Ranks in the French Army
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
See Ranks in the French Navy for more details about the Navy Ranks.
Marshal of France denoted with a "seven-star" insignia was last conferred to Generals Leclerc (1902-1947) in 1952, Alphonse Juin (1888-1967) in 1952, and Marie Pierre Koenig (1898-1970) in 1984. General of Group of Armies (General de Groupe d'Armees) was a former rank (notably for the Paris Military District - Général d'Armée Commandant de Paris, the Army General in Command of Paris) in position just below that of Marshal of France. It may have been denoted with a "six-star" insignia. The "six-star" insignia in the French Army has reportedly only been worn once, by Joseph Gallieni (1849-1916) while he held the rank General de Division during World War I at a time when he was military governor of Paris. While usually not listed in French rank insignia, the "one-star" insignia has been used in the French military. The "one-star" insignia denoted an appointment of a colonel to command a brigade (Général de Brigade) or a superior echelon normally commanded by a general. Including the "one-star" insignia, the ranks of Marshal of France and General of Group of Armies become, in effect, the "seven-star" and "six-star" ranks of the insignia they would display.
- 1 Foot arms and horse arms
- 2 Marshals
- 3 Officers
- 3.1 Généraux - General officers
- 3.2 Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers
- 3.3 Officiers subalternes - Junior officers
- 3.4 Sous-officiers - Sub-officers
- 3.5 Militaires du rang - Enlisted
- 4 Ingénieurs du service du matériel
- 5 Army Commissariat Service officer ranks
- 6 Table of ranks
Foot arms and horse arms
Rank insignia in the French army depend on whether the soldier belongs to an "infantry" or "cavalry" unit. Sleeves are emblazoned with marks denoting either the infantry or the cavalry: In the infantry the main insignia colour is gold, but in the cavalry the main insignia colour is silver/white. However, the artillery uses gold as the main colour, despite being a cavalry branch, and spahis use gold as the main colour despite being part of the cavalry, a division representing the armored cavalry.
- Foot arms: Infantry, Naval troops, Foreign Legion, Engineering, etc.
- Horse arms: Armoured Cavalry arm, Train, Artillery, Maintenance and Logistics.
Famous examples include Turenne, Vauban, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney, Bazaine, Guillaume Brune, Louis Nicolas Davout, André Masséna, Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Marie Pierre Koenig and Alphonse Juin.
A famous example would be Philippe Pétain, who became famous as Maréchal Pétain, Chief of State of the Vichy France regime and retained his title even after his trial and imprisonment and after he was stripped of other positions and titles.
Officers are divided into
- the regular officers of the Army
- the commissary of the Army
- the officers of the technical and administrative corps of the Army.
They all wear the same insignia and titles.
Généraux - General officers
- Général d'armée: Army General: In command of an army. This is not a genuine rank, but an appointment of Divisional General.
- Général de corps d'armée: Corps General: In command of an army corps. This is not a genuine rank, but an appointment of Divisional General.
- Général de brigade: Brigade General : in command of a brigade, or of a légion in the Gendarmerie. A famous Général de brigade was Charles de Gaulle, who often wore military uniform whilst President of the French Republic.
The title "général" originates in the ancient rank of "capitaine général" (literally, "general captain"), who was in command of the whole army.
There is no distinction between infantry and cavalry generals, since they are all supposed to be able to command any type of unit.
Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers
In the below descriptions, "horse-mounted" does not refer to current units (the only remaining horse-mounted unit is a ceremonial unit in the Republican Guard) but to some traditional affiliation of the units.
The word "colonel" originates in the title capitaine colonel, "the one who commands a column" (regiment). Lieutenant-colonel is the one who can "take the place" of a colonel (lieu-tenant, tenir lieu = to take the place of). Chef, "chief", comes from Latin caput="head".
Colonel : in command of a regiment or a groupement (in the Gendarmerie). During the French Revolution, they were called "chef de brigade". Mounted arms wear silver. The origin of the difference in metal colour is that infantry officers once wore silver epaulettes, while those of the cavalry and other arms wore gold, and the colour of the rank badge had to differ from these metals in each case.
The Lieutenant-colonel has the same responsibilities as a colonel. They were called "major" during the First French Empire. Notice that the metal colours alternate silver and gold in each case, as opposed to those of the colonels. This characteristic goes back at least to alternating stripes on the headdress of that empire.
Commandant: also called chef de bataillon in the infantry, chef d'escadrons in the cavalry, chef d'escadron in the artillery and in the Army Light Aviation. Equivalent to a major in English-speaking countries.
Officiers subalternes - Junior officers
A Lieutenant (Lieutenant or First Lieutenant): in command of a section (infantry), a peloton (cavalry), or a brigade (gendarmerie). This is equivalent to a platoon (or a troop in some Commonwealth corps).
- Aspirant : Aspirant
- Eleve Officier : Officer Cadet. During the first years at the schools of École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr or École militaire interarmes or Ecole des Officiers de la Gendarmerie Nationale
Sous-officiers - Sub-officers
- Major, the senior sub-officer rank, is derived from the term Chef d'etat Major (English: "Chief of Staff"). Much like the German army rank of Feldwebel-Leutnant (English: "Sergeant-Lieutenant"), the Major was a staff warrant officer in charge of book-keeping and paperwork. Since 1 January 2009 this grade is attached to the Sous-officiers. Prior to this date it was an independent corps between the Sous-officiers and the officiers. There are relatively few Majors in the Army, about one per regiment or brigade. As they could hold equivalent administrative tasks as officiers they are more common in the Armée de l'Air. Note the difference with many rank systems where "Majors" rank above captains.
- Adjudant-chef: Chief Adjutant: often same responsibilities as the lieutenant. In the horse-mounted arms (armes a cheval: cavalry and transportation), they are addressed as "lieutenant", otherwise addressed as "adjudant"
- Adjudant: Adjutant: often same responsibilities as a lieutenant and acting commonly as executive platoon leader in the infantry.
- Sergent-chef (infantry) or Maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry), addressed as "chef". Typically a platoon 2ic. (Equivalent to a Commonwealth Sergeant or a US Sergeant First Class).
- Sergent (infantry) or Maréchal des logis (cavalry) : Typically in command of a "group" (i.e. squad; equivalent to a commonwealth corporal or US staff sergeant)
- Eleve Sous-Officier NCO candidats at the ENSOA.
Etymologically the adjudant is the adjoint ("aide") of an officer, and the sergeant "serves" (Latin serviens).
Aspirants or sous-lieutenants are junior officers and are often aided by adjudants or adjudants-chefs, who are experienced NCOs/warrant officers.
Full lieutenants are experienced junior officers, served by sergeants when commanding their unit.
A four chevron Sergent-Chef-Major rank existed until 1947. It was a ceremonial rank usually given to the most senior or experienced NCO in a unit, similar to a Colour Sergeant in the British Army. It was discontinued in the Postwar army due to its redundancy.
Militaires du rang - Enlisted
Junior enlisted grades have different cloth stripe and beret color depending on the service they are assigned to. Troupes Métropolitaines (native "French") units wear blue, Troupes de Marine (the former Troupes Coloniale) wear red, and the Legion Etrangere (as members of the former Armée d'Afrique) units wear green.
Senior grades' lace stripe metal depends on their arm of service, just like the officiers. Armes à pied (Infantry and Support units) wear gold stripes and Armes à Cheval (Cavalry and Technical Services units) wear silver stripes.
- Caporal-chef (infantry) or Brigadier-chef (cavalry) : in command of an équipe (literally a team). Presently this size unit is a trinôme in the Army.
- Soldat de deuxième classe: No rank insignia. Depending on the arm, they are called
- fantassin (infantry)
- légionnaire (Légion étrangère)
- artilleur (artillery)
- sapeur (engineering, including the sapeurs-pompiers de Paris)
- chasseur ("Hunter": light troops used for reconnaissance and harassment)
- dragon (Dragoon: Mounted Infantry unit)
- cuirassier (Cuirassier: Heavy Cavalry unit)
- hussard (Hussar: Light Cavalry unit)
- transmetteur (signals corps)
- conducteur (trains).
- Marsouin (Troupes de marine): from a term for the Harbour Porpoise, due to their duties at sea or on land.
- Bigor (Artillerie de la marine; see Troupes de marine): A term either from the gunner's order to fire (Bigue de hors) or a term for a species of winkle (bigorneau) because they would stick to their emplacements and couldn't be removed easily.
- Colo (Troupes Coloniales): The former term for the Troupes de la Marine when they were Colonial troops.
- Para (Troupes aéroportées): Airborne troops, short for parachutist.
- Gazier (Troupes aéroportées): Airborne troops "grunt". Friendly nickname.
- Poilu (Infanterie): "Hairy One". A derogatory term, much like the Commonwealth Forces term Pongo ("Smelly one"). Only used when speaking of French soldiers of WW1 in the trenches, perhaps because they had no time nor soap to shave.
- Biffin slang used by Troupes de Marine and Fusiliers Marins to designate other infantry units. Probably comes from the fact that marsouins and naval riflemen used to own their uniform and were proud of it, whereas other units were dressed in rags (biffe is an old French word for rag). This word is not used to designate a legionnaire.
There are also distinctions to distinguish volunteers and conscripts, and bars for experience (one for five years, up to four can be obtained).
Ingénieurs du service du matériel
- Ingénieur général de première classe (Général de division)
- Ingénieur général de deuxième classe (Général de brigade)
- Ingénieur en chef de première classe (Colonel)
- Ingénieur en chef de deuxième classe (Lieutenant-Colonel)
- Ingénieur principal (Commandant)
- Ingénieur de première classe (Capitaine)
- Ingénieur de deuxième classe (Lieutenant)
- Ingénieur de troisième classe (Sub-Lieutenant)
Army Commissariat Service officer ranks
These ranks apply the word commissaire in light of their participation and role in the Commissariat Service of the Ground Army.
- Commissaire général de corps d'armée
- Commissaire général de division
- Commissaire général de brigade
- Commissaire colonel
- Commissaire lieutenant-colonel
- Commissaire commandant
- Commissaire capitaine
- Commissaire lieutenant
- Commissaire sous-lieutenant
Table of ranks
|Maréchaux de France - Marshals of France|
|Maréchal de France|
|Marshal of France is not an actual rank, but a "state honour"|
|Officiers généraux - General officers|
|Général de brigade||Général de division||Général de corps d'armée||Général d'armée|
|Commands a brigade||Commands a division||Commands a corps. This is not an actual rank, but an appointment of général de division.||Commands an army. This is not an actual rank, but an appointment of général de division.|
|Six stars used to be used by the general commanding the defences of Paris. This insignia is not in use anymore.|
|Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers|
|Infantry/Air Force (Armée de l'air)|
|Commandant (Chef d'escadron(s) in some arms)||Lieutenant-colonel||Colonel|
|Officiers subalternes - Junior officers|
|Major - Warrant Officer (until 2008), High Ranking Sub-officer (since 2009)|
|Sous-officiers - Sub-officers|
|Élève sous-officier||Sergent ("Foot arms/Air Force") / Maréchal des logis ("Horse Arms")||Sergent-chef ("Foot Arms/Air Force") / Maréchal des logis-chef ("Horse Arms")||Adjudant||Adjudant-chef|
|A four chevron sergent-chef major existed up till 1947|
|Militaires du rang - Rank and File|
|Soldat 1e classe||Caporal ("Foot arms/Air Force") / Brigadier ("Horse Arms")||Caporal-chef ("Foot arms/Air Force") / Brigadier-chef ("Horse Arms")||Caporal-chef (1e classe) / Brigadier-chef (1e classe)|