Royal Navy Officer Equivalent and Relative Branch Ranks


Navy and army officer ranks were originally the same, with captains and lieutenants leading companies of soldiers that transformed a merchant vessel to a vessel of war. Over many years, as the naval service grew in size and complexity, it was realized that naval and army rank titles no longer lined up in terms of responsibility, and in 1747 an Order in Council codified the relationship of the two. Because there were fewer naval than army officer ranks, some ranks were differentiated by seniority or time in rank. The officers whose ranks had been so defined, who could aspire to the command of ships and fleets, came to be known as the "military" branch of the navy.

In the nineteenth century, the officers of the "non-military" branches of the navy began to express the desire for a defined relationship of their rank and status in relation to the military branch. Each branch evolved somewhat on its own, and the rank equivalents and titles were adjusted many times over the next century. Finally in the closing days of the First World War, the military titles were extended to all officers, with a branch-specific prefix.

The navy's masters, the class of professional seaman and navigators who were descended from the original merchant mariner officers, were classified as military officers in 1843, but kept their unique ranks. As their functions were overlapped by those of lieutenants, the navigating branch was allowed to die out. The engineers were given military titles in 1903, as part of a program where engineer and military officers would enter the navy all the same and specialize later. This system was abandoned in 1926 and engineering officers were given the suffix (E) after their ranks. At the same time, military branch officers were designated "executive officers." Accountant officers lost the paymaster prefix in 1944, using instead the suffix (S), for Supply and Secretariat. In 1956, engineering and supply officers became part of the navy's General List along with executive officers, all using the same rank titles. Instructor officers kept their prefix until 1996 when their branch was disbanded, leaving only the medical officers with the traditional branch distinction as part of their rank title.


Army and Navy Rank Timeline

Army Navy
  1747-1794 1794-1840 1840-1850 1850-1861 1861-1883 1883-1914 1914-1925 1925-present
Field Marshal Admiral of the Fleet
General Admiral
Lieutenant-General Vice-Admiral
Major-General Rear-Admiral
Brigadier-General/
Brigadier
Commodore
Colonel Captain of 3 years seniority Captain
Lieutenant- Colonel Captain Commander
with, but junior to, Lieutenant Colonel   Commander  
Major Master & Commander Commander Lieutenant of 8 years seniority Lieutenant-Commander
Captain Lieutenant
Lieutenant   Mate of 3 years seniority Mate Sub-lieutenant
2nd Lieutenant   Mate Midshipman 
  Midshipman

 


 

Branch Officer Relative Rank Timeline, 1805-1918

Masters, Navigating Branch
Engineers, Engineer Branch
Surgeons, Medical Branch
Dental Surgeons, R.N.V.R.
Pursers, Paymasters,
Secretaries, Accountant Branch
Naval Instructors

 

 Military Branch  Other Branches
 
1800s 1900s
05 0607080910111213141516171819202122232425262728293031323334353637383940414243444546474849505152535455565758596061626364656667686970717273747576777879808182838485868788899091929394959697989900010203040506070809101112131415161718
Vice-AdmiralEngineer Vice-Admiral
Medical Director GeneralSurgeon Vice-Admiral
Rear-AdmiralEngineer-in-ChiefEngineer Rear-Admiral
Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets of 3 years seniorityInspector-General of Hospitals and FleetsSurgeon GeneralSurgeon Rear-Admiral
Paymaster Rear-Admiral
Commodore 1st or 2nd Class Director-General of the Medical Department Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets
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Captain of 3 years seniority Staff Captain of 4 years seniority
Inspector of Machinery Afloat of 8 years seniorityInspector of Machinery of 8 years seniorityEngineer Captain of 8 years seniorityEngineer Captain of 3 years seniority
Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets of 5 years seniorityDeputy Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets Deputy Surgeon General Surgeon Captain
Secretary to Admiral of the Fleet Paymaster Captain
Paymaster-in-Chief
Chief Naval Instructor Instructor Captain
Captain under 3 years seniority Staff Captain
Inspector of Machinery Afloat Inspector of Machinery Engineer Captain
Medical Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief of 5 years seniority
with, but junior to, Captain under 3 years seniority Staff Surgeon
Commander Staff Commander
Chief Engineer of 15 years seniority Chief Engineer of 10 years seniority Fleet Engineer Engineer Commander
Deputy Medical Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets Surgeon Staff Surgeon Fleet Surgeon Surgeon Commander
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief Paymaster Commander
Paymaster of 15 years seniority Fleet Paymaster
Naval Instructor of 15 years seniority Instructor Commander
with, but junior to, Commander Master of the Fleet* Staff Commander
Chief Engineer of 15 years seniority
Staff Surgeon
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief
Paymaster of 15 years seniority
Naval Instructor of 15 years seniority
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Lieutenant of 8 years seniority/Lieutenant-Commander Master of 8 years seniority Navigating Lieutenant of 8 years seniority
Chief Engineer of 8 years seniority Staff Engineer Chief Engineer Engineer Lieutenant (senior list) Engineer Lieutenant-Commander
Surgeon Staff Surgeon 2nd Class Staff Surgeon Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander
Secretary to junior flag officer or commodore 1st class Paymaster Lieutenant-Commander
Paymaster of 8 years seniority Staff Paymaster
Paymaster
Naval Instructor of 8 years seniority Instructor Lieutenant-Commander
with, but junior to, Lieutenant of 8 years seniority Chief Engineer
Paymaster
Lieutenant Master of the Fleet
Inspector of Machinery Afloat
Physician
Master Navigating Lieutenant
Chief Engineer Engineer of 6 years seniority Engineer Engineer Lieutenant
Surgeon Assistant Surgeon of 6 years seniority SurgeonSurgeon Lieutenant
Dental Surgeon, R.N.V.R.Surgeon Lieutenant (D), R.N.V.R.
Secretary to a junior flag officer or commodore 1st class Secretary to a commodore 2nd class Paymaster Lieutenant
Purser Purser and Paymaster Paymaster Assistant Paymaster of 12 years seniority Assistant Paymaster of 4 years seniority
Naval Instructor Instructor Lieutenant
with, but junior to, Lieutenant Engineer of 8 years seniority Engineer
Assistant Paymaster of 8 years seniority Assistant Paymaster of 6 years seniority
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Mate/Sub-Lieutenant§ Second Master Navigating Sub-Lieutenant
Assistant Engineer Engineer Assistant Engineer Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
Assistant Surgeon Surgeon Probationer, R.N.V.R. Surgeon Sub-Lieutenant, R.N.V.R.
Assistant PaymasterPaymaster Sub-Lieutenant
with, but junior to, Sub-Lieutenant Assistant Engineer
Midshipman Master's Assistant Navigating Midshipman
Assistant Engineer
Clerk Paymaster Midshipman
Volunteer 1st Class/Naval Cadet** Volunteer 2nd Class Naval Cadet 2nd Class Navigating Cadet
Engineer Student Engineer Cadet
Assistant Clerk Paymaster Cadet
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All text and images © Justin T. Broderick, 2020.