|This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed. (November 2007)|
Unteroffizier is both a specific military rank as well as a collective term for non-commissioned officers of the German military that has existed since the 19th century. The rank existed as a title as early as the 17th century with the first widespread usage occurring in the Bavarian Army of the 1800s. The term continues to be used by the Bundeswehr.
Translated literally as “Under Officer”, this is perhaps misleading as an Unteroffizier is in actuality a junior enlisted rank. The rank of Unteroffizier was first created to "bridge the gap" between career professional soldiers and enlisted conscripts. Typically, the rank of Feldwebel was reserved for veteran soldiers while Gefreiter was a rank held by junior and less experienced personnel. Unteroffizier was then established as a Junior NCO's rank between Gefreiter and Feldwebel and was more or less regarded as a full Corporal.
There are two classes of Unteroffizier in the land (Heer) and air (Luftwaffe) branches of the armed forces; Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (Unteroffizier and Stabsunteroffizier) and Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (Feldwebel, Oberfeldwebel, Hauptfeldwebel, Stabsfeldwebel and Oberstabsfeldwebel).
Unteroffizier is one of the few German military ranks whose insignia has remained unchanged over the past one hundred years. The shoulder boards of a modern Unteroffizier are relatively similar to the World War I and World War II designs.
During the Second World War, in the German Wehrmacht, an Unteroffizier in an infantry platoon normally commanded a squad of 9 or 10 men, and was thus equivalent to an American Army sergeant or a British Army corporal. The "equivalent" rank is therefore given as both of these ranks depending on which references are consulted.
A modern day German Bundeswehr Army Unteroffizier typically commands squad sized formations or acts as an assistant platoon NCO. The rank is also used in the modern-day German Luftwaffe. In the Bundeswehr the grade of Stabsunteroffizier (a Junior NCO) ranks between Unteroffizier and Feldwebel (a Senior NCO).
The Deutsche Marine (German Navy) equivalent of Unteroffizier is a rank known as Maat, equivalent to a Petty Officer in other navies. The equivalent to Stabsunteroffizier is Obermaat.de:Unteroffizier ru:Унтер-офицер sl:Podčastnik sv:Underofficer