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National Army Museum
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Organisation

British Army ranks

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

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

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

Insignia: Two crossed batons in a wreath beneath a crown

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.

Field Marshal

General

General

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a star and crown

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

Lieutenant General

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a crown

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

Lieutenant General
Major General

Major General

Insignia: Crossed baton and sabre beneath a star

A major general commands a division or brigade.

Brigadier

Insignia: Three stars beneath a crown

A brigadier commands a brigade in the field or holds a senior staff appointment. Originally, the rank was known as brigadier-general - the lowest general officer rank. But since the 1920s, it has been a field officer rank.

Brigadier
Colonel

Colonel

Insignia: Two stars beneath a crown

Colonels normally serve as staff officers (responsible for the Army's administrative needs) at divisional level and above or in command of ad hoc groupings at sub-brigade level.

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

Insignia: Star beneath a crown

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

Lieutenant Colonel
Major

Major

Insignia: One crown

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

Captain

Insignia: Three stars

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

Captain
Lieutanant

Lieutenant

Insignia: Two stars

A lieutenant commands a platoon or troop, but with additional responsibilities above those of a second lieutenant.

Second Lieutenant

Insignia: One star

The lowest commissioned officer rank in the British Army, commanding a platoon or troop.

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 colour sergeant of 3 PARA on operation in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, 2008

Colour Sergeant Colin Beckett, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, on operation in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, 2008

Other ranks

Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1)

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

This is the senior non-commissioned rank, with specialist roles in the technical and non-combatant services; in the combat and combat-support arms, responsible for discipline within the unit; and in war for its ammunition resupply and prisoner handling. Appointments include conductor and regimental sergeant major.

Warrant Officer Class 1
Warrant Officer Class 2

Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2)

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

A WO2 has similar roles and responsibilities to WO1, but at a sub-unit level (below regimental). Appointments include company sergeant major and squadron sergeant major.

When is an officer not an officer?

The thing that distinguishes officers from other ranks is a commission. Warrant officers do 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

Insignia: Three chevrons beneath a crown

This is a non-commissioned officer rank with specific duties such as supply within the sub-unit - an appointment known as company quartermaster-sergeant (CQMS) or squadron quartermaster-sergeant (SQMS). In infantry battalions, a CQMS is called a colour sergeant.

Staff Sergeant
Sergeant

Sergeant

Insignia: Three chevrons

This is the senior enlisted soldier within a platoon or troop, acting as a second-in-command. Some also have specialist roles. In the Household Cavalry, the title corporal of horse is used.

Corporal

Insignia: Two chevrons

In most units, a corporal commands a section. A corporal in the Royal Artillery is called a bombardier, and in the Guards a lance sergeant.

Corporal
Lance Corporal

Lance Corporal

Insignia: One chevron

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.

Private

Insignia: None

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

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