Generalfeldmarschall (English: general field marshal, field marshal general, or field marshal / listen (help·info), abbreviated to Feldmarschall) was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Habsburg Monarchy, the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, the rank Feldmarschall was used. The rank was the equivalent to Großadmiral (English: Grand admiral) in the Kaiserliche Marine and Kriegsmarine, comparable to OF-10 in today´s NATO naval forces.
Holy Roman Empire
Prussian and German Empires
In the German-Prussian Army and later in the Wehrmacht, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall had several privileges, such as elevation to nobility, equal protocol rank with cabinet ministers, the right of reporting directly to the monarch, and a constant escort.
In 1854, the rank of colonel-general (German: Generaloberst) was created in order to promote William I, German Emperor to senior rank without breaking the rule that only wartime field commanders could receive the rank of field marshal for a victory in a decisive battle or the capture of a fortification or major town. The equivalent of colonel-general in the German Navy was the rank of Generaladmiral ("general admiral" or "admiral-general").
In the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was the highest military rank until July 1940, when Hermann Göring was promoted to the newly created higher rank of Reichsmarschall. The equivalent of a Generalfeldmarschall in the navy was Großadmiral ("grand admiral").
The ranks of Generalfeldmarschall, Generaloberst, Großadmiral and Generaladmiral no longer exist in the new German (until 1990 West-German) Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr (literally "Federal Defense") which were created in 1956.
Four weeks after the Heer and Luftwaffe had won the Battle of France, a Blitzkrieg in the Low Countries and France (10 May – 22 June 1940), Hitler promoted twelve generals to the rank of field marshal. Those promoted on 19 July 1940, were Walther von Brauchitsch, Wilhelm Keitel, Gerd von Rundstedt, Fedor von Bock, Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, Wilhelm List, Günther von Kluge, Erwin von Witzleben, Walter von Reichenau (Heer) and Albert Kesselring, Erhard Milch, Hugo Sperrle (Luftwaffe).
In 1942, three other men were promoted—"Wüstenfuchs" (desert fox) Erwin Rommel (22 June) for the siege of Tobruk, Erich von Manstein (30 June) for the Siege of Sevastopol and Georg von Küchler (30 June) for his success as 'Oberbefehlshaber der Heeresgruppe Nord' ("commander-in-chief of the army group north").
Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus—commander of the 6th Army at Stalingrad—to the rank of field marshal which was announced on 30 January 1943, a day before his army's inevitable surrender in order to encourage him to continue to fight until death or commit suicide. In the promotion Hitler noted that no German or Prussian field marshal at that point in history had ever been captured alive. Paulus surrendered the following day anyway, claiming Ich habe nicht die Absicht, mich für diesen bayerischen Gefreiten zu erschießen ("I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bavarian corporal").
Generalfeldmarschall was the highest regular general officer rank in the German Wehrmacht, comparable to NATO rank codes OF10, and to the five-star rank in anglophone armed forces. It was equivalent to Großadmiral of the German Kriegsmarine.
The Commander-in-Chief (German: Inhaber der Befehls- und Kommandogewalt) of the Bundeswehr is in peacetime, according to Article 65a of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (constitution), the civilian Federal Minister of Defence (German: Bundesminister der Verteidigung), who holds supreme command authority over all soldiers. In wartime, that supreme command authority is transferred to the Federal Chancellor.
The Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr (Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, literally "Inspector-general of the Federal Defence") is the military chief of defence and heads the Armed Forces Command Staff (German: Führungsstab der Streitkräfte).
The Nationale Volksarmee ("National People's Army") of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR (German Democratic Republic, i.e. East Germany) created the rank of Marschall der DDR ("Marshal of the GDR") on 25 March 1982. A general could be appointed to this rank by the Staatsrat (the head-of-state council of the GDR) during wartime or for exceptional military achievement; no one ever held the rank, however.
- List of German field marshals
- List of Austrian field marshals
- List of field marshals of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
- Comparative military ranks of World War I
- Comparative military ranks of World War II