“…though the ranks are few, the appointments which may be held by them are many. Indeed, there are, today, over seventy appointments among the Warrant Officers…” (Dawnay, 1949, p.3).
The rank of warrant officer has a rather interesting history which is not well known, even amongst those who hold that rank. The military grade of warrant officer is one of the oldest in Western military systems dating back to the 1200s during the early years of the English Navy.
Until the latter stages of the 1800s only the Navy operated the warrant officer rank, until the British Army and Royal Marines elevated a number of Sergeant-Majors and other ranks to the military grade of warrant officer around 1880. The rank of warrant officer in the Royal Navy was conferred upon the most highly skilled and long-serving tradesmen in their specialty, and they constituted the lowest strata of the Royal Navy’s officer branch. In contrast, their British Army namesakes constituted the highest level of the non-commissioned officer (NCO) branch.
Since their implementation, warrant officers have been valued as technical experts – Subject Matter Experts (SME) in the modern vernacular – due to their specialist knowledge and skills gained within their particular field.
While a commissioned officer is responsible for both tactical and strategic command they will rely on their warrant officers to provide them with advice and knowledge in the many details necessary to efficiently run a military unit.
In the modern military environment, warrant officers are now often part of a command team in which they and the commissioned officers work together to provide their subordinates with a synergistic team-leadership capability. This team approach combines two, or more, individuals with different skills and experiences, resulting in a sum which is greater than the parts.