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This article concerns the usage by military services of the systems of ranks and rank insignia developed by the armed forces of the United Kingdom. These are used mostly by the armed forces of member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, including nearly all English-speaking countries, and (to a lesser extent) Arab League.

These systems have a number of virtues. Their logic, clarity and widespread use mean that it should not be necessary to have been informed of what ranks or insignia designs exist in a particular service that is known to use British-style rank insignia in order to determine solely by its rank insignia a rank's seniority and in most cases even its name. If used properly by the services that use these formats, there would be very little potential for misidentification of ranks.

Unfortunately, illogical and unnecessary misleading deviations have proliferated, and addressing this problem is the object of this article. The purpose of rank insignia is to enable a person to identify the rank (and therefore the level of authority) of another person. Because of errors and other problems that have arisen this is becoming increasingly difficult to do, especially as it not always self-evident that a particular misconceived deviation has occurred.

There are advantages in doing it the right way (such as the ability to recognise ranks easily and presenting a dignified appearance) and there is no reason for any of these services to not do it the right way. What constitutes the 'right way' could well be debated. This article can be regarded as a contribution to such a debate. The arguments presented herein are intended to rely on tradition (generally, what can be regarded as reasonably consistent from the late 19th to late 20th century), practical considerations and above all logic. It's no accident that the word system is used so frequently.

This article is not about:
    - reiterating uniform rules of particular services at various points in time;
    - arbitrarily picking certain services' ranks and insignia as they were at particular points in time and regarding those as ideal versions to be conformed to;
    - describing personal preferences (that would be a very different article altogether);
    - describing the evolution of rank and insignia formats in detail (I considered doing so but the subject has already been done to death); or
    - giving voice to Imperial nostalgia (I'm not British) or anglophile tendencies (that the progenitor services happen to be those of the UK is incidental).

Not all current problems will be dealt with, nor any that are (at the time of writing) no longer current (such as the 'Platoon Sergeant-Major' experiment or the mess that was Commodore First Class, for example).

There is no suggestion that any particular series of ranks or insignia designs must be used by any particular service. A service may have whatever ranks it likes and whatever insignia (and other things) it wants to represent them. However, the schemes that are chosen, whatever they may be, should be done properly.

As we are dealing with systems (as opposed to just specific versions used by individual services), it is necessary when describing a system to include variations that conform to its formula regardless of whether such variations are desirable or even used. Hence Ensign's star and references to the non-existent but nevertheless possible marshal-rank substitute for Air Commodore, for example. That such variations are described should not be construed as indicating approval of them.

A reference to 'tradition' is to be construed as pertaining to the relevant nation in the context. That a tradition may have been inherited from a military service of the United Kingdom doesn't make it any less Indian, Malaysian, Nigerian, Canadian, Australian, Fijian, Jamaican, Belizean, etc.

As with other articles on this site, references to specific ranks are capitalised deliberately for the purposes of clarity (apologies if this grates). For example, 'Lieutenant' (with a capital 'L') refers only to a rank of that specific name.

Page 1
Officers' Stars

Updated 3/2015
Page 2
Officers' Stripes

Updated 3/2015
Page 3
Insignia System Must
Match Rank System
Page 4
Officer Rank Class Insignia

To be completed

Page 5
The Seventh Officer Rank

Revised 12/2012
Page 6
Midshipmen and Cadets
Under construction
Page 7
Other Ranks

Revised 2/2013
Page 8


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