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A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force.[1] 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".[citation needed] 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.

Common systems[]

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
Colonel general
General or captain general
Lieutenant 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
Army general
Corps general
Divisional general
Brigade general
Late Soviet and Russian system
Marshal of the Soviet Union
General of the Army / Marshal / chief marshal
Colonel general
Lieutenant general
Major general

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 variations[]

Other nomenclatures for general officers include the titles and ranks:

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:

Army generals' insignia[]

Air force generals' insignia[]

Generals' insignia of disbanded armies[]

Air force and navy equivalents[]

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.

See also[]


  1. In the United States, general officers authorized to display a flag showing their rank are called "flag officers". Refer: Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Flag officer – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster ...". . In other nations the term "flag officer" usually applies to admirals.

External links[]

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