Feldwebel

Feldwebel

Feldwebel is a German military rank which has existed since at least the 18th century with usage as a title dating to the Middle Ages. The word Feldwebel is usually, but incorrectly, translated as Sergeant. As a rank it is more equivalent to the British "warrant officer".

The rank has also been borrowed to several other militaries, namely Swedish fältväbel, Russian фельдфебель (feldfebel), Finnish vääpeli and Estonian veebel.

The German word Feldwebel derives from the old German term 'waibel', a part of a loom to bring all strings on a line. The Landsknecht regiments first installed Feldwaibel to keep the men at line at the battlefield. In the Swiss Army, the rank is still today called Feldweibel.

Germany

19th century and German Kaiserreich

Feldwebel gained its widest usage under the German military beginning from the early 19th century. The highest ranking Non-Commissioned Officer until 1918, the Feldwebel acted as Company Sergeant Major. By contrast with some other countries, the position and duty of Regimental Sergeant Major never existed in Germany.

From 1877 veteran NCOs could be promoted to the rank of Feldwebel-Leutnant. This Army Reserve officer ranked with the Commissioned Officers, but was always inferior to the lowest Leutnant.

From 1887 the Offizierstellvertreter (Deputy Officer) ranked as a kind of Warrant Officer (more NCO than officer) between Feldwebel and the commissioned officers.

There were three further NCO ranks: Vizefeldwebel (Vice Feldwebel, senior NCO), Sergeant (junior NCO) and Unteroffizier (Lance Sergeant or Corporal, junior NCO). The Gefreiter was not an NCO as he had no powers of authority, and was a higher grade of private soldier.

Reichswehr and Wehrmacht

After World War I, in the German Reichswehr and Wehrmacht, the Feldwebel grade was divided into several ranks:

  • Feldwebel (squad/section leader or deputy platoon leader)
  • Oberfeldwebel (platoon leader, possible appointment to Hauptfeldwebel)
  • Stabsfeldwebel (special rank reserved for 25-year volunteers only.)

Feldwebel and above were Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (Senior NCOs); Unterfeldwebel and Unteroffiziere were Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (Junior NCOs). Since 1921 Unterfeldwebel has been the renamed rank of Sergeant (see above) and was therefore no full rank of Feldwebel. Unterfeldwebel did duty as squad/section leader. The Stabsfeldwebel rank was reserved for those who had enlisted for 25 year terms of service in the pre-war German military and those who were enlisted for shorter terms were not eligible to hold this rank.

The appointment of Hauptfeldwebel (Company Sergeant Major) could be held by Stabsfeldwebels or Oberfeldwebels only. NCOs of a lower rank (Feldwebel, Unterfeldwebel, Unteroffizier) holding this position were titled Hauptfeldwebeldiensttuer (i.e. acting Hauptfeldwebel).

In the Waffen-SS the Oberscharführer was the equivalent of Feldwebel in World War II.

Bundeswehr

In the modern German Bundeswehr, Feldwebel is considered a Senior NCO, due in part to the large number of Corporal positions which exist as junior grades.

The modern Bundeswehr NCO ranks are as follows:

  • Junior NCOs - Unteroffizier, Stabsunteroffizier (NATO-Rank Code OR 5a, 5c)
  • Senior NCOs - Feldwebel, Oberfeldwebel (OR 6a, 6c), Hauptfeldwebel (OR 7)
  • Senior NCOs receiving officers' pay - Stabsfeldwebel (OR 8), Oberstabsfeldwebel (OR 9)

(Fahnenjunker (OR 5b), Fähnrich (OR 6b) and Oberfähnrich (OR 7/OR 8) are ranks only held by officers candidates.)

In the Bundeswehr, Hauptfeldwebel is no longer an appointment, but a rank. Hauptfeldwebels and above may hold the equivalents of the appointment of Company Sergeant Major [US Army, "First Sergeant"] in the different branches of the army: Kompaniefeldwebel (infantry company), Batteriefeldwebel (artillery battery) or Staffelfeldwebel (air force wing).

In the Deutsche Marine (German Navy, as part of the Bundeswehr), the equivalent to Feldwebel is the rank of Bootsmann ("boatswain").

Switzerland

Feldweibel is the lowest rank of "Higher Non-Commissioned Officers" in the Swiss Army. Until the "Reform XXI" agenda, there were two branches of Feldweibels: technical and company level.

The Feldweibel oversees unit-level military service and operations. In 2004, the rank of Hauptfeldweibel was introduced. Since then, only technical specialists remain in the rank of Feldweibel.

On international missions, they are referred to as "Sergeant Major", NATO Code: OR-7.

Finland

The military rank of vääpeli was previously used by salaried NCOs. Responsibility was given for training and maintenance. It is being currently phased out, and conscript officers, salaried sergeants and commissioned officers have taken over the tasks.

The position of vääpeli in wartime formations still exists, but it can be given to soldier of any rank, typically sergeant or undersergeant. In peacetime, the term yksikköupseeri, literally "officer of the unit", is used, and this position is held by a salaried officer, typically senior lieutenant. The responsibility is for the provisioning, maintenance, human resources management and generally well-being of the unit (company).

Russia

See Russian military ranks.

References

See also

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