tactics of ‘leaping over’ the front by air mobile units or ‘over-running’ the front by armored units will undoubtedly leave many Swiss army units intact,” Von Dach wrote. “These, in turn, will provide us with a nucleus of trained, experienced fighters for guerrilla units.”
Von Dach expected the Soviets to nuke Switzerland. “Ruins in bombed-out cities will also provide good hide-outs,” he wrote. “Devastation wrought by atomic weapons will provide excellent places to hide.”
There’s techniques on how to avoid patrolling helicopters and hiding incriminating documents. There’s tips for sabotaging railroads, power lines and parked aircraft. The guide has battle tactics for surrounding and overrunning isolated outposts.
There’s even illustrations on “disposing of guards without any notice” with an axe. “Obliquely between the small of the back and loin,” the book states.
Perhaps showing its age, the guide recommends keeping a reserve of horses and wagons near planned ambushes—for carrying captured supplies away.
Although unofficial, Von Dach’s book did influence Swiss military exercises well into the 1990s. Soldiers learned how to attacks tanks with grenades attached to gasoline cans—a technique similar to those found in Total Resistance.
But it never made much of an impact on operational planning.
Today, the Swiss army trains along conventional lines with a purpose toward being interoperable with NATO, though Switzerland is not a member of the alliance.
The confederation still has an overwhelmingly conscript force—albeit beefed up with advanced fighter jets and hundreds of tanks.
Within the Swiss military, officers largely view Von Dach’s tactics as practically useless. Would-be insurgents out there reading it will get some bad advice.
There’s an important distinction between conscripts, who are members of the formal military, and self-organized militias. Von Dach also imagined a Swiss uprising during a Soviet occupation modeling itself after the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944.
The German army crushed that rebellion, leveled the city and killed upward of 200,000 civilians. “The last, and admittedly, most cruel battle will be fought by civilians,” he wrote in its closing remarks. It’s no surprise Swiss commanders weren’t fond of this idea.
They preferred to avoid that “cruel battle” before it happened.