British Army ranks

Officers salute at a medal parade for 216 Parachute Signals Squadron, Colchester, 2008

Officers and other ranks

There are two distinct tiers within the British Army’s rank structure - officers and other ranks.

Officers are at the top of the hierarchy. Their ranks indicate that they hold positions of authority, granted through a commission - a formal document of appointment signed by the monarch.

Other ranks are the enlisted soldiers of the army. They do not have a commission and they do not hold positions of high command. However, separate tiers of authority - warrant officer (WO) and non-commissioned officer (NCO) - exist within their rank structure.

All soldiers’ ranks are denoted by a title and a set of insignia. Officers usually wear their insignia on their shoulders or chest. Other ranks wear theirs on their sleeves.

Brigadier J Cristal in Africa during the Second World War, 1943

Brigadier J Crystal in North Africa, 1943. His rank badge is visible on his shoulder.

Brigadier Charlie Herbert in Sierra Leone during the Ebola Crisis, 2015. His rank is visible on his chest. © Kate Holt

Brigadier Charlie Herbert in Sierra Leone during the Ebola Crisis, 2015. His rank is visible on his chest. 

Officers

Field marshal

Field marshal is the highest rank in the British Army. Throughout the 20th century it was reserved for army and army group commanders in wartime, and retiring Chiefs of the General Staff. Peacetime promotions to the rank of field marshal have now been discontinued.

Insignia: Two crossed batons in a wreath beneath a crown

Field Marshal

General

General

A general commands an army or army corps. It is currently the highest rank granted in the British Army.

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a star and crown

Lieutenant general

A lieutenant general usually commands an army corps or a division.

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a crown

Lieutenant General
Major General

Major general

A major general commands a division or brigade.

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a star

Brigadier

Brigadier is the lowest rank of general officer. They command a brigade or hold a senior staff appointment.

Insignia: Three stars beneath a crown

Brigadier
Colonel

Colonel

Colonels normally serve as staff officers (responsible for the army's administrative needs) in between field commands at battalion and brigade level.

Insignia: Two stars beneath a crown

When is a colonel not a colonel?

The rank of colonel should not be confused with the colonel of a regiment. The latter role is usually performed by a retired general officer who has responsibility for the protection of a regiment’s interests. This dates back to the 17th century, when colonels owned and equipped their regiments.

Lieutenant colonel

A lieutenant colonel commands an infantry battalion, artillery regiment or cavalry regiment. They are responsible for the unit in the field and when stationed in barracks.

Insignia: Star beneath a crown

Lieutenant Colonel
Major

Major

A major commands a company, squadron or battery, normally around 150-200 men. Within a battalion, they are second only to the lieutenant colonel.

Insignia: One crown

Captain

A captain is in charge of a company or serves as its second-in-command.

Insignia: Three stars

Captain
Lieutanant

Lieutenant

A lieutenant commands a platoon.

Insignia: Two stars

Second lieutenant

A second lieutenant is the lowest commissioned officer rank in the British Army.

Insignia: One star

Second Lieutenant

Sergeant William Powell of the Grenadier Guards after the Crimean War, 1856. He wears his sergeant's stripes on his upper arm.

A Staff Sergeant on operation in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, 2008

A Staff Sergeant on operation in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, 2008

Other ranks

Warrant officer class 1 (WO1)

This is the senior rank of warrant officer. WO1s are responsible for the discipline and equipment of officers and men. Appointments include bandmaster, conductor and regimental sergeant major (RSM).

Insignia: Royal coat of arms, sometimes surrounded by a wreath (depending on appointment)

Warrant Officer Class 1
Warrant Officer Class 2

Warrant officer class 2 (WO2)

This is a senior management role focused on the training, discipline and welfare of a unit. Appointments include company sergeant major (CSM) and troop sergeant major.

Insignia: Crown, sometimes surrounded by a wreath (depending on appointment)

When is an officer not an officer?

The thing that distinguishes officers from other ranks is a commission. A warrant officer does not have a commission. Instead, their authority is granted through a warrant. Warrant officers must also be promoted to their position from a non-commissioned officer rank, like sergeant.

Staff sergeant

This is the highest rank of non-commissioned officer in the army. Staff sergeants play a senior role combining man and resource management, or commanding a platoon. They can also hold other appointments, such as company quartermaster sergeant. An infantry staff sergeant is always known as a colour sergeant.

Insignia: Three chevrons beneath a crown

Staff Sergeant
Sergeant

Sergeant

British sergeants normally serve as platoon or troop sergeants, often acting as a second-in-command. Some also have specialist roles. In the Household Cavalry the title corporal of horse is used instead.

Insignia: Three chevrons

Corporal

In most units a corporal commands a section. A corporal in the Royal Artillery is called a bombardier.

Insignia: Two chevrons

Corporal
Lance Corporal

Lance corporal

This is the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer. A lance corporal usually serves as second-in-command of a section. It is also a rank held by specialists such as clerks, drivers, signallers, machine-gunners and mortarmen. A lance corporal in the Royal Artillery is called a lance bombardier.

Insignia: One chevron

Private

Private is the lowest rank of trained soldier. Various regiments and corps have equivalent ranks such as trooper, gunner, guardsman, sapper, signalman, fusilier and rifleman.

Insignia: None

Explore further

Join the conversation

"First time @NAM_London today. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought the presentation & interpretation made the subject accessible..."