Rolf Carls

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Rolf Carls
Birth nameRolf Hans Wilhelm Karl Carls
Born(1885-05-29)29 May 1885
Rostock, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Empire
Died24 April 1945(1945-04-24) (aged 59)
Bad Oldesloe, Schleswig-Holstein, Nazi Germany
Allegiance German Empire (to 1919)
 Ottoman Empire (1914 to 1917)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Branch Imperial German Navy
 Ottoman Navy
Years of service1903–43
Rank Generaladmiral
UnitSMS Stein
SMS Mars
SMS Fürst Bismarck
SMS Breslau
Commands heldSM U-124
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Rolf Hans Wilhelm Karl Carls (29 May 1885 – 24 April 1945) was a high-ranking German admiral during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany.

Carls served as Flottenchef (Fleet Commander), the highest ranking administrative officer of the Kriegsmarine and member of the Oberkommando der Marine (High Command of the Navy). Carls was instrumental in planning German naval operations during Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway. When Grand Admiral Erich Raeder resigned as commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine in early 1943, he suggested Carls as a potential candidate to succeed him. After Admiral Karl Donitz succeeded Raeder instead, Carls was discharged from the navy. Carls was killed in a British air raid on the town of Bad Oldesloe on 24 April 1945.

Early life and career[edit]

Kapitänleutnant Carls (right) at a naval artillery observation post in the Dardanelles, 1915

Rolf Carls was the son of Lieutenant Friedrich Wilhelm Anton Carls and his wife Martha Victoria Wilhelmine Anna Sophie, née Pogge. He was baptized on 18 July 1885 in the Rostock garrison church. Carls joined the Imperial German Navy as a sea cadet on 1 April 1903 and received his shipboard training on the corvette, SMS Stein. In 1905 he was assigned to the East Asia Squadron, where he was promoted to lieutenant on 28 September 1906. He served until 1907 on the large cruiser SMS Fürst Bismarck and afterwards the torpedo boat Taku. After his return to Germany in October 1907, he was deployed on various ships before being assigned to the Mediterranean Division in 1914.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Carls served as a captain lieutenant on the cruiser SMS Breslau. On 4 August 1914 the Mediterranean Division, consisting of Breslau along with the battlecruiser SMS Goeben, was pursued by Royal Navy forces but avoided capture after they passed through the Dardanelles to the friendly Ottoman Empire on 7 August 1914. After the Breslau was handed over to the Ottoman Navy, Carls remained on board the cruiser, which was renamed Midilli, serving as First Artillery Officer. For his service with the Ottoman Navy in the Black Sea against the Russian Empire, Carls was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross, the Gallipoli Star, the Imtiaz Medal in Silver with Saber, and the Order of Osmanieh IV Class.[1]

In mid-January 1917 he was transferred back to Germany and completed his training as a submarine commander on 15 April 1917. He received the first command of his own ship, the U-9 on 31 March 1918, before taking over the U-124 on 21 July 1918, which he commanded until the end of the war.

Interwar period[edit]

Carls with Polish general Tadeusz Kutrzeba oboard the heavy cruiser Deutschland, Kiel, 1935

After the war, Carls joined the freikorps division Marine-Brigade von Loewenfeld, serving as a company commander and battalion commander. In 1922, Carls was transferred to the Reichsmarine of the newly established Weimar Republic. From 18 March 1927 onwards Carls served in various positions in the Naval Administration. On 1 October 1930 Carls served as Chief of Staff of the Naval Command, where he became one of Admiral Erich Raeder's closest aides. Carls was appointed as commander of the pre-dreadnought battleship Hessen on 27 September 1932. On 3 October 1933 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Fleet. On 29 September 1934 Carls was appointed as Commander of the Linienschiff, he retained this position after his command was renamed to Commander of the Panzerschiffe until 24 November 1936.

Carls acted as commander of the German naval forces off Spain during the Spanish Civil War until September 1936. On 2 August 1936, the cruiser Deutschland and the torpedo boat Luchs under the command of Carls visited the Nationalist-held port of Ceuta. There, Carls had long secret meetings with Francisco Franco and other Nationalist military chiefs in which procedures for further German military aid were coordinated.[2] On 19 August 1936, under the leadership of British Rear Admiral James Somerville, British, Italian, and German warships formed a single squadron to evacuate from the harbour of Palma de Mallorca after Republican authorities announced an imminent naval bombardment of that port. The experience prompted Carls to signal to Somerville that "it would be much better if the nations of Europe could cooperate with each other much as their ships have sailed together here." Somerville's reply affirmed that hope.[3]

At the end of December 1936, he was appointed as Flottenchef (Fleet Commander). On 1 November 1936 Carls took over command of the Baltic Sea Naval Station. As Fleet Commander, the highest ranking administrative officer of the Kriegsmarine and member of the Oberkommando der Marine, Carls was instrumental in drafting Germany's pre-war naval war plans. In a top-secret appraisal of Adolf Hitler's aggressive foreign policy in the summer of 1938, Carls envisaged German hegemony over Europe, the reestablishment of a colonial empire in Africa, and the securing of the major Atlantic sea lanes. Specifically, Carls argued, that such a national policy would entail war with France and the Soviet Union as well as with "a large number of overseas states; in other words, perhaps with 1/2 or 2/3 of the entire world."[4] Carls emphasised that this kind of undertaking would be possible only if the military could make a guarantee of strategic success to the politicians.[5] Admiral Erich Raeder viewed Great Britain and the United States as one Anglo-Saxon ethnic and economic bloc, wherein Great Britain was the "junior" partner. As a result, Raeder and his Naval War Staff from the start anticipated that any conflict between Berlin and London would once more bring the United States in on the side of Britain.[4] Following war games by the Navy High Command in 1938, Carls expressed scepticism about operations in the depths of Soviet territory. He had the following assessment on a possible conflict with the Soviet Union: "...neither Germany nor Russia is in a position to undertake operations of a decisive scale against the other. German operations into Russia will peter out in the vastness of its territory, while Russian operations against Germany, which I do not consider the Russians presently capable of mounting, would shatter on Germany’s defences."[5]

World War II[edit]

Carls and Rear Admiral Theodor Burchardi visiting a port on the Eastern Front, May 1942
Carls with U-boat commanders Siegfried Strelow (right) and Herbert Schultze (2nd left), November 1942

On 1 October 1939 Carls advised Admiral Raeder of Norway's value to the German navy. A few days later, on 10 October, Raeder met with Hitler and convinced him of the danger of a possible British occupation of Norway.[6] Carls succeeded Vice Admiral Conrad Albrecht as Commander-in-Chief of Marine Group Command East on 31 October 1939. This command was headquartered in Kiel but was moved to Wilhelmshaven and renamed Naval Group Command North. As part of Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway, Carls was responsible for preparing the naval operations off Denmark and Norway. For this, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 14 June 1940. In August 1940 he was also entrusted with the operational command of the German naval forces in the German Bight, Denmark and Norway. In the autumn of 1941, the units under his command took part in the Baltic Sea campaigns and the conquest of Soviet-held Baltic islands at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

When the commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine, Großadmiral Erich Raeder, resigned in early 1943 after clashes with Hitler, he suggested Carls and the Commander of the Submarines, Admiral Karl Dönitz, as candidates to succeed him.[7] Hitler opted for the younger and in his view, more vigorous Dönitz, who became the Supreme Commander of the Navy in January 1943. Possibly to prevent friction among the naval leadership, Carls was honourably discharged from active service on 31 May 1943.[7]


Admiral Carls was killed in an air raid of the Royal Air Force on the spa town of Bad Oldesloe on 24 April 1945, two weeks before the end of the war.[Notes 1] Carls together with 49 other people[10] were killed in the cellar of the Vocational school (Präparandeum) in the Königstraße.[11] Bad Oldesloe was nearly destroyed, and between 700 and 1000 Germans died, mainly women and children.[12]




  1. ^ Some sources claim that he was killed on 15 April 1945 while another source indicates that the aerial attack on Bad Oldesloe was on 24 April 1945.[8][9]
  2. ^ According to Scherzer as commander-in-chief of Marinegruppenkommando Ost.[9]



  1. ^ Wolf, Klaus (2008). Gallipoli 1915 : das deutsch-türkische Militärbündnis im Ersten Weltkrieg. Sulzbach/Ts.: Report Verlag. p. 238. ISBN 978-3-932385-29-2. OCLC 310425394.
  2. ^ Frank, Willard C. Jr. (1996). "Multinational Naval Cooperation in the Spanish Civil War, 1936". Naval War College Review. 47 (2 (SPRING 1994)): 90. JSTOR 44642663.
  3. ^ Frank 1996, p. 85-86.
  4. ^ a b Herwig, Holger H. (1986). "Miscalculated Risks: The German Declaration of War against the United States, 1917 and 1941". Naval War College Review. 39 (4 (Autumn 1986)): 90. JSTOR 44637729.
  5. ^ a b Müller, Rolf-Dieter (2015). Enemy in the East : Hitler's secret plans to invade the Soviet Union. Alexander Starritt. London. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-78076-829-8. OCLC 898330127.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Greene, Jack; Massignani, Alessandro (2020). Hitler Strikes North: the Nazi invasion of Norway & Denmark, April 9, 1940. Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-5267-8184-0. OCLC 1190859459.
  7. ^ a b Salewski, Michael (1998). Die Deutschen und die See [Teil 1]. Stuttgart. pp. 310–318. ISBN 978-3-515-07319-6. OCLC 833321020.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ "60 Jahre nach dem Feuersturm auf Hamburg: Kreisarchiv Stormarn erhält einmaligen Fotofund". Kreis Stormarn (in German). Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  9. ^ a b Scherzer 2007, p. 257.
  10. ^ "Zeitreise in die Jahre des Schreckens" [Time Travel to the Horror Years]. Stormarner Tageblatt (in German). sh:z. 23 April 2015.
  11. ^ Hitler's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation of the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945
  12. ^ 24. April 1945 – Oldesloes schwarzer Tag, LN Online, 10 September 2014
  13. ^ a b c d Dörr 1995, p. 119.
  14. ^ a b Dörr 1995, p. 120.
  15. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 72.
  16. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 152.


  • Dörr, Manfred (1995). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Überwasserstreitkräfte der Kriegsmarine—Band 1: A–K [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Surface Forces of the Navy—Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2453-2.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
Military offices
Preceded by
Admiral Richard Foerster [de]
Fleet commander of the Kriegsmarine
21 December 1936 – 31 October 1938
Succeeded by