In the Soviet army during WW2 the officers had bigger food rations. They also had better boots (kirza vs. leather). The air force pilots were fed even better (but that is not very relevant).

What about other modern (in the last, say, 250 years) armies?

Which armies (and when) fed and clothed their personnel similarly?

Which armies (and when) separated officers' and enlisted men's messes?

  1. Obviously, pilots or submariners are equipped differently than cavalrymen. The question is about people who serve together (e.g., platoon leader and his men) but are supplied differently.

  2. Obviously, in the field (e.g., during a rapid advance, retreat, or when encircled) an army might not be supplied according to the regulations; the question is specifically about regulations and normal practice, not emergencies.

  • This question seems very broad. Would you consider narrowing it down to a specific instance in time? May 23, 2013 at 20:20
  • 1
    @AaronKurtzhals: it is already narrowed to a mere 250 years :-) How about turning it into a community wiki instead? then people will be able to give partial answers (for a specific army/period).
    – sds
    May 23, 2013 at 20:41
  • I think that equality has never happened. Officers are the elite, and in the past the noble men
    – spyder
    May 24, 2013 at 4:39
  • @MarkC.Wallace: same weapons make no sense indeed, and that is not the question. I am asking about the same quality food and clothing.
    – sds
    Oct 3, 2018 at 0:20
  • @MarkC.Wallace: for 5 years the question was crystal clear, well received, has an accepted well received answer. "Equipment" is never limited to weapons. You seem to be splitting hairs.
    – sds
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:20

5 Answers 5


Actually, for a brief span of seven years there was such an army (or, strictly speaking, a corps) - the Palmach, founded in 1941. Its officers wore no special insignia (and in fact, there were no ranks in the usual sense, only command-titles such as "platoon commander"), got the same pay as the privates - and ate together with them.

This all makes a lot of sense if one recalls that the Palmach, while an always obedient non-political arm of the Haganah and the Yishuv was also a sort of self-conscious brotherhood, steeped in a rather radical socialist ethos. Indeed, in a famous headcount in 1948 Ben-Gurion (not quite an impartial observer, but still the figure seems to be valid) estimated that 60 out of the 84 top officers of the Palmach were members of the radical-left Mapam party. (For a somewhat different, culturological, take on this point see here).

Towards the end of 1948, Ben-Gurion, striving to establish the nascent Israel as a properly constituted state (he called it ממלכתיות, which can be very roughly translated as "stateness"), forcefully integrated the Palmach into the IDF.

Notably, the Palmach veterans were very incensed about the introduction of British-style officer messes, rank insignia, and separate pay grades for officers (one such letter is cited on pp. 176-7 in the book בראשית by Michal Tzur). However, their egalitarian system was probably incompatible with being part of an organized state's army and had to go, whatever were its merits.

Even so, this source indicates that joint officer-men meals persisted in ex-Palmach units for a while:

We remained in Beer Yaakov in August and September training and preparing to go back to action in the Negev. During the months of August and September there was a United Nations ceasefire. This gave the Israeli Army time to re-equip and train for the next fight. The Palmach was integrated into the Army, even though the officers still ate with the soldiers in the same mess hall and would not wear any rank insignia.

  • 1
    of course the Palmach wasn't technically an army but a guerrilla movement. I think similar (on the face of it) flat structures would also have been in place in resistance groups and partisan groups in occupied Europe during WW2.
    – jwenting
    May 27, 2013 at 5:55
  • undercover - yes; guerilla - not so much. I agree with your point about partisan groups being structurally predisposed to having flat structure (try to have separate messes in a swampy marsh or a rainforest!). My point is that the Palmach was operating within an organized settled community, with its full support and blessing, and was not structurally predermined to be so egalitarian, unlike a bona fide guerilla movement. So it was flat mostly by choice, since it could have afforded to have some hierarchical distinctions. May 27, 2013 at 8:04
  • @jwenting: sorry, forgot to notify you of my comment... May 27, 2013 at 8:22
  • Excellent answer. Dec 11, 2013 at 17:29
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    Till about 1935 the USSR also had no ranks.
    – Anixx
    Dec 31, 2014 at 15:01

The French Légion étrangère has the closest interaction between officers and soldiers that I know of. For example, they all spend Christmas or any other official holidays together. Officers are as well expected to be able to do what the soldiers do and frequently have to. My experience of Legionary officers and homme du rang is that they share more in common than not. Note that 10% of officers come from the ranks.

Note that if we had a légionnaire here, he would be able to expend this answer...

  • 1
    +1 Do you know if officers enter the service as such (as is the case in other military formations) or whether they are promoted up from the ranks?
    – Drux
    May 24, 2013 at 9:00
  • @Drux: Either. You certainly can be prompted through the ranks. I think about 20% of the officers come from the ranks form what I read on the site. The rest joins the Légion from the normal army, generally after military school or as a promotion. It is a prestigious outfit and there are certainly more candidates than places there. May 24, 2013 at 9:15
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    I was wrong, there are 10% of Legion officers were from the ranks. 25% of the ranks are NCOs. I do not know how this compares to other units. May 24, 2013 at 10:11
  • 1
    @sds: As far as I know, they do eat in the same food, in the same place, out of the same utensils. I am not sure if they have separate mess halls for relaxation (Soldiers, NCOs, and Officers) as other branches of the French army have. May 24, 2013 at 16:00
  • 1
    @jwenting Yes, but my point was that non-citizens cannot become U.S. officers (nor U.S. Presidents, BTW).
    – Drux
    May 27, 2013 at 7:26

I know that in the British armed forces there has always been a difference in equipment/clothing/food/messes between officers and enlisted men/women.

For example, the British Army at it's earliest was constructed of militia etc. commanded by the local nobility/land owners - which was an extension of the feudal system. As things have modernised and developed the system was edited and eventually became a meritocracy. For example in the Napoleonic War era a Regiments officers had often purchased their commissions and payed their way up the rank structure - a practice that started in 1683 and didn't stop until 1871 - the officers were richer, and often payed for personally tailored uniforms and weapons.

The difference in armament/clothing between non-commissioned and commissioned ranks began to reduce after the industrial revolution but still persists today to a limited extent due to the different job roles required of different ranks, and in ceremonial activities, for tradition - an example being the difference in dress uniform for officers of the RN and the Ratings, or that on parade officers still carry a sword where as non-commissioned ranks carry a rifle (the exception being mounted regiments).

In the UK we still have a mess system that includes a Officers Mess (or Wardroom in the RN), Chief Petty Officers/Warrant Officers/Sergeants Mess for Senior NCOs and a Junior Rates/Junior NCOs mess for Junior NCOs. Obviously, in the field commissioned and non-commissioned ranks eat the same rations.


I agree with @spyder in that I think equality never happened for both historic (officers' roles descended from noble men's) and practical (clear separation helps discipline at least in certain situations) reasons.

Perhaps communist countries subscribed to nominal equality in their lower ranks to some degree. However, here is one anecdotal evidence from Jung Chang's Wild Swans: Three Daughter of China for actual privileges awarded to officials (and presumably also officers) that speaks to facts on the ground. Since her book on Mao I consider her a biased source, but this account has always staid fresh in my memory, because her mother was pregnant at the time and she eventually lost the child due to the hardship on this long march:

After they had crossed the mountain there were several deep, fast-flowing rivers in their path. The water level rose to her waist and she found it almost impossible to keep her footing. In the middle of one river she stumbled and felt she was about to be swept away when a man leaned over and caught hold of her. She almost broke down and wept, particularity since at this very moment she spotted a friend of hers whose husband was carrying her across the river. Although the husband was a senior official, he had waived his privilege in order to walk with his wife.

My father was not carrying my mother. He was being driven along in a jeep, with a bodyguard. His rank entitled him to transportation -- either a jeep or a horse, whichever was available. My mother had often hoped that he would give her a lift, or at least carry her bedroll in his jeep, but he never offered. The evening after she almost drowned in the river, she decided to have it out with him. She had had a terrible day. What was more, she was vomiting all the time. Could he not let her travel in his jeep occasionally? He said he could not, because it would be taken as favoritism since my mother was not entitled to the car. He felt he had to fight against the age-old Chinese tradition of nepotism. Furthermore, my mother was supposed to experience hardship. When she mentioned that her friend was being carried by her husband, my father replied that that was completely different: the friend was a veteran Communist: In the 1930s she had commanded a guerrilla unit jointly with Kim Il Sung, who later became president of North Korea, fighting the Japanese under appalling conditions in the northeast. Among the long list of suffering in her revolutionary career was the loss of her first husband, who had been executed on orders from Stalin. My mother could not compare herself to this women, my father said. She has only a young student.

Beside the lofty aim of fighting age-old nepotism, as cited by a still proud daughter, this (Western) reader also gets the sense that there was peer pressure and the need to avoid offenses from possible rivals driving the father's stern decisions: just as one might expect as usual, unfortunately ...


In theory, there were no ranks in the People's Liberation Army in 1965

As a result of the Cultural Revolution, ranks were abolished in May 1965.

Technically I suppose that doesn't fit your question - since there were no officers, Officers weren't fed equally. I am also skeptical that the innovation worked very well.

  • 1
    This is IMHO on the fringes of a "right answer". The meer fact that you have "officers" is an indication that you plan on treating that class of Army personnel differently.
    – T.E.D.
    May 24, 2013 at 13:03
  • 1
    However, there might have been unofficial privileges - do we know anything about them? Or there absence? May 24, 2013 at 17:21
  • 3
    while officer ranks were technically removed, in reality they still existed and the only thing gone were obvious rank insignia. Officers still got higher quality uniforms, and the style and cut of one's uniform became the main way to know if you had to salute someone or not.
    – jwenting
    May 27, 2013 at 5:59

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