The most important of the German semi-military organizations engaged in
economic operations is the Todt Organization, abbreviated, O.T. Under the
leadership of Dr. Fritz Todt, this organization expanded from a small body in 1933 to an
army of half a million in 1941. Much of the success of the O.T. is due to its leader.
An engineer and road builder and an early Party member, Dr. Todt combined
personal acceptability to the Nazi hierarchy with great administrative ability and
drive. The organization created by him represents the most specific Nazi
contribution to the war effort, despite the fact that it has historical antecedents in the
First World War.
The first task assigned to Dr. Todt was the construction of the Reich
superhighways in 1933. An enterprise was established for this express purpose by law
of June 27, 1933, with the official designation of "Company for the Preparation of
Work began on the roads in 1933; 100,000 men were employed in 1934, with
an additional 150,000 men employed on work connected with the highway construction
such as the construction of bridges, work in quarries, etc. In 1935 some
250,000 persons were employed directly or indirectly in this work. By the end of
1937, 2,000 kilometers (1250 miles) of highways had been built and an estimated
1,000 kilometers (625 miles) were completed in each of the following two years.
The efficiency of the organization in carrying out the highway construction
was such as to lead to its next major assignment in 1938, the completion of the
Westwall. The fortification work begun in 1936 by the Army under the direction
of its own engineers was not satisfactory to Hitler, who ordered Todt to take over
the construction work on May 28, 1938.
It was for this task that the O.T. as such was founded. With Army engineers
retained as advisers on the technical aspects of the fortifications, a civilian
organization was set up by Todt from headquarters at Wiesbaden to complete the
A variety of organizations were called upon to contribute materials, equipment
and personnel to the O.T. One-third of the production of the cement
industry was required. Additional excavators, concrete mixers, pneumatic drills,
tractors, and trucks were requisitioned from the private construction industry.
Large numbers of freight cars from the Reich railroads were permanently assigned
to the movement of materials and supplies. Two-thirds of the rural bus fleet of the
Reich Post Office was turned over to the O.T. Truck drivers, dispatch riders, and
traffic control officers from the NSKK (National Socialist Motor Corps) were
assigned to the project.
The O.T. began work on the Westwall with 35,000 men on July 20, 1938.
This number was increased to 342,000 by October 6, 1938. In addition 90,000
workers were employed by the Staff of Fortification Engineers (Festungspioneerstab)
and 100,000 men from the Reich Labor Service. The work on the Westwall
was completed in December 1939.
The magnitude of the O.T.'s activities increased after the outbreak of
hostilities. It operated extensively in Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, and
France on building and construction projects. The most important project
undertaken in the West was the construction of the Second Westwall (the so-called
Atlantic Wall) along the Atlantic coast from Kirkenes, near the North Cape, to the
Spanish - French frontier.
On the Eastern Front several vitally important tasks have been performed
by the O.T. The maintenance of the Russian road system in operating condition
is its most difficult assignment, one involving the continuous employment of
thousands of laborers. In addition, the permanent repair of many of the key
bridges in the intermediate zones has been carried out by the O.T.
A typical special task assigned to the O.T. was the transport of supplies
to German forces on the central sector of the Eastern Front during the summer
and autumn of 1941 before railroad service to Smolensk had been restored. In
this task, the O.T. used huge trucks with two trailers (total capacity 30 tons)
operating from Berlin and other depots in Germany proper, in trains of from 200
to 300 units, capable of moving 6,000 to 9,000 tons per motor-train--as much as
a freight train--and at high speeds. Travelling day and night, such a train could
make the run from Berlin to Smolensk (approximately 1,000 miles) and back once
a week. Each truck carried 3 drivers, sleeping bunks, and simple cooking and
washing facilities. Two of the drivers relieved each other at 2-hour intervals
while the third slept. Drivers were classified as civilians and received 180
reichmarks a week, a very high pay for German workers for the extremely trying
work; they were chosen for their robust constitutions and many were released
from military service for this purpose. Rest and repair stations were located at
regular intervals along the route, but stops were few and brief. The unloading
near the front and the reloading of captured or damaged war equipment--a large
source of scrap metal--took only 3 hours. The turn-around at Berlin was also
kept to an absolute time minimum; if a motor needed repairing or overhauling it
was simply lifted out and a new one installed with the least possible delay. The
road to Smolensk was kept in excellent repair by the O.T. assisted occasionally
by Reichs Labor Service units, and breakdowns were very rare.
The O.T. is controlled from the Central Offices at Berlin. Besides the
general administrative offices, there are a number of departments in charge of
such special activities as rail transport, road transport, repair services, and day
and night surveillance services.
The various field projects of the O.T. when not working under army
command, are supervised by local "chief works departments" which maintain direct
liaison with Berlin. The workers on these fields projects are quartered in "chief
camps", each of which is under the command of a camp commander (Lagerführer).
The men in each camp are divided into groups (Gruppen) of 25 or 30 workers, which
are led by a Gruppenführer, and sent as units to the construction project.
The working facilities, housing, sanitary conditions, etc., of the men on the
various projects are the responsibility of a "Front Control" A subdivision of this
organization, known as the "Security Service" conducts investigations and
supervises the transfer of men subject to disciplinary action between the work camps
and the punitive camps. In these camps, the men are segregated by nationality,
and perform heavy duty under the surveillance of armed guards. The O.T.
maintains its own police force for internal security and discipline. The O.T. police
are responsible for protecting the construction projects, and for the safety of
the trains and trucks of the O.T. en route to the projects.
The medical service of the O.T. functions independently of the other
services. It is supervised by a surgeon-general in Berlin and is administered on a
regional basis, with itinerant physicians and dentists, and hospitals for each
camp of more than 500 men.
The total number of personnel employed by the O.T. is not definitely
known. However, it is estimated that over 500,000 were employed in 1941. Recent
reports indicate a much higher figure in 1942 and 1943. Originally the O.T.
recruited workers on a voluntary basis. Since then there has been a complete
shift to conscription and impressment. The construction of the Westwall was
largely undertaken by a labor force conscripted in one way or another: men
qualified for military duty but assigned to the O.T., men over military
age (including ex-service men), men provided by the Reich Labor Service, etc. Part of
the labor force was recruited through the official employment
offices (Arbeitsämter). In addition, certain private contractors
and industrial organizations were called upon to furnish engineers, technicians, and
The O.T. personnel today is believed to consist of about 450,000 men
permanently assigned of whom probably less than 200,000 are Germans. The
rest are prisoners, foreign "volunteers" and the like. The O.T. also hires or
impresses local labor when and where needed. The German cadre is composed
of experts of military age assigned to the Organization, young men doing their
pre-military labor service (Arbeitsdienst) and men over military age.
Their order of battle, static, is based on areas, subdivided into
sectors, which are again subdivided into sub-sectors. The basic unit when under
Army command is different from that used in civil operations. There the Gruppe
of 25 or 30 men is the unit, while under the Army, the basic unit is the
construction gang of about 100 men. When mobile, the organization is similar, but with
different names. In this case the area is called the Operation Staff (Einsatzstab)
and is normally under the command of Army Group Headquarters.
Affiliated Service Organizations
(1) Bautruppen (Construction Troops)
To deal with the enormous number of engineering problems that confront
a modern army, the German Army has resorted to three principal groups: first-line
pioneer troops; second-line engineer troops, the so-called Bautruppen,
organized on a battalion basis, and the O.T. units.
As we have seen, the O.T. units are semi-military in organization, and
normally the farthest removed from the front. The regular pioneer troops are
absorbed in front-line tasks. In between them and the O.T. are the Bautruppen,
definitely military in character, but reserved for such tasks as bridge
construction (Brückenbaubataillone) of a more permanent kind, road building, railway
(Eisenbahnbaubataillone), and fortification works (Festungsbaubataillone). These
troops had their prototype in the First World War, when the regular pioneer troops
proved insufficient in number to handle all the repair jobs. At that time private
construction firms were called upon to furnish technical personnel and skilled
workers, who were organized into special mobile units for emergency
The principal periods of usefulness of the Bautruppen were the May 1940
campaign and the opening months of the Eastern Campaign. Since late 1941 the
original Bautruppen personnel has been increasingly absorbed into front-line duty
and the O.T. has had to take over much of the more permanent construction and
repair work originally assigned to the Bautruppen.
The NSKK (Nazionalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps - Nazi Motor Corps)
provides the drivers and trucks for the O.T. In organization it is similar to the
O.T., but has less independence, its units being normally subordinated to units
of the O.T.
The TNH (Technische Nothilfe - Technical Emergency Corps) also works
in closely with the O.T. It is however, a more skilled organization consisting
for the most part of specialists in such matters as oil wells, hydro-electric
plants, etc. The TNH will normally draw any manual labor it may need from the O.T.
The O.T. can and often does control civilian firms. Sometimes the whole
firm is put to work, at others only the equipment is hired. Many civilian
contractors worked for the O.T. during the building of the Westwall, and French
firms are known to be working on the Atlantic defenses at present.
Uniform and Pay
(a) Uniform: Originally only the German members of the O.T. wore a
uniform, consisting of a khaki tunic, open at the throat. On the sleeve is a red
brassard with a black swastika in a circle on a white background. About three
inches above the left cuff is a narrow band with the words Org. Todt in white
Gothic lettering. The belt is black with a plain buckle. Army boots are worn.
Foreign workers normally wear civilian clothes with a grey brassard on which is
stitched the unit or squad number. It appears, however, the foreigners who are
willing are now being put into uniform and that they receive higher pay in
consequence. If in uniform, foreigners wear distinguishing piping, showing their
nationality, on their shoulder straps.
(b) Pay: Previously, pay in the O.T. varied greatly. It has recently been
reorganized, and it is now believed that all full time German employees receive
soldier's pay plus bonuses and that an allowance is paid direct to their families.
Foreigners usually receive a small wage.
The O.T. contributes a great deal to the German war effort. That the army
can spare so many trained engineers to a para-military organization is explained
by the fact that the O.T. does carry a great deal of the work which would otherwise
be the responsibility of the army engineers. That the O.T. is now stretched to a
surprising degree, and the fact that it is capable of doing so much and such
valuable work at such great distances from Germany is yet another proof of the genius
for organization of the Germans.