Swiss Army Jeeps


Willys MB The first Jeeps of the Swiss Army were 1,565 American surplus jeeps (both Willys MBs and Ford GPWs) bought following World War II. About 30 of them were in unusable condition, according to archival research by Swiss Jeep historian Nik Oswald, but the purchase began a tradition which soon continued with an order for 400 CJ-2As (following three as test vehicles) from Willys in 1947.

Many of the Jeeps survived in civilian use after being retired by the military. Ulrich Tribelhorn of the Jeep Club of Central Switzerland says, "At the time when the army still used horses, young farmers who went in the military service could pay a part of the cost of a horse and could take it home after their service. When the army started to buy Jeeps they kept this tradition. This is the reason that quite a few of our members still have the Jeep they used in the military service."

This photo of a Willys MB on parade comes from an undated postcard.

Parade The Army continued to buy Jeeps from Willys and Kaiser, including CJ-3As, CJ-3Bs, CJ-5s and M38A1s, until 1972. Most were retired by the end of the 1990s.

These CJ-3Bs in service are seen in a photo from the book Fahrzeuge der Schweizer Armee ("Vehicles of the Swiss Army") by Markus Hoffman.

CJ-3A Many of the retired Jeeps have been restored by new owners across Europe, or are preserved in museums. This CJ-3A is one of several Jeeps in Museum Im Zeughaus, a volunteer-run collection of Swiss Army equipment located in Schaufhausen.

Photo by Massimo Foti on Flickr .

CJ-3A I don't know the source of this photo, reportedly from 1958 and probably from a postcard. The picture certainly says "Switzerland", and it looks like a military CJ-3A, with the same railing around the rear seen in the photo above.

Civilian-owned Jeeps in the country, including WWII surplus vehicles imported from Germany and new Willys vehicles imported starting in 1947, could also be requisitioned by the Army.

CJ-2A An undated photo shows an Army CJ-2A and CJ-3B together during an exercise. Both Jeeps have the Willys chaff screen over the grille -- probably used to prevent buildup of snow on the radiator.

Photo courtesy of Le QG 1/72e.

Night Maneuvers on Film, 1955

1955 This photo has an exact date: 12 February 1955. It's taken from newsreel film of an overnight rally in Thun, with 150 three-person teams of military personnel in Jeeps covering a 160 km course, with tests along the way including orienteering and target shooting. Clearly the 150 Jeeps lined up for the start include both CJ-3Bs and earlier flatfenders.

1955 The two-minute newsreel film (30MB QuickTime video) shows the Jeeps driving across snowy terrain, and plotting their course by the light of flashlights and candles. At one stop, the driver studies the map while the two passengers throw grenades at a target. At another stop, the teams have to hike to a shooting range by compass in the dark. The winning team is three Army officers from Zurich. Video courtesy of the Swiss Federal Archives.

Other Models

Military Police Judging from this Militär Polizei ("Military Police") 1951 Willys 4x473 displayed at the huge Oldtimer & Teilemarkt classic car show in Fribourg in 2018, the Swiss Army also employed Station Wagons.

CJ-5 A large number of CJ-5s reportedly included some of the M606A2 variant. Like the M606 version of the CJ-3B, the M606A2 was a CJ-5 with heavy duty options and blackout lamps. In addition, the M606A3 version was equipped with an auxiliary 24V electrical system for radio communication.

Parade Switzerland was apparently approved to purchase the M38A1, and the Army ordered 821 which were used to mount 106mm recoilless rifles between 1958 and 1993.

Mechanized Division 1 is seen here in Lausanne on 20 June 1987. Surprisingly, the Jeeps do not have the M38A1C windshield kit with the gap for the rifle barrel. Photo by Fabienne Cornu, courtesy Alexandra Cornu.

106mm The Swiss military probably figured that the combination of the 106mm guns and the Alps would keep Switzerland pretty safe from a tank invasion. However, it was also revealed in 2018 that during the Cold War, in spite of Switzerland's neutrality, there was a secret Swiss unit known as P-26, trained in cooperation with NATO to harass potential invading Soviet forces inside the country.

Photo courtesy Le QG 1/72e.

Distinctive Details

Most of the Swiss military Jeeps were painted olive drab; some were grey.

Eric Cerottini says, "During my obligatory military service I frequently drove a 1972 CJ-5, but when I discovered The CJ3B Page on the web in 1999, I decided to buy a CJ-3B type." He bought this 1956 CJ-3B in a private sale from the second owner in Emmental.

Rear view mirror supports are often attached to the windshield (30K JPEG) or to the front fenders as seen here.

Rear view Eric mentions, "I found a jerrycan rack and a spare wheel support (20K JPEG) at the 1999 Swiss military vehicle sale. The holes that I found on the tailgate of my 3B are exactly corresponding to the bolts on the two pieces. The four 3B's sold this year in Thoune had the same pieces on their back."

Seat"I probably found another Swiss particularity: there is a special piece on the driver's seat that was used to hang a soldier's rifle between the two front seats."

See also a photo by Raymond Richard of the dashboard on his '54 and Heiko Link's photo of the Swiss Army data plate (70K JPEG) on his '61, which shows 1960, the year of manufacture.

Swiss Army Jeep Sale

Swiss surplus Jeeps The sale of surplus Swiss Army vehicles is held annually in Thoune, Switzerland. Eric Cerottini saw 45 Jeeps at the 1998 sale, but reported that the prices were high. He returned and took these pictures at the next sale in Thoune on 21 April 1999. He reports that in 1999 "there were more than 700 vehicles and working machines to buy: trucks like GMC 1949, Saurer 2DM, Unimog S, Pinzgauer/Puch, Toyota Landcruiser, and Land Rover."

CJ-3B front "Also 36 Jeeps, all CJ-5 except four CJ-3B (1965)! The beginning price was 3,000 Swiss francs (2,000 US dollars), and final prices of sales by auction came to 5,000/6,500 Swiss francs (3,300/4,300 US dollars). The 3B's looked in pretty good condition, even if they needed some work."

Rear This rear view shows the jerrycan rack and spare tire mount, as well as the military-style folding top on this 1965 model.

Lot 257Philipp Burger gave us a heads-up that the three CJ-3Bs included in the 2006 Swiss Army surplus vehicle sale in April were likely the last ones.

As usual, the Jeeps had grille screens, military-style soft tops, and ventilating windshields with top-mounted wipers and a pair of rear-view mirrors. Only the one seen here had the front blackout light -- but at least a couple had the air horns behind the front bumper.

On the Road

Rear A Swiss CJ-3B featured in some detail on CJ3B.info, is Marc Daenzer's 1953 Swiss Army Jeep in Crissier, Switzerland, restored in 2003.

See also Piet Versleijen's restored '56 in the Netherlands, which he took on a 2002 CJ-3B Vacation in France, and Rob Baens' 1962 Military Jeep Restoration.

Restored This restored example carries unit identification on the front. Like many of the Jeeps, this one has a chaff screen over the grille, and the photo (source unknown) also shows snap-in side curtains for the soft top.

Victorinox knife circa 1990s Here are some sources for Jeep parts in Switzerland:

By the way, although the legendary Swiss Army Knife has been replaced for many people by the Leatherman and similar multi-tools, you might be interested to know that there is a Jeep Swiss Army Knife, which was apparently produced for Mopar in the 1990s by Victorinox in Switzerland, and appears occasionally on eBay.

Thanks to Nik Oswald and Ulrich Tribelhorn for archival information. Thanks to Eric Cerottini and Jan Hogendoorn for photos, and Luiz Mariano Paz for finding Markus Hoffman's book. -- Derek Redmond

See also Johannes Tanner's 1961 Swiss Army 6-Volt Radio Jeep and Marcel Martinetz's 1959 Swiss Army Vet.

See more M606 Military Jeeps on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 15 February 2019 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond