Ranks in the French Army
- See Ranks in the French Navy for more details about the naval ranks
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|Chief of Army Staff|
|Military history of France|
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
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.
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.
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
- Général d'armée ("army general"); in command of an army.
- Général de corps d'armée ("corps general", i.e. Lieutenant general); in command of an army corps.[note 1]
- Général de division ("division general", i.e. Major general); in command of a division.
- Général de brigade ("brigade general", i.e. Brigadier general); in command of a brigade, or of a région in the Gendarmerie. A famous général de brigade was Charles de Gaulle, who often wore military uniform whilst being President of the French Republic.
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
In the below descriptions, "horse-mounted" does not refer to current units (the only remaining horse-mounted unit is a ceremonial unit in the Republican Guard) but to the traditional affiliation of the units.
The word colonel originates in the medieval term capitaine colonel, "the head (officer) of a column" (=regiment). Lieutenant-colonel is the one who can "hold the place" of a colonel in his absence (lieu-tenant, from tenir lieu which means to hold the place). The word chef or "chief" in English comes from the Latin word caput meaning "head".
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.
The lieutenant-colonel has the same responsibilities as a colonel. They were called major during the First French Empire. Notice that the metal colours alternate silver and gold in each case, as opposed to those of the colonels. This characteristic goes back at least to alternating stripes on the uniforms of that empire in epaulettes.
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
- Aspirant An Officer Designate rank, it is used in the Armée de Terre (Army), the Armée de l'Air (Air Force), the Marine Nationale (Navy) and the Gendarmerie Nationale. 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 or enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe. 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.
- Eleve 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
- Major, the 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 are several Majors across the board of the French Armed Forces including the French Army, French Navy and French Air Force, typically at least one per regiment and several in a brigade.
Note the difference with many army rank systems of other countries where the term major is used for a rank above that of captain. For example, the rank of "major" in the US Army or British army is equivalent to the rank of "commandant" in the French army.
- Adjudant-chef: "Chief Adjutant" or Chief Warrant Officer; often same responsibilities as the lieutenant.
- Adjudant: Adjutant or Warrant Officer; often same responsibilities as an adjudant-chef.
- Sergent-Chef (infantry) or maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry), addressed as "chef". Typically a platoon second-in-command (equivalent to a Commonwealth sergeant or a US sergeant first class).
- Sergent (infantry) or maréchal-des-logis (cavalry): Typically in command of a "group" (i.e. squad; equivalent to a commonwealth corporal or US staff sergeant)
- Sergent: Sergeant
- Maréchal des logis: Marshal of lodgings
- Élève sous-officier 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
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.
- Caporal-chef de première classe. Distinction created in 1999.
- Caporal-chef (infantry) or Brigadier-chef (cavalry): in command of an équipe (literally a team). Presently this size unit is a trinôme in the army.
- Caporal (infantry) or brigadier (cavalry) : in command of an équipe.
- Soldat de première classe. 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 (light cavalry unit)
- Transmetteur (signals corps)
- Conducteur (trains)
- Marsouin (literally "porpoise"; marines or naval infantry)
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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)
Table of ranks
|Maréchaux de France - Marshals of France|
|Maréchal de France|
|Marshal of France is not an actual rank, but a "state honour" for highly valorous generals in times of war|
|Officiers généraux - General officers|
|Général de brigade||Général de division||Général de corps d'armée||Général d'armée|
|Commands a brigade||Commands a division||Commands a corps.||Commands an army.|
|Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers|
|Infantry/Air Force (Armée de l'air)|
|Commandant (Chef d'escadron(s) in some arms)||Lieutenant-colonel||Colonel|
|Officiers subalternes - Junior officers|
|Major - Warrant Officer (until 2008), High Ranking Sub-officer (since 2009)|
|Sous-officiers - Sub-officers|
|Élève sous-officier||Sergent (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis (cavalry arms)||Sergent-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry arms)||Adjudant||Adjudant-chef|
|A four chevron sergent-chef major existed up till 1947|
|Militaires du rang - Rank and File|
|Soldat 1e classe||Caporal (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier (cavalry arms)||Caporal-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier-chef (cavalry arms)||Caporal-chef (1e classe) / Brigadier-chef (1e classe)|
Ranks formerly used in the Army
- Anspessade (archaic)
- Brigadier (officer rank of the Ancien Régime Army)
- Sergent appelés, Maréchal des logis appelés
- Sergent-Major was a rank created in 1776 and was renamed Sergent-Chef in 1928. The rank was re-established in 1942, now given to company administrative Sous-officiers, and ranked between Sergent-Chef and Adjudant. Eventually promotions were put on hold in 1962 and 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.
The following national armies of former French colonies use a similar rank structure and rank insignia to those used by the French Army of today:
- Army of Benin
- Army of Burkina Faso
- Royal Cambodian Army
- Cameroon Army
- Central African Army
- Chadian ground forces
- Army of Comoros
- Army of the Republic of the Congo
- Djiboutian Army
- Army of Gabon
- Guinean Army
- The Ivorian army
- Army of Madagascar
- Army of Mali
- Royal Moroccan Army
- Peruvian Army
- Togolese Army
- Tunisian Army
- 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".
- Title; Honorary or posthumous rank; war time rank; ceremonial rank