General questions

Is a General a higher ranking officer at the Pentagon than is an Admiral?

Has anyone in US military history ever been named an honorary General?

What is the maximum number of stars that a General can earn?..and how do they earn the stars anyway?

What is the ratio of female to male Generals in the active US military?


Krispy Original

(and Nickrz, hopefully these are worthy of general questions)

To answer a couple of your questions:

General and Admiral are equivalent ranks in different services. The Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps has Generals. The Navy and Coast Guard has Admirals.

The ranks from highest to lowest are:
General of the Army (Air Force)/Fleet Admiral
Lieutenant General/Vice Admiral
Major General/Rear Admiral, Upper Half
Brigadier General/Rear Admiral, Lower Half

Two American officers have been named to a higher rank: George Washington and John Pershing were both promoted to the rank of General of the Armies. Washington however never technically assumed the rank during his lifetime.

Brigadier Generals have one star. Each promotion above that merits an additional star. Pershing therefore was theoretically entitled to wear six. In actuality, he never wore more than four. The highest anyone has ever worn is five.

And in case anyone is wondering what a “Rear Admiral” is, it reflects the historic fact that in the days before both radio and rotating gun turrets, it was important to have an extra admiral at the back of your line of ships, in case you had to turn it around. That was the job given to new admirals.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I thought the equivalent of a one star (brig.) general in the Navy was a Commadore. I must admit that I haven’t heard of anybody with that rank since, maybe, the Spanish-American War. Why did they change it to something lame like "Rear Admiral/Lower Half? (sounds a little redundant - Rear=Lower Half, right?)

The rank of Commodore originated in the British Navy. Back a couple hundred years ago, promotion to Admiral was based on a strict seniority basis; when an Admiral died, whichever Captain had the most time in rank was promoted. This created a situation where good Captains where unable to command fleets because they lacked seniority. The solution was to create the rank of Commodore. A Commodore was a Captain who basically was doing an Admiral’s job without the actual rank. Eventually, the promotion system loosened up and officers doing an Admiral’s job were given the actual rank.

I thought Commodore was a post, rather than a rank in the RN of that period. In other words, a captain assigned to command a fleet would be a Commodore for the mission, but only for the length of the mission. I agree with Mike’s reasoning for the practice, though.

It may have been different in the American navy, where there initially was some egalitarian sentiment against having Admirals at all. I think Commodore may have been the top rank here as a result.

Something about the American military ranks that had always bothered me shows up in Mike King’s list. A major is several ranks above a lieutenant, yet a lieutenant general outranks a major general.

Twilight zone, I had always thought, until someone explained it to me, after which I felt like a moron for not figuring it out before. As it happens, the adjectives at the level of general do not recapitulate those of the lower officer ranks, but of the higher! After major, they continue, lieutenant colonel, then colonel. Therefore,

major - major general

lieutenant colonel - lieutenant general

colonel - general

“It is lucky for rulers that men do not think.” — Adolf Hitler

Libertarian: take a look at Why does a lt. gen. outrank a maj. gen., but a maj. outranks a lt.?

Your Official Cat Goddess since 10/20/99.

“I get along well with everybody.” --I.M.F.

Based solely on what I’ve read in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels, this looks about right. But I’d been under the impression that commodores didn’t command full fleets, but rather squadrons or task forces- small groups of ships working in physical proximity on a specific assignment.

There were exactly nine admirals’ posts in the RN of the period, three (one of each rank) for each of the three fleets.

The problem wasn’t that captains with insufficient seniority couldn’t be admirals, it was that captains with sufficient seniority had to wait for an admiral to die – thus the Commodore.

As to “Lieutenant”, it essentially means “assistant”. Plain-vanilla “Lieutenant” is, in effect (though never in actual words) “Lieutenant Captain”. (A “captain” is the highest-ranking officer who knows all his men by name, a fairly low rank in the army, but a fairly high rank in the navy, where a ship also comes with the deal.) The ranks of “Commander” and “Lieutenant Commander”, inserted between “Captain” and “Lieutenant”, are fairly new inventions, splitting the old rank of “captain” in three in recognition of the fact that, since the early 19th century, the difference in size between large and small ships had gotten much bigger than it used to be.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

In the early 80’s (c. 1983) the Navy briefly reinstated the rank of Commodore. It didn’t last long. Anyone remember the details?

But I believe [oh no, oh no…] that Cecil [oh mercy, oh heavens…] is, um, wrong [oh forgive me, oh please mighty Unca Cece…], or at least misses a greater point.

I believe my explanation is simpler for that specific question, which is readily apparent from this chart:

I stand by what looks to me to be obvious: major, leutenant colonel, colonel — and — major general, leutenant general, general.

“It is lucky for rulers that men do not think.” — Adolf Hitler

Somewhat off-topic, sorry–I am under the impression that a captain, while aboard another captain’s ship for a certain period of time [bumming a lift across the Atlantic, for instance] is bumped up to the rank of Commodore out of courtesy to the ship’s captain. Can anyone back this up or squash it mercilessly? SD needed.
And what about those female generals? Tell me there are some. Bueller? Anyone?

Aren’t off-duty (or in-transit) officers aboard warships called “supercargo”?

If I was a ship’s captain and my passanger of equal rank was temporarily promoted over me for the trip, I think I’d be pissed off. Doesn’t sound courteous to me!

Elmer J. Fudd,
I own a mansion and a yacht.

Again, according to C.S. Forester:

Technically, a commodore was a sort of “super-captain” (while a commander was a sort of sub-captain (even though the RN had no subs)). One huge difference between a commodore and an admiral was that an admiral had the authority to supercede a post captain, while a commodore did not. A commodore was responsible for the overall mission objective, but the individual captains were still the masters of their ships. A commodore might offer suggestions as to what actions the captains might advisably take, but he couldn’t flat out issue an order, not even to the captain of the commodore’s flag ship.

A couple more facts.

The rank of Commander originated for similar reasons as the rank of Commodore. Some ships were considered too small to justify the assignment of a Captain to their command. So a Lieutenant was appointed to the command and given the rank of Commander to indicate this. As others have noted the ranks of Commodore and Commander were both provisional and could be revoked with the assignment that justified them.

There was also (in the Royal Navy) a distinction between rank and assignment. There were usually more officers in a given rank then were necessary to fill the available assignments. For example, the Navy might have two thousand Captains and only eight hundred ships. This allowed the Navy to appoint the better officers to active commands and keep the worse ones on shore.

As JWK wrote there were exactly nine Admiral’s posts in the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era. There were three fleets (the Red, the White, and the Blue) each having three Admirals (an Admiral, a Vice Admiral, and a Rear Admiral). However, the Navy could promote other Captains to the rank of Admiral (based on their seniority) but not give them an actual command. These Admirals were said to be commanding the Yellow Fleet.

Little Nemo (aka Mike King)

Well generally, for branch to branch equivelents and explanations of Major gen and commodore etc.
The highest rank Washington ever had was General (4 stars). After the rank of General of the Army(5 star) was created in WWI ,he was promted posthumously so no one would outrank him…General of the Army was created for Pershing so he would not be outranked by the Field Marshalls of the larger European armies. Later when there were several Generals of the Army, Washington was promoted to honorary General of the ArmIES, got no Idea why Pershing got that postumously too. Now we gotta promote Washington to Topdog General of the Everthangs. The fact that these are postuumous explains why they didn’t serve in those ranks g.General of the Army is the highest rank and only in wartime. There were a few in WWII. Again to rank with Field marshall,Eisenhaur,Macarthur,Bradley Omar Bradley is the last one we’ve had died in the 60’s(?) others (Patton?)There were Fleet Admirals(5 star) in WWII Halsey,uh…some others.
How generals get promoted is a mystery to this day. The Prez has to promote them
Combat experience is generally required for promotion above 1 star, de facto. Which explains why there are few female generals in general.AS of 1990, the military was aprox. 11% female. 15% of them are officers, the same as male ratio. Of the 307 generals in the army (307!!!) there were 3 F brigadier (1 star) generals, also 3 F rear admirals( one stripe,but same as 2 star,F have more ‘combat’ opportunities in Navy),2 1 stars in Air Force, and 1 marine brig. now retired.(think thats about as high as the marines go as they are part of the Navy,organised in smaller units than the army. General Motors outrnks General Foods but not when on Post,General Brands was demoted for rustling. Krisp, I generally don’t care what Nick sez ,and, generally speaking, this is the best General Question I have ever seen in General Questions.Generally they are rather generic questions about right hand threads and how thick is an aluminum brick.

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

John Pershing (1860-1948) was not promoted to the rank of General of the Armies posthumously. He received it in 1919 and held the rank until he retired from active service in 1924.

As for George Washington, his promotion to that rank was very posthumous indeed. He died in 1799 but was not promoted to General of the Armies until October 19, 1976.

Y’know what I think is a weird rank? The Sergeant Major of the Army. There is only one at any given time. He is the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Army, and he is outranked by every graduating West Point student in the country. Kind of gives the “pyramid” a new shape, doesn’t it? But then I haven’t figured out the point of the whole officer/enlisted man dichotomy anyway.
I mean, I know why there are ranks and a heirarchy, and I know why you might want to give people a head start of a couple ranks when they’ve been to ROTC or the Academy, but it still seems pretty extreme that a 20-year veteran with oodles of combat and leadership experience can never ever advance to equal a 22-year-old college grad. Without OCS, that is, which I think is a pretty small source for officers, and I think you still need a college degree for OCS, but I could be wrong.

Any similarity in the above text to an English word or phrase is purely coincidental.