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Flag of Germany.svg
HD H 21 Unteroffizier PzGren.svg LD B 21 Unteroffizier.svg
Heer and Luftwaffe shoulder insignia
Rank insignia German NCO rank
Introduction 1957
Rank group Non-commissioned officers
Army / Air Force Unteroffizier
Navy Maat
OR-5b[N 1]
US Flag of the United States.svg
UK Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  • Army: no equivalent
  • Air force: Sergeant

Unteroffizier is a military rank of the Bundeswehr and of former German-speaking armed forces (Heer and Luftwaffe). The equivalent in anglophone armed forces is sergeant or staff sergeant. However, Unteroffizier is also the collective name for all non-commissioned officers.


rank insignia field- and battle dress

Unteroffizier ("subordinate officer") is both a specific military rank as well as a collective term for non-commissioned officers of the German military that has existed since the 17th century.[1] The term continues to be used by the modern-day German and Swiss armies.

There are two classes of non-commissioned officers:

Informally, the non-commissioned officers "mit Portepee" are often called "Feldwebel ranks", which creates confusion as the collective term Unteroffizier already exists.[clarification needed] The word Unteroffizier, in turn, is getting a third meaning, namely: non-commissioned officer ohne Portepee, as opposed to "Feldwebel ranks".

Unteroffizier translates as "subordinate-officer" and, when meaning the specific rank, is in modern-day usage considered the equivalent to sergeant under the NATO rank scale. Historically the Unteroffizier rank was considered a corporal[2] and thus similar in duties to a British Army corporal. In peacetime an Unteroffizier was a career soldier who trained conscripts or led squads and platoons. He could rise through the ranks to become an Unteroffizier mit Portepee, i.e. a Feldwebel, which was the highest rank a career soldier could reach. Since the German officer corps was immensely class conscious a rise through the ranks from a NCO to become an officer was hardly possible except in times of war.

The Unteroffizierskorps was made up of professional soldiers which formed the backbone of German armies. This tradition has not been changed by the Bundeswehr where all ranks of Unteroffizier and up consist only of professional soldiers who sign up for a period extending conscription.

Unteroffizier is one of the few German military ranks whose insignia has remained unchanged over the past one hundred years. The shoulder boards of a modern Unteroffizier are relatively similar to the World War I and World War II designs.

A modern-day German Bundeswehr Unteroffizier typically commands squad sized formations or acts as an assistant platoon NCO. The rank is also used in the modern-day German Air Force. In the Bundeswehr the grade of Stabsunteroffizier (a junior NCO) ranks between Unteroffizier and Feldwebel.

Preceded by
Junior rank
Oberstabsgefreiter (OR4a)
Bundeswehr Logo Heer with lettering.svg Bundeswehr Logo Luftwaffe with lettering.svg

(German NCO rank)

Succeeded by
Senior rank
Stabsunteroffizier (OR5a)


  1. ^ The abbreviation "OR" stands for "other ranks"


  1. ^ Brockhaus, encyclopedia in 24 volumes (1796–2001), Volume 22: 3-7653-3676-9, page 634
  2. ^ Duden, Origin and meaning of "Korporal" (German)