Promotion to the rank of field marshal in many countries historically required extraordinary military achievement by a general (a wartime victory). However, the rank has also been used as a divisional command rank and also as a brigade command rank. Examples of the different uses of the rank include Austria-Hungary, Prussia and Germany for an extraordinary achievement; Spain and Mexico for a divisional command (Spanish, mariscal de campo); and France, Portugal and Brazil for a brigade command (French: maréchal de camp, Portuguese marechal de campo).
The traditional attribute distinguishing a field marshal is a baton. The baton nowadays is purely ornamental, and as such may be richly decorated. That said, it is not necessary for the insignia to be a baton. (Such is the case in Russia post-1991 and the former Soviet Union, which use a jewelled star referred to as a marshal's star.)
The exact wording of the titles used by field marshals varies: examples include "marshal" and "field marshal general". The Air Force equivalent in the Commonwealth and many Middle Eastern air forces is marshal of the air force (not to be confused with air marshal). (Navies, which usually do not use the nomenclature employed by armies or air forces, use titles such as "fleet admiral," "grand admiral" or "admiral of the fleet" for the equivalent rank.)
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, held the rank of a field marshal, or equivalent rank, in eight armies. Nine of his field marshal batons are on display in Apsley House (see Batons of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington).
During Imperial rule in China, different dynasty gave different titles to generals. A very similar title is “司馬” (sima) in Eastern Han dynasty, which literally means "control horse", and later became a two-character surname too. “司馬” is one of the Three Excellencies in Eastern Han, who is in charge of the country's military affairs.
Later, a more common title for a field marshal or a commandant was (元帅 Yuan Shuai) or grand field marshal (大元帅 da yuan shuai). One of the most famous of these generals was Yue Fei from the Song Dynasty
After the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, it has promoted 10 military commanders to the rank of marshal.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was President Hosni Mubarak's Defence Minister and, after Mubarak was forced from power in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (thus de facto head of state).
In the French army of the Ancien Régime, the normal brigade command rank was field marshal (maréchal de camp). In 1793, during the French Revolution, the rank of field marshal was replaced by the rank of brigade general. The rank insignia of field marshal was two stars (one-star being used for a senior colonel rank). The French field marshal rank was below lieutenant-general, which in 1793 became divisional-general. In the title maréchal de camp and the English "field marshal", there is an etymological confusion in the French camp between the English words "camp" and "field".
The French rank of field marshal should not be confused with the rank of Marshal of France, which has been the highest rank of the French Army since the higher dignity of Marshal General of France was abolished in 1848 (although in theory it is not an actual rank but a "state dignity")
There have been two Indian field marshals. Sam Manekshaw, the 8th chief of staff of the Indian Army in 1969, was the first Indian military officer to hold the rank. The other was Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa.
Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan has remained the only field marshal in the Pakistan army to date. He appointed himself as a field marshal when he was the second president of Pakistan, as well as the commander in chief of the army.
In the Turkish Armed Forces, the corresponding rank is mareşal. The rank of mareşal can trace its origins to the Ottoman Empire and to the military of Persia, where it was called "مشير" (müşir) and bestowed upon senior commanders upon order of the ruling Sultan. The rank of mareşal can only be bestowed by the National Assembly, and only given to a General who leads an army, navy and/or air force successfully in three battles or at various front lines at the same time, gaining a victory over the enemy. Only two persons have been bestowed the rank mareşal to date: Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, and his Chief of Staff Fevzi Çakmak, both for their successes in the Turkish War of Independence.
On December 16, 1944, George Marshall became the first American general to be promoted to five-star rank, the newly created "General of the Army". A Washington columnist suggested (with tongue in cheek) that Marshall disliked the plan because five stars was the rank of field marshal and the Chief of Staff could then be addressed as “Marshal Marshall.”
Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada was the military dictator and third President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. Amin joined the British colonial regiment, the King's African Rifles in 1946, serving in Somalia and Kenya. Eventually, Amin held the rank of major general in the post-colonial Ugandan Army and became its commander before seizing power in the military coup of January 1971, deposing Milton Obote. He later promoted himself to field marshal while he was the head of state.
- Field marshal (Australia)
- Feldmarschall (Austrian-Hungarian monarchy)
- Marshal (Brazil)
- Stožerni general (Croatia)
- Mushir (Egypt)
- Field marshal (Finland)
- Maréchal de camp (major general); Marshal of France
- Generalfeldmarschall (Germany)[Note 1]
- Stratarches(Στρατάρχης) (Greece)
- Field marshal (India)
- Jenderal Besar (Indonesia)
- Field marshal (Iran)
- Marshal of Italy
- Rav-Aluf (Israel)
- Field marshal (Malaysia)
- Field marshal (New Zealand)
- Field marshal (Pakistan)
- Marshal of Peru
- Field marshal (Philippines)
- Marshal of Poland
- Mareşal (Romania)
- General field marshal (Imperial Russia)
- Marshal of the Russian Federation
- Field marshal (South Africa)
- Marshal of the Soviet Union
- Vojvoda (Serbia)
- Fältmarskalk (Sweden)
- Chom Phon (Thailand)
- Mareşal (Turkey)
- Field marshal (Uganda)
- Field marshal (United Kingdom)
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- "Great Turkish Dictionary". Turkish Language Association. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
- "Eisenhower Memorial Commission - The Story Behind Ike’s Fifth Star". Eisenhowermemorial.org. Retrieved 2012-05-14.