Generals' ranks

Before a field marshall or general of the army, you have:

brigadier general *
major general **
lieutenant general ***
colonel general or just ‘general’ ****

How were these qualifications derived?

Don’t know the derivation, but I did once learn a mnemonic for remembering the sequence of the ranks: “Be My Little General” to stand for Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, General.

The Master speaks.

General - the dude in charge (Captain General)

Lt. General - the assistant dude in charge, second in command (Lt. General)

Major General - lower command rank, independent command capability (Sgt. Major General)

Brigadier General - Brigade commander

At one point, the principal officers in a unit were the captain, the lieutenant, and the sergeant.

A captain of captains was a “captain general,” which led to the use of “general” in general.

The general’s assistant was a. “Lieutenant general,” in the same way that a captain’s aide was a lieutenant.

An important sergeant became a “sergeant-major” and that also became doubled as a “sergeant-major general,” which was eventually made into two ranks, “major” and “major general.” A major general is lower than a Lieutenant General because a lieutenant is higher than a sergeant major.

I’ll bet the OP had no trouble deciding which forum to put this question in.

The Major Forum got deleted. Thanks guys, and to Cecil.

A “general officer” is a commander of the general force of troops. The evolution of the diffferent ranks and titles varies with the history of the different militaries that established them, but as other posters have mentioned, they mostly arose by appending “general” to an already existing field or line title.

As mentioned, the oldest tradition is of the ranks Lieutenant and Captain becoming transposed into Lieutenant General and Captain General.

Later on, apparently under Prussian influence, you have in other armies the field-officer ranks Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel being the ones that get transposed into Major General, Lieutenant General, Colonel General.

After the Napoleonic age, in France there was a rationalization of the ranks by size of unit: Brigade General, Division General, Corps General, Army General.

The “Brigade” level gets into a sort of overlapping grey zone and it shows in that grade. In some cases such as most British Commonwealth forces, the Brigadier is NOT a general (used to be, though); some countries like Russia and pre-WW2 Germany just skipped that title altogether and go straight from Colonel to Major General.

Modern armies have tended to adopt one scale or another or combinations of them as the tactical and personnel management doctrines evolve.

While we’re here, could someone explain why we only have 5-star generals in wartime? I know the rank was created to put Ike on an equal footing with Field Marshal Montgomery, but why was it discarded?

Per Wiki:
United States military policy since the creation of a fifth star in World War II has been to award it only when a commander of U.S. forces must be equal to or of higher rank than commanders of armies from another nation under his control.

So until we have a combined force that has another country’s 5 star general in it, there isn’t a need.

That’s what it means now, but it originated in a more general sense when a “captain of captains” was designated a captain general.

Just a nitpick here, “major general” did not in my understanding originate from “major,” but rather both “major” and “major general” came from sergeant-major general.

My understanding is that brigadier is to brigade just as colonel is to column. It was much later that some armies decided that brigadier needed to be re designated as a type of general.

Moving outside the OP:
So why was H. Norman Schwarzkopf not given a fifth star during the war? He and the Khalid bin Sultan were of equal rank (they commanded multinational armies.) You had honorifics like Herman Goering (Marshall of the Reich) and the Marshalls of the Soviet Union like Zhukov and Koniev. Ike was referred to by the wartime media at least once as “general of the armies” (a sixth star?)

I have no definitive knowledge, but my impression is that the basic rule for U.S. services is that four stars is the maximum. More than that won’t be given out unless there is a very specific reason to under unusual circumstances, such as ensuring that Eisenhower is at the equivalent level of Montgomery.

[quote=“the_diego, post:12, topic:680619”]

Moving outside the OP:
So why was H. Norman Schwarzkopf not given a fifth star during the war? He and the Khalid bin Sultan were of equal rank (they commanded multinational armies.) /QUOTE]
Because at the time Khalid bin Sultan was a General in the Saudi defence forces, and did not outrank Schwartzkopf. Therefore there was no need for a promotion for Schwarzkopf.

But he was commander of the Pan-Arab forces.

Um, no. The official title of an officer with 4 stars is “Admiral” or “General”. The official title of an officer with 5 stars is “Fleet Admiral” or “General of the Army”. Ike only had 5 stars.

I’m pretty sure when they created the 5 star grades, they had to bump both the Chief of Staff and the CNO to 5 stars too, because you can’t have a CoS outranked by 2 theatre commanders or the CNO outranked by CinCPac.

You’re confusing Eisenhower with Pershing, who was in fact, General of the Armies, and therefore was presumably in theory a 6-star general.

However, Pershing is not the highest-ranking American officer. That would be George Washington. Some years back, Congress took action to ensure that Washington would forever outrank all other military officers.

Wow, I’m one war or 17 years off.

That’s his command, not his rank. His rank was general; he did not outrank Schwarzkopf, and there was no need to promote Schwarzkopf to prevent him from being outranked.

As stated he was not outranked by Khalid, they were both four star generals, Khalid was promoted to 5 stars, after the war. IIRC, there was thought to similarly promoting Schwartzkopf post war as well, but was nixed.

Moreover, if Schwaetzkoof had been made 5 stars, they would have had to promote Powell as well,and probably a day or so before.

Bradley got his fifth star for similar reasons AFAIK.