The OT “Organization Todt” after Minister for armament and munitions Fritz Todt was not given an official name until Hitler, in a rather careless manner, did so shortly after coming to power in 1933. In 1938 Todt
founded the Organisation Todt proper as a consortium of the administrative offices which Todt had personally set up in the course of the Autobahn project, private companies as subcontractors and the primary source of technical engineering expertise, and the Labour Service as the source of manpower. He was appointed by Hitler as plenipotentiary for Labour within the second four-year plan, undermining Goering’s rule. Investment in civil engineering work was greatly reduced. Between 1939 and 1943, in contrast to the period from 1933 to 1938, less than 1,000 km (620 mi) of roadway were added to the Autobahn system. Emphasis was shifted to military efforts, the first major project being the Westwall, known in English as the Siegfried Line built opposite the French Maginot Line and serving a similar purpose. Correspondingly, Todt himself was named Reich Minister of Armaments and Munitions in 1940. In 1941 Todt and his organization were further charged with an even larger project, the construction of the Atlantic Wall, to be built on the coasts of occupied France, the Netherlands and Belgium. Included with this project were the fortification of the British Channel Islands, which were occupied by Nazi Germany from 30 June 1940 to 9 May 1945. The only Nazi concentration camps on British soil were operated by the OT in Alderney.
The huge increase in the demand for labour created by the Westwall and many other projects was met by a series of expansions of the laws on compulsory service, which ultimately obligated all Germans to arbitrarily-determined compulsory labour for the state: Zwangsarbeit. Between 1938 and 1940, 1.75 million Germans were conscripted into labour service. Both the Organisation Todt and the Labour Service were characteristically paramilitary in hierarchy and appearance, with elaborate sets of chevrons, armbands and epaulettes, and other insignia for the display and recognition of rank. Much larger numbers of Prisoners of war and other forced labourers were employed as more Germans were conscripted into the regular army.
Fritz Todt died in a plane crash on 8 February 1942, shortly after a meeting with Hitler in the Wolfsschanze in East Prussia. Todt had become convinced that the war on the eastern front could not be won and thought himself independent enough to say as much to Hitler. As a result, there has been some speculation that Todt’s death was a covert assassination, but this has never been substantiated. Todt was succeeded as Minister of Armaments and Munitions and de facto head of the Organisation Todt by Albert Speer.
By the end of 1944, of approximately 1.4 million labourers in the service of the Organisation Todt overall, 1% were Germans rejected from military service and 1.5% were concentration camp prisoners; the rest were prisoners of war and compulsory labourers from occupied countries. All were effectively treated as slaves and existed in the complete and arbitrary service of a ruthless totalitarian state. Many did not survive the work or the war.