Oberst (German pronunciation: [ˈʔoːbɐst]) is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti and the Icelandic rank ofursti. In the Netherlands the rank overste is used as a synonym for a lieutenant colonel.

HD H 53 Oberst ABCAbw.svgLD B 53 Oberst.svg
Country Germany
Service branchBundeswehr Logo Heer with lettering.svg German Army
Bundeswehr Logo Luftwaffe with lettering.svg German Air Force
RankCommissioned officer
NATO rankOF-5
Non-NATO rankO-6
Next higher rankBrigadegeneral
Next lower rankOberstleutnant
Equivalent ranksKapitän zur See


Oberst (short: O) is the highest staff officer rank in the German Army (Heer) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

See also

⇒ Article: Ranks of the German Bundeswehr ⇒ Article: Rank insignia of the German Bundeswehr


The rank is rated OF-5 in NATO, and is grade A16 or B3 in the pay rules of the Federal Ministry of Defence. It is comparable in NATO to OF-5 and equivalent to:

On the shoulder straps (Heer, Luftwaffe) there are three silver pips (stars) in silver oak leaves.

Heer Luftwaffe
Bundeswehr sequence of ranks ascending
junior rank:

(German officer rank)

senior rank:


Oberst is a German word. Spelled with a capital O, "Oberst" is a noun and defines the military rank of colonel or group captain. Spelled with a lower case o, or "oberst", it is an adjective, meaning "top, topmost, uppermost, highest, chief, head, first, principal, or supreme". Both usages derive from the superlative of ober(e), "the upper" or "the uppermost".

As a family name, Oberst is common in the southwest of Germany, in the area known as the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). The name is also concentrated in the north-central cantons of Switzerland (Aargau & Zürich). Here the Swiss version of Oberst is spelled Obrist. The name first appeared in the thirteenth century in the German-Swiss border area, and early forms were Zoberist and Oberist. The name most likely refers to the "tribe that lives the highest on the mountain" or "the family that lives the highest in the village".

Translated as "superior" or "supreme", the rank of Oberst can trace its origins to the Middle Ages where the term most likely described the senior knight on a battlefield or the senior captain in a regiment. With the emergence of professional armies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an Oberst became the commander of regiment or battalion-sized formations.

By the eighteenth century, Obersten were typically afforded aides or lieutenants, often titled Oberstleutnant. This led to formation of the modern German rank of the same name, translated as lieutenant colonel. The rank of Oberst is equivalent to that of colonel in English-speaking armies, although its more accurate meaning of "supreme" refers to the fact that Oberst is the highest-ranking officer below general officers.

Oberst in East GermanyEdit

Oberst (en: colonel) was in the so-called armed organs of the GDR (German: Bewaffnete Organe der DDR), represented by Ministry of National Defence, and Ministry for State Security, the highest field officer rank, comparable to the colonel in many NATO-Armed forces (Rangcode OF-5). This was in reference to Soviet military doctrine and in line with other armed forces of the Warsaw Pact.

The equivalent rank of the Volksmarine (en: GDR Navy) was the Kapitän zur See, often called simply Genosse Kapitän for short.

For the use of this OF-5 ranks in modern NATO armed forces, see Colonel and Captain (Navy).
junior rank
National People's Army rank
(Kapitän zur See)
senior rank
Rank insignias Oberst / Kapitän zur See (OF-5)
  Stasi   Land forces   Air Force   GDR Border troops   Volksmarine
    N/A N/A    
Oberst Kapitän zur See
See also
Ranks of the National People's Army

Oberst of the WehrmachtEdit

Oberst (English: Colonel) was in the German Reich, and Nazi Germany the highest field officer rank, comparable to the OF-5 rank in many NATO-Armed forces. It was equivalent to Kapitän zur See in the Kriegsmarine, and SS-Standartenführer in the Waffen-SS until 1945.

Rank insignia Oberst, Kapitän zur See, and SS-Standartenführer
Branch German Army Luftwaffe Waffen-SS Kriegsmarine
Collar       None
der Waffen-SS
Kapitän zur See
Sequence of ranks ascenting
junior rank:

(German officer rank)
(Kapitän zur See)

senior rank:

Popular cultureEdit

The rank of Oberst is known in American cinema, since several popular movies (such as The Great Escape, Stalag 17, The Eagle Has Landed, Hart's War, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Live Free or Die Hard) have featured characters holding the rank. Luftwaffe Colonel Klink of the television series Hogan's Heroes was a caricature of such a character.