Britain, Switzerland and the Second World War

This is the first comprehensive study of British policy towards Switzerland during the Second World War. Switzerland occupied an ambiguous place in British belligerency. For most policy-makers, Switzerland epitomized the kind of political values that Britain claimed to uphold when it declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939. At the same time however, Switzerland's inexorable drift into the German orbit after mid-1940 inevitably prevented Britain from treating the Swiss with quite the same benevolence as had characterized relations between the two countries over the previous 150 years. This book investigates how the British government tried to resolve this problem and construct a policy that met its primary political and strategic needs, while maintaining cordial relations with, as Churchill put it, the 'only decent neutral' in the world. The book addresses six themes: British blockade policy, the place of Switzerland in Britain's land and air strategies, London's reaction to Swiss banking activities, and Switzerland's role as an intelligence centre and as a provider of humanitarian and political assistance. While some of the problems London faced were unique to Anglo-Swiss relations, officials were rarely able to deal with Switzerland in isolation from Britain's broader diplomatic objectives. As a result the book contributes to our understanding of economic and financial warfare, the Holocaust, Anglo-American relations, the Allied strategic bombing campaign, Switzerland's place in the history of the Second World War, and the role of cultural influences on international relations. The book argues that Britain was considerably more successful in benefiting from its relations with Switzerland than has hitherto been assumed, especially in the acquisition of Swiss manufactures and secret intelligence. London thus retained a stake in the maintenance of Swiss neutrality long after the severance of direct communications between the two countries in June 1940. At base however, British attitudes were shaped by a set of entrenched beliefs about Switzerland and Swiss neutrality that remained in place, despite the growing evidence detailing the extent of Swiss-German collaboration. British policy towards Switzerland therefore rested on a view of Swiss neutrality that was forged as much from the preconceptions of British officials as from a dispassionate reading of Switzerland's place in the war.