Field Marshal

Note: This article is about the military usage of the word "marshal". For other usages, see the end of this article.
Missing image
A Field Marshal's epaulette insignia

A Marshal or Field Marshal (sometimes incorrectly spelled Marshall) is a military officer of the highest rank in some nations, one step above a full General. It is of a comparable rank to the highest-ranking General(s) in an army that does not use the rank of Marshal.

The title Field Marshal is only used by land forces (except in the Third Reich, which also used it in the Luftwaffe). The air force equivalent (used in some countries) is Marshal of the Air Force, where Air Force is replaced by the name of the service in question, for example, Marshal of the Royal Air Force. The naval equivalent is usually a variation on Fleet Admiral, Grand Admiral or Admiral of the Fleet. As the highest rank, answerable only to the nation's ruler, appointments have often been made as much for political as for military purposes, and not infrequently as a way to publicly reward a successful general.

The rank insiginia of a Field Marshal in the British Army is shown in the illustration above. It comprises two crossed batons in a wreath, with a crown above. In some countries, previously under the sphere of British influence, an adapted version of the insignia is used for Field Marshals, often with the crown being replaced with an alternative cultural or national emblem.

The rank of Marshal goes back to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the King's horses (mare scalci) from the time of the early Frankish Kings. In the 1300s, a distinction began to be drawn between "court marshals" and "military marshals". Philip II of France (reigned 1179 to 1223) first instituted the office of marescallus Franciae and it became one of the greatest offices of the crown. The office of Marshal of France (Marchal de France) developed, and by the time of the Thirty Years War, most Continental armies had a field marshal or two.

The office of Marshal was known in England from the twelfth century, but in the introduction of the modern military title Great Britain was a relative latecomer. It was introduced by George I, the first Hanoverian king, in the style of the continental armies. The 1st Earl of Orkney became the first field marshal in 1736.

The field marshal's special symbol was a baton, famously mentioned by King Louis XVIII of France in a speech to young officers graduating from the Saint-Cyr military academy: "Every one of you carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack; it is up to you to bring it out". The Marchaux de France carried as their insignia of rank blue batons with gold fleurs-de-lis, engraved with the motto "Decus pacis, terror belli ("The symbol of peace, the terror of war").

With no medieval tradition to preserve, and a persistent aversion to anything that smacked of aristocracy, the United States never created the rank. However, this became a problem for the Allies in World War II, when Dwight Eisenhower, a "mere" General, was chosen to be the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and was thus in a position to give orders to field marshals, who technically outranked him. He had previously criticized the acceptance of the rank of Field Marshal bestowed by Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippines in 1937 to the recently retired U.S. Major General Douglas MacArthur. The solution was to create the rank of General of the Army, wearing five stars, and equivalent to field marshal. (An alternate story holds that George C. Marshall did not want to be called "Marshal Marshall.") Ironically, when he himself was promoted, this made Douglas MacArthur the only American to be both a Field Marshal and a General of the Army.

In the Soviet Union, the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was actually the second-highest rank; Josef Stalin, who had appointed himself an "MSU", subsequently promoted himself to the rank of Generalissimo of the Soviet Union, a rank he and only he was ever appointed to hold. There were also ranks of Marshal of branches of the armed forces,who ranked between generals and Marshals of the Soviet Union.

In Brazil, since the 1960s, no one has held the rank of Marshal, because it can only be awarded in wartime and Brazil has not fought a war since 1945.

At the beginning of the 21st century, with military forces shrinking worldwide, there remain few field marshals to be seen anywhere. Although traditionally the British monarch is a field marshal, Queen Elizabeth II does not hold that rank (although she has since 1964 been the Lord High Admiral), and the Prince of Wales has indicated an unwillingness to be the only five-star officer of the military; the Duke of Edinburgh is one of the few Field Marshals of the British Army remaining.

List of Field Marshals

For holders of the rank see List of Field Marshals.

See also

Other meanings

Template:UK officer ranksde:Generalfeldmarschall fa:بزرگ‌ارتشتاران fr:Field Marshal he:מרשל (דרגה) ja:元帥 pl:Marszałek (stopień wojskowy) ru:Фельдмаршал sl:Feldmaršal sv:Fltmarskalk


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