Karl-Adolf Zenker

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Karl-Adolf Zenker (far left), at a general meeting in Stuttgart, 1961

Karl-Adolf Zenker (born July 19, 1907 in Schöneberg near Berlin , † March 27, 1998 in Bonn ) was a German Vice Admiral and from 1961 to 1967 German Inspector of the Navy .


Zenker was a son of the former head of the Reichsmarine , Admiral Hans Zenker , and his wife Mathilde, nee. Thiele. He was married to Else Schultz, and they had three children.

Imperial Navy

Karl-Adolf Zenker joined the Reichsmarine as an officer candidate on April 1, 1926 and received his recruit training with the 2nd ship master division of the Baltic Sea in Stralsund . From July to October 1926 he did his basic nautical training on the sailing training ship Niobe and then on the light cruiser Emden until March 23, 1928 . From March 1928 to March 1929 ensign war school training followed at the Naval School Mürwik in Flensburg - Mürwik and then until May 1929 an on-board message course at the Torpedo and Message School (TNS) Flensburg-Mürwik. By February 1930, Zenker took part in several weapons courses at the weapons schools in Kiel, Flensburg-Mürwik and Stralsund, as well as in the 4th / 2nd ship master division of the Baltic Sea in Stralsund. From February 3, 1930 to September 22, 1931 he was trained on board the light cruiser Königsberg as an ensign and lieutenant watch. From September 1931 to September 1932 he was a recruit platoon officer with the III. Marine artillery department in Świnoujście and then until June 19, 1933 training and sailing officer on school boats at the Mürwik naval school. From June 20, 1933 to September 27, 1934 Zenker was a training and watch officer on the sailing training ship Gorch Fock (I) and then a watch officer on the minesweepers M 145 and M 111 of the 1st minesweeping flotilla.


On April 1, 1936 he was promoted to lieutenant captain, and on June 1, 1936, he took over as commander of the minesweeper M 146 of the 1st minesweeping flotilla. From September 23, 1936, Zenker was first officer on the sailing training ship Gorch Fock . From November 1, 1938 to July 16, 1939 he received his admiralty staff training at the Kiel Naval Academy. From July 16, 1939 he served as a staff officer (mine warfare officer) in the Marine Group Command West in Wilhelmshaven . At that time, the Marine Group Command West under Admiral Alfred Saalwächter was responsible for the tactical management of naval operations at the Weser Exercise Company , the occupation of Denmark and Norway in April 1940. On August 11, 1940, Zenker became Admiral Staff Officer in the newly formed Marine Group Command North in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel under the leadership of General Admiral Rolf Carls , which was renamed the Naval Group Command East. On October 26, 1941, Zenker became first officer and on August 11, 1942, the commandant of the destroyer Hans Lody . From March 11, 1943 to January 19, 1944, as corvette captain , he held command of the destroyer Z 28 , which accompanied the battleship Scharnhorst to Norway in March 1943. In July 1943, his ship was badly damaged by bombs and had to be ordered to a shipyard in Trondheim for repairs and, from August 1943, to a shipyard in Germany. The repairs lasted until the beginning of January 1944. Zenker served from January 20, 1944 until the end of the war as admiral staff officer and admirer for mine warfare in the operations department of the Naval High Command (OKM) in the Koralle camp in Bernau near Berlin . When the war ended Zenker in Schleswig-Holstein came as Commander in British captivity .

post war period

After the war he was employed by the Allies in the German mine clearance service as a group leader or liaison officer in Glückstadt , Travemünde and Kiel . After his release from captivity on August 22, 1946, Zenker worked until July 1951 as an employee and later head of the ship repairs department at the waterway administration in Rhineland-Palatinate , and from July 1950 to July 1951 inland shipping advisor to the Ministry of the Interior and Economy of Rhineland-Palatinate .

In spring 1949, Zenker was appointed by the US armed forces in Germany to the Naval Historical Team based in Bremerhaven , which was supposed to review the German naval history of the Second World War, but at the same time was already working on guidelines for a new navy.

From August 1951 Zenker worked in the Blank office as a consultant and later as a marine group leader. In November 1955, the Federal Ministry of Defense emerged from Blank's office , and Zenker was appointed acting head of Department VII (Navy), which he held until Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge took up his post in March 1956. On December 21, 1955 he was promoted to sea captain. He was one of the first active soldiers in the new German Navy .

Federal Navy

As acting head of the naval department, he gave a speech on January 16, 1956 in Wilhelmshaven to welcome the first soldiers of the new navy, who were heavily criticized for their statements on German naval tradition . Zenker tried to portray an unbroken naval tradition from the Reichsflotte in 1848 to the German Navy in 1956 and expressly defended the Grand Admirals Raeder and Dönitz , who had been convicted as war criminals and who had been convicted in the Nuremberg trials for their political actions, but not as Commander in Chief of the Navy.

This so-called Zenker speech led to a fundamental political debate about the relationship between the Wehrmacht and the Bundeswehr . This debate, which was initially held in the Defense Committee and later in the Bundestag itself, helped to develop a fundamental common understanding of the tradition of the Bundeswehr. At the same time, however, it weakened the position of Defense Minister Theodor Blank , who was accused of lacking an overview of his ministry. In October 1956 he had to hand over his office to Franz Josef Strauss . Zenker was able to remain in his office as acting head of the naval department (and thus as the highest naval officer in the Bundeswehr) because it was already certain that Ruge would be appointed to the office of inspector of the navy shortly afterwards.

In March 1956, Zenker became a sub-department head for leadership and association training in the naval command staff. On January 3, 1957, he became Commander of the Naval Forces in the North Sea and at the same time NATO "Commander German North Sea Subarea" (COMGERNORSEA). In this capacity he was promoted to Flotilla Admiral on April 26, 1957 . From July 1960 to August 1961 he was in command of the Naval Training Command , and on October 15, 1960 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. In August 1961, Zenker succeeded Ruge as the second inspector of the navy. This was followed by promotion to Vice Admiral on January 29, 1962.

During Zenker's tenure as inspector, the development of the German Navy, which had begun in 1956, was pushed ahead and the original plans were corrected for the first time. The organization and the integration of the navy into the NATO structures were adapted to the changed situation and the growing Soviet threat ( see also : Federal Navy ).

In September 1967 Vice Admiral Zenker retired. He remained actively interested in what was happening in the Navy until shortly before his death and appeared regularly at Navy events.


  • Johannes Berthold Sander-Nagashima: The Federal Navy 1955 to 1972: Concept and construction. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich, 2006, ISBN 978-3-486-57972-7