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Highest Military Ranks

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Highest Military Ranks

In many nations the highest military ranks are classed as being equivalent to, or are officially described as, five-star ranks. However, a number of nations have used or proposed ranks such as generalissimo which are senior to their five-star equivalent ranks. This article summarises those ranks.

Generalissimo and Generalissimus

Generalissimus of the Soviet Union

Adopted from Italian (generalissimo) and Latin (generalissimus), the rank titles literally mean "the utmost general". A number of countries, including the Republic of China, France, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Sweden and the USSR, have used these ranks. In most of these countries, the rank has only been held by one or two men.

Generalissimus of the Soviet Union

The rank of "generalissimus of the Soviet Union" was created on 27 June 1945, and granted to Joseph Stalin, who never actually wore the insignia. He was the only person ever to hold the rank.[1][2]


Goring's uniform
Shoulderboard of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring

Nazi Germany

In 1940 Nazi Germany, Hermann Göring was promoted by Adolf Hitler to Reichsmarschall, the highest rank in the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II (after the position of supreme commander, which was held by Hitler himself). Göring was the only person to hold this rank in modern times.

The rank of Reichsmarschall was originally created before the 12th century, during the time of the Holy Roman Empire. Historically, holding the rank of Reichsmarschall was neither unique nor as prestigious as it was during World War II. During the time of the German Empire and World War I, no one in the German armed forces held this rank.

First marshal of the Empire

First marshal of the empire sleeve rank insignia


The Italian rank of "first marshal of the Empire" was granted in 1938 to Benito Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III, who remain the only holders, as the rank, (and the Italian Empire), was abolished after World War II.[3]

Grand Marshal

The rank of grand marshal has been used by the armed forces of the Empire of Japan, the Republic of China and the military of North Korea. All three nations have used the Chinese rank of 大元帥 (da yuan shuai; literally "great marshal") with their own languages. In Japanese, the rank is dai-gensui and in Korean it is taewonsu.

Dai-gensui (Japan)

Dai-gensui insignia

The Japanese rank of dai-gensui ("grand marshal") was held by the Emperor of Japan in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Army (from 1889 to 1945), and was abolished in 1947. It was held by three people: Emperor Meiji, Emperor Taishō, and Emperor Shōwa.[4]

Dà Yuánshuài (China)

Da Yuan Shuai insignia

During the early years of the Republic of China, three individuals assumed the rank of "Grand Marshal of the Army and Navy" (陸海軍大元帥): Yuan Shikai in 1913, Sun Yat-sen in 1917 and Zhang Zuolin in 1927. The rank of "General Special Class" or "Generalissimo" (特級上將) was awarded to Chiang Kai-shek in 1935. No one in the PRC has ever been awarded the rank, though the supreme rank of "Grand Marshal of the People's Republic of China" (中華人民共和國大元帥 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Dà Yuánshuài) was proposed after the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 (perhaps for Mao Zedong), but was never conferred.

Taewonsu (DPRK)

Taewonsu insignia

North Korea also has the rank of taewonsu, superior to wonsu. Its insignia is based on the North Korean wonsu insignia, but with an added crest. The rank was created in 1992 when it was awarded to Kim Il-sung, who was the only holder until 2012, when his successor Kim Jong-il was awarded the title posthumously.[5]


Wonsu insignia

The rank of wonsu is used in both North Korea and South Korea.

South Korea

In South Korea it is considered a five-star rank, and uses an insignia based on the five-star insignia of the U.S. General of the Army.[6]

North Korea

Konghwaguk wonsu insignia

North Korea also maintains a rank of chasu, senior to the four-star rank of daejang, but junior to wonsu. Its insignia is a large single star, based on the insignia of marshal of the Soviet Union which is itself based on the marshal's star. North Koreans awarded the rank of wonsu have included: Kim Jong-il (1992), O Jin U (1992), Choe Kwang (1995) and Li Ul-sol (1995). Rank of marshal with the title "marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (konghwaguk wonsu) is superior to "marshal of the Korean People's Army".

Admiral of the navy

Dewey's admiral of the Navy insignia

Admiral of the Navy (United States)

Navy Department declared Dewey's rank to be senior to the then newly created five-star rank of fleet admiral.

During the preparations for the invasion of Japan, a proposal was raised by the Navy Department to appoint Chester Nimitz to the rank of admiral of the navy, or grant him some equivalent rank.[7] The proposal, however, was dropped after the Japanese surrender.

Admiral of the navy is considered to be senior to fleet admiral, and the equivalent of the U.S. Army's rank general of the armies.

General of the armies

General of the armies of the United States

Pershing's general of the armies insignia
Unofficial 1945 design for general of the armies insignia

The U.S. rank of general of the armies was first created in 1799, but not awarded.

John Pershing was promoted to "general of the armies" in 1919, from what was then the highest rank, the four-star rank of general. Under the regulations of the time, he was permitted to choose his insignia, and he chose four gold stars, in contrast to the four silver stars used by U.S. general and admiral rank insignia.

In 1945, in preparation for the invasion of Japan, it was proposed that General Douglas MacArthur be promoted to "general of the armies", and that this would explicitly be a six-star rank. However, this and a subsequent proposal in 1955 were never adopted.

In 1976, as part of the [8]

See also


  1. ^ S. M. Stemenko. Bộ Tổng tham mưu Xô viết trong chiến tranh. NXB Tiến bộ. Maskva. 1985. Bản tiếng Việt (tập II) . trang 587-588. (Vietnamese)
  2. ^ Service, Robert (2005). Stalin: A Biography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 548. ISBN 978-0-674-01697-2.
  3. ^ Montanelli, Cervi Storia d'Italia 1935/1943
  4. ^ Donald Keene, Emperor of Japan, Meiji and his World 1852-1912
  5. ^ Image of Kim Jong Il Wonsu and Kim Il Sung Dae Wonsu shoulder/collar insignia and crests.
  6. ^ Sohn, Ho-min (2006), Korean language in culture and society, University of Hawaii Press, p. 38,  
  7. ^ United States Naval Service Record of Chester Nimitz, Military Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri
  8. ^ wikisource:Public Law 94-479
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