Ensign (rank)

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NaviesArmiesAir forces
Commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Field marshal or
General of the army
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier or
brigadier general
Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
junior grade
Lieutenant or
first lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign or
Second lieutenant Pilot officer
Officer cadet Officer cadet Flight cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Flight sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal or
Seaman Private or
gunner or
Aircraftman or

Ensign ( /ˈɛnsən/ ; [1] Late Middle English, from Old French enseigne (12c.) "mark, symbol, signal; flag, standard, pennant", from Latin insignia (plural)) is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank acquired the name. This rank has generally been replaced in army ranks by second lieutenant. [2] Ensigns were generally the lowest ranking commissioned officer, except where the rank of subaltern existed. [3] In contrast, the Arab rank of ensign, لواء, liwa' , derives from the command of units with an ensign, not the carrier of such a unit's ensign, and is today the equivalent of a major general.

Old French was the language spoken in Northern France from the 8th century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the langue d'oc or Occitan language in the south of France. The mid-14th century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect of the Île-de-France region.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Ensign Maritime flag used for national identification of ships

An ensign is the national flag flown on a vessel to indicate citizenry. The ensign is the largest flag, generally flown at the stern (rear) of the ship while in port. The naval ensign, used on warships, may be different from the civil ensign or the yacht ensign. Large versions of naval ensigns called battle ensigns are used when a warship goes into battle. The ensign differs from the jack which is flown from a jackstaff at the bow of a vessel.


In Thomas Venn's 1672 Military and Maritime Discipline in Three Books, the duties of ensigns are to include not only carrying the colour but assisting the captain and lieutenant of a company and in their absence, have their authority. [4]

"Ensign" is enseigne in French, and chorąży in Polish, each of which derives from a term for a flag. The Spanish alférez and Portuguese alferes is a junior officer rank below lieutenant associated with carrying the flag, and so is often translated as "ensign". Unlike the rank in other languages, its etymology has nothing to do with flags, but instead comes from the Arabic for "cavalier" or "knight". Fähnrich in German comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (flag bearer); however, it is an officer cadet rank, not a junior officer – the same applies to the Dutch vaandrig , which has a parallel etymology. In the German Landsknecht armies (c. 1480), the equivalent rank of cornet existed for those men who carried the troop standard (known as a "cornet"). It is still used in the artillery and cavalry units of the Netherlands (kornet).


Chorąży or khorunzhyi (Polish pronunciation: [xɔˈrɔ̃ʐɨ]; means "Standard-bearer"; Russian and Ukrainian: Хорунжий is a military rank in Poland, Ukraine and some neighboring countries. A chorąży was once a knight who bore an ensign — the emblem of an armed troop, a province, a land, a duchy, or the kingdom. This function later evolved into a non-hereditary noble title.

Alférez is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The Portuguese variant alferes is used in Portugal, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor and was also formerly used in Brazil. The naval rank of alférez de fragata is used in Spain, Dominican Republic and Peru.

Arabic Central Semitic language

Arabic is a Semitic language that first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE. It is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in Northwestern Arabia and in the Sinai Peninsula. The ISO assigns language codes to thirty varieties of Arabic, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is modernized Classical Arabic. This distinction exists primarily among Western linguists; Arabic speakers themselves generally do not distinguish between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic, but rather refer to both as al-ʻArabīyat ul-fuṣḥá.

The NATO rank code is OF-1 (junior).


In Argentina, the rank of ensign is used by both the air force and the gendarmerie. It is, however, used differently in the two services. The air force uses the rank for newly qualified officers, while the gendarmerie uses "ensign" ranks as an equivalent for the army's "lieutenant" ranks.

Argentine Air Force Air warfare branch of Argentinas armed forces

The Argentine Air Force is the national aviation branch of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic. In 2010 it had 14,600 military personnel and 6,900 civilian personnel.

Argentine National Gendarmerie internal security branch of Argentinaa armed forces

The Argentine National Gendarmerie is the gendarmerie and corps of border guards of Argentina.

Argentine Air Force RankArgentine Gendarmerie RankEquivalent Commonwealth Ranks for comparison
EnsignSubensign Acting pilot officer / 2nd lieutenant
LieutenantEnsign Pilot officer / 2nd lieutenant
First lieutenantFirst ensign Flying officer / lieutenant

The other armed forces of Argentina have ranks equivalent to ensign: subteniente (which can be translated into English as "sublieutenant") in the army and guardiamarina (midshipman) in the navy". [5] In the army, the most junior sublieutenant in a regiment (or other unit) is also the flag carrier.

Argentine Army ground warfare branch of Argentinas armed forces

The Argentine Army is the land armed force branch of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic and the senior military service of the country. Under the Argentine Constitution, the President of Argentina is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, exercising his or her command authority through the Minister of Defense.

The Argentine Navy is the navy of Argentina. It is one of the three branches of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic, together with the Army and the Air Force.

France and Canada

Enseigne de vaisseau de premiere classe Grade-enseigne-1classe.svg
Enseigne de vaisseau de première classe
Enseigne de vaisseau de deuxieme classe Grade-enseigne-2classe.svg
Enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe

During the Ancien Régime in France, as in other countries, the ensign (enseigne) was the banner of an infantry regiment. [6] As in other countries, the name began to be used for the officers who carried the ensign. It was renamed sub-lieutenant (sous-lieutenant) at the end of the 18th century. The Navy used a rank of ship-of-the-line ensign (enseigne de vaisseau), which was the first officer rank. It was briefly renamed ship-of-the-line sub-lieutenant (sous-lieutenant de vaisseau) in the end of the 18th century, but its original name was soon restored.

Ancien Régime Monarchic, aristocratic, social and political system established in the Kingdom of France from approximately the 15th century until the later 18th century

The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until 1789, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution. The Ancien Régime was ruled by the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts, internal conflicts, and civil wars, but they remained and the Valois Dynasty's attempts at re-establishing control over the scattered political centres of the country were hindered by the Huguenot Wars. Much of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII and the early years of Louis XIV were focused on administrative centralization. Despite, however, the notion of "absolute monarchy" and the efforts by the kings to create a centralized state, the Kingdom of France retained its irregularities: authority regularly overlapped and nobles struggled to retain autonomy.

Sub-lieutenant is a junior military officer rank.

Nowadays, the rank is still used in the Marine Nationale : Ship-of-the-line ensign (enseigne de vaisseau) is the name of the two lowest officer ranks (which are distinguished from one another as "first class", equal to an army lieutenant, and "second class", equal to an army sub-lieutenant.) Both ranks of ensign use the style lieutenant.

French-speaking Canadian Naval officers also use the terms of enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe and de première classe as the French term for acting sub-lieutenant and sub-lieutenant respectively. However, French-Canadian sub-lieutenants use the short form of enseigne instead of lieutenant.

The rank "ensign" is also used to refer to second lieutenants (NATO OF-1) in household regiments of the Canadian Army.

Austria and Germany

German Army and Air Force rank insignia Bundeswehr-OR-6-FR.png
German Army and Air Force rank insignia
Austrian Army rank insignia Fhr OF1c-Rockkragen AT.gif
Austrian Army rank insignia

Fähnrich which has a parallel etymology to ensign, containing the corresponding German word stem of "flag" in it, is a German and an Austrian officer cadet rank. The word Fähnrich comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (literally: "flag carrier"), and first became a distinct military rank on 1 January 1899.

The German Fähnrich is a non-commissioned officer promoted from the rank of Fahnenjunker (German Army) or Seekadett (German Navy). Fähnrich is equivalent to Feldwebel (staff sergeant), but with additional responsibilities as an officer cadet. If successful, he may be promoted to Oberfähnrich (German Army, equivalent to Hauptfeldwebel, or sergeant first class) or to Oberfähnrich zur See (German Navy), before being made an officer. The German rank Fähnrich should not be translated into English as "ensign" to avoid the possible misconception that this would be an officer's rank, and the English navy rank "ensign" should not be translated as "Fähnrich" but as "Leutnant zur See", which is the German equivalent.

The Cornet, originally equal in rank to the Fähnrich in the 17th and 18th century, was the lowest grade of commissioned officers.


In Estonian Defence Forces the equivalent of “ensign” is lipnik. It is used mainly as a rank for reserve officers.

New Zealand

Shoulder insignia of an RNZN ensign New Zealand Navy ensign insignia.gif
Shoulder insignia of an RNZN ensign

The Royal New Zealand Navy, unlike the Royal Navy — whose uniforms, insignia, and traditions it inherited — created the ensign grade to equal the lowest commissioned RNZAF grade of pilot officer and the New Zealand Army grade of second lieutenant. It ranks above the grade of midshipman. Like the grade of pilot officer, it uses a single thin strip of braid.

The fact that the Royal Navy has no real equivalent to the lowest commissioned Royal Air Force and British Army grades was one of the driving factors behind the RNZN's decision to create the ensign grade. Another was that, at the time, New Zealand was actively involved with the United States Armed Forces, so it made sense to balance the rank system out with that used by the United States Navy.


Norwegian Navy fenrik insignia Generic-Navy-O1.svg
Norwegian Navy fenrik insignia
Norwegian Army and Home Guard fenrik insignia Army-NOR-OF-01b.svg
Norwegian Army and Home Guard fenrik insignia

The Royal Norwegian Navy, the Norwegian Army and the Royal Norwegian Air Force's equivalent of ensign is fenrik (the rank below lieutenant). It was previously referred to as second lieutenant (Norwegian: sekondløytnant), while the rank of lieutenant was called premier lieutenant.

The rank is obtained after attending befalsskolen for one year, from which the candidate emerges as a sergeant, and serving as a sergeant for three additional years. The rank is known to have been temporarily given to soldiers with rank equivalent of non-commissioned officers, indicating skills and performance beyond their rank, in contract based operative service (UN, NATO). This is highly uncommon and the rank is reverted after the contract period ends.

A fenrik serves as a NATO (OF-1) second lieutenant, but the function of the rank differs drastically from other armies. Although it is an officer rank, it strongly resembles an NCO rank in practice. Fenriks are usually former experienced sergeants without officer education, and usually fill such roles as squad leaders and platoon sergeants. This is due to the lack of an NCO-corps in the Norwegian Army.

The historical background for this is that Norway's NCO corps was discontinued on 1 July 1975, and the senior NCOs currently serving were given officer ranks. NCOs ranking as oversersjant were given the officer rank of fenrik, NCOs ranking as stabssersjant were given the rank of lieutenant, and - in accordance with "Hærordningen av 1. januar 1977" - the most senior of the NCOs ranking as stabsserjant were given the rank of captain.

The corresponding ranks for the Royal Norwegian Navy were overkvartermester (kvartermester I klasse) and flaggkvartermester. The corresponding ranks for the Royal Norwegian Air Force were vingsersjant and stabssersjant.

The rank insignia is worn on the sleeves (navy dress uniform only), on the shoulders of service uniforms or - more recently - on the chest. The chest placement is of newer date, and was introduced with the M-2000 uniform, which is worn by both noncommissioned ranks and officers in all branches of the Norwegian Defence.


The Polish Army equivalent of "ensign" is " chorąży " (the Polish for "ensign" or "flag" being "chorągiew"). In Poland, "ensign" is not an officer rank - it is an NCO equivalent. Before the 2007 reform, soldiers at the rank of chorąży formed a separate corps above the NCOs. The different ranks are as follows:

  1. Naramiennik Mlodszy Chorazy.svg Junior ensign
  2. Naramiennik Chorazy.svg Ensign
  3. Naramiennik Starszy Chorazy.svg Senior ensign
  4. Naramiennik Chorazy Sztabowy.svg Staff ensign
  5. Naramiennik Starszy Chorazy Sztabowy.svg Senior staff ensign


The Romanian Navy equivalent of "ensign" is aspirant .


The present-day Russian Army linguistic equivalent is the non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank of praporshchik (Russian : пра́порщик), and the Russian Navy equivalent is mitshman (Russian : ми́чман).


In the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, the equivalent of “ensign” is podporučík.


In the Swedish Armed Forces, Fänrik is the lowest rank among commissioned officers.

United Kingdom

Until 1871, when it was replaced by second lieutenant, ensign was the lowest rank of commissioned officer in infantry regiments of the British Army (except fusilier and rifle regiments, and the Marines, which always used second lieutenant). It was the duty of officers of this rank to carry the colours of the regiment. In the 16th century, "ensign" was corrupted into "ancient", and was used in the two senses of a banner and the bearer of the banner. Today, the term "ensign" is still used by the Foot Guards regiments, for instance during the ceremony of trooping the colour. The equivalent cavalry rank was cornet, also being derived from the name of a banner.

United States

The ranks of ensign and cornet were abolished in the United States Army in the Army Organization Act of 1815. [7]

In the United States Navy, the rank of ensign superseded passed midshipman in 1862. Ensign is the junior commissioned officer rank in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, and the PHS Commissioned Corps. This rank is also used in the U.S. Maritime Service and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Ensign ranks below lieutenant junior grade, and it is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force.

Where a newly-commissioned ensign is assigned in the Navy is dependent on status as either an unrestricted line, restricted line, or staff corps officer. For unrestricted line officers, Depending on assignment to which warfare community, prospective Surface Warfare Officers (SWO) will spend 22 weeks at Surface Warfare Officer School followed by assignment to a warship for qualification as a SWO. [8] Prospective Submarine Warfare Officers will attend Naval Nuclear Power School for 26 weeks, followed by Nuclear Power Training Unit (Prototype) for 24 weeks and Submarine Officer Basic Course for 12 weeks before reporting to their first submarine. [9] Prospective Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers have a 12 to 18 month flight training track to earn their wings, followed by a six to nine month training track in a Fleet Replacement Squadron before being assigned to fly combat aircraft in a deployable Fleet aviation squadron. [10] Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Special Warfare Officers attend a 6 month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course followed by a 4 month SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) course before assignment to a SEAL Team. [11] Finally, Special Operations Officers, primarily Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) / Diver officers will have a training track similar in length to that of SEAL officers, to include schools for EOD, SCUBA, hard hat diving, airborne (parachutists) and combat arms skills training before assignment to their first operational assignment.

Restricted Line officers, depending on designator, may train, qualify and be assigned as naval intelligence officers, naval cryptographic officers, aircraft maintenance duty officers, meteorologists/oceanographers, information professionals, human resources professionals, public affairs officers, or a host of other specialties.

Still others may become staff corps officers in the Supply Corps, Civil Engineering Corps, Nurse Corps, Medical Service Corps, or be law school students or medical or dental school students in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, Medical Corps or Dental Corps, respectively.

While the Coast Guard does not categorize its officers as unrestricted line, restricted line or staff corps, a similar career sorting and training process also takes place, ranging from those in operational fields such as cuttermen aboard Coast Guard cutters, Naval Aviators in Coast Guard Aviation, specialists in maritime safety and inspections, and a host of other Coast Guard officer career fields.

All ensigns will become branch officers or division officers in their first operational assignments, responsible for leading a group of petty officers and enlisted men in one of the ship's, squadrons, team's or other organization's branches and divisions (for example, engineering, navigation, communications, sensors or weapons aboard a warship, or similar functions in the operations, aircraft maintenance, administrative or safety/NATOPS departments in a flying squadron) while at the same time receiving on-the-job training in leadership, naval systems, programs, and policies from higher-ranking officers and from senior enlisted men and women in the Chief Petty Officer rates.

Navy and Coast Guard ensigns wear collar insignia of a single gold bar and because of this share the nickname "butterbars" with Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps second lieutenants, who wear the same insignia.

Within the U.S. Public Health Service, those wearing the rank of ensign are part of a commissioned officer student training, and extern program (COSTEP), either junior, for those with more than a year remaining of education in a commissionable degree (JRCOSTEP), or senior, for those within one year of graduating with a commissionable degree (SRCOSTEP). [12] Some officers may hold a permanent rank of ensign based on their experience and education, but then can hold the temporary rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

Note: Pin-on insignia for all U.S. services shown here are incorrectly depicted as U.S. Army / U.S. Air Force second lieutenant insignia; the U.S. Naval Services (U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard), as well as the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, use a gold-colored bar that does not have beveled edges. (See the illustration at Lieutenant (navy)#Rank insignia for correct depiction of non-beveled edge bars.)

See also

Related Research Articles

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  2. "Subaltern". Ranks. Southern Gunners. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  3. Troy, Michael. "Rank of Ensign in Revolutionary Army". All Experts: U.S. History. About.com. Archived from the original on 29 June 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  4. Venn, Thomas; Tacquet, Andrew & (tr) Lacey, John (translator) Military and Maritime Discipline in Three Books R. Pawlet, 1672
  5. "Argentine Army official website, ranks of the army compared with those of the air force and navy".
  6. The cavalry regiments used the term cornette (cornet) and the dragoon regiments used guidon.
  7. p.970 Tucker, Spencer C.The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812 ABC-CLIO, 25/04/2012
  8. "New Navy Career Path for Surface Warfare Officers Stresses Fundamentals -". 28 June 2018.
  9. "Become a Navy Nuclear Submarine Officer - Navy.com". www.navy.com.
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  11. "How to Become a SEAL Officer". Navy SEALs.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-24. Retrieved 2010-08-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Starfleet ranks". Memory Alpha.


  • Division Officer's Guide. James Stavridis and Robert Girrier. Naval Institute Press, 2004. ISBN   1-59114-799-9.