For other uses of this rank, see Commodore (rank).
Commodore was an early title and later a rank in the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard and the Confederate States Navy. For over two centuries, the designation has been given varying levels of authority and formality.
Today, it is no longer a specific rank, but it continues to be used as an honorary title within the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for those senior captains (pay grade O-6) in command of operational organizations composed of multiple independent subordinate naval units (e.g., multiple independent ships or aviation squadrons).
Use of the term "commodore" dates from 1775 in the then–Continental Navy, the predecessor of the modern U.S. Navy, when it was established (but not used) as a courtesy title reserved for captains in command of a fleet or squadron.
The first U.S. naval officer to become a commodore was John Barry, a senior officer of the Navy, appointed in 1794 after the former Continental Navy was reorganized into what would become the current U.S. Navy.
Because the U.S. Congress was originally unwilling to authorize more than four officer ranks in the navy (captain, master commandant, lieutenant, and midshipman) until 1862, considerable importance was attached to the title of commodore. Captain Isaac Hull, chafing at not being able to progress further in rank, wrote in 1814 that, if no admirals were to be authorized, something should be done to prevent, "...every midshipman that has command of a gunboat on a separate station taking upon himself the name of Commodore".
Like its Royal Navy counterpart at the time, the U.S. Navy commodore was not a higher rank, but a temporary assignment for navy officers, as Herman Melville wrote in his 1850 novel, White-Jacket.
An American commodore in the early period, like an English commodore or a French chef d'escadre, was an officer (generally, but not exclusively, a captain) assigned temporary command of more than one ship. He continued his permanent or regular rank during the assignment. Once employed as a commodore, however, many jealously held onto the impressive title after their qualifying assignment ended. The Navy Department tried to discourage such continuing usage because it led to confusion and unnecessary rivalries.
Eventually the title of commodore was defined more strictly, and was reserved for captains so designated by the Navy Department, although the practice of retaining the title for life added some confusion. In 1857, Congress established the grade of flag officer. This generic title was intended "to promote the efficiency of the Navy", but differed little from the previous practice. Like the courtesy-title commodores, "flag officers" reverted to captain once their squadron command assignment was completed.
American Civil War
Because of the acute need for officers at the beginning of the American Civil War, naval tradition was ignored and commodore became for the first time a permanent commissioned rank in the U.S. Navy. Eighteen commodores were authorized on July 16, 1862. The rank title also lost its "line command" status when, in 1863, the chiefs of the Bureaus of Medicine and Surgery, Provisions and Clothing, Steam Engineering, and Construction and Repair were all given the rank of commodore.
The rank of commodore continued in the Navy until March 3, 1899, when the Naval Personnel Act disestablished the title and made all commodores into rear admirals.
According to Laws Relating to the Navy, 1919, the step was taken, "…on account of international relationships, the consideration of which caused the Navy Department to regard the complications confronting it as inimical to the honor and dignity of this nation, because of the adverse effect upon its high ranking representatives in their association with foreign officers". In short, U.S. Navy commodores were not being treated as flag officers by other navies, or given the respect that the Navy Department thought was their due.
As it would have been expensive to increase the pay of all the former commodores to the level of rear admirals, the U.S. Congress at the time specified that the lower half of the rear admiral list have pay equal to brigadier generals of the U.S. Army. If there were an odd number of rear admirals, the lower half of the list was to be the larger. All rear admirals lower half and full rear admirals, were considered equal to major generals, flew a blue flag with the requisite number of stars instead of a broad pennant, and were entitled to a 13-gun salute. The U.S. Supreme Court later held that the rank of commodore had been removed from the U.S. Navy, leaving it without a rank equivalent to brigadier general. This act disgruntled all the brigadier generals, who could now be outranked by officers who were their juniors in terms of service. This was a point of inter-service controversy for many years, especially after 1916, when the U.S. Army made its brigadier generals equivalent to rear admirals (lower half). Thus the two-star rank of rear admiral was now equal to that of major general.
World War II and the Cold War
During the huge expansion of the U.S. Navy during World War II, the Department of the Navy was concerned that the appointment of more flag officers would create a glut of admirals whenever peacetime was achieved. However, some Navy and Coast Guard captains, although not yet selected for rear admiral (lower half), were holding commands of significantly higher responsibility than they had earlier and this needed to be recognized. The COMINCH of the U.S. Navy and Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) Ernest J. King, proposed bringing back the older rank of "commodore" for these officers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, making the suggestion that the title be revived.
As a result, the one-star officer rank for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard was re-established in April 1943 with the title of "commodore." In actual practice, some officers on admiral's staffs were also promoted to the rank of commodore. By the end of the War in the Pacific in August 1945, there were over 100 commodores in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. With respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, it should be understood that during World War II, the much-expanded Coast Guard was transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of the Navy and was involved in combat operations in both anti-submarine warfare and amphibious warfare, thousands of miles away from home, and not just in its usual role of defending the coasts of the United States, detaining smugglers, lifesaving, and search and rescue operations.
After World War II, and with the rapid drawdown in size of both the Navy and the Coast Guard, very few of the wartime commodores were ever promoted to rear admiral. All promotions to commodore ceased in 1947, and nearly all of the commodores who had held the one-star rank had either been promoted to rear admiral or had retired from the Navy by 1950. According to the 1949 edition of the Official Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Navy, updated to January 1st, 1949, the last two commodores on active duty were Tully Shelley (b. 1892) and Antoine O. Rabideau (b. 1884). Shelley retired in July 1949 and was promoted on retirement to rear admiral retroactive to April 3, 1945. Rabideau apparently died sometime in 1949, as he is not listed in the 1950 register as either on active duty or as retired.
However, as the Cold War evolved, the Navy began to rebound from its immediate post-World War II reductions. This expanding Navy saw growth in several mission areas, and the reintroduction and designation of senior captains in command of units comprising multiple ships (e.g., "flotillas"), multiple aviation squadrons or other similar organizations became increasingly commonplace, leading to increased use of the title of commodore for those senior captains occupying these highly responsible positions.
1982 commodore admiral / 1983 rear admiral (lower half)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, following years of objections and complaints by the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marine Corps, efforts were begun to reinstate commodore as an official rank in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard with a pay grade of O-7, replacing "rear admiral (lower half)", which were Navy and Coast Guard flag officers who were paid at the one-star rank of an O-7 and carried the relative seniority of a one-star officer, but who, due to the elimination of the rank of commodore at the end of World War II, wore the same two-star rank insignia as a full, or "upper half," rear admiral, an O-8.
In 1982, the rank of commodore was finally and officially reintroduced in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard as the O-7 rank. This was intended to quell the long-running dissatisfaction by U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force officers with the U.S. Navy's and the U.S. Coast Guard's policy of honoring its rear admirals (lower half), who received the pay grade of O-7 while wearing the rank insignia of a two-star admiral, i.e., an O-8. The one-star officer's rank and insignia for Navy and Coast Guard officers was thence re-established with the initial title of commodore admiral.
In 1983, following numerous objections by USN officers to the Chief of Naval Operations and USCG officers to the Commandant of the Coast Guard that this new title was unwieldy and confusing, the rank of "commodore admiral" was simplified to "commodore".
However, this action still failed to stem the confusion and the objections of senior officers in the naval services. This was because the U.S. Navy had long assigned the title (although not the rank) of commodore to selected captains holding major operational sea-going commands. Since at least the late 1940s, commodore had been used as a "position title" for senior navy captains who commanded air groups and air wings (other than those officers commanding carrier air groups/carrier air wings, who were historically known and referred to as "CAGs"), destroyer squadrons, submarine squadrons, amphibious squadrons, patrol boat flotillas, patrol hydrofoil missile ship squadrons, special warfare groups, construction regiments, and other large seagoing commands. The U.S. Coast Guard had never previously used the title.
Later in 1983, the one-star U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard admiral rank was changed back to its original O-7 pay grade title of "rear admiral" with the discriminator in seniority and protocol purposes of Rear Admiral, lower half, and a rank title abbreviation of RDML versus the O-8 rank title abbreviation of RADM.
From then on, commodore has remained a title for U.S. Navy captains in command of more than a single unit (other than captains commanding carrier air wings, who retained their traditional title of "CAG") and all U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard one-star admirals were subsequently referred to as rear admiral. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard rear admirals (lower half), continued to wear the single star for collar insignia and applicable shoulder insignia (i.e., flight suits, jackets, etc.), a single silver star on top of solid gold background shoulder board insignia, and a single broad gold sleeve stripe insignia for dress blue uniforms (service dress blue, full dress blue and dinner dress blue) of all USN and USCG flag officers in pay grade O-7, and for the service dress white and full dress white uniforms of female USN flag officers in pay grade O-7.
The term "commodore" again reverted to that of an honorary title versus an actual rank for the limited number of captains in command of multiple units.
Present-day title usage
The U.S. Navy no longer maintains a rank of commodore, but the term has survived as an honorary title. Modern-day commodores are senior captains in the U.S. Navy holding major operational command of functional or "type" air wings or air groups (exclusive of carrier air wings) such as strike fighter wings, electronic attack wings, patrol and reconnaissance wings, airborne early warning wings, strategic communications wings, various helicopter wings, training air wings, or tactical air control groups; destroyer squadrons; submarine squadrons; amphibious squadrons; mine countermeasures squadrons; riverine squadrons; coastal warfare groups and squadrons; special warfare (SEAL) groups; explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) groups; logistics task forces; and naval construction regiments.
With the exception of the naval construction regiments that are commanded by senior captains of the U.S. Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, all other commodores are senior captains who are warfare-qualified unrestricted line (URL) officers in that combat specialty (i.e., naval aviators and naval flight officers commanding "functional" or "type" air wings or air groups,surface warfare officers commanding destroyer or littoral combat ship squadrons, submarine warfare officers commanding submarine squadrons, SEAL officers commanding special warfare groups, etc.).
Such officers employ the term "commander" in their organizational command title, this in keeping with the naval tradition of officers commanding a single ship, unit or installation being referred to as a "commanding officer" or "CO", while those captains and flag officers commanding multiple ships, multiple aviation squadrons, multiple air wings, task forces, fleets, etc., being known as a "commander" (but not to be confused with the USN / USCG rank of commander). With the exception of commanders of carrier air wings, captains in this latter category are referred to, both orally and in correspondence, as "commodore", but continue to wear the rank insignia of a captain. Captains in command of carrier air wings continue to use the traditional title of "CAG" which dates from when these units were known as carrier air groups.
While technically not flag officers, captains holding a commodore billet are authorized a blue and white broad pennant, also known as a "command pennant", which is normally flown from their headquarters facilities ashore and/or from ships on which they are embarked when they are the senior officer present afloat (SOPA). Depending on the type of aircraft, it may also be displayed as a plate or decal when embarked on that aircraft, or painted on one of the aircraft in one of their subordinate squadrons that also displays their name on the fuselage. This swallow-tailed pennant has a white field bounded by two horizontal blue stripes, with the numerical designation or the initials of the command title in blue centered on the white field.
In the U.S. Navy, commodore billets are considered to be O-6 "major command" assignments for Captains, on par with the commanding officers of major combatant vessels (e.g., aircraft carrier, battleship, guided missile cruiser), commanders of carrier air wings, and commanding officers of major shore installations (e.g., naval air station, naval station, naval base, naval support activity, etc.). In the other U.S. armed services, the level and scope of responsibility of a USN Captain in a commodore billet is equivalent to that of the Commanding Officer of a Marine Regiment, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) or Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the U.S. Marine Corps, a wing commander in the U.S. Air Force (even when the USN command is designated as a "Group"), or a brigade commander or O-6 level post commander/installation commander in the U.S. Army.
U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard presently designates the USCGcaptain commanding those U.S. Coast Guard cutters and other afloat and ashore USCG units comprising Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) as a "commodore." PATFORSWA is headquartered at Naval Support Activity Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain and its primary area of responsibility is the Persian Gulf, as well as other areas coinciding with that of United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT). It is currently the only commodore billet in the U.S. Coast Guard and this usage mirrors the USN's use of the title "commodore".
Auxiliary Components of Uniformed Services
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also employs variants of the title of commodore. Members of the Auxiliary are civilian volunteers who do not have military rank, but who do wear modified U.S. Coast Guard uniforms and U.S. military-style officer rank insignia to indicate office. Auxiliary members who have been elected to positions in the highest levels of the organization, similar in nature to active and reserve rear admirals and vice admirals use the term commodore (e.g., District Commodore, Assistant National Commodore, Deputy National Commodore, National Commodore, etc.). These Coast Guard Auxiliarists may permanently append the title commodore, sometimes abbreviated COMO, to their names (e.g., Commodore James A. Smith, National Commodore; or COMO Jim Smith, (NACO)). In the 1970s there was an honorary commodore title given to friends and members of the USCG Auxiliary as well as the rank of lifetime member as the Auxiliary organization, which originated as a seafaring militia and counterweight to the USCG in 1941 also liaised with Yacht clubs and other non governmental civilian organizations for the mutual defense.
U.S. Maritime Service
The United States Maritime Service uses the rank of commodore for their one-star flag officers, with the two-star rank being simply designated as "rear admiral." The rank is usually given to the president of one of the seven federal and state maritime academies who had not attained flag rank during his/her active duty naval career.
Civilian and popular use
Civilian yacht clubs also tend to use the title "commodore" for their leaders, along with "vice commodore" and "rear commodore" in the same manner as "vice president," etc.
The athletic teams of Vanderbilt University of the Southeastern Conference use "Commodore" as their mascot, the nickname of the university's founder and namesake Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The state of Rhode Island has a group of select individuals, appointed by the governor, known as Rhode Island Commodores. Rhode Island Commodores function as ambassadors for the state and promote its economy and attractions. It is a similar to the title Kentucky Colonel but less commonly awarded.
- ^ abcNaval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions, 6th ed., CDR Royal W. Connell, USN (Ret) and VADM William P. Mack, USN (Ret); US Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD; 2004; ISBN 1-55750-330-3, pp. 261, 266–267, 289–290
- ^Connell, CDR Royal W.; VADM William P. Mack (2004). Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions (6th ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 266–267. ISBN 1-55750-330-3.
- ^Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1902; No. 562; William C. Gibson vs. U.S.; Judd & Detweiler, Printers, Washington, D.C.; Jan. 23, 1903,
- ^Connell, CDR Royal W.; VADM William P. Mack (2004). Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions (6th ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 289–290. ISBN 1-55750-330-3.
- ^Official Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Navy. 1949. pg. 12.
- ^Official Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Navy. 1950. pg. 403.
- ^In contrast to USAF, USN does not use the same wing/group/squadron structure. In USN naval aviation, a "group" is considered equal to a wing if commanded by an O-6 and senior to a wing if commanded by an O-7 or O-8 (e.g., carrier strike group, patrol & reconnaissance group).
- ^Broad pennant
- ^"USCGAux Insignia of Office: Flotilla, Division, District and National Offices". United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Division. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- ^"Council". Marblehead, Mass.: Eastern Yacht Club. 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark the position from which the officer exercises command.
The term is used differently in different countries:
- In many countries, a flag officer is a senior officer of the navy, specifically those who hold any of the admiral ranks; the term may or may not include the rank of commodore.
- In some countries, such as Bangladesh, the United States, Pakistan and India, it may apply to all armed forces, not just the navy. This means generals can also be considered flag officers.
- In most Arab armies, liwa (Arabic: لواء), which can be translated as flag officer, is a specific rank, equivalent to a major general. However, "ensign" is debatably a more exact translation of the word. In principle, a flag officer commands several units called "flags" (or "ensigns") (i.e. brigades).
The generic title of flag officer is used in several modern navies and coast guards to denote those who hold the rank of rear admiral (or its equivalent) and above, also called "flag ranks"; in some navies, this also includes the rank of commodore. Flag officer corresponds to the generic terms general officer (used by land and some air forces to describe all grades of generals) and air officer (used by other air forces to describe all grades of air marshals and air commodores).
A flag officer sometimes is a junior officer, called a flag lieutenant or flag adjutant, attached as a personal adjutant or aide-de-camp.
In the Canadian Forces, a flag officer (French: officier général, "general officer") is an admiral, vice-admiral, rear-admiral, or commodore, the naval equivalent of a general officer of the army or air force. It is a somewhat counterintuitive usage of the term, as only flag officers in command of commands or formations actually have their own flags (technically a commodore has only a broad pennant, not a flag), and army and air force generals in command of commands or formations also have their own flags, but are not called flag officers. Base commanders, usually full colonels, also have a pennant that flies from the mast or flagpole on the base, when resident, or on vehicles that carry them.
A flag officer's rank is denoted by a wide strip of gold braid on the cuff of the service dress tunic; one to four gold maple leaves over a crossed sword and baton, all beneath a royal crown, on epaulettes and shoulder boards; and two rows of gold oak leaves on the peak of the service cap. Since the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, a flag officer's dress tunic had a single broad stripe on the sleeve and epaulettes. On May 5, 2010, however, the naval uniform dark dress tunic was adjusted—exterior epaulettes were removed, reverting to the sleeve ring and executive curl-rank insignia used by most navies; commodores' uniforms display a broad stripe, and each succeeding rank receives an additional sleeve ring. There are no epaulettes on the exterior of the tunic, but they are still worn on the uniform shirt underneath.
In India, it is applied to brigadiers, major generals, lieutenant generals and generals in the Army (and their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force). The equivalents are commodore, rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral in the Navy and air commodore, air vice marshal, air marshal and air chief marshal in the Air Force.[clarification needed] Each of these category of flag officers is designated with a specific flag. India's honorary ranks (five star ranks) are field marshal in the Army, marshal of the Indian Air Force in the Air Force and admiral of the fleet in the Navy.
In the Royal Navy, there is a distinction between the "flag officer" and "officer of flag" ranks. Formerly all officers promoted to flag rank were considered to be "flag officers" and the term is still widely used to refer to any officer of flag rank. Present usage is that all rear-admirals and above are officers of flag rank, but only those officers of flag rank who are authorised to fly a flag are formally called "flag officers", and have different flags for different ranks of admiral. Of the 39 officers of flag rank in the Royal Navy in 2006, very few were "flag officers" with entitlement to fly a flag. For example, Commander-in-Chief Fleet flies an admiral's flag whether ashore or afloat and is a "flag officer"; the chief of staff (support), a rear admiral, is not entitled to fly a flag and is an "officer of flag rank" rather than a "flag officer". List of fleets and major commands of the Royal Navy lists most admirals who were "flag officers". A flag officer's junior officer is often known as "Flags".
Equivalent ranks in the British Army and Royal Marines are called general officer rather than flag officers, and those in the Royal Air Force (as well as the rank of air commodore) are called air officers, although all are entitled to fly flags of rank.
See also: Admiral (United States) § History
Captain was the highest rank in the United States Navy from its beginning in 1775 until 1857, when Congress created the temporary rank of Flag Officer, which gave way to Commodore and Rear Admiral in 1862. The rank of "flag officer" was bestowed on senior Navy captains who were assigned to lead a squadron of vessels in addition to command of their own ship. During the American Civil War, the Confederate States Navy also used the term. The 19th-century rank of "flag officer" was considered strictly temporary and became obsolete upon the creation and widespread usage of the equivalent naval rank of commodore; however, the term is still in use today, explicitly defined as an officer of the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard serving in or having the grade of admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral, or rear admiral (lower half),  equivalent to general officers of an army. In 1862 Congress authorized the use of the title "admiral."
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the term "flag officer" generally is applied to all general officers authorized to fly their own command flags—i.e., brigadier general, or pay grade O-7, and above. However, as a matter of law, Title 10 of the United States Code makes a distinction between general officers and flag officers. Non-naval officers usually fly their flags from their headquarters, vessels, or vehicles, typically only for the most senior officer present. In the United States all flag and general officers must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; each subsequent promotion requires renomination and re-approval. For the Navy, each flag officer assignment is usually limited to a maximum of two years, followed by either reassignment, promotion and reassignment, or retirement.
- ^Canada – National Defence: A-AD-200-000/AG-000 The Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces, Chapter 14, Section 3.
- ^Canada - National Defence: "Navy Rank and Appointment Insignia: NavyArchived 2011-08-20 at WebCite"
- ^Note: The referenced website, above, has not yet been updated to reflect the change as of July 9, 2010.
- ^See e.g.King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions Volume I 1913., §192
- ^"Naval History and Heritage Command - Navy Captain". History.navy.mil. 13 May 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
- ^ ab§101 of Title 10, US Code on law.cornell.edu
- ^Offenhauer, Priscilla. "General and flag officer authorizations for the active and reserve components: A comparative and historical analysis"(PDF). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, December 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
- ^Kapp, Lawrence. General and Flag Officers in the U.S. Armed Forces: Background and Considerations for Congress, Congressional Research Service, February 18, 2016.
- ^Army Regulation 840-10, Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft PlatesArchived 2010-06-07 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^Department of the Army Institute of Heraldry website on General Officer FlagsArchived 2008-06-14 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^Chief of Naval Operations. Navy Military Personnel Assignment Policy, 2006, pg 6