A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given.
The term "general" is used in two ways: as the generic title for all grades of general officer; and as a specific rank. Since the late twentieth century, the rank of general is usually the highest active rank of a military not at war.
All general officer ranks
The various grades of general officer are at the top of the rank structure. Lower-ranking officers are known as field officers or field-grade officers, and below them are company-grade officers. All officers who commanded more than a single regiment came to be known as "general officers". The word "general" is used in its ordinary sense in English (and other languages) as relating to larger, general, military units, rather than smaller units in particular.
There are two common systems of general ranks.
Variations of one form, the old European system, were once used throughout Europe. It is used in the United Kingdom (although it did not originate there), from which it eventually spread to the Commonwealth and the United States of America. The general officer ranks are named by prefixing "general", as an adjective, with field officer ranks, although in some countries the highest general officers are titled field marshal or marshal.
The other is derived from the French Revolution, where generals' ranks are named according to the unit they (theoretically) command.
- Old European system
|Field marshal or general field marshal|
|General or captain general|
|Sergeant major general or major general|
|Brigadier or brigadier general|
The system used either a brigadier general rank, or a colonel general rank (i.e. exclude one of the italicised ranks.)
The rank of field marshal was used by some countries as the highest rank, while in other countries it was used as a divisional or brigade rank. Many countries (notably pre-revolutionary France and eventually much of Latin America) actually used two brigade command ranks, which is why some countries now use two stars as their brigade general insignia. (Mexico and Argentina still use two brigade command ranks.)
In some nations, (particularly in the Commonwealth since the 1920s), the equivalent to brigadier general is brigadier, which is not always considered by these armies to be a general officer rank, although it is always treated as equivalent to the rank of brigadier general for comparative purposes. Unlike other general officers, the brigadier general rank is not derived from a field rank of brigadier.
The rank of major general is a shorter form of sergeant major general, and hence is a lower rank than lieutenant general, as a lieutenant outranks a sergeant major. (Confusion often arises because a lieutenant is outranked by a major.)
- French (Revolutionary) system
- Late Soviet and Russian system
|Marshal of the Soviet Union|
|General of the Army / Marshal / chief marshal|
The Russian Empire followed the European system, but the Red Army used a variant of the French system from 1917 to 1935, with ranks/positions like kombrig (brigade commander), komdiv (division commander), komcor (corps commander), and two grades of komandarm (army commander). Marshal of the Soviet Union was introduced in 1935, and general ranks were re-introduced in 1940.
This system presents an unusual mix of general ranks. The rank of colonel general appears immediately above lieutenant general, (in the position usually occupied by "full" general), and there is the additional rank of "general of the army" between colonel general and marshal of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the ranks marshal and chief marshal are both equivalent to general of the army. Thus the system borrows from the European (general major and lieutenant general), German (colonel general) and French revolutionary (general of the army and marshal) systems.
The late Soviet system was used in the militaries of the Eastern Bloc, and continues to be used in the Military of Russia. However, most Eastern European and former Soviet Union countries have now switched to the European system.
Other nomenclatures for general officers include the titles and ranks:
- Adjutant general
- Inspector general
- General of the Army (which is distinct from the title army general)
- General of the Air Force (USA only)
- General of the Armies of the United States (of America), a title created for General John J. Pershing, and subsequently granted posthumously to George Washington
- Generaladmiral ("general admiral") (German Navy)
- Air general and aviation general (Chilean Air Force; roughly equivalent to air chief marshal and air vice-marshal)
- Wing general and group general (Mexican Air Force; roughly equivalent to air commodore and acting air commodore)
- General-potpukovnik ("lieutenant colonel general", a Serb/Slovenian/Macedonian rank immediately inferior to colonel general, and roughly equivalent to Commonwealth/US major general)
- Director general (a common administrative term sometimes used as an appointment in military services)
- Director general of national defence (most senior rank in the Mexican Armed Forces)
- Controller general (general officer rank in the French National Police)
- Prefect general (the most senior rank of the Argentine Naval Prefecture)
- Master-General of the Ordnance – very senior British military position before 1855.
In addition to militarily educated generals, there are also generals in medicine and engineering. The rank of the most senior chaplain, (chaplain general), is also usually considered to be a general officer rank.
The specific general rank
In the old European system, a general, without prefix or suffix (and sometimes referred to informally as a "full general"), is usually the most senior type of general, above lieutenant general and directly below field marshal. Usually it is the most senior peace-time rank, with more senior ranks (for example, field marshal) being used only in wartime, or as honorary titles.
In some armies, however, the rank of captain general, general of the army, army general or colonel general occupied or occupies this position. Depending on circumstances and the army in question, these ranks may be considered to be equivalent to a "full" general or to a field marshal.
The rank of general came about as a "captain-general", the captain of an army in general (i.e., the whole army). The rank of captain-general began appearing around the time of the organization of professional armies in the 17th century. In most countries, "captain-general" contracted to just "general".
General ranks by country
The following articles deal with the rank of general, or its equivalent, as it is or was employed in the militaries of those countries:
- General (Australia)
- General (Canada)
- Shang Jiang (China) – People's Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC/Taiwan)
- Kindral (Estonia)
- Général (France)
- General (Germany)
- Στρατηγός (Strategos) (Greece)
- Aluf (Israel)
- Generale (Italy)
- Daejang (Korea – DPRK and ROK)
- General (Mexico)
- Heneral (Philippines)
- Generał (Poland)
- Army general (Russia)
- Army general (Soviet Union)
- General (Sri Lanka)
- General (Sweden)
- General (Switzerland)
- General (United Kingdom)
- General (United States)
Army generals' insignia
Air force generals' insignia
Generals' insignia of disbanded armies
Some countries (such as the United States) use the general officer ranks for both the army and the air force; others only use the general officer ranks for the army, while in the air force they use air officers as the equivalent of general officers. They use the air force rank of air chief marshal as the equivalent of the specific army rank of general. This latter group includes the British Royal Air Force and many Commonwealth air forces—e.g. Royal Australian Air Force, Indian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Nigerian Air Force, Pakistan Air Force, etc.
In most navies, flag officers are the equivalent of general officers, and the naval rank of admiral is equivalent to the specific army rank of general. A noteworthy historical exception was the Cromwellian naval rank "general at sea". In recent years in the American service there is a tendency to use flag officer and flag rank to refer to generals and admirals of the services collectively.
- In the United States, general officers authorized to display a flag showing their rank are called "flag officers". Refer: "Flag officer – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster ...". http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/flag+officer. . In other nations the term "flag officer" usually applies to admirals.
|Look up general officer in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Generals of World War II
- Schema-root.org: US Generals News feeds for US Generals in the news
- Marines.mil: General Officer Biographies Biographies of US Marine Corps General Officers
- Bios & Information on Generals of Western History Information on 10 Generals who influenced Western History
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