British Army officer rank insignia

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The following are the insignia - emblems of authority - of the British Army. Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810 and the insignia was moved to the shoulder boards in 1880 for all officers in full dress.

NATO CodeOF-10OF-9OF-8OF-7OF-6OF-5OF-4OF-3OF-2OF-1OF(D)Student Officer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Field Marshal
Second Lieutenant
Officer Cadet
Not Found
Field Marshal1GeneralLieutenant-GeneralMajor-GeneralBrigadierColonelLieutenant-ColonelMajorCaptainLieutenantSecond LieutenantOfficer Cadet
Abbreviation:FMGenLt GenMaj GenBrigColLt ColMajCaptLt2LtOCdt
Typical Command Size or Appointment:[1]In abeyancemost senior appointmentscorpsdivisionbrigade or director of operation capability on staffRarely a Field Command except in RAMC. Usually lowest staff officer as principal operational advisersbattalioncompany/battery/ squadroncompany/battery/ squadron (second in command) or leader of smaller specialised teamplatoonplatoon
Typical promotion to after:[2]8-10 years5 years (university graduates 3 years)12-24 months44 weeks officer training


The first British Army rank insignia were introduced in 1760. According to the Royal Clothing Warrant, general officers were distinguished by the pattern and arrangement of laces on the cuff.

Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810. These badges consisted of (and still consist of) crowns and stars, (the latter being more likely to be called 'pips' today, although this term is technically incorrect). These rank insignia were worn on shoulder epaulettes.

The star is that of the Order of the Bath, except in the Household regiments.

The star of the Order of the Garter is used by the Life Guards, Blues and Royals, Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Welsh Guards and Honourable Artillery Company.
The star of the Order of the Thistle is used by the Scots Guards.
The star of the Order of St Patrick is used by the Irish Guards.

The Crown has varied in the past, with the King's Imperial Crown being used from 1910 until it was replaced by the St Edward's Crown from the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

In 1855, after the Crimean War, a new dress regulation was published specifying changes to collars.

In 1864, a new dress regulation specified the insignia of brigadier general to be oak leaf and acorn laces of one inch on the upper and lower collar, and no star or crown.

During 1855 to 1880, Guards infantry regimental officers wore different rank insignia.

Colonel, lieutenant colonel and major wore 1/2 inch regimental pattern laces on upper and lower collar with one crown and one star.
Captains wore similar collars with one crown.
Brevet majors wore similar collars with one star.
Lieutenants wore similar lace on the upper collar with one crown and one star.
Ensigns wore similar collars with one crown.

(Life Guards and Horse Guards regimental officers wore similar rank insignia to line infantry.)

After 1874, another dress regulation was introduced, collar devices were the same for field and company grade officers, but the collar pattern was changed. Line, light and fusilier regiments used one pattern collar, dragoon guards and dragoons used another pattern, hussars another pattern, and lancers another pattern. Individual types of regiment and corps used different patterns of collar. This pattern collar was continued until Queen Victoria's death.

All officers' badges on service dress were originally of gilding metal, except for rifle regiments and the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, which used bronze instead. A variety of alternative materials and prints have been used on various styles of dress.

The insignia was moved to the shoulder boards in 1880 for all officers in full dress, when the system of crowns and stars was reorganised on similar lines to that seen today. Exceptions included the rank of brigadier general (now brigadier - see below) and until 1902, a captain had just two stars and a lieutenant one star. From 1871, the rank of ensign (cornet in cavalry regiments) was replaced with the rank of second lieutenant, which had no insignia. The 1902 change gave the latter a single star and the insignia of lieutenants and captains were increased to two and three stars respectively. In addition to the shoulder badges, officers' ranks were also reflected in the amount and pattern of gold lace worn on the cuffs of the full-dress tunic.

Brigadier generals wore a crossed sword and baton symbol on its own. In 1922 the rank was replaced with colonel-commandant, a title that reflected the role more accurately, but which many considered to be inappropriate in a British context. From 1928 the latter was replaced with the rank of brigadier with the rank insignia used to this day.

Field marshalSix laces in equal distance1 inch wide oak leaves and acorn designed laces on upper and lower collar, with two crossed red batons above a wreath of oak leavesCrown above two crossed batons in a red field with a wreath of oak leaves
GeneralFour laces in equal distanceSimilar collar with one crown and one starCrown above star above crossed baton and sabre
Lieutenant generalSix laces in threesSimilar collar with one crownCrown above crossed baton and sabre
Major generalFour laces in pairsSimilar collar with one starStar above crossed baton and sabre
Brigadier generalThree laces, the upper two in a pair1/2 inch staff pattern laces on upper and lower collar, with one crown and one star1 inch oak leaves and acorn designed laces on upper and lower collar (i.e. similar collar with no star or crown)Crossed baton and sabre
Colonel-commandant/colonel on the staffA crown above three stars
BrigadierA crown above three stars
ColonelBullion fringed
on both sholuders
Crown and star1/2 inch regimental pattern laces on upper and lower collar, with one crown and one starA crown above two stars
Lieutenant colonelA crownSimilar collar with one crownA crown above one star
MajorA starSimilar collar with one starA crown
CaptainFringed epaulette on left shoulder1/2 inch regimental lace on upper collar with one crown and one starTwo starsThree stars
LieutenantNo insigniaSimilar collar with one crownOne starTwo stars
Similar collar with one star
Second lieutenantNo insigniaOne star

In 1902, a complex system of markings with bars and loops in thin drab braid above the cuff (known irreverently as the asparagus bed) was used at first, but this was replaced in the same year by a combination of narrow rings of worsted braid around the cuff, with the full-dress style shoulder badges on a three-pointed cuff flap. Based on equivalent naval ranks, colonels had four rings of braid, lieutenant-colonels and majors three, captains two and subalterns one. In the case of Scottish regiments, the rings were around the top of the gauntlet-style cuff and the badges on the cuff itself. General officers still wore their badges on the shoulder strap.

Officer insignia of rank as worn on the sleeves in the World War I period.

During World War I, some officers took to wearing tunics with the rank badges on the shoulder, as the cuff badges made them too conspicuous to snipers. This practice was frowned on outside the trenches but was given official sanction in 1917 as an optional alternative, being made permanent in 1920, when the cuff badges were abolished.

Since 1921 officers who hold the rank of full colonel and above and officer cadets have also been distinguishable by coloured collar patches. Today, when in combat dress (Personal Combat System - Combat Uniform (PCS-CU), which replaced Combat Soldier 95) the 'rank slide' is worn on the centre of the chest, rather than on the shoulder.

Historical ranks[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "British Army Website: Ranks". Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  2. ^ >"British Army Website: Officer careers". Retrieved 3 November 2013. 

External links[edit]