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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, 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.

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]

The Landsknecht regiments first installed Feldwaibel to keep the men at line at the battlefield. The rank is used in the German Army and German Air Force.[1] It is grouped as OR6 in NATO, equivalent in the US Army to Staff Sergeant, or in British Army / RAF to Sergeant. In army/air force context NCOs of this rank were formally addressed as Herr Feldwebel.

German Feldwebel in Russia (1943)


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 (en: junior NCO grades) and Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (en: senior NCO grades) were rank insignia as follows.

Rank insignia Unteroffiziere shoulder board / chevron
«Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee » «Unteroffiziere mit Portepee»
Unteroffizier Unterfeldwebel Feldwebel Oberfeldwebel Stabsfeldwebel
WMacht H OR5b Uffz Inf.svg Uffz Uscha OR5b cam slv 1945.svg WMacht H OR5a UFw Inf.svg UFw Scha OR5a cam slv 1945.svg WMacht H OR6 Fw Inf.svg Fw Oscha OR6 cam slv 1945.svg WMacht H OR7 OFw Inf.svg OFw Hscha OR7 cam slv 1945.svg WMacht H OR8 StFw Inf.svg StFw Stuscha OR8 cam slv 1945.svg

Not all Heer NCO's in this grade were called Unterfeldwebel, Feldwebel, Oberfeldwebel and Stabsfeldwebel which are ranks in the infantry tradition. In some other service branches, for example, the equivalent ranks were as follows.

Cavalry and artillery

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

In the German Democratic Republic National People's Army Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (en: junior NCO grades) were replaced by Unteroffiziere volunteer, and Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (en: 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

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[2]
NATO rank codeOR-6
Pay gradeA7
Next higher rankOberfeldwebel
Next lower rankStabsunteroffizier
Equivalent ranksBootsmann
Feldwebel (2011)

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:


The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru:другие ранги, кроме офицеров"!

junior Rank
Bundeswehr Logo Heer with lettering.svg Bundeswehr Logo Luftwaffe with lettering.svg

(German NCO rank)

senior Rank


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.[3]/ 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 (literal: Fire worker; en: Master-Sergeant) artillery,
  • Oberjaeger (en: Master-Sergeant) of the mountain troops and rifles,
  • Rechnungs-Unteroffizier I. Klasse (en: Fiscal sergeant 1st class),
  • Regimentshornist (en: Regimental bugler),
  • Regimentstambour (en: Regimental drummer),
  • Wachtmeister (en: Master-Sergeant) cavalry,
  • Waffenmeister I. Klasse (en: Weapon master 1st class) artillery and weapon arsenal,
    • Einjährig-Freiwilliger-Feldwebel (en: Master-Sergeant - volunteer serving one year), and
    • Kadett-Feldwebel (en: Cadet-Master-Sergeant).
Junior rank
Zugsführer (Sergeant)
War flag of Austria-Hungary (1918).svg
armed forces rank)

Senior rank
Stabsfeldwebel (Regimental Sergeant-major)

Then rank insignia was a gorget patch on the stand-up collar of the so-called Waffenrock (en: 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 (en: 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 LMaster-Sergeant) (Rifles Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant mil. guards)
Feldwebel of the k.u.k. Army
See also


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".

Senior NCOs [4][5][6]
Maaväeülemveebel.png Maaväestbveebel.png Maaväevanemveebel.png Maaväeveebel.png Maaväenooremveebel.png
Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel
Command Sergeant Major Sergeant Major Master Sergeant Sergeant First Class Staff Sergeant
Mereväeülemveebel.png Mereväestaabiveebel.png Mereväevanemveebel.png Mereväeveebel.png Mereväenooremveebel.png
Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel
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
Õhuväeülemveebel.png Õhuväestbveebel.png Õhuväevanemveebel.png Õhuväeveebel.png Õhuväenooremveebel.png
Ülemveebel Staabiveebel Vanemveebel Veebel Nooremveebel
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Senior Master Sergeant Master Sergeant Technical Sergeant


The military rank of vääpeli was previously used by salaried NCOs. Responsibility was given for training and maintenance.

The rank of vääpeli is a rank of wartime formation and can be given to soldier of "ylikersantti". In peacetime, the term yksikköupseeri, literally "officer of the unit", is used, and this position is held by a salaried officer, typically senior lieutenant. The responsibility is for the provisioning, maintenance, human resources management and generally well-being of the unit (company).


In the Imperial Russian Army a Feldfebel (Russian: фельдфебель; today comparable to NATO OR6[3]) held the highest Unteroffizier (унтер-офицер/ unter-ofitser; NCO) rank from 1722 (its introduction into Peter the Great's Table of Ranks until 1826 (the introduction of the still-higher Unteroffizier ranks Podpraporshchik (подпрапорщик; literally: Junior praporschschik) OR-7 and later Zauryad-praporshchik (зауряд-прапорщик; 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 Feldvebel'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.

On international missions they are referred to as "Sergeant Major" (NATO Code: OR-7).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BROCKHAUS, The encyclopedia in 24 volumes (1796–2001), Volume 7: 3-7653-3676-9, page 185
  2. ^ "§ 18 SLV - Einzelnorm". www.gesetze-im-internet.de.
  3. ^ a b The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru:другие ранги, кроме офицероф"
  4. ^ "Maaväe auastmed" (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  5. ^ "Land Forces Insignia". Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  6. ^ "Military Service Act – Riigi Teataja". www.riigiteataja.ee. Retrieved 2019-11-17.


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