General (Germany)


General (Germany)

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

"General" (pronounced|genəˈraːl) 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").

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.Fact|date=February 2007 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 Infantry), "General der Kavallerie" (General of Cavalry) and "General der Artillerie" (General of 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.

World War II

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.

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

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.


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