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A brigadier typically commands a brigade consisting of three battalions (approximately 3,000 troops). Many countries use the rank brigadier general rather than brigadier, and prior to the 1920s, so did members of the Commonwealth.
Countries in the British tradition
In many countries, especially those formerly part of the British Empire, a brigadier is either the highest field rank or most junior general appointment, nominally commanding a brigade. It ranks above colonel and below major general.
The rank is used by the British Army, the Royal Marines, the Australian Army, the Indian Army, the Sri Lankan Army, the New Zealand Army, the Pakistan Army and several others. Although it is not always considered a general officer rank, it is always considered equivalent to the brigadier general and brigade general rank of other countries. In NATO forces, brigadier is OF-6 on the rank scale.
The title is derived from the equivalent British rank of brigadier-general, used until 1922 and still used in many countries. "Brigadier" was already in use as a generic term for a commander of a brigade irrespective of specific rank. Until the rank was dissolved in 1922, brigadier-generals wore a crossed sword and baton symbol on its own.
From 1922 to 1928 the British rank title used was that of colonel-commandant, with one crown and three 'pips', a rank which, although reflecting its modern role in the British Army as a senior colonel rather than a junior general, was not well received and was replaced with brigadier after six years. Colonel-commandant was only ever used for officers commanding brigades, depots or training establishments. Officers holding equivalent rank in administrative appointments were known as "colonels on the staff", also replaced by brigadier in 1928. Colonel-commandants and colonels on the staff wore the same rank badge later adopted by brigadiers.
In Commonwealth countries, and most Arabic-speaking countries (in which the rank is called amid), the rank insignia comprises a crown (or some other national symbol) with three stars, (sometimes called "pips"), which are often arranged in a triangle. A brigadier's uniform may also have red gorget patches. It is otherwise similar to that of a colonel (colonel's rank insignia have a crown/emblem with two stars/"pips".)
The Canadian Army used the rank of brigadier (following British tradition, with identical insignia) until the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968. The rank then became brigadier-general with the insignia of St. Edward's Crown surmounting a crossed sword and baton over one gold maple leaf.
Until 1788 a rank of brigadier des armées ("brigadier of the armies"), which could be described as a senior colonel or junior brigade commander, was used in the French Army. The normal brigade command rank was field marshal (maréchal de camp) (which elsewhere is a more senior rank). During the French Revolution the ranks of brigadier des armées and maréchal de camp were replaced by brigade general (général de brigade). In common with many countries, France now uses the officer rank of brigade general instead of a "brigadier" rank; this was the rank held by Charles de Gaulle.
Former Spanish empire
The rank of a brigadier was established by Felipe V in 1702 as an intermediate rank between colonel and true generals. In some Iberoamerican republics (see below) the rank survived after independence. In Spain brigadiers came to be considered full generals in 1871, and in 1889 they were renamed general de brigada.
The historical rank is distinct from the current NCO rank of brigada, although sometimes translators confuse the two.
Many countries in South and Central America were formerly Spanish or Portuguese (Brazil) possessions. Brigadier [-general] is used in Latin America, in the normal sense of brigade commander rank (e.g. Colombia, Chile), although most Latin American nations instead use the rank of brigade general. In Mexico, brigadier general is the rank below brigade general, both ranks falling between colonel and divisional general.
However, both the Argentine and Brazilian Air Forces use a curious system of variations on brigadier for all (Argentina) or most (Brazil) general officers. The origin of this system is not entirely clear, but in the case of Argentina may be due to army air units being commanded by brigade generals before the establishment of the Air Force as an independent armed force.
In the Argentine Air Force these ranks are, in decreasing order of seniority:
- Brigadier-general (the highest rank, equivalent to the army's lieutenant-general and the navy's admiral)
- Brigadier-mayor ("brigadier-major", equivalent to the army's divisional general and the navy's vice-admiral)
- Brigadier (equivalent to the army's brigade general and the navy's rear-admiral)
In the Brazilian Air Force these ranks are, in decreasing order of seniority:
- Tenente-brigadeiro ("lieutenant-brigadier", equivalent to almirante-de-esquadra (squadron admiral) and general de exército (general of the army)).
- Major-brigadeiro ("major-brigadier", equivalent to vice-almirante (vice admiral) and general de divisão (divisional general))
- Brigadeiro ("brigadier", equivalent to contra-almirante (rear admiral) and general de brigada (brigade general))
Above these is the highest Brazilian Air Force rank of marshal of the air, used only in wartime.
Brigadier also existed as a non-commissioned cavalry rank. Thus, a brigadier in the Napoleonic cavalry was equivalent to a corporal in the British cavalry. This usage derives from the use of "brigade" to denote a squad or team of cavalrymen, similar to the occasional English civilian usage "work brigade".
In France, and some countries whose forces were structured based on the method used in France, some branches of the army and the gendarmerie use brigadier for a rank equivalent to caporal (corporal), and brigadier-chef for a rank equivalent to caporal-chef. Brigadier is used by arms of the army which are by tradition considered "mounted" arms such as logistics or cavalry units. A similar usage exists elsewhere.
In the French gendamerie, the brigadier ranks are used as in the army, i.e. as junior enlisted ranks (gradés), while the French police use brigadier ranks as their sub-officer (sous-officier) ranks. Since all professional police and gendarmes have sub-officer status in France, the gendarmerie brigadier ranks are rarely used, since they are used only by auxiliaries. On the other hand the police brigadier ranks, which are used to indicate professional ranks, are common.
In the French gendarmerie and in "mounted" arms of the French army the brigadier ranks are:
- Sous-brigadier (OR-6, equal to gendarmerie maréchal-des-logis-chef)
- Brigadier (OR-8, equal to gendarmerie adjudant)
- Brigadier-chef (OR-9, equal to gendarmerie adjudant-chef)
- Brigadier-major (OR-9, equal to gendarmerie major)
In the Italian Carabiniers and Guardia di Finanza, the ranks of vice-brigadier (vice brigadiere), brigadier (brigadiere), and chief brigadier (brigadiere capo) correspond roughly to the army ranks based on sergeant. The rank of brigade general (generale di brigata) is used throughout the armed forces as the most junior general rank, and corresponds to the British rank title of brigadier.
In Spain, a brigada has a NATO rank code of OR-8 (and is thus a senior NCO). The Spanish rank brigada is distinct from the Spanish-language brigadier [-general] used for senior officers in Latin America (and historically in Spain).
As the head of the Polish Legions fighting on the Austrio--Hungarian side, Józef Piłsudski was given the rank of Brigadier that otherwise did not exist in the Austrio-Hungarian military.
Non-military use of the rank
Brigadier is also used as non-military rank. The Indonesian National Police uses the rank brigadier (in Indonesian "brigadir") as ranks above agents (in Indonesian "bhayangkara") ranks and below warrant officer (in Indonesian "Ajun Inspektur") ranks. There are four tiers of the ranks brigadir.
- Brigadir Polisi Kepala, abbreviated Bripka (Chief Police Brigadier)
- Brigadir Polisi, not abbreviated (Police Brigadier)
- Brigadir Polisi Satu, abbreviated Briptu (First Police Brigadier)
- Brigadir Polisi Dua, abbreviated Bripda (Second Police Brigadier)
- "New Army Rank of Brigadier", The Times, 23 December 1997
- In Britain, Australia, and many other Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth countries, these are Order of the Bath stars.
- Cañete Paez, Francisco Angel : El brigadier. Empleo atípico en el generalato español de los siglos XVIII Y XIX : Revista Arbil: nº 105
- Murray, L. (1821). The Young Man's Best Companion, and Book of General Knowledge. p. 446.