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Replica of the marshal's baton of Generalfeldmarschall von Richthofen (Third Reich)

Generalfeldmarschall (About this sound listen ) (usually translated simply as field marshal, or sometimes as General Field Marshal, and sometimes written only as Feldmarschall) was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used. The rank was the equivalent to a Grand Admiral in the German Navy.

In the Prussian Army and later in the German Army the rank had several privileges, such as elevation to nobility, equal rank with ministers of the royal cabinet, right of direct report to the monarch, and a constant escort/protection. In 1854 the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel-General) was created in order to promote Prince Wilhelm to senior rank without breaking the rule that only wartime field commanders could receive the rank of field marshal for a victory in a decisive battle or the capture of a fortification or major town. In 1870 Prince Friedrich Karl and Kronprinz Friedrich Wilhelm, who had commanded armies during the Franco-Prussian War, became the first Prussian princes appointed field marshals.

In the armies and Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was the highest military rank until July 1940, when it was made subordinate to the even higher rank of Reichsmarschall (held solely by Hermann Göring). The equivalent of a Generalfeldmarschall in the navy was Großadmiral (Grand Admiral). The rank of Generalfeldmarschall was abolished after the fall of the Third Reich.

Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus, commander of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, to the rank of Field Marshal shortly before his army's inevitable surrender in order to encourage him to continue to fight until death or commit suicide (no German field marshal at that point in history had ever been captured alive). Paulus surrendered anyway, responding to the promotion: "I have no intention of shooting myself for that Austrian corporal."

Currently, the highest rank in the reconstituted Bundeswehr is General. By permanent enactment of the Commander-in-Chief (Inhaber der Befehls- und Kommandogewalt) of the Bundeswehr, who is in peacetime, according to Art. 65 a GG, the Bundesminister der Verteidigung (Federal Minister of Defence), he has special command authority over all soldiers. The Generalinspekteur (Inspector General of the Bundeswehr), which is a post, heads the Führungsstab der Streitkräfte (Command Staff of the Armed Forces).

The Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) created the rank of Marschall der DDR (marshal of the GDR) on 25 March 1982. A general could be appointed to this rank by the Staatsrat (the head-of-state council of the GDR) during wartime or for exceptional military achievement; no one ever held the rank, however.

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