Military ranks of the German Empire


The military ranks of the German Empire were the ranks used by the military of the German Empire. It inherited the various traditions and military ranks of its constituent states.

Ranks of the Imperial German Army

The German Army from 1871 to 1914 inherited the various traditions and military ranks of its constituent states, thus becoming a truly federal armed service.

Enlisted (Mannschaften/Gemeine) ranks

Additionally, the following voluntary enlistees were distinguished:

  • One-Year Volunteer Enlistee (Einjährig-Freiwilliger): despite the name, one-year volunteers were actually conscripts who served a short-term form of active military service, open for enlistees up to the age of 25. Such enlisted soldiers were usually high school graduates (Matura, Abitur), who would opt to serve a one-year term rather than the regular two or three-year conscription term, with free selection of their chosen military service branch and unit, but throughout were obligated to equip and subsist themselves at entirely their own cost. In today's monetary value, this could at bare minimum cost some 10,000 euro, which purposely reserved this path open to officer-material sons from mostly affluent social class families wishing to pursue the Reserve-Officer path; it was the specific intention of Wilhelm II that such Reserve-Officer career path should only be open to members of so-called "officer-material" social classes.[3] On absolving their primary recruit training and shorter military service term, those aspiring to become Reserve-Officers would have to qualify and achieve suitability for promotion to the Gefreiter rank and then would continue to receive further specialized instruction until the end of their one-year term, usually attaining and leaving as surplus Corporals (überzählige Unteroffiziere) (Reservists), with the opportunity to advance further as reservists. Enlistees who did not aspire to officer grade would leave at the end of their one-year term as Gemeine[b] (Ordinary soldier) enlisted rank (for example Musketier or Infanterist) and a six-year reserve duty obligation.[3] Eligibility for this specific one-year path of military service was a privilege approved upon examining the enlistee's suitability and academic qualifications.
  • Long-Term Volunteer Enlistee "Capitulant" (Kapitulant): enlisted soldiers who had already absolved their regular two or three-year military conscription term and had now volunteered to continue serving for further terms, minimum was 4 years, generally up to 12 years.[5][c]

Note: Einjährig-Freiwilliger and Kapitulant were not ranks as such during this specific period of use, but voluntary military enlistee designations. They, however, wore a specific uniform distinction (twisted wool piping along their shoulder epaulette edging for Einjährig-Freiwilliger, the Kapitulant a narrow band across their lower shoulder epaulette) in the colours of their respective nation state. This distinction was never removed throughout their military service nor during any rank grade advancements.

Title Kapitulant Einjährig-Freiwilliger Obergefreiter Gefreiter Soldat
English designation Capitulant One-Year Volunteer Enlistee Senior Lance Corporal Lance Corporal Private

Non-commissioned officers / Unteroffiziere

Late WWI uniform of the 73rd Fusilier Regiment at the Imperial War Museum in London

Junior NCOs (NCOs without Sword Knot) / Unteroffizier ohne Portepee

Senior NCOs (NCOs with Sword Knot) / Unteroffizier mit Portepee

  • Sergeant Major 2nd class (Infantry: Vice-Feldwebel, Cavalry and Artillery: Vizewachtmeister/Vice-Wachtmeister) – rank held by reserve officer candidates after they passed lieutenant's examination
  • Sergeant-Major (Infantry: Feldwebel (i.e. Etatmäßiger Feldwebel: CSM officially listed on the regiment's payroll, i.e. Etat), Cavalry and Artillery: (Etatmäßiger) Wachtmeister)

Warrant Officers and Officer Cadets

  • Cadet (Fahnenjunker, ranking between Sergeant and Vizefeldwebel) – served as cadets in the various military academies and schools.
  • Ensign (Fähnrich, ranking between Vize-Feldwebel and Etatmäßiger Feldwebel)
  • Deputy Officer (Offizierstellvertreter, ranking above Etatmäßiger Feldwebel)
  • Acting Lieutenant (Feldwebelleutnant, ranking as youngest 2nd Lieutenant, but without officer's commission and still member of the NCO's Mess until 1917)

Officer corps

Critics long believed that the Army's officer corps was heavily dominated by Junker aristocrats, so that commoners were shunted into low-prestige branches, such as the heavy artillery or supply. However, by the 1890s, the top ranks were opened to highly talented commoners.[7][8]

Subalterns / Subalternoffiziere

Designation Subalterns
Shoulder DR Hauptmann v 1918.png DR Hauptmann v 1918.png DR Oberleutnant v 1918.png DR Leutnant v 1918.png
Rank designation Hauptmann/Kapitän I Klasse: infantry and artillery
Rittmeister I Klasse: cavalry
Hauptmann/Kapitän II Klasse: infantry and artillery
Rittmeister II Klasse: cavalry
Leutnant: infantry, cavalry and other arms
Feuerwerksleutnant: artillery
(English designation) Captain Staff Captain[d] 1st Lieutenant 2nd Lieutenant

Staff Officers / Stabsoffiziere

Designation Staff Officers
Shoulder Oberst (Prussia).gif Oberstleutnant (Hessen).gif Major (Sachsen).gif
Rank designation Oberst Oberstleutnant Major
(English designation) Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major

General Officers / Generäle

Designation General Officers
Shoulder DR Generalfeldmarschall 1918.gif Preußen OF10 GenOberst iRd GenFM 1832.png KHeer OF9 GenOberst (Bayern) 1918.gif General (Wurttenburg).gif
Rank designation Generalfeldmarschall Generaloberst mit dem
Rang als Generalfeldmarschall
Generaloberst General der Waffengattung Generalleutnant Generalmajor
(English designation) General Field Marshal Colonel General in the rank of Field Marshal Colonel General General of the branch Lieutenant General Major General

Naval ranks and ratings

The Imperial German Navy's rank and rating system combined that of Prussia's with the navies of other northern states.

Flag Officers

Admiral ranks
Title Großadmiral Admiral Vizeadmiral Konteradmiral
Epaulette[9] Großadmiral (OF-10).gif Admiral (OF-8).gif Vizeadmiral (OF-7).gif Konteradmiral (OF-6).gif
Sleeve lace Kaiserliche Marine-Großadmiral.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Admiral.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Vizeadmiral.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Konteradmiral.svg
Command flag KMarine OF10-Grossadmiral-Flag 1918.svg Admiral.svg Vizeadmiral.svg Konteradmiral.svg
English designation Grand Admiral Admiral Vice admiral Rear Admiral

Naval officers

Line officers
Title Kapitän zur See Fregattenkapitän Korvettenkapitän Kapitänleutnant Oberleutnant zur See Leutnant zur See Deckoffizier-Leutnant
Epaulette[9] Kapitän zur See (OF-5).gif Fregattenkapitän (OF-4).gif Korvettenkapitän (OF-3).gif Kapitänleutnant (OF-2).gif Oberleutnant zur See (OF-1a).gif Leutnant zur See (OF-1).gif
Sleeve lace Kaiserliche Marine-Kapitän zur See.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Fregattenkapitän.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Korvettenkapitän.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Kapitänleutnant.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Oberleutnant zur See.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Leutnant zur See.svg
English designation Captain at Sea Frigate Captain Corvette Captain Captain Lieutenant Senior Lieutenant at Sea Lieutenant at Sea Deck Officer Lieutenant (from 1916)

Officer cadets

Officer training ranks
Title Oberfähnrich zur See Fähnrich zur See Seekadett
Epaulette[9] Fähnrich.gif
Sleeve Kaiserliche Marine-Oberfähnrich zur See.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Fähnrich zur See.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Seekadett.svg
English designation Midshipman Sea cadet Junior sea cadet

Warrant Officers

Warrant officers
Title Deckoffiziere
als Offizier-Stellvertreter
Oberdeckoffizier Deckoffizier
Shoulder[9] Vicedeckoffizier (AB 1914).gif Oberdeckoffizier.gif Deckoffizier.gif
English designation Chief Warrant Officer
as Acting Commissioned Officer.
Chief Warrant Officer Warrant Officer
Specialty designations Offizier-Stellvertreter Oberbootsmann
English designation Acting Commissioned Officer Chief Boatswain
Chief Helmsman
Chief Artificer

Petty Officers

Senior Petty Officers Junior Petty Officers
Title Feldwebel Vize-Feldwebel Obermaat Maat
Sleeve[9] Vicefeldwebel und Feldwebel.gif Obermaat.gif Maat.gif
English designation Chief Petty Officer 1st Class
(with additional stripe around the sleeve)
Chief Petty Officer Petty Officer 1st Class

(Chief Mate)

Petty Officer



Title Obermatrose Einjährig-Freiwilliger Matrose
Sleeve[9] Kriegsmarine - Matrosengefreiter.svg Einjhahriger Freiwilliger.gif
English designation Seaman 1st Class Seaman Volunteer
(i.e.: Reserve Officer Candidate)


  1. ^ Duden; Origin and meaning of "Korporal", in German.[1]
  2. ^ Duden; Definition of "Gemeine", in German.[4]
  3. ^ Duden; Definition of "Kapitulant", in German.[6]
  4. ^ Several German armies and national contingents, including Prussia and Bavaria, traditionally used two different captain ranks that originated with the ownership of units. By the end of the 19th century that dual-system had been gradually phased out and replaced by a single rank.


  1. ^ Korporal
  2. ^ a b "Gefreiter" – Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, Erste Section, A-G, (Universal Encyclopaedia of the Sciences and Arts, First Section, A-G), Author: Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber, Publisher: F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1852, Page 471-472, in German. [1]
  3. ^ a b Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Edition, Volume 6, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1885–1892, Page 659. in German
  4. ^ Gemeine Buchstabe Soldat
  5. ^ Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Edition, Volume 10, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1885–1892, Page 116, in German
  6. ^ Kapitulant
  7. ^ Ulrich Trumpener, "Junkers and Others: The Rise of Commoners in the Prussian Army, 1871–1914," Canadian Journal of History (1979) 14#1 pp 29–47
  8. ^ Dennis E. Showalter, "The Political Soldiers of Bismarck's Germany: Myths and Realities," German Studies Review (1994) 17#1 pp. 59–77 in JSTOR
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Dienstgrade und Uniformen." Kleinen Kreuzers “Dresden” (I). Retrieved 2017-09-22.