The Origin and Early History of the Warrant Officer
Source: U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center
The rank of warrant officer has a long history. For example, evidence suggests that Napoleon used warrant officers as communications links between his commissioned officers and the soldiers. The military grade of “warrant officer” dates back two centuries before Columbus, during the fledgling years of the British Navy. At that time, nobles assumed command of the new Navy, adopting the Army ranks of Lieutenant and Captain. These royal blood officers often had no knowledge of life on board a ship, let alone how to navigate such a vessel or operate the guns. They often relied on the technical expertise and cooperation of a senior sailor who tended to the technical aspects of running the ship and operating the cannons. These sailors, sometimes referred to as ‘Boat Mates’ or ‘Boswans Mates’ became indispensable to less experienced officers and were subsequently rewarded with a Royal Warrant. This Royal Warrant was a special designation, designed to set them apart from other sailors, yet not violate the strict class system that was so prevalent during the time. In the U.S. Navy, warrant officers have traditionally been technical specialists whose skills and knowledge were an essential part of the proper operation of the ship. The Navy has had warrant officers among its ranks, in some form or another, since its conception. For the U.S. Army, we can trace the lineage of the warrant officer back to 1896, specifically to the Headquarters Clerk (later designated the Army Field Clerk). The Act of August 1916 authorized the Army Field Clerk (formerly Headquarters Clerk) and the Field Clerk, Quartermaster Corps (formerly Pay Clerk). Although initially considered civilians, the Judge Advocate General eventually determined that they held military status. The Act of July 1918 introduced the rank and grade of warrant officer. It established the Army Mine Planter Service in the Coast Artillery Corps and directed that warrant officers serve as masters, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers of each vessel. There were three varying levels of pay authorized.
History of Army warrant officer insignia, from the Institute of Heraldry.
In World War I, the Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for mine defenses in major ports. Vessels, ranging in size from small motorboats to 1,000-ton ocean-going ships, laid and maintained minefields. Conflict between soldiers and civilian employees who manned these vessels revealed the need to ensure that military personnel manned the vessels. Officially, the birth date of the Army Warrant Officer Corps is 9 July 1918, when Congress established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Coast Artillery. This action assured that exclusively Army personnel manned the vessels. The Army opened a school to train their mariners at Fort Monroe, Virginia, commanded by an officer who had graduated from the Naval Academy. The official color of the warrant officer corps is brown, as warrant officers in the Mine Planter Service wore simple bands of brown cloth on their uniform sleeves as their insignia of rank. Warrant officers served in four positions aboard the vessels: masters, mates, chief engineers and assistant engineers. Masters wore four bands. Deck officers also wore an embroidered brown fouled anchor above the braid, while engineer officers wore an embroidered brown three-bladed propeller in a similar position. The Act of 1920 expanded use of warrant officers, authorizing appointment of warrant officers in clerical, administrative, and band leading activities. This Act authorized 1,120 warrant officers, provided for appointments in the Army-at-large rather than in specific branches and established warrant officer assignments in various headquarters and tactical units. Perhaps the most significant motive for the expansion was
“. . . a desire to reward enlisted men of long service and also to reward former commissioned officers of World War I who lacked either the educational or other eligibility requirements necessary for continuance in the commissioned status.”
In 1921, warrant officers were excluded from performance of summary court officer, defense counsel, officer of the day, and assistant adjutant because enlisted personnel were prohibited from performing those same duties. During this time, only one pay grade existed except in the army Mine Planter Service. Warrant officers of the Tank Corps first wore the distinctive insignia approved on 12 May 1921. It consists of an eagle rising with wings displayed, standing on two arrows and enclosed in a wreath. It was adapted from the great seal of the United States, with the arrows symbolizing the military arts and science.
“The Eagle Rising” “An eagle rising with wings displayed standing on a bundle of two arrows, all enclosed in a wreath.” In 1922, the warrant officer strength authorization dropped from 1,120 to 600, exclusive of the number of Army Mine Planter Service warrant officers and Army Bandmasters. Consequently, there were no warrant officer appointments other than Bandmasters and Army Mine Planter Service personnel between 1922 and 1935. Laws subsequent to 1922 authorized the appointment of additional classes of personnel with certain qualifications, above the 600 authorizations. In 1936, the Army held competitive examinations to replenish lists of eligibles for Regular Army appointment. The Army appointed warrant officers against vacancies from this 1936 list until the beginning of World War II. In 1939, warrant officers who were qualified as pilots were declared eligible for appointments as air corps lieutenants in the Regular Army. In 1940, warrant officers began serving as disbursing agents. At this time, warrant officer appointments began to occur in significant numbers for the first time since 1922. However, a large number of warrant officers transferred to active duty as commissioned officers, causing a continuing decrease in warrant officer strength until 1942.