rank (so) (out)

Ensign (rank)

Ensign (ˈɛnsən) is a junior rank of commissioned officer in the militaries of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank itself acquired the name.

"Ensign" is ensigne in French, Fähnrich in German, and chorąży in Polish, each of which derives from a term for a flag. The Spanish alférez is a junior officer rank below lieutenant associated with carrying the flag, and so is often translated as "ensign", although unlike the rank in other languages it has no etymological link to flags, instead deriving from the Arabic for horseman.


In Argentina, the rank of ensign is used by both the air force and the gendarmerie. It is, however, used differently in the two services. The air force uses the rank for newly qualified officers, while the gendarmerie uses "ensign" ranks as an equivalent for the army's "lieutenant" ranks.

Argentine Air Force Rank Argentine Gendarmerie Rank Equivalent Commonwealth Ranks for comparison
------------- ------------- -------------
Ensign Sub-Ensign Acting Pilot Officer / 2nd Lieutenant
Lieutenant Ensign Pilot Officer / 2nd Lieutenant
First Lieutenant First Ensign Flying Officer / Lieutenant

The other armed forces of Argentina have ranks equivalent to ensign: "subteniente" (which can be translated into English as "sublieutenant") in the army and "guardiamarina" (with no direct translation into English) in the navy. In the army, the most junior sublieutenant in a regiment (or other unit) is also the flag carrier.

France and Canada

In France of the ancien regime, like in other countries, the ensign (enseigne) was the banner of an infantry regiment. Also like in other countries, the name began to be used for the officers who carried the ensign. It was renamed sub-lieutenant (sous-lieutenant) in the end of the 18th century. The Navy used a rank of Ship-of-the-Line Ensign (enseigne de vaisseau), which was the first officer rank. It was briefly renamed Ship-of-the-line Sub-Lieutenant (sous-lieutenant de vaisseau) in the end of the 18th century, but its original name was soon restored.

Nowadays, the rank is still used in the Marine nationale : Ship-of-the-Line Ensign (Enseigne de vaisseau) is the name of the two lowest officer ranks (which are distinguished as from one another as "first class", equal to an army lieutenant, and "second class", equal to an army sub-lieutenant.) The term enseigne de marine ("naval ensign") is also often used, but is not the official title. Both ranks of Ensign use the style lieutenant.

French-speaking Canadian Naval officers also uses the terms of enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe and de première classe as the French term for Acting Sub-Lieutenant and Sub-Lieutenant respectivily. However, French-Canadian Sub-Lieutenant use the short form of enseigne instead of lieutenant.

Austria and Germany

Ensign, in German Fähnrich, is a German and Austrian officer cadet rank. A German ensign serves in the ranks, first as a junior non-commissioned officer then in subsequent grades equivalent to Unterfeldwebel (until 1945, now Unteroffizier), Feldwebel, and Oberfeldwebel (until 1945, now Hauptfeldwebel). Ultimately the ensign becomes an officer.

The word Fähnrich comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger, and first become a distinct military rank on January 1, 1899.

Junior Rank
Fähnrich Senior Rank

New Zealand

The Royal New Zealand Navy, unlike the Royal Navy—whose uniforms, insignia, and traditions it copies—created the Ensign grade to equal the lowest commissioned RNZAF grade of Pilot Officer and the New Zealand Army grade of Second Lieutenant. It ranks above the grade of Midshipman. Like the grade of Pilot Officer, it uses a single thin strip of braid. The fact that the Royal Navy has no real equivalent to the lowest commissioned Royal Air Force and British Army grades was the driving factor behind the RNZN's decision to create the Ensign grade, as well as the fact that at the time New Zealand was actively involved with the United States Armed Forces, it also made sense to balance the rank system out with that used by the United States Navy.


Both the Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) and the Norwegian Army's equivalent of Ensign is Fenrik (rank below lieutenant).It was previously referred to as Second Lieutenant (Norwegian: Secondløitnant), while the rank of lieutenant went by Premier Lieutenant.

The rank is obtained after attending "befalsskolen" for one year, from which the candidate emerges as a sergeant, and serving as a sergeant for one additional year. The rank is known to have been termporarily given to soldiers with rank equivalent of non-commissioned officers, showing skill-set's and performance beyond their rank, in contract based operative service (UN, NATO). This is highly uncommom and the rank is reverted after the contract period ends.

The rank insignia is worn on the sleeves (navy uniform only), on the shoulders of service uniforms or - more recently - on the chest. The chest placement is of newer date - introduced with the , which is worn by both noncommissioned ranks and officers in all branches of the Norwegian Defence.

Junior Rank
Sersjant (Army), Kvartermester (Navy)
Fenrik Senior Rank


The Polish Army equivalent of "ensign" is "chorąży" (the Polish for "ensign" or "flag" being "chorągiew").


The Romanian Navy equivalent of "ensign" is aspirant.


The present-day Russian-Army equivalent is the NCO rank of praporshchik (пра́порщик);and the Russian-Navy equivalent, Mitshman (ми́чман).

United Kingdom

Until 1871, when it was replaced by Second Lieutenant, Ensign was the lowest rank of commissioned officer in infantry regiments of the British Army (except fusilier and Rifle regiments, which always used Second Lieutenant). It was the duty of officers of this rank to carry the colours of the regiment. In the 16th century "ensign" was corrupted into "ancient," and was used in the two senses of a banner and the bearer of the banner. Today, the term "Ensign" is still used by the Foot Guards regiments, for instance during the ceremony of Trooping the Colour. The equivalent cavalry rank was Cornet, also being derived from the name of a banner.

United States

In the United States Navy, the rank of "Ensign" superseded in 1862 that of "Passed Midshipman". It is the most junior commissioned officer in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps ranking below lieutenant junior grade. It is also equivalent to a second lieutenant in the United States Army, United States Marine Corps and the United States Air Force. A typical Ensign is at specialty training for up to two years after receipt of the commission, depending on specialty, and after that is a division officer, leading a group of petty officers and enlisted personnel in a division. Even this billet, however, is for training purposes, as the division officer's duties and responsibilities are specifically designed to familiarize the "Div-O" with the appropriate naval systems, programs, and polices. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Ensigns wear a collar insignia of a single gold bar, hence their nickname of "butterbars" (shared with Army, Air Force and Marine 2nd lieutenants).

Until achieving the rank of lieutenant commander, it is customary to address naval officers as "Mister." For example, Ensign Smith might also be addressed as "Mister Smith".

The most senior U.S. Navy ensign on board ship or in a naval aviation squadron, receives an enlarged collar insignia, often engraved with the word "BULL", and is known as the "Bull Ensign". However, this is usually confined to within the command, as it is not recognized as regulation uniform devices. By tradition, this officer is responsible for guiding and mentoring the other ensigns of a ship or squadron's wardroom. In some wardrooms, the Bull Ensign must don a bull-horned hardhat to social functions.

The Bull Ensign is the direct social superior to the J.O.R.G. Ensign, or "George" (Junior Officer Requiring Guidance) who is the most junior officer in a naval command. (The origins of the term "George Ensign" are not clear. J.O.R.G. is a backronym.) The Bull is directly responsible for the actions of the JORG. The JORG normally serves as the Vice-President of the mess at formal military dinners, or "mess nights", and has key responsibilities for the success of this important military social event. The JORG is typically the collector and manager of the Wardroom Fund, a bank account funding miscellaneous incidentals to social functions as well as parting gifts or plaques for separating officers. Some of the various incidental duties of the JORG may also include maintaining the senior officer of the wardroom's Government-Owned Vehicle (GOV), setting up projectors and screens for General Military Training (GMT) and various other tasks. In the Seabees, the JORG is called the "Boot" and must carry a concrete- and rebar-filled Boot. This boot must be inspection-ready at all times. Other members of the Wardroom often seek to steal the boot and hold it ransom.

While officer rank is determined based on date of rank and line number precedence, not all ensigns typically receive the same prejudice as demonstrated by the JORG and Bull traditions. Limited Duty Officer or other prior enlisted, are often viewed as being a bit more knowledgeable and experienced as freshly commissioned officers. As such these members often referred to as "Mustangs," who are typically given tougher assignments commensurate with those appropriate for an Ensign. They are also designated as an O-1E versus an O-1 in regard to pay and benefits. True "Mustangs" never experience a break in service. The O-1E pay grade is available to prior enlisted servicemembers with greater than four years of enlisted service. Therefore, the O-1E pay grade does not necessarily indicate one is a Mustang. Prior enlisted service members earning a commission retain separate pay benefits from regular commissioned officers until promotion to O-4.

In Fiction

United Federation of Planets

In Starfleet (from the fictional universe of Star Trek), "Ensign" is the most junior officer rank. It is the rank bestowed on newly commissioned officers when they graduate from Starfleet Academy. Ensigns typically begin their careers as the most junior officers in the department of their chosen specialty. Ensigns who have strongly distinguished themselves in their academy class or on duty may sometimes be given posts as main-shift bridge officers (such as Ensigns Pavel Chekov or Harry Kim).

Earth Federation

In the Universal Century timeline of the Gundam anime series. The rank of Ensign is the 7th rank up below Lieutenant JG. The rank of Ensign is only extended to the EFF army branch. Notanble EFF Ensigns include Ensign Shiro Amada, Ensign Kou Uraki (Later Lieutenant JG), Ensign Amuro Ray (Later Lieutenant)and Ensign Hayato Kobayashi.

See also


  • Division Officer's Guide / James Stavridis and Robert Girrier - Naval Institute Press, 2004 - ISBN 1591147999

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