Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Swiss Army

By Uncle Hans

This blog starts with a book. I read history as a hobby and lately have been reading about the history of the Swiss during WWII. It is fascinating. It can be summed up in one sentence.:

The Swiss made their concept of “Armed Neutrality” work because of a national obsession with marksmanship and the issuance of 800,000 top notch rifles to every male between 18 and 60, pretty much making the defeat of their country “possible, but way to costly in material and men”
I bought this little book, outlining the development of the rifle, which was interesting, but very technical.

.....Then, I was sitting in the office of a friend with an interest in guns and saw this rifle leaning against the fireplace. It had been there 10 years, dropped off by a client, and living as a dusty decoration. It looked vaguely faminliar.
Turns out it is the grandfather of the rifle issued to all those Swiss, the one on the cover of the book on the left......

The “inventor” was a guy named Vetterli, who had an interest in America’s cool new repeating rifle, the Winchester (or Henry). The Civil War Rebels, hated the thing because the Union troops had it and “could load it on Sunday and shoot all week!”
The bullets were loaded into a long tube hidden under the barrel and it could deliver about 12 shots inside 15 seconds.....a devastating advantage.

Vetterli, who thought the lever action was a disadvantage in a foxhole, married a bolt action he stole from someone else (Germany) to the thing. This allowed a stronger chamber, and a more powerful bullet. Winchester/Henry was used off a horse, and used the same bullet as the revolver most guys carried. This was handy, but it severely limited the power, the muzzle velocity, hence the range and accuracy of the rifle..............


This picture shows the bolt opened. The result was that in 1869, the Swiss had a weapon which was repeating and had range and accuracy almost like today’s rifles.......

swiss2 is the page in the book that pins this model to 1871, the first modification (very slight) to the original 1869 model. The value is only around $300. Remember, they made hundreds of thousands, and they last forever as they were way ahead of their time. A few were used in WWII by the local “militia” of young boys and old men........

swiss3 you can see the adjustable rear site, which has markings to adjust to 1200 meters, about two thirds of a mile. The Swiss held very large and popular shooting contests, local, regional, national, and international, in which they displayed the weapon and the ability of the “average” Swiss. This tradition continues to this day.
In this picture you can see the bullet feed hole, just like a Winchester/Henry. I believe it held 12 rounds...........


......I just thought it was interesting to see the thing leaning against the wall in my friend’s office. Someone had brought it in for him to identify. The “progression” of rifle development quickly dropped the Winchester/Henry cylindrical magazine for a square magazine that held 5 or 6 rounds (better, somehow than 12?), so this “Winchester with a bolt” is quite a strange looking abortion. It defied identification until we held the book up next to it and said “Wow!” it is 40 caliber, this is a modern 40 caliber handgun round (Renee’s) and a modern 300 Savage round for comparison.........


So, in summary, Vetterli invented nothing, stole some good ideas and combined them. The Swiss instilled a “patriotic” obsession for marksmanship in their people and cleverly showed the world how well they could shoot the thing at contests (great propaganda value?).

In this way they successfully avoided three huge wars between their surrounding neighbors France and Germany (Franco-Prussian 1870), WWI, and WWII). Their belligerent neighbors both knew how much blood would be spilled in invading Switzerland, even though it was a direct route to their enemy.


Is their something to be learned from this today? Arming yourself as a deterrent? Crime has dropped in “right -to-carry” states.

The Swiss have had very capable weapons in the hands of damned near everyone in the country for a couple hundred years. They have a very low homicide rate.
A few years ago, a young man killed his girlfriend with a government issued rifle. So the government collected up the automatic weapons and stores them in the local armory now. Many of these old military rifles are out in public.

A few days ago, a psychiatric patient killed three and injured three in Switzerland with “an old military rifle” Now what will the Swiss do?

Psychiatric patients with weapons is a huge problem. We actually have very good laws in this country to try to prevent that. But the last two mass murderers (Oregon and Connecticut) simply stole the weapon from someone they knew as they were not allowed to own their own. How do you prevent that? Many people who need psychiatric care in this country avoid it because they know they would lose their guns or the ability to buy new ones. They get sicker and still have their guns!!

By Uncle Hans


Upriverdavid said...

That was an interesting story...and a neat gun. Objects just like people, it's a small world!