Military Ranks


Military ranks and designations in the Second World War in international comparison.

Promotions in the German Army

German officers 1912

German officers during the Kaiser’s manoeuvre of 1912.

Promotions in the German Army before the First World War took place after the years of service and were extremely slow compared to today’s conditions. It usually took 15 years from lieutenant to captain and another ten years from there to major. For this reason the mass of German officers ended their active career with the rank of Major.

In order to be promoted beyond that as an officer, a general staff training was unavoidable. Therefore the lower ranks were practically excluded due to their low level of education. These General Staff officers were determined by examination results, with only the best being accepted. They provided only about three to four percent of all officers in peace and could expect much faster promotion even at that time.

On the one hand, this system ensured that a stubborn ‘Colonel Blimp’ in the German army was sorted out before it reached the rank of colonel. However, these less suitable, older officers with their questionable qualifications remained on their post for a long time as commanders of companies or battalions.

During the First World War these ranks had to be combed out again and again in order to get rid of the most incompetent elements. In the year 1914 this happened already twice, in 1915 also, in 1916 already three times and in 1917 even seven times, while in the last year of war two combs were made again.

In the German Army (called Reichswehr) after the First World War, the promotion procedure was largely retained. In the case of the army, which was severely limited in scope by the Treaty of Versailles, this meant that promotions were even slower than before the war.
Seeckt therefore introduced a reform in which superiors of all ranks had to assess their subordinates, which became the main criterion for promotions.

General Von Seeckt

General Von Seeckt became the creator of the Reichswehr in 1920.

From 1920 onwards, more emphasis was therefore placed on ‘character’ properties. This included honesty, selflessness, commitment and a sense of responsibility. Eager earners were not desired, while the ability to convey and maintain trust was regarded as the most important virtue.
In order to prevent abuse of the new procedure, the authors of the evaluations were informed that they would be judged according to the reliability of their evaluation sheets. The whole evaluation should be as short as possible and should be limited to the essential, such as personality, character, professional qualification and achievement.
By this new system an officer of the Reichswehr could normally assume that he would make it to the Regiment Commander, which at that time was an important position in the German army.
In order to achieve a higher rank, the General Staff training and the activity of a General Staff Officer (Ia) in a division was necessary. Only then could one become a division commander.

The limited possibilities for promotions in this very limited army of the Reichswehr threatened to have a damaging effect on the spirit of the officer corps. Therefore, the personnel office of the Reichswehr introduced a procedure in which, in addition to seniority, the individual abilities of exceptionally qualified officers were taken into account.
On average, about 15 percent of all officers of the Reichswehr were promoted because of their special aptitude. The majority of them were General Staff officers who must have served in a combat unit before, but other officers were also considered in exceptional cases.
This preferential promotion caused a steep increase in the careers of the selected officers, who on average jumped over 200 to 275 senior officers. Thus the limited possibilities for promotion which had arisen from the Treaty of Versailles were again compensated for, even if only for a minority of those affected.

With Hitler‘s assumption of power things changed and the strong expansion of the army quickly led to an enlargement and rejuvenation of the officer corps. Nevertheless, the procedure of the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic was maintained and the thirties of the last century thus became the ‘golden years’ of some ‘career makers’ in the new Wehrmacht.

Von Rundstedt

Von Rundstedt as Field Marshal.

The assessment system was also maintained, with the officers in the troops now being assessed in even years and those of the General Staff in odd years. This procedure, however, led to excessive attention for the officers of the General Staff, which was out of all proportion to their small numbers.
In all the assessments, each officer had to be assessed by his superior as ‘above average’, ‘average’ or ‘below average’, with the latter classification leading directly to dismissal in the pre-war period.

Each army division also had lists in which its officers were divided into seven categories.
Category 1: Officers who were suitable for the high command of the Wehrmacht or the army.
Category 2: Suitable for the General Staff.
Category 3: suitable as adjutant.
Category 4: Officers with special suitability for further training.
Category 5: Those who, for health reasons, must be spared until further notice.
Category 6: Officers who were not suitable for the next higher rank.
Category 7: Those who were already unsuitable for their current position.

These division lists and evaluation sheets on officers enabled the Army Personnel Office to make excellent decisions on promotions and deployment. In addition, the members of the Office often visited the troops and were present during manoeuvres and exercises, so that they knew and could classify practically all generals and general staff officers personally.

Even in the early years of the Second World War, this system, which had been in existence in Prussia for centuries since the time of Frederick the Great, was retained. However, the increasing bloody losses at the front meant that seniority was no longer taken so seriously, but that performance in the field was valued higher.

Hitler awards the Knight's Cross

In the presence of the company commander, Hitler awards the Knight’s Cross to a corporal.

In November 1942, however, Hitler issued a direct order to the Army Personnel Office to reform the procedure in order to adapt to current circumstances. Excerpts from the order state that ‘the Fuehrer has ordered that every active officer, in reserve or for use must have led a front unit in combat and have demonstrated the requisite aptitude to be promoted to the grade appropriate to his completed post. The Fuehrer wishes, in addition, to record and promote officers of exceptional personality and ability, regardless of age or seniority, who appear suitable for use in authoritative command posts. A uniform promotion of all officers according to seniority is contrary to the principle of performance and leadership, to which the Wehrmacht must be committed with the highest responsibility for the final victory ….
The front officers were deliberately emphasized first and foremost by this decree. These officers are the closest to death and should be the first to benefit from these opportunities for promotion.’

During the second half of the war, this change significantly accelerated the promotion of front-line officers, especially those who took the place of killed predecessors.
A second lieutenant as company commander could thus become lieutenant after just two months or the commander of a battalion could move from lieutenant to captain within six months.

With the duration of the war, it became more and more a prerequisite for promotion that officers earn their promotion with performance on the front. From July 1944 onwards, one could only be promoted as an officer in the General Staff if one had qualified for it at the front-line. And a new character trait ‘crisis-proof’ was introduced at Hitler’s insistence at the Army Personnel Office, and the significance of seniority became less and less important compared to the character traits.


Panzer and infantry officers at Klin

Panzer and infantry officers of the Wehrmacht discuss a planned attack in the area of Klin.

This system clearly resulted in only officers with proven front-line skills were promoted, but at the expense of the traditional values of corps spirit among officers. This may have been in Hitler’s interest.
In any case, all these changes did not fail to have an effect, as the promotions in the second half of 1943 show.
There were three promotions to the Colonel General, all of which were only preferred and not according to seniority.
Of the 26 promotions to generals, only one was based on seniority.
Of the 86 new Lieutenants General, 67 or just under 80 per cent were promoted preferentially.
Only among the 154 promotions to the Major-General did seniority predominate, as 96 or 62.3 per cent of them were given the new rank.
Of the 328 new colonels, 198 or more than 60 percent were given preferential promotion.
206 of the 309 lieutenant-colonels or 67.7 percent were given preferential promotion.
Of the 984 new majors, 945 or 96 per cent were given preferential promotion.

For this purpose a number of officers were subsequently promoted to their current positions, who had taken over in the order of precedence through the death of their predecessor. These figures were directly related to the losses of the respective arms category.
Thus 57 percent of the infantry officers were subsequently promoted to their current positions. The infantry lost 53 percent of its officers.
In the case of the Panzer troops, 19 per cent were subsequently promoted to 20 per cent of the officers’ losses.
For artillery, this figure was 16 per cent and for officers 18 per cent losses.
Among the engineers there were six per cent subsequent promotions with seven per cent officer losses.
The figures for the intelligence and communication troops were one to two per cent losses and for the general staff one per cent of the officers were subsequently promoted.

The more dangerous the deployment of the officers was, the clearly faster the promotion took place during the last war years of the Second World War.


Ranks in the National Armies and Air Forces

Part I
Ranking, Description Germany (Army) Germany (Air Force) Germany (Waffen-SS) Great Britain (Army) Great Britain (RAF) United States (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal - Reichsmarschall - - Marshal of the RAF
02 Senior Marshal - - - - Air Chief Marshal
03 Field Marshal General-feldmarschall General-feldmarschall - Field-Marshal Air Marshal
04 General (I) Generaloberst Generaloberst SS-Obergruppen-führer u.Gen.Obst.d.W-SS General Air Vice Marshal General of the Armies of the United States (1945: General of the Army)
05 General (II) General der Infanterie (etc for arms) General der Flieger SS-Obergruppen-führer u.Gen.d.W-SS - - General
06 General (III) - - - - -
07 Lieutenant-General Generalleutnant Generalleutnant SS-Gruppen-führer u.Gen.Lt.d.W-SS Lieutenant-General - Lieutenant-General
08 Major-General Generalmajor Generalmajor SS-Brigade-führer u.Gen.Maj.d.W-SS Major-General - Major-General
09 Brigadier - - SS-Oberführer Brigadier Air Commodore Brigadier-General
10 Colonel Oberst Oberst SS-Standarten-führer Colonel Group Captain Colonel
11 Lieutenant-Colonel Oberstleutnant Oberstleutnant SS-Obersturm-bannführer Lieutenant-Colonel Wing Commander Lieutenant-Colonel
12 Major Major Major SS-Sturmbann-führer Major Squadron Leader Major
13 Captain (I) Hauptmann bzw Rittmeister Hauptmann SS-Hauptsturm-führer Captain Flight Lieutenant Captain
14 Captain (II) - - - - -
15 Lieutenant (I) Oberleutnant Oberleutnant SS-Obersturm-führer Lieutenant Flying Officer First Lieutenant
16 Lieutenant (II) - - - - -
17 2nd Lieutenant Leutnant Leutnant SS-Untersturm-führer 2nd Lieutenant Pilot Officer Second Lieutenant
18 Ensign - - - - -
19 Warrant Officer (I) - - - Regimental/Staff-Sergant-Major etc Warrant Officer Chief Warrant Officer
20 Warrant Officer (II) - - - Regtl. Quartermaster Sgt., Company Sergeant-Major - Warrant Officer junior grade
21 Warrant Officer (III) - - - Platoon Sergeant-Major -
22 Warrant Officer (IV) - - - - -
23 Staff Sergeant Stabsfeldwebel or Wachtmeister - SS-Sturmschar-führer - - Master Sergeant
24 Sergeant-Major Oberfeldwebel or Wachtmeister Oberfeldwebel oder Wachtmeister SS-Hauptschar-führer Colour Sergeant Flight Sergeant First Sergeant
25 Senior Sergeant Feldwebel or Wachtmeister Feldwebel oder Wachtmeister SS-Oberschar-führer Sergeant Sergeant Technical Sergeant
26 Sergeant Unterfeldwebel oder Wachtmeister Unterfeldwebel oder Wachtmeister SS-Scharführer - - Staff Sergeant
27 Lance-Sergeant - - - Corporal oder Lance-Sergeant - Sergeant
28 Staff-Corporal - - - - -
29 Corporal-Major - - - - -
30 Corporal Unteroffizier or Oberjäger Unteroffizier or Oberjäger SS-Unterschar-führer Corporal or Bombardier Corporal Corporal
31 Staff Lance-Corporal - Stabsgefreiter - - -
32 Lance-Corporal-Major Stabsgefreiter Hauptgefreiter - - -
33 Senior Lance-Corporal Obergfreiter Obergefreiter SS-Rottenführer -
34 Lance-Corporal Gefreiter Gefreiter SS-Sturmmann Lance-Corporal Leading Aircraftman
35 Superior Private - - - - -
36 Private 1st Class Oberschütze - SS-Oberschütze - Aircraftman 1st class Private first class
37 Private 2nd Class - - - - -
38 Private Schütze Soldat or Flieger SS-Schütze Private Aircraftmen 2nd class Private
39 Cadet - - - - -
Part II
Ranking, Description Soviet Union (1939-40) Soviet Union (1940-45) Japan (Army/Air force) Italy (Army) Italy (Air Force) France (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza - 1° Marescillo dell'Impero -
02 Senior Marshal - Glavnyy Marshal (Arilleriyi etc) - Maresciallo d'Italia Maresciallo dell Avia Marechal de France
03 Field Marshal - Marshal (Aviatsiyi etc) Gen-sui - -
04 General (I) Komandarm Pervogo Ranga General Armiyi Tai-Sho Generale d'Armata Generale d'Armata Aerea General d' Armee
05 General (II) Kommandarm Vtorogo Ranga General Polkovnik - Generale di C.A. designato d'Armata Generale di Corpo d'Armata Aerea General de Corps d'Armee
06 General (III) Kommandir Korpusa - - Generale di Corpo d'Armata Generale di Squadra Aerea
07 Lieutenant-General Kommandir Diviziyi General Leytenant Chu-Jo Generale di Divisione Generale di Divisione Aerea General de Division
08 Major-General Kommandir Brigady General Major Sho-Sho Generale di Brigata Generale di Brigata Aerea General de Brigade
09 Brigadier - - - - -
10 Colonel Polkovnik Polkovnik Tai-Sa Colonnello Colonnello Colonel
11 Lieutenant-Colonel - Podpolkovnik Chu-Sa Tenente Colonnello Tenente Colonnello Lieutenant-Colonel
12 Major Major Major Sho-Sa Maggiore Maggiore Chef de Bataillon
13 Captain (I) Kapitan Kapitan Tai-i 1° Capitano 1° Capitano Capitaine
14 Captain (II) - - - Capitano Capitano
15 Lieutenant (I) Starshiy Leytenant Starshiy Leytenant Chu-i 1° Tenente 1° Tenente Lieutenant
16 Lieutenant (II) Leytenant Leytenant - Tenente Tenente
17 2nd Lieutenant Mladshiy Leytenant Mladshiy Leytenant Sho-i Sottotenente Sottitenente Sous-Lieutenant
18 Ensign - - - - -
19 Warrant Officer (I) - - Tokumo So-Cho Aiutante di Battaglia Aiutante di Battaglia Adjudant-Chef
20 Warrant Officer (II) - - - Maresciallo Maggiore Maresciallo Maggiore Adjudant
21 Warrant Officer (III) - - - Maresciallo Capo Maresciallo Capo
22 Warrant Officer (IV) - - - Maresciallo Ordinario Maresciallo Ordinario
23 Staff Sergeant - - - - -
24 Sergeant-Major Starshina Starshina So-Cho Sergente Maggiore Sergente Maggiore Sergent-Chef
25 Senior Sergeant Starshiy Serzhant Starshiy Serzhant - - -
26 Sergeant Serzhant Serzhant Gun-So Sergente Sergente Sergent
27 Lance-Sergeant Mladshiy Serzhant Mladshiy Serzhant - - -
28 Staff-Corporal - - - - -
29 Corporal-Major - - - Corporale Maggiore Primo Aviere Caporal-Chef
30 Corporal Yefreytor Yefreytor Go-Cho Corporale Aviere Scelto Caporal
31 Staff Lance-Corporal - - - - -
32 Lance-Corporal-Major - - - - -
33 Senior Lance-Corporal - - - -
34 Lance-Corporal - - Go-Cho Kimmu Joto Hei - -
35 Superior Private - - Joto Hei - -
36 Private 1st Class - - Itto Hei Appuntato (Cavalry) - Soldat de 1ere Classe
37 Private 2nd Class - - Nito Hei - -
38 Private Krasnoarmeyets Krasnoarmeyets - Soldato Aviere Soldat de 2ene Classe
39 Cadet - - - - - Aspirant
Part III
Ranking, Description Belgium (Army/Air Force) Bulgaria (Army/Air Force) China (Army/Air Force) Denmark (Army/Air Force) Finland (Army/Air Force) Hungary (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal - - - - Sotamarsalkka
02 Senior Marshal - - - - -
03 Field Marshal - - T'e Chih Shang Chiang - - Tabornagy
04 General (I) - General I Chi Shang Chiang General Kenraali Vezerezredes
05 General (II) - - Erh Chi Shang Chiang - -
06 General (III) - - - - -
07 Lieutenant-General Lieutenant-General or Luitenant-Generaal General-Leytenant Chiung Chiang Generallojtnant Kenraaliluutnantti Altabornagy
08 Major-General General-Major or Generaal-Majoor General-Major Shao Chiang Generalmajor Kenraalimajuri Vezerörnagy
09 Brigadier - - - - -
10 Colonel Colonel or Kolonel Polkovnik Shang Hsiao Oberst Eversti Ezredes
11 Lieutenant-Colonel Lieutenant-Colonel or Luitenant-Kolonel Popdpolkovnik Chung Hsiao Oberstlojtnant Everstiluutnantti Alezredes
12 Major Major or Majoor Major Shao Hsiao - Majuri Örnagy
13 Captain (I) Captaine-Commandant or Kapitein-Kommandant Kapitan Shang Wei Kaptajn Kapteeni Szazados
14 Captain (II) Capitaine oder Kapitein - - Kaptajnloitnant -
15 Lieutenant (I) Lieutenant or Luitenant Poruchik Chung wei Prmeierlojtnant Luutnantti Föhadnagy
16 Lieutenant (II) - - - Lojtnant af Reseven -
17 2nd Lieutenant Sous-Lieutenant or Onder-Luitenant Podporuchik Shao Wei Sekundlojtnant Vänrikki Hadnagy
18 Ensign - - - - -
19 Warrant Officer (I) Adjudant de 1ere Classe or Adjutant 1ere Vilos Feldfebel Chun Wei Korpsofficaint Sotilasmestari Alhadnagy
20 Warrant Officer (II) Adjudant or Adjutant - - Stabsofficiant -
21 Warrant Officer (III) - - - Overofficiant -
22 Warrant Officer (IV) - - - Officiant -
23 Staff Sergeant - - - - - Fötörsörmester
24 Sergeant-Major 1er Sergent-Major or 1ere Sergeant-Majoor - Shang Shih Oversergent Vääpeli Törzsörnester
25 Senior Sergeant Premier Sergent or 1ere Sergeant - - - Ylikersantti
26 Sergeant Sergent or Sergeant Podofitser Chung Shih Sergent Kersantti Örmester
27 Lance-Sergeant - - - - Alikersantti
28 Staff-Corporal - - - - -
29 Corporal-Major - - - - - Szajaszcezetö
30 Corporal Caporal or Korporaal Kandidat Prodofitser Hsia Shih Korporal Korpraali Tizedes
31 Staff Lance-Corporal - - - - -
32 Lance-Corporal-Major - - - - -
33 Senior Lance-Corporal - - - - -
34 Lance-Corporal - - - Underkorporal -
35 Superior Private - - Shang Teng Ping - -
36 Private 1st Class Soldat d'elite or Soldaat 1ere Klasse Efreytor I Teng Ping - - Örvezetö
37 Private 2nd Class - - Erh Teng Ping - -
38 Private Soldate or Soldaat Rednik - Menig Sotamies Honved
39 Cadet - Ofitserski Kandidat - - - Zaszlos
Part IV
Ranking, Description Greece (Army) Greece (Air Force) Netherlands (Army/Air Force) Norway (Army/Air Force) Poland (Army/Air Force) Yugoslavia (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal - - - - -
02 Senior Marshal - - - - Marszalek Polski
03 Field Marshal Stratigos - - - - Vojvoda
04 General (I) Archistratigos Pterarchos Generaal General General Broni Armijski Djeneral
05 General (II) - - - - -
06 General (III) - - - - -
07 Lieutenant-General Anitistratigos Antipterarchos Luitenant-Generaal Generalloytnant General Dywizji Divizijski Djeneral
08 Major-General Ypostratigos Ypopterarchos Generaal-Majoor Generlmajor General Brygady Brigadni Djeneral
09 Brigadier - Taxiarchos Aeroporias - - -
10 Colonel Syntagmatarchis Sminarchos Kolonel Oberst Pulkownik Pukovnik
11 Lieutenant-Colonel Antisynatgmatarchis Antisminarchos Luitenant-Kolonel Oberstloytnant Podpulkownik Potpukovnik
12 Major Tagmatarchis Episminagos Majoor Major Major Major
13 Captain (I) Lochagos Sminagos Kapitein Kaptein Kapitan Kapetan I Klase
14 Captain (II) - - - - - Kapetan II Klase
15 Lieutenant (I) Ypolochago Yposminagos Eerste-Luitenant Loytnant Porucznik Porucnik
16 Lieutenant (II) - - - - -
17 2nd Lieutenant Anthypolochagos Anthyposminarchos Tweede-Luitenant Fenrik Podporucznik Podporucnik
18 Ensign - - - - -
19 Warrant Officer (I) Monimos Anthypaspistia Archisminias Adjudant-onder-Officier Chorazy
20 Warrant Officer (II) - - - - -
21 Warrant Officer (III) - - - - -
22 Warrant Officer (IV) - - - - -
23 Staff Sergeant - - - Stabsersjant -
24 Sergeant-Major Monimos Epilochias Episminias Sergeant-Majoor Starszy Sierzant Narednik vodnik I, II, III Klase
25 Senior Sergeant - - Sergeant ter 1e Klasse - - Narednik
26 Sergeant Monimos Lochias Sminias Sergeant Sersjant Sierzant Podnarednik
27 Lance-Sergeant - - - - Plutonowy
28 Staff-Corporal - - - - -
29 Corporal-Major - - - - -
30 Corporal Monimos Dekaneus Yposminias A Korporaal Korporal Kapral Kaplar
31 Staff Lance-Corporal - - - - -
32 Lance-Corporal-Major - - - - -
33 Senior Lance-Corporal - - - -
34 Lance-Corporal Efredos Dekaneus Yposminias B - Visekorporal Strszy Szeregowiec
35 Superior Private - - - -
36 Private 1st Class - - Soldaat ter 1e klasse - -
37 Private 2nd Class - - - - -
38 Private Stratiotis Sminitis Soldaat Menig Szeregowiec Redov
39 Cadet - - - - Aspirant
Part V
Ranking, Description Romania (Army) Romania (Air Force)
01 1st Marshal - - - -
02 Senior Marshal Maresal al Rominia - - - -
03 Field Marshal - - - - -
04 General (I) General de Armata - - - -
05 General (II) Generald de Corps de Armata - - - -
06 General (III) - - - - -
07 Lieutenant-General General de Divizie General Commandant - - -
08 Major-General Generak de Brigada General de Escadra - - -
09 Brigadier - - - - -
10 Colonel Colonel Commandor - - -
11 Lieutenant-Colonel Locotenent-Colonel Capitan-Commandor - - -
12 Major Major Locotenent-Commandor - - -
13 Captain (I) Capitan Capitan - - -
14 Captain (II) - - - - -
15 Lieutenant (I) Locotenent Locotenent - - -
16 Lieutenant (II) - - - - -
17 2nd Lieutenant Sublocotenent Sublocotenent - - -
18 Ensign - - - - -
19 Warrant Officer (I) Plutonier Adjudant Adjudant sef Aviator - - -
20 Warrant Officer (II) Plutonier Maior Adjudant Major Aviator - - -
21 Warrant Officer (III) Plutonier Adjudant Aviator - - -
22 Warrant Officer (IV) - Adjutant Stagiar Aviator - - -
23 Staff Sergeant - - - - -
24 Sergeant-Najor Sergent Maior - - - -
25 Senior Sergeant - - - - -
26 Sergeant Sergent Sergent - - -
27 Lance-Sergeant - - - - -
28 Staff-Corporal - - - - -
29 Corporal-Major - - - - -
30 Corporal Caporal Caporal - - -
31 Staff Lance-Corporal - - - - -
32 Lance-Corporal-Major - - - - -
33 Senior Lance-Corporal - - - -
34 Lance-Corporal Fruntas Fruntas - - -
35 Superior Private - - - -
36 Private 1st Class - - - - -
37 Private 2nd Class - - - - -
38 Private Soldat Soldat - - -
39 Cadet - - - - -

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