March 17

This Day in History

World War II

Mar 17, 1940:

Todt named Reich Minister for Weapons and Munitions

Dr. Fritz Todt, an engineer and master road builder, is appointed Minister for Weapons and Munitions, ushering in a new era in the efficient use of German industry and forced labor.

A civil engineer with a doctorate from the School for Advanced Technical Studies in Munich, Fritz Todt caught the attention of Adolf Hitler in 1932 as Todt spoke out about the importance of building new roads to jumpstart a moribund German economy. Once Hitler came to power, Hitler placed Todt in charge of a massive road-building project that remains remarkable today: the Autobahn, Germany's superhighway.

Todt designed the Autobahn so it would "harmonize with the German landscape." One of the unintentional outcomes of the project was that it provided a working model of the use of slave labor within the Nazi regime. In February 1940, realizing that mass executions in occupied Poland were not serving the Reich efficiently, Hitler decided to create a centralized and supervised source of mass slave labor. It was Todt who was chosen to command the project. The Todt Organization became the single largest employer of slave labor in Hitler's empire, disseminating workers to shorthanded munitions plants. And as Minister for Munitions and Weapons, Todt oversaw a more efficient use of raw materials in Hitler's arms machine.

Todt's engineering skills also proved useful in the war against France, with the design and construction of what was called the "West Wall," a fortress line of bunkers that divided the Franco-German border.

On February 8, 1941, Todt, after a conference with various government ministries on German arms production and distribution, was killed in a plane crash en route to Berlin. He had intended to tell Hitler of his decision to increase arms production a whopping 55 percent. A state funeral was given for Todt, at which Hitler, who had come to rely heavily on the engineer, gave the eulogy. "Much of what the man has done can be made known to the German people, or brought to the amazed attention of the world, only after the war," said Hitler. "I have lost in this man one of my most faithful coworkers and friends."

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