World War II: German Military Organizations--Organization Todt

Figure 1.-- Here we see two images of a German boy at a train station with German soldier Organization Todt workers. We assume it was taken somewhere in Germany. As it appears to be a small station it must have been a small town. There is a railroad hotel near the station, the Hotel zum Guten Hoffnung. (That means Hotel of Good Hope, but does not tell us where the station was located.) There are also carts aboard rail cars. The soldiers look to be regular Whermacht soldiers and officers. The youths in the light-colored uniform are apparently German OT workers. We have no idea if the boy has some relationship with the soldiers. Something seems to be happening that interested the boy. Click on the image to see the second photograph of the soldiers loading a rail car.

The Todt Organization was a German construction firm founded by Dr. Fritz Todt. Fritz Todt (1891-1942) was an engineer who an early supporter of Hitler and the NAZIs. The company was organized on a quasi-military basis. Todt was rewarded for supporting Hitler with the contract to build the Autobahn, the first modern highway system. The firm also won many military contracts. After the War and early NAZI victories, the Todt Organization did extensive work in the occupied countries. The largest such project was the Atlantic Wall. The Organization Todt worked on construction projects in the occupied territories from the northern tip of Norway to France as well as the reconstruction of miles and miles of Russian railways. The men in Organization Todt wore light colored uniforms. We note many young men involved. Todt was killed in am unexplained plane crash (1942). Control of Organization Todt passed to Minister of Armament Albert Speer. His crews also helped out in emergencies like bomb attacks in the cities and other disasters. A Dutch reader tells us, "I have seen Todt crews in action in occupied Holland, but I am sure that not all of them were Germans because Todt used slave laborers as well." Much of the work on the Atlantic Wall was done with slave labor. I don't think the slave labor wore the white uniforms.

Fritz Todt (1891-1942)

The Todt Organization (OT) was a German construction firm founded by Dr. Fritz Todt. Fritz Todt (1891-1942) was a capable civil engineer. When World War I broke out, Todt joined the Army and served in the artillery. He joined the air force as an aerial observer (1916). He eventually became the leader of an independent flight squadron where he was wounded. His company became very important in the Third Reich after its successful work on the Autobahn project. Todt was rewarded with the post of Reichsminister für Stung und Underproduction. This made him during the early years of the War one of the most powerful men in Germany.


Todt was an early supporter of Hitler and the NAZIs. He joined the Party in 1922. He did not play an important role, however, until he was noticed by Hitler (1932). Todt was especially interested in road road construction, believing it would help Germany recover from the Depression. This of course was a major concern of Hitler at the time in the German political elections. Hitler after seizing power put Todt in charge of the Autobahn project.

The Autobahn

Hitler was impressed with Todt's ideas on highways. As Todt was an early supporter, he was a natural choice to oversee the Autobahn project which had already begun. The Autobahn became the world's first modern highway system. The Autobahn was a reflection of Todt's innovative concepts. It was designed with safety in mind. It was an aesthetic approach to highway construction. He designed it to harmonize with the German landscape. The Germans were especially interested in the countryside. It also served a role in labor relations, putting unemployed Germans to work. This was accomplished in part by using the RAD. The Autobahn did not play a major role in the German war effort. Most of the Wehrmacht's heavy equipment and supplies were moved by rail. The Autobahn did, however, proved very useful to the highly mechanized American Army which swept into Germany after crossing the Rhine (March 1945). General Eisenhower was so impressed that when he was elected president (1952), he launched the American Inter-State Highway System.

The Company

Organization Todt (OT) was a construction and engineering firm. It was a small operation, but in building the Autobahn expanded into a major operation. As a result from a small construction firm with 36 workers, the company became one of the largest companies in Germany. When the War began, OT was put under military control and became the military's principal engineering and construction operation during World War II.


The company was organized on a quasi-military basis. The OT was staffed by a small number of engineers and technicians. After the War began an enormous number of foreign workers came under the control of OT. I am not sure how they were obtained. Some were conscripted. Others were abducted. The total by 1944 was about 1.5 million people. Their status was essentially slave labor.

The West Wall

OT's first major military project was awarded before the War began. The OT built the West Wall, better known as the Siegfried Line in the West. As the War progressed the West Wall, a defensive installation, played little role in the first years of the War. It did play a role after the breakout from Normandy in slowing down the Allied advance during Winter 1944-45. The Americans after liberating Paris pressed on north to Germany. There have been two Siegfried lines, both were German defensive lines built west of the Rhine between France and Germany. The first was built by the Germans during World War I (1916-17). Much of this line was in Belgium and Alsace. The second was built during the 1930s by OT. The Germans called it the West Wall. It faced the much more extensive French Maginot Line. The West Wall was a series of fortified positions and tank traps. The defensive line was constructed from Switzerland north to where the Rhine enters the Netherlands. It was up to 3-miles deep and consisted of concrete pillboxes, artillery positions, observation posts, command posts, and troop shelters. The dragon’s teeth were covered by fire from overlooking heights where a complex networks of heavy, concrete pill-boxes, set into the ground and well camouflaged, included elaborate systems of trenches and wire obstacles. Both natural obstacles like streams or concrete projections called dragon's teeth were designed as anti-tank defenses along the length of the line. After building the line in the 1930s, little attention was given to it until the D-Day Invasion (June 1944) and defeat of the Wehrmacht in France (July-August 1944). The West Wall consisted of fortified towns and several belts of permanent fortifications guarding the approaches to Germany. Goebbels began highlighting the West Wall in German propaganda after the liberation of France. The most striking feature of the West Wall was the endless rows of contrite 'dragons teeth' designed to block the passage of Allied tanks. While neglected after the German success in the west during 1940, the West Wall fortifications were still a formidable obstacle, especially in certain sectors, especially the Hürtgen Forest.

World War II

The firm won many military contracts. After the War began and as a result of the early NAZI victories, the Todt Organization did extensive work in the occupied countries. As the German military advanced throughout Europe, a vast number of construction projects became necessary. The principal tasks assigned to OT were the construction of communication and transport lines. OT built new roads, bridges, air fields, and a range of fortifications. As the War turned against the NAZIs, major defensive installations were initiated. The largest such project was the Atlantic Wall. OT also was responsible for the massive fortifications Hitler insisted be built on the Channel Islands. Other major projects were submarine pens and massive anti-aircraft towers. The Gustav Line in northern Italy was another OT project. Virtually all large-scale German military structures built during the War were OT projects. This included both armaments factories as well as concentration camps. OT worked on construction projects in the occupied territories from the northern tip of Norway to France as well as the reconstruction of miles and miles of Russian railways. OT crews also helped out in emergencies like bomb attacks in the cities and other disasters.


The German men in Organization Todt wore light-colored uniforms (figure 1). The OT uniform originally Originally wore a uniform of khaki tunic and thus could be distinguished from the regular Wehrmacht soldiers. The OT men were under military discipline. The tunic was worn open at the throat. They had a sleeve patch of a red brassard with a black swastika in a circle on a white background. And three inches above the left cuff is a narrow band with the words "Org. Todt" in white Gothic lettering. A black belt with a plain buckle is worn over the tunic. They had regular Army issue boots. The OT utilized many foreign workers. They normally wore civilian clothes with a grey brassard stitched on which indicates the unit or squad number. As the War progressed, the OT began to uniform their foreign workers. They wore the basic OT uniform with distinguishing piping, indicating their nationality, on shoulder straps. [U.S. War Department]

Labor Force

The OT work force varied over time. There were four major periods in the OT's development.

Pre-War (1933-38)

The predecessor of Organization Todt was the office of Generalinspektor für das deutsche Straßenwesen (General Inspector of German Roadways). The agency was primarily responsible for the construction of the innovative Autobahn network. The organization employed salaried German workers. The agency was also able to draw on low-cost conscript labor through the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labor Service-- RAD). This was the compulsory labor service required for older teenagers before joining the military. Much of the labor they performed was hand labor without heavy equipment.

Early aggressions era (1938-40)

The nature of the organization changed as the NAZIs began to overwhelm other counties beginning with Czechoslovakia. The Organization Todt proper was founded. The War resulted in a huge increase in contracts issued by military and paramilitary forces. This meant a greatly expanded labor force was needed. Laws on compulsory service were changed. Virtually all Germans were obligated to fulfill compulsory labor--Zwangsarbeit. Some 1.75 million Germans were conscripted into labor service.

Early-War era (1940-42)

The character of the OT began to change (1940). Germany had invaded Poland (September 1939). Authorities in Poland issued labor decrees establishing the legal basis for detention ab deportment as well as a source of forced workers for the OT. There were different categories that the OT could draw on for their workers. They included Gastarbeitnehmer (guest workers), Militärinternierte (military internees), Zivilarbeiter (civilian workers), and Ostarbeiter (Eastern workers). There were also Hilfswillige ('volunteer') POW workers recruited by the military, mostly in the East.

Later War period (1942-45)

The OT work force before the War was salaried German workers. This began to change after the War began, especially after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the War began to go against Germany (1942). This resulted from the fact that that more Germans needed to replace the rising level of Wehrmacht casualties. At the same time the need for military construction escalated as more and more defensive installations were needed. The OT began to increasingly use prisoners of wars and forced labor conscripted in occupied countries. The term used was Fremdarbeiter (foreign workers). The use of foreign workers substantially reduced labor costs. They were in fact forced, mostly slave labor. The OT then began using slave labor Obtained from concentration camps (1943-44). Some 1.4 million laborers worked under the OT. A small numbers included Germans rejected from military service (1 percent) and concentration camp prisoners (1.5 percent). Most were prisoners of war and compulsory workers from occupied countries, often collected in mass roundups. They were treated basically as slaves. Many died because of abuse, mistreatment, inadequate food, poor housing, and lack of medical care. An additional step was to begin using German Mischlinge (half Jews) and individuals related to Jews by marriage (fall 1944). [Gruner] Mischlinge with only two Jewish grandparents were not deported to the death camps, but were discriminated against in a number of ways. The NAZIs of course had developed elaborate racial policies. This action is a good indication of what Mischlinge and other non-German ethnic groups in the Reich would have faced once the NAZIs won the War. One report suggests that 10,000-20,000 German Mischlingewere and marriage related individuals were recruited into special OT units. A Dutch reader tells us, "I have seen Todt crews in action in occupied Holland and I am sure that not all of them were Germans because OT used slave laborers as well." Much of the work on the Atlantic Wall was done with slave labor. I don't think the slave labor wore the light-colored uniforms. OT is believed to have enslaved more than 1.5 million men and boys from occupied countries. Because they were used in construction projects, the slave laborers employed were male. They lived and worked under horrific conditions. The OT slave/compulsory labor program a part of the forced labor program headed by Fritz Sauckel. The slave labor under OT control was both used on OT projects as well as farmed out to other German companies and companies in occupied countries (especially France) awarded military contracts.

Todt's Death

Todt was killed in am unexplained plane crash (1942). Hitler spoke at his funeral, "In the sad hour of this ... it is very hard for me to think of a man whose deeds speak louder and more impressively than words can do. When we received the terrible news of the misfortune, to which our dear Master Builder Dr. Todt had fallen victim, many million Germans had the same feeling of emptiness which always occurs when an irreplaceable man is taken from his fellow men. However, the whole German nation knows that the death of this man means an irreplaceable loss for us. It is not only the creative personality which was taken from us, but it is also the loyal man and unforgettable comrade, whose departure touches us so deeply. Dr. Todt was a National Socialist. ...." Control of Organization Todt passed to Minister of Armament Albert Speer. Speer removed OT from military control and placed it under the control of the Central Planning Board which he oversaw.

Franz Xaver Dorsch (1899–1986)

Franz Xaver Dorsch was a German civil engineer who Todt appointed his chief engineer. Dorsch oversaw a range of engineering projects at home and in the German occupied countries. The primary project in occupied countries was the Atlantic Wall. He played a leading role in many of NAZI Germany's biggest engineering projects, including the construction of the Siegfried Line (Westwall), the Atlantic Wall and numerous other fortifications in Germany and occupied Europe. After Todt's death and Speer's appointment as Armaments Minister, Speer and Dirsch became rivals. Marin Birman in the Chancellory seized upon Dirsch to undermine Speer. One of the main issues was building underground factories. Dirsch succeeded in gaining control of virtually all construction projects in the final year of the War. Much of his work force was slave labor, but Dorsch managed to escape prosecution in the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Personal Accounts

A reader tells us, "My father was an engineer for Baufirma Boersch out of Kassel, Germany, which subcontracted from the OT. He worked in Norway and France 1940-1945." Working in France, we suspect it was on the Atlantic Wall.


Gruner, Wolf. Jewish Forced Labor Under the Nazis. Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938–1944 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). This book was published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ockert, Jean. E-mail message, January 20, 2015.

U.S. War Department, "The Todt Organization and Affiliated Services" Tactical and Technical Trends No. 30 (July 29, 1943).


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