Ranks of the British Armed Forces

Last up-dated: 24/11/01

This list should not be considered definite nor an exhaustive study of ranks in Britain, but rather as an aid to understanding what positions various people mentioned in these pages may have held. Remember that the names and their meanings have changed over the centuries and from place to place.
Modern ranks are basically:


Royal Marines


Royal Air Force

Admiral of the Fleet Field Marshal Marshal of the Royal Air Force
Admiral General General Air Chief Marshal
Vice-Admiral Lieutenant general Lieutenant-General Air Marshal
Rear-Admiral Major General Major-General Air Vice-Marshal
Commodore Brigadier Brigadier Air Commodore


Lieutenant Colonel


Group Captain
Commander Major Lieutenant-Colonel Wing Commander
Lieutenant-Commander Captain Major Squadron Leader
Captain Flight-Lieutenant
Lieutenant Flying Officer

Acting Lieutenant

Second Lieutenant

Pilot Officer

Acting Pilot Officer

Cadet Cadet Officer cadet Officer cadet
Warrant Officer, Class I Warrant Officer, Class I
Warrant Officer Warrant Officer
Warrant Officer, Class II Warrant Officer, Class II

Chief Petty Officer

Colour Sergeant

Staff Sergeant
Flight Sergeant

Master Technician

Petty Officer Sergeant Sergeant Sergeant
Leading Seaman Corporal Corporal Corporal
Able Seaman Marine 1st Class Lance-Corporal Junior Technician
Senior Aircraftman
Ordinary Rating Marine 2nd Class Private Leading Aircraftman
Junior Seaman Junior Marine Aircraftman

Sometimes there is a difference of rank within the same box, which I have tried to depict. I have not included any ranks for the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) or Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF), as there is now apparently no distinction. They are included in the table below

Other ranks exist and have existed at various times during the history of the British armed forces. I have included some of these below in alphabetical order:

Able Rating Equivalent to Ordinary Rating
Adjutant Not a rank, but an appointment within a regiment, irrespective of rank, responsible for administration.
Air Chief Commander Equivalent to Air Vice Marshall in WRAF
Air Commandant Equivalent to Air Commodore in WRAF
Band master Actual status depends on the unit. In some periods/units, perhaps a civilian.
Bandsman Usually a private, although in some periods/units perhaps a civilian
Bombardier Corporal, Royal Artillery
Brigadier General Brigadier
Chief Officer Equivalent to Commander in WRNS
Chief WREN Equivalent to Chief Petty Officer in WRNS
Colour Sergeant Originally an appointment for bravery, not a rank; later, a sergeant who accompanied the regiment's colours.
Commandant Not a rank, but an appointment, irrespective of rank, responsible for an installation, such as a school, depot or camp.
Commander Commodore in WRNS
Cornet (17th century), 5th (and lowest) officer in a cavalry regiment, Responsible for the colours. Modern equivalent: 2nd Lieutenant
Corporal of Horse Sergeant in cavalry regiment
Corporal Technician RAF, Corporal
Craftsman Private
Driver Private
Drum Major NCO in command of the drummers in the regiment. Actual status depends on the unit.
Ensign Lowest commissioned officer in an infantry regiment, responsible for the colours. Modern equivalent: 2nd Lieutenant
First Officer Equivalent to Navy Captain in WRNS
Flight Officer Equivalent to Flight Lieutenant in WRAF
Fusilier Private, Fusilier Regt.
Grenadier In the 17th-19th centuries, a member of the elite company of a line infantry regiment. Usually a private unless otherwise stated.
Group Officer Equivalent to GRoup Captain in WRAF
Guardsman Private, Guards Regt.
Gunner Private, Royal Artillery
Lance Bombardier Lance-Corporal, Royal Artillery
Lance Sergeant Acting sergeant.
Leading Rating Similar to Able Seaman, between Corporal and Lance Corporal
Leading WREN Leading seaman, WRNS
Master Aircrew RAF - with RAF Warrant Officer
Master Engineer RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Master Gunner RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Master Navigator RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Master Pilot RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Master Signaller RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Master Technician RAF - member of Master Aircrew
Naik Corporal in Indian army
Pipe major NCO in charge of the pipes. Actual status depends on the unit.
Quartermaster Sergeant Staff Sergeant, Warrant Officer Class II
Rifleman Private, Rifle Regt.
Sapper Private, Royal Engineers
Second Officer Equivalent to Navy Lieutenant in WRNS
Schoolmaster In some periods, perhaps a civilian
Sergeant Major Originally (16th-17th centuries) a field officer, next in rank to the lieutenant-colonel, and thus the equivalent of a major, as well as having the duties of an adjutant. In theory, in the 20th century, the senior sergeant in a unit (company or regiment). Equivalent to Warrant Officer.
Serjeant Old form of Sergeant (First World War)
Signalman Private
Sowar Cavalry trooper in Indian army
Squadron Officer Equivalent to Squadron Leader in WRAF
Third Officer Equivalent to Sub-Lieutenant in WRNS
Trooper Private in a cavalry regiment
Trumpet major NCO in charge of the trumpeters in a regiment. Actual status depended on the unit.
Wing Officer Equivalent to Wing Commander in WRAF
WREN Lowst rank, equivalent to Ordinary Rating, in WRNS

It is also possible to hold a higher rank in the army than in the regiment or Corps, often as a reward for good service. In such cases the rank is known as brevet.

Go to Top of Page