Explanation of German "Date of Rank" coding

First World War:

Using the WWI promotions of: General der Artillerie Kurt Jahn


The seniority sequence numbers cited in Jahn’s early ranks were used by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Prussia. The Kingdom of Bavaria maintained its own promotion and seniority system separate from that of Prussia. While Prussia employed the somewhat cumbersome letter/number seniority sequencing codes, the Bavarians adopted a straight numbering system to indicate seniority standings within the officer ranks.

Here is how the Prussian seniority coding system worked:

And so on… In other words, these codes represented the officer’s seniority within his date of rank.

In the post-World War I German Army, the much simpler system of using a number vice all those confusing codes was used!

After doing the calculations, Jahn’s seniority standing amongst all other officers holding the same rank and with the same date of rank would be as such:

W3w = 122
P2p = 90

Patent System

The Patent was the official date of rank for a newly minted Leutnant. The first date represents the day he was actually made an officer (i.e., he put the rank on at that time) while the Patent represents his formal date of rank, which was generally made retroactive to an earlier date. In certain cases (usually in wartime), a new Leutnant would not immediately receive a formal Patent. Presumably, this situation arose as a wartime commissioned Leutnant did not have the opportunity to attend the traditional and lengthy training programs or go through the age old military “ripening” process as one would experience in peacetime. After a period of time, during which he proved himself a capable officer, his Patent would be issued with an appropriate retroactive date of rank, thus formalizing his commission.

Relying on Generalmajor Dipl. Ing. Hans Stenglein as an example:

We see that he was made a wartime Leutnant in the Royal Bavarian Army on 2 June 1915, but did not immediately receive a patenting date. On 9 October 1917, after proving himself capable in his duties, he was issued a formal Patent with the retroactive date of rank of 15 November 1913. At the same time, he was placed sixth in seniority amongst all other Bavarian Army officers holding the same rank and patenting date. Following the establishment of the post-World War I German Reichsheer (National Army) with its revised promotion/seniority system and drastically reduced officer corps, Stenglein’s date of rank to Leutnant was changed to 1 April 1914 while he was placed fiftieth in seniority amongst his peers.

Second World War:

Using the WWII promotions of Generalmajor Dipl Ing Hans Stenglein:


  • Oberleutnant: 1 October 1923 (10)
  • Hauptmann: 1 May 1928 (4)
  • Major: 1 March 1935 (4)
  • Oberstleutnant: 1 January 1938 (13)
  • Oberst: 1 November 1940 (8); RDA later changed to 1 April 1940 (28a)
  • Generalmajor: 1 April 1944 (2)

Stenglein's "date of rank" to Oberst means that his original date of promotion was 1 November 1940 and he was eighth in seniority. In other words, seven other Obersts, who all had the same date of rank of 1 November 1940, outranked him.

RDA = Rangsdienstalter or ranking seniority/date of rank. Sometimes an officer’s existing RDA or date of rank was changed by backdating it so as to give him a higher seniority standing. This could be done for a number of reasons such as special merit or vacancies (deaths, other promotions, etc.). The use of the small “a” after the number 28 indicates he was retroactively “inserted” into the original list of officers who held the rank of Oberst with the 1 April 1940 date of rank. It would look like this in a printed list:

1 April 1940 (26): Oberst xxxx
1 April 1940 (27): Oberst xxxx
1 April 1940 (28): Oberst xxxx
1 April 1940 (28a) Oberst Dipl. Ing. Stenglein
1 April 1940 (29) Oberst xxxx
1 April 1940 (30): Oberst xxxx

Additional Notes on German Rank Titles:

When officers were retired from the active duty list, they were either classified as unavailable for further service and, as such were declared a.D. (ausser Dienst, out of service) or, if subject to recall, designated z.V. (zur Verfügung, at the disposal). In both cases, the abbreviation would be placed behind the rank title to distinguish them from officers on the active duty list.  

Generally, but not always, retired officers classified as z.V. were not recalled to active service before mobilization. Many officers who retired from active duty during the Second World War were immediately reclassified as z.V. and continued serving in a recalled status. For instance, Vizeadmiral Thilo von Seebach, an Island Farm inmate, retired from the Kriegsmarine effective 31 May 1943, but was concurrently placed in z.V. status. As such, he was recalled to duty on 1 July 1943 and served out the remainder of the war as Artillery Inspector and Admiral for Special Employment in Norway.        

Occasionally upon retirement from active service officers were granted an honorary or brevet promotion to the next higher grade. In such cases, their rank titles were preceded by the designation charakterisiert (“characterized as”), often appearing as charakter als [rank title] and abbreviated as char. These officers wore the insignia of their charakterisiert rank, but remained junior on the rank list to all those who held the same rank without the prefix.  

Regular officers were classified as aktive Offiziere. Special categories of regular officers were medical officers (Sanitätsoffiziere), veterinary officers (Veterinäroffiziere) and ordnance officers (Waffenoffiziere). 

In the mid-1930s, a large number of First World War officers were recalled to service, mostly in administrative or training positions, due to the large scale expansion of the German Armed Forces. These officers were designated Ergänzungsoffiziere or supplemental officers. They were indicated as such by the designation (E) following their rank title. The German Armed Forces later discontinued this designation and those who were qualified entered the regular officer corps. For instance, Generalmajor Hartmann Freiherr von Ow auf Wachendorf, a prisoner at Island Farm Special Camp 11, had been recalled to military service on 1 March 1935 as a supplemental officer. Effective 1 June 1941, he was reclassified an aktive Offizier.