A five-star rank is a very senior military rank, first established in the United States in 1944, with a five-star general insignia, and corresponding ranks in other countries. The rank is that of the most senior operational military commanders, and within NATO's "standard rank scale" it is designated by the code OF-10.
Not all armed forces have such a rank, and in those that do the actual insignia of the "five-star ranks" may not contain five stars. For example: the insignia for the French OF-10 rank maréchal de France contains 7 stars; the insignia for the Portuguese marechal contains four gold stars; and many of the insignia of the ranks in Commonwealth of Nations contain no stars at all.
Typically, five-star officers hold the rank of general of the army, admiral of the fleet, field marshal, marshal or general of the air force, and several other similarly named ranks. Five-star ranks are extremely senior—usually the highest ranks. As an active rank, the position exists only in a minority of countries and is usually held by only a very few officers during wartime. In times of peace, it is usually held only as an honorary rank. Traditionally, five-star ranks are granted to distinguished military commanders for notable wartime victories and/or in recognition of a record of achievement during the officer's career, whether in peace or in war. Alternatively, a five-star rank (or even higher ranks) may be assumed by heads of state in their capacities as commanders-in-chief of their nation's armed forces.
Despite the rarity and seniority of five-star officers, even more senior ranks have been adopted in the United States, namely, admiral of the navy and general of the armies. Other names for highly senior ranks from the twentieth century include généralissime (France), generalisimo (Spain) and generalissimus (USSR).
Australian five-star ranks
Only one Australian born officer (Sir Thomas Blamey) has held a substantive Australian five-star rank (field marshal). HM King George VI and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh have held all three Australian five-star ranks in an honorary capacity, and have been the only holders of the Australian ranks of admiral of the fleet and marshal of the RAAF.
Brazilian five-star ranks
Five-star ranks in Brazil are only used in wartime.
Croatian five-star ranks
- Stožerni general (lit. "staff general", usually translated as general of the army) awarded to six men, none of whom are in active duty.
- Admiral flote (admiral of the fleet). The rank was called stožerni admiral (lit. "staff admiral") until 1999; only Sveto Letica was awarded this rank – in March 1996, three months before his retirement.
Indian five-star ranks
- Admiral of the fleet, never been held
- Field marshal, held by K. M. Cariappa and Sam Manekshaw
- Marshal of the Air Force, held by Arjan Singh
Indonesian five-star ranks
The Indonesian five star ranks are:
Pakistani five-star ranks
The following ranks have never been awarded:
- Admiral of the fleet
- Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force
Polish five-star ranks
Marshal of Poland (Marszałek Polski) is a Polish Army five-star rank. There are today no living marshals of Poland, since this rank is bestowed only on military commanders who have achieved victory in war.
Spanish five-star ranks
These ranks have been reserved for the reigning monarch.
Thai five-star ranks
- Chom Phon (Thai: จอมพล), Royal Thai Army
- Chom Phon Ruea (Thai: จอมพลเรือ), Royal Thai Navy
- Chom Phon Akat (Thai: จอมพลอากาศ), Royal Thai Air Force
The monarch of Thailand is appointed to the three ranks automatically upon accession as he is the constitutional Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces. Since 1973 the three ranks have been reserved for members of the royal family.
UK five-star ranks
- Admiral of the fleet (awarded to 121 men to date)
- Field Marshal (awarded to 140 men to date)
- Marshal of the Royal Air Force (awarded to 27 men to date)
- Captain General of the Royal Marines (awarded to five members of the British Royal Family, currently held by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex)
Promotion to the ranks of Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Air Force is now generally held in abeyance in peacetime with exceptions for special circumstances. Promotion to the rank of Field Marshal was generally stopped in 1995 as a cost-cutting measure but is still made in some cases. The most recent appointments to five-star ranks are the promotions in 2012 of The Prince of Wales to honourary five-star rank in all three services, and of former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank to the honorary rank of Field Marshal. In 2014 the former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Stirrup was promoted to the honourary rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
During World War II and after, serving NATO, a small number of British five-star commanders have held the additional title Supreme Allied Commander, given operational control over all air, land, and sea units led by the four-star commanders of multi-national forces.
U.S. five-star ranks
- Fleet Admiral (held by four officers)
- General of the Army (held by five officers)
- General of the Air Force (held by one officer)
Before the five-star ranks were established in 1944, two officers had previously been promoted from their four-star ranks to the superior and unique ranks of Admiral of the Navy and General of the Armies: Admiral George Dewey (appointment 1903 retroactive to 1899, died 1917) and General John J. Pershing (appointed 1919, died 1948). In 1944 the Navy and Army specified that these officers were considered senior to any officers promoted to the five-star ranks within their services (but it was not clear if they were senior by rank or by seniority due to an earlier date of rank).
Five-star ranks were created in the US military during World War II because of the awkward situation created when some American senior commanders were placed in positions commanding allied officers of higher rank. US officers holding five-star rank never retire; they draw full active duty pay for life. The five-star ranks were retired in 1981 on the death of General of the Army Omar Bradley.
Nine Americans have been promoted to five-star rank, one of them, Henry H. Arnold, in two services (US Army then later in the US Air Force). As part of the bicentennial celebration, George Washington was, 177 years after his death, permanently made senior to all other US generals and admirals with the title General of the Armies effective on 4 July 1976. The appointment stated he was to have "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present".
During World War II and (later) serving NATO, a small number of American five-star commanders have also held the additional title of Supreme Allied Commander, given operational control over all air, land, and sea units led by the four-star commanders of multi-national forces.
- The Australian insignia for admiral of the fleet, field marshal and marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force, depending on the era, are either identical to, or very similar to, the British insignia. Currently, Prince Philip is the only holder of these Australian ranks. Note that although the highest active New Zealand rank is three-star, (there are no New Zealand four-star rank holders), Prince Philip holds five-star ranks in the New Zealand Armed Forces.
- With the exception of Thomas Blamey and the Englishman William Birdwood, who both held the rank of field marshal, all other holders of Australian five-star ranks have been ceremonial.
The following Americans have been promoted to five-star rank:
• Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy 15 December 1944 • General of the Army George Marshall 16 December 1944 • Fleet Admiral Ernest King 17 December 1944 • General of the Army Douglas MacArthur 18 December 1944 • Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz 19 December 1944 • General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower 20 December 1944 • General of the Army & Air Force Henry H. Arnold 21 December 1944 & 7 May 1949 • Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr. 11 December 1945 • General of the Army Omar Bradley 20 September 1950 • General of the Armies George Washington 4 July 1976, with an effective appointment date of 4 July 1776a
- ^a During the United States Bicentennial year, George Washington was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by the congressional joint resolution Public Law 94-479 passed on 19 January 1976, with an effective appointment date of 4 July 1976 but having rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present. This restored Washington's position as the most senior US military officer. Between the joint resolution concerning Washington's rank, the fact that Omar Bradley was still alive, and thus still considered to be on active duty, and statements made and actions taken during and after World War II about the relationship between General of the Armies and General of the Army, it appears General of the Armies is superior in rank to General of the Army.
- ^b No official law or regulation established exact seniority or reciprocity between Admiral of the Navy Dewey, and Generals of the Armies Washington and Pershing. While Congress clearly indicated that Washington was senior to Pershing, and also all other "officers of the United States Army," and by decades of custom Pershing was considered senior to all 5-star and other 4-star generals of the US Army, nowhere is Dewey's exact seniority established. As Washington was explicitly made senior only to Pershing and other officers of the US Army, ambiguity remains whether Admiral Dewey, with a date of rank as early as 1899 above a 4-star, and senior to all later 5-stars, is not actually senior to Washington by date of rank, and by operation of Naval custom making Dewey senior to all 5-stars. As Dewey died (and his rank died with him) before Pershing was appointed to his final rank, and the Army and Navy were far more independent before the creation of the Department of Defense unified them, this could indicate Admiral of the Navy Dewey, not General of the Armies Washington, is actually the most senior ranking US military officer in US history. By definition, officers of each Armed Force rank amongst themselves by seniority. And when they serve with other Armed Services (Army and Navy, for example), they rank amongst themselves by date of rank notwithstanding their parent Service. In the case of Dewey, he is undisputedly the senior most Navy officer ever to have served in the US Navy, and he had nearly 20 years of seniority over Pershing as a "special rank, above 4-star." Washington's own, revised, date of rank in 1976 does not precede Dewey's date of rank nearly 75 years before, nor did Congress describe in unambiguous wording that Washington was -- in fact -- senior to all officers of the US Army, as well as all other US Armed Forces including the US Navy. Had Congress chosen to explicitly so state, there would be no ambiguity, but it remains unsettled if -- in spite of the desired outcome that Washington be the senior US military officer to have ever served -- Congress' ways and means achieved their object.
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