- Please see "Commodore" for other uses of this rank
Commodore is a former rank in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard and a current honorary title in the U.S. Navy with an intricate history. Because the U.S. Congress was originally unwilling to authorize any admirals in its service until 1862, considerable importance was attached to the office 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 captains, as Herman Melville wrote in White Jacket, 1849,
- An American commodore, like an English commodore or a French chef d'escadre, is but a senior captain, temporarily commanding a small number of ships, detached for any special purpose. He has no permanent rank, recognized by government, above his captaincy; though once employed as a commodore, usage and courtesy unite in continuing the title.
Commodore was established as a temporary rank in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was discontinued in 1945, its previous incumbents having all been advanced to Rear Admiral. Nearly forty years later, it was reinstated as an official rank with a paygrade of O-7, replacing the previously titled Rear Admiral (lower half), which were flag officers paid as an O-7, but who wore the insignia of an O-8. In 1982, following years of objections and complaints by the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps, the rank of Commodore was reinstated in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. Later that year, the O-7 paygrade in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard was again redesignated as Rear Admiral (lower half), but with the single star for collar insignia, single silver star for shoulder board insignia, and single broad gold sleeve stripe insignia for dress blue uniforms.
History[edit | edit source]
The practice was not reserved to captains in the earlier days. 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."
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.
Civil War[edit | edit source]
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 given the rank of Commodore.
Flag Officer[edit | edit source]
The rank of Commodore continued in the Navy until 1899, when the Naval Personnel Act made all Commodores into Rear Admirals. The reason, according to Laws Relating to the Navy, 1919, was "... 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." U.S. Navy Commodores were not being treated as flag-level officers by other navies, or given the respect 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, Congress specified that the lower half of the Rear Admiral list have pay equal to Brigadier Generals of the Army. If there were an odd number of Rear Admirals, the lower half of the list was to be the larger. All Rear Admirals, upper or lower half, were equal to Major Generals, flew a blue flag with the requisite number of stars instead of a broad pennant, and were entitled to a thirteen 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 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, and in 1916 the U.S. Army made its Brigadier Generals equivalent to Rear Admirals (lower half). Thus, Rear Admirals (upper half) were equal to Major Generals.
World War II[edit | edit source]
During the naval expansion during World War II, the Navy Department was concerned that the appointment of more flag officers would create a glut of admirals after the war. However, some captains were holding commands of higher responsibility, and needed to be recognized. Admiral Ernest King proposed bringing back the old rank of commodore for these officers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, though he specified that this rank be restricted to line officers. The Navy's one-star officer rank subsequently reappeared in April 1943 with the title of Commodore. In practice, staff corps officers could also become commodores. By the end of the war, there were over one hundred commodores in service.
Following the war, very few of the wartime commodores were promoted to rear admiral. Promotions to commodore ended in 1947, and nearly all who had held the one-star rank had either been promoted to rear admiral or retired by 1950.
1982 Commodore Admiral / 1983 Rear Admiral (Lower Half)[edit | edit source]
Following continued U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and by now, U.S. Air Force dissatisfaction with the U.S. Navy's and U.S. Coast Guard's policy of providing Rear Admirals (Lower half) in pay grade O-7 with two star (O-8) rank insignia, the one star rank for naval and coast guard officers appeared again in 1982, with the initial title of Commodore Admiral.
In 1983, after numerous protests to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard about the new rabkt tiitle being unwieldy and confusing, Commodore Admiral was changed to simply Commodore. However, the title of Commodore had also been in continued use in the U.S. Navy since the 1950s as a position title for senior Captains who commanded Destroyer Squadrons, Submarine Squadrons, Amphibious Squadrons, Patrol Boat Flotillas, Patrol Hydrofoil Missile Ship Squadrons, Special Warfare Groups, Air Groups and Air Wings (other than Carrier Air Groups/Carrier Air Wings who were known as "CAG"), Construction Regiments and other large seagoing commands. In contrast, the U.S. Coast Guard had never previously used the title.
Later in 1983, to prevent further confusion between the title of Commodore and the actual rank, 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 (Lower Half). From that point 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 (Lower Half).
Present day title usage[edit | edit source]
Military[edit | edit source]
The U.S. Navy no longer maintains a rank of Commodore, but the term has survived as a title. Modern-day Commodores in the U.S. Navy are senior Captains in command of Air Wings or Air Groups exclusive of Carrier Air Wings; Destroyer, Cruiser, Amphibious, Mine Countermeasures Squadrons, or Riverine Squadrons; Submarine Squadrons; Coastal Warfare Groups; Special Warfare (SEAL) Groups; Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Groups; and Naval Construction Regiments. Such officers are referred to, both orally and in correspondence, as "Commodore," but wear the rank insignia of a Captain. Such officers also rate a blue and white broad pennant, known as a command pennant, which is normally flown from their headquarters facilities ashore or from ships on which they are embarked. 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.
There are no Commodores in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Civilian[edit | edit source]
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also employs variants of the title of Commodore. Members of the Auxiliary are civilian volunteers that do not have military rank, but do wear modified U.S. Coast Guard officer uniforms and military style officer rank insignia to indicate office. Auxiliary officers who have reached flag positions equivalent to active and reserve Rear Admirals and Vice Admirals, use the term Commodore (e.g., District Commodore, National Directorate Commodore, National Commodore, etc.). They, including the National Chief of Staff, 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)). Civilian yacht clubs also tend to use the title for their leaders, along with "vice commodore" and "rear commodore" in the same manner as "vice president."
See also[edit | edit source]
- Commodore (rank)
- Air Commodore
- Senior Captain
- Fleet Captain
- Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel and United States Naval Academy#Halls and principal buildings (at "Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel")
References[edit | edit source]
- Originally based on text by Justin T. Broderick, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Used with permission. 
- And on public domain information published by the US Navy.
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