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Useful Notes / Common Military Units

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Following is a list of Common Military Units found in the US (Yanks with Tanks) and UK military forces (Brits with Battleships; which, by extension, covers the rest of The Commonwealth). Other countries, e.g. Russia (who inherited its military from USSR) and China, use similar hierarchies with a few regional particularities, also outlined below. See also Common Ranks.

Wikipedia has more information with tables.

By service arm

Army units

The following section contains APP-6A codes for the listed units. APP-6A is a unified standard for map marking still widely used by NATO (despite being obsolete after APP-6B's publication). "APP" stands for "Allied Procedural Publication". Also, the abbreviation "CO" ("commanding officer") is used for the commander/leader of a unit for brevity's sake, regardless of whether said commander is an actual (commissioned) officer, a warrant officer, a NonCom, or even an enlisted rank. The size is the number of men and women serving in the unit.

  • Fire and maneuver team. The smallest army unit there can be consists of two foot soldiers who cover each other. This is particularly common for sniper teams who have to stay undetected and move fast across the battle zone.
    • APP-6A symbol: Ø
    • Size: 2
    • CO: Fire and maneuver teams normally consist of servicemen with different rank, so the more senior one naturally takes command. This means that pretty much anyone from Private First Class (OR-2) to Colonel (OF-5) can command an F&MT.

  • Fireteam. The more common smallest army unit is a normal fireteam, slightly larger than a F&MT. A fireteam provides the maximum tactical flexibility possible with the minimal size. It usually consists of a team leader, a rifleman (both equipped with assault rifles, sometimes with a grenade launcher), a grenadier (assault rifle, always with a grenade launcher, and trained and heavily practiced in its use), and a machinegunner (lays suppressing fire with an M249 or other such light machine gun). Depending on the assignment and what they may be expected to encounter or do, the basic rifleman is sometimes replaced with an anti-tank specialist, medic, designated marksman or some other kind of specialist soldier. Note that the US Marines have a slightly different idea of a fireteam: the rifleman acts as a scout, the team leader doubles as grenadier, the machinegunner is the Number Two, and the fourth marine is a secondary machinegunner who carries extra ammo.
    • Symbol: Ø (yes, fire and maneuver teams are lumped with normal fireteams)
    • Size: 45
    • CO: Lance corporal (OR-3) to sergeant (OR-5/6)

  • Squad. Consists of two or more fireteams and a coordinating commander. In Commonwealth armies, the term section is used instead, while fulfilling mostly the same functions. In the US, "section" is used only for cavalry, air defense and field artillery. Sometimes, the term patrol is also used because the squad is the smallest unit sent to patrol a certain area. The contubernium, the smallest unit of The Roman Empire, was about this size.
    • Symbol: (squad), (section)
    • Size: 816 (squad), 812 (section)
    • CO: Corporal (OR-4) to Staff Sergeant (OR-6/7)

  • Platoon. Consists of two or more squads, sections, or vehicles. In Commonwealth Cavalry units the term troop is used instead. A platoon is the smallest unit normally led by a commissioned officer (a lieutenant), who is known as "platoon commander". He is usually assisted by a senior NonCom (OR-6 to OR-7) as his "platoon sergeant".
    • Symbol:
    • Size: 2560
    • CO: Warrant Officer (WO-1) to First/Second Lieutenant (OF-1)

  • Company. Consists of two to eight infantry platoons and has the same size as an artillery battery, a U.S. Cavalry troop, or in Commonwealth Cavalry, Armour, Logistics, Combat Engineering and Medical units squadron. The century of The Roman Empire (as the name implies, about 100 troops) was about this size, consisting of ten contubernia.
    • Symbol: I
    • Size: 70250
    • CO: Chief Warrant Officer (WO-2 to WO-5), Captain (OF-2), or Major (OF-3)

  • Battalion. Consists of two to six infantry companies or artillery batteries. A U.S. Cavalry squadron consists of 2-6 troops, and a Commonwealth Armoured, Cav, Artillery, etc, regiment, of 2-6 squadrons. A battalion is the smallest unit that can be commanded only by commissioned officers (Lt.Col.). The cohort of The Roman Empire was about this size, consisting of six centuries.
    • Symbol: II
    • Size: 3001000
    • CO: Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4)

  • Regiment or group. Consists of two or more battalions. This is generally the highest level that you will find a "pure" unit. A Tank regiment will have 3-4 Battalions of tanks, and the logistic units (Fuel & ammo trucks, mechanics, medics, and commo support) needed to keep them in the field. Other assets may be attached as needed from the Regiment's Division. In the Commonwealth a Regiment consists of between 1 and 7 Infantry Battalions (The Royal Regiment of Artillery is larger consisting of 19 Artillery Regiments (yes the Regiment consists of Regimentsm it's.... confusing), but serves an Administrative role rather than a Battlefield one. In Commonwealth units with a Cavalry tradition the term Regiment is used to mean a Battalion sized formation.

  • Brigade. Consists of two or more regiments, or three to six battalions/Commonwealth Cavalry regiments. Some confusion may arise with the US, where the brigade and the regiment are currently considered roughly equivalent. Brigades often have a mix of combat units and have permanent combat support units assigned to them. A US Cold War Armored Brigade would have two Battalions of tanks, one of Mechanized Infantry, as well as a Battalion each of Combat Engineers & Self-Propelled Artillery as well as an Armored Cavalry Troop and the logistical tail for the whole shebang. At its largest, the legion of The Roman Empire was about this size (over 5,000 troops, or ten cohorts) but administratively it functioned more like a Regiment.

  • Division. Consists of two to four brigades or regiments. The standard counting level for comparing military forces, especially in the Second World War and Cold War.
    • Symbol: XX
    • Size: 10,00020,000
    • CO: Major General (OF-7)

  • Corps. Consists of two or more divisions.
    • Symbol: XXX
    • Size: 30,00080,000
    • CO: Lieutenant General (OF-8)

  • Army. Consists of two to four corps.
    • Symbol: XXXX
    • Size: 60,000100,000+
    • CO: General (OF-9)

  • Army group. Consists of two or more armies.
    • Symbol: XXXXX
    • Size: 250,000+
    • CO: General (OF-9) to Field Marshal (OF-10)

  • Region, theater, or front. Consists of four or more army groups. In the Soviet Union, the name "Front" was commonly used for an army group, while several army groups were a Strategic Direction.
    • Symbol: XXXXXX
    • Size: 1,000,000+
    • CO: General (OF-9) to Field Marshal (OF-10)

Navy units

Because any unit smaller than a vessel wouldn't make sense in the navy, navy sizes are given in ships rather than personnel. Each ship is normally commanded by a commissioned navy officer, and although there are no ironclad rules, The Captain's rank generally corresponds to the size of his vessel: e.g. an Ensign might command a gunboat, whereas a capital ship can only be commanded by a navy captain.

Modern navies have a very flexible organization compared to ground forces because vessels are often shuffled across the seas as the current strategic situation demands (as opposed to rather rigid and stable structures in the army). This particular section describes primarily the US Navy organization, which frequently bleeds over into allied navies.

  • Task Element. The smallest navy unit, consisting of exactly one large vessel, regardless of her size. In practice, a carrier would not travel without escorts.
    • Size: 1
    • CO: Commander (OF-4) to Captain (OF-5), or lower for very small ships.

  • Task Unit. Consists of a small number of vessels (task elements). A further distinction is made for Flotilla (not capital ships, usually of the same or similar types) and Squadron (includes capital ships; not to be confused with ground and air squadrons).
    • Size: 34
    • CO: Rear Admiral (lower half)/Commodore (OF-6)

  • Task Group. Consists of two or more task units, usually combining many types of vessels that complement each other.
    • CO: Rear Admiral (OF-7)

  • Task Force or Battle Fleet. Consists of two or more task groups, uniting a large number of ships of all types.
    • CO: Vice Admiral (OF-8)

  • Fleet. Consists of all vessels in an ocean or general region, either those allocated to that area or which just happen to be there. For example, the US Sixth Fleet consists of all the vessels currently in the Mediterranean Sea (regardless of homeport), while the Russian Northern Fleet consists of all the vessels allocated to the Atlantic Ocean (even if a ship based in the Black Sea winds up in the Atlantic, it is still not part of the Northern Fleet).
    • CO: Admiral (OF-9)

  • Navy or Admiralty. The nation's entire naval forces.
    • CO: Fleet Admiral/Admiral of the Fleet (OF-10). Note that in the US, Fleet Admiral is a rank that is only given out during wartime and thus the whole Navy is usually commanded by an Admiral (OF-9).

Special note for aircraft carriers: the complement of aircraft and accompanying personnel on a carrier are called its air wing, it has it's own commanding officer (immediately subordinate to the ship's CO) and it's internally structured much like a wing in the air force section below, just with naval ranks. The main difference is that it encompasses a ship rather than an aircraft type or mission: while the air force might have elements of multiple wings at a given airbase, a ship has all her aircraft under one command.

Additionally, a chain of command is maintained onboard each vessel, depending on its size and purpose. This is where the navy NonCom and lower ranks come into play. Generally the ship is divided up into functional units:

  • Workcenter. A group of sailors that concentrate on one specific operation or piece of equipment that they maintain and practice with. Within an Auxiliaries division, there may be workcenters that deal with Air Conditioning, Water Distilling, Steering Gear, etc. Depends entirely on the equipment installed and the role of the ship.
    • CO: Experienced sailor (usually around E-5) to Senior Enlisted (E-7).

  • Division. A group of sailors (probably not more than 30 or so, and usually around 10-20) devoted to one specific aspect of the ship's operations, with an officer or senior enlisted for leadership. For example, within an Engineering department there may be divisions devoted to Main Propulsion, Electrical, Auxiliaries, or Repair.
    • CO: Again depends on size, but usually led by a Junior Officer from Ensign (OF-0) to Lieutenant (OF-2), with a senior enlisted (E-7 to E-9) for backup and mentorship. Called a Division Officer.

  • Department. A portion of the ship's officers and crew devoted to a particular broad aspect of the ship's operations, such as Engineering, Combat Systems, Operations, Weapons, Supply, etc as per the ship's role.
    • CO: Depending on size, from a Lieutenant (OF-2) all the way to a Captain (OF-5) on very large ships. Called a Department Head.

  • Ship. The vessel itself. May actually be a submarine or an aircraft squadron, which are broken up similarly, though squadrons will typically have many more Junior Officers than divisions for them to lead as most navies only allow officers to be pilots.
    • CO: Depends on size, ranges from Lietenant Commander (OF-3) to Captain (OF-5). The Captain is always "The Captain" aboard his/her own ship, regardless of actual rank. If other officers are aboard who hold a rank actually called Captain, they may be "courtesy promoted" to the next-higher rank ("Commodore" for another naval officer, "Major" for anyone else) to avoid confusion. Likewise, the officer-in-charge of a vessel can be referred to as "the skipper" if further clarification is necessary.

Finally, there must be a distinction made on navy ships between the administrative chain of command (described above) and the operational chain of command. Because each ship can be at sea for months on end, the crew maintains rotating watchstations such that there is always someone operating the essential equipment. Although this varies wildly between ships, the general watches that must be manned are:

  • Engineering watchstanders. Sailors who keep the engines, generators, water distillers, and any other equipment necessary to the operation of the ship up and running at all times. They also respond when equipment breaks and control the casualty until the appropriate engineering division can respond. They can be found down in the engine rooms, auxiliary rooms, etc, and report to the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW), who is usually a more senior enlisted sailor (E-6 to E-9) or junior officer (OF-0 to OF-2).
    • Damage Control watchstanders are a special subset of engineering; generally they work on an on-call basis rather than having a station that is continuously manned. Their job is to respond to fires, flooding, injuries and any and all other emergencies and keep the ship intact, afloat, powered, and moving for as long as possible. During the early stages of an emergency they report to the EOOW but will then switch over to their own chain of command once everyone has gotten on station.

  • Combat Systems watchstanders. These sailors operate the equipment that the ship uses to fight, such as radar, sonar, radios, computers, missiles, jammers, and guns. They stand watch throughout the ship in spaces like radar rooms, ammo magazines, sonar rooms, radio central, etc, and are coordinated by the watchstanders in a Combat Information Center. Combat Systems watchstanders report to the Tactical Action Officer (TAO), usually a junior to mid-level officer (OF-2 to OF-4). The TAO generally has authority to fire weapons even without the express permission of the CO, depending on the rules of engagement.

  • Navigation watchstanders. Navigation sailors ensure the ship is safely navigated through the water. They include helmsmen, lookouts, quartermasters (who fix the ship's position on charts and computers), and the conning officer (who directs the actual movement of the ship). They report to the Officer of the Deck (OOD), who stands watch on the bridge and is usually a junior officer (OF-0 to OF-2). Additionally, the OOD is generally considered to be the CO's direct representative and the other senior watchstanders report to him/her on all matters with the exception of weapons employment (which is the dominion of the TAO).

  • Deck watchstanders. These sailors perform the "old school sailor" tasks that are still necessary on modern ships, such as raising and lowering the anchor(s); handling lines for mooring and unmooring; towing other ships or being towed; operating cranes; launching, recovering and operating small boats; and so on. Much like damage control sailors, typically they are on call to perform these tasks when they become necessary. Because some of these tasks are relatively manpower intensive, often sailors with different jobs will be called up to do these tasks under the supervision of one of the specialists. These sailors typically report to the Ship's Bosun. Of note, although this is a relatively small group of sailors today, in the age of sail this would be the majority of the crew, who would also double as the majority of the gun crews.

  • Aviation watchstanders. On a ship equipped for flight operations, these sailors manage the launch, recovery, operation, and control of aircraft. Depending on the ship this may be a small group of people (such as on a frigate) or a very large one (like on an aircraft carrier).

Air force units

The air forces hierarchy varies the most across different countries compared to other service arms. The general tendency, however, is for air force units to be much smaller than their ground and navy counterparts because of the much higher qualification requirements. To put it bluntly: a tank or a gunboat won't go down because of a single loose screw, but a fighter jet may very well do.

The size below is given in personnel (P) and aircraft (A) assigned to a unit. APP-6A symbols are given solely for comparison with respective army units.

  • Section or Detail. The smallest air force unit, consisting of two to three planes, i.e. the leader and his wingman. Their responsibilities are similar to the infantry fire and maneuver team.
    • Symbol:
    • Size (P): 24
    • Size (A): 23
    • CO: Junior Officer (OF-1 to OF-2) or Senior NonCom (OR-7 to OR-9)

  • Flight. Consists of two sections plus maintenance and support crew (this is where the air force NonCom and lower ranks come into play).
    • Symbol:
    • Size (P): 20100
    • Size (A): 46
    • CO: Captain/Flight Lieutenant (OF-2) to Major/Squadron Leader (OF-3)

  • Squadron. Consists of three to four flights.
    • Symbol: II
    • Size (P): 100300
    • Size (A): 716
    • CO: Major/Squadron Leader (OF-3) to Lieutenant Colonel/Wing Commander (OF-4)

  • Group. Consists of three to ten squadrons. The Royal Air Force groups squadrons into wings, and wings, into groups (whereas USAF does it the other way around), and the RAF wings are smaller (3-4 squadrons) than USAF groups. A wing/group attached to particular air base or aerodrome is called station in RAF.
    • Symbol: III
    • Size (P): 3001,000
    • Size (A): 1748
    • CO: Lieutenant Colonel/Wing Commander (OF-4) to Colonel/Group Captain (OF-5)

  • Wing. Consists of two or more groups. See also the note on RAF wings and groups above.
    • Symbol: X
    • Size (P): 1,0005,000
    • Size (A): 48100
    • CO: Brigadier General/Air Commodore (OF-6) to Air Vice-Marshal (OF-7)

  • Numbered Air Force. Unique to USAF, a NAF consists of two or more wings. Its exact size varies depending on the region.
    • Symbol: XX
    • CO: Major General (OF-7)

  • (Major) Command or Tactical Air Force. All aircraft and personnel deployed in a region, whose numbers vary greatly.
    • Symbol: XXXXX
    • CO: Air Marshal (OF-8) to General/Air Chief Marshal (OF-9)

  • Air Force. The nation's entire air forces.
    • Symbol: XXXXXX +
    • CO: General/Air Chief Marshal (OF-9) to Marshal of the Royal Air Force (OF-10)

By nation

The following section contains some international equivalents of the units outlined above. Original spelling is given, with the rough pronunciation in brackets for Cyrillic Alphabet. A few more notes:

  • Bundeswehr has a ground unit larger than a platoon but smaller than a company called "Staffel". Its APP-6A symbol is four dots (). It is not to be confused with the Luftwaffe Staffel (see below), which is an equivalent of USAF squadron.
  • An artillery battery (equivalent of an infantry company) is called "батарея" (batareya) in Russian.
  • The Strategic Rocket Forces also have the artillery battalion renamed to "дивизион" (divizion), which shouldn't be confused with the much larger division "дивизия" (diviziya).

Army units

English Russian German
Fireteam Звено
Squad Отделение
Platoon Взвод
Company Рота
Battalion Батальон
Regiment Полк
Brigade Бригада
Division Дивизия
Corps Корпус
Army Армия
Army group Группа армий
(gruppa armiy)
Region Военный округ
(voyenny okrug)
Front Фронт
Theater Театр военных действий
(teatr voyennykh deystviy)

Navy units

English Russian German
Flotilla Флотилия
Squadron Эскадра
Fleet Флот
Navy Военно-морской флот
(voyenno-morskoy flot)

Air force units

English Russian German
Section Звено
Flight Отряд
Squadron Эскадрилья
Wing/Group Полк/Бригада

The formations larger than that wing/group are usually lumped together with the army ones.

By type of unit

Naval Units

As it turns out, we have a whole article on the topic. Enjoy.


Your basic everyday soldier. Most will carry an assault rifle, with every fifth soldier or so having a machine gun, anti-tank rocket, or sniper rifle. Motorised infantry ride a truck in between engagements while on campaign, regular infantry will have to march. Individual squads/fireteams for motorised infantry may be smaller than for regular/foot infantry. Used to make breakthroughs in enemy lines, assault force for an offensive campaign/operation should expect to lose 20-60% of its numbers dead or permanently disabled to make the breakthrough. Also expected to exterminate/force surrender of enemy pockets once they have been sealed off by the mobile (mechanised and armoured) forces.

Mechanized Infantry

Infantry using armoured transports and 'stiffened' up with the inclusion of armour (basically, tanks). Used to assist armour in exploiting breakthroughs made by infantry in enemy lines, encircling enemy forces until the motorised and/or regular infantry get there - freeing the mechanised+armoured forces up to continue their exploitation. On the defensive, used to cut off and/or encircle enemy exploitation groups.


Soldiers who ride horses, hence, inherently cool. Now largely relegated to ceremonial roles or an old name retained for a unit that does something else (e.g. the Household Cavalry, who are a reconnaissance regiment). In skilled hands, The Cavalry was known to turn the tide of battle, hence, it is a Trope Namer.
  • In some military forces (such as the United States Army), more modern units, such as Reconnaissance, Armor, and Aviation, might be described as "Cavalry", including Infantry troops that ride vehicles or aircraft into battle (interestingly enough, a soldier who rides in a helicopter can be a Cavalry Trooper, but this isn't the case for a Paratrooper, even though they both fight primarily on the ground. This is due to varying traditions behind the two groups of soldiers.)


Tank Goodness, basically. Small detachments are attached to infantry units to help them make their assaults and breakthroughs, but most armoured units are used to exploit said breakthroughs with the help of mobile/mechanised forces.

Army Aviation

Usually helicopters, sometimes light attack aircraft too. Used for fire support (particularly anti-armour), medical evacuation, and insertion/evacuation of special forces and emergency resupply.


It's Raining Men. Troops designed to be deployed by aircraft, either gliders or parachutes. During the Cold War, the USSR maintained no less than eight divisions of airborne troops (one training, seven regular) and their airborne forces, the VDV, were separate from the other arms of service. Used to help exploitation forces encircle enemy forces by completely bypassing centres of enemy resistance and cutting their supply lines. They're not expected to survive this, but their sacrifice is expected to ensure the success of the operation/campaign.


Very often omitted in fiction in favor of Easy Logistics. Crucial in helping infantry assault fortified positions and in helping exploitation forces continue their advances - mechanical breakdown rate can be up to 300% the number of actual tanks in any given armoured formation involved in an offensive, making repair of vehicles absolutely critical to successful assaults and exploitations+encirclements. Also, they build and repair roads, bridges, runways, and other boring stuff that are vitally important to real-life military logistics.

Air Defense

Anti-Air, also nerfed in fiction— see Point Defenseless.


In Real Life, probably the single most important part of a military operation apart from the campaign/operational plan. In fiction... never mind.


Responsible for communications.


The Medic.


Often unseen, but specialise in a unique form of Death from Above thanks to their use of real life BFG's and the closest thing one would get to a Wave-Motion Gun. Absolutely essential for suppressing defenders or attackers during assaults and killing enemy armour+mechanised forces moving (or fleeing) in the open during the exploitation-encirclement phases. Comes in mortar, gun, and rocket varieties.

Special Forces

Conservation of Ninjutsu personified. In fiction, they often get first pick of the latest toys. In real life, they're normally guinea pigs for testing new gear, doctrine, tactics, and weapons. In reality, their equipment and such depends more on economics and politics than actual quality.

Military Police

To make sure that the soldiers don't do anything illegal. Often found at the local nightspots dragging people to the stockade or brig. In Real Life, may also be tasked with defending supply lines further away from the frontlines, managing POWs (Abu Ghraib is what happens when this goes wrong), and/or acting as meat shields for the command staff.