It has been said that the hardest jump in the military is between colonel and general. That's because a colonel is a "specialist" who commands troops of only one type (infantry, cavalry or artillery), while a "general" (short for general officer) commands "combined" troops of different types. It was this fact, not the number of men, that made e.g. George Washington a four star "general." (At times, he commanded only 3,000-4,000 men, about the same as a colonel's modern regiment, and other "generals" of the time commanded around 1,000 men, about the same as a modern battalion commanded by a major or lieutenant colonel.

Likewise, a Navy "captain" (the equivalent of an army colonel) commands a single ship, by definition, of one "type."

The level between captain and admiral is called a commodore, who is the equivalent of a brigadier general. Does a commodore command multiple ships of the same type or different types? (A rear admiral commands the rear of a fleet, a vice admiral the front, and a full admiral a whole fleet, as a full general commands an army).

A"brigadier" general used to command a (combined arms) "brigade, when there were four regiments to a division, meaning two to a brigade, and two brigades to a division. Now that there are three regiments in a division, a "brigadier" has lost his original function.

Are brigadier generals and commodores TODAY "general" officers with independent commands as the term was originally understood? Or are they "training" positions for major generals and rear admirals to bridge the gaps between colonel and general, captain and admiral?

  • 1
    This question would be improved by citations.
    – MCW
    Jul 16, 2018 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


A Commodore wasn't originally a rank but a temporary appointment, where a captain (i.e. non-admiral) was given the command of a squad/esquade with several ships (each with their own captain) - often it would be a detachment from a larger fleet (commanded by an admiral). There became two "grades" among commodores; 2nd grade which commanded not only the squad but also his own ship, and 1st grade which had another captain commanding the ship and thus only commanded the squadron (like a admiral - the captain of the flagship commanded the ship, while the admiral commanded the whole fleet... the captains fought their ships, while the admiral fought the battle). This is probably the reason why many navys don't use commodore as a rank, but rather split existing ones (e.g. rear admiral upper and lower half) or created new ones (e.g. flotilja admiral). Also remember that a fleet of sailing-ship typically had three admirals - the admiral in the center, the vice-admiral in the front (looking and reporting to the admiral), and the rear-admiral in the back - who would become the admiral "in front" if the fleet had to counter ("turn" and go the other way - the individual ships turned, so the back-line became the new front) - which is why the rank is called "counter admiral" in many navys.

In some armies "brigader" is not a general-rank (just an "uber-colonel"), in others there are two grades of colonel; so I'm not sure you could say brigader/brigader general is really equivalent to a commodore. Don't know what "rank" a colonel in charge of several brigades (each with their own colonel) would traditionally hold - that would be the equivalent of a commodore in army-context.

  • 1
    I learnt something today. Thanks. +1
    – One-One
    Apr 6, 2013 at 13:17
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    In the US Navy, Commodore still is a temporary appointment instead of a rank.
    – cpast
    May 10, 2015 at 20:39
  • Correction: The British during the Napoleonic Wars had 9 admirals: Full, Vice, and Rear each of the Red, White & Blue (squadrons). Each Admiral flew a pennant of his colour from either the main mast (Full Admiral), fore mast (Vice Admiral), or mizzen mast (Rear Admiral). The rank names come from this, not their position in a line of battle. At Trafalgar the British squadron was commanded by Vice Admiral Nelson of the White, seconded by Rear Admiral Collingwood of the Red, with each flagship leading one of the two lines of battle. Jul 15, 2018 at 23:26
  • @cpast: Yes - as the equivalent rank is Rear Admiral (Lower Half) as described above. Jul 15, 2018 at 23:28
  • @PieterGeerkens By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the British had 9 ranks of admirals. These were designations of seniority in the service (an Admiral of the Red out ranked an Admiral of the White who out ranked an Admiral of the Blue, etc.). In most cases, there were a dozen or more men with the same rank at the same time (although not all of them would be in active service, especially at the highest ranks). By 1816, Britain had 190 admirals in service, a number which dropped as the service shrank post-war. Jul 16, 2018 at 5:28

In the United States armed forces the rank of brigadier general has always been a flag officer and general officer rank. There were brigadier generals in the continental army.

The United States Army, the regular army, has had at least one brigadier general at a time since 1792, and at least two at a time since 1809. Curiously, the first major general was in 1791. The state militias have had brigadier generals and major generals since that era or earlier.

During major wars brigadier generals commanded many of the brigades that were organized as fighting units. When there were no major wars or organized brigades brigadier generals commanded the army units in various territorial commands. During the 19th century there were sometimes more brigadier generals commanding staff departments in Washington than brigadier generals of the line in the field.

In 2018 there are 31 brigade combat teams in the US Army, consisting of one brigade, normally commanded by a colonel, and support and fire units. Presumably a brigadier general commands the entire brigade combat team.


In 2018 there are 124 brigadier generals in the US Army, so the vast majority do not command brigade combat teams.


In the Army, BGs typically serves as Deputy Commander to the Commanding General of a division and assists in overseeing the planning and coordination of a mission. In an infantry brigade (4,000 to 6,000 Soldiers/Marines) not attached to a division, a Brigadier General serves as the unit's commander, while a colonel serves as deputy commander. Similarly, Air Force, Brigadier Generals command large operational Wings with colonels serving as deputy commanders. Both services' Brigadier Generals serve as senior primary staff officers of a Corps/Numbered Air Force or higher level staff. BG and its equivalents currently serve as the commandants and deans of the United States Service Academies.


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