Twin Swiss Museums
By James S. Kirkpatrick

Located along the border with Germany on the Rhine and Aare rivers stands a defensive line of fortifications within the country of Switzerland. Most of these fortifications where built in 1939 due to the aggressive posturing of Germany and her obsession to bring the German speaking people together under one banner. Switzerland had not been invaded since Napoleon Bonaparte’s entrance in 1798 and the Swiss were preparing for the worst by building fortifications and increasing armament production throughout the country.

Two museums in this region which preserve this important chapter in Swiss history are known as the “Twin Museums.” One is located in a 6,000 square meter former factory for producing sulfate acid and is called the Swiss Military Museum. It was opened in its current location in May 2004, while the other is a decommissioned fortress. Both of the museums are operated by volunteers Along with the two museums are about 60 other fortified military positions in the region of the Canton of Aargau that are not usually open to the public but quite a few can be viewed by driving along the Rhine. These consist of infantry bunkers, tank obstacles, command post and logistical infrastructures. The main purpose of the museums is to preserve an example of the Swiss defense infrastructure in World War 2 and the Cold War Era.

Arriving at the Swiss Military Museum one notices the turret of the British Centurion Tank used by the Swiss Army as the Panzer 55/60 and the front hull mounted gun port from a German Tiger Ausf. B (King Tiger) Tank on display in front of the entrance. Tickets are purchased in the museum gift shop before entering the exhibit area. The gift shop is very well stocked and very interesting due to the nice selection of literature and surplus items available.

The museum building is pretty large with numerous floors. The floors are not set up like a tradition building due to the original use of the facility. There are numerous metal “cat walks” with partial floors leading up to the top full two floors.

The first floor is devoted to the factory collection of MOWAG military vehicles, which consist of both wheeled and tracked vehicles including prototypes. One of the interesting displays here are the ball mounts for machine guns as well as a turret that has been pulled from a vehicle and shows very well how the gunner would sit and control the weapon from within.

On the second floor you will notice numerous modern cannon that were taken from fortresses’ as well as everything from tank armament, vehicles, aircraft, a boat mounted with a beautiful Furrer LMG 25, and several Swiss military small arms on display. The pride and joy of the museum was also located on this floor. The museum took possession of a German Tiger II or “King Tiger” back in 2006 and it is currently undergoing restoration work by volunteers working on donations to restore it back to running condition. The restoration could take up to five years but it can still be viewed by the public throughout this time.

Working your way up the maze of catwalks and floors there are multiple displays covering anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft guns, radio communications, mortars, a turret from a downed British Lancaster Bomber and a room devoted to diorama’s and military models. On the upper floors sits a very impressive collection of artillery with an assortment of Swiss uniformed mannequins poised among the pieces. The collection is quite impressive with a section devoted to the ammunition used by these weapons. An excellent Swiss-made 1911 model machine gun is also on display disassembled in its transportation cart.

The top floor is devoted to the most extensive collection on site, the factory collection of Oerlikon-Buhrle. Every weapon produced by this former world famous Swiss weapons manufacturer is on display as well as prototypes. This collection also includes air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, aircraft guns and large ship models also being displayed. This collection alone is well worth the entrance fee and it is quite impressive to follow the beginnings of the cannon to the later high tech variants.

A separate building, which was opened in April 2010, is located a short walking distance from the main museum and houses the tank and armored fighting vehicle collection. Inside are numerous vehicles ranging from World War II tanks to plenty of post war vehicles including a Swiss variant of the German Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyer called the Panzerjager G 13, to newer vehicles like the Swedish Stridsvagn 103C. On one side of the building a serious of trenches are dug that display both a French and a German dugout from World War II. The displays are completely equipped with weapons, helmets and posters on the wall that transports the visitor back in time. The trenches lead to several anti-tank guns as well as fortifications with an MG34 set up as well as a Hotchkiss Model 1914.

Most Saturday mornings the museum will have some of the vehicles driving around the museum grounds. The museum also offers refreshments in the “Military Bistro” that is located inside. This restaurant also has a collection of Swiss military artwork and firearms as well as edged weapons. It is definitely worth grabbing something to eat here just to admire the decor.

A short drive away (900 meters) on a ridge adjacent to the village of Reuenthal sits the Fortress Museum. The Fortress was completed in 1939 and deactivated in 1974. In the following years the fortress was used to train fortress troops. It was used in this capacity until 1988 when it was handed over to the museum association where it was outfitted with World War II and early Cold War equipment. The main mission of the fortress was to prevent the crossing of the Rhine by enemy forces in the area of the hydroelectric power station of Albbruck-Dogern, 3km away. On the surface there are two main gun emplacements for the 75mm rapid fire guns as well as the two observation bunkers armed with machine guns which can be seen. Underground the main tunnel runs for a length of 210 meters and links rooms for mess halls, ammunition, an operating room, and other functions of the fortress.

The museum has several of the 75mm rapid-fire guns on display that are fully functional. The weapons are in excellent condition and an elderly Swiss volunteer showed their use to visitors. Unfortunately everything is in German but the concept is easily understood as they are going through the motions of aiming and firing the guns. Also in the mounts are an MG11 and a Furrer LMG 25. Working your way through the tunnel one will see a maintenance room set up as it was in the 1940s as well as officer and soldier quarters, surgeon room and even a latrine that is still open for use by the visitors. Multiple rooms are set up to display a collection of Swiss weapons and gear from the 1900s to modern day. One room contains Swiss ordnance with a very impressive collection of every type of small arm available to the Swiss soldier throughout the last century. The most interesting display is of the Swiss machine guns in their fortress mounts. Rooms are also dedicated to both World Wars with a very impressive display of uniforms and weapons of both periods. Along the walls of the main tunnel are glass cases displaying all types of small arms from around the world and is accompanied by long wooden rifle racks loaded with Schmidt Rubin K31 rifles.

The fortress also has a restaurant underground called the Restaurant Barbara that serves sandwiches, soups and snacks. At the entrance to the museum is the gift shop that sells a variety of Swiss military surplus gear.

The museums are open from April 1 through October 31. Anyone interested in visiting should call ahead to make sure the museum is open. Annual military vehicle meetings and summer festivals are held on the grounds where multiple vehicles are running for demonstrations. On July 2 and 3 the Swiss Tank Troops of 1940 as well as a few Russian tanks will be holding a demonstration. Confirm this with the museum before traveling there.

Festungsmuseum Reuenthal
CH-5324 Reuenthal (AG)
Tel. 056 246 03 33
Open 1330 to 1700, Saturdays

Schweizerisches Militarmuseum
General-Guisan-Strasse 1
CH-5324 Full (AG)
Tel. 056 246 05 17
Open 1000 to 1700, Fri, Sat, Sun

Entry Fee is CHF 12.oo per person, single entry for each museum
CHF 6.00 for children, age 6 to 16, single entry
CHF 20.00 per person, Saturday ticket for both museums
CHF 10.00 for children, 6 to 16, Saturday ticket for both museums

(Special thanks to Mr. Christian Hug who helped provide information on the museums and their history.)

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (April 2012)
and was posted online on March 2, 2012


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