Insignia of rank in the Imperial Service

The Imperial Service has two systems of insignia for rank. Officers in all branches of the Service¹ wear badges and stripes of braid on the cuffs of their jackets and overcoats, which are derived from officers’ insignia of the Mayflower Space Force, and ultimately from historical naval insignia. There is provision for wearing these insignia on slides on the shoulder-straps of short-sleeved uniforms, but civilians often omit them in informal circumstances. The Imperial Navy and Imperial Marines have an additional system based that was devised by a Senate committee in 499 ADT, and that was based on historical army insignia². They are worn in the middle of the chest and on the brow of a helmet in armour or fatigues, on the upper sleeve of service and other-ranks’ dress uniforms, on epaulettes on officers’ mess and dress uniforms.

In the system of cuff distinctions, officer candidates at the service academies and other Imperial training institutions (O-0) wear a white cloth label on the cuff of each sleeve, stitched in to the hem and secured on the outside by a silver button with a branch-of-service crest. Graduate interns and probationary officers (O-1) replace the silver button with a gold button. On receiving their permanent commissions (O-2) officers remove the labels³ and replace each one with a branch-of-service badge⁴. Then with each promotion up to O-6 (equivalent to a colonel or naval captain) one adds a narrow stripe of braid. At O-7 (major-general/rear admiral) one replaces the narrow stripes with a broad stripe, and then adds a narrow stripe with each grade up to O-11 (marshal). The chairman of the Imperial Council (emperor) wears two broad stripes when appearing in uniform in his or her capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed services.

The system of military badges of ranks provides no insignia for recruits, apprentices, or the junior grades of private and astronaut. At grade E-3 the rating or marine wears a small insignia shaped like a short-armed “T”, indicating training in advanced skills, but not command rank. In the marines the rank of lance-corporal is also E-3, and has command insignia consisting of a single chevron, point down. There is no equivalent rank in the Navy. Each of the next two ranks adds a chevron, and at rank E-6 (chief petty officer, staff sergeant) a small crown is added above the chevrons. The next ranks are technically warrant officers⁵ and not non-commissioned officers. The E-7 (warrant officer) insignia is a crown. E-8 (senior warrant officer) wears a crown inside a wreath. At E-9 the naval master warrant officer wears a crown above a star within a wreath, while the marines chief warrant officer wears a crown above a commando badge (winged dagger) in a wreath.

Officers ranks are divided into four groups of three. Within each group the lowest rank wears one star, the middle rank two, and the highest three. The lowest group (junior/company officers) has no categorical symbol. The second group (senior/field officers) is distinguished by a crown above its stars. The third group (admirals and generals) is distinguished by a crown over a crossed sword and baton over its stars, and the fourth group (marshals) by a crown over a crossed sword and baton imposed on an oak wreath. Note that the O-12 rank (chief marshal) is statutory but not in use. The emperor wears the insignia of a chief marshal when acting as commander-in-chief, but would outrank any substantive chief marshal if there were any.

¹ The Imperial Service does not technically include Eichberger Spaceways, Universal Imports, The Universal Bank, and the other commercial operations of the Empire.

² The specific symbols used were inspired partly by the insignia of the British Empire, but the system within which they are used is

  • more regular, and
  • based on an EU standard that emerged from German, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, Netherlandish, Spanish, and Turkish norms.

³ It is customary to send one of the labels off the uniform worn during a commissioning ceremony etc. to each of one’s parents. The gold buttons are technically on loan, and it is customary to take them to the commandant of one’s academy in person if possible, or to send them as a personal package.

⁴ These are therefore called “commissioning badges”, “commissioning stars” in the warfare branch of the Imperial Navy.

⁵ These are British/Commonwealth style army style warrant officers, i.e. usually appointed as colour sergeants to companies, sergeants-major to battalions, regiments, and divisions; they act as as chief non-commissioned advisers to the commanding officers. They are therefore equivalent (I think) to US first sergeants, sergeants-major, boatswain’s mates and chief boatswain’s mates — not to US warrant officers. All Imperial marines and naval ratings are highly-trained technical experts.

Here’s an illustration:

Note that the military badges are shown in the “subdued” form worn by marines on armour, fatigues, and field uniform. The forms worn on service, mess, and dress uniforms are more like this:

The cuff distinctions shown are those of the Imperial Navy, warfare branch. Other services wear differently-coloured uniforms than Navy black & white — the Marines wear navy blue & scarlet, the Colonial Office wears indigo & grey, the Imperial Office wears charcoal & grey, Home Office teal-grey & white. Other branches replace the star with their own brach-of-service badge. Here fore example is a marines officer’s service uniform cuff:

The peculiar trident-looking thing is my attempt to hack up a winged dagger, like this:

or in subdued form this:


It is perhaps worth noting that Imperial marines other ranks serve different roles in the leadership than you might expect them to if you are familiar with the US Army’s lower rank structure. Imperial marines corporals and sergeants are effectively two ranks higher than US Army equivalents.

grade Imperial Marines rank typical billet US Army equivalent
E-0 recruit in training PV1
E-1 private (trained) commando on probation PV2
E-2 private (qualified) commando PFC
E-3 private (proficient) mechanic, medic, MP, rigger, sapper, gunner, or cross-trained commando specialist
E-3 lance-corporal fire-team leader sergeant
E-4 corporal section leader staff sergeant
E-5 sergeant platoon sergeant sergeant first class
E-6 staff sergeant platoon sergeant in a specialist platoon, or quartermaster-sergeant master sergeant
E-7 warrant officer colour sergeant first sergeant
E-8 senior warrant officer battalion sergeant-major command sergeant-major
E-9 chief warrant officer regimental sergeant-major, divisional sergeant-major, sergeant-major of the General Staff command sergeant-major
1 Like

If “commando” is a qualification that not all marines attain, I suspect there would be a lot of resentment generated if either (a) a non-commando were promoted to chief warrant officer and wore the insignia, or (b) no non-commando were eligible for promotion to chief warrant officer.

Petty, but you should have heard the teeth-gnashing when General Shinseki gave the black beret (formerly reserved for US Army Rangers) to the entire Army. It was a deliberate affront, but nonetheless effective.

That appears correct to me.

It’s somewhat confusing that the cuff distinctions are in groups of four, but the rank badges are in groups of three; they also start at different points. Since you preserve the company/field/flag officer groups, it might make more sense to do stripes in groups of three, and have a different band for marshals.

“Midshipmen” are historically officer-trainees, equivalent to cadets. Ensigns are (again historically) commissioned officers, if very junior. If you need a different rank title, the cavalry equivalent of an ensign was a cornet.

For other ranks, it is very bad practice to have two grades share the same insignia (Navy E-0/E-1, Marine E-1/E-2). Even at that very humble level, the senior person present in an emergency needs to take charge (e.g. for damage control, or if ambushed by locals on shore leave). Bad enough having to sort out among those of the same grade without lumping two grades together.

Besides, a little bit of recognition (for advancing to the next level) goes a long way.

Master sergeants don’t serve at the platoon or company level in the US Army, except in elite, all-NCO units like the Special Forces. They are primarily the NCO leaders of staff sections (e.g., Operations Sergeant) or staff specialists (e.g, Master Gunner, an instructor/inspector position) at the battalion level or higher. Sergeants Major (without the “command”) serve the same functions in very large organizations (division headquarters and higher).

All marines are commandoes first. They all go through sixteen weeks of basic military syllabus, then 32 weeks of commando training, and then 32 weeks of integration exercises, then sixteen weeks of “riot school”, “drop school” or “battle school” before joining their units. They then serve nominally 15 years (but sometimes as little as eleven years) as commandos (with continued training) before being retrained either as commando leaders or as specialists (gunners, mechanics, medics, MPs riggers, sappers etc.). Then, you can’t be appointed colour sergeant (and therefore can’t be promoted WO) without having serves as a commando platoon sergeant. An Imperial marine doesn’t get to be a CWO without having been a commando private in a ship, in a Residence garrison, and in an intervention force, a commando section leader, and a commando platoon sergeant. You can dodge being colour sergeant in a commando company. You can dodge being sergeant-major in a commando battalion. But you don’t get there without having been in a commando platoon for at least 21–25 years.

The poor correspondence between distinction lace and the official insignia is tradition, i.e. historical crud. The statutory insignia were designed by a Senate committee in 499 ADT, all rational and tidy; the cuff lace is much older. It goes back the Space Guard of the Republic of Mayflower, and you will have to tear it out from between the Navy’s clenched teeth. The Senate did once pass a bill rationalising it (1, 2, 3 stripes narrow, one medium and 1, 2, 3 narrow, one broads and 1, 2, 3 narrow, one ornate and 1, 2, 3 narrow), but the Imperial Council vetoed it.

“Midshipman” is one of the oldest ranks in the navy — even older than “captain”, I think. It has been through various vicissitudes. In the Royal Navy in Nelson’s time it was a sea-going billet with definite responsibilities. Midshipmen were recruited young and mostly untrained, and they were nominally in training to become lieutenants. But the training often took a lifetime (statutory minimum was three years at sea to lieutenant), and midshipmen who had passed the examination for lieutenant but could not find a berth as lieutenant often served on as “passed midshipman” until they could snag a position as lieutenant (or give up hope of command an accept a berth as master). That was pretty much the state of affairs when US and British naval tradition diverged.

Midshipmen in the US Navy have a NATO rank code of OF-D and rank below ensigns, who are OF-1. The OF-D rank in the Royal Navy is “officer cadet” — they rank below midshipmen, who are OF-1. Taking OF-2 lieutenant as a point of equivalence, a British sublieutenant is equivalent to a US lieutenant (j.g.), a British midshipman is equivalent to a US ensign¹, and a British officer cadet is equivalent to a US midshipman. I have chosen to model Imperial ranks more closely to the British ones because I want to evoke a hint of the British Empire.

So in the Imperial Navy students in the naval academies (there is one in each sector) are officer cadets (with cadet rank that only counts inside the Academy). When “fully trained” they are provisionally commissioned as midshipmen by the Sector C-in-C, and serve in ships for eighteen months or two years, as real but probationary officers. Then, if their performance is satisfactory to their CO they are permanently commissioned as sublieutenants by the Imperial Council.

The ensigns that I have in mind are (you probably know, but other readers might not) not the kind of ensigns that you have in the US Navy, but the kind that they used to have in British infantry regiments (other than fusiliers, rifles, and marines) before 1871 (when infantry ensigns and cavalry cornets were both re-designated as second lieutenants). In the historical models the Army’s ensigns were commissioned whereas the Navy’s midshipmen were only warranted, but that was just British aristocratic prejudice in favour of the Army over the Navy. In the Imperial forces both are provisionally commissioned. (Imperial Navy midshipmen are provisionally commissioned by the sector c-in-c of the sector where their academy was located, but Imperial Marines ensigns are provisionally commissioned by the Commandant because there is only one Imperial Marines Academy.)

In the Australian Army we seem to manage with our E-1 Privates (prior to completion of initial placement training) and our E-2 (PTE) Privates having the same title. We don’t even give a special insignia to our E-3 Privates (proficient). In the British Army OR-1 titles and OR-2 titles are the same too (though they vary madly from unit to unit). Perhaps it’s because E-1 is a brief phase in a long career. I recognise that some sort of distinction would be good practice, but I’m reluctant to stray far from the Commonwealth tradition that reflects the British imperial practice that I am trying to evoke.

In the Imperial Marines sergeants are nearly all platoon sergeants. There isn’t a regular alternative billet, though sometimes you get experienced sergeants leading commando sections on detached duty. I constantly toy with the idea of adding an E-5 technical corporal (technical “T” over a corporal’s chevrons) to lead sections in the specialist and staff platoons.

Regular billets for staff sergeants in the Imperial Marines are

  • company quartermaster-sergeant (QMS)
  • battalion QMS
  • regimental QMS
  • regimental paymaster-sergeant (platoon sergeant in the admin platoon)
  • regimental directive staff sergeant (platoon sergeant in the signals platoon)
  • regimental provost-sergeant (platoon sergeant in the MP platoon)
  • “clerk” to a colonel, brigadier, or general officer

¹ In the RAN midshipmen are brevetted as “acting sub-lieutenant” when assigned to ships as probationary officers. The practice was the same in the RN from 1955 to 1993, but is not followed any longer.

As I understand it, the rank distinction is mostly psychology. In the British tradition, as soon as you’re in you’re One Of Us (if very lowly), and completing training is just something you’re expected to do; in the American tradition, training is where you prove you’re good enough to become One Of Us.

(And then you get armies with the Gefreiter rank, which I think is really untranslatable, though it’s somewhere in the “senior private” space with more senior sorts shading into corporal.)

The sector C-in-C is generally an Imperial Navy O-9 Admiral. The Commandant-general of the Imperial Marines is regularly a O-11 Marshal.

Incidentally, this makes me think of the rank system in Heinlein’s Space Cadet, where the Patrol has cadets, past cadets, sublieutenants, and lieutenants. I suppose this is one more example of Heinlein’s anglophilia (which apparently was not uncommon in the U.S. Navy up until World War II).

1 Like

Or possibly Heinlein was thinking of US naval history. “Passed midshipman” was never officially a rank in the RN, it was just a description of those midshipmen who had passed the exam for lieutenant. But in the USN from 1819 to 1882 it was the official rank of temporary junior officers who had completed their academic training and passed their exams, and who were serving at sea as officers on probation. “Passed midshipman” was replaced by “ensign” in 1882, which is I think when the USN changed the title of its flag officers from “commodore” to “admiral”.

I have thought of using three grades of commodore at O-7 to O-9, and then using “vice-admiral”, “admiral”, and “grand admiral” instead of “vice-marshal”, “marshal”, and “chief marshal”. In the end I decided rather to keep admirals equal to generals.