Ranks in the French Army

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See Ranks in the French Navy for more details about the naval ranks

Rank insignia in the French Army are worn on the sleeve or on shoulder marks of uniforms, and range up to the highest rank of Marshal of France, a state honour denoted with a seven-star insignia that was last conferred posthumously on Marie Pierre Koenig in 1984.

Infantry arms and cavalry arms[edit]

Rank insignia in the French army depend on whether the soldier belongs to an infantry or cavalry unit. The infantry arms (armes à pied) include normal infantry, naval troops, the Foreign Legion and engineers; cavalry arms (armes à cheval) include armoured cavalry, artillery, maintenance and logistics. Sleeves are emblazoned with marks denoting either gold insignia for the infantry or silver/white for the cavalry. However, the artillery uses gold as the main colour, despite being a cavalry branch, and spahis use gold as the main colour despite being part of the cavalry, a distinction representing the armoured cavalry.

Marshals[edit]

Insignia of a marshal of France

The title of "marshal of France" (maréchal de France) is awarded as a distinction, rather than a rank. The marshals wear seven stars and carry a baton.

Famous examples include Turenne, Vauban, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney, Bazaine, Guillaume Brune, Louis Nicolas Davout, Duke de MacMahon, de Canrobert, André Masséna, de Hauteclocque, de Tassigny, Marie Pierre Koenig and Alphonse Juin.

As a distinction rather than a rank, the title of Marshal is granted through a special law voted by the French Parliament. For this reason, it is impossible to demote a Marshal. The most famous example is Philippe Pétain, who became famous as Maréchal Pétain, chief of state of the Vichy France regime. When he was tried for high treason, the judges were empowered to demote his other ranks and titles, but due to the principle of separation of powers, the judges had no authority to cancel the law that had made Pétain a Marshal and it remained the only title he kept after being sentenced.

Six marshals of France have been given the even more exalted rank of "Marshal General of France" (Maréchal général de France): Duke de Biron, Duke de Lesdiguières, Viscount de Turenne, de Villars, Count de Saxe and Jean-de-Dieu Soult.

Officers[edit]

Although they all wear the same insignia and titles, officers are divided into:

  • Regular officers of the army
  • Officers of the Armed Forces Commisariat Corps (formerly Army Commisariat Corps)
  • Officers of the technical and administrative corps of the armed forces (formerly of the Army)

Généraux - general officers[edit]

NATO
rank
Rank insignia Name Description
Shoulder Sleeve Camouflage French English translation
OF-9 Army-FRA-OF-09.svg France-Army-OF-9 Sleeve.svg France-Army-OF-9 LowVis.svg Général d'armée Army general In command of an army.
OF-8 Army-FRA-OF-08.svg France-Army-OF-8 Sleeve.svg France-Army-OF-8 LowVis.svg Général de corps d'armée Army corps general In command of an army corps.[note 1]
OF-7 Army-FRA-OF-07.svg France-Army-OF-7 Sleeve.svg France-Army-OF-7 LowVis.svg Général de division Divisional general In command of a division.
OF-6 Army-FRA-OF-06.svg France-Army-OF-6 Sleeve.svg France-Army-OF-6 LowVis.svg Général de brigade Brigadier general In command of a brigade, or of a région in the Gendarmerie.

There is no distinction between infantry and cavalry generals, since they are all supposed to be able to command any type of unit. The rank was formerly designated as Lieutenant-General of the Armies until 1791. The official historic succession of the "Lieutenant-General of France" corresponded to Général de division for the French Army, and Vice-Amiral (Vice-Admiral) for the French Navy. The rank of Général de corps d'armée wasn't officially adopted until 1939, along with five other French Armed Forces ranks.

Officiers supérieurs - senior officers[edit]

NATO
rank
Rank insignia Name Notes
Shoulder Camouflage French English translation
OF-5 Army-FRA-OF-05.svg France-Army-OF-5 LowVis.svg Colonel Colonel A colonel commands a regiment of the army or a groupement of the Gendarmerie. During the French Revolution, they were called chef de brigade. Cavalry arms wear silver. The origin of the difference in metal colour is that infantry officers once wore silver epaulettes, while those of the cavalry and other arms wore gold, and the colour of the rank badge had to differ from these metals in each case.[citation needed]
OF-4 Army-FRA-OF-04.svg France-Army-OF-4 LowVis.svg Lieutenant-colonel Lieutenant colonel The lieutenant-colonel has the same responsibilities as a colonel. They were called major during the First French Empire.
OF-3 Army-FRA-OF-03.svg France-Army-OF-3 LowVis.svg Commandant Commandant Also called chef de bataillon in the infantry, chef d'escadrons in the cavalry and chef d'escadron in the artillery and in the army light aviation) is equivalent to a major in most English-speaking countries.

Officiers subalternes - junior officers[edit]

NATO
rank
Rank insignia Name Notes
Shoulder Camouflage French English translation
OF-2 Army-FRA-OF-02.svg France-Army-OF-2 LowVis.svg Capitaine Captain In command of a company (French: compagnie) of infantry, a squadron (French: escadron) of cavalry or a battery (French: batterie) of artillery.
OF-1 Army-FRA-OF-01a.svg France-Army-OF-1b LowVis.svg Lieutenant Lieutenant Commands a platoon (French: section) of infantry, a troop (French: peloton) of cavalry, or a brigade of the Gendarmerie.
Army-FRA-OF-01b.svg France-Army-OF-1a LowVis.svg Sous-lieutenant Sub-lieutenant Commands at the same level as a lieutenant, but is a more junior officer rank.
Army-FRA-OF-01c.svg France-Army-OF-(D) LowVis.svg Aspirant Aspirant An Officer Designate rank. Technically it is not a commissioned rank but it is still treated in all respects as one. Aspirants are either officers in training in military academies or voluntaries, serving as temporary officers. The aspirant must have been previously élève officier (Officer Cadet). S/He can afterwards be commissioned as a sous-lieutenant. The insignia is a single curl of gold lace, disrupted by "flashes" of wool. It was widely used during both World Wars for providing young educated people with an officer's authority.
Army-FRA-OF-00.svg Élève officier Officer cadet A rank held during the first years at the officer academies (École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr, École militaire interarmes or École des officiers de la gendarmerie nationale)

Sous-officiers - sub-officers, i.e. non-commissioned officers[edit]

NATO
rank
Rank insignia Name Notes
Shoulder Camouflage French English translation
OR-9 Army-FRA-OR-09a.svg France-Army-OR-9b LowVis.svg Major Major Senior sub-officer rank since 1 January 2009 this grade is attached to the sous-officiers. Prior to this date it was an independent corps between the sous-officiers and the officiers. There is typically at least one Major per regiment and several in a brigade.
Army-FRA-OR-09b.svg France-Army-OR-9a LowVis.svg Adjudant-chef Chief Adjutant Chief Warrant Officer; often same responsibilities as the lieutenant.
OR-8 Army-FRA-OR-08.svg France-Army-OR-8 LowVis.svg Adjudant Adjutant Warrant Officer; often same responsibilities as an adjudant-chef.
OR-6 Army-FRA-OR-06.svg France-Army-OR-6 LowVis.svg Sergent-Chef (infantry)
Maréchal des logis-chef (Cavalry)
Chief sergeant
Chief marshal of lodgings
Addressed as "chef". Typically a platoon second-in-command (equivalent to a Commonwealth sergeant or a US sergeant first class).
OR-5 Army-FRA-OR-05.svg France-Army-OR-5 LowVis.svg Sergent (infantry)
Maréchal des logis (Cavalry)
Sergeant
Marshal of lodgings
Typically in command of a "group" (i.e. squad; equivalent to a commonwealth corporal or US staff sergeant)
Blank.svg France-Army-OR-5(D) LowVis.svg Élève sous-officier NCO student NCO candidates at the ENSOA.

Etymologically the adjudant is the adjoint ("joint (assistant)") of an officer, and the sergeant "serves" (Latin: serviens = English: servant).

Aspirants are cadet officers still in training. Sous-lieutenants are junior officers and are often aided by adjudants or adjudants-chefs, who are experienced NCOs/warrant officers.

Full lieutenants are experienced junior officers, served by sergeants when commanding their unit.

A four chevron sergent-chef-major rank existed until 1947. It was a ceremonial rank usually given to the most senior or experienced NCO in a unit, similar to a colour sergeant in the British Army. It was discontinued in the post-war army due to its redundancy.

Militaires du rang - Troop ranks[edit]

Junior enlisted grades have different cloth stripe and beret colour depending on the service they are assigned to. Troupes métropolitaines ("from the French mainland") units wear blue, Troupes de marine (the former troupes coloniales') wear red, and the Légion Étrangère (Foreign Legion) units wear green.

A red beret indicates a paratrooper, whether from the "troupes de marine" or not. A legionnaire paratrooper wears a green beret with the general parachutist badge on it, the same badge used by all French Army paratroopers who completed their training.

Senior grades' lace stripe metal depends on their arm of service, just like the officiers. Infantry and support units wear gold stripes and cavalry and technical services units wear silver stripes.

NATO
rank
Rank insignia Name Notes
Shoulder Camouflage French English translation
OR-4 Army-FRA-OR-04a.svg France-Army-OR-4b LowVis.svg Caporal-chef de première classe Chief corporal first class Distinction created in 1999. Caporal-chef after at least 11 years of service and appropriate degree.
Army-FRA-OR-04b.svg France-Army-OR-4a LowVis.svg Caporal-chef (infantry)
Brigadier-chef (Cavalry)
Chief corporal
Chief brigadier
Often same responsibilities as a sergent.
OR-3 Army-FRA-OR-03.svg France-Army-OR-3 LowVis.svg Caporal (infantry)
Brigadier (Cavalry)
Corporal
Brigadier
In command of an équipe - literally a team (fireteam). Presently this size unit is a trinôme in the army.
OR-2 Army-FRA-OR-02.svg France-Army-OR-2 LowVis.svg Soldat de première classe Soldier first class This is a distinction rather than a rank.
  • Soldat de deuxième classe: No rank insignia. Depending on the arm, they are called
    • Fantassin (infantry)
    • Légionnaire (French Foreign Legion)
    • Artilleur (artillery)
    • Sapeur (engineering, including the Paris Fire Brigade)
    • Chasseur ("hunter": light troops used for reconnaissance and harassment)
    • Dragon (dragoon: mounted infantry unit)
    • Cuirassier (heavy cavalry unit)
    • Hussard (hussar, light cavalry unit)
    • Transmetteur (signals corps)
    • Conducteur (trains)
  • Slang
    • Bigor (artillerie de la marine; see Troupes de marine): A term either from the gunner's order to fire (Bigue de hors) or a term for a species of winkle (bigorneau) because they would stick to their emplacements and couldn't be removed easily.
    • Colo (French Colonial Forces): The former term for the troupes de la marine when they were colonial troops.
    • Para (troupes aéroportées): Airborne troops, short for "parachutist".
    • Gazier (troupes aéroportées): Airborne troops "grunt". Friendly nickname.
    • Marsouin (literally "porpoise"; marines or naval infantry)
    • Poilu (infanterie): "Hairy one". A term that appeared during the First Empire and used to refer to the French soldiers as they often wore a beard and/or a moustache—and were represented that way on memorials. Nowadays, this term is used to refer to French soldiers who fought in the trenches of WW1, though it is seldom used to refer to WW2 soldiers. It is synonym of bravery and endurance.
    • Biffin slang used by troupes de marine and fusiliers marins to designate other infantry units. Probably comes from the fact that 'marsouins and naval riflemen used to own their uniform and were proud of it, whereas other units were dressed in rags (biffe is an old French word for rag). This word is not used to designate a legionnaire.

There are also distinctions to distinguish volunteers and conscripts, and bars for experience (one for five years, up to four can be obtained).

Engineer officer ranks[edit]

  • Ingénieur général de première classe (equivalent to général de division)
  • Ingénieur général de deuxième classe (equivalent to général de brigade)
  • Ingénieur en chef de première classe (equivalent to colonel)
  • Ingénieur en chef de deuxième classe (equivalent to lieutenant-colonel)
  • Ingénieur principal (equivalent to commandant)
  • Ingénieur de première classe (equivalent to capitaine)
  • Ingénieur de deuxième classe (equivalent to lieutenant)
  • Ingénieur de troisième classe (equivalent to sub-lieutenant)

Army Commissariat Service officer ranks[edit]

These ranks apply the word commissaire in light of their participation and role in the Commissariat Service of the army.

  • Commissaire général de corps d'armée (equivalent to Général de groupe d'armees)
  • Commissaire général de division (equivalent to général de division)
  • Commissaire général de brigade (equivalent to général de brigade)
  • Commissaire colonel (equivalent to colonel)
  • Commissaire lieutenant-colonel (equivalent to lieutenant-colonel)
  • Commissaire commandant (equivalent to commandant)
  • Commissaire capitaine (equivalent to capitaine)
  • Commissaire lieutenant (equivalent to lieutenant)
  • Commissaire sous-lieutenant (equivalent to sub-lieutenant)

Military chaplains[edit]

Rank Insignia
Christian Jewish Muslim
Chief military chaplain Aum chef cat prot.gif Aum chef isr.gif Aum chef mus.gif
Deputy chief military chaplain Ter aumadj cath prot.gif Ter aumadj isr.gif Ter aumadj mus.gif
Regional military chaplain Ter aumreg cath prot.gif Ter aumreg isr.gif Ter aumreg mus.gif
Military chaplain Ter aum cath prot.gif Ter aum isr.gif Ter aum mus.gif
Lay person - military chaplain
Catholic chaplaincy of the army
Ter aum laic cath.gif N/A N/A
Reserve military chaplain Ter aum reserv cath prot.gif Ter aum reserv isr.gif Ter aum reserv mus.gif

Ranks formerly used in the Army[edit]

  • Brigadier (officer rank of the Ancien Régime Army)
    • BRIGADIER.PNG
  • Sergent-Major was a rank created in 1776 and was renamed Sergent-Chef in 1928. The four-chevron NCO rank of Sergent-Major was re-established in 1942, now given to company administrative Sous-officiers, and ranked between the three-chevron Sergent-Chef and Adjudant. Eventually promotions were put on hold in 1962. The rank was officially abolished in 1971, though present rank holders were allowed to continue to use it. The last Sergent-Major retired in 1985.
    • Sergent-major.png
    • Maréchal-des-logis-major.png
  • Sergent appelés ("Conscript Sergeant" - Foot) / Maréchal des logis appelés ("Conscript Sergeant" - Horse) was a rank given to a conscript promoted to Sergeant while they were on National Service. A career Sergent or Maréchal des logis who had enlisted (who wore two lace chevrons instead of the conscript's one) would outrank them.
    • Sergent appelé.png
    • Maréchal-des-logis appelé.png
  • Fourrier ("Quartermaster") - A sous-officier in charge of distributing rations, keeping the unit's accounts, and arranging and assigning living quarters when the company was on the march. If there wasn't a decent-sized town or city on the route, the Fourrier would travel with the Pionniers to clear and set up a campsite for the unit.
  • Anspessade (archaic)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Général de corps d'armée in the French Armed Forces, is the third ranking order of the general officer corps, based on the hierarchical order. The designation of a général de corps d'armée is situated above a général de division and underneath the designation of général d'armée. By regulation, the rank refers to an officer of the rank of « Général de division » who receives the « rank and designation » of a « Général de corps d'armée ». This rank would command an Army Corps, a unit composing several Divisions. The insignia is composed of 4 stars. A Presidential Decree on 19 November 1873 introduced for a first time the notion of "corps armée". A circular on 17 March 1921 depicted that generals commanding an Army Corps (French: corps d'armée) would wear a 4th star, forming with the first three, a diamond shape. The generals commanding the army and the members of the Superior War Council wore a 5th star, superposed in the first 4 stars. Finally a Law Decree of 6 June 1939 made official, the designations and ranks referrals of "Général d'armée", "Général de corps d'armée", "Amiral", "Vice-amiral d'escadre", "Général d'armée aérienne" et "Général de corps aérien".

References[edit]