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Flag of Germany.svg
(Heer / Luftwaffe)
HD H 31 Feldwebel Art.svg LD B 31 Feldwebel.svg
Rank insignia German NCO rank
Introduction 1957
Rank group Non-commissioned officers
Army / Air Force Feldwebel
Navy Bootsmann
US Flag of the United States.svg
UK Flag of the United Kingdom.svg

Feldwebel (Fw or F), literally "field usher", is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank in several countries. The rank originated in Germany, but it is also used in Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia. The rank has also been used in Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Feldwebel is a contraction of feld meaning "field" and weibel meaning "usher". Weibel comes from the Old High German weibôn, meaning to go back and forth.

There are variations on feldwebel, such as Oberstabsfeldwebel ("Superior Staff Feldwebel"), which is the highest non-commissioned rank in the German army and air force.

Feldwebel in different languages

The rank is used in several countries: Swedish fältväbel, Russian фельдфебель (fel'dfebel'), Bulgarian фелдфебел (feldfebel), Finnish vääpeli and Estonian veebel.

In Swiss German the spelling feldweibel is used.


The Landsknecht regiments first installed Feldwaibel to keep the men at line at the battlefield.

The rank is used in the German Heer and Luftwaffe.[1]

It is grouped as OR6 in NATO, equivalent in the US Army, and Air Force to Staff Sergeant, or in British Army / RAF to Sergeant.

In army/air force context NCOs of this rank were formally addressed as Herr Feldwebel.

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 (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). In 1921, the rank of Sergeant was renamed Unterfeldwebel. Unterfeldwebels did duty as squad/section leaders.

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/First Sergeant) 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).

13-Stabsfeldwebel, 14-Oberfeldwebel, 15-Feldwebel, 16-Unterfeldwebel and 17-Unteroffizier

Not all Heer NCO's in this grade were called Unterfeldwebel, Feldwebel, Oberfeldwebel and Stabsfeldwebel which are ranks in the infantry tradition. In some other cervice branches, for example, the equivalent ranks were as follows.


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:

The sequence of ranks (top-down approach) in that particular group (NCOs with portepee or Senior NCOs with portepee) is as follows:


The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru:другие ранги, кроме офицеров"!

junior Rank
Bundeswehr Logo Heer with lettering.svg Bundeswehr Logo Luftwaffe with lettering.svg

(German NCO rank)

senior Rank


Feldwebel was a typical infantry rank of the k.u.k. Austro-Hungarian Army (1867–1918). It might have been comparable to NCO-rank OR5[2]/ Sergeant ranks in Anglophone armed forces.

In the k.u.k. Austro-Hungarian Army Feldwebel was equivalent to:

  • Beschlagmeister I. Klasse (Master-Blacksmith 1st class) cavalry,
  • Feuerwerker (literal: Fire worker; en: Master-Sergeant) artillery,
  • Oberjaeger (en: Master-Sergeant) of the mountain troops,
  • Rechnungs-Unteroffizier I. Klasse (en: Fiscal sergeant 1st class),
  • Regimentshornist (en: Regimental bugler),
  • Regimentstambour (en: Regimental drummer),
  • Wachtmeister (en: Master-Sergeant) cavalry,
  • Waffenmeister I. Klasse (en: Weapon master 1st class) artillery and weapon arsenal,
    • Einjährig-Freiwilliger-Feldwebel (en: Master-Sergeant - volunteer serving one year), and
    • Kadett-Feldwebel (en: Cadet-Master-Sergeant).
Junior rank
Zugsführer (Sergeant)
War flag of Austria-Hungary (1918).svg
armed forces rank)

Senior rank
Stabsfeldwebel (First-Sergeant)

Then rank insignia was a gorget patch on the stand-up collar of the so-called Waffenrock (en: Tunic), and consisted of three white stars on 13 mm ragged yellow silk galloon. The gorget patch and the stand-up collar showed the particular Waffenfarbe (en: corps colour).

Examples (selection)
Designation Non-commissioned officers OR5/ Feldwebel ranks
K.u.k. Feuerwerker.PNG K.u.k. Wachtmeister.png Oberjäger k.k. Gebrigstruppe 1907-18.png K.u.k. Feldwebel.png Feldwebel des k.u.k. Militärwachkorps.png
Rank insignia
Rank description Feuerwerker Wachtmeister Oberjäger Feldwebel
Branch Artillery Cavalry Mountain
Infantry Militärwachkorps
(English) (Artillery Master-Sergeant) (Cavalry LMaster-Sergeant) (Rifles Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant) (Master-Sergeant mil. guards)
Feldwebel of the k.u.k. Army
See also


In the Bulgarian army, фелдфебел (pronounced "feldfebel") existed from the late 19th century to the late 1940s, when the German-type military organization was phased out in favor of a new doctrine, identical to the Soviet one.


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 corporal. 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).


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 have remained in the rank of Feldweibel.

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


Russian Imperial Army's Feldwebel's shoulder board

See History of Russian military ranks.

In the Imperial Russian Army Feldwebel ("Фельдфебель") was a highest NCO rank since its introduction in the Peter The Great's Table of Ranks in 1722, until 1826, with the introduction of the still-higher ranks of Sub-Ensign ("Подпрапорщик") and later a Deputy-Ensign ("зауряд-прапорщик") in 1884. Feldwebels, even after the introduction of these senior ranks, were usually the most senior non-commissioned officers in the unit and held the positions of the unit's CO senior assistant or Sergeant major ("старшина"). When they were promoted to the various sub-Ensign ranks, but still held the Sergeant Major's positions, they were authorized to still wear the Feldwebel's bands on their shoulder boards. The Cavalry equivalent of this rank was the Wachtmeister.

Sequence of ranks
Junior rank:
Senior Unteroffizier

Lesser Coat of Arms of Russian Empire.svgCoat of arms Kolchak 1919.jpg
Senior rank:

See also


  1. BROCKHAUS, The encyclopedia in 24 volumes (1796–2001), Volume 7: 3-7653-3676-9, page 185
  2. The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru:другие ранги, кроме офицероф"