Uncovering Switzerland's Underground Fallout Bunkers

By Steve Higgins
April 04, 2023 1:00 AM ‐ UndergroundUrbEx

This article is more than one year old and was last updated in February 2024.

Underground Bunker, Switzerland
Switzerland is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, but it is also home to one of the largest bunker networks in the world. With nearly 10,000 bunkers scattered throughout the country, Switzerland's defence strategy is unique and dates back to World War II, when the country adopted a policy of neutrality.

There is an unusually large number of bunker in Switzerland because of a law requiring protective shelters to be constructed for all new buildings since 1963. Recently, the YouTuber Johnny Harris visited Switzerland to explore its bunkers and created a must-see half-hour video about his visit.

During his time in Switzerland, Johnny visited the country's largest bunker, which spans over 30,000 square meters. The YouTuber was given a guided tour of the facility by its owner, Eric, who showed him the sleeping quarters, hospitals, and generators. The bunker was constructed during World War II and has since been maintained and updated.

Following World War II, the Cold War era brought new challenges, and the Swiss once again embarked on a bunker-building spree. This time, they constructed hundreds of thousands of underground fallout shelters across the country, designed to withstand nuclear attacks.

The necessity of these bunkers is once again being debated, given the current conflict in Ukraine and the increased threat posed by Putin's Russia.

Johnny had been planning and dreaming about this trip for years, and he remarked that "the result wasn't just a wild trip through the mountains. It was an uncovering of something much deeper: the story of this peculiar country and the cost and benefits of choosing neutrality."

You can watch Johnny's full video below, which offers a fascinating insight into Switzerland's unique defence strategy and its remarkable network of bunkers...

I recently wrote about Switzerland's Sonnenberg Bunker in my new book, 'Hidden, Forbidden & Off-Limits,' which explores secret underground bunkers around the world.

Switzerland is home to many impressive bunkers, but the Sonnenberg Bunker stands out due to its size and unique design. Built in the 1970s during the Cold War, it was the world's largest civilian shelter at the time.

The bunker consists of two 1,550-meter-long tunnels, one for each direction of the motorway. In the event of a nuclear attack, the tunnels could be sealed with 1.5-meter-thick blast doors weighing 350 tons. Each tunnel could accommodate 10,000 civilians in temporary dormitories constructed within the tunnel using partitions.

The core building, which is seven storeys tall and located between the two tunnels, housed everything needed for survival, including air filtration and water supply equipment. It also had a staff of 700 to manage logistics and the day-to-day running of the bunker, a central command room, communications equipment, including a telephone switchboard, and a well-stocked hospital.

Although the shelter was designed to withstand a nuclear explosion, as the Cold War threat diminished, the plan to use the road tunnels as shelters was abandoned. The core building was then converted into a self-contained shelter for 2,000 people.

While the shelter was intended to save lives, the reality of living in a bunker for weeks or even months is bleak. Survivors would be trapped underground with no natural light, sharing limited resources with thousands of strangers. The bunk beds, of which there were 450 tons stored in the core, would be set up along the length of the tunnels once they were closed to traffic. There would be no outlet for entertainment or recreation, and the inhabitants would likely spend most of their spare time queuing to use the limited number of shared facilities, such as toilets and washing facilities.

Living in close quarters with so many people could easily lead to desperation and lawlessness, which is why the bunker's core cavern housed a legal and security services area, complete with holding cells.

Fortunately, visitors can now take guided tours of the core of the bunker, which has been open to the public since 2008. Exploring the bunker provides a unique insight into life inside a Cold War shelter.

While my book features international bunkers, including the Sonnenberg Bunker, 'Hidden, Forbidden & Off-Limits' primarily focuses on my explorations of dark and forgotten places beneath Britain. It's available now from Amazon in paperback, hardcover, Kindle ebook, and as an audiobook on Audible.

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