British Army officer rank insignia

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Listed in the table below are the insignia—emblems of authority—of the British Army. Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810 and the insignia was moved to the epaulettes in 1880. On ceremonial or parade uniforms these ranks continue to be worn on the epaulettes, either as cloth slides or as metal clips, although on the modern 'working dress' (daily uniform) they are usually worn as a cloth slide on the chest. Although these insignia apply across the British Army there is variation is the precise design and colours used and it can take some time to become familiar with them all.

Those in the ranks of Captain, Lieutenant and Second Lieutenant are often referred to as Subalterns. Those of Brigadier, Colonel, Lt. Colonel and Major are considered to be of Field Officers. All above these are considered to be of General officer rank.

Of interest is the British pronunciation of Lieutenant (sounds like Lef-ten-ant), which is a corruption of the standard French pronunciation and can cause confusion when working with soldiers from other nations, in the same way the US American (sounds like Loo-ten-ant) is a corruption of the French pronunciation (sounds like Li-oo-ten-on)

NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
(Edit)
Field Marshal General Lieutenant-General Major-General Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant-Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Officer Cadet No equivalent
Field Marshal[1] General Lieutenant-General Major-General Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant-Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Officer Cadet
Abbreviation: FM Gen Lt Gen Maj Gen Brig Col Lt Col Maj Capt Lt 2Lt OCdt
Typical command size or appointment:[2] most senior appointments corps division brigade or director of operation capability on staff Rarely a Field Command except in RAMC battalion company/battery/ squadron company/battery/ squadron (second in command) or leader of smaller specialised team platoon platoon
Typical promotion to after:[3] 8–10 years 3 years after training 12–24 months after training 44 weeks officer training

History of rank insignia[edit]

General officers[edit]

Before 1767, there were no definite badges for Field Marshals and General officers. In 1767, the British Army issued an order to distinguish Field Marshals (once the rank was established in 1813) and different graded General officers by the combination of chevron-shaped ess pattern laces on the sleeve.

  • Field Marshal: Evenly spaced six laces.
  • General: Evenly spaced four laces.
  • Lieutenant General: Six laces in threes.
  • Major General: Four laces in twos.
  • Brigadier General: Three laces. Upper twos were in pair.

During the Napoleonic wars, Field Marshals wore oak-leaf embroidered collar and cuff; and shoulder cord instead of previous pattern. It was continued till the end of 1830.

At the beginning of 1831, new rank distinction was ordered for Field Marshals and General officers.

  • Field Marshal: Cross baton and wreath designed device was on epaulettes and buttons were evenly spaced .
  • General: Cross baton and sword with crown designed device on the epaulettes and buttons were evenly spaced.
  • Lieutenant General: Cross baton and sword with crown designed device on the epaulettes and buttons were in threes.
  • Major General: Cross baton and sword with crown designed device on the epaulettes and buttons were in twos.
  • Brigadier General: No device on the epaulettes and buttons were in two.

After the Crimean War (30 January 1855), War Office ordered different rank badges for British General, staff and Regimental officers. It was the first complete set of rank badges to be used by the British Army.

  • Field Marshal: Two rows of one inch wide oak-leaf designed lace on the collar with crossed baton above the wreath in silver.
  • General: Two rows of one inch wide oak-leaf designed lace on the collar with Crown and star in silver.
  • Lieutenant General: Two rows of one inch wide oak-leaf designed lace on the collar with Crown in silver.
  • Major General: Two rows of one inch wide oak-leaf designed lace on the collar with Star in silver.
  • Brigadier General: Two rows of half inch wide staff pattern lace on the collar with Crown and star in silver.

In 1868, Brigadier Generals were ordered to wear the same collar as other General officers, but no device in the collar.

In 1880, War Office ordered to move rank badges from collar to shoulder.

  • Field Marshal: Crossed batons above the wreath of oak-leaf. On the top of the wreath a crown.
  • General: Crossed baton and sword with Crown and star.
  • Lieutenant General: Crossed baton and sword with Crown.
  • Major General: Crossed baton and sword with Star.
  • Brigadier General: Crossed baton and sword.

In 1921, the War Office abolished the rank of Brigadier General and introduced a new rank called Colonel Commandant (Officer commanding a Brigade) or Colonel on the staff (officer not commanding a Brigade, but staff officer). The badges of Colonel Commandant and Colonel on the staff were the same, consisting of a crown and three stars. In 1928, Brigadier rank was introduced by abolishing the ranks of Colonel Commandant and Colonel on the Staff. Since 1928, a Brigadier has had the same rank badges as were displayed by a Colonel Commandant.

Regimental officers[edit]

Initially company and field rank insignia did not appear on officers' uniforms.[4] In 1791 the War Office ordered officers to wear different graded epaulettes and wings to distinguish regimental officer ranks (Colonel to Ensign/ Cornet). This was ordered only for line Infantry officers. According to the Army Order,

  • Field officers (Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel and Major) wore rich epaulettes with rich bullions on both shoulders.
  • Captains of Battalion company wore epaulettes with smaller bullions,
  • Subalterns (Lieutenant and Ensign/ Sub Lieutenant) of similar company wore same epaulette strap with fringes on right shoulder only.
  • Grenadier and Light companies Captain and Subalterns wore wings on both shoulders.

In 1795, a special pattern of epaulettes was ordered for Fusiliers and Light Infantry officers. Field officers of those regiments wore epaulettes over wings. Company officers wore wings.

In February 1810, an order was issued by the War Office to distinguish Field officer ranks. The following devices were introduced in the epaulettes:

  • Colonel: Crown and Garter star (Order of the Garter)
  • Lieutenant Colonel: Crown
  • Major: Garter star

These badges were issued for all infantry regiments except the Foot Guards. In 1815, badges for Foot Guards were ordered. In Foot Guards regiments, all Field Officers were equivalent to the Colonel of line Infantry regiments. Captains were Lieutenant Colonel, Lieutenants were Major and Ensigns were Captains of Battalion company of line Infantry.

  • Field Officers: Crown and star (Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards used the Garter star, and Scot Fusilier Guards used the Thistle star).
  • Captain: Crown
  • Lieutenant: Star
  • Ensign: On device. (Ensigns of Grenadier Guards wore epaulettes on both shoulders, but other two regiments wore epaulette on right epaulette.)

In 1829, epaulettes and wings were standardised by maintaining the badges of rank issued in 1810 and 1815. According to the order, epaulettes of all regular infantry regiments and foot guards regiments would be in gold and other regiments were in silver. All officers including field and company officers wore epaulettes and wings on both shoulders. The epaulettes over wings system was abolished. Different graded officer wore different sized bullion to distinguish themselves from other.

  • Colonel: Epaulette bullions were three and half inches in length and Crown and Bath star (Order of the Bath).
  • Lieutenant Colonel: Epaulette bullions were three and half inches in length and Crown.
  • Major: Epaulette bullions were three inches were length and Bath star.
  • Captain of Battalion company: Epaulette bullion were two and half inches in length and no device.
  • Subaltern of Battalion company: Epaulette bullion were two inches in length and no device.
  • Captain of Flank companies: Wings bullions were one and quarter inches in length and half inches in wide.
  • Subalterns of Flank companies: Wings bullions were one and quarter inches in length and quarter inches in wide.

In January 1855, at the end of the Crimean War, the War Office abolished all epaulette and wing rank badges. New rank badges were introduced in the collar. It was first time that a complete set of rank badges was used by the British Army.

  • Colonel: Two rows of half inch laces in collar with Crown and Bath star.
  • Lieutenant Colonel: Two rows of half inch laces in collar with Crown.
  • Major: Two rows of half inch laces in collar with Bath star.
  • Captain: One row of half inch lace on the top of collar with Crown and Bath star.
  • Lieutenant: One row of half inch lace on the top of collar with Crown.
  • Ensign/Sub Lieutenant: One row of half inch lace on the top of collar with Bath star.

The above rank badges were issued to all regiments except the Foot Guards regiments.

Field officers: Two rows of half inch laces with Crown and Bath star. Captain: Two rows of half inch laces with Crown. Lieutenant: One row of half inch lace on the top of collar with Crown and Bath star. Ensign: One row of half inch lace on the top of collar with Crown.

In April 1880, rank badges were moved from collar to shoulder. Officers of all regiments including Foot Guards wore the following rank badges.

  • Colonel: Crown and two Bath stars.
  • Lieutenant Colonel: Crown and one Bath star.
  • Major: Crown.
  • Captain: Two Bath stars.
  • Lieutenant: One Bath star.
  • Second Lieutenant: No device.

In May 1902, the rank badges issued in 1880 were slightly modified.

  • Captain: Three Bath stars.
  • Lieutenant: Two Bath stars.
  • Second Lieutenant: One Bath star.
Officer insignia of rank as worn on the sleeves in the World War I period.

In 1919, a new order was issued by the Horse Guards office—all Guards officers would wear special star badges.

  • Grenadier Guards: Garter star.
  • Coldstream Guards: Garter star.
  • Scot Guards: Thistle star.
  • Irish Guards: Shamrock star
  • Welsh Guards: Leek star.

During World War I, some officers took to wearing tunics with the rank badges on the shoulder, as the cuff badges made them too conspicuous to snipers. This practice was frowned on outside the trenches but was given official sanction in 1917 as an optional alternative, being made permanent in 1920, when the cuff badges were abolished.

Historical ranks[edit]

  • Captain-general (c. 17th century): a full general.
  • Sergeant-major-general (c. 17th century): shortened to major general.
  • Brigadier-general: replaced by colonel-commandant in 1921.
  • Colonel-commandant: replaced by brigadier in 1928.
  • Sergeant-major's major (c. 17th century): shortened to Major.[citation needed]
  • Captain-lieutenant (c. 17th & 18th century): the lieutenant of the first company in a regiment, whose captaincy was held by the regimental colonel. On promotion to full captain, the period in this rank was treated as having been a full captain for pay and pension purposes, since he effectively commanded the company.
  • Ensign: lowest subaltern rank in infantry regiments; replaced in 1871 by second lieutenant, but still used to refer to second lieutenants in some Guards regiments.
  • Cornet: cavalry equivalent of ensign replaced in 1871 by second lieutenant, but still used to refer to second lieutenants in some cavalry regiments, including the Blues and Royals and The Queen's Royal Hussars.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Title; Honorary or posthumous rank; war time rank; ceremonial rank
  2. ^ "British Army Website: Ranks". Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  3. ^ "British Army Website: Officer careers". Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Untangling British Army Ranks

External links[edit]