Military Ranking Systems of Germany and the United States
- United States Military Ranking System (this page)
- Comparative Ranking Systems of WW II Germany and America (this page)
- The SS, it's Origins, Purpose, and function within the German Military Establishment (this page)
United States Military Ranking System
After World War II the United States military underwent a massive reorganization. The Department of Defense (DoD) was formed and the Army and Navy were placed under it. The Air Force was separated from the Army, and made co-equal to the Army and Navy under the DoD. Afterwards the DoD began applying "E" (Enlisted), "W" (Warrant officers), and "O" (Officer) numbers to every rank in the U.S. military for the purpose of standardizing pay scales across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as National Guard, and Air National Guard.
For non-American readers a brief explanation of the National Guard might be useful. Unlike the United States Army the National Guards have, for many decades, existed for the purpose of keeping peace in time of crisis, such as civil unrest and natural disasters, in each state where that guard resided (California National Guard, Oklahoma National Guard, Florida National Guard, etc.). However, the National Guards are not entirely autonomous from federal control. The National Guards are administered by the United States Army, and issues of training, tactics, equipment are established by the Army. Likewise, the Air National Guards of each state are administered by the United States Air Force.
Furthermore, National Guard units are becoming increasingly just as likely as regular Army units to be called into action in overseas conflicts. Guard units are viewed as "reserve" units, to supplement and relieve regular Army and Air Force units. Also, the DoD is currently experimenting with "blended" units, mixing Army and Air Guard units with regular Army and Air Force units. For example, Lt. Colonel William Bohnstedt began his aviation career with the Arizona Air National Guard, but later transferred to a bomb wing of the Georgia Air National Guard. In 2002 Major Bohnstedt's unit lost it's bombers (and it's function as a bomb wing) and was "blended" with the 93rd Air Control Wing of the United States Air Force. Most likely the purpose of this blending is to make Guard units more available to the regular Air Force as a supplementary force, while making Air Force experience and facilities more available to Guard units for training.
The Coast Guard differs from the National Guard and the Air National Guard in that it is not administered by the United States Navy. The Coast Guard does copy the Navy in many areas of training, tactics, equipment and ranking, and relies upon U.S. Navy guidance and experience. But unlike the Army, Air Force and National Guards, which come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard is officially administered by the Department of Transportation. This allows the Coast Guard, which is a key player in federal law enforcement, such as drug trafficking and counter-terrorism, to stop and board foreign vessels at sea for the purposes of "safety inspections" and searches in criminal matters. A military (navy) ship stopping and boarding a foreign vessel can easily be classified as an act of war and lead to an international crisis.
With regard to Warrant Officers; Although the Air Force did use Warrant Officers at one time, the Air Force came to the conclusion that they had more than enough commissioned officers to carry out the functions of warrant officers and discontinued the use of warrant officers during the 1950's.
U.S. Army &
Army National Guard
U.S. Air Force &
Air National Guard
U.S. Navy &
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Marine Corps O-10 Army Chief of Staff / General of the Army O-10 Air Force Chief of Staff O-10 Navy Chief of Staff / Admiral of the Navy O-10 Commandant of the Marine Corps O-10 General (GEN) O-10 General (Gen) O-10 Admiral (ADM) O-10 General (Gen) O-9 Lieutenant General (LG) O-9 Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) O-9 Vice Admiral (VADM) O-9 Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) O-8 Major General (MG) O-8 Major General (Maj Gen) O-8 Rear Admiral Upper Half (RADM) O-8 Major General (Maj Gen) O-7 Brigadier General (BG) O-7 Brigadier General (Brig Gen) O-7 Rear Admiral Lower Half (RADM) O-7 Brigadier General (Brig Gen) O-6 Colonel (COL) O-6 Colonel (Col) O-6 Captain (CAPT) O-6 Colonel (Col) O-5 Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) O-5 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) O-5 Commander (CDR) O-5 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) O-4 Major (MAJ) O-4 Major (Maj) O-4 Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) O-4 Major (Maj) O-3 Captain (CPT) O-3 Captain (Capt) O-3 Lieutenant (LT) O-3 Captain (Capt) O-2 First Lieutenant (1LT) O-2 First Lieutenant (1st Lt) O-2 Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) O-2 First Lieutenant (1st Lt) O-1 Second Lieutenant (2LT) O-1 Second Lieutenant (2d Lt) O-1 Ensign (ENS) O-1 Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt) W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5) W-5 W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CWO5) W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CWO5) W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) W-4 W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4) W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4) W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) W-3 W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CWO3) W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CWO3) W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) W-2 W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2) W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2) W-1 Warrant Officer 1 (WO) W-1 W-1 Warrant Officer 1 (W1) W-1 Warrant Officer 1 (W1) E-10 Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) E-10 Chief Master Sgt of the
Air Force (CMSAF)
E-10 MCPO of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) E-10 Sergeant Major of the MC (SgtMajMC) E-9 Command Sergeant Major (CSM) E-9 Command Chief Master Sergeant (CCM) E-9 MCPO of the Navy (MCPON) E-9 Sergeant Major (SgtMaj) E-9 Sergeant Major (SMG/CMG) E-9 Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) E-9 Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) E-9 Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt) E-8 Master / First Sergeant (MSG/1SG) E-8 Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt) E-8 Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO) E-8 Master/First Sergeant (MSgt) E-7 Sergeant First Class (SFC/PSG) E-7 Master Sergeant (MSgt) E-7 Chief Petty Officer (CPO) E-7 Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) E-6 Staff Sergeant (SSG) E-6 Technical Sergeant (TSgt) E-6 Petty Officer First Class (PO1) E-6 Staff Sergeant (SSgt) E-5 Sergeant (SGT) E-5 Staff Sergeant (SSgt) E-5 Petty Officer Second Class (PO2) E-5 Sergeant (Sgt) E-4 Corporal / Specialist (CPL/SP4) E-4 Senior Airman (SrA) E-4 Petty Officer Third Class (PO3) E-4 Corporal (Cpl) E-3 Private First Class (PFC) E-3 Airman First Class (A1C) E-3 Seaman (SN) E-3 Lance Corporal (LCpl) E-2 Private (PV-2) (PVT) E-2 Airman (AMN) E-2 Seaman Apprentice (SA) E-2 Private First Class (PFC) E-1 Private (PV-1) (PVT) E-1 Airman Basic (AB) E-1 Seaman Recruit (SR) E-1 Private (PVT)
Comparative Ranking Systems of WW II Germany and America
There has always been a great deal of similarity between the military ranking systems of various European nations, as well as that of the United States, whose military culture was born out of Europe. However, there are slight differences here and there, and the English and German linguistic differences help to add to the confusion.
SS ranks added even more complexity to the German military ranking system during the Second World War. During the 1930's and 1940's the SS held their own rank names, although the ranking system itself was roughly similar to that of the German Army.
(German Air Force)
U.S. Army Equivalent
U.S. Navy Equivalent
Generalfeldmarschall Generalfeldmarschall Grossadmiral Reichsführer - SS General of the Army Admiral of the Navy Generaloberst Generaloberst Generaladmiral SS-Oberstgruppenführer General General der
General of Infantry, etc.)
General of Infantry, etc.)
Admiral SS-Oberstgruppenführer General Admiral Generalleutnant Generalleutnant Konteradmiral SS-Obergruppenführer Lt. General Vice Admiral Generalmajor Generalmajor Vizeadmiral SS-Gruppenführer Major General Rear Admiral SS-Brigadeführer Brigadier General SS-Oberführer (No U.S. Equivalent) Oberst Oberst Kapitaen zur See Kommodore SS-Standartenführer Colonel Captain Oberstleutnant Oberstleutnant Fregattenkapitän SS-Obersturmbannführer Lt. Colonel Commander Major Major Korvettenkapitän SS-Sturmbannführer Major Lt. Commander Hauptmann Hauptmann Kapitänleutnant SS-Hauptsturmführer Captain Lieutenant Oberleutnant Oberleutnant Oberleutnant zur See SS-Obersturmführer 1st Lieutenant Lt. Junior Grade Leutnant Leutnant Leutnant zur See SS-Untersturmführer 2nd Lieutenant Ensign Stabsfeldwebel Stabsfeldwebel Stabsoberfeldwebel SS-Sturmscharführer Sergeant Major Master Chief Petty Officer Oberfaehnrich Oberfähnrich zur See Oberfeldwebel
Master Sergeant Chief Petty Officer Feldwebel Feldwebel Feldwebel SS-Oberscharführer Technical sergeant Fähnrich Fähnrich zur See Unterfeldwebel Unterfeldwebel Obermaat SS-Scharführer Staff Sergeant Petty Officer 1st Class Unteroffizier Unteroffizier Maat SS-Unterscharführer Sergeant Petty Officer 2nd Class Gefreiter
Corporal Petty Officer 3rd Class Gefreiter Gefreiter Matrosengefreiter none none Oberschuetze
SS-Oberschuetze PFC Seaman Schuetze
Flieger Matrose SS-Schuetze Private Seaman Apprentice
The SS, it's Origins, Purpose, and function within the German Military Establishment
We were able to positively identify a small number of Bohnstedts from the German branches who were members of the SS. Europeans, especially Germans, know very well of the history and purpose of the SS in the Second World War. Some older Americans are also familiar with the SS. But I found that many younger Americans have either never heard of the SS, or if they had, they were unfamiliar with details about the history of the SS. For that matter many younger Americans have little or no understanding of the Second World War or the Cold War.
Where I found Bohnstedts with SS service I simply listed it as "military service" for the sake of simplicity. However the structure of the SS and the functions of it's various branches were complex. Not all of these functions were purely "military" in nature, by which I mean the application of armed force by one group of people upon another group of armed people. In other words, some branches and functions of the SS were used for armed combat, but others were tasked with police work and political enforcement, and still other SS groups (the most infamous) carried out exterminations of unarmed civilians.
"SS" is an acronym for Schutzstaffel, which is a Protective Force. The SS started out as a small paramilitary force organized by former army sergeant Sepp Dietrich, and was loyal to Hitler even before he had taken power in Germany. One of their primary functions was to be Hitler's personal bodyguard. After Hitler came to power the SS was dramatically developed and increased in their size and scope. By the time of the Second World War there were several branches of the SS. The most infamous were the Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head divisions), and the Einsatzgruppen ("Special Action Units"). The Totenkopf units were tasked with running the concentration and extermination camps, while the job of the Einsatz units was to move into areas newly conquered by the army and execute peoples deemed by the Nazi party and the Reich to be "undesirables"; i.e. Jews, Gypsies, Polish intellectuals, etc.
The Gestapo state security service was eventually placed under the control and jurisdiction of the SS, and there were various smaller SS groups with specialized purposes. For example, an SS Cavalry Corps was created mainly for the purpose of attracting and recruiting young men from upper class families and nobility into Nazi indoctrination and SS military service.
There was another aspect to the SS that was really geared towards the indoctrination of civilians into Nazi culture. Prominent industrial and business leaders, scientists, engineers, and others were invited to join the SS. If need be they were pressured into joining the SS. These particular SS memberships were more like memberships in fraternal organizations for men. Typically, such professional men who joined the SS were not sent to duty in combat or in extermination camps. And although they were given uniforms, they were rarely ever worn. For example, Wernher von Braun, the brains behind the German rocket program during the war, and later the father of the American space program, was a member of the SS. He later alleged that he was pressured to join but did not feel any particular loyalty to Nazi ideals.
Such men were given opportunities as industrialists and scientists by joining the SS. Von Braun alleges that he was told that he must join if he wanted to continue his research work. Alfried Krupp, one of the last of the Krupp industrial dynasty during the war years, was also a member of the SS. He was allowed to lay claim to large numbers of factories and industrial facilities in Poland and eastern Europe as the German campaigns moved east and annexed these lands.
Membership in the SS was was probably meant to help ensure the loyalty of these men. As scientists and industrial leaders they were usually involved in doing something for the German war effort, and therefore were given prisoners to be used as slave labor, whether they wanted it or not (and usually they did). As members of the SS they would be held complicit in the use of this slave labor should Germany lose the war, and would therefore be less likely to turn against the Nazi government during the war.
The Waffen SS ("Armed SS"), on the other hand, existed for the purpose of military armed combat, and did so alongside regular army forces during their campaigns of conquest. The main difference between the two was that the Army existed for the protection of the German nation, regardless of it's politics, while the Waffen SS existed for the protection of the Nazi party, and the building of the Nazi Third Reich, and as such were fanatically and slavishly loyal to Nazi ideals. That said, Waffen SS units were known for their willingness to fight, and did so aggressively, often incurring heavy losses upon themselves.
Unfortunately for the Waffen SS the glowing reputation it gained for courage in combat was often dimmed by a willingness to behave in a less than valiant fashion, such as the massacres of prisoners and unarmed civilians. This taint was made worse when Totenkopf units from death camps were incorporated into the Waffen SS.
The Waffen SS, like other branches of the SS, used their own particular rank names which reflect the culture of the Nazi party. A great many of these rank titles have the word führer ("leader") in the title, creating a tiresome array of rank titles like "Unterscharführer" (equivalent to a Sergeant), Hauptsturmführer (equivalent to a Captain), Obergruppenführer (equivalent to a General), and so on.
The ultimate purpose that Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and the Nazi party had in mind for the SS was that it would permeate every aspect of German life. The SS would ultimately absorb and replace all other government functions. By the time World War II had ended all local, regional and national police and security services had either been taken over or absorbed by the Gestapo (which itself had been placed under direction of the SS) or were on their way to being absorbed or replaced. As for the military, the Waffen SS had already grown to a sizable second army, fighting alongside regular army units during advances. Again, it was the intention of Hitler and Himmler that the Heer (Army) itself would eventually be absorbed or replaced by the Waffen SS, as well as the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and the Luftwaffe (Air Force).
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