General of the Army

From Academic Kids

General of the Army, or less formally five-star general, is historically the second most senior rank in the United States Army. (The most senior rank being General of the Armies of the United States, which has only been conferred twice.) The rank has been held by only five officers. It is equivalent to the rank of Field Marshal.

It is or was also a military rank in Russia, the Soviet Union, East Germany (Armeegeneral), France and some other countries, where it often has slightly different equivalency.


United States

Army 5 Star Insignia

On July 25, 1866, the U.S. Congress established the grade of "General of the Army" for Ulysses S. Grant, and later appointed William T. Sherman (on 4 March 1869) and then Philip H. Sheridan (on 1 June 1888, just weeks before he died) to the rank. On 3 September 1919, John J. Pershing was named General of the Armies of the United States, and held the rank until he died, in 1948. In all of these cases, the generals wore four stars as their insignia, except between 1872 and 1888, when Sherman and Sheridan wore two stars with the arms of the United States in between. Pershing was authorized to specify his own insignia, but chose to wear the standard four stars of a full general.

The five-star rank was created by Public Law 482 of the 78th Congress, passed on 14 December 1944, first as a temporary rank, then made permanent 23 March 1946 by an act of the 79th Congress. This was done to have American officers with ranks equivalent to the field marshals of Britain, to reduce friction over who was allowed to give orders to whom. (The acts also created a comparable rank of Fleet Admiral for the Navy.)

Following the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947, the equivalent rank of General of the Air Force was established. The only person to hold the rank of General of the Air Force was Henry H. Arnold.

A General of the Army has the pay grade of O-11.

The insignia consists of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The rank still exists today, although nobody has held it since General Bradley died in 1981.

Officers who held the rank

The five officers who have held the rank of General of the Army to date are:

      •   George C. Marshall 16 December 1944
      •   Douglas MacArthur 18 December 1944
      •   Dwight D. Eisenhower     20 December 1944
      •   Henry H. Arnold 21 December 1944
      •   Omar Bradley 20 September 1950

Note the careful timing of the first four appointments. The dates of rank for the corresponding five-star admirals are 15, 17, and 19 December 1944, to establish both a clear order of seniority and a near-equivalence between the services.

See also List of U.S. military leaders by rank

Soviet Union and Russia

In Imperial Russia, the rank did not exist. The rank of General of the Army (Russian: генерал армии, general armii) was first established in June 1940 as the highest rank for Red Army generals, inferior only to the Marshal of the Soviet Union. In the following 51 years the USSR created 133 Generals of the Army, 32 of whom were later promoted to the rank of Marshal.

The rank was usually given to senior officers of the Ministry of Defence and General Staff, and also to meritorious military district commanders. From the 1970s, it was also frequently given to the heads of the KGB and the Ministry of the Interior.

Soviet Generals of the Army include Ivan Chernyakhovsky (the youngest Soviet World War II front commander, killed in East Prussia), Aleksei Antonov (head of the General Staff in the closing stages of WWII, awarded the Order of Victory), Issa Pliyev (an Ossetian-born WWII commander who played a major role in the Cuban missile crisis) and Yuri Andropov (who held the rank as head of the KGB).

In the Air Force, Artillery, Tank Forces, Engineer Forces, and Signal Troops, the rank of General of the Army was not used, as the corresponding grades of Marshal of the Air Forces, Artillery, etc. had existed since 1943.

The contemporary Russian Army retains the rank of General of the Army and it is still frequently used. After the dissolution of the USSR the ranks of Marshal of the Air Forces etc. were abolished, and the most senior officers of these branches may also now hold the rank of General of the Army.

The corresponding naval rank is Admiral of the Fleet, which has been used in both the Soviet and Russian Navies, although conferred much more rarely.

Before 1943, Generals of the Army wore five stars on their collar patches (petlitsy). Since 1943, they have worn four stars on their shoulder straps. From 1974 to 1997 they wore a single large star with a Ground Forces emblem, but in 1997 the four stars were restored.

See also Russian military ranks.


In France, Généraux d'Armées wear five stars, but are equivalent to the rank of General in other armies; the commander of the Parisian sector wears a sixth star, regardless of actual rank, and Maréchaux de France wear seven, being the closest approximation to a General of the Army or Field Marshal, although the position is a distinction, not a rank.

Other countries

The rank also exists (on paper at least) in Indonesia and Liberia. In the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek has been the only five-star general, although the rank is formally known as General Special of the Army sl:General armade fi:Armeijakenraali zh:五星上将


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