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Ensign (pron.: //) late 14c., via Scottish, from Old French enseigne (12c.) "mark, symbol, signal; flag, standard, pennant," from Latin insignia (plural) is a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces 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. This rank has generally been replaced in Army ranks by Second lieutenant. Ensigns were generally the lowest ranking commissioned officer, except where the rank of subaltern itself existed.
"Ensign" is enseigne in French, Fähnrich in German, Vaandrig in Dutch (whereby despite the fact that "Fähnrich" and "Vaandrig" have a parallel etymology, they are not a junior officer but only an officer cadet rank), and chorąży in Polish, each of which derives from a term for a flag. The Spanish alférez and Portuguese alferes is a junior officer rank below lieutenant associated with carrying the flag, and so is often translated as "ensign". Unlike the rank in other languages, its etymology has nothing to do with flags.
The NATO rank code is OF-1 (junior).
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||Subensign||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 (midshipman) 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 Régime, like in other countries, the ensign (enseigne) was the banner of an infantry regiment. As in other countries, the name began to be used for the officers who carried the ensign. It was renamed sublieutenant (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 sublieutenant (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 sublieutenant.) Both ranks of ensign use the style lieutenant.
French-speaking Canadian Naval officers also use the terms of enseigne de vaisseau de deuxième classe and de première classe as the French term for acting sublieutenant and sublieutenant respectively. However, French-Canadian sublieutenants use the short form of enseigne instead of lieutenant.
The rank "Ensign" is also used to refer to Second Lieutenants (NATO OF-1) in household regiments of the Canadian Army.
Austria and Germany
"Fähnrich" which has the parallel etymology to Ensign containing the corresponding German word stem of "flag" in it, is a German and an Austrian officer cadet rank. The word Fähnrich comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (literally: "flag carrier"), and first became a distinct military rank on 1 January 1899.
The German Fähnrich is a non-commissioned officer promoted from the rank of Fahnenjunker (German Army) or Seekadett (German Navy). A Fähnrich rank is equivalent to a Feldwebel (Staff Sergeant), but with additional responsibilities as an officer cadet. If successful, he may be promoted to Oberfähnrich (German Army, equivalent to Hauptfeldwebel, or Sergeant First Class) or to Oberfähnrich zur See (German Navy), before being made an officer. The German rank "Fähnrich" should not be translated into English with "Ensign" to avoid the possible misconception that this would be an officer's rank, whereby the English navy rank "Ensign" must not be translated with "Fähnrich" but only with "Leutnant zur See" which is the German equivalent.
The Royal New Zealand Navy, unlike the Royal Navy — whose uniforms, insignia, and traditions it inherited — 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.
The Royal Norwegian Navy, the Norwegian Army and the Royal Norwegian Air Force's equivalent of ensign is fenrik (the rank below lieutenant). It was previously referred to as second lieutenant (Norwegian: Sekondløytnant), while the rank of lieutenant was called 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 three additional years. The rank is known to have been temporarily 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 uncommon and the rank is reverted after the contract period ends.
A fenrik serves as a NATO (OF-1) second lieutenant, but the function of the rank differs drastically from other armies. Although it is an officer rank, it strongly resembles an NCO-rank in practice. Fenriks are usually former experienced sergeants without officer education, and usually fill such roles as squad leaders and platoon sergeants. This is due to the lack of an NCO-corps in the Norwegian Army.
The historical background for this is that Norway's NCO-corps was discontinued on 1 July 1975, and the senior NCOs currently serving were given officer ranks. NCOs ranking as oversersjant were given the officer rank of fenrik, NCOs ranking as stabssersjant were given the rank of lieutenant, and - in accordance with "Hærordningen av 1. januar 1977" - the most senior of the NCOs ranking as stabsserjant were given the rank of captain.
The corresponding ranks for the Royal Norwegian Navy were overkvartermester (kvartermester I klasse) and flaggkvartermester.
The corresponding ranks for the Royal Norwegian Air Force were vingsersjant and stabssersjant.
The rank insignia is worn on the sleeves (navy dress uniform only), on the shoulders of service uniforms or - more recently - on the chest. The chest placement is of newer date, and was introduced with the M-2000 uniform, which is worn by both noncommissioned ranks and officers in all branches of the Norwegian Defence.
The Polish Army equivalent of "ensign" is "chorąży" (the Polish for "ensign" or "flag" being "chorągiew"). In Poland "ensign" is not an officer rank - it is NCO-equivalent. Before the 2007 reform chorąży formed a separate corps above the NCOs. They have following, different ranks of ensign:
In Thomas Venn's 1672 Military and Maritime Discipline in Three Books the duties of Ensigns are to include not only carrying the colour but assisting the Captain and Lieutenant of a company and in their absence, have their authority.
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.
In the U.S. Navy, the rank of "ensign" superseded "passed midshipman" in 1862. Ensign is the junior commissioned officer rank in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, and the PHS Commissioned Corps. This rank is also used in the U.S. Maritime Service and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Ensign ranks below lieutenant junior grade, and it is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force.
Depending upon the warfare community, an ensign may go directly to a warship after being commissioned to serve as a division officer, or he or she may serve up one to two years of specialty training before reporting to a combat unit (e.g. flight school, weapons systems school, navigator school, submarine school, amphibious warfare school, radar school).
Ensigns who become division officers are responsible for leading a group of petty officers and enlisted men in one of the ship's divisions (for example, engineering, navigation, communications, sensors or weapons) while at the same time receiving on-the-job training in leadership, naval systems, programs, and policies from higher-ranking officers and from enlisted men and women.
Navy and Coast Guard ensigns wear collar insignia of a single gold bar and because of this share the nickname "butterbars" with Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps second lieutenants, who wear the same insignia.
Within the U.S. Public Health Service, those wearing the rank of ensign are part of a commissioned officer student training, and extern program (COSTEP), either junior, for those with more than a year remaining of education in a commissionable degree (JRCOSTEP), or senior, for those within one year of graduating with a commissionable degree (SRCOSTEP). Some officers may hold a permanent rank of ensign based on their experience and education, but than can hold the temporary rank of lieutenant, junior grade.
|Hierarchy of naval officer ranks|
|Admiral of the navy
Admiral of the fleet • Fleet admiral
- "Subaltern". Ranks. Southern Gunners. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
- Troy, Michael. "Rank of Ensign in Revolutionary Army". All Experts: U.S. History. About.com. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
- Argentine Army official website, ranks of the army compared with those of the air force and navy
- The cavalry regiments used the term cornette (cornet) and the dragoons regiments used guidon.
- Venn, Thomas; Tacquet, Andrew & (tr) Lacey, John (translator) Military and Maritime Discipline in Three Books R Pawlet, 1672
- Division Officer's Guide. James Stavridis and Robert Girrier. Naval Institute Press, 2004. ISBN 1-59114-799-9.
- The Definition of Ensigns http://www.blackwells.ndo.co.uk/history2.htm#Chap. I.
|United States commissioned officer and officer candidate ranks|
|Pay grade / Branch of service||Officer
|Approximate insignia||(no universal insignia)||(no universal insignia)|
|Air Force||Cadet / OT||2d Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen||GAF|||
|Army||CDT / OC||2LT||1LT||CPT||MAJ||LTC||COL||BG||MG||LTG||GEN||GA||GAS|
|Marine Corps||Midn / Cand||2ndLt||1stLt||Capt||Maj||LtCol||Col||BGen||MajGen||LtGen||Gen|||||
|Navy||MIDN / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM||AN|
|Coast Guard||CDT / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|Public Health Service||||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RADM||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|National Oceanic and
Grade is authorized by the U.S. Code for use but has not been created
Grade has never been created or authorized
|United States warrant officer ranks|
|Public Health Service|||||||||||
|National Oceanic and
Grade is authorized for use by U.S. Code but has not been created
Grade never created or authorized