Ranks in the French Army

French Army

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See Ranks in the French Navy for more details about the naval ranks

Rank insignia in the French army are worn on the sleeve or on shoulder marks of uniforms, and range up to the highest rank of Marshal of France, a state honour denoted with a seven-star insignia that was last conferred posthumously on Marie Pierre Koenig in 1984.

Infantry arms and cavalry arms

Rank insignia in the French army depend on whether the soldier belongs to an infantry or cavalry unit. The infantry arms (armes à pied) include normal infantry, naval troops, the Foreign Legion and engineers; cavalry arms (armes à cheval) include armoured cavalry, artillery, maintenance and logistics. Sleeves are emblazoned with marks denoting either gold insignia for the infantry or silver/white for the cavalry. However, the artillery uses gold as the main colour, despite being a cavalry branch, and spahis use gold as the main colour despite being part of the cavalry, a distinction representing the armoured cavalry.


Insignia of a marshal of France

The title of "marshal of France" (maréchal de France) is awarded as a distinction, rather than a rank. The marshals wear seven stars and carry a baton.

Famous examples include Turenne, Vauban, Joachim Murat, Michel Ney, Bazaine, Guillaume Brune, Louis Nicolas Davout, Patrice MacMahon, André Masséna, Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Marie Pierre Koenig and Alphonse Juin.

Philippe Pétain, who became famous as Maréchal Pétain, chief of state of the Vichy France regime, retained his title even after his trial and imprisonment and after he was stripped of other positions and titles.

Six marshals of France have been given the even more exalted rank of "marshal general of France" (maréchal général de France): Biron, Lesdiguières, Turenne, Villars, Saxe and Soult.


Although they all wear the same insignia and titles, officers are divided into:

Généraux - general officers

There is no distinction between infantry and cavalry generals, since they are all supposed to be able to command any type of unit.

Officiers supérieurs - senior officers

In the below descriptions, "horse-mounted" does not refer to current units (the only remaining horse-mounted unit is a ceremonial unit in the Republican Guard) but to the traditional affiliation of the units.


The word colonel originates in the medieval term capitaine colonel, "the head (officer) of a column" (=regiment). Lieutenant-colonel is the one who can "hold the place" of a colonel in his absence (lieu-tenant, from tenir lieu which means to hold the place). The word chef or "chief" in English comes from the Latin word caput meaning "head".

A colonel commands a regiment of the army or a groupement of the Gendarmerie. During the French Revolution, they were called chef de brigade. Cavalry arms wear silver. The origin of the difference in metal colour is that infantry officers once wore silver epaulettes, while those of the cavalry and other arms wore gold, and the colour of the rank badge had to differ from these metals in each case.


The lieutenant-colonel has the same responsibilities as a colonel. They were called major during the First French Empire. Notice that the metal colours alternate silver and gold in each case, as opposed to those of the colonels. This characteristic goes back at least to alternating stripes on the uniforms of that empire in epaulettes.


Commandant (also called chef de bataillon in the infantry, chef d'escadrons in the cavalry and chef d'escadron in the artillery and in the army light aviation) is equivalent to a major in English-speaking countries.

Officiers subalternes - junior officers


A capitaine is in command of a company (compagnie) of infantry, a squadron (escadron) of cavalry or a battery (batterie) of artillery.


A lieutenant (lieutenant or first lieutenant) commands a platoon (section) of infantry, a troop (peloton) of cavalry, or a brigade of the Gendarmerie.


A Sous-lieutenant (sub-lieutenant or second lieutenant) commands at the same level as a lieutenant, but is a more junior officer rank.


Sous-officiers - sub-officers, i.e. non-commissioned officers

Note the difference with many army rank systems of other countries where the term major is used for a rank above that of captain. For example, the rank of "major" in the US Army or British army is equivalent to the rank of "commandant" in the French army.

Etymologically the adjudant is the adjoint ("joint (assistant)") of an officer, and the sergeant "serves" (Latin: serviens = English: servant).

Aspirants are cadet officers still in training. Sous-lieutenants are junior officers and are often aided by adjudants or adjudants-chefs, who are experienced NCOs/warrant officers.

Full lieutenants are experienced junior officers, served by sergeants when commanding their unit.

A four chevron sergent-chef-major rank existed until 1947. It was a ceremonial rank usually given to the most senior or experienced NCO in a unit, similar to a colour sergeant in the British Army. It was discontinued in the post-war army due to its redundancy.

Militaires du rang - Troop ranks

Junior enlisted grades have different cloth stripe and beret colour depending on the service they are assigned to. Troupes métropolitaines ("from the French mainland") units wear blue, Troupes de marine (the former troupes coloniales) wear red, and the Légion Étrangere (Foreign Legion) units wear green.

P.S.: A red beret indicates a paratrooper, whether from the "troupes de marine" or not. A legionnaire paratrooper wears a green beret with the general parachutist badge on it, the same badge used by all French Army paratroopers who completed their training.

Senior grades' lace stripe metal depends on their arm of service, just like the officiers. Infantry and support units wear gold stripes and cavalry and technical services units wear silver stripes.

There are also distinctions to distinguish volunteers and conscripts, and bars for experience (one for five years, up to four can be obtained).

Engineer officer ranks

Army Commissariat Service officer ranks

These ranks apply the word commissaire in light of their participation and role in the Commissariat Service of the army.

Table of ranks

Maréchaux de France - Marshals of France
Maréchal de France
Marshal of France is not an actual rank, but a "state honour" for highly valorous generals in times of war
Officiers généraux - General officers
Général de brigade Général de division Général de corps d'armée Général d'armée
Commands a brigade Commands a division Commands a corps. Commands an army.
Officiers supérieurs - Senior officers
Infantry/Air Force (Armée de l'air)
Commandant (Chef d'escadron(s) in some arms) Lieutenant-colonel Colonel
Officiers subalternes - Junior officers
Aspirant Sous-lieutenant Lieutenant Capitaine
Major - Warrant Officer (until 2008), High Ranking Sub-officer (since 2009)
Sous-officiers - Sub-officers
Élève sous-officier Sergent (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis (cavalry arms) Sergent-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Maréchal des logis-chef (cavalry arms) Adjudant Adjudant-chef
A four chevron sergent-chef major existed up till 1947
Militaires du rang - Rank and File
Soldat 1e classe Caporal (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier (cavalry arms) Caporal-chef (infantry arms/air force) / Brigadier-chef (cavalry arms) Caporal-chef (1e classe) / Brigadier-chef (1e classe)

Ranks formerly used in the Army

See also

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