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The insignia used by US generals and admirals of OF-10 rank.

Five-star rank is a now widely used term derived from the United States military description for a general or admiral whose badge of rank is designated by five stars.[1] The rank is that of the most senior operational military commanders, and within NATO the rank is designated by the code OF-10.

Not all armed forces have such a rank, and in those that do the actual insignia of the "five-star ranks" may not contain five stars. For example: the insignia for the French OF-10 rank maréchal de france contains 7 stars; the insignia for the Portuguese marechal contains four gold stars; and many of the insignia of the ranks in Commonwealth of Nations contain no stars at all.

Typically, five-star officers hold the rank of General of the Army, admiral of the fleet, grand admiral, field marshal, Generalfeldmarschall, marshal of the Air Force, general of the Air Force, and several other similarly named ranks. Five-star ranks are extremely senior - usually the highest ranks - and thus are very rare; as an active rank, the position exists only in a minority of countries and is usually held by only a very few officers during wartime. In times of peace, it is usually held only as a ceremonial rank.

Despite the rarity and seniority of five-star officers, the leadership of some countries have felt the requirement to propose, and in some cases to adopt, even more senior ranks such as generalissimo, generalissimus, reichsmarschall, first marshal of the empire, admiral of the navy, General of the Armies, etc. These ranks are summarized in the highest military ranks article.

Australian five-star ranks

Only one Australian born officer (Sir Thomas Blamey) has held a substantive Australian five-star rank (field marshal).[nb 2] HM King George VI and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh have held all three Australian five-star ranks in an honorary capacity, and have been the only holders of the Australian ranks of admiral of the fleet and marshal of the RAAF.

Croatian five-star ranks

  • Stožerni general (lit. "staff general", usually translated as general of the army) awarded to six men, none of whom are in active duty.
  • Admiral flote (admiral of the fleet). The rank was called stožerni admiral (lit. "staff admiral") until 1999; only Sveto Letica was awarded this rank – in March 1996, three months before his retirement.

Indian five-star ranks

Around 1998, the Indian Air Force introduced gorget patches (or collar tabs) for its air officers. For marshals of the Indian Air Force (to date only Arjan Singh has attained this rank), the patches display five stars.[2]

Italian five-star ranks

Pakistani five-star ranks

The following ranks have never been awarded:

Philippine five-star rank

  • Commander-in-chief - only held by the President of the Philippines as stated in the Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution that the President should assume his duties and responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of all Uniformed Services (Police, Jail, Fire, Corrections, Coast Guard, Military) of the Government of the Philippines and has a Five-star rank.

Polish five-star ranks

Marshal of Poland (Marszałek Polski) is a Polish Army five-star rank. There are today no living marshals of Poland, since this rank is bestowed only on military commanders who have achieved victory in war.

Spanish five-star ranks

These ranks have been reserved for the reigning Monarchy of Spain.

UK five-star ranks

The insignia of British five-star commanders usually do not contain stars. An exception to this is the vehicle star plate, mounted on the front of a staff car, which displays five stars.[3]

Promotion to the ranks of admiral of the fleet and marshal of the Royal Air Force is now generally held in abeyance in peacetime with exceptions for special circumstances. Promotion to the rank of field marshal was generally stopped in 1995 as a cost-cutting measure but also allowed for possible exceptions.[4][5] The most recent appointments to one or more five-star ranks are the promotions in 2012 of The Prince of Wales to honorary five-star rank in all three services, and of former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank to the honorary rank of field marshal.[5][6]

US five-star ranks

Five-star ranks were created in the U.S. military during World War II because of the awkward situation created when some American senior commanders were placed in positions commanding allied officers of higher rank.[7] U.S. officers holding five-star rank never retire; they draw full active duty pay for life.[8] The five-star ranks were retired in 1981 on the death of General Omar Bradley.[7]

Nine Americans have been promoted to five-star rank, one of them, Henry H. Arnold, in two services. As part of the bicentennial celebration, George Washington was, 177 years after his death, permanently made superior to any other five-star general/admiral, with the title General of the Armies, effective on July 4, 1776.[nb 3]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Australian insignia for admiral of the fleet, field marshal and marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force, depending on the era, are either identical to, or very similar to, the British insignia. Currently, Prince Philip is the only holder of these Australian ranks. Note that although the highest active New Zealand rank is three-star, (there are no New Zealand four-star rank holders), Prince Philip holds five-star ranks in the New Zealand Armed Forces.
  2. With the exception of Thomas Blamey and the Englishman William Birdwood, who both held the rank of field marshal, all other holders of Australian five-star ranks have been ceremonial.
  3. The following Americans have been promoted to five-star rank or above:
          •   Admiral of the Navy George Dewey 24 March 1903
          •   General of the Armies John J. Pershing 3 September 1919
          •   Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy 15 December 1944
          •   General of the Army George Marshall 16 December 1944
          •   Fleet Admiral Ernest King 17 December 1944
          •   General of the Army Douglas MacArthur 18 December 1944
          •   Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz 19 December 1944
          •   General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower 20 December 1944
          •   General of the Army & Air Force Henry H. Arnold     21 December 1944 & 7 May 1949
          •   Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr. 11 December 1945
          •   General of the Army Omar Bradley 20 September 1950
          •   General of the Armies George Washington 4 July 1976, with an effective appointment date of 4 July 1776a

    The timing of the first seven appointments was to establish both a clear order of seniority and a near-equivalence between the Army and Navy services. In 1949, Arnold was honored by being made the first, and to date only, General of the Air Force. He is the only American to serve in a five-star rank in two of its military services. By a Congressional Act of March 24, 1903, Admiral George Dewey's rank was established as Admiral of the Navy, a rank which was specified to be senior to the four-star rank of admiral and was equal to admiral of the fleet in the British Royal Navy. Admiral Dewey was the only individual ever appointed to this rank, which lapsed with his death on January 16, 1917. Admiral of the Navy was considered superior to fleet admiral during World War II. On September 3, 1919, John Pershing was promoted to the rank of General of the Armies (officially General of the Armies of the United States) in recognition of his service during World War I. He is the only person promoted to this rank during their lifetime.

    ^a During the United States Bicentennial year, George Washington was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by the congressional joint resolution Public Law 94-479 passed on January 19, 1976, with an effective appointment date of July 4, 1976. This restored Washington's position as the most senior U.S. military officer. Between the joint resolution concerning Washington's rank, the fact that Omar Bradley was still alive, and thus still considered to be on active duty, and statements made and actions taken during and after World War II about the relationship between General of the Armies and General of the Army, it appears General of the Armies is superior in rank to General of the Army.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED), 2nd Edition, 1989. "five" ... "five-star adj., ... (b) U.S., applied to a general or admiral whose badge of rank includes five stars;"
  2. Indian Air Force :: Collar Tabs
  3. Dictionary of Vexillology: Rank Plate
  4. Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals, 1736–1997: A Biographical Dictionary. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 978-0-85052-696-7 CITEREFHeathcote. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Prince Charles awarded highest military ranks by Queen". BBC News. 15 June 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  6. "Honorary Five Star Rank appointment". The British Monarchy. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 E. Kelly Taylor (2009). America's Army and the Language of Grunts: Understanding the Army Lingo Legacy. AuthorHouse. p. 283. ISBN 978-1-4389-6249-8. 
  8. Spencer C. Tucker (2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 1685. ISBN 978-1-85109-961-0. 

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