Swiss Jagdkommando

by Phil Hutton

Summary: My quiet neighbor turns out to be old Swiss Commando

I recently saw some items on ebay described as “Swiss Jagdkommando” equipment.

This fascinated me not a little, as I knew my neighbor Hans had once mentioned this name to me in one of our late evening card sessions. It didn’t mean anything to me at the time. But seeing military equipment of the name rekindled my interest. I picked up on the subject some nights later and started to unravel an interesting tale about a chapter that has slipped through the pages of history unnoticed.
I asked my friend Hans Bragger, who lives near Kuessnacht am Rigi if I could interview him on this subject. He first laughed the idea off, saying nobody in a right mind would be interested, but once he saw I was serious to learn more about his past, he sat us down with two cups of coffee and opened up.

How did you join the Swiss Army?

In Switzerland we had and still have national service. Each able-bodied male age 20 was called up for basic training. I completed my basic training in 1958 in the Gebirgsinfanterie-Rekrutenschule (Mountain Infantry Basic training) in Luziensteig and was chosen for NCO school some months later which I completed in 1959. I then joined my regular unit the Gebirgs Schützen Bat 9 as a Corporal.
Being a citizen army we had to leave our jobs for three weeks each year to do our refresher training with the unit.

What would you do in those three weeks?

The usual, rock climbing, weapons training, maneuvers.We where always tired, as we where on our feet all the time. Never a dull moment. Of course we tried to enjoy this “Government Holiday” as we called it as much as possible. If we could we’d slip off to the next Restaurant or pub in village and get a drink, if we had an evening off we’d have a night out in one of those houses also.

Where did the Jagdkommandos come in to this?

We actually at the time called it Jagdpatrouille (Hunting Patrol). The term Jagdkommnado only came up in the early 60s. These patrols where nothing unusual, Infantry units since the war days made up such a hunting patrols and scoured the front line for targets and information. In the late 1940’s early 1950s though they started to pick whole companies on refresher training to become a Jagdkompanie (Hunter Company) and for whatever reasons our company was hit on a couple of times to do this. It was an ad-hoc establishment we where a bunch of normal guys just called upon to do long patrols in desolate mountain country, nothing more.

What was the mission?

You don’t remember now, but the 1950s where a time of communist paranoia. The west was afraid the the red’s would get hold of atomic weapons, which they did in the end and try and dominate the world with socialism. These fears didn’t pass bye the neutral countries like Switzerland and the Jagdkompanies where supposed to patrol the mountains and remote areas to counter secret communist air drops of agents on to our territory or the establishment of an anti government base on our soil. It was also to show both power blocks that we still had a grip on things in our backyard even though we where only a small nation.

What where the patrols like?

We’d usually travel in a small seven man group usually lead by a Korporal or Wachtmeister (NCO) and equipped very lightly, no unnecessary weight. Only the rifles and some grenades. There’d usually be a one MG51 and one guy would take a SE101 Radio which where notoriously unreliable in the mountains and usually a waste of time and strength to carry along.

It was nearly always the same guys and we got to know each other really well, maybe better than under normal military circumstances. Of course you had to rely on these men, especially when climbing or when handling weapons. Mutual trust was our most important asset I think. We where cut off from civilization for some days and had to rely on the man next to us. The patrol usually started at the crack of dawn and we’d move out of the patrol base, usually a village near our patrol area, when it was still dark.

The patrol leader would have worked out the route with the platoon officer a day or two before.
It usually took 3-4 days to cover, depending on the weather and terrain.

We usually just slept under our tent sheet we each carried. We’d have sausages, bread and maybe some tinned meat with us for food. On one occasion my friend Kari shot a deer in a forest and got himself into a lot of trouble from the patrol leader, for firing the rifle. But all was forgotten once we got a fire going in a secure camp and some of the meat was put down the patrol leader’s throat. He even covered up the missing round with one from his pocket. Nobody asked where he had it from.
Our patrol leaders where usually exceptional men. We liked them a lot better than the officers. The NCO’s took care of their men and took an interest in us. What’s more they shared the hardships of course.

The guys where your average infantry soldier, just unencumbered by all the usual militaria they expected one to carry round. Most came from farming backgrounds and had many outdoor skills, like hunting, fishing and tracking. I was an exception as I worked in an office, one of the reasons I had been chosen for NCO school.

My best memories are of the times we’d sit around a fire and just enjoy the peace and quiet of the mountains. We’d take it in turns to stand guard at night. The blackness of the night has to be seen to be believed. But then nothing is like a sunrise experienced up in the Alps. The mountain peaks spread out below one in the golden light and the rivers and lakes shimmering in a wonderful blue.

Did you ever find anything on your patrols?

We never found any communist saboteurs or infiltrators. But then we didn’t seriously expect to.
On one occasion though, we where called upon to help some people that had crashed in a light sports plane in a remote valley. We where the nearest hope for them, so our patrol was called off and we hiked for some hours to get to the area they suspected the crash in. Luckily one passenger was unhurt and was coming our way and he led us back to the wrecked plane where the Pilot had broken his leg.
We signaled in a helicopter and some hours later the three men and the women where on their way back to civilization. But we had to walk back!

When I had more experience I was allowed to take out patrols myself, which was very demanding but also rewarding. I learnt how to lead other people and take responsibility.

What happened to the patrols in later years?

They kept them up until somebody decided they weren’t plausible anymore and the whole idea was slowly put to rest. We kept on training ambushes and reconnaissance in the terrain but the days of long mountain patrols where gone. On some occasions the patrol members would meet up on a weekend and do a tour together, even take the wife’s along. I guess we where beginning to miss the camaraderie of the patrols and the silence of the mountains. I still keep in touch with some of the blokes.

There was ideas to use the Jagdkompanie’s as resistance units in case Switzerland would have been invaded. Secret caches where available. But I don’t know what came of that. Possibly nothing.
The government closed the book on the patrols in the early 80’s. Some of the early instructors of the patrols had been Swiss who had fought on the German side during the war.

Their war time experience was incredible and we tried to learn as much as possible from them.
They where masters of using even the smallest crevice for cover, knowing how life saving it would be in combat. We sucked up all this information they had learned the hard way. This background became embarrassing for the Swiss authorities in later years and they try and cover up this fact to this day by sulking over it. The young even deny the Jagdpatrols existed, as the living sources are dwindling away and nearly nothing written exists. Ignorance is the virtue of the young. It’s a sign how old one is, when nobody wants to remember you anymore. (Hans laughs!) But then, what’s it to me, I have my memories of beautiful sunrises over the Alps and good comrades, nobody can take those away….

Hans finished his military career as a Major. In civilian life he had his own import-export business and lives with his wife, retired near Küssnacht am Rigi.