Ranks in the French Army

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French Army
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List of senior officers of the French Army
Ranks in the French Army
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See Ranks in the French Navy for more details about the naval ranks

Rank insignia in the French army are worn on the sleeve, and range up to the highest rank of Marshal of France, a state honour denoted with a seven-star insignia that was last conferred posthumously on Marie Pierre Koenig in 1984.

Infantry arms and cavalry arms[edit]

Rank insignia in the French army depend on whether the soldier belongs to an infantry or cavalry unit. The infantry arms (armes à pied) include normal infantry, naval troops, the Foreign Legion and engineers; cavalry arms (armes à cheval) include armoured cavalry, artillery, maintenance and logistics. Sleeves are emblazoned with marks denoting either gold insignia for the infantry or silver/white for the cavalry. 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 distinction representing the armoured cavalry.

Marshals[edit]

Insignia of a marshal of France

The title of "marshal of France" (maréchal de France) is awarded as a distinction, rather than a rank. The marshals wear seven stars and carry a baton.

Famous examples include Turenne, Vauban, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney, Bazaine, Guillaume Brune, Louis Nicolas Davout, Patrice MacMahon, André Masséna, Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Marie Pierre Koenig and Alphonse Juin.

Philippe Pétain, who became famous as Maréchal Pétain, chief of state of the Vichy France regime, retained his title even after his trial and imprisonment and after he was stripped of other positions and titles.

Six marshals of France have been given the even more exalted rank of "marshal general of France" (maréchal général de France): Biron, Lesdiguières, Turenne, Villars, Saxe and Soult.

Officers[edit]

Although they all wear the same insignia and titles, officers are divided into:

  • Regular officers of the army
  • Commissary of the army
  • Officers of the technical and administrative corps of the army

Généraux - general officers[edit]

  • Insigne général d'armée.svg Général d'armée ("army general"); in command of an army. This is not a rank, but an appointment of divisional general.
  • Insigne général de corps d'armée.svg Général de corps d'armée ("corps general"); in command of an army corps. This is not a rank, but an appointment of divisional general.
  • Insigne général de division.svg Général de division ("divisional general"); in command of a division.
  • Insigne général de brigade.svg 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.

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[edit]

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 the traditional affiliation of the units.

Colonel[edit]

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".

A colonel commands a regiment of the army or a groupement of the Gendarmerie. During the French Revolution, they were called chef de brigade. Cavalry 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.[citation needed]

Lieutenant-colonel[edit]

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[edit]

Commandant (also called chef de bataillon in the infantry, chef d'escadrons in the cavalry and chef d'escadron in the artillery and in the army light aviation) is equivalent to a major in English-speaking countries.

Officiers subalternes - junior officers[edit]

Capitaine[edit]

A capitaine is in command of a company (compagnie) of infantry, a squadron (escadron) of cavalry or a battery (batterie) of artillery.

Lieutenant[edit]

A lieutenant (lieutenant or first lieutenant) commands a platoon (section) of infantry, a troop (peloton) of cavalry, or a brigade of the Gendarmerie.

Sous-lieutenant[edit]

A Sous-lieutenant (sub-lieutenant or second lieutenant) commands at the same level as a lieutenant, but is a more junior officer rank.

Aspirant[edit]

Sous-officiers - sub-officers[edit]

  • 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 captaines.
    • Major-French-Army.png
  • Adjudant-chef: "Chief adjutant"; often same responsibilities as the lieutenant. In the cavalry and transportation arms, they are addressed as "lieutenant", otherwise addressed as "adjudant-chef"
    • Adjudant-chef.png adjudant-chef (infantry arms)
    • Adjudant.png adjudant-chef (cavalry and transportation arms)
  • Adjudant: Adjutant; often same responsibilities as a lieutenant and acting commonly as executive platoon leader in the infantry.
    • Adjudant.png
    • Adjudant-chef.png
  • Sergent-chef (infantry) or maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry), addressed as "chef". Typically a platoon second-in-command (equivalent to a Commonwealth sergeant or a US sergeant first class).
    • Sergent-chef.png Sergent-chef: Chief sergeant
    • Maréchal-des-logis-chef.png Maréchal des logis-chef: Chief marshal of lodgings
  • 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)
    • Sergent.png Sergent: Sergeant
    • Maréchal-des-logis.png Maréchal des logis: Marshal of lodgings
  • Eleve sous-officier NCO candidates at the ENSOA.
    • Sergent appelé.png

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 post-war army due to its redundancy.

Militaires du rang - enlisted[edit]

Junior enlisted grades have different cloth stripe and beret colour 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. Infantry and support units wear gold stripes and cavalry and technical services units wear silver stripes.

  • Caporal-chef de première classe.png Caporal-chef de première classe. Distinction created in 1999.
  • Caporal-chef.png 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.
  • Caporal.png Caporal (infantry) or brigadier (cavalry) : in command of an équipe.
  • Première classe.png Soldat de première classe. This is a distinction rather than a rank.
  • Soldat de deuxième classe: No rank insignia. Depending on the arm, they are called
    • Fantassin (infantry)
    • Légionnaire (French Foreign Legion)
    • Artilleur (artillery)
    • Sapeur (engineering, including the Paris Fire Brigade)
    • Chasseur ("hunter": light troops used for reconnaissance and harassment)
    • Dragon (dragoon: mounted infantry unit)
    • Cuirassier (heavy cavalry unit)
    • Hussard (light cavalry unit)
    • Transmetteur (signals corps)
    • Conducteur (trains)
    • Marsouin (literally "porpoise"; marines or naval infantry)
  • Slang
    • 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 (French Colonial Forces): 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 term that appeared during the First Empire and used to refer to the French soldiers as they often wore a beard and/or a moustache—and were represented that way on memorials. Nowadays, this term is used to refer to French soldiers who fought in the trenches of WW1, though it is seldom used to refer to WW2 soldiers. It is synonym of bravery and endurance.
    • 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).

Engineer officer ranks[edit]

  • Ingénieur général de première classe (equivalent to général de division)
  • Ingénieur général de deuxième classe (equivalent to général de brigade)
  • Ingénieur en chef de première classe (equivalent to colonel)
  • Ingénieur en chef de deuxième classe (equivalent to lieutenant-colonel)
  • Ingénieur principal (equivalent to commandant)
  • Ingénieur de première classe (equivalent to capitaine)
  • Ingénieur de deuxième classe (equivalent to lieutenant)
  • Ingénieur de troisième classe (equivalent to sub-lieutenant)

Army Commissariat Service officer ranks[edit]

These ranks apply the word commissaire in light of their participation and role in the Commissariat Service of the army.

  • Commissaire général de corps d'armée (equivalent to Général de groupe d'armees)
  • Commissaire général de division (equivalent to général de division)
  • Commissaire général de brigade (equivalent to général de brigade)
  • Commissaire colonel (equivalent to colonel)
  • Commissaire lieutenant-colonel (equivalent to lieutenant-colonel)
  • Commissaire commandant (equivalent to commandant)
  • Commissaire capitaine (equivalent to capitaine)
  • Commissaire lieutenant (equivalent to lieutenant)
  • Commissaire sous-lieutenant (equivalent to sub-lieutenant)

Table of ranks[edit]

Maréchaux de France - Marshals of France
Insigne maréchal armée française.svg
Maréchal de France
Marshal of France is not an actual rank, but a "state honour"
Officiers généraux - General officers
Insigne général de brigade.svg Insigne général de division.svg Insigne général de corps d'armée.svg Insigne général d'armée.svg
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
Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers
Commandant.png Lieutenant-colonel.png Colonel.png Infantry/Air Force (Armée de l'air)
Commandant des armes à cheval.png Lieutenant-colonel des armes à cheval.png Colonel des armes à cheval.png Cavalry
Commandant (Chef d'escadron(s) in some arms) Lieutenant-colonel Colonel
Officiers subalternes - Junior officers
Aspirant de l'armée de terre.png Sous-lieutenant.png Lieutenant.png Capitaine.png
Galon gamma AT.png Sous-lieutenant des armes à cheval.png Lieutenant des armes à cheval.png Capitaine des armes à cheval.png
Aspirant Sous-lieutenant Lieutenant Capitaine
Major - Warrant Officer (until 2008), High Ranking Sub-officer (since 2009)
Major-French-Army.png
Major
Sous-officiers - Sub-officers
Sergent appelé.png Sergent.png Sergent-chef.png Adjudant.png Adjudant-chef.png
Maréchal-des-logis.png Maréchal-des-logis-chef.png Adjudant-chef.png Adjudant.png
Élève sous-officier Sergent (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis (cavalry arms) Sergent-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry arms) Adjudant Adjudant-chef
A four chevron sergent-chef major existed up till 1947
Militaires du rang - Rank and File
Première classe.png Caporal.png Caporal-chef.png Caporal-chef de première classe.png
Soldat 1e classe Caporal (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier (cavalry arms) Caporal-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier-chef (cavalry arms) Caporal-chef (1e classe) / Brigadier-chef (1e classe)