This article is about the military rank. For the honorific title of chivalric orders, see Commander (orders). For other uses, see Commander (disambiguation).
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the fleet
Marshal or
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the air force
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Rear admiralMajor generalAir vice-marshal
CommodoreBrigadier or
Brigadier general
Air commodore
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Commander (French: Commandeur) is a common naval and air force officer rank. Commander is also used as a rank or title in other formal organisations, including several police forces.

Commander is also a generic term for an officer commanding any armed forces unit, for example "platoon commander", "brigade commander" and "squadron commander". In the police, terms such as "borough commander" and "incident commander" are used.

Commander as a naval and air force rank

Commander is a rank used in navies but is very rarely used as a rank in armies. The title, originally "master and commander,"[1] originated in the 18th century to describe naval officers who commanded ships of war too large to be commanded by a Lieutenant but too small to warrant the assignment of a post-captain and (before about 1770) a sailing-master; the commanding officer served as his own Master. In practice, these were usually unrated sloops-of-war of no more than 20 guns. The Royal Navy shortened "master and commander" to "commander" in 1794; however, the term "master and commander" remained (unofficially) in common parlance for several years.[2] The equivalent American rank master commandant remained in use until changed to commander in 1838. A corresponding rank in some navies is frigate captain. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the rank has been assigned the NATO rank code of OF-4.

Various functions of commanding officers were also styled Commandeur. In the navy of the Dutch Republic, anyone who commanded a ship or a fleet without having an appropriate rank to do so, could be called a Commandeur. This included ad hoc fleet Commanders and acting Captains (Luitenant-Commandeur). In the fleet of the Admiralty of Zealand however, commandeur was a formal rank, the equivalent of Schout-bij-nacht (Rear-Admiral) in the other Dutch admiralties. The Dutch use of the title as a rank lives on in the Royal Netherlands Navy, as the equivalent of Commodore. In the Royal Netherlands Air Force, however, this rank is known by the English spelling of Commodore which is the Dutch equivalent of the British Air Commodore.


The rank of commander in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is identical in description to that of a commander in the British Royal Navy. RAN chaplains who are in Division 1, 2 and 3 (of five divisions) have the equivalent rank standing of commanders. This means that to officers and NCOs below the rank of commander, lieutenant colonel. or wing commander, the chaplain is a superior.

To those officers ranked higher than commander, the chaplain is subordinate. Although this equivalency exists, RAN chaplains who are in Division 1, 2 and 3 do not actually wear the rank of commander, and they hold no command privilege.


Main article: Commander (Canada)


Shoulder insignia of a French capitaine de frégate

In France, the rank of commander exists as capitaine de frégate ("frigate captain"). It is senior to capitaine de corvette ("corvette captain"), and junior to capitaine de vaisseau ("ship-of-the-line captain").


The rank of commander was used in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and continues to be used in the modern Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Though the modern rank is translated as "commander" in English, its literal translation is "captain second rank." The rank is equivalent to that of a commander in the U.S. Navy.


Commander is a rank in the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, and is denoted by the post-nominal letters CLJ.


Komandor porucznik, Poland

The corresponding rank in the Polish Navy is komandor porucznik.


In the Russian Navy the equivalent rank to commander is "captain of the second rank."[3]

Russian Empire

The rank was introduced in Russia by Peter the Great in 1722. From the introduction of the Russian Table of Ranks to its abolition in 1917, "captain of the second rank" was equal to a court councillor, at the sixth level out of 14 ranks. Until 1856 it was also conferred hereditary nobility on the holder.

Soviet Navy

The equivalent rank in the Soviet Navy from 1918 to 1935 was "first mate", (старпом корабля 1 ранга; starpom korablya pervogo ranga).[Note 1] The rank returned to the Imperial Russian Navy form of "captain of the second rank" in 1935.

Imperial Russian Navy
Soviet Navy
Soviet Navy
Russian Navy
Captain of the 2nd rank First mate Captain of the 2nd rank Captain of the 2nd rank
shoulder insignia
Sleeve insignia Sleeve insignia Sleeve insignia Parade
shoulder insignia


Commander is a naval rank in Scandinavia (Kommandør in Danish and Norwegian, Kommendör in Swedish) equivalent to the Anglo-American naval rank of captain. The Scandinavian the rank of commander is immediately above "commander-captain" (Norwegian: Kommandørkaptein, Swedish: Kommendörkapten, Danish: Kommandørkaptajn), which is equivalent to the Anglo-American naval rank of commander.[4]


In the Spanish Navy the equivalent rank to commander is capitán de fragata.

United Kingdom

Royal Navy

Insignia of a Royal Navy commander

A commander in the Royal Navy is above the rank of lieutenant commander, below the rank of captain, and is equivalent in rank to a lieutenant colonel in the army. A commander may command a frigate, destroyer, submarine, aviation squadron or shore installation, or may serve on a staff.

Royal Air Force

Since the British Royal Air Force's mid-rank officers' ranks are modelled on those of the Royal Navy, the term wing commander is used as a rank, and this is the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the army or a commander in the navy. The rank of wing commander is above that of squadron leader and below that of group captain.

In the former Royal Naval Air Service, which was merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918, the pilots held appointments as well as their normal ranks in the Royal Navy, and they wore insignia appropriate to the appointment instead of the rank. A flight commander wore a star above a lieutenant's two rank stripes, squadron commander wore two stars above two rank stripes (less than eight years' seniority) or two-and-a-half rank stripes (over eight years seniority), and wing commander wore three rank stripes. The rank stripes had the usual Royal Navy curl, and they were surmounted by an eagle.

United States

Insignia of a US Navy commander


Commander (trung tá) is a 2-star field grade officer of Vietnam People's Navy

Commander as a military appointment

For instance, as in various small colonial settlements (such as various Caribbean islands) commanding the garrison was the crux of the top job, the military title Commandeur could be used instead of a civilian gubernatorial style, not unlike the Portuguese Captain-major.

British Army

In the British Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the non-commissioned officer in charge of a section (section commander), vehicle (vehicle commander) or gun (gun commander), to the subaltern or captain commanding a platoon (platoon commander), or to the brigadier commanding a brigade (brigade commander). Other officers commanding units are usually referred to as the officer commanding (OC), commanding officer (CO), general officer commanding (GOC), or general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-C), depending on rank and position, although the term "commander" may be applied to them informally.

In the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry commander is a rank equivalent to major.


Commandeur as title of colonial office was the case on the island of Tobago in the Dutch colony of Nieuw Walcheren ('New Walcheren')

New Zealand Army

The usage is similar to the United States Army, with the term "commander" usually applying to very senior officers only, typically at divisional level (major general).

Spanish Armed Forces and Guardia Civil

In the Spanish Army, the Spanish Air Force and the Marine Infantry, the term commander is the literal translation of "comandante", the Spanish equivalent of a Commonwealth major. The Guardia Civil shares the Army ranks, and the officer commanding a house-garrison (usually a NCO or a lieutenant, depending on the size) is addressed as the "comandante de puesto" (post commander).

United States Army

In the United States Army, the term "commander" is officially applied to the commanding officer of army units; hence, there are company commanders, battalion commanders, brigade commanders, and so forth. At the highest levels of U.S. military command structure, "commander" also refers to what used to be called commander-in-chief, or CINC, until October 24, 2002, although the term CINC is still used in casual speech.

United States Air Force

In the Air Force, the term "commander" (abbreviated "CC" in office symbols, i.e. "OG/CC" for "operations group commander") is officially applied to the commanding officer of an Air Force unit; hence, there are flight commanders, squadron commanders, group commanders, wing commanders, and so forth. In rank, a flight commander is typically a lieutenant or captain, a squadron commander is typically a major or lieutenant colonel, a group commander is typically a colonel, and a wing commander is typically a senior colonel or a brigadier general.

Commander as a non-military rank or title

NASA rank

In NASA spacecraft missions since the beginning of Project Gemini, one crew member on each spacecraft is designated as mission commander. The commander is the captain of the ship, and makes all real-time critical decisions on behalf of the crew and in coordination with the Mission Control Center (MCC).

Use in aviation

The title of aircraft commander is used in civil aviation to refer to the pilot in command (commonly referred to as "captain", which is technically an airline rank and not related to the commander's role on board the aircraft).

British police rank

Epaulette of a commander in the City of London Police or Metropolitan Police

Within the British police, commander is a chief officer rank in the two police forces responsible for law enforcement within London, the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. In both forces, the rank is senior to chief superintendent; in the Metropolitan Police it is junior to deputy assistant commissioner and in the City of London Police it is junior to assistant commissioner. In forces outside London, the rank equates to assistant chief constable which bears the same insignia.

The Metropolitan Police introduced the rank in 1946, after the rank of deputy assistant commissioner was split in two, with senior DACs keeping that rank and title and junior DACs being regraded as commanders. The Metropolitan Police also used the rank of deputy commander, ranking just below that of commander, between 1946 and 1968.

Officers in charge of policing each of the London's boroughs are given the title "borough commander". However, most such officers do not hold the actual rank of commander but instead hold the rank of chief superintendent. An exception to this is the borough commander of Westminster, who actually holds the rank of commander due to the size, complexity, and high-profile nature of the borough.

The Metropolitan Police Service announced that by Summer 2018 the rank would be phased out, along with that of chief inspector.[5]

The rank badge worn by a commander or an assistant chief constable consists of crossed tipstaves within a wreath. Until the abolition of the rank of deputy commander in 1968, however, a commander wore the same badge of rank as a deputy assistant commissioner.

Australian police rank

In Australia, commander is a rank used by the Victorian,[6] Tasmanian, Western Australian,[7] South Australian, and Australian Federal police forces. The insignia consists of a crown over three bath stars in a triangular formation, equivalent to a brigadier in the army. In all four forces, it is junior to the rank of assistant commissioner, and senior to the rank of chief superintendent, with the exception of Western Australia and Victoria where it is senior to the rank of superintendent.

In New South Wales the position of commander is instated to officers (usually superintendents) in charge of a command or unit.

United States police rank

The Los Angeles Police Department and the San Francisco Police Department are two of the few US police departments which use this rank. A commander in the LAPD is equivalent to an inspector in other US departments (such as the NYPD); the LAPD rank was originally called inspector as well, but was changed in 1974 to commander after senior officers voiced a preference for the more military-sounding rank.

Commander is also utilized by larger sheriff's departments in the United States. The rank usually falls between chief deputy and captain, which is three positions removed from the Sheriff. The Clark County Sheriff's Office in southwest Washington state uses the rank of commander. It falls between the rank of sergeant and the rank of branch chief. The insignia worn by a Clark County Sheriff's Office commander is a gold oak leaf, the same insignia worn by a lieutenant commander in the Navy or a major in the US Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps.

The Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) also uses the rank of commander. The rank falls between those of inspector and assistant chief.

The Rochester, NY, Police Department (RPD) uses the rank of commander. Higher than captain and below deputy chief, the rank is achieved by appointment. Commander is the rank held by the two patrol division heads and other commanders fill various administrative roles. The St Paul Police Department (SPPD) is another police force that uses the rank of commander. In the St Paul Police Department, commanders serve as the chief of the district/unit that they oversee.

Many police departments in the midwest (including the Chicago Police Department) use the rank of commander. In Chicago a commander ranks above captain, and wears the silver oakleaf insignia of a lieutenant colonel. It is equivalent to an inspector in most other departments, being above a captain and below a deputy chief.

Commander is also used as a title in certain circumstances, such as the commander of a squad of detectives, who would usually be of the rank of lieutenant.

Canadian police rank

The Montreal police force, Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, uses the rank of commander.[8]

Incident Command System

In the Incident Command System the incident commander is in charge of the response to an emergency. The title may pass from person to person as the incident develops.

Chivalric orders

Main article: Commander (orders)

The title of Commander is used in chivalric orders such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta for a member senior to a knight. The title of knight commander is often used to denote an even higher rank. These conventions are also used by most of the continental orders of chivalry. The United Kingdom uses different classifications.

In most of the British orders of knighthood, the grade of Knight (or Dame) Commander is the lowest grade of knighthood, but is above the grade of companion (which does not carry a knighthood). In the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the British Empire, the grade of Commander is senior to the grade of Lieutenant or Officer respectively, but junior to that of Knight or Dame Commander. In the British Venerable Order of Saint John, a Commander ranks below a Knight. However, Knights of the Venerable Order of Saint John are not called "Sir".

In common usage

"Commander" may sometimes be used by laymen, usually applied to the person who is accountable for and holds authority over a group or the attempts of a group to achieve a common goal.

See also

Look up commander in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. The Russian word "старпом" (starpom) is an abbreviation of "старший помощник" (starshiy pomoshchnik), literally "senior assistant". Thus "старпом корабля 1 ранга" (starpom korablya pervogo ranga) is literally the "senior assistant of the ship, 1st rank" - the first mate.


  1. See also: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
  2. "Why is the Colonel called a 'Kernal?'". Naval Historical Center. 1998. Archived from the original on 2011-02-24.
  3. Russian: капитан 2-го ранга; kapitan vtorogo ranga; abbreviated "кавторанг"; kavtorang
  4. "NATO grades / national ranks: Navy" (PDF). Hellenic Multinational Peace Support Operations Training Center. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  5. "Met police to modernise its rank structure", MPS website
  6. Victoria Police Website
  7. Western Australia Police Website
  8. "Positions". Service de police de la Ville de Montréal. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
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