ensign (rank)

Common anglophone military ranks
Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the Fleet
Field Marshal
Marshal of
the Air Force
Admiral General Air Marshal
Commodore Brigadier Air Commodore
Captain Colonel Group Captain
Commander Lt. Colonel Wing Commander
Lieutenant Captain Flight Lieutenant
Sub-Lieutenant Lieutenant Flying Officer
Ensign 2nd Lieutenant Pilot Officer
Midshipman Officer Cadet Officer Cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant Officer Sergeant Major Warrant Officer
Petty Officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading Seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

Ensign () is a junior rank of 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 itself acquired the name.

"Ensign" is enseigne in French, Fähnrich in German, 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.

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 Rank Argentine Gendarmerie Rank Equivalent Commonwealth Ranks for comparison
------------- ------------- -------------
Ensign Sub-Ensign Acting Pilot Officer / 2nd Lieutenant
Lieutenant Ensign Pilot Officer / 2nd Lieutenant
First Lieutenant First 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" (Mudshipman) in the navy"[1]. In the army, the most junior sublieutenant in a regiment (or other unit) is also the flag carrier.

France and Canada

<gallery caption="French Ship-of-the-line Ensigns" align=right> File:grade-enseigne-1classe.svg|Ship-of-the-line Ensign, First Class, Enseigne de vaisseau de première classe File:Grade-enseigne-2classe.svg|Ship-of the-line Ensign, Second Class, Enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe </gallery> In France of the Ancien Régime, like in other countries, the ensign (enseigne) was the banner of an infantry regiment[2]. Also like in other countries, the name began to be used for the officers who carried the ensign. It was renamed sub-lieutenant (sous-lieutenant) in 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. 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 as from one another as "first class", equal to an army lieutenant, and "second class", equal to an army sub-lieutenant.) The term enseigne de marine ("naval ensign") is also often used, but is not the official title. 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.

Austria and Germany

<gallery align=right widths=50px> File:Bundeswehr-OR-6-FR.png|German Army and Air Force rank insignia (shoulder tab) File:9 - fhr zs.GIF|German Navy rank insignia (sleeve) File:Fhr aut rockkragen.gif|Austrian Army rank insignia (collar) </gallery> Ensign, in German Fähnrich, is a German and Austrian officer cadet rank. A German ensign serves in the ranks, first as a junior non-commissioned officer then in subsequent grades equivalent to Unterfeldwebel (until 1945, now Unteroffizier), Feldwebel, and Oberfeldwebel (until 1945, now Hauptfeldwebel). Ultimately the ensign becomes an officer.

The word Fähnrich comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (literally: Flag Carrier), and first became a distinct military rank on January 1, 1899.

Junior Rank
Fähnrich Senior Rank

New Zealand

<gallery align=right widths=50px> File:New Zealand Navy ensign insignia.gif |An Ensign's (RNZN) shoulder insignia </gallery> The Royal New Zealand Navy, unlike the Royal Navy—whose uniforms, insignia, and traditions it copies—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 the driving factor behind the RNZN's decision to create the Ensign grade, as well as the fact that at the time New Zealand was actively involved with the United States Armed Forces, it also made sense to balance the rank system out with that used by the United States Navy.


<gallery caption="Norwegian Ensigns Insignia" align=right widths=50px> File:UK-Navy-OF1.svg| An RNoN Fenrik Arm, shoulder or chest insignia (depending on uniform) File:Badge of rank of Fenrik of the Norwegian Army.svg| An Norwegian Army and Heimevernet (Home Guard) Fenrik shoulder insignia. </gallery>

The Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) the Norwegian Army and the Royal Norwegian Air Force's equivalent of Ensign is Fenrik (rank below lieutenant). It was previously referred to as Second Lieutenant (Norwegian: Sekondløytnant), while the rank of lieutenant went by 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 one additional year. The rank is known to have been temporarily given to soldiers with rank equivalent of non-commissioned officers, showing skill-set's 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[3].

The historical background for this is that Norways NCO-corps was discontinued on July 1, 1975, and the senior NCOs currently serving was given officer ranks. NCOs ranking as "Oversersjant" was given the officer rank of Fenrik[4], NCO's ranking as "Stabssersjant" was given the rank of Lieutenant[5], and - in accordance with "Hærordningen av 1. januar 1977" - the most senior of the NCOs ranking as "Stabsserjant" was given the rank of Captain.

The corresponding ranks for the RNoN was "Overkvartermester" (Kvartermester I klasse)[6] and "Flaggkvartermester"[7].

The corresponding ranks for the Royal Norwegian Air Force was "Vingsersjant" and "Stabssersjant"[8].

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 - 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 officer rank. They have 6 different types of ensign:

1) junior ensign 2) ensign 3) senior ensign 4) junior staff ensign 5) staff ensign 6) senior staff ensign

Until 2004 they made an "Ensign Corp." (1963–2004) in the Polish Army.


The Romanian Navy equivalent of "ensign" is aspirant.


The present-day Russian-Army equivalent is the NCO rank of praporshchik (пра́порщик);and the Russian-Navy equivalent, Mitshman (ми́чман).


In The Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic equivalent is práporčík.

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, 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 1800.[9]

In the United States Navy, the rank of "Ensign" superseded in 1862 that of passed midshipman. It is the most junior commissioned officer in the Navy, the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The rank is also used in the United States Maritime Service and the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps. It ranks below lieutenant junior grade and is also equivalent to a second lieutenant in the Army, Marine Corps, and the Air Force.

Depending upon the warfare community, an ensign may go directly to a ship after commissioning to serve as a division officer or receive one to two years of specialty training prior to reporting to an operational unit. Ensigns who become division officers are responsible for leading a group of petty officers and enlisted personnel in one of the ship's division (for example, engineering or navigation) while at the same time receiving on-the-job training in leadership, naval systems, programs, and policies from enlisted sailors and other officers.

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 second lieutenants, who wear similar insignia.

Within the US 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).[10] Some commissioned officers may hold a permanent rank of ensign based on their experience and education, but hold a temporary rank of lieutenant, j.g.

Ensigns in popular culture

See also


  1. Argentine Army official website, ranks of the Army compared with those of the Air Force and Navy
  2. The cavalry regiments used the term cornette (cornet) and the dragoons regiments used guidon.
  3. Article on Second Lieutenants (Norvegian Paragraph)
  4. Article on Oversersjant no.wikipedia.org (in Norwegian)
  5. Article on Stabssersjant no.wikipedia.org (in Norwegian)
  6. Article on Overkvartermester no.wikipedia.org (in Norwegian)
  7. Article on Flaggkvartermester no.wikipedia.org (in Norwegian)
  8. Article on Vingsersjant no.wikipedia.org (in Norwegian)
  9. http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/armyorank/blcptlt.htm
  10. http://www.usphs.gov/student/
  • Division Officer's Guide / James Stavridis and Robert Girrier - Naval Institute Press, 2004 - ISBN 1-59114-799-9