Commodore (United States)

Please see "Commodore" for other uses of this rank

Commodore is an early title and later a rank in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard and a current honorary title in the U.S. Navy with an intricate history. Because the U.S. Congress was originally unwilling to authorize more than four ranks (captain, master commandant, lieutenant, and midshipman) until 1862, considerable importance was attached to the title of commodore. Like its Royal Navy counterpart at the time, the U.S. Navy commodore was not a higher rank, but a temporary assignment for Navy officers, as Herman Melville wrote in his 1850 novel, White-Jacket.

An American commodore in the early period, like an English commodore or a French chef d'escadre, was an officer (generally but not exclusively a captain) assigned temporary command of more than one ship. He continued his permanent or regular rank during the assignment. Once employed as a commodore, however, many jealously held onto the impressive title after their qualifying assignment ended. The Navy Department tried to discourage such continuing usage because it led to confusion and unnecessary rivalries.

Commodore was established as a temporary rank in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was discontinued in 1945, its previous incumbents having all been advanced to Rear Admiral. Nearly forty years later, it was reinstated as an official rank with a pay grade of O-7, replacing the previously titled Rear Admiral (lower half), which were U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard flag officers paid at the one-star rank of an O-7, but who wore the two-star rank insignia of an O-8. In 1982, following years of objections and complaints by the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps, the rank of Commodore was again rescinded in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. Later that year, the O-7 paygrade in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard was again redesignated as Rear Admiral (lower half), but with the single star for collar insignia and applicable shoulder insignia (i.e., flight suits, jackets, etc.), single silver star on top of solid gold background shoulder board insignia, and a single broad gold sleeve stripe insignia for dress blue uniforms.



19th century Commodore sleeve stripes
Mid-20th century USN Commodore; late-20th century to present day USN Rear Admiral (Lower Half) collar/jacket/flight suit, shoulder board, and sleeve insignia

The practice was not reserved to captains in the earlier days. Captain Isaac Hull, chafing at not being able to progress further in rank, wrote in 1814 that, if no admirals were to be authorized, something should be done to prevent "every midshipman that has command of a gunboat on a separate station taking upon himself the name of Commodore."

Eventually the title of commodore was defined more strictly, and was reserved for captains so designated by the Navy Department, although the practice of retaining the title for life added some confusion. In 1857, Congress established the grade of Flag Officer. This generic title was intended "to promote the efficiency of the Navy," but differed little from the previous practice. Like the courtesy-title commodores, "flag officers" reverted to captain once their squadron command assignment was completed.

Civil War

Because of the acute need for officers at the beginning of the American Civil War, naval tradition was ignored and Commodore became for the first time a permanent commissioned rank in the U.S. Navy. Eighteen commodores were authorized on July 16, 1862. The rank title also lost its "line command" status when, in 1863, the Chiefs of the Bureaus of Medicine and Surgery, Provisions and Clothing, Steam Engineering, and Construction and Repair were given the rank of Commodore.

Flag officer

The rank of Commodore continued in the Navy until 1899, when the Naval Personnel Act made all Commodores into Rear Admirals. The reason, according to Laws Relating to the Navy, 1919, was "... on account of international relationships, the consideration of which caused the Navy Department to regard the complications confronting it as inimical to the honor and dignity of this nation, because of the adverse effect upon its high ranking representatives in their association with foreign officers." U.S. Navy Commodores were not being treated as flag-level officers by other navies, or given the respect the Navy Department thought was their due.

As it would have been expensive to increase the pay of all the former Commodores to the level of Rear Admirals, the U.S. Congress specified that the lower half of the Rear Admiral list have pay equal to Brigadier Generals of the Army. If there were an odd number of Rear Admirals, the lower half of the list was to be the larger. All Rear Admirals, upper or lower half, were equal to Major Generals, flew a blue flag with the requisite number of stars instead of a broad pennant, and were entitled to a thirteen gun salute. The U.S. Supreme Court later held that the rank of Commodore had been removed from the U.S. Navy, leaving it without a rank equivalent to Brigadier General. This act disgruntled Brigadier Generals, who could now be outranked by officers who were their juniors in terms of service. This was a point of inter-service controversy, and in 1916 the U.S. Army made its Brigadier Generals equivalent to Rear Admirals (lower half). Thus, Rear Admirals (upper half) were equal to Major Generals.

World War II

During the huge expansion of the U.S. Navy during World War II, the Department of the Navy was concerned that the appointment of more flag officers would create a glut of admirals whenever peacetime was achieved. However, some Naval and Coast Guard captains were holding commands of significantly higher responsibility than they had earlier, and this needed to be recognized. The COMINCH of the U.S. Navy and Chief of Naval Operations, four-star admiral Ernest J. King, proposed bringing back the older rank of "Commodore" for these officers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, although his executive order specified that this rank should be restricted to officers of the line, and not for logistics officers, training officers, medical officers, dental officers, legal officers, chaplains, and so forth.

The one-star officer rank for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard was re-established in April 1943 with the title of "Commodore". In actual practice, some officers on Admiral's staffs were also promoted to the rank of commodore. By the end of the War in the Pacific in August 1945, there were over 100 commodores in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. (It needs to be understood that during World War II, the much-expanded U.S. Coast Guard was involved in combat operations in both anti-submarine warfare and amphibious warfare, thousands of miles away from home, and not just in its usual role of defending the coasts of the United States, detaining smugglers, lifesaving, and search and rescue operations).

Following World War II, and with the rapid drawdown in size of both the Navy and the Coast Guard, very few of the wartime commodores were ever promoted to rear admiral. All promotions to the rank of commodore ceased in 1947, and nearly all of the commodores who had held the one-star rank had either been promoted to rear admiral or retired from the Navy by 1950.

1982 Commodore Admiral/1983 Rear Admiral (lower half)

Following continued dissatisfaction by U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force officers with the U.S. Navy's and the U.S. Coast Guard's policy of honoring its rear admirals (lower half), who received the pay grade of O-7 with the rank insignia of two-star admirals O-8, the one-star officer's rank and insignia for Navy and Coast Guard officers was re-established once again in 1982, with the initial title of Commodore Admiral.

In 1983, following numerous protests by seagoing officers to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard stating that this new title was both unwieldy and confusing, the rank of "commodore admiral" was simplified to "commodore".

However, the title (not the rank) of "Commodore" had also been in use by the U.S. Navy since at least the 1950s as a "position title" for senior naval captains who commanded Destroyer Squadrons, Submarine Squadrons, Amphibious Squadrons, Patrol Boat Flotillas, Patrol Hydrofoil Missile Ship Squadrons, Special Warfare Groups, Air Groups and Air Wings (other than those officers commanding Carrier Air Groups/Carrier Air Wings, who were historically known and referred to as "CAG"s), Construction Regiments and other large sea-going commands consisting of multiple ships, submarines, aviation squadrons, etc. In contrast, the U.S. Coast Guard had never previously used the title.

Later in 1983, to prevent further confusion between the title of Commodore and the actual rank, the one-star U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard admiral rank was changed back to its original O-7 pay grade title of Rear Admiral (Lower Half). From that point on, Commodore has remained a title for U.S. Navy Captains in command of more than a single unit (other than Captains commanding Carrier Air Wings, who retained their traditional title of "CAG") and all U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard one-star admirals were subsequently referred to as Rear Admiral (Lower Half).

From 1983 to 2007, in the Navy and Coast Guard all Rear Admirals (Lower Half) and (Upper Half), O-7 and O-8 respectively, used the same acronym "RADM" in written correspondence, and as an abbreviated title. Because this still created confusion, in and out of the sea services, the abbreviation for Rear Admiral (Lower Half) was adjusted to "RDML" by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard in July 2007.

Present day title usage

Military (USN and USCG)

The U.S. Navy no longer maintains a rank of Commodore, but the term has survived as a title. Modern-day Commodores in the U.S. Navy are senior Captains in major operational command of functional Air Wings or Air Groups (exclusive of Carrier Air Wings); Destroyer Squadrons; Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft Wings; Amphibious Squadrons; Mine Countermeasures Squadrons; Riverine Squadrons; Submarine Squadrons; Coastal Warfare Groups; Special Warfare (SEAL) Groups; Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Groups; and Naval Construction Regiments. With the exception of the Naval Construction Regiments commanded by senior Captains of the U.S. Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, all others are senior Captains who are warfare-qualified unrestricted line (URL) officers in that combat speciality (i.e., Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers commanding air wings or air groups, Surface Warfare Officers commanding destroyer squadrons, SEAL Officers commanding special warfare groups, etc.).

Such officers employ the term "Commander" in their organizational command title, this in keeping with the naval tradition of officers commanding a single ship, unit or installation being referred to as a "Commanding Officer" or "CO," while those Captains and Flag Officers commanding multiple ships, multiple aviation squadrons, etc., are known as a "Commander." With the exception of Commanders of Carrier Air Wings, Captains in this latter category are referred to, both orally and in correspondence, as "Commodore," but continue to wear the rank insignia of a Captain.[1] Captains in command of Carrier Air Wings continue to use the traditional title of "CAG" which dates from when these units were known as Carrier Air Groups.

Captains holding a Commodore billet also rate a blue and white broad pennant, known as a command pennant, which is normally flown from their headquarters facilities ashore and/or from ships on which they are embarked. This swallow-tailed pennant has a white field bounded by two horizontal blue stripes, with the numerical designation or the initials of the command title in blue centered on the white field.

The U.S. Coast Guard presently designates the Captain commanding Patrol Forces Southwest Asia as "Commodore." This usage mirrors the USN's use of the title "Commodore."


Coast Guard Auxiliary

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also employs variants of the title of Commodore. Members of the Auxiliary are civilian volunteers that do not have military rank, but do wear modified U.S. Coast Guard officer uniforms and military style officer rank insignia to indicate office. Auxiliary officers who have reached flag positions equivalent to active and reserve Rear Admirals and Vice Admirals, use the term Commodore (e.g., District Commodore, National Directorate Commodore, National Commodore, etc.). They, including the National Chief of Staff, may permanently append the title Commodore, sometimes abbreviated COMO, to their names (e.g., Commodore James A. Smith, National Commodore; or COMO Jim Smith, (NACO)).[2]

Popular usage

Civilian yacht clubs also tend to use the title for their leaders, along with "vice commodore" and "rear commodore" in the same manner as "vice president."[3]

See also



Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.