Sub-lieutenant is a junior military officer rank.

In many navies, a sub-lieutenant is a naval commissioned or subordinate officer, ranking below a lieutenant. In the Royal Navy (RN) the rank of sub-lieutenant is equivalent to the rank of lieutenant in the British Army and of flying officer in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In some armies, sub-lieutenant is the lowest officer rank. However, in Brazil, it is the highest non-commissioned rank, and in Spain, it is the second highest non-commissioned rank.

The NATO rank code for the British Royal Navy rank is OF-1 (senior).

History of naval rank

In the British Royal Navy, a passed midshipman awaiting promotion often elected to become a master's mate, normally an experienced petty officer who assisted the sailing master. Though formally the rating did not lead to promotion to lieutenant, master's mates were paid more than any other rating and were the only ratings allowed to command any sort of vessel.[1] A midshipman who became a master's mate got an increase in pay from £1 13s 6d to £3 16s per month, but initially reduced his chances at a commission.[2][3] Over time, however, service as a master's mate became a normal part of the path to a commission. The situation caused some confusion during the last part of the 18th century, when two parallel roles—master's mates trying to become masters, and former midshipmen working toward a commission—held the same title and responsibilities aboard ship.[4]

By the first years of the 19th century, the prefix "master's" was dropped for passed midshipmen, to distinguish them from master's mates in the navigator's branch.[2] In 1824 two further grades were also introduced, consisting of master's assistants and second-class volunteers. These corresponded to midshipmen and first-class volunteers respectively in the executive line. From this point, passed midshipmen had the rating master's mate, abbreviated as mate, and prospective masters had the rating master's assistant. These changes helped eliminate the confusion caused by the mingling of midshipmen in the navigator's branch.[4]

In 1861 the rank of mate was renamed sub-lieutenant.[2]

Acting sub-lieutenant

In 1955, the Royal Navy created the rank of acting sub-lieutenant, although it had existed intermittently in the world wars. Unlike their substantive counterparts, acting sub-lieutenants are subordinate officers, as they hold their ranks by order and not by commission. Upon passing Fleet Board, acting sub-lieutenants were confirmed as sub-lieutenants and issued commissions backdated to the date when they were appointed acting sub-lieutenants. The rank of acting sub-lieutenant was abolished in the Royal Navy around 1993 but remained in the Royal Naval Reserve until 2013; officers in both the RN and RNR now commission into the rank of Midshipman.[5] The rank of Acting Sub-lieutenant remains in the Royal Navy only within the University Royal Naval Unit where Training Officers enter at this rank.[6]

Before its abolition, the rank of acting sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy corresponded with, but was junior to, the ranks of lieutenant (Army) and flying officer (RAF). This can be seen in print versions of STANAG 2116 edition 5 (1992).

Canadian RCN OF-1a
Canadian Acting Sub-lieutenant's insignia

In many Commonwealth navies (e.g. Canada and Australia), the rank of acting sub-lieutenant still exists as a commissioned rank equivalent to second lieutenant, while the rank of sub-lieutenant is equivalent to that of an army lieutenant. As the term "acting" is a designation, both acting and substantive ranks should be addressed as "sub-lieutenant"; the full designation including "acting" should be used in written documents, however. Indeed, when someone is addressed as "Acting sub-lieutenant", it can be seen as a way of patronising an individual in a derogatory manner due to the emphasis of their "acting" rank.

The Royal New Zealand Navy follows the US precedent in titling its lowest commissioned officer ensign.

In the Royal Thai Army, Army Reserve Force Students who complete grade 5 and their B.D. are promoted to the rank of acting second lieutenant (ว่าที่ ร้อยตรี).

Modern practice

In the modern Royal Navy, all officer cadets now commission as midshipmen, regardless of whether they are a graduate or a school leaver. They are subsequently promoted to sub-lieutenant one year after entering Britannia Royal Naval College. Upper Yardsmen commission as Sub-Lieutenants assuming their seniority date is greater than 12 months.

In the Royal Canadian Navy, all undergoing basic officer training join as naval cadets, but upon graduation, those who joined with a bachelor's degree receive an immediate promotion to acting sub-lieutenant, while those who do not retain their rank as naval cadet until such time as they finish more career-related training.

Rank insignia: armies

Brazilian Sub-Lieutenant insignia

In France, a sub-lieutenant (sous-lieutenant) is the junior commissioned officer in the army or the air force. He wears a band in the colour of his corps (e.g. gold for infantry, silver for armoured cavalry, etc.). During the 18th century a rank of sous-lieutenant de vaisseau existed in the French Navy. It was the equivalent of the master's mate rank of the Royal Navy. It is now replaced by the rank of "first ensign" (enseigne de vaisseau de première classe).

An Argentinian sub-lieutenant wears a single silver sun on each shoulder, Brazilian sub-lieutenants are the most senior non-commissioned rank (called Sub-Officer in the Navy and Air force), wearing a golden lozenge. In Mexico, the sub-lieutenant is the most junior officer in the rank scale, and wears a single gold bar. Thai sub-lieutenants and acting sub-lieutenants wear a single star on each shoulder.

Rank insignia: naval

UK sub-lieutenant sleeve insignia

In the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy, the insignia of both sub-lieutenants and acting sub-lieutenants consists of one medium gold braid stripe with an executive curl. The size of this stripe should not be confused with the narrow stripe, colloquially referred to as "spaghetti strap," used on the Royal New Zealand Navy rank of ensign and the Royal Canadian Navy's naval cadets. The Royal Air Force also followed this example of braiding when developing their rank system (see flying officer).

The insignia of sub-lieutenants in most commonwealth countries are identical to the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard grade of ensign (although US ranks do not use the executive curl), even though its equivalent grade in the USN is actually lieutenant junior grade.

In the Royal Canadian Navy, acting sub-lieutenants display one medium stripe. A sub-lieutenant adds a narrow stripe below the medium stripe to maintain the executive curl on the top. The equivalent air force lieutenant rank has the narrow stripe above the medium stripe since these elements do not need to maintain spacing on top due to the lack of an executive curl; the Royal Canadian Navy followed this pattern before the addition of the curl in 2010.

British Army

The British Army briefly used the rank of sub-lieutenant from 1871 to 1877, replacing the ranks of ensign in the infantry and cornet in the cavalry. In 1877, it was replaced in turn by the rank of second lieutenant, although this had always been used by the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and rifle and fusilier regiments.

See also

GDR Navy OF1c sleeve
Unterleutnant of the Volksmarine


  1. ^ "Officer ranks in the Royal Navy". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Walker 1938, p. 188
  3. ^ Lewis 1960, p. 146,197
  4. ^ a b Lewis 1939, p. 212,230
  5. ^ "BR3, Ch102 – Maritime Reserves Personnel Management" (PDF). Royal Navy Books of Reference. Royal Navy. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  6. ^ "BR3, Ch 110 – The University Royal Naval Units and Cadet Forces" (PDF). Royal Navy Books of Reference. Royal Navy. Retrieved 31 December 2015.


  • Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-258-3.
  • Lewis, Michael (1939). England's Sea-Officers. London: George Allen & Unwin. OCLC 1084558.
  • Walker, C.F. (1938). Young Gentlemen: The Story of Midshipmen from the XVIIth Century to the Present Day. London: Longmans, Green. OCLC 2936648.
Comparative navy officer ranks of Africa

Rank comparison chart of navies of African states.

Comparative navy officer ranks of Asia

Rank comparison chart of navies of Asian states.

Note: Since none of the countries on this list are part of NATO, the conversion to equivalent NATO ranks are approximate.

Comparative navy officer ranks of Europe

Rank comparison chart of all navies of European states.

Comparative navy officer ranks of Oceania

Rank comparison chart of naval forces of Oceania states.

Comparative navy officer ranks of the Americas

Rank comparison chart of navies of North and South American states.

Comparative navy officer ranks of the Commonwealth

Rank comparison chart of naval forces of Commonwealth of Nations states.

Most of the 52 commonwealth nations have their beginnings in British Empire and have shared naval traditions. By comparison Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony. Even after some had achieved a degree of independent government from the UK, their naval protection was still British; the Royal New Zealand Navy did not exist separately until 1941.

Comparative officer ranks of World War II

The following table offers an approximate comparison for the officer ranks appointed by the major Allied powers, the major Axis powers and various occupied countries and co-belligerents during World War II.

Cornet (rank)

Cornet was originally the third and lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop, after captain and lieutenant.

It was abolished in the Cardwell Reforms of 1871 and replaced by sub-lieutenant. It is equivalent to a modern second lieutenant. The term today is restricted to internal regimental use when referring to a second lieutenant in the Blues and Royals and Queen's Royal Hussars.This rank was also used in other countries, e.g., in the Russian Empire, and the Prussian cavalry, before 1870.

Daya Sandagiri

Daya W. K. Sandagiri was the 14th Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy. He was Born and bred in Veyangoda, Admiral Sandagiri had his education at St. Mary's Maha Vidyalaya, Veyangoda and Kegalu Maha Vidyalaya, Kegalle. He was enlisted in the then Royal Ceylon Navy on 14 November 1966 and was in the first batch of Naval Cadets to join the renowned Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee on July 1, 1969 and was commissioned into the Executive Branch of the navy as a Sub-Lieutenant on 1 July 1973.

He was appointed Chief of Defense Staff with the rank of admiral on September 1, 2005.

Ensign (rank)

Ensign (; Late Middle English, 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 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 existed. In contrast, the Arab rank of ensign, لواء, liwa', derives from the command of units with an ensign, not the carrier of such a unit's ensign, and is today the equivalent of a major general.

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."Ensign" is enseigne in French, 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, but instead comes from the Arabic for "cavalier" or "knight". Fähnrich in German comes from an older German military title, Fahnenträger (flag bearer); however, it is an officer cadet rank, not a junior officer – the same applies to the Dutch vaandrig, which has a parallel etymology. In the German Landsknecht armies (c. 1480), the equivalent rank of cornet existed for those men who carried the troop standard (known as a "cornet"). It is still used in the artillery and cavalry units of the Netherlands (kornet).

The NATO rank code is OF-1 (junior).

Flying officer

Flying officer (Fg Off in the RAF and IAF; FLGOFF in the RAAF; FGOFF in the RNZAF; formerly F/O in all services and still frequently in the RAF) is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these cases a flying officer usually ranks above pilot officer and immediately below flight lieutenant.

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and is equivalent to a lieutenant in the British Army or the Royal Marines. However, it is superior to the nearest equivalent rank of sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy.The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force was "section officer".

Italian Air Force ranks

The rank insignia of the Italian Air Force are worn on jackets and mantels sleeves.


A lieutenant (UK: lef-TEN-ənt or US: loo-TEN-ənt abbreviated Lt, LT, Lieut and similar) is the junior most commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police, and other organizations of many nations.

The meaning of lieutenant differs in different militaries (see comparative military ranks), but is often subdivided into senior (first lieutenant) and junior (second lieutenant and even third lieutenant) ranks. In navies it is often equivalent to the army rank of captain; it may also indicate a particular post rather than a rank. The rank is also used in fire services, emergency medical services, security services and police forces.

Lieutenant may also appear as part of a title used in various other organisations with a codified command structure. It often designates someone who is "second-in-command", and as such, may precede the name of the rank directly above it. For example, a "lieutenant master" is likely to be second-in-command to the "master" in an organisation using both ranks.

Political uses include lieutenant governor in various governments, and Quebec lieutenant in Canadian politics. In the United Kingdom, a lord lieutenant is the sovereign's representative in a county or lieutenancy area, while a deputy lieutenant is one of the lord lieutenant's deputies.

Lieutenant (British Army and Royal Marines)

Lieutenant (UK: ; Lt) is a junior officer rank in the British Army and Royal Marines. It ranks above second lieutenant and below captain and has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and it is the senior subaltern rank. Unlike some armed forces which use first lieutenant, the British rank is simply lieutenant, with no ordinal attached. The rank is equivalent to that of a flying officer in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Although formerly considered senior to a Royal Navy (RN) sub-lieutenant, the British Army and Royal Navy ranks of lieutenant and sub-lieutenant are now considered to be of equivalent status. The Army rank of lieutenant has always been junior to the Navy's rank of lieutenant.

In the 21st-century British Army, the rank is ordinarily held for up to three years. A typical appointment for a lieutenant might be the command of a platoon or troop of approximately thirty soldiers.Before 1871, when the whole British Army switched to using the current rank of "lieutenant", the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and Fusilier regiments used "first lieutenant" and "second lieutenant".

Lieutenant (navy)

Lieutenant (abbreviated Lt, LT, LT(N), Lt(N), Lieut and LEUT, depending on nation) is a commissioned officer rank in many nations' navies. It is typically the most senior of junior officer ranks. In most navies, the rank's insignia may consist of two medium gold braid stripes, the uppermost stripe featuring an executive curl in many Commonwealth of Nations; or three stripes of equal or unequal width.

The now immediately senior rank of lieutenant commander was formerly a senior naval lieutenant rank. Many navies also use a subordinate rank of sub-lieutenant. The appointment of "first lieutenant" in many navies is held by a senior lieutenant.

A navy lieutenant ranks higher than an army lieutenant; the navy rank of lieutenant is a NATO OF-2 (US grade O-3) and ranks with an army captain.

Pilot officer

Pilot officer (Plt Off officially in the RAF; PLTOFF in the RAAF and RNZAF; formerly P/O in all services, and still often used in the RAF) is the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks immediately below flying officer.

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the British Army or the Royal Marines. The Royal Navy has no exact equivalent rank, and a pilot officer is senior to a Royal Navy midshipman and junior to a Royal Navy sub-lieutenant. In the Australian Armed Forces, the rank of pilot officer is equivalent to acting sub lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy.

The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was "assistant section officer".

Second lieutenant

Second lieutenant (called lieutenant governor in some countries) is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces, comparable to NATO OF-1a rank.

Navies Armies Air forces
Commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Field marshal or
General of the army
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier or
brigadier general
Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
junior grade
Lieutenant or
first lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign or
Second lieutenant Pilot officer
Officer cadet Officer cadet Flight cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Flight sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal or
Seaman Private or
gunner or
Aircraftman or
NATO rank code Student Officer OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6
Royal Canadian Navy NCdt A/SLt SLt Lt(N) LCdr Cdr Capt(N) Cmdre RAdm VAdm Adm
Not used
Canadian Army OCdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj LCol Col BGen MGen LGen Gen Not used
Royal Canadian Air Force OCdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj LCol Col BGen MGen LGen Gen Not used
NATO rank code Student officer OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6
Royal Navy O Cdt Mid SLt Lt Lt Cdr Cdr Capt Cdre RAdm VAdm Adm Adm of the Fleet
Royal Marines O Cdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj Lt Col Col Brig Maj-Gen Lt-Gen Gen Capt-Gen
Army O Cdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj Lt Col Col Brig Maj-Gen Lt-Gen Gen Fd Mshl
Royal Air Force Off Cdt / SO APO / Plt Off Fg Off Flt Lt Sqn Ldr Wg Cdr Gp Capt Air Cdre AVM Air Mshl Air Chf Mshl Mshl of the RAF


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