Colonel (United Kingdom)
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Colonel (Col) is a rank of the
British Army The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western ...
and
Royal Marines The Corps of Royal Marines (RM), also known as the Royal Marines Commandos, are the UK's special operations capable commando force, amphibious warfare, amphibious light infantry and also one of the :Fighting Arms of the Royal Navy, five fighti ...
, ranking below
brigadier Brigadier is a military rank, the seniority of which depends on the country. In some countries, it is a senior rank above colonel, equivalent to a brigadier general or commodore, typically commanding a brigade of several thousand soldiers. I ...
, and above
lieutenant colonel Lieutenant colonel ( , ) is a rank of commissioned officers in the army, armies, most Marine (armed services), marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. Several police forces in the United States use t ...
. British colonels are not usually field commanders; typically they serve as
staff officer A military staff or general staff (also referred to as army staff, navy staff, or air staff within the individual services) is a group of officers, Enlisted rank, enlisted and civilian staff who serve the commanding officer, commander of a D ...
s between field commands at battalion and brigade level. The insignia is two diamond-shaped pips (properly called "Bath Stars") below a crown. The crown has varied in the past with different monarchs; Elizabeth II's reign used
St Edward's Crown St Edward's Crown is the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Named after Saint Edward the Confessor, versions of it have traditionally been used to crown English and British monarchs at Coronation of the British monarch, the ...
. The rank is equivalent to
captain Captain is a title, an appellative for the commanding officer of a military unit; the supreme leader of a navy ship, merchant ship, aeroplane, spacecraft, or other vessel; or the commander of a port, fire or police department, election precinct, e ...
in the Royal Navy and
group captain Group captain is a senior Officer (armed forces)#Commissioned officers, commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force, where it originated, as well as the air forces of many countries that have historical British influence. It is sometimes used as th ...
in the Royal Air Force.


Etymology

The rank of colonel was popularized by the
tercios A ''tercio'' (; Spanish for " third") was a military unit of the Spanish Army during the reign of the Spanish Habsburgs in the early modern period. The tercios were renowned for the effectiveness of their battlefield formations, forming the ...
that were employed in the
Spanish Army The Spanish Army ( es, Ejército de Tierra, lit=Land Army) is the terrestrial army of the Spanish Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is one of the oldest Standing army, active armies — dating back to the late 15th ...
during the 16th and 17th centuries. General Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba divided his troops in to ''coronelías'' (meaning "column of soldiers" from the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
, ''columnella'' or "small column"). These units were led by a ''coronel''. This command structure and its titles were soon adopted as ''colonello'' in early modern Italian and in
Middle French Middle French (french: moyen français) is a historical division of the French language that covers the period from the 14th to the 16th century. It is a period of transition during which: * the French language became clearly distinguished from t ...
as ''coronel''. The rank title entered the English language from French in the mid-16th century and so the modern English pronunciation of the word is derived from the French variant.


History

The use of the rank of colonel pre-dates the establishment of the United Kingdom. In the mid-17th century, the regiments of the
New Model Army The New Model Army was a standing army formed in 1645 by the Roundhead, Parliamentarians during the First English Civil War, then disbanded after the Stuart Restoration in 1660. It differed from other armies employed in the 1639 to 1653 Wars ...
were commanded by colonels. The British Army has historically been organized around the regiment, with each regiment being raised, uniformed, and equipped either directly by the crown or by a nobleman. The colonels nominally commanding these regiments (usually the noblemen who raised them) often had little to do with the regiment's actual activities, either because they contemporaneously served as general officers or because they were essentially mere financiers. The day to day command of the regiment was left to a lieutenant colonel or major. By the end of 17th century in Great Britain, the "colonel of a regiment" was often a titled person who had been given royal permission to raise it for service and command it in battle. As such, he was required to cover all costs of the regiment's equipment, uniforms and wages as well select its officers.George Usher, ''Dictionary of British Military History'', A & C Black, London 2006 Until the late 18th century most British regiments were commonly known by the name of the colonelcy, for example Lord Churchill's
Dragoons Dragoons were originally a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 17th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry and trained for combat w ...
(1683–1685) or Elliot's Light Horse (1759–66). By the start of the
American Revolutionary War The American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783), also known as the Revolutionary War or American War of Independence, was a major war of the American Revolution. Widely considered as the war that secured the independence of t ...
most English and Welsh regiments in the
standing army A standing army is a permanent, often professional, army An army (from Old French ''armee'', itself derived from the Latin verb ''armāre'', meaning "to arm", and related to the Latin noun ''arma'', meaning "arms" or "weapons"), ground force ...
of Great Britain were named numerically, although some independent Highland regiments — such as MacLeod's Highlanders — were raised in the name of their colonel for service in
West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations geoscheme for Africa#Western Africa, United Nations defines Western Africa as the 16 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, ...
and
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
. The change from a colonelcy based on patronage was because the British Army's administration had been reformed into three administrative bodies: * The
War Office The War Office was a department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army between 1857 and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the new Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom), Ministry of Defence (MoD ...
was that responsible for day-to-day administration of the army, and for the cavalry and infantry; * The
Board of Ordnance The Board of Ordnance was a British government body. Established in the Tudor period, it had its headquarters in the Tower of London. Its primary responsibilities were 'to act as custodian of the lands, depots and forts required for the defence o ...
was responsible for the supply of weapons and ammunition, and administered the
Royal Artillery The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery (RA) and colloquially known as "The Gunners", is one of two regiments that make up the artillery arm of the British Army. The Royal Regiment of Artillery comprises t ...
and
Royal Engineers The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the ''Sappers'', is a corps of the British Army. It provides military engineering and other technical support to the British Armed Forces and is heade ...
; * The
Commissariat A commissariat is a department or organization commanded by a commissary or by a corps of commissaries. In many countries, commissary is a police rank. In those countries, a commissariat is a police station commanded by a commissary. In some ar ...
was responsible for the supply of rations and transport. It occasionally raised its own fighting units, such as "battoemen" (armed watermen and pioneers in North America). The reforms meant that the British government was now financially responsible for the pay, clothing and equipment of the troops in the service of the
British Crown The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realm A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state in the Commonwealth of Nations whose monarch and head of state is shared among the other realms. Ea ...
. Colonels were also no longer permitted to profit directly from the sale of officer commissions in their regiments. A
lieutenant-colonel Lieutenant colonel ( , ) is a rank of commissioned officers in the army, armies, most Marine (armed services), marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. Several police forces in the United States use t ...
commanded the regiment in battle. By the beginning of the
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic Wars, Europe ...
, the title "colonel of the regiment" had become a
sinecure A sinecure ( or ; from the Latin , 'without', and , 'care') is an office, carrying a salary or otherwise generating income, that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service. The term originated in the medieval chu ...
appointment for distinguished generals and members of the royal family or
British nobility The British nobility is made up of the Peerages in the United Kingdom, peerage and the landed gentry, (landed) gentry. The nobility of its four constituent Countries of the United Kingdom, home nations has played a major role in shaping the history ...
. Despite an individual only being permitted to hold one colonelcy, it was a profitable position as they were in financial charge of their regiment's allowance from the government. This meant they could hope to make a profit on the funds allocated for equipment, supplies and uniforms. As generals were mostly on half-pay, a colonelcy was a method of providing them with extra income. Many colonels spent large sums of their own money on their regiments. By the end of the 19th century, the reorganisation of the British Army through the Cardwell and
Childers Reforms The Childers Reforms of 1881 reorganised the infantry Infantry is a military specialization which engages in ground combat on foot. Infantry generally consists of light infantry, mountain infantry, motorized infantry & mechanized infan ...
had established a colonel as a professional rank with senior administrative responsibilities in regiment or brigade.


Ceremonial usage


Colonel-in-chief

Another title employed by the British Army is " colonel-in-chief" which is distinct from the ceremonial title "Colonel of the Regiment". The position is usually held by a member of the
Royal Family A royal family is the immediate family of kings/queens Queens is a Boroughs of New York City, borough of New York City, coextensive with Queens County, in the U.S. state of New York (state), New York. Located on Long Island, it is the lar ...
who acts as a
patron Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows on another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists su ...
to the unit, as
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, (Margaret Rose; 21 August 1930 – 9 February 2002) was the younger daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the younger sister and only sibling of Queen Elizabeth  ...
, did for the
Bermuda Regiment The Royal Bermuda Regiment (RBR), formerly the Bermuda Regiment, is the home defence unit of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. It is a single Territorial Army (United Kingdom), territorial infantry battalion#British Army, battalion tha ...
. Although they do not have an operational role, they are kept informed of all important activities undertaken by the regiment and pay occasional visits to its operational units. The chief purpose of a colonel-in-chief is to maintain a direct link between a given regiment and the British Royal Family.


Colonel of the Regiment

Some of the historic duties associated with the title colonel of the regiment (to distinguish it from the military rank of colonel) continue to be used in the modern British Army. The ceremonial position is often conferred on retired
general officer A general officer is an Officer (armed forces), officer of highest military ranks, high rank in the army, armies, and in some nations' air forces, space forces, and marines or naval infantry. In some usages the term "general officer" refers t ...
s,
brigadier Brigadier is a military rank, the seniority of which depends on the country. In some countries, it is a senior rank above colonel, equivalent to a brigadier general or commodore, typically commanding a brigade of several thousand soldiers. I ...
s or
colonel Colonel (abbreviated as Col., Col or COL) is a senior military officer rank used in many countries. It is also used in some police forces and paramilitary organizations. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, a colonel was typically in charge o ...
s who have a close link to a particular regiment. Non-military personnel, usually for positions within the
Army Reserve A military reserve force is a military organization whose members have military and civilian occupations. They are not normally kept under arms, and their main role is to be available when their military requires additional manpower. Reserve ...
, may also be appointed to the ceremonial position. When attending functions as "colonel of the regiment", the titleholder wears the regimental uniform with rank insignia of (full) colonel, regardless of their official rank. A member of the
Royal Family A royal family is the immediate family of kings/queens Queens is a Boroughs of New York City, borough of New York City, coextensive with Queens County, in the U.S. state of New York (state), New York. Located on Long Island, it is the lar ...
is known as a royal colonel. A colonel of the regiment is expected to work closely with a regiment and its regimental association.


Honorary Colonel

Regiments or units may have an honorary colonel, which is solely a ceremonial rank, that can also be held by a civilian, with no military service. If the appointment is held by a member of the Royal Family it is known as royal honorary colonel. Certain units may have one or more deputy colonels.


Colonel of Marines

The
Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of England, English and Kingdom of Scotland, Scottish kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were foug ...
once conveyed the honorific title "Colonel of Marines" to
post-captain Post-captain is an obsolete alternative form of the rank of Captain (Royal Navy), captain in the Royal Navy. The term served to distinguish those who were captains by rank from: * Officers in command of a naval vessel, who were (and still are) ...
s as a reward for highly distinguished service. It was a salaried
sinecure A sinecure ( or ; from the Latin , 'without', and , 'care') is an office, carrying a salary or otherwise generating income, that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service. The term originated in the medieval chu ...
position with no additional obligations outside a captain's normal naval duties. He would lose this title and its additional pay upon reaching
flag rank A flag officer is a commissioned officer An officer is a person who holds a position of authority as a member of an Military, armed force or Uniformed services, uniformed service. Broadly speaking, "officer" means a commissioned officer, a ...
.
Horatio Nelson Vice-admiral (Royal Navy), Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) was a British people, British flag officer in the Royal Navy. His inspirational leadership, grasp of strate ...
was given such a colonelcy in 1795, two years before he reached flag rank.


Royal Air Force

From 1 April 1918 to 31 July 1919, the Royal Air Force maintained the rank of colonel. During this period, groups were often commanded by RAF colonels. The rank of colonel was superseded by that of
group captain Group captain is a senior Officer (armed forces)#Commissioned officers, commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force, where it originated, as well as the air forces of many countries that have historical British influence. It is sometimes used as th ...
on 1 August 1919.


Historical insignia

When badges of rank were introduced for
field officer A senior officer is an officer of a more senior grade in military or other uniformed services. In military organisations, the term may refer to any officer above junior officer rank, but usually specifically refers to the middle-ranking group of ...
s in 1810, full colonels were designated with a crown and star worn on shoulder
epaulettes Epaulette (; also spelled epaulet) is a type of ornamental shoulder piece or decoration used as insignia of military rank, rank by armed forces and other organizations. Flexible metal epaulettes (usually made from brass) are referred to as ''sh ...
. In 1855, after the
Crimean War The Crimean War, , was fought from October 1853 to February 1856 between Russian Empire, Russia and an ultimately victorious alliance of the Ottoman Empire, Second French Empire, France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Uni ...
, new dress regulations were published which specified changes where rank would be worn. Thereafter full colonels wore half-inch regimental pattern laces on upper and lower collar, with one crown and one star. In 1880 the insignia was moved to the shoulder boards when in
full dress Western dress codes are a set of dress codes detailing what clothes are worn for what occasion. Conversely, since most cultures have intuitively applied some level equivalent to the more formal Western dress code traditions, these dress codes a ...
, and full colonels were given an extra star. The pattern of a crown above two stars has remained the identifying insignia from 1880 to the present day although it has variously been worn on the shoulder, cuff and chest. File:British-Army-Col(1810-1855).svg, 1810 to 1855 colonel's shoulder rank insignia File:British-Army-Col(1856-1867)-Collar Insignia.svg, 1856 to 1867 colonel's collar rank insignia File:British-Army-Col(1867-1880)-Collar Insignia.svg, 1867 to 1880 colonel's collar rank insignia File:British&Empire-Army-Col(1881-1902).svg, 1881 to 1902 colonel's shoulder rank insignia During World War I, colonels wore the following cuff badges: File:World War I British Army colonel's rank insignia (sleeve, general pattern).png, World War I colonel's rank insignia (general pattern) File:World War I British Army colonel's rank insignia (sleeve, Scottish pattern).png, World War I colonel's rank insignia (Scottish pattern)


Current insignia

The insignia is two diamond-shaped pips (properly called "Bath Stars") below a crown.
Gorget patches Gorget patches (collar tabs, collar patches) are an insignia in the form of paired patches of cloth or metal on the collar of a uniform ( gorget), used in the military and civil service in some countries. Collar tabs sign the military rank (grou ...
, colloquially known as red tabs, with crimson lace and a brass button are also worn.


See also

* British and U.S. military ranks compared * British Army Other Ranks rank insignia *
British Army officer rank insignia Listed in the table below are the insignia—emblems of authority—of the British Army. Badges for field officer A senior officer is an officer of a more senior grade in military or other uniformed services. In military organisations, the ter ...
*
Colonel (title) The ''honorable'' title prefix and style of "Colonel" is designated legally for various reasons by US governors in common law to citizens, employees, travelers and visitors within their states. The origins of the titular colonelcy can be traced ...
* Colonel-in-Chief


References


Bibliography

* {{UK officer ranks Honorary titles Military ranks of the British Army Military ranks of the Royal Marines Former military ranks of the Royal Air Force