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6.0     Introduction

A five-star officer, with a NATO code of OF-10, is a senior commander within the armed forces of a nation, and is typically given a national title.

Typically termed ‘Field Marshal’ or ‘Marshal’, it usually ranks above a General (OF-9) and below a Generalissimo (OF-11), although sometimes it can be the equivalent of either of these two ranks. It is typically either the fourth or fifth grade of general officer. It can also be styled ‘Marshall’.

However, in some countries, for example post-WWII Italy, a Marshal is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank rather than a commissioned rank.

6.1     History of the Rank and Formation

A Field Marshal typically commands an army group (two or more field armies), a theatre of war operational area or other higher command, and will typically have operational control over all sea, air and land units within their operational area.

This rank is typically the highest military rank, which is normally, but not exclusively, appointed only in wartime. In many countries, especially in Europe, the special symbol of a Field Marshal is an ornate baton, and their rank insignia often incorporates a baton.

The Britannica Online Encyclopdia (2017) informs the reader that the rank of Field Marshal/Marshal:

“…evolved from the title of marescalci (masters of the horse) of the early Frankish kings. The importance of cavalry in medieval warfare led to the marshalship being associated with a command position; this rank came to include the duties of keeping order at court and in camp and of deciding questions of chivalry. As a military leader the marshal was originally subordinate to the constable [Appendix E] in the various states of western Europe. By the 13th century, however, the marshal was rapidly coming to prominence as a commander of the royal forces and a great officer of state.”

The office of Marescallus Franciae (Marshal of France) was instituted under King Philip II in 1223, becoming one of the great officers of the crown (Britannica Online Encyclopedia, 2017).

During the Chinese dynastic and republican periods, Yuan Shuai (元帥) was a rank that was roughly equivalent to Marshal. Other Asian equivalents included Gensui (Japanese), Wonsu (Korean) and Nguyên Soái (Vietnam).

During the 1500s and early 1600s, a Field Marshal (Marechal de Camp in French and Feldmarshall in German) was roughly equivalent to a Major General (OF-7).

During the 1500s, in Spain, a Capitán-general (Captain General) was appointed by the king as the leader of a fleet. The second-in-command of the fleet was the Almirante (Admiral), who was an officer appointed by the Capitán-general, with responsibility for the seaworthiness of the fleet.

During the early 1700s, the British had senior officers as “Captains General” and “Field Marshals” concurrently – 1702 to 1745 and 1736 to 1763 respectively (Beatson, 1788, p.366). The rank of Field Marshal was introduced to the British Army by King George II, who imported it from Germany (Britannica Online Encyclopedia, 2017). The Master of Horse, from a British perspective, was considered the “third great officer of the court” (Beatson, 1788, p.299).

By the time of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815), Field Marshal/Marshal had become, across Europe, the highest military rank one could achieve. However, in 1793, the office of Marescallus Franciae was abolished and then revived as the Marshal of the Empire by Napoleon in 1804. After the Bourbon restoration it was again retitled to Maréchal de France (Marshal of France).

On 21 June 1813, Arthur Wellesley, more commonly known as the Duke of Wellington, was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. He is the only British Field Marshal to have also been Prime Minister, although others did become cabinet ministers.

The Maratha Empire, under Peshwa Administration (approximately 1749 to 1818) used the title Sardar to denote a Field Marshal or General of the Army, in Afghanistan the title Sardar-i-Salar had the same meaning. Variations of Sardar included Sirdar (the official title of the British Commander-in-Chief of the Anglo-Egyptian army) and Serdar or Serdar-i-Ekrem (Commander-in-Chief in the Ottoman model).

In 1854, Prussia introduced the rank of Generaloberst, meaning supreme general (though usually translated as Colonel-General), so that officers could be promoted further than General without becoming a Generalfeldmarschall, as this rank was usually bestowed only for extraordinary achievements during wartime service. This rank was awarded to William, Prince of Prussia (the later William I, German Emperor) so he could achieve senior rank without breaking the wartime service criterion. Later, another special grade known as Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls (supreme general in the rank of a field marshal) was first used in Bavaria to denote supreme generals who were given the authority of field marshals without the actual rank.

In 1870 Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia and Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm – who had commanded armies during the Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 to 10 May 1871) – became the first Prussian princes appointed as Field Marshals.

In 1871, the German grade of Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls (supreme general in the rank of field marshal) was introduced to the Prussian/Imperial German army. It was bestowed on senior generals usually holding the appointment of an army inspector and army commanders designate in the case of hostilities. The shoulder board rank was crossed batons with three pips.

In 1901, the German rank of supreme general proper (with three pips only) was created. In the Prussian army, the rank of field marshal could be awarded only to active officers in wartime if they had won a battle or stormed a fortress. In times of peace, the rank was awarded as an honorary rank to friendly princes and as Charakter (honorary) to generals of merit when they retired – General mit dem Charakter eines Generalfeldmarschall (general with the honorary rank of field marshal) – which was cancelled in 1911. At the same time, the rank insignia for supreme general with the rank of field marshal was changed to four pips without batons.

In 1901, the German rank of Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) was created and then discontinued in 1945. During this time eight people were awarded the rank: King Edward VII of the United Kingdom (26 June 1902); Hans von Koester (28 June 1905); King Oscar II of Sweden (13 July 1905); Prince Henry of Prussia (4 September 1909); Alfred von Tirpitz (27 January 1911); Henning von Holtzendorff (31 July 1918); Erich Raeder, then-Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (01 April 1939); and Karl Dönitz, commander of the U-Boat fleet (30 January 1943) upon succeeding Raeder as Commander-in-Chief. In Bourbon Restoration France, the rank of grand Admiral was an honorific one equivalent to that of Marshal of France (Table 11).

During World War I (excluding honorary promotions to members of royal families and foreign officers), it was rare for German generals to be promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarshall, with only five being promoted: Paul von Hindenburg, August von Mackensen, Karl von Bülow, Hermann von Eichhorn, and Remus von Woyrsch. Not even well-known and celebrated German commanders such as Generals Erich Ludendorff and Erich von Falkenhayn received marshal’s batons.

On 01 August 1919, the RAF established the rank of Marshal of the Air, although Air Marshal was originally considered it became equivalent to Lieutenant General (Barrass, 2007). No RAF officer held this rank and it was retitled in April 1925 to “Marshal of the Royal Air Force” (Flight, 1925, p.249), which was deemed a more appropriate title (Hoare, 1925). The rank is utilised by a number of commonwealth countries and is sometimes used when translating equivalent foreign ranks into English. Unlike other Marshals of the Royal Air Force who only relinquish their appointments, Sir Peter Harding resigned his RAF commission and, consequently, cannot be found on the Air Force list.

On 03 September 1919, the US Congress (1919, p.283) created “the office of General of the Armies of the United States.” The Act “revived” (US Congress, 1919, p.283) the office, stating only one appointment could be made and it was essentially created to honour General John Joseph ‘Black Jack’ Pershing (1860 to 1948) for his service as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during World War I, 1917 to 1918. This special honour allowed Pershing to be on “active duty” for the rest of his life and continue to be available for assignments. Although Dooley (2013) states “he remained a four-star general.” the provisions of the Act stated that any existing Act that would enable any other officer of the US Army to take rank and precedence over said officer was repealed – technically making Pershing a five-star general. Further information can be found in Part Seven.

On 29 March 1920, General Sir William Robert Robertson, 1st Baronet GCB, GCMG, GCVO, DSO (1860 to 1933) became the first and only British soldier to rise from the lowest rank of Private soldier to the highest of Field Marshal.

In 1924, Benito Mussolini introduced the rank of Grand’ Ammiraglio (Grand Admiral) to the Italian Navy, primarily to honour Paolo Thaon di Revel, who had been head of the Italian Regia Marina during World War I – he was the only person to be awarded the rank. It was equivalent to Marshal of Italy in the army and also Marshal of the Air Force.

On 01 January 1927, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard GCB OM GCVO DSO, 1st Viscount Trenchard, became the first air force officer to be promoted to the rank of Marshal of the RAF. Amongst a number of accomplishments, Trenchard was instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force.

In September 1935, the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was created. The rank was abolished with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Between these dates a total of forty-one (41) people held the rank, with the first five being promoted in November 1935.

In 1936, Adolf Hitler revived the rank of Field Marshal for general officers in the German military, having been banned after the First World War. In the Prussian Army, and later in the Wehrmacht (1930s-40s German Army), the rank of Generalfeldmarschall had several privileges, such as elevation to nobility, equal protocol rank with cabinet ministers, the right of reporting directly to the monarch, and a constant escort. Within the Wehrmacht, the rank also included a yearly salary of 36,000 Reichsmarks and all earnings were exempt from income tax (Snyder, 1994). Similar to other countries, such as France and Britain, German Field Marshals carried an ornate baton as a symbol of their authority.

Although the US has never used the rank of Field Marshal, General Douglas MacArthur was appointed a Field Marshal of the Philippine Army during his time as a senior advisor, from 24 August 1936 to 31 December 1937, when he officially retired from the US Army. On 26 July 1941, President Roosevelt federalised the Philippine Army, recalled MacArthur to active duty in the US Army as a major general, and named him commander of US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). MacArthur was promoted to lieutenant general the following day (Morton, 1953), and then to general on 20 December 1941 (Rogers, 1990). On 18 December 1944, MacArthur was promoted to the five-star rank of General of the Army (discussed later).

In Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937-38, three of the five Marshals of the Soviet Union were executed.

On 30 March 1938, the Italian parliament established the rank of Primo Maresciallo Dell’Impero (First Marshal of the Empire), the highest in the Italian military. It was awarded to Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy, and Benito Mussolini, the Italian Prime Minister.

On 07 October 1939, the Spanish air force was officially established as a separate branch of the Spanish armed forces following the end of the civil war (1936 to 1939). General Francisco Franco (Generalissimo and leader of Spain, see Part Seven) proclaimed himself Air Captain General of the Spanish air force. Comparative ranks in the army and navy were Captain General of the Army and Captain General of the Navy.

In May 1940, three new Marshals of the Soviet Union were appointed. During WWII, several senior military commanders were awarded the rank of Marshal on merit. One Marshal of the Soviet Union, Konstantin Rokossovsky, was also a Marshal of Poland from 1949.

For German general officers, Generalfeldmarshall was the highest military rank until the creation of the higher rank of Reichsmarshall (Part Seven) for Hermann Göring in July 1940; Göring had been promoted to Field Marshal in 1938. On 19 July 1940, Hitler promoted twelve (12) generals to the rank of Generalfeldmarshall as a reward for their success in the battle of France, promoting a total of 28 generals and admirals to the rank of Field Marshal and Grand Admiral, respectively, during World War II. On 30 January 1943, General Friedrich Paulus, commander of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, was promoted to Generalfeldmarshall by Hilter over the radio and on 31 January 1943 became the first recorded Prussian/German Field Marshal to be captured alive.

On 14 December 1944, Public Law 482 (US Congress, 1944, p.802-803) established the “grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States … [and] … the grade of General of the Army…” The number of officers could not exceed four in either of the two grades, and seniority was by date of appointment. The grades were equivalent to Admiral of the Fleet and Field Marshal in other militaries (Dooley, 2013). During WWII, officers at this rank would gain operational control over all allied units (sea, air and land) within a specific operational area of a theatre of war. On 15 December 1944 Admiral William D. Leahy became the first American five-star admiral, followed by Ernest King, Chester W. Nimitz and William Halsey, Jr.

On 16 December 1944 General George C. Marshall became the first American five-star general, followed by Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Henry Harley ‘Hap’ Arnold. Omar N. Bradley was awarded the rank of General of the Army in 1950. Henry Arnold remained a five-star general when the US Air Force was established as a service separate from the US Army, making him the only person who has been both General of the Army and General of the Air Force (Public Law 58, 81st Congress) (Dooley, 2013; US Army Centre of Military History, 2016). General of the Army (and its service equivalents) are awarded at the discretion of the US Congress, and are now typically considered as inactive or reserved for wartime only. A discussion about George Washington’s rank can be found in Part Seven.

From 1945 onwards, the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was awarded to non-military persons, for example Stalin’s intelligence and police chiefs.

After WWII, it became standard practice, within the British model, to appoint the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (later renamed Chief of the General Staff) to the rank of Field Marshal on their last day in the post (along with their service equivalents). Officers occupying the post of Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of all the British Armed Forces, were usually promoted to their Service five-star rank upon their appointment. This practice was discontinued in the 1990s.

In 1955, The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) promoted ten (10) generals to the rank of Yuan Shuai – although it was abolished in 1965 and has not been used since.

Also in 1955, the Soviet Union created the rank of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, which was roughly equivalent to a NATO OF-10 level officer. It replaced a similarly named rank which, from 1945 to 1955, had been equivalent to the army’s Marshal of the Soviet Union. Initially, two officers were awarded this distinction, Nikolai Kuznetsov and Ivan Isakov. Kuznetsov was demoted in 1956, to vice admiral, for political reasons (although restored posthumously in 1988), meaning Isakov was the only person with this rank until his death in 1967. From 1962 onwards, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union was elevated to OF-11 status when the grade of Admiral of the Fleet (OF-10) was revived. Isakov’s successor, Sergei Gorshkov, became the third person to be awarded the rank in 1967. After Gorshkov’s death in 1988, no further awards were granted before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 1962, during the Cold War, a petition was raised with the Department of the Air Force to promote General Curtis LeMay (1906 to 1990) to the rank of General of the Air Force due to Lemay’s accomplishments with the rise of the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. The Air Force officially responded to the LeMay promotion proposal in a Chief of the Air Force General Officers Branch letter dated February 28, 1962:

“It is clear that a grateful nation, recognizing the tremendous contributions of the key military and naval leaders in World War II, created these supreme grades as an attempt to accord to these leaders the prestige, the clear-cut leadership, and the emolument of office befitting their service to their country in war. It is the conviction of the Department of the Air Force that this recognition was and is appropriate. Moreover, appointments to this grade during periods other than war would carry the unavoidable connotation of downgrading of those officers so honored in World War II.”

After General Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, the Spanish ruling monarch became (honorary) Captain General of the army, navy and air force.

On 25 March 1982, the Nationale Volksarmee (National People’s Army) of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR or German Democratic Republic; aka East Germany) created the rank of Marschall der DDR (Marshal of the GDR). A general could be appointed to this rank by the Staatsrat (the head-of-state council of the GDR) during wartime or for exceptional military achievement. However, no one was ever appointed to the rank. When the West German military was reconstituted in 1956 the highest rank was general, and this convention continued with unification in 1990.

In 1993, The Russia Federation created the rank of Marshal Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Marshal of the Russian Federation) and is broadly equivalent to a Field Marshal. Only one person has held the rank, Igor Sergeyev from 1997 to his death in 2006.

In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian national armed forces, three generals were awarded the rank of Jenderal Besar (Grand General, though usually termed General of the Army).

In 1998, in answer to a parliamentary question, the then UK Secretary of State for Defence stated (Hansard, 1998):

“One of the recommendations made in the Independent Review of the Armed Forces’ Manpower, Career and Remuneration Structures by Sir Michael Bett was that promotion to 5-star rank should cease in peacetime. There is now no serving officer at Field Marshal rank. There are, however, eight retired Field Marshals retained on the active list. In terms of continuing duties and obligations some have retained honorary appointments connected with the Army which tend to be ceremonial and do not involve official commitment. These are: Constable Tower of London, Master Gunner St. James’s Park, Vice Lord Lieutenant Wiltshire and Lord Lieutenant Greater London. In addition, two members of The Royal Family hold the honorary rank of Field Marshal, as does HM The King of Nepal.”

However, Britain continues to appoint Field Marshals (and service equivalents), although only in an honorary capacity. General Charles Ronald Llewelyn Guthrie GCB LVO OBE, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, was promoted to Field Marshal (Honorary) in June 2012, the same month Prince Charles was appointed honorary Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Air Force (The Royal Family, 2012; Fischer, 2016). Field Marshal Guthrie was Chief of the General Staff and finally the Chief of the Defence Staff (1997–2001). General Michael John Dawson Walker GCB CMG CBE DL, Baron Walker of Aldringham, was also elevated to this titular rank in June 2014. Field Marshal Walker was Chief of the General Staff and finally the Chief of the Defence Staff (2000–2006). Britain also appoints former very senior air force personnel to the honorary rank of Marshal of the RAF, the air force equivalent of Field Marshal.

Within the British model, the Captain General Royal Marines is the ceremonial head of the Royal Marines, wearing the uniform and rank of a Field Marshal and is usually reserved for royalty. The professional head of the Royal Marines is the Commandant General Royal Marines with the rank of Major General. Prior to 1948, the Captain General was known by the title Colonel in Chief.

Although Italy had Maresciallo d’Italia (Marshals of Italy, equivalent to Field Marshal) prior to and during WWII, the modern Italian military rank of Maresciallo (Marshal) is classified as a ‘sub-officer’ and is the highest rank of NCO in the Italian armed forces. It is higher than the rank of Sergeant but lower than that of Ensign/Second Lieutenant; there are from three to five grades within the rank, according to the different branches of the armed forces. In the French Army, and armies modelled upon the French system, Maréchal des Logis (Marshal of Lodgings) is a cavalry term equivalent to sergeant.

For most, if not all, countries the active duty rank of Field Marshal (or equivalent) is in abeyance, where it is utilised either as a wartime rank or largely a ceremonial rank for retired officers and royal dignitaries. Typically there are three ways to be awarded an OF-10 level rank:

  • Active duty general officers can only be promoted to an OF-10 level rank for distinguished service during wartime (exact criteria vary between countries);
  • Conferred on general officers at the time of their retirement or shortly after; or
  • Conferred as an honorary rank to royalty.

As a rule, a Field Marshal (and service equivalents) never retires, being on the ‘Active List’ and considered a serving officer until death, albeit typically on half-pay when not in appointment. As a result some countries stipulate that a retired officer cannot be promoted to Field Marshal, although India has ‘broken’ this convention.

Of the more than 140 people who have been promoted to the British rank of Field Marshal:

  • Twelve were foreign monarchs.
  • Two were foreign military officers (Ferdinand Foch of France and Sir Thomas Blamey of Australia).
  • One was a foreign statesman.
  • One started his career as a Private soldier and held every rank to Field Marshal (Sir William Robertson).
  • At least fifty-seven were wounded in battle earlier in their careers.
  • Twenty-four of these were wounded more than once.
  • Eight had been prisoners of war (POWs).
  • One had been a former enemy (Jan Smuts of South Africa).
  • Fifteen had been present at the Battle of Vitoria were Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) earned the rank.
  • Ten had been present at the Battle of Waterloo.
  • Thirty-eight held independent field command.
  • Twelve served as either Commander-in-Chief of the Forces or Chief of the Imperial General Staff during a major war.
  • Four had received the Victoria Cross (the UKs highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy).
  • The youngest was 44 (Arthur Wellesley) and the oldest was 91, with twenty-three promoted in their eighties.

Historically, a number of countries have used awarded Marshal as a special title to reward certain subjects for their loyalty and/or achievements; Germany’s Goring and French Marshals under Napoleon are well-known examples. They are less military rank and more symbolic statements of the person’s social status and political standing with the current ruler(s).

There are many non-military examples of Marshal but describing these is out-with the remit of the article.

6.2     Country-Specific Examples

Table 11 provides examples of country-specific titles for the rank and grade of Field Marshal (OF-10).

Table 11: Country-specific titles for Field Marshal
Rank/Grade Title Countries Using Title
Marshal of [Nation] Maréchal de France [Note 1], Marszalek Polski (Poland), Maresciallo D’Italia (Italy) and Marschall der DDR (East Germany)
General of the Army US (since 1944)
General of the Armies US (1919 to 1944)
Captain General Spain
Field Marshal UK and Egypt
Generalfeldmarshall Germany
Marechal Brazil
Yaun Shuai China
Chom Phon Royal Thai Army
Gensui Japan
Wonsu North Korea [Note 2] and South Korea [Note 3]
Nguyên Soái Vietnam
Stožerni General Croatia [Note 4]
Sardar Maratha Empire
Jenderal Besarr Indonesia
Fältmarskalk Sweden
Mareşal Turkey


  1. Marshal of France is not a contemporary rank, it was a dignity of the State (dignité dans l’État), today not bestowed. It is considered to be a position of distinction rather than an actual military rank. Today, a Marshal of France wears seven stars but during the Napoleonic Era wore four stars. During the Napoleonic Wars the title was Marshal of the Empire.
  2. North Korea has four Marshal ranks (viewed more as combined political-military positions):
    1. Dae Wonsu (Grand Marshal);
    2. Konghwaguk (Marshal of the DPRK);
    3. Wonsu (Marshal of the KPA); and
    4. Chasu or Cha’su (Vice Marshal). A rank unique to North Korea.
  3. The South Korean rank of Wonsu (Marshal or Fleet Admiral) has never been used. In US military publications the rank of “Won-su” is translated as “General of the Army” (US Army, 2009, C-6).
  4. Literally Staff General, although usually translated as General of the Army.

6.3     Service Equivalents

Within NATO, a Field Marshal is typically equivalent to:

  • Naval services:
    • Admiral of the Fleet in the:
      • Royal Navy: Routine appointments ceased in 1995.
      • Indian Navy.
      • Royal Australian Navy: Established on 02 April 1954, it is a ceremonial rank rather than an active or operational rank.
    • Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union (1955 to 1994), largely honorary in nature.
    • Admiral Flote (Admiral of the Fleet) in the Croatian Navy (Croatian Parliament, 2002). Between 1995 and 2002, the rank was termed Stožerni Admiral (Staff Admiral).
    • Chom Phon Ruea (Admiral of the Fleet) in the Royal Thai Navy, formally established in 1888.
    • Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) in the German Navy.
    • Fleet Admiral in the US Navy.
    • Captain General of the Navy on the Spanish Navy.
    • Laksamana Besar (Admiral of the Fleet) in the Indonesian Navy.
    • Grande Ammiraglio (Grand Admiral) in the Italian air force, abolished after WWII.
    • Büyükamiral in the Turkish Navy.
  • Air Forces:
    • Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the RAF and Indian air force.
    • Marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force.
    • Chom Phon Akat (Marshal of the Air Force) in the Royal Thai air force. Formally established in 1937.
    • General of the Air Force in the US Air Force. Only awarded once.
    • Marechal-do-Ar (Marshal of the Air) in the Brazilian air force.
    • Marsekal Besar (Marshal of the Air Force) in the Indonesian air force.
    • Captain General of the Air Force in the Spanish air force, usually held by the reigning monarch.
    • Marsekal Besar (Great Marshal) in the Indonesian air force, although no officer has held the rank.
    • Maresciallo dell’Aria (Marshal of the Air Force) in the Italian air force, abolished after WWII.
    • Many countries nominally have a Marshal of [Nation] within their air forces but have never actually appointed anyone to the rank.
  • Marines:
    • There is usually no equivalent in the marines.

All of the above, regardless of their actual title, are typically considered equal in rank and status.

6.4     Level of Formation Commanded

Typically, an OF-10 level officer will command:

  • In the army and marines:
    • An army group consisting of two (2) or more field armies, or approximately 200,000 to 2,000,000 personnel; or
    • A specific theatre of war/operations.
    • An army group is usually the highest level of formation.
    • It may be composed of military personnel from more than one country.
  • In the navy:
    • No naval equivalent.
  • In the air force:
    • No air force equivalent.

Previously, OF-10 level officers may also have been appointed as a professional head of a branch of military service. However, this rank is now typically awarded to specific officers as an honorary appointment on or after retirement.

An army group is typically only constituted during wartime operations. Although the exact structure of an army group will vary between countries, a contemporary army group will have between two and five field armies, a HQ unit, armoured cavalry (typically for reconnaissance), engineers, direct field support artillery and air defence, and support units (consisting of administration, medical, logistics etc.). It will also have a variety of naval and air assets at its disposal.

Within the battlefield environment, the corps is the highest level of the forces that is concerned with actual combat and operational deployment. Higher levels of command are concerned with administration rather than operations, although this is subject to the specific nation’s doctrine. Divisions, together with additional supporting combat service (CS) and combat service support (CSS) personnel, are formed into corps and field armies for the conduct of military campaigns. Army groups are typically organised as a collection of troop types, and specialised army groups, such as airborne troops, do not normally exist at this level.

A field marshal may command a theatre of war or region, as theatre commander, or a theatre of operations, a sub-area of a theatre of war. A theatre can include the entirety of the air space, land and sea area that is or that may potentially become involved in military operations. A theatre of war/operations may include army groups commanded by other field marshals. For example, in WWII Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was Commander-in-Chief West (Europe) and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had responsibility for defending the French coast against the long anticipated Allied invasion. Rundstedt was senior by date of promotion and appointment.

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