Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.
Commander as a naval rank
Commander is a rank used in navies but is very rarely used as a rank in armies (except in special forces where it designates the team leader). The title (originally "master and commander") originated in the 18th century to describe naval officers who commanded ships of war too large to be commanded by a Lieutenant but too small to warrant the assignment of a post-captain, or (before about 1770) a sailing-master; the commanding officer served as his own Master. In practice, these were usually unrated sloops-of-war of no more than 20 guns. The Royal Navy shortened "master and commander" to "commander" in 1794; however, the term "master and commander" remained (unofficially) in common parlance for several years. The equivalent American rank master commandant remained in use until changed to commander in 1838. A corresponding rank in some navies is frigate captain. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the rank has been assigned the NATO rank code of OF-4.
Insignia of a Royal Navy commander A commander in the Royal Navy is above the rank of lieutenant commander, below the rank of captain, and is equivalent in rank to a lieutenant colonel in the army. A commander may command a frigate, destroyer, submarine, aviation squadron or shore installation, or may serve on a staff.
Royal Australian Navy
The rank of commander in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is identical in description to that of a commander in the British Royal Navy. RAN chaplains who are in Division 1, 2 and 3 (of five divisions) have the equivalent rank standing of commanders. This means that to officers and NCOs below the rank of commander, lieutenant colonel. or wing commander, the chaplain is a superior.
To those officers ranked higher than commander, the chaplain is subordinate. Although this equivalency exists, RAN chaplains who are in Division 1, 2 and 3 do not actually wear the rank of commander, and they hold no command privilege.
Imperial Japanese Navy and Japanese Self-Defense Forces
In the Imperial Japanese Navy and the more modern Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the rank of commander is also used. In the more modern Japanese navy, this rank is equivalent to that of a commander in the U.S. Navy.
Royal Air Force
Since the British Royal Air Force's mid-rank officers' ranks are modeled after those of the Royal Navy, the term wing commander is used as a rank, and this is the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the army or a commander in the navy. The rank of wing commander is above that of squadron leader and below that of group captain.
In the former Royal Naval Air Service, which was merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918, the pilots held appointments as well as their normal ranks in the Royal Navys, and they wore insignia appropriate to the appointment instead of the rank. A flight commander wore a star above a lieutenant's two rank stripes, squadron commander wore two stars above two rank stripes (less than eight years' seniority) or two-and-a-half rank stripes (over eight years seniority), and wing commander wore three rank stripes. The rank stripes had the usual Royal Navy curl, and they were surmounted by an eagle.
Royal Canadian Navy
In the Russian Navy the equivalent rank to commander is "captain of the second rank" ().
The corresponding rank in the Polish Navy is komandor porucznik.
Commander as a military appointment
In the British Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the non-commissioned officer in charge of a section (section commander), vehicle (vehicle commander) or gun (gun commander), to the subaltern or captain commanding a platoon (platoon commander), or to the brigadier commanding a brigade (brigade commander). Other officers commanding units are usually referred to as the officer commanding (OC), commanding officer (CO), general officer commanding (GOC), or general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-C), depending on rank and position, although the term "commander" may be applied to them informally.
In the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry commander is a rank equivalent to major.
New Zealand Army
The usage is similar to the United States Army, with the term "commander" usually applying to very senior officers only, typically at divisional level (major general).
Spanish Armed Forces and Guardia Civil
In the Spanish Army, the Spanish Air Force and the Marine Infantry, the term commander is the literal translation of "comandante", the Spanish equivalent of a Commonwealth major. The Guardia Civil shares the Army ranks, and the officer commanding a house-garrison (usually a NCO or a lieutenant, depending on the size) is addressed as the "comandante de puesto" (post commander).
United States Army
In the United States Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the commanding officer of army units; hence, there are company commanders, battalion commanders, brigade commanders, and so forth. At the highest levels of U.S. military command structure, "commander" also refers to what used to be called commander-in-chief, or CINC, until October 24, 2002, although the term CINC is still used in casual speech.
United States Air Force
In the Air Force, the term "commander" (abbreviated "CC" in office symbols, i.e. "OG/CC" for "operations group commander") is officially applied to the commanding officer of an Air Force unit; hence, there are flight commanders, squadron commanders, group commanders, wing commanders, and so forth. In rank, a flight commander is typically a lieutanant or captain, a squadron commander is typically a major or lieutenant colonel, a group commander is typically a colonel, and a wing commander is typically a senior colonel or a brigadier general.
An "aircraft commander" is also designated for all flights of United States Air Force aircraft. This individual must be a pilot and an officer that has graduated from a formal aircraft commander course and is designated on flight orders by the unit commander for that particular flight. This individual is in command of all military personnel on the aircraft regardless of rank (even individuals that out-rank the aircraft commander).
Commander as a non-military rank or title
In NASA spacecraft missions since the beginning of Project Gemini, one crew member on each spacecraft is designated as mission commander. The commander is the captain of the ship, and makes all real-time critical decisions on behalf of the crew and in coordination with the Mission Control Center (MCC).
The title of "aircraft commander" was used in civil aviation to refer to the "pilot in command" (commonly referred to as "captain"). This has since fallen out of usage.
British police rank
Within the British police, commander is a chief officer rank in the two police forces responsible for law enforcement within London, the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. In both forces, the rank is senior to chief superintendent, in the Metropolitan Police it is junior to Deputy Assistant Commissioner and in the City of London Police it is junior to assistant commissioner. In forces outside of London, the rank equates to assistant chief constable.
The Metropolitan Police introduced the rank in 1946, after they split the rank of deputy assistant commissioner with senior DACs keeping the rank and title with junior ones being regraded as commanders. The Metropolitan Police also had the rank of deputy commander, ranking just below that of commander, between 1946 and 1968. In addition, officers in charge of policing each of the London's boroughs are given the title "borough commander". However, such officers do not hold the actual rank of commander but instead hold the rank of chief superintendent. An exception to this is the Borough Commander of Westminster, who is actually a commander and not a chief superintendent due to the size, complexity and high-profile nature of the borough.
Australian police rank
In Australia, commander is a rank used by the Victorian, Tasmanian, Western Australian, South Australian, and Australian Federal police forces. The insignia consists of a crown over three bath stars in a triangular formation, equivalent to a brigadier in the army. In all four forces, it is junior to the rank of assistant commissioner, and senior to the rank of chief superintendent, with the exception of Western Australia and Victoria where it is senior to the rank of superintendent.
In New South Wales the position of commander is instated to officers (usually superintendents) in charge of a command or unit.
United States police rank
The Los Angeles Police Department and the San Francisco Police Department are two of the few American police departments which use this rank. A Commander in the LAPD is equivalent to an Inspector in other US departments (such as the NYPD); the LAPD rank was originally called Inspector as well, but was changed in 1974 to Commander after senior officers voiced a preference for the more military-sounding rank.
Commander is also utilized by larger Sheriff's Departments in the United States. The rank usually falls between Chief Deputy and Captain, which is three positions removed from the Sheriff. The Clark County Sheriff's Office in southwest Washington state uses the rank of Commander. It falls between the rank of sergeant and the rank of Branch Chief. The insignia worn by a Clark County Sheriff's Office commander is a gold oak leaf, the same insignia worn by a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy or a Major in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps.
The Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) also uses the rank of Commander. The rank falls between those of Inspector and Assistant Chief.
The Rochester, NY, Police Department (RPD) uses the rank of Commander. Higher than Captain and below Deputy Chief, the rank is achieved by appointment. Commander is the rank held by the two patrol division heads and other commanders fill various administrative roles. The St Paul Police Department (SPPD) is another police force that uses the rank of Commander. In the St Paul Police Department, Commanders serve as the chief of the district/unit that they oversee.
Many police departments in the midwest (including the Chicago Police Department) use the rank of Commander. In Chicago a Commander ranks above Captain, and wears an oakleaf insignia. It is equivalent to a Lieutenant in most other departments, being above a sergeant and below a Deputy Chief or Captain.
Commander is also used as a title in certain circumstances, such as the commander of a squad of detectives, who would usually be of the rank of Lieutenant.
Canadian police rank
The Montreal police force, Service de police de la Ville de Montr al, uses the rank of commander.
Incident Command System
In the Incident Command System the incident commander is in charge of the response to an emergency. The title may pass from person to person as the incident develops.
Military and chivalric orders
The title of commander is used in the military orders, such as the Knights Hospitaller, for a member senior to a knight. The title of knight commander is often used to denote an even higher rank. These conventions are also used by most of the continental orders of chivalry. The United Kingdom uses different classifications.
In most of the British Orders of Knighthood, the grade of knight (or dame) commander is the lowest grade of knighthood, but is above the grade of companion (which does not carry a knighthood). In the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the British Empire, the grade of commander is senior to the grade of lieutenant or officer respectively, but junior to that of knight or dame commander. In the British Order of St John, a commander ranks below a knight. (However, knights of the Order of St John are not called "Sir".)
In common usage
"Commander" may sometimes be used by laymen, usually applied to the person who is accountable for and holds authority over a group or the attempts of a group to achieve a common goal.
- Comparative military ranks
- Company commander
- Brigade commander
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