• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.


six star rank

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year, 11 months ago

This article is based on a deleted article at Wikipedia. Like lots of stuff here. And it's fully copyright-cleared with the original authors for use here. It does happen.


But the downside of that is that this page doesn't have to be released under the GFDL, so it's not. So if you copy it to somewhere else, neither is that somewhere else.


Hmmm, seems like they changed their mind about deleting it. I guess we should have a policy of deleting it here, like they delete Wikipedia images copied to Commons. Problem with this is, when they're then deleted from commons, they stay deleted. Delete, delete, delete. Too much hassle. If ya don't like it, don't read it.  


This article doesn't read like an encyclopedia article. Um, this is not an encyclopedia, so why should it?


This article violates the Unimpedia policy of no original research. But that doesn't matter a lot. For one thing, it's not all that original. And for another, we don't have any such policy.  Whatever.


This article contains at least one material inaccuracy (or in other words, a dirty great lie). Just in case there aren't any others, this hatnote is it.


This article is a candidate for former featured article. It won't make it, but it tried.


This article has multiple issues. It really sux big time. We're proud of it.


This article has too many hatnotes. The make it look ugly and unprofessional, and aren't likely to help anybody. Hey, maybe this is an online encyclopedia in disguise, after all... We should have a policy to limit the number of mindless, unhelpful, hit-and-run hatnotes. They make us look too much like Wikipedia. Wouldn't want that...


six star rank


Several countries have had six star ranks. It's clearer in some cases than others exactly what these are or were. In the US, almost nothing is clear, and some Americans seem to think everyone else should follow their pathetic example. 


But don't try telling any American any of that... partly because, it's all their fault...



A six-star rank is one rank superior to a five-star rank. D'oh.




NATO currently recognises five grades of General Officer, the highest being five star rank which NATO calls OF-10. They have some standardised insignia for these and other ranks, such as rank flags, used across countries, and in other cases they use their own. When they work together these grades form the basis for deciding who might command who, and when they shoot at others it provides a framework for deciding which of the enemy should be shot at first, and when someone wants to surrender it guides them as to whether they should hand over a sword or take down the admiral's flag or just raise their hands, and who should accept it (but a white flag is pretty well understood at all levels).


In practice, this basis is largely ceremonial. At this level of command, when a combined formation is put together, the various command structures and titles are carefully spelled out, with temporary appointments to higher ranks, and in wartime the invention of new titles, being quite common. This even applies in peacetime, and certainly applied when the countries that later formed NATO worked together in the Second World War. When for-real shooting starts, the better soldiers get on with the job. They need to know who is in charge, and they don't want to waste time on anything that doesn't help win the war. And those that don't take this attitude soon get shot, most but not all of them by the enemy.


Anyway, NATO grades are based on the US system, and everyone in NATO follows them except the US, who have a bet each way, and who refer to OF-10 by their pay grade of O-11. This is very American, similar to IBM's decision with their PS-2 computer to be the least IBM-compatible manufacturer of IBM-compatible PCs in the market of the time.




America has a problem. D'oh. OK, they have more than one. But one in particular concerns us here.


The core problem is, until the Second World War the USA wasn't all that systematic about how many stars a particular rank represented. In particular, General of the Armies has always been the top rank whenever it existed, but its holders have sometimes worn four stars, sometimes five. Had the title been given to Washington in his lifetime, he might still have worn only three stars; Had it been given to Macarthur, he would have worn six.


This is compounded by the fact that all general ranks are to some extent political appointments. This is true in many countries of course, but it's the USA that particularly concerns us here. Even brigadier general appointments go before Congress.


There have been notable instances of the President and Congress appointing a brigadier general against the wishes of the armed services. And while in theory three and four star ranks go with the posting not the officer, often there's an expectation that an officer who has reached a certain level will then go from posting to posting at that level and eventually retire at that higher rank. And then five star ranks don't ever retire, they get full pay for life, but six star ranks don't, see below.


The most likely reason that this sounds messy is that it is.



Three stars or five? Or six? Or more?


George Washington is regarded as the founder of the American Army (he's also the only person yet to disband it, but that proved temporary), and they remember him very fondly. So much so that nobody wants to outrank him. To outrank Washington would be a bit like wanting to abolish Mother's Day. And to quote one American, "Around here, you'd have a better chance of abolishing Tuesday than Mother's Day". There are no votes in it. None at all.


(The US Navy, on the other hand, was founded by Alfred the Great, according to the exhibit in the Smithsonian. Hence they are the Senior Service.)


What makes this troublesome is that by today's standards, Washington didn't have a very big army. Nobody did in 1775 when he was appointed Commander in Chief. So at the outset Washington had under him only four Major Generals and eight Brigadiers (or Brigadier Generals, same thing). The insignia of a Brigadier was and still is one star, and that of a Major General two, and they simply called Washington Commander in Chief and "General", and he wore an insignia of three stars. So Washington was a three star general, equivalent to a modern Lieutenant General. And that was all he ever needed to be, and he probably liked it that way.


In 1787, the Constitution that was adopted gave the supreme command of the Army, Navy and Militia with the title Commander in Chief to the President, and in 1789 Washington became the first President. So every President has been CiC, and every CiC has been President, but only Washington was already CiC before he was President. And in 1794 he again briefly commanded in the field as CiC, one of only two presidents to have done so.


Washington was later appointed to the rank of Lieutenant General, in 1798, the year after he ceased to be President and CiC. He never served in this appointment, but that's his highest rank as recorded in the army records at the time.


Grant, Farragut, Dewey and Pershing


In 1866 when Ulysses S. Grant was appointed "General of the Army of the United States", he wore four stars, and had command of several three-star lieutenant generals. He was the first person to be given four star rank in the US army. So at the time I guess he outranked Washington, and I guess he was too busy fighting the American Civil War to care too much about that sort of rather academic question, and I guess Washington would have seen it that way too.


Of course naval officers aren't called General, they're called Admiral. The US Navy had no officer above Commodore (and even that was only held as a temporary appontment) until 1862, when all at once they apponted nine Rear Admirals, probably best seen as two-star admirals although they now have one-star rear admirals too, see below. Then in 1864 they promoted David Farragut to three stars as their first Vice Admiral, and in 1866 further promoted him to four-star full Admiral. Farragut and Grant were promoted to four stars on the same day.


(And somewhere along the line they abolished the rank of Commodore, perhaps because it sounded too much like Commode, and replaced it with the equivalent rank of Rear Admiral, Lower Half. I suppose being the lower half of an Admiral's rear is at least a little more dignified than being any part of a horse's rear. Anyway, it's nice to know they have such a good sense of humour, isn't it?) 


And (full) Admiral was the highest rank anyone held until 1903, when George Dewey was promoted to Admiral of the Navy. This is interesting in many ways. Firstly, they set an interesting precedent by making the promotion effective as of 1899, four years previously. Secondly, you'd think that  this was a five star rank, but it probably wasn't.


Dewey wore four stars, he just made them gold rather than the four silver stars of a full admiral. But to all but the pitifully ignorant, the number of stars on the insignia is only significant if you're American and promoted during or after World War II. Far more important, even in America the name is wrong for a five star officer, and it's even wronger for four stars. Admiral of the Navy is senior not only to full Admiral, it's also senior to Fleet Admiral which is a five star rank. Even in America.


So was Dewey a six star admiral? Maybe. It's at least as close as any American has come to six stars.



Pershing's General of the Armies insignia


The army caught up sort of in 1919 when John J. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies. This was a very similar promotion to Dewey's, in that Pershing wore a new and specially designed insignia with four stars, and in that the rank of General of the Armies is senior to General of the Army which is unambiguously a five star rank.


So Pershing came as close as Dewey to six stars, but they both wore only four. Both seem to have had some say in the design of their insignia, and they chose the one that would be most recognisable to the people they commanded, and this mattered to them, and the future opinions of military hobbyists and even military historians probably mattered a lot less, if indeed they mattered at all. 


Five unambiguous stars


The next appointment above four stars didn't come until December 1944, when four generals and three admirals were promoted to five stars, to match the seniority of British officers who already had these exalted ranks (by different names and without the five stars on their insignia). The army officers were given the rank of General of the Army and a newly designed five-star insignia, and the Admirals became Fleet Admirals also with new and similar five-star insignia.


These appointments were carefully dated on successive days to establish an order of seniority within the rank. The names and insignia of the British officers didn't change then, didn't change later with the formation of NATO, aren't likely to change any time soon, and are universally agreed to represent five star officers. Get over it.



WWII five star insignia


But is this systematic use of stars retrospective? Does it make General of the Armies a six star rank when it was previously held? These questions have often been asked, and never answered.


There were more five-star appointments during the war, and two since, but the last was back in the 1950s.  It's now described as a wartime-only rank, which I suppose means that the United States has now retrospectively declared war on the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and it's probably a very good thing that nobody knew this at the time (although it would explain a lot).




Douglas MacArthur was one of the generals promoted to five stars in 1944. In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, it was suggested in 1945 that promotion to the six-star rank of General of the Armies would be appropriate, and an insignia was designed. Nimitz was also mentioned as a possible six-star Admiral of the Navy, just to be fair and to make sure the Army and the Navy kept shooting at the Japanese and not at each other. However neither the invasion nor the promotions took place.




There are at least two versions of a US six star insignia in various US army archives,

but nobody really cares where they came from, and we of course applaud this attitude.



After Macarthur's departure from the army, the prospect of his promotion to six stars was raised again from time to time. This ended with the assassination of John F Kennedy, but Macarthur's enthusiasm for the promotion had already been somewhat diluted by the opinion of the Army's top lawyer that, while he was (semi-) retired at the time but as a five-star general he remained on the active list and on full pay, as a six-star general he'd lose all of that. Apparently Congress had the power or the will or whatever to honor five star generals in this way but not six star generals. It probably makes sense to the Americans.    


So no American has ever worn six stars. Following the example of Pershing, Macarthur designed an enhanced five-star cap insignia to represent his status as a Field Marshal in the Philippines. But despite the rumours that he was given special permission to wear the badge of his Philippine rank when in the Philippines, he wore it everywhere, and never received (or asked for) permission to do so.


Washington again


In 1976, as part of the United States Bicentennial year celebrations, Washington was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies, with the idea being that he would now be equal or better in rank to Pershing and others. However as the appointment was not backdated (as Dewey's had been for example), there is still a sense in which Grant, Farragut, Dewey and Pershing all outrank Washington, having been appointed first to the rank. The American solution to this has simply been to declare that they don't.


The reluctance to give Washington six stars or even five is understandable. The idea of his being given a rank four levels above his most senior subordinate would have horrified him. And this wasn't lost on all of his fellow-countrymen, with one of them saying It's a bit like the Pope offering to make Christ a Cardinal. Very well said!


Or you could take the view that Washington's promotion doesn't go quite far enough. I mean, we have many examples of backdated promotions, so why wasn't Washington's backdated? Perhaps to the Big Bang? Otherwise, there's always the horrible possibility that some tinpot dictator will read this page and think, hey, that's cute, I'll backdate my own infinity-star promotion. And then they'll have seniority over Washington. Wouldn't want that, would we? 


Other NATO countries


See below for pre-NATO Germany.


But other countries, inside and outside of NATO, don't have the American hangup with stars. Most five-star ranks... Field Marshals and Admirals of the Fleet, mainly... have never worn five stars and never will.


The concept of a five-star grade was adopted as cool, NATO even gave it the name OF-10. The idea of looking like an American didn't appeal though, so they kept their existing shoulder boards.  France is particularly rebellious in this regard, many of their senior officers have up to seven stars, and they don't relate to the number of stars in an officer's grade at all.


Several other NATO countries have five-star ranks, but none of them wear five stars. The only one that might have a higher rank is France, who are almost as evasive as the Americans on the matter.



Other countries


Every tinpot dictator wants to be a general, and there's not a lot to stop them. Five stars? Six? Why stop at stars? Why not galaxies? If you're promoting yourself anyway, it might as well be to the very top.


North Korea


North Korea has a five star rank of Chasu. Or at least, it's the rank immediately above four-star General in their system. If that link doesn't work, maybe try this one.


As of September 2008, there were 11 current holders of this rank. Past and present holders (with dates of promotion when known) include:


  • Choi Yong-gun, promoted February 1953, the first to hold this rank.
  • O Jin-u, April 1985.
  • Yi Eul-sul.
  • Choi Kwang.
  • Cho Myung-rok, October 1995.
  • Kim Yung-choon, October 1995.
  • Lee Ha-il, October 1995.
  • Kim Il-chul, April 1997.


There are two even higher ranks. The next one up, Wonsu, has been awarded three times.


An even higher rank, Dae Wonsu, should logically be seven stars. Dae Wonsu was first awarded in April 1992, to Kim Il-sung, by the government then headed by (wait for it) Kim Il-sung. They subsequently also promoted his dead predecessor and daddy.


And whether they will promote him further in the fullness of time, like the Americans have to Washington, remains to be seen.


But the Americans don't consider these military ranks, so we won't either. I mean, if a Dae Wonsu orders a Wonsu to shoot you, or to fire a nuclear tipped missile at you, even in fun, then here's some hope that he won't, isn't there? I mean, isn't there? And the North Korean military is only the biggest in the world (when you count reserves and paras, that is), so why would they need these big scary ranks anyway? It's all bluff... I hope... Whatever...


China, which we call "Red China", exploded a nuclear bomb, which we called a "device"  - Tom Lehrer, patter on That was the year that was 




Russia doesn't have a six star rank, but the Soviet Union tried hard to have one. They even promoted Joseph Stalin, then a five-star Marshal, and even sewed up a pretty uniform for him to wear, with special insignia and all. But he wouldn't play. He refused, and he was the one who had to sign the order, and unlike in North Korea (see above) they were pretty sure that if he said "Shoot" then someone would, so there wasn't a lot they could do. So he didn't say "Shoot", but he did say something like the rank of Marshal is the highest in the Soviet Union. We're not quite sure, he said it in Russian, probably because there wasn't a Sovietish language.


So he and Macarthur both decided in the end that five-star was enough for them. Maybe Washington would have said that too, but they didn't ask him. And Stalin's new uniform was all wasted, just like Washington's will be if they ever get around to making him one.



We taught them a lesson in 1918, and they've hardly bothered us since then... (Tom Lehrer, The MLF Lullaby)


If we can't have a six star rank, then nobody can.

(Some nameless American, probably.) (More than one of them, more probably still.)


Germany doesn't mess around. They promoted Goering to six stars. He was a real General, and after 1938 a real Field Marshal, and after 1940 a real Reichsmarschall, which at the time was one rank higher still. Get over it.


They made him a uniform, and unlike Stalin he actually wore it, and it had special rank insignia, and it's in a museum and you can see it and photograph it, and people regularly do, see below. And he received his new rank from Hitler at a ceremony at which twelve generals were promoted to field marshal, some of them rising one rank and some two. And Goering was promoted too, but he was already a field marshal. These thirteen were all serving officers on active duty, and it's not clear whether those who believe that Goering wasn't really promoted beyond field marshal think the others were really promoted, or not. The other German officers of the time seemed to think that all these promotions were for real.  


Goering is still the person to have had the least ambiguous six star rank, one that that almost everybody either recognises as real or at least feels uncomfortable enough about it to shut up. (I did say almost.) So working for Hitler had its upside after all, at least until they decided to kill each other. Rommel had the same problem, with much the same result in the end, only a whole lot quicker. The final score was Cyanide 2, Generals 0.


  Goering's Reichsmarschall epaulet

 There are images of his whole six-star uniform on the net, and it's in a museum somewhere if you'd like to take a few more. But why bother? Photo, shmotto. Those who don't believe the rank existed probably don't believe that the uniform exists either, and no photo is likely to convince them.


This is pre NATO of course. And the rank is now again banned, for the moment at least.





Don't you believe us. Tough. You could try World Almanac instead. In the deletion debate at Wikipedia, someone claimed that World Almanac had an article on six star ranks. But they said this in support of the idea that there weren't really any six star ranks. Go figure. Anyway, World Almanac is likely to be too accurate for us to use here, so we haven't checked it.


Here are some we did use or check:








This article is a stub. Or worse. You might like to fix it. But you can't. Tough.



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.