Unterleutnant (NPA-original abbreviation Ultn.; en: translation "Under-lieutenant" or "sub-lieutenant") was an officer of the German Democratic Republic's army (e.g. the National People's Army from 1956–1990) of the lowest commissioned officer (CO) rank comparable to NATO rank codes OF1c. It belonged to the rank group of lieutenants or subaltern officers.[1] The equivalent OF1c-rank of the Volksmarine was Unterleutnant zur See (en: "sub-lieutenant at sea").

This article is about the OF-1с rank Unterleutnant in German speaking countries, comparable to Mladshy leytenant OF1-c in Slavophone countries. However, it should not confused to the more junior Midshipman, or to the more senior OF1-b-ranks Ensign, Second lieutenant, or Pilot officer.

The rank was first introduced in 1662-74 by France and was also adopted by some other countries' armed forces.


Empire, Weimar Republic, Third Reich, Federal Republic

In a number of German armed forces of the 19th century before German unification in 1871 there was the following graduation: Oberleutnant (Premierlieutenant - OF1a) and Leutnant (Secondelieutenant OF1b); without the rank Unterleutnant.

However, until 1898 there was the rank Unterleutnant zur See in the Imperial German Navy. This rank was equivalent to the Secondelieutenant of the Imperial German Army (de: deutsches Heer).

In the Reichswehr, Wehrmacht, and Bundeswehr there was never a rank Unterleutnant.

German Democratic Republic

National People´s Army

Engineer corps   /       Volksmarine
Rank insigniaNPA officer rank
Rank groupCommissioned officers
Army / Air ForceUnterleutnant
NavyUnterleutnant zur See
NATO equivalentOF-1c
NATO: Army, Air Force, NavyNo Equivalent

Depending on the former Soviet military doctrine as well as to the other armed forces of the Warsaw Pact the so-called GDR armed organizations, the Unterleutnant was the lowest officer rank.

In the NPA and in the GDR border troops the lieutenant officer sub-rank group consisted of Unterleutnant (OF1c), Leutnant (OF1b), and Oberleutnant (OF1a).

This officer rank could be assigned to military appointments as follows: officer of the operations service, political officer, officer of the technical service, supply, procurement, and military justice service.

The graduation to that particular OF1c officer rank was normally possible depending on the education and training, accomplished. The promotion to the following Leutnant OF1b-rank was achievable after two years of service, to Hauptmann after three more years.[2]

After successful passing of the officer course (normally three years) on a NPA officers school, officer students (de: Offiziersschüler) normally graduated to the rank Unterleutnant. The best school-leavers of the appropriate course could be promoted to the next higher rank, Leutnant. By establishing of the Officers High schools and diploma course of study the final examination all graduates promoted to the rank Leutnant.

The equivalent OF1c-rank of the Volksmarine was initially Unterleutnant zur See. Later the designation was changed to Unterleutnant. However, in individual linguistic usage the traditionally wording Unterleutnant zur See was used continuously.


Since then the status of NPA persons in uniform with the rank Unterleutnant changed from professional soldier to longer-service volunteer (de: „Offizier auf Zeit“ – OaZ). The minimum service time was three years, and the so-called Abitur (en: final examination, qualifying for university entrance) was mandatory. In 1982 the minimum service time was raised to four years. Normally the one year lasting military education and study had to be accomplished on an officer’s high school. By passing the final examination, the aspirant could be promoted to the Unterleutnat OF1c-rank. This was followed by the first line officer assignment in one of the NPA services or branches of service. An Unterleutnant could usually be appointed to platoon leader. Pertaining to special abilities, knowledge, or qualification – special assignment could be possible as well.

Under certain circumstances, e.g. successful completion of a reserve officer´s training course during high school study, suitable graduates could be appointed to Unterleutnant of the Reserve (de: Unterleutnant der Reserve).

In some cases particular able Stabsfeldwebel (OR8) or Fähnrich (NPA) could be appointed to Unterleutnant.

junior rank

National People's Army rank
(Unterleutnant zur See)
senior rank


In the GDR Volkspolizei Unterleutnant (official "Unterleutnant der VP") was the lowest commissioned officer rank (comparable top OF1c) as well. Normally officer students, graduated from officer´s training course, could be promoted to that rank. However, the best graduate of the particular year could be promoted to the next higher rank, OF1b Leutnant of the VP.

Members of the GDR Ministry of Interior, graduated from the Ministry of Interior Officers high school "Artur Becker", another high school facility or university, were normally promoted to Leutnant of the VP. Depending on the course of study, duration, and academic or university degree, achieved, promotion to higher ranks could be possible.

Other countries



(Austrian Bundesheer)

suit 75/03, jacket gorget, flat cap
Rank insigniaBundesheer CO rank
Rank groupCommissioned officers
Army / Air ForceFähnrich

In the Austrian Bundesheer there exists an OF1c-rank Fähnrich even today, comparable to Unterleutnant. It is the lowest rank of the lieutenant rank group. The sequence of ranks is Fähnrich (OF1c), Leutnant (OF1b), and Oberleutnant (OF1a). The Fähnrich rank is typical for officer students during studies on the Theresian Military Academy. The promotion to Leutnant depends on successful graduation.


The underlöjtnant rank was introduced in 1835 to replace the former fänrik and kornett ranks, and until 1926 was the lowest commissioned officer rank of the Swedish Armed Forces. The fänrik rank was reintroduced in 1914 with the same status as underlöjtnant, but it was subsequently moved one level below underlöjtnant in 1926. Underlöjtnant was removed from the Swedish Armed Forces rank structure in 1937.

Former countries of the Warsaw Pact

Unterleutnant (OF-1c) was the lowest rank of the officer´s rank group in other former Warsaw Pact armed forces as well. Below are some examples.

Rank insignias Unterleutnant (OF-1c)
Soviet Union / Russia



Branch ArmyAir ForceNavy 1935-431943-55Air ForceArmyFieldNavyPolice ArmyArmyArmyArmy
Original Младши лейтенант
(until 2010)
Младший лейтенант Sublocotenent
(ca. 1960-1992)
(ca. 1960-1992)
Mladshi leytenant Mladshy leytenant Podporuchik Podporuchnik


  1. MEYERS UNIVERSALLEXIKON, 3rd edition 1980, order number: 576 970 2, licence number: 433 130/198/80, volume III, page 218-219 «National People´s Army and Border troops of the GDR – rank, figure 14 Unterleutnant.
  2. 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 1, page 476, definition: Unterleutnant.
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