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The article is organised as follows:


2.0     Introduction

A one-star officer, with a NATO code of OF-6, is a senior commander within the armed forces of a nation, although exact seniority is country specific.

Typically termed ‘Brigadier’, it usually ranks above a Colonel (OF-5) and below a Major General (OF-7), although sometimes it can be the equivalent of either of these two ranks. It is typically either the first grade of general officer or highest grade of field officer. However, in some countries, for example Spain, a Brigadier is a warrant officer rank rather than a commissioned rank.

2.1     History of the Rank and Formation

A Brigadier typically commands a brigade which, in the late 1600s, is described as (Nolan, 2008, p.59):

“A temporary unit formed for battle and constituting the main component of a European line of battle in this era. Brigades were the mainstay battlefield unit in French armies during the wars of Louis XIV. French infantry brigades were formed by 4 to 6 battalions; a brigade of cavalry comprised 8 to 12 squadrons of horse. Brigades were in turn organized into divisions, but this level lacked any consistency.”

During this time period a brigade was led by a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel “…who commanded more than just his own regiment.” (McGrath, 2004, p.8). Brigadier was a generic term used for a commander of a brigade irrespective of specific rank. The grade of Brigadier-General is also used interchangeably with the grade of Brigadier.

Most modern commentators will inform the reader that the British rank of Brigadier-General has historically been a local or temporary rank. However, Beatson (1788, p.387) informs us that “Soon after this [1746], the rank of Brigadier General was suppressed in the promotion of general officers; and since that period, it has only been bestowed local or temporary as follows…” According to Beatson (1788), from at least 1687 to 1746, the English/British rank of Brigadier-General was a permanent rank and a grade of general officer.

In its original form, the temporary rank (or grade) of Brigadier (in Spain) was not considered a general officer (Páez, n.d.) but rather a title for a senior officer who was placed in charge of more than one regiment to conduct operations not requiring a field army and therefore not a Field Marshal or Captain-General (Part Six).

McGrath (2004, p.xii) informs us that the origin of the word brigade is French:

“The Term brigade itself entered the English language, like most military terms, from the French language. The word is first attested in the 15th century as a term for a larger military unit than the squadron or regiment…” (McGrath, 2004, p.xii).

The term’s origin is found in two French roots, which together meant roughly “those who fight.” The roots are:

  • The French verb brigare, meaning “to brawl” or “fight”, which was in turn from the late Latin word briga, which meant “strife” or “contention,” (Simpson & Weiner, 1989a, p148).
  • The suffix –ade, which was a French adaptation of a suffix found in various other Romance languages, such a Provencal, which came from a form of the Latin past participate. In French, the suffix came to have the meaning “the body concerned with brawling or fighting.” (Simpson & Weiner, 1989b, p.548).

King Louis XIV of France (1685 to 1715) is credited with introducing the rank of Brigadier to the French Army in 1659, by [WHOM] to the Netherlands in 1674, by Felipe V to Spain in 1702 (Páez, n.d.), and King James II of England (1633 to 1701) with introducing it to the English (and subsequently British) Army. In its original form, the rank of Brigadier was temporary and not continuous, lasting only as long as the brigade formation was required (i.e. a positional grade). The promotion carried no extra pay and the officer reverted to their original rank on completion of the assignment. The historical Spanish rank of Brigadier is distinct from the rank of “Brigada (Warrant-Officer).” (Kidd, 2013, p.172).

Lepage (2010, p.17) informs us that Vauban, a Marshal of France and foremost military engineer, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier early in his career:

“In recognition of his service, Vauban was promoted [by Louis XIV in 1674] to the rank of infantry brigadier then marechal de camp (major general).” (Lepage, 2010, p.17).

At first a brigade was a purely tactical or combat organisation (i.e. combat troops), although supporting arms (combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) units in the modern vernacular) quickly became elements within the brigade.

The Brigadier concept appears to have been institutionalised fairly quickly across Europe. And, although originally conferred on a commander of several infantry regiments, the rank quickly spread to the ‘supporting arms’ of an army. For example, the position and title of Master-General of Ordnance is a very ancient one, appearing as early as 1291 in France and approximately 1418 in England (Walton, 1894). An English royal warrant of 1699 states that (Walton, 1894, p.849):

“For the ascertaining the rank and precedency of Our present Master-General of Our Ordnance within Our Kingdom of Ireland and of Our Major-General of Our Ordnance there for the time being Our Will and Pleasure is that in all Councils of War and other Military occasions within that Our Kingdom for the time being have rank and precedency as Brigadier of Our forces from the date of their respective Commissions. Given at our Court at Loo this 14th day of January 1699. In the eleventh year of Our reign.”

The Master General of Ordnance was usually one of the great officers of state (Appendix E), a nobleman and high-ranking army officer – who was also assisted by a Lieutenant General of Ordnance who was effectively the head of operations (De Witt, 1988). De Witt (1988, p.24) notes “twelve Lieutenants General”.

During the 1700s, the ranks of “brigadier” and “sub-brigadier” were subaltern ranks in the British Royal Horse Guards (Murray, 1821, p.446).

A Spanish Ordnance of 1702 states (Páez, n.d.) that a “Brigadier will be promoted to Field Marshal who is the first degree of General Officer and the one who commands indifferently the Infantry, Cavalry and Dragoons.”

McGrath (2004, p.8 & 9) informs us that in the British model:

“A warrant of 1705 placed the grade [of Brigadier] directly below major-general, but the appointment was always considered temporary and not continuous. The British were ambiguous over whether the holder was considered a general officer or a senior field grade officer.”

The Continental (and later US) Army adopted the rank of Brigadier General from the British. However, whereas the British still considered the rank a positional grade (after 1746 according to Beatson), the Americans considered and utilised it as a substantive rank immediately.

In a manner similar to the British Army, the Royal Navy utilised the rank of Commodore – the naval equivalent of Brigadier – for senior Captains (the naval equivalent of Colonels) “…who commanded more than just his own ship…” (McGrath, 2004, p.8). Like its army counterpart, the grade came with no extra pay and was temporary, but the appointment entitled the commodore to fly a flag – the naval version of a general officer is known as a flag officer – referred to as a ‘broad pennant’. As I understand it, the Royal Navy introduced the positional grade of Commodore to ameliorate the cost of appointing more Admirals. Beatson (1788, p.332) notes one Captain of the Royal Navy ranked as “A Commodore, drowned at Manilla, by his boat overfetting, 1762.”

As I understand it, the rank of commodore derives from the French commandeur, which was one of the highest ranks in orders of knighthood, and in military orders the title of the knight in charge of a commenda (a local part of the order’s territorial possessions) [needs verification].

Until 1788, the rank of Brigadier des Armées (Brigadier of the Armies) was in the use by the French Army. The rank is often described as a senior Colonel (or perhaps junior brigade commander). At the time, the rank of a French brigade commander was Maréchal de Camp (roughly Field Marshal). During the French Revolution, the ranks of Brigadier des Armées (one-star insignia) and Maréchal de Camp (two-star insignia) were replaced by the single rank of Général de Brigade (Brigade General, two-star insignia). Consequently, French general officers’ rank insignia display one star more than their NATO counterparts – there is no French officer rank insignia with one star.

“England, having joined the struggle in 1793, had gained control of Toulon. After his distinguished part in dislodging the British, Napoleon was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004).

In March 1799, the US Congress stated that “…two regiments of infantry or cavalry shall constitute a brigade, and shall be commanded by a brigadier-general…” (US Congress, 1799, p.752), although the commanding general was authorised to vary disposition if judged necessary.

In 1880, the British adopted shoulder boards with rank insignia, and the insignia of a Brigadier-General included the crossed sword and baton worn by other grades of general officer (McGrath, 2004).

In 1883, a bill was approved by the Spanish Congress of Deputies in which Article 72 stated that Brigadiers were part of the General Staff of the Army (Páez, n.d.), aka general officers. In 1889, Spanish Brigadiers and Field Marshals were replaced by Brigadier Generals and Division Generals respectively (Páez, n.d.).

At the start of World War I (1914 to 1918) the basic formation in the continental European armies was the army corps, typically consisting of two infantry divisions, each with two infantry brigades, each of two infantry regiments (McGrath, 2004). A division with two infantry brigades of two infantry regiments was known as the ‘square division’, with approximately 8,000 personnel. A European army corps also included supporting arms (i.e. cavalry, engineers and field artillery). A British division consisted of three infantry brigades of two or more infantry battalions (House, 1984) rather than the larger infantry regiments.

In 1917, US Army Brigadier Generals were ranked relatively “…with rear admirals of the lower half of the grade.” (US Congress, 1917, p.411).

In the British model, an infantry regiment is an administrative unit whilst the battalion is the tactical unit. Some regiments had more than one battalion but they always/generally fought separately, even when part of the same army. In the US, the basic formation was the division consisting of either infantry or cavalry brigades, each with two or more regiments (McGrath, 2004). With a few unique exceptions, the US Army would also retain single battalion regiments from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Trench warfare and the associated attrition forced both the French and Germans to alter the structure of their divisions reducing the number of infantry regiments from four to three. The Germans transitioned from the square division to the triangular division of one infantry brigade of three regiments (also infrequently known as the unitary division). The adoption of the triangular division meant regiments were subordinate to the division rather than the brigade, which became more of an administrative rather than tactical unit (although the exact function varied between countries). As such the regiment replaced the brigade as the basic subordinate manoeuvre command in the division. Supporting arms were divisional assets.

World War I also witnessed the establishment of a new type of manoeuvre brigade (aka purely combat brigade) – the tank brigade (McGrath, 2004).

Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 Brigadier Generals, Major Generals, Lieutenant Generals, Generals, and Field Marshals served in the British and Imperial armies in the First World War. Approximately 78 general officers were killed in action, died of wounds or died as a result of active service and 146 wounded or taken as POWs (prisoners of war) (Davies & Maddocks, 2014).

On its creation on 01 April 1918, the RAF initially used British Army rank titles for its officers. In response to a proposal that the RAF should use its own rank titles, it was suggested that the RAF might use Royal Navy rank titles with the word ‘air’ as a pre-fix. Consequently, current RAF officer rank titles are a variation on Royal Navy rank titles.

In 1920, the British abolished the rank and grade of Brigadier General (McGrath, 2004) with the adoption of the triangular division. Two new grades were created to replace it (McGrath, 2004):

  • Colonel-commandant for officers commanding brigades, depots or training establishments; and
  • Colonel of the Staff for equivalent officers in administrative appointments.

For the British, the triangular (or unitary) division proved too unwieldy and brigades (as tactical formations) were reinstated. Consequently, in 1928, the rank and grade of Brigadier was reinstated with the merger of the two above ranks, although as the senior field officer rather than lowest general officer. Colonel’s held the temporary appointment of Brigadier and continued to receive Colonel’s pay. The former rank insignia of the crossed sword and baton was replaced by a crown and three pips (a Colonel had a crown and two pips) (Tanner, 1974).

For the Royal Marines, the rank of Colonel-commandant, and Colonel 2nd Commandant, dates back to 1755 when fifty companies of marines were raised in three divisions, with each division commanded by a Colonel-commandant and 2nd Commandant (equivalent to a Brigadier General and Colonel respectively). Royal Marines Colonel-commandants were “granted the higher rank” of Brigadier General in 1913 (The London Gazette, 1913) and abolished it alongside the British Army in 1920. Although the Royal Marines used the rank of Brigadier with the British Army in 1928, the two commandant ranks persisted through World War II (Royal Navy, 1942).

As an interesting aside, during this time period British general officers could not be appointed temporarily, and when retired they were entitled to half pay and expenses rather than a less costly pension. As a field officer, a Brigadier could be appointed temporarily and retired on a pension based on their substantive (or permanent paid) rank. There is some conjecture that Brigadier-Generals (general officers) when reinstated became Brigadiers (field officers) to save the UK Treasury money, given the large number of Brigadier-Generals promoted during the First World War.

Ahead of the Germans in the 1930s, in 1928 the US developed the first modern combined arms manoeuvre brigade, known as the Experimental Force, consisting “…of an infantry battalion, two tank battalions, and a field artillery battalion under the command of a colonel…” (McGrath, 2004, p.45).

During the 1930s, armies started to mechanise their units: “The cavalry regiments became mechanized by using “combat cars,” the cavalry branch euphemism for tanks, in place of horse.” (McGrath, 2004, p.46).

In 1936, the US Army experimented with the triangular division, adopting it Army-wide in 1939 (McGrath, 2004). “During World War II, the 1st Cavalry Division was the only division to retain the two-brigade, square division structure…” (McGrath, 2004, p.47), until 1949. As a tactical formation the brigade ceased to exist in the US Army, with two notable exceptions – the 1st Parachute Brigade, later the 1st Airborne Infantry Brigade, and the 2nd Airborne Infantry Brigade (McGrath, 2004). These brigades were disbanded in 1944 and 1945 respectively (McGrath, 2004).

During and after World War II, the US used a variety of titles (e.g. Group, Regimental Combat Team & Combat Command) to describe an infantry, and sometimes a combined arms, formation smaller than a division but larger than a regiment. In contrast the British augmented a manoeuvre brigade with supporting arms units and termed them ‘Brigade Groups’, and remains the extant basic operational formation using the contemporary term of ‘Battlegroup’.

A famous Général de Brigade was Charles de Gaulle, a World War II general, who often wore military uniform whilst being President of the French Republic.

In 1947, the rank and grade of Brigadier became a substantive field officer rank and pay grade within the British model. In the US (Brigadier-General) and French (Brigade General) models, a Brigadier continues to be the lowest grade of general officer.

In 1954, the US Army briefly revived the brigade as a tactical formation, although eliminated it swiftly in 1960 (McGrath, 2004). However, reorganisation between 1961 and 1963 saw the revival of the brigade as a tactical formation controlling battalions, commanded by Colonels and reporting directly to the divisional commander. Non-divisional brigades retained the convention of being commanded by Brigadier-Generals.

By 1957, the Royal Marines Colonel-commandant ranks had been replaced by the rank of Colonel, and the temporary appointment of Brigadier received full pay as a Colonel and a Colonel’s allowances (Royal Navy, 1957). The title of Colonel-commandant (also Honorary Colonel or Colonel of the Regiment) is now used as an honorary or ceremonial title relating to a military corps (the RAF equivalent is Honorary Air Commodore). The highest ranking officer in the US Marine Corps was formerly known as the Colonel Commandant with the rank of Colonel (The New York Times, 1891), and in 1819 as Lieutenant Colonel Commandant (Jordan, 2007), but is now the Commandant of the Marine Corps with the rank of General.

On 01 December 1981, the US Navy rank of Commodore Admiral was changed to Commodore (Public Law 97-86, p.1105).

In the US model, those promoted to the grade of general officer receive a certificate promoting them to their new rank (WPAOG, 2017).

2.2     Country-Specific Examples

Table 6 provides examples of country-specific titles for the rank and grade of Brigadier (OF-6).

Table 6: Country-specific titles for Brigadier
Rank/Grade Countries Using Title
Coronel Mayor Argentina
Brigadier UK, Chile, Austria, Georgia, Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam
Brigadier-General Mexico (Note 1), US, Canada, Colombia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, South Korea, Laos, Mongolia, Singapore, Syria and Yemen
General de Brigada Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Romania and Spain
General-generaal Suriname
Général de Brigade Belgium and France
Gjeneral Brigade Albania and Montenegro
Major General Belarus, Armenia, North Korea and Kyrgyzstan
Brigadni General Bosnia and Herzegovnia, Croatia and Czech Republic
Brigaden General Bulgaria
Brigadegeneral Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden
Brigaadikindral Estonia
Taxiarchos Greece
Dandártábornok Hungary
Briogáidire-Ghinearál Ireland
Generale di Brigata Italy
Brigādes Generālis Latvia
Brigados Generolas Lithuania
Général-Chef d’État-Major Luxembourg
Brigadegeneraal Netherlands
General Brygady Poland
Brigadeiro-general Portugal
Generál-Mayór Russia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan
Brigádny Generál Slovakia
Brigadir Slovenia
Tuğgeneral Turkey
Brid Jenral Afghanistan
Colonel Commandant People’s Republic of China
Brigadir Jenderal Indonesia
Sartip and Sartip Dovvom Iran (Brigadier General and Second Brigadier General respectively)
Tat Aluf Israel (Subordinate General)
Brigedier Jeneral Malaysia
Brigadyer Heneral Philippines
Amid Saudi Arabia


  1. The Mexican Army and Air Force uses the rank of Brigadier-General as an OF-6 level officer and the rank of General de Brigada as an OF-7 level officer (Table 7).
  2. For Brazil, Honduras and Peru the rank of General de Brigada is equivalent to a Major General (OF-7), as there is no OF-6 equivalent rank.
  3. There is no equivalent of Brigadier in the Taiwanese or Japanese Armies, these countries use the rank of Major General and Colonel-General in place of Brigadier and General.

Both the Argentine and Brazilian air forces utilise brigadier in the titles of their air officers, as noted in Table 7 below.

Table 7: Argentine and Brazilian air force officer ransk
NATO Code Army Rank Argentine Rank Brazilian Rank
OF-9 Army General Brigadier-general Tenente-brigadeiro-do-ar
OF-8 Lieutenant General Brigadier-mayor Major-Brigadeiro
OF-7 Major General Brigadier Brigaderio
OF-6 Brigadier Commodore Mayor (Note 1) No Equivalent


  1. Honorary rank given to Commodores who are equivalent to OF-5 level officers.

2.3     Service Equivalents

Within NATO, an army Brigadier General, Brigadier or Brigade General is typically equivalent to:

  • Naval services:
    • Commodore in the Royal Navy (a flag officer from 2001).
    • Rear Admiral (Lower Half) in the US Navy.
    • Flotilla Admiral.
    • Daryādār Dovom (Second Flotilla Admiral) in the Iranian Navy.
    • Counter Admiral (can be equivalent to Rear Admiral (OF-7)).
    • Senior Captain.
    • In some naval services a Commodore is equivalent to an OF-5 level officer.
  • Air Forces:
    • Air Commodore in the RAF:
      • The rank originated with the RAF, but was preceded by the rank of Brigadier-General from 01 April 1918 to 31 July 1919. The predecessor of the RAF was a branch of the British Army.
      • It has always been substantive unlike its Royal Navy and British Army equivalents.
      • It has always been an air officer rank unlike its Royal Navy and British Army equivalents.
    • Brigadier General in the US and Canadian air forces.
    • Marsekal Pertama (literally ‘First Marshal’).
    • Comodoro in the Chilean Air Force.
    • Taxiarchos tis Aeroporias (literally ‘he who orders the air force’, usually termed air force brigadier).
    • In some air forces Air Commodore or Commodore is equivalent to an OF-5 level officer.
  • Marines:
    • Brigadier in the Royal Marines and Brigadier General in the US Marine Corps.

In some countries, combat service support (CSS) general officers use a specific title, for example Surgeon General or Surgeon Admiral.

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

2.4     Level of Formation Commanded

Typically, an OF-6 level officer will command:

  • In the army and marines:
    • A brigade consisting of two (2) to six (6) battalions or regiments, or approximately 2,000 to 8,000 personnel.
    • Usually a mix of fighting and support elements.
    • Two or more brigades may constitute a division.
  • In the navy:
    • A task unit of three to five (3 to 5) ships.
  • In the air force:
    • An air group consisting of two (2) or more wings.

OF-6 level officers may also be appointed as Directors of a service, for example Director of Recruitment, Director of Manning or Director of Personnel Policy.

Due to downsizing in many Western armies, the brigade is once again becoming the operational formation of choice with the division and corps becoming largely administrative in nature. A brigade may be commanded by an officer in the rank range of Colonel (OF-5) up to a Major General (OF-7), and be assisted by a Chief of Staff in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) or Colonel.

Although the exact structure of a brigade will vary between countries, a contemporary brigade will have between two and five (attached/organic) manoeuvre battalions, a HQ company, armoured cavalry (typically for reconnaissance), engineers, direct field support artillery and air defence, and a support regiment/battalion (consisting of administration, medical, logistics etc.).

In a number of modern armies, regiments and/or battalions are placed together into brigades/divisions with a geographical footprint, i.e. for administrative and training purposes rather than warfighting/operations. However, brigades can also be branch specific, e.g. logistics, or role specific, e.g. an airborne brigade in the rapid response role. A brigade may also be an administrative grouping of units within a regional/geographic area. Some countries utilise a quasi-formation known as a battlegroup, which may have the same number of personnel as a brigade, but is constituted with specific units for a specific mission. Finally, a brigade may be classed as ‘independent’, meaning it sits out-with the normal divisional/corps hierarchy.

There are now a variety of tactical and non-tactical (or manoeuvre and non-manoeuvre) brigades, for example:

  • Infantry brigade;
  • Mechanised infantry brigade or mechanised brigade;
  • Airborne infantry brigade or Parachute brigade or Air Assault brigade;
  • Armoured brigade or Tank brigade;
  • Aviation brigade;
  • Commando or Mountain brigade; and
  • Logistics or Signals brigade.
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