The Atlantic Wall in Normandy
Origin of the Todt organization
The Todt Organization (T.O.), founded in 1938, is at the origin of the Atlantic Wall. It is a civil engineering organization working for the Third Reich in all occupied territories during the Second World War. Todt comes from the name of the German engineer and politician who was in charge, Fritz Todt, member of the Nazi party and who died in a plane crash in February 1942.
Prior to the World War II from 1933 to 1938, Fritz Todt, as Generalinspektor für das deutsche Straßenwesen (inspector general of German roads), developed a large number of infrastructure and equipment works in German territory, initiating the famous highway networks work that later served to move troops and armored vehicles. The beginning of the Second World War marks the exclusive specialization of the Todt organization in the military domain. Before 1940, 1,750,000 German workers were appointed to carry out the necessary work in the Reich. From 1942, when Albert Spehr succeeded Fritz Todt as head of the organization, prisoners of war and civilian workers recruited on the spot took over. It was also at this point that the T.O. was subordinated to the Ministry of Armaments and War Production (Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion) until 1945.
Construction of the Atlantic Wall
Following the unsuccessful attempt to invade England in 1941 (Operation Seelöwe), Hitler decided to fortify the coasts of northwestern Europe, from Norway to the Spanish Basque Country and the Mediterranean from 1942 onwards. Hundreds of casemates and reinforced concrete strongpoints were built by the T.O., accompanied by minefields, thousands of kilometers of barbed wire, machine gun nests and flamethrowers, beach defenses, anti-tank ditches… Coastal gun positions, armed with heavy cannons, were built at key points on the coast, protecting harbors or estuaries.
The T.O. used a canvas of typical fortifications that were adapted to each different terrain. The same buildings were designed by the workers with very few differences according to the sites of construction. The work was usually carried out by prisoners, but also by local volunteers who were paid for the job.
The badge of the Todt Organization
Thus, in France, members of the resistance were engaged as workers: some took advantage of this situation to establish accurate records of the German defensive positions and then sent them to England by homing pigeons, while others secretly placed sugar in cement mixers, a process which made the constructions less resistant to bombardment.
A Paramilitary Business
Although the T.O. was a civilian entity, it remaind subordinate to the military. Thus, until the end of the war, it adopted a hierarchical and paramilitary structure: the workers had laced uniforms and different types of ranks.
The T.O. was not limited to the construction of the Atlantic Wall; it was also concerned with the development of platforms for V1 and V2 missiles, anti-aircraft installations, refineries, underground armaments factories and the rehabilitation of the German cities destroyed by the bombings.
At the end of the war, the working conditions of the workers deteriorated rapidly. The quantity of labor was falling, the need for soldiers being greater than those for workers. Until 1945, the T.O. appealed, in addition to the prisoners of war, prisoners of concentration camps for the last works commissioned by the Reich before its collapse.