Organisation Todt

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Organisation Todt railway line alongside Route de St Jean

This article by Robin Cox was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

Although much has been written about the Occupation as a general subject, little of it has been specifically devoted to the part played by the Organisation Todt, a department of the German war machine which built most of the ‘concretions’ which are to be seen in Jersey today.

With the Occupation of Jersey starting on 1 July 1940 following the Germans’ dramatic sweep across Europe, they found themselves in control of yet another base from which to effect their invasion of England.

Fortresses

This was not to be, but loath to part with his Channel Islands, for which Hitler had formed an affection, he ordered, at one of his military conferences in October 1941 that they be converted into unassailable fortresses, forming part of the ‘Atlantic Wall’. This was designed to protect the Continent against any attack from the west while the bulk of the German forces were grouped in the east, fighting Russia.

In November 1841 the first large force of OT workers arrived in Jersey – men of many nationalities and all, the island was assured, volunteers. [See editor’s footnote]

To house them large camps were constructed in several places. Known as lagers they were named after German pilots and u-boat commanders ‘Udet’ was opposite La Moye Hotel, ‘Richthofen’ at La Pulente, ‘Immelmann’ at the bottom of Jubilee Hill, ‘Brinkforth’ near the top of the Five Mile Road, ‘Molders’ where St George’s Estate now stands, ‘Schepke’ on Goose Green Marsh, ‘Prien’ near St John's Church, ‘Seeckt’ at Westmount and ‘Wick’ on Grouville Marsh – each site conveniently near the building sites.

In control of the sites and the camps were the German members of the OT, which had started before the war under a different name as a small government department responsible for the construction of autobahns.

Dr Todt, who was the genius behind the idea, and his men, after their successful completion of these roadways, were charged with the construction of the Siegfried Line in 1938. With the outbreak of war the OT grew with the recruiting of volunteers from the occupied territories, with the result that the German element in the organisation became planners and overseers.

He head office was in Berlin; the local bauburo was in Green Street.

Uniforms

The planners wore civilian clothes and the site foremen were in uniform. These were khaki-coloured, slightly greener than Allied khaki, and were uniforms obtained from the armies of Holland, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Red trimmings were added, as was an armband.

For policing and security purposes, men from the SS divisions were seconded to the OT. Unlike on the eastern front, where the ratio of German to foreign labourer was only 1:4, in the west a ration of 1:20 was observed.

The actual construction was carried out by German civil contractors, working to OT designs and using OT labour, under OT supervision. The first such works the newly arrived force effected, were at La Pulente, where an anti-invasion wall was built, and at Grouville Bay, where all the sand necessary for such works, was being collected.

OT centre at People's Park

Tunnels

By the middle of 1942, the invasion wall around St Brelade's Bay and Ouaisne Bay had been completed, when work started on the driving of the tunnel beneath South Hill — now used by the Electricity Company. This tunnel was intended to both house diesel generators and be an access thrugh to Green Street, cutting out the tedious detour over Mount Bingham, but owing to the treacherous nature of the rock, operations were abandoned.

Other tunnels exist in the Island. The one at St Aubin makes use of the old railway tunnel, which was originally opened for traffic in 1898. The OT drove galleries deep into the main wall, striking off from the main entrance, the whole being designed and used as an ammunition store. There are two tunnels by the side of Beaumont New Hill, one of which is crossed by traffic going to the Airport. The other is in the opposite cotils.

In St Peter's Valley there are two tunnels: the famous and the infamous. The famous is near Victoria Hotel, and is now used as a mushroom farm. This tunnel has three entrances, two of which are ornamented with granite keystones proclaiming the builders and the dates on construction. On the other side of Route de l'Aleval are to be found the blocked entrances of the infamous tunnel, where a few years ago, two boys were suffocated after effecting an entry and lighting a fire in one of the galleries.

This tunnel is of later construction, the passages being not in such a state of completion as those across the valley. Much of the stone excavated from these works is high above the valley, forming a barren cotil, and more was used to fill in the valley to make the road leading from the Victoria to the German headquarters at Le Pissot.

The most famous of all the works of this nature is the German Underground Hospital at Meadow Bank. This huge structure was designed to accommodate invalid soldiers protected against bombs and gas.

The preservation of the natural beauty of the island was important to the Germans, so that it could be enjoyed when they won the war. This was accomplished by the placing of as much as possible beneath the ground.

Tunnels also exist in the Grands Vaux, where the most imposing of the three is used by the Jersey New Waterworks Company as a pipe store. This was used as a food store towards the end of the war.

Railway line

A further tunnel, one of the few German structures the use of which can be definitely specified, is the railway tunnel beneath South Hill, near the 1942 Electricity Company boring. As mentioned above, work had been undertaken at Grouville and Gorey to collect and cart the sand used for building operations. To ease the burden on the OT motor lorries used, a 60 cm gauge railway was built around the beaches.

It was so useful that a similar line was at once built the length of the Five Mile Road, from the quarries at L'Etacq, and as petrol became more and more precious, the OT applied to the Feldkommandantur for permission to lay a larger permanent line around the Island. This was granted and on 15 July 1942 the new railway was officially opened.

Initially, the line ran along the bay to St Aubin with spurs off to the Circus Field at Millbrook and to the camp and yard at Goose Green. This was later extended to supply the new power station with coal.

During the first years of the war, men from the Department of Labour had laid out the walks from St Aubin to Corbiere and had only just finished their work when the OT arrived, and continued their line from St Aubin, where they had an engine shed, round the tunnel to Corbiere. There was a siding into the tunnel for ammunition trains. The gauge for this line to the west was one metre and the rolling stock consisted of continental engines and wagons.

While this was happening in the south of the Island, the OT and the White Russians had also been engaged in improving Ronez Quarries. New crushers and bins were built, and a railway line was built from there to the Airport to convey the materials necessary for extending the runway. This line ran from Ronez to Le Catelet, along Grande Route de St Jean to Les Augerez, where it swung south to Carrefour a Cendre and the Airport.

This line was joined to the other at Pont Marquet.

Eastern tracks

In the east the line was extended from Grouville sand workings along the old eastern Railway trackbed to Green Road, St Clement. Here the line left the old route and proceeded along the coast to the Harbour Works Yard, where it met South Hill.

The OT punched a hole in the rock and deposited all the excavations on the French Harbour slipway to form a solid bed for the railway, which carried on past the front of La Folie Inn over a wooden bridge spanning the English Harbour.

The line then continued along the edge of Commercial Buildings, flanked by two rows of barbed wire and met the broad gauge track at the end. The two lines were faithfully duplicated in both broad and narrow gauges all round the harbours. The rolling stock for this line were diesel engines and two wood-burning steam engines, as well as a large number of tip-up quarry wagons. The engine shed for this line was at Greve d’Azette, from where there was a branch line to the building yard at Clifton Park, now known as Grasett Park.

OT railway lines under construction at the Harbour

Another line, which was never completed, was started from Carrefour-a-Cendre, and ran along Val de la Mare to the Five Mile Road. It passed under a bridge at La Hougue Manor and over one at Bethesda Chapel, but most of the track between these two points is now submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir.

Apart from the railways and the tunnels, the OT also constructed the dummy houses which are scattered about the Le Pissot area of St Peter and were intended to serve as battle headquarters. These 'houses' are fitted with bogus chimneypots and had wooden shutters and painted windows.

At Les Landes, great subterranean works to house the gun crews and store the ammunition for the 21 cm guns which were intended to protect the north-eastern approaches were effected. At La Moie and Corbiere, similar works were completed, but those at Noirmont were all but completed by the Wehrmacht before the OT arrived. Another such product of the army was the excavation of Verclut Rock, at St Catherine, which was continued long after the OT had to be called back to the Fatherland to repair the damage caused by Allied bombers.

The only lasting benefit to the Island is the dam and resultant reservoir at St Martin. It was built almost 100 years after the breakwater at St. Catherine and on the same lines. It cost a lot of money, is no real use, but is a godsend to anglers.

With the change in the fortunes of the Axis Powers, all the labourers were called back to Germany to be on hand to keep Germany in one piece.

Volunteers?

[Editor’s note: By describing the Organisation Todt workers as ‘volunteers’ the author paints a very misleading picture of their status. Although some may have volunteered originally to take up paid work for OT in their home countries, those who were brought to Jersey were little better than slave workers, unpaid, treated appallingly by their guards and fed very little, so that many of them died. A few were lucky and managed to escape and were sheltered by brave locals who risked their lives to harbour the workers. See our articles on Forced workers and Resistance.]

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