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The Historian's Corner

Operation Tyr: The Invasion of Liechtenstein

Few realize how thoroughly Adolf Hitler's plans for European conquest were developed. During the course of the war and prewar, the Wehrmacht carried out invasions or takeovers of 16 different countries, with only the invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, not ending in success.

Of course, many are familiar with Operation Sealion, the aborted invasion of England. Less well known were the plans for a swift takeover in Spain and Portugal, should the Allies attack those regions, and the potential invasion of Sweden, should that country cut off its supply of iron to the Reich. Least well known were Hitler's plans to make his conquest of Europe total. As in everything, total. Zzzptm Historical Researchers poring through the vast archives of the German High Command recently uncovered details for Operation Tyr: the invasion of Liechtenstein.

Anschluss added Austria to the Reich in 1938, but Liechtenstein was left untouched. As a Duchy, Nazi agents provacateurs could not easily infiltrate it to subvert the plebiscite process and call for a union with Germany, as they did in Austria. As a tiny mountain city-state, it was left untouched, as it was unlikely to create any difficulties for the Nazi regime.

Lack of threat or not, Hitler ordered plans be drawn up for the invasion of that country in May of 1941. His astrologer had advised him that "pebbles in the shoe can become boulders that roll and crush" and that Liechtenstein was key to that prophecy. Immediately, Hitler went to Field-Marshal Keitel and demanded a "Liechtenstein Solution". Keitel acceeded to the Führer's request, as usual, and deferred the planning to his chief of staff General Jodl, as usual.

Jodl was bitter about having to plan an operation against a country as insignificant as Liechtenstien while being left out of the majority of planning for Barbarossa, which duty fell to General Halder. Jodl was otherwise a man of cunning and reason, but on this matter let his emotions cloud his better sense. At a time when every division available was being massed on the Eastern Front, even without receiving full refits after operations in the Balkans, Jodl had the temerity to submit Operation Tyr calling for 4 divisions, justifying his numbers on the grounds the Swiss might renounce their neutrality and intervene on behalf of the mountain duchy. He requested the 1st Mountain Division, a veteran of actions in Poland and France and which had just served in the Balkans and was attached to Army Group South, the 4th Mountain Division, which had seen its first action in Greece, and was also under AGS command, and the 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, both garrisoning Crete after the fierce campaigns there. The 188th Reserve Mountain Division, a training outfit based in northern Austria, would provide a garrison for the area.

Jodl submitted his plans and Keitel delivered them to Hitler. The Führer swallowed whole Jodl's fantasies of Swiss intervention and approved the plan without modification. He ordered the divisions be brought up to crush Liechtenstein, then be transferred to AGS immediately after the action. As soon as they found out, Marshal Runstedt, the AGS commander, and General Ringel, commander of the 5th Mountain and the garrison of Crete, protested strongly about the commitment of their forces to such a pointless venture. Hitler would hear none of it and considered having them relieved of command. Only the voiciferous objections from Halder, Marshal Leeb, and Marshal Bock saved Runstedt from being dismissed. Ringel had won great notoriety after his division's critical role in Crete, and Hitler's staff recommended he not be removed, as he was very popular on the home front at the time.

Nevertheless, the divisions prepared to move out to conquer Liechtenstein. The Cretan garrison was to be withdrawn first, as it would be the most difficult to extricate and would necessitate other divisions being sent in to replace them. Just before the transports loaded up the replacement units, an emergency cable arrived from Berlin: Operation Tyr had been called off.

The reasons for its cancellation are still not entirely clear, but documents so far point to a change in the stars and a modification of the prophecy told by Hitler's astrologer. That the plan was suddenly abandoned is very clear. The 5th and 6th remained in Crete until they were transferred to Norway in September-October 1941 and the 1st and 4th remained attached to AGS. Once Barbarossa got underway, Hitler expected to be able to execute Operation Tyr in mid-1942. As December rolled by and Russia still not brought to its knees, Operation Tyr was put on the very hindmost of back burners.

It was briefly dusted off in June of 1943, in the overconfidence preceding the Kursk campaign, but in the wake of Germany's resounding defeat there, never saw light of day again until discovered several months ago in a mass of German Army horsefeed requisitioning forms, literally in a dustbin of history.

Although it was highly likely Liechtenstein would have fallen to such a massive onslaught, there is no speculation whatsoever regarding potential Swiss involvement. The Swiss were neutral to a fault and their very survival depended upon it in such times. Nevertheless, it was quite likely Swiss private citizens would take up arms and oppose the German attack on their own accord, making Jodl's plan not entirely ludicrous. Mostly, but not entirely.

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