Wehrmacht - Heer

The following table outlines the basic ranks one would find in an infantry battalion.  Colonels and General Officers have been omitted from the discussion below for the sake of brevity, as have civilian administrators, officials, etc., which may have been attached to the various military forces.

The discussion of responsibility is in general terms and refers to textbook practices; in reality, field units of any army rarely saw action at full strength, and junior ranking soldiers and officers were often placed in positions not normally permitted in peacetime or normal circumstances. 

The table, then, is merely a guide to intended practice, but may still serve to illuminate basic questions of command and how the various ranks related to each other, and by extension, to ranks in other armies.

Rank Table

German Army Table of Ranks 1941 - 45
(Ranks shown in descending order, highest at the top)
Private Soldiers Non-Commisioned Officers Officers
Mannschaften (Men) Unteroffiziere mit Portepee
(Senior NCOs)
(Field Grade Officers)
sgefmini.gif (971 bytes)
Worn on left sleeve
Stabsfeldwebel rankmini5.gif (1171 bytes) Oberstleutnant rankmini10.gif (1291 bytes)
Obergefreiter gef2mini.gif (947 bytes)
Worn on left sleeve
Oberfeldwebel rankmini1.gif (1147 bytes) Major rankmini9.gif (1266 bytes)
Gefreiter gef1mini.gif (927 bytes)
Worn on left sleeve
Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee
(Junior NCOs)
Hauptleute (Captains)
Feldwebel rankmini2.gif (1118 bytes) Hauptmann rankmini8.gif (1116 bytes)
gefmini.gif (926 bytes)
Worn on left sleeve
Unterfeldwebel rankmini3.gif (1082 bytes) Leutnant (Lieutenants)
Oberleutnant rankmini7.gif (1082 bytes)
(2) Unteroffizier rankmini4.gif (1071 bytes) Leutnant rankmini6.gif (1042 bytes)

Notes to Table

(1) Until 1942/43, an Obergefreiter with more than 6 years service wore a single chevron with a pip added.

sgef2mini.gif (971 bytes)

(2) Schützen etc. wore no special rank insignia.

Responsibility Table

In the German Army, all Mannschaften were considered private soldiers, not non-commissioned officers, and as such had no command responsibilities, generally speaking.  Promotion to Gefreiter or Obergefreiter was based on time served and not associated with appointment to leadership duties, though merit did still play a role.  Promotion to Oberschützen appears to have been tied to service also, and usually was awarded to soldiers who prospects of a career in the military were dim - the time requirement for promotion to Gefreiter was less than that for Oberschütze.  Those who showed merit became Gefreiten, those who did not, apparently, were promoted to "ober-"

The rank title for a private in the infantry was Schütze; in late 1942 this was changed to Grenadier by order of Hitler, who wanted to associate the Army with the forces commanded by Frederick the Great, a personal hero of his.  Other rank titles included Kanonier (artillery), Reiter (cavalryman), etc.

In general, German infantry squads were led by an Unteroffizier.

The rank of Oberfeldwebel was usually associated with support trades, and the highest appointment in a German infantry company for an NCO was that of Hauptfeldwebel.  The Hauptfeldwebel was the equivalent of a British Company Sergeant Major or American Company First Sergeant, and handled the administrative workings of the company.  He was also expected to take over leadership of one of the infantry platoons when necessary due to enemy action.

The rank of Stabsfeldwebel was reserved as a reward for regular army NCOs who had signed on for long enlistments prior to WW II.

Size of Unit Required leadership Typically led by
(10 men)
squad.gif (911 bytes)

rankmini4.gif (1071 bytes)

All ranks from Unteroffizier down to Schütze could be found leading squads, depending on casualties suffered previously.
(50 men)
platoon.gif (1227 bytes)

One platoon per company was led by an officer
(usually Leutnant)
rankmini6.gif (1042 bytes)
The other two platoons by a Feldwebel or Oberfeldwebel
rankmini1.gif (1147 bytes)

rankmini2.gif (1118 bytes)

It was not unusual in action to see all three platoons led by NCOs - sometimes by the Hauptfeldwebel (see above)
(201 men)
company.gif (2314 bytes)

Generally commanded by an Oberleutnant or Hauptmann. 

rankmini7.gif (1082 bytes)

rankmini8.gif (1116 bytes)

An officer holding the requisite training and time in rank to command a company was called a "Kompanie Chef" (Company Chief).

An officer in temporary command of a company was known as a "Kompanie Führer."  Men ranked Leutnant often commanded companies in the absence of "qualified" leadership.
(861 men)
battalion.gif (4235 bytes)

Major or Oberstleutnant

rankmini9.gif (1266 bytes)

rankmini10.gif (1291 bytes)

Generally a Major or Oberstleutnant. 

In badly shattered units even a Leutnant might be found commanding the remnants of a battalion, or battalion-sized battlegroup.