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Hungarian Wachtmeister, hussar-regiment 18th century.
Serbian Wachtmeister, hussar-regiment 18th century.

Wachtmeister (Wm; German for 'master-sentinel' or 'watch-master') is a military rank of non-commissioned officers (NCO) in Austria and Switzerland. The Wachtmeister was initially responsible for the guard duty of the army. Later, it became the Feldwebel equivalent NCO-grade of the cavalry and artillery. Besides Austria and Switzerland today, the rank was also used elsewhere, for example in Germany, Russia, and Poland (wachmistrz).

Historical background

The Wachtmeister was in the beginning responsible guard, sentry, or sentinel, responsible for the armies' guard duty. Later he became the Feldwebel equivalent NCO-grade of the Cavalry and Artillery.

In the lansquenet armies and in the town of the 16th century, Wachtmeister was the official title to a «war experienced, skilful, and honest fellow», which was - in line to the order of his superior - responsible for the security of the military compound, or/and had to take care for the marching troops. He organized and controlled the guards, was responsible for discipline and attention, and took care for knowing the watchword. The watch service was provided almost by the cavalry, and often the mounted troops were responsible to guard the whole army, what was the case for instance in Brandenburg about 1620.

With the formation of standing armies, the designation Wachtmeister became of universally valid for the Feldwebel of the cavalry, later also of the artillery and other armed service branches. As regards to the three Feldwebel-ranks until 1945 there were the equivalent ranks Unterwachtmeister, Wachtmeister and Oberwachtmeister. Until 1970 in the GDR NPA the Feldwebel of the artillery was designated Wachtmeister.[1]


Flag of Austria (state).svg
Wachtmeister in Austria
Anzug 75/03 Schulterstück (Pioniertruppe) Tellerkappe
Rank insignia Austrian Bundesheer
Introduction 1857
Rank group NCOs (de: Unteroffiziere)
Army / Air Force Wachtmeister
Navy no equivalent
Wachtmeister peaked cap

Until the 1970s year the artillery and air defence troops used the designation Feuerwerker instead of Wachtmeister. Today, the Wachtmeister is the lowest NCO-rank (assignment group M BUO 2 / professional NCO; respectively M ZUO 2 / longer-serving volunteer) in the Austrian Bundesheer. The Wachtmeister will normally be deployed as a leader (Austrian: Kommandant) of a squad (8 to 13 soldiers).

Regarding the promotion to OR5-rank there are three possibilities:

  • First: to pass (successfully) the one year NCO-course on the Heeresunteroffiziersakademie (HUAk) of the Bundesheer in Enns
  • Second: by finishing / at the end of the so-called make good training (de: Nachholausbildung)
  • Third: by finishing the first part of the officers' training programme.

During United Nations missions and in NATO Partnership for Peace the rank Wachtmeister will be designated in English with Master Corporal (MCpl) and is equivalent to NATO-Rang code OR-5.

See also

Austro-Hungarian Armed Forces

Wachtmeister was a cavalry rank of the Austro-Hungarian Armed Forces (1867-1918). It was comparable to Cavalry Mster-sergeant in Anglophone armed forces.

In the Austro-Hungarian Armed Forces Wachtmeister was equivalent to:

  • Beschlagmeister I. Klasse (Master-Blacksmith 1st class) cavalry,
  • Feldwebel (en: Master-sergeant) infantry,
  • Feuerwerker (Master-sergeant) artillery,
  • Oberjaeger (Master-Sergeant) of the mountain troops,
  • Rechnungs-Unteroffizier I. Klasse (Fiscal master-sergeant 1st class),
  • Regimentshornist (Regiment bugler),
  • Regimentstambour (Regiment drummer),
  • Waffenmeister I. Klasse (Weapon master 1st class) artillery and weapon arsenal,
    • Einjährig-Freiwilliger-Feldwebel (Feldwebel - volunteer serving one year), and
    • Kadett-Feldwebel (Officers-Aspirant).

Then rank insignia was a gorget patch on the stand-up collar of the so-called Waffenrock (en: tunic), and consisted of three white stars on 13 mm ragged yellow silk galloon. The gorget patch and the stand-up collar showed the particular Waffenfarbe (en: corps colour).

Examples (selection)
Designation Non-commissioned officers/ Feldwebel ranks
K.u.k. Feuerwerker.PNG K.u.k. Wachtmeister.png Oberjäger k.k. Gebrigstruppe 1907-18.png K.u.k. Feldwebel.png Feldwebel des k.u.k. Militärwachkorps.png
Rank description Feuerwerker Wachtmeister Oberjäger Feldwebel
Branch Artillery Cavalry Mountainers
Infantry Military Guard Corps
Wachtmeister of the k.u.k. Hussars
See also


Flag of Switzerland.svg
Wachtmeister in Switzerland
Schulterstück eines Wachtmeisters der Schweizer Armee
Rank insignia Swiss army
Rank group NCOs (de: Unteroffiziere)
Army / Air Force Wachtmeister
Navy no equivalent

In the Military of Switzerland the Wachtmeister (Wm, sergent, sergente) is a NCO-rank (NATO-Code: OR-5). The rank is higher than the rank Korporal, and lower the Oberwachtmeister.

Until the so-called Army reform XXI (with effect from January 1, 2004) the rank was regular assigned to Zugführer -Stellvertreter (en: deputy platoon leader). However, in 2014 the new Wachtmeister appointment was squad leader or vehicle leader (de: Gruppenführer, Wagenkommandant), e.g. gun commander (de: Geschützführer).

In United Nations missions and in NATO Partnership for Peace the rank Wachtmeister will be designated in English with Sergeant (Sgt).

See also

=> Military ranks of the Swiss Armed Forces

Other armed forces


Similarly to the company sergeant major appointment to army units (de: Kompaniefeldwebel / popularly: Spiess), the NCOs with port épée on board larger warships wears the designation «Wachtmeister». Among other responsibilities, he might be required to deal with S1 (coordinating staff area - personnel service) obligations. Assigned to this role will be experienced port épée NCOs up to the rank of Hauptbootsmann (OR7) or higher.

In the German army ground forces, the designation of the OR5-Feldwebel rank of Cavalry and Artillery was the «Wachtmeister» until 1945.

In the GDR National People´s Army (NPA), the «Wachtmeister» OR5-rank was replaced by Feldwebel in 1970.

In the Imperial German Navy, Reichsmarine, and Kriegsmarine, the lowest port épée NCO rank of the sea operations divisions was named «Wachtmeister» as well. However, the equivalent rank of land operations divisions was named Feldwebel.

See also

National People's Army

In the GDR National People's Army (NPA) the OR5-rank «Wachtmeister» was replaced by the universal rank designation Feldwebel. The equivalent rank of the Volksmarine (en: GDR Navy) was the Meister of the Volksmarine.

See also

«Wachtmeister» was also a German police rank.


In Poland, "Wachmistrz" was a sergeant serving in cavalry.


To the Russian Army «Wachtmeisterr» (ru: / Vakhmistr) was already adopted in 1711, as to the order of the Tsar Peter the Great. Until 1877 there were unofficially olso the ranks «Starshij vakhmistr» (ru ) and «Mladshij vakhmistr» (ru ) in order to provide a discrimination to the so-called platoon NCOs (ru: Vsvodnji unter-officer).

The «Wachtmeister» was responsible for providing support to the troop commander, which normally was Rittmeister (cavalry captain OF2-rank). To his duty responsibilities counted among others basic unit training, command task training, service support, and internal disposition.

The equivalent to «Wachtmeister» was the Feldwebel of the infantry. Until 1826 it was the highs NCO-rank and superior to all subordinate NCOs. In 1826 the so-called «old» Oberwachtmeisters were counted to the senior officer´s rank group in, line to the Russian rank table (XIV, before XIII). However, in real life it was never accepted, although id could be army internal equal treated to the cornet rank.

Sequence of ranks
junior rank:
Junior NCO

Lesser Coat of Arms of Russian Empire.svg?  .png
senior rank:


  1. ^ Dictionary to the German military history, 1st edition (Liz.5, P189/84, LSV:0547, B-Nr. 746 635 0), military publishing house of the GDR (VEB) - Berlin, 1985, Volume 2, page 1034.
  2. ^ The abbreviation "OR" stands for "Other Ranks / fr: sous-officiers et militaires du rang / ru?, "
  • Die Streitkräfte der Republik Österreich, 1918-1968, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Militärwissenschaftliches Institut, 1968.

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