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Please see "General" for other countries which use this rank

General (German pronunciation: [ɡenəˈraːl]) is presently the highest rank of the German Army (Heer) and Luftwaffe (Air Force). It is the equivalent to an Admiral in the German Navy (Deutsche Marine).

Contents

Early history

The German rank of General most likely saw its first use with the religious orders of the Holy Roman Empire, albeit in modified forms and usage from the current understanding of General. By the 16th century, with the rise of standing armies, the German states had begun to appoint Generals from the nobility to lead armies in battle.

A standard rank system was developed during the Thirty Years War, with the highest rank of General usually reserved for the ruling sovereign (e.g. the Kaiser or Elector) and the actual field commander holding the rank of Generalleutnant. Feldmarschall was a lower rank at that time, as was Generalwachtmeister.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, the rank of General was present in all the militaries of the German states and saw its greatest usage by the militaries of Bavaria and Prussia. It was these two militaries that created the concept of the “General Staff”, which was often manned entirely by members of the nobility. To be a general implied membership in the noble class as a Count, Duke or Freiherr (this also accounts for most German generals of this era having the prefix “von” before their names).

19th century

During the Napoleonic Wars, the ranks of German generals were established in four grades, beginning with Generalmajor, followed by Generalleutnant, General and Generalfeldmarschall. The standard uniforms and insignia, used for over a century, also developed during this period. The title of General (three stars) included the officer's branch of service, leading to the titles of General der Infanterie (General of the Infantry), General der Kavallerie (General of Cavalry) and General der Artillerie (General of the Artillery).

In 1854, Prussia introduced the rank of Generaloberst so that officers could be promoted further than General without becoming a Generalfeldmarschall, as this rank was usually only bestowed for extraordinary achievements during wartime service. Later, another special grade known as Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls (Colonel General in the rank of a Field Marshal) was first used in Bavaria to denote Colonel Generals who were given the authority of Field Marshals without the actual rank.

During the German Empire, the insignia of German generals was established as a heavy golden shoulder board with up to four pips denoting seniority as a General. The rank of Generalfeldmarschall displayed a crossed set of marshal's batons on the shoulder board. German generals also began wearing golden ornaments (Arabeske) on their collars, in contrast to the colored collar bars (Kragenspiegel) worn by the rest of the German military forces.

The rank of a Colonel General with the rank of Field Marshal (Generaloberst im range eines Generalfeldmarschall) was originally introduced in 1871. It was bestowed on senior generals usually holding the appointment of an army inspector and therefore army commanders designate in the case of hostilities. The shoulder board rank was crossed batons with three pips. The rank of Colonel General proper (with three pips only) was created in 1901. In the Prussian army the rank Field Marshal only could be awarded to active officers in wartime if they had won a battle or stormed a fortress. In times of peace the rank was awarded as an honorary rank to friendly princes and as Charakter (honorary) to generals of merit when they retired - General with the honorary rank of Field Marshall (General mit dem Charakter eines Generalfeldmarschall) - which was cancelled in 1911. At the same time the rank insignia for Colonel General with the rank of Field Marshal was changed to four pips without batons

World War II

German Army general officer shoulder insignia of WW2:
Generalfeldmarschall (to 1942) (0), Generalfeldmarschall (from 1942) (1), Generaloberst (acting Generalfeldmarschall to 1940) (2), Generaloberst (3), General (4), Generalleutnant (5), Generalmajor (6)
Luftwaffe general officer shoulder and collar insignia of WW2: Reichsmarschall (1940 Hermann Göring) (1), Generalfeldmarschall (to 1942) (2), Generalfeldmarschall (from 1942) (3), Generaloberst (4), General (5), Generalleutnant (6), Generalmajor (7)

The German rank of General saw its widest usage during World War II. Due to the massive expansion of the German military (Wehrmacht), a new “wave” of generals was promoted in the 1930s that would lead Germany into war. From 1940 there were 5 general officer ranks:
Generalfeldmarschall
Generaloberst
General (In addition to the long established General der Kavallerie, General der Artillerie and General der Infanterie. The Wehrmacht also had General der Panzertruppen (armoured troops), General der Nachschubtruppe (supply corps), General der Gebirgstruppen (mountain troops), General der Fallschirmtruppen (parachute troops) and General der Nachrichtentruppen (communications troops)).
Generalleutnant
Generalmajor

The medical and veterinarian branch of the Wehrmacht used special designations for their general officers, with Generalarzt or Generalveterinär being the equivalent of Generalmajor, Generalstabsarzt or Generalstabsveterinär the equivalent of Generalleutnant and Generaloberstabsarzt or Generaloberstabsveterinär the equivalent of General.

With the formation of the Luftwaffe, Air Force generals began to use the same general ranks as the German Army. The shoulder insignia was identical to that used by the Army, with the addition of special collar patches worn by Luftwaffe general officers. The supreme rank of Reichsmarschall (Reich Marshal) was created in 1940 for Hermann Göring.

In 1941, the Waffen-SS began using General ranks in addition to standard SS ranks. An Obergruppenführer of the Waffen-SS, for example, would be titled SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS. The Ordnungspolizei also used similar police ranks. The Waffen-SS had no Field Marshals, but the rank of Reichsführer-SS held by Heinrich Himmler was considered to be the equivalent of a Field Marshal during the later war years.

The Senior Colonel rank of SS-Oberführer has sometimes been considered to be a Brigadier General equivalent; however, as there was no equivalent in the German Army, the rank (in particular among the Waffen-SS) was not considered equivalent to a general officer.

Modern usage

Current German Army four-star general shoulder insignia

After World War II, the West German Bundeswehr and the East German Nationale Volksarmee adopted the rank systems of their respective military blocs.

In the Bundeswehr, the rank of Brigadegeneral was inserted below the rank of Generalmajor. While the rank titles of Generalmajor, Generalleutnant and General were retained, each of those titles now denotes a higher rank than before (e.g. the Generalleutnant is now a three-star general).

Prior to the reunification of Germany, general officer rank designations in the German Democratic Republic were based on the Soviet model. Generalmajor was still the lowest general officer grade, followed by Generalleutnant, Generaloberst (now three stars instead of four) and Armeegeneral. In 1982, the GDR government established the rank of Marschall der DDR, although no one was ever promoted to this rank.

Notes and references

External links

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