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Feldwebel (Fw or F, lit.'field usher') is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank in several countries. The rank originated in Germany, and is also used in Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia. The rank has also been used in Russia, Austria-Hungary, occupied Serbia and Bulgaria.

Feldwebel is a contraction of feld meaning 'field' and weibel, an archaic word meaning 'usher'. Weibel comes from the Old High German weibôn, meaning to go back and forth (as in 'wobble').

There are variations on Feldwebel, such as Oberstabsfeldwebel ('Superior Staff Field Usher'), which is the highest non-commissioned rank in the German army and air force.

Feldwebel in different languages[edit]

The rank is used in several countries: Swedish: fältväbel, Russian: фельдфебель, romanizedfel'dfebel', Bulgarian: фелдфебел, romanizedfeldfebel, Finnish: vääpeli and Estonian: veebel.

In Swiss German the spelling Feldweibel is used.

Feldwebel in different countries and armed forces[edit]


Feldwebel was a typical infantry rank of the k.u.k. Austro-Hungarian Army (1867–1918). It might have been comparable to NCO-rank OR8.[1]/ Company Sergeant-major ranks in the British Army.

In the k.u.k. Austro-Hungarian Army Feldwebel was equivalent to:

  • Beschlagmeister I. Klasse (Master-Blacksmith 1st class) cavalry,
  • Feuerwerker (Master-Sergeant, lit.'fire worker') artillery,
  • Oberjaeger (Master-Sergeant) of the mountain troops and rifles,
  • Rechnungs-Unteroffizier I. Klasse (Fiscal sergeant 1st class),
  • Regimentshornist (Regimental bugler),
  • Regimentstambour (Regimental drummer),
  • Wachtmeister (Master-Sergeant) cavalry,
  • Waffenmeister I. Klasse (Weapon master 1st class) artillery and weapon arsenal,
    • Einjährig-Freiwilliger-Feldwebel (Master-Sergeant – volunteer serving one year), and
    • Kadett-Feldwebel (Cadet-Master-Sergeant).

The rank insignia was a gorget patch on the stand-up collar of the so-called Waffenrock (tunic), and consisted of three white stars on 13 mm ragged yellow silk galloon. The gorget patch and the stand-up collar showed the particular Waffenfarbe (corps colour).

Examples (selection)
Designation Non-commissioned officers OR8/ Feldwebel ranks
K.u.k. Feuerwerker.PNG K.u.k. Wachtmeister.png Oberjäger k.k. Gebrigstruppe 1907-18.png K.u.k. Feldwebel.png Feldwebel des k.u.k. Militärwachkorps.png
Rank insignia
Rank description Feuerwerker Wachtmeister Oberjäger Feldwebel
Branch Artillery Cavalry Mountain
Infantry Militärwachkorps
(English) (Artillery Master-Sergeant) (Cavalry Master-Sergeant) (Rifle Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant mil. guards)


In the Bulgarian army, фелдфебел (pronounced feldfebel) existed from the late 19th century to the late 1940s, when the German-type military organization was phased out in favor of a new doctrine, identical to the Soviet one.


The Estonian rank of veebel is derived from the name of the German rank Feldwebel.

NATO code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6
Estonian Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel
 Estonian Land Forces[2] Estonia-Army-OR-9b.svg Estonia-Army-OR-9a.svg Estonia-Army-OR-8.svg Estonia-Army-OR-7.svg Estonia-Army-OR-6.svg
Sergeant major of the Land Forces Sergeant major Master sergeant Sergeant first class Staff sergeant
 Estonian Navy[3] Estonia-Navy-OR-9b.svg Estonia-Navy-OR-9a.svg Estonia-Navy-OR-8.svg Estonia-Navy-OR-7.svg Estonia-Navy-OR-6.svg
Master chief petty officer of the Navy Master chief petty officer Senior chief petty officer Chief petty officer 1st class Chief petty officer 2nd class
 Estonian Air Force[4] Õhuväeülemveebel.png Õhuväestbveebel.png Õhuväevanemveebel.png Õhuväeveebel.png Õhuväenooremveebel.png
Chief master sergeant of the Air Force Chief master sergeant Senior master sergeant Master sergeant Technical sergeant
Estonian Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel
NATO code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6


The Finnish Defence Force uses the ranks of vääpeli and ylivääpeli which are the third and second highest NCO ranks, respectively. Vääpeli is also the highest rank that can be awarded to a female non-conscript NCO who has not completed the volunteer female military service (equivalent to the male conscription service). The Finnish Navy's equivalent rank is pursimies (transl. 'boatswain').[5]

In addition, the Finnish Defence Force uses vääpeli to indicate an NCO position (which might or might not be occupied by an NCO of the rank vääpeli) subordinate to the company commander. The unit's vääpeli is in charge of the company's personnel management as well as supply, provisioning and maintenance, including the maintenance of the premises inhabited by the unit. They are also responsible for maintaining the general order, discipline and unit cohesion.[6] The company's vääpeli is the lowest-ranking FDF position that can conduct a preliminary investigation into suspected service-related crimes. Their powers with regard to punishment are limited to conscripts, who they can punish with either a warning or up to six hours of extra duties.[7]

Rank group Non-commissioned officer
 Finnish Army[8] Ylivääpeli M05.svg Vääpeli M05.svg


German Bundeswehr[edit]

HD H 31 Feldwebel Art.svg LD B 31 Feldwebel.svg
Heer and Luftwaffe shoulder insignia
Country Germany
Service branch German Army
 German Air Force
RankUnteroffiziere mit Portepee grade[9]
NATO rank codeOR-6
Pay gradeA7
Next higher rankOberfeldwebel
Next lower rankStabsunteroffizier
Equivalent ranksBootsmann

In the modern German Bundeswehr, Feldwebel is considered a senior NCO, due in part to the large number of corporal positions which exist as junior grades.

The modern Bundeswehr NCO grades are as follows:

The sequence of ranks (top-down approach) in that particular group (NCOs with portepee or Senior NCOs with portepee) is as follows:

19th century and Kaiserreich[edit]

Feldwebel gained its widest usage under the German military beginning from the early 19th century. The highest-ranking non-commissioned officer until 1918, the Feldwebel acted as Company Sergeant Major. By contrast with some other countries, the position and duty of Regimental Sergeant Major never existed in Germany.

From 1877 veteran NCOs could be promoted to the rank of Feldwebel-Leutnant. This Army Reserve officer ranked with the Commissioned Officers, but was always inferior to the lowest Leutnant.

From 1887 the Offizierstellvertreter (Deputy Officer) ranked as a kind of Warrant Officer (more NCO than officer) between Feldwebel and the commissioned officers.

There were three further NCO ranks: Vizefeldwebel (Vice Feldwebel, senior NCO), Sergeant (junior NCO) and Unteroffizier (Lance Sergeant or Corporal, junior NCO). The Gefreiter was not an NCO as he had no powers of authority, and was a higher grade of private soldier.

Reichswehr and Wehrmacht[edit]

After World War I, in the German Reichswehr and Wehrmacht, the Feldwebel rank group was divided into several grades:

Feldwebel and above were Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (Senior NCOs); Unterfeldwebel and Unteroffiziere were Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (Junior NCOs). In 1921, the rank of Sergeant was renamed Unterfeldwebel. Unterfeldwebels did duty as squad/section leaders.

The Stabsfeldwebel rank was reserved for those who had enlisted for 25 year terms of service in the pre-war German military and those who were enlisted for shorter terms were not eligible to hold this rank.

The appointment of Hauptfeldwebel (Company sergeant major/First sergeant) could be held by Stabsfeldwebels or Oberfeldwebels only. NCOs of a lower rank (Feldwebel, Unterfeldwebel, Unteroffizier) holding this position were titled Hauptfeldwebeldiensttuer (i.e. acting Hauptfeldwebel).

Rank insignia Wehrmacht until 1945[edit]

In the German Wehrmacht Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (transl. junior NCO grades) and Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (transl. senior NCO grades) were rank insignia as follows.

Rank insignia Unteroffiziere
Rank group Unteroffiziere mit Portepee Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee
Shoulder insignia WMacht H OR8 StFw Inf.svg WMacht H OR7 OFw Inf.svg WMacht H OR6 Fw Inf.svg WMacht H OR5a UFw Inf.svg WMacht H OR5b Uffz Inf.svg
Camouflage suit sleeve StFw Stuscha OR8 cam slv 1945.svg OFw Hscha OR7 cam slv 1945.svg Fw Oscha OR6 cam slv 1945.svg UFw Scha OR5a cam slv 1945.svg Uffz Uscha OR5b cam slv 1945.svg
Army Stabsfeldwebel Oberfeldwebel Feldwebel Unterfeldwebel Unteroffizier

Cavalry and artillery Stabswachtmeister Oberwachtmeister Wachtmeister Unterwachtmeister Unteroffizier

Waffen–SS SS–Sturmscharführer SS–Hauptscharführer SS–Oberscharführer SS–Scharführer SS–Unterscharführer

Rank insignia GDR National People's Army until 1990[edit]

In the German Democratic Republic National People's Army Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (junior NCO grades) were replaced by Unteroffiziere volunteer, and Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (senior NCO grades) were called Unteroffiziere profesional. The shoulder board rank insignia were as follows.

Rank insignia Unteroffiziere shoulder board
Unteroffiziere volunteer Unteroffiziere profesional
Unteroffizier Unterfeldwebel Feldwebel Oberfeldwebel Stabsfeldwebel
Armoured troops Border troops Military engineering Signal corps Missile troops and artillery
OR5 Unteroffizier Pz.png GDR Border Troops OR5 Unterfeldwebel.gif GDR Army OR6 Feldwebel.gif GDR Army OR7 Oberfeldwebel.gif GDR Army OR8 Stabsfeldwebel.gif


In the Imperial Russian Army a Feldfebel (Russian: Фельдфебель) held the highest Unteroffizier (Russian: унтер-офицер, romanizedunter-ofitser) rank from 1722 (its introduction into Peter the Great's Table of Ranks until 1826 (the introduction of the still-higher Unteroffizier ranks Podpraporshchik (Russian: подпрапорщик lit.'Junior praporschschik') OR-7 and later Zauryad-praporshchik (зауряд-прапорщик; lit.'Praporshchik deputy') OR-8 in 1884). Feldwebels, even after the introduction of these senior ranks, were usually the most senior Unteroffiziers in a unit and held the positions of the unit's CO senior assistant or Starshina (старшина; Sergeant Major). When they were promoted to Zauryad-praporshchik OR-8 or Podpraporshchik OR-7 ranks, but still held the Feldfebel OR-6 positions, they were authorized to still wear the Feldfebel's bands on their shoulder boards. The cavalry equivalent of this rank was the vakhtmistr or vakhmistr (вахмистр, derived from German Wachtmeister), also OR-6.

Sequence of ranks
junior rank:
Starshy unterofitser

Lesser Coat of Arms of Russian Empire.svgГерб Российского государства.png
senior rank:
Rank insignia
designation Rank insignia as to the years 1904-1917

1904ir036-p05.png 1907-gr13-p05.png 1907ossr11-p05.png 1908ur03-e05.png 1911ur03-p05s.png 1906ossr11-p07.png
longer serving (1911)
on assignment


Feldweibel is the lowest rank of higher non-commissioned officers in the Swiss Army. Until the Reform XXI agenda, there were two branches of Feldweibels: technical and company level.

The Feldweibel oversees unit-level military service and operations. In 2004, the rank of Hauptfeldweibel was introduced. Since then, only technical specialists have remained in the rank of Feldweibel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru:другие ранги, кроме офицероф"
  2. ^ "Sümboolika: Maaväe Auastmed". mil.ee (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Sümboolika: Mereväe Auastmed". mil.ee (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Sümboolika: Õhuväe Auastmed". mil.ee (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  5. ^ Pääesikunta (2016). Yleinen palvelusohjesääntö [General regulations of service] (PDF) (in Finnish). p. 11. ISBN 9789512528240.
  6. ^ Pääesikunta (2016). Yleinen palvelusohjesääntö [General regulations of service] (PDF) (in Finnish). pp. 28–29. ISBN 9789512528240.
  7. ^ Laki sotilaskurinpidosta ja rikostorjunnasta puolustusvoimissa (28.3.2014/255) [Act on Military Discipline and Combating Crime in the Defence Forces] (in Finnish).
  8. ^ "Sotilasarvot Puolustusvoimissa". puolustusvoimat.fi (in Finnish). Finnish Defence Forces. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  9. ^ "§ 18 SLV - Einzelnorm". www.gesetze-im-internet.de.


  • BROCKHAUS, Die Enzyklopädie in 24 Bänden (1796–2001), Band 5: 3-7653-3665-3, S. 487, Feldwebel