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. 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, 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 an 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
- Admiral of the fleet, never been awarded
- Field marshal, awarded to Kodandera Madappa Cariappa and Sam Manekshaw
- Marshal of the Indian Air Force, awarded to Arjan Singh
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.
Italian five-star ranks
General of the Italian Army - shoulder board
Admiral of the Italian Navy - sleeve
General of the Italian Air Force - sleeve
Pakistani five-star ranks
The following ranks have never been awarded:
- Admiral of the fleet
- Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force
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.
Capitán General (Captain General)
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.
- Admiral of the Fleet (awarded to 121 men to date)
- Field Marshal (awarded to 140 men to date)
- Marshal of the Royal Air Force (awarded to 26 men to date)
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. 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.
US five-star ranks
- Fleet admiral (held by 4 officers)
- General of the army (held by 5 officers)
- General of the Air Force (held by one officer)
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. U.S. officers holding five-star rank never retire; they draw full active duty pay for life. The five-star ranks were retired in 1981 on the death of General Omar Bradley.
Nine Americans have been promoted to five-star rank, one of them in two services. As part of the bicentennial celebration, George Washington was, 179 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, 1976.[nb 3]
The highest ranks in the Marine Corps, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps are, by statute, four-star ranks, as the Marine Corps is considered a naval service under the Department of the Navy.
- Ranks and insignia of NATO
- List of Fleet and Grand Admirals
- List of field marshals
- List of Marshals of the Air Force
- 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.
- 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.
- The following Americans have been promoted to five-star rank or above:
• 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 1976a
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 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.
- 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;"
- Indian Air Force :: Collar Tabs
- Dictionary of Vexillology: Rank Plate
- Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals, 1736–1997: A Biographical Dictionary. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 978-0-85052-696-7.
- "Prince Charles awarded highest military ranks by Queen". BBC News. 15 June 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
- "Honorary Five Star Rank appointment". The British Monarchy. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
- 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.
- 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.
- 10 U.S.C. § 5043 & 10 U.S.C. § 5044: Commandant of the Marine Corps & Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.