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Colonel General

Colonel general is a senior rank of general. North Korea and Russia are two countries which have used the rank extensively throughout their histories. The rank is also closely associated with Germany, where Generaloberst has been a rank above the full General and a rank below Generalfeldmarschall.



Colonel general (Generaloberst) was the second-highest rank in the Austro-Hungarian Army, introduced following the German model in 1915. The rank was not used after World War I in the Austrian Army of the Republic.

China (PRC)

The People's Liberation Army rank of shang jiang ( : literally, "senior general") is variously translated as either colonel general or general, with the translation as colonel general generally reserved for the period 1955-1965 (when it corresponded to the Soviet rank of colonel general). The rank was not used in the PLA between 1965 and 1988. When it was restored, there was a reduction in the number of officer ranks, and the ranks have since been normally translated into English as the corresponding American or British rank, rendering the rank of shang jiang as simply "general".


The Egyptian Army uses a rank which translates as "colonel general". They equate it with a 4-star rank ("full" general); it is junior to the rank they translate as field marshal.


In the French Army, under the Ancien r gime, the officer in charge of all the regiments of a particular branch of service (i. e. infantry, cavalry, dragoons, Swiss troops, etc.) was known as the colonel general. This was not a rank, but an office of the Crown.


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A colonel general (Generaloberst) was the second highest general officer rank below field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) in the Prussian army and later in the army of Imperial Germany (1871-1919), the Reichsheer (1921-1935), the Heer and the Luftwaffe (1935-1945).

The rank in the German armed forces equivalent to a colonel in the British or American army is an "Oberst". So, the translation as colonel general follows the line of lieutenant general (Generalleutnant) and major general (Generalmajor).

The rank was created originally for Emperor William I then Prince of Prussia because traditionally members of the royal family were not promoted to the rank of a field marshal.

Since the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was also reserved for wartime promotions, the additional rank of a colonel general in the capacity of a field marshal the Generaloberst im range eines Generalfeldmarschalls was created for promotions during peace. Such generals were entitled to wear four pips on their shoulder boards, compared to the normal three.

The equivalent ranks of a colonel general were in the:

  • Kriegsmarine - Generaladmiral ("general admiral")
  • Schutzstaffel (SS) - SS-Oberst-Gruppenf hrer
  • Sturmabteilung (SA) - no equivalent
  • Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) - Generaloberst der Polizei ("colonel general of police")
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National People's Army

East Germany's National People's Army (NVA) retained this rank as its third highest, behind armeegeneral and marschall der DDR.


The Bundeswehr (first in West Germany and since 1990 in a unified Germany) does not use the rank.


In Hungary, the rank of colonel general (vez rezredes) has been introduced with the Imperial and Royal Army (the common ground force of the Dual Monarchy) in 1915. The rank replaced the ranks of gyalogs gi t bornok (general of infantry), lovass gi t bornok (general of cavalry), and t borszernagy (general of artillery) in the early 1940s.

The rank title vez rezredes is still in use for the highest ranking (four-star) general officer of the Magyar Honv ds g and foreign four-star general officers' rank titles are usually translated as vez rezredes in Hungarian.

North Korea

The North Korean rank of sangjang translates as "colonel general". Sangjang is senior to that of jungjang (usually translated as "lieutenant general") and junior to that of daejang (usually translated as "general").

This rank is typically held by the commanding officer of units along the Korean DMZ and the North Korean security zone at Panmunjon.


The rank of colonel general (Russian: - , general-polkovnik) did not exist in Imperial Russia and was first established in the Red Army on 7 May 1940, as a replacement for previously existing (kommandarm vtorogo ranga, "comandarm of the second rank").[1] During World War II, about 150 officers were promoted to colonel general. Before 1943, Soviet colonel generals wore four stars on their collar patches (petlitsy). Since 1943, they have worn three stars on their shoulder straps, so Pettibone compares the rank to the US lieutenant general.[1]

The rank still exists in the contemporary Russian Army. Unlike the German generaloberst (which it most probably calqued), the Soviet and Russian colonel general rank is neither an exceptional nor a rare one, as it is a normal step in the "ladder" between a two-star lieutenant general and a four-star army general.

Other than that, the Soviet and Russian rank systems sometimes cause confusion in regard to equivalence of ranks, because the normal Western title for brigadier or brigadier general ceased to exist for the Russian Army in 1798. The combrig rank that corresponded to one-star general existed in Soviet Union in 1935 1940 years only. Positions typically reserved for these ranks, such as brigade commanders, have always been occupied by colonels (polkovnik) or, very rarely, major generals (see History of Russian military ranks).

The rank has usually been given to district, front and army commanders, and also to Deputy Ministers of Defense, Deputy Heads of the General Staff etc.

In some post-Soviet CIS armies (for example in Belarus) there are no generals of the army or marshals, and so colonel general is the highest rank, usually held by the minister of the defense.

The corresponding naval rank is admiral, which is also denoted by three stars.


Colonel general (general verste) has also been a senior military rank in Sweden, used principally before the 19th century.

United Kingdom

The title of colonel general was used before and during the English Civil War in both Royalist and Parliamentarian armies. In these cases it often appears to have meant a senior colonel as opposed to a senior general.

United States

In the United States, as commander of an army the equivalent rank was general (four-star general, grade O-10).


In Vietnam, the rank of colonel general is known as th ng t ng (literally "senior lieutenant general"), equivalent to a three star general and admiral. Th ng t ng is senior to trung t ng (usually translated as "lieutenant general") and junior to i t ng (usually translated as "general"). It is used in the army and the air force. It is the equivalent to c (admiral) in the Navy.

See also

  • List of colonel generals
  • List of German colonel generals


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  • Data about Germany and Austria are based, in part, on the German-language Wikipedia article: "generaloberst"

External links

az:General-Polkovnik bg: - ca:Coronel General cs:Gener lplukovn k da:Generaloberst de:Generaloberst es:Coronel general fr:Generaloberst it:Colonnello generale lb:Generaloberst lt:Generolas pulkininkas nl:Kolonel-generaal ja: no:Generaloberst nn:Generaloberst pl:Generaloberst pt:Coronel-general ru: - sl:Generalpolkovnik sr: - sh:General-pukovnik fi:Kenraalieversti sv:General verste tr:Generaloberst uk: - vi:Th ng t ng zh:

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