Ranks in the French Army
Rank insignia in the French army, except for general officers, depends on whether the soldier belongs to a "foot arm" or a "horse arm". All arms are designated either a foot or horse arm. In foot arms the main insignia colour is gold, but in horse arms the main insignia colour is silver/white. However, the artillery uses gold as the main colour, despite being a horse arm, and the
spahis use gold as the main colour despite being part of a horse arm, the armoured cavalry arm.
*Foot arms: Infantry, Naval troops, Foreign Legion, Engineering, etc.
*Horse arms: Armoured Cavalry arm, Train, Artillery, etc.
The ranks in the Armée de Terre :
. The marshals wear seven stars and a baton.
Famous examples include
Turenne, Vauban, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney, Bazaine, Guillaume Brune, Louis Nicolas Davout, André Masséna, Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Marie Pierre Koenigand Alphonse Juin.
An infamous example would be
Philippe Pétain, who became famous as "Maréchal Pétain", Chief of State of the Vichy France puppet regimeand retained his title even after his trial and imprisonment and after he was stripped of other positions and titles.
Another particular example is Marshal de MacMahon, who ruled the Third Republic from 1875 to 1879.
Officers are divided into
*the regular officers of the Army
*the commissary of the Army
*the officers of the technical and administrative corps of the Army.
They all wear the same insignia and titles.
"Généraux" - General officers
* : In command of an army. This is not a genuine rank, but an appointment of Divisional General.
* : In command of an army corps. This is not a genuine rank, but an appointment of Divisional General.
The title "général" originates in the ancient rank of "capitaine général" (literally, "general captain"), who was in command of the whole army.
There is no distinction between infantry and cavalry generals, since they are all supposed to be able to command any type of unit.
"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 some traditional affiliation of the units.
The word "colonel" originates in the title "capitaine colonel", "the one who commands a column (regiment). Lieutenant-colonel is the one who can "stand for" a colonel ("lieu-tenant", "tenir lieu" = to stand for). "Chef", "chief", comes from
"Colonel" : in command of a
regimentor a "groupement" (in the Gendarmerie). During the French Revolution, they were called "chef de brigade". Mounted 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 headdress of that empire.
"Commandant": also called "chef de bataillon" in the infantry, "chef d'escadrons" in the cavalry and "chef d'escadron" in the artillery.
"Officiers subalternes" - Junior officers
A "Lieutenant" (
Lieutenantor First Lieutenant): in command of a "section" (infantry), a "peloton" (cavalry) or a "brigade" (gendarmerie)
Sub-Lieutenantor Lieutenant): same prerogatives as the lieutenant
* "Aspirant" : Acting Officer or Officer Candidate.
* "Aspirant" : Reservist Officer, Student Officer or Cadet. During the first years at the schools of
École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyror École militaire interarmesor Ecole des Officiers de la Gendarmerie Nationale
* "Major": same prerogatives as the lieutenant.
Note the difference with English ranking systems, where "
Majors" rank as "commandants".
"Sous-officiers" - Non Commissioned Officers
* A "Major" is equivalent to the rank of "Sergeant Major" in the US, UK , Canada, etc. There are relatively few "Major" in the armed forces, about one per regiment or brigade.
* "Adjudant-chef" : often same responsibilities as the lieutenant. In the horse-mounted arms (armes a cheval: cavalry and transportation), they are addressed as "lieutenant", otherwise addressed as "adjudant"
** adjudant-chef (des armes à pied)
* "Adjudant" : often same responsibilities as a lieutenant
* "Sergent-chef" (infantry) or "Maréchal des logis-chef" (cavalry), addressed as "chef"
** "Sergent-chef" : Chief Sergeant
** "Maréchal des logis-chef" : Chief Marshal of Lodgings
* "Sergent" (infantry) or "Maréchal des logis" (cavalry) : in command of a group
* "Eleve Sous-Officier" NCO candidats at the
The "adjudant" is the "adjoint" ("aid") of an officer, and the
sergeant"serves" (Latin "serviens").
"Aspirants" or "sous-lieutenants" are junior officers and are often aided by "adjudants" or "adjudants-chefs", who are experienced NCOs/warrant officers.
Full "lieutenant" are experienced junior officers, served by sergeants when commanding their unit.
A four chevron sergent-chef major existed up till 1947.
"Militaires du rang" - Enlisted
* "Caporal-chef de première classe". Distinction created in 1999.
* "Caporal-chef" (infantry) or "Brigadier-chef" (cavalry) : in command of a team
* " is a colonel in charge of a brigade (the Swiss army reserves the title of "general" for times of war), and thus effectively ranking "général de brigade".
* "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" (Légion étrangère)
** "artilleur" (artillery)
** "sapeur" (engineering, including the "sapeurs-pompiers de Paris")
** "chasseur" ("Hunter": light troops used for reconnaissance and harassment)
*** "chasseurs à pied" (Light Infantry)
***"chasseurs à cheval" (Light Mounted Infantry)
chasseurs alpins" (Light Alpine Infantry)
chasseurs parachutistes" (Airborne Infantry Commandos)
** "dragon" (Dragoon: Mounted Infantry unit)
** "cuirassier" (Cuirassier: Heavy Cavalry unit)
** "hussard" (Hussar: Light Cavalry unit)
** "transmetteur" (signals corps)
** "conducteur" (trains).
** "Marsouin" (
Troupes de marine): From a term for the Harbour Porpoise, due to their duties at sea or on land.
** "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 sea slug ("bigorneau") because they would stick to their emplacements and couldn't be removed easily.
** "Colo" (Troupes Coloniales): 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 derogatory term, much like the Commonwealth Forces term Pongo ("Smelly one"). Only used when speaking of French soldiers of WW1 in the trenches, who had no time nor soap to shave.
** "Biffin" slang used by
Troupes de Marineto designate other infantry units. Probably comes from the fact that marsouins use to own their uniform and were proud of it, whereas other units were dressed in rags (biffe is an old french word for rag).
There are also distinctions to distinguish volunteers and conscripts, and bars for experience (one for five years, up to four can be obtained).
Ingénieurs du service du matériel
* Ingénieur général de première classe
* Ingénieur général de deuxième classe
* Ingénieur en chef de première classe
* Ingénieur en chef de deuxième classe
* Ingénieur principal
* Ingénieur de première classe
* Ingénieur de deuxième classe
* Ingénieur de troisième classe
Table of ranks
Ranks in the French Navy
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