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Colonel general is a specific rank of the senior rank of general. North Korea and Russia are two countries that have used the rank extensively throughout their histories. The rank is also closely associated with Germany, where Generaloberst has been a rank above the full General and a rank below Generalfeldmarschall.
Colonel general (Generaloberst) was the second-highest rank in the Austro-Hungarian Army, introduced following the German model in 1915. The rank was not used after World War I in the Austrian Army of the Republic.
The People's Liberation Army rank of shang jiang (上将: literally, "upper general") is variously translated as either colonel general or general, with the translation as colonel general generally reserved for the period 1955-1965 (when it corresponded to the Soviet rank of colonel general). All ranks in the PLA were abolished between 1965 and 1988. When it was restored, there was a reduction in the number of officer ranks, and the ranks have since been normally translated into English as the corresponding American or British rank, rendering the rank of shang jiang as simply "general".
The rank of colonel general (generálplukovník) was created in the Czechoslovak army in 1950, and it was dropped after the 1993 dissolution of the state.
The Egyptian Army uses a rank that translates as "colonel general". It is equal to the rank of 4-star or "full" general. Colonel general is, however, junior to the rank of field marshal and is an honorary distinction usually held only by defense ministers.
In the French Army, under the Ancien régime, the officer in nominal command of all the regiments of a particular branch of service (i. e. infantry, cavalry, dragoons, Swiss troops, etc.) was known as the colonel general. This was not a rank, but an office of the Crown.
The Republic of Georgia adopted Soviet designations after its independence in 1991 so that the rank of colonel-general ( გენერალ-პოლკოვნიკი general-polkovniki ) exists, yet it is only used as highest possible rank in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Not to be confused with Generaloberst, the three-star rank (OF-8) of the National People´s Army until 1990. However, the Bundeswehr (first in West Germany and since 1990 in a unified Germany) does not use the rank.
In Hungary, the rank of colonel general (vezérezredes) has been introduced with the Imperial and Royal Army (the common ground force of the Dual Monarchy) in 1915. The rank replaced the ranks of gyalogsági tábornok (general of infantry), lovassági tábornok (general of cavalry), and táborszernagy (general of artillery) in the early 1940s.
The rank title vezérezredes is still in use for the highest ranking (four-star) general officer of the Magyar Honvédség and foreign four-star general officers' rank titles are usually translated as vezérezredes in Hungarian.
The North Korean rank of sangjang translates as "colonel general". Sangjang is senior to that of jungjang (usually translated as "lieutenant general") and junior to that of daejang (usually translated as "general").
The rank of colonel general (Russian: генерал-полковник, general-polkovnik) did not exist in Imperial Russia and was first established in the Red Army on 7 May 1940, as a replacement for previously existing командарм второго ранга (kommandarm vtorogo ranga, "army commander of the second rank"). During World War II, about 199 officers were promoted to colonel general. Before 1943, Soviet colonel generals wore four stars on their collar patches (petlitsy). Since 1943, they have worn three stars on their shoulder straps, so Charles Pettibone compares the rank to the US lieutenant general.
The rank still exists in the contemporary Russian Army. Unlike the German Generaloberst (which it most probably calqued), the Soviet and Russian colonel general rank is neither an exceptional nor a rare one, as it is a normal step in the "ladder" between a three-star lieutenant general and a four-star army general.
Other than that, the Soviet and Russian rank systems sometimes cause confusion in regard to equivalence of ranks, because the normal Western title for brigadier or brigadier general ceased to exist for the Russian Army in 1798. The combrig rank that corresponded to one-star general only existed in the Soviet Union during 1935–1940. Positions typically reserved for these ranks, such as brigade commanders, have always been occupied by colonels (polkovnik) or, very rarely, major generals (see History of Russian military ranks).
The rank has usually been given to district, front and army commanders, and also to deputy ministers of defense, deputy heads of the general staff and so on.
Colonel general (generalöverste) has also been a senior military rank in Sweden, used principally before the 19th century.
The Syrian Arab Army uses the rank of colonel general ( "fariq al-awwal, فريق أول) only for the senior-most rank of the army beneath that of field marshal. Usually, only defence ministers have held this rank – only six officers have held this rank till now – Hafez al-Assad, Mustafa Tlass, Hikmat al-Shihabi, Ali Habib Mahmud, Dawoud Rajiha and Fahd Jassem al-Freij.
The title of colonel general was used before and during the English Civil War in both Royalist and Parliamentarian armies. In these cases, it often appears to have meant a senior colonel as opposed to a senior general.
In Vietnam, the rank of colonel general is known as thượng tướng (literally "upper general"), equivalent to a three-star general and admiral. Thượng tướng is senior to trung tướng (usually translated as "lieutenant general") and junior to đại tướng (usually translated as "general"). It is used in the army and the air force. It is the equivalent to đô đốc (admiral) in the Navy.
- Charles D. Pettibone (2009). Organization and Order of Battle of Militaries in World War II : Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Trafford On Demand Pub. p. 905. ISBN 1-4269-2251-5.
- Data about Germany and Austria are based, in part, on the German-language Wikipedia article: "generaloberst"