Imperial Guard (Warhammer 40,000)

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The Imperial Guard, now known as the "Astra Militarum", are a specific army or faction in the Warhammer 40,000 and Epic tabletop games and universe. The army itself is characterised by being capable of fielding a multitude of lightly armoured infantry in combination with some of the toughest and most powerful tanks in the game.[1] In the game universe, the Imperial Guard is a colossal military organisation consisting of trillions of men and women supported by millions of tanks each from thousands of different worlds and systems within the Imperium of Man.[2]

The Imperial Guard was first introduced to the game in White Dwarf 109, January 1989. In April 2014 a new codex was released for the 6th Edition of the game, along with a number of new plastic kits. Such models included plastic versions of Ogryn's and Scions (previously named Stormtroopers) which had been metal. A plastic kit of the Hydra (previously a Forge World model) also became available. In addition to the new kits and models, the Imperial Guard had a name change to the Astra Militarum in line with Games Workshops shift away from generic naming of their intellectual property.


The Imperial Guard (previously the Imperial Army, now the Astra Militarum) is a fictional colossal military organization, consisting of many hundreds of thousands of armies throughout the Imperium, and forming the vast bulk of the Imperium's military machine. Unlike the Space Marines, who are an elite unit that rely upon precision strikes against the enemy's critical assets to carry the day, the Imperial Guard relies on massed assaults made up of endless waves of infantry and armor to achieve victory. "If a Space Marine assault is likened to a surgeon`s scalpel, the Imperial Guard assault is likened to a sledgehammer blow" It is this battlefield strategy that has earned the organization the moniker "The Sledgehammer of the Emperor". It also earns the Guard the reputation as a meatgrinder, whose commanders are more than willing to spend their soldiers' lives for the smallest of gains or in the most suicidal defensive actions.

Each Imperial Guard regiment is usually raised from a single world and numbers between 500 and 750,000 fighting soldiers, supported by a huge array of light and heavy armored vehicles. Each regiment also has its own entourage, consisting of support staff, camp followers, suppliers, tech-priests, doctors, religious leaders and the like. When thousands of regiments are grouped up into large fighting forces, they are issued far larger assets such as planetary-scale artillery and super-heavy tank regiments from thousands of Munitorum armory, fortress, and staging worlds. Although a player may field a mixed force of these armor, artillery, and infantry units on the table-top, in the game universe, the composition of any one regiment is fairly uniform; that is, an infantry regiment will contain thousands of foot soldiers with only a minimal number of support vehicles and an armored regiment will consist of little else save its tanks. This policy was put in place by the Imperium to prevent, or at least minimise the damage from, large scale mutinies in the wake of the Horus Heresy, as no one regiment constitutes a complete, self-sufficient fighting force in its own right.

Regiments are drawn from all types of planets of the Imperium from Fortress worlds such as Cadia, where the entire populace is raised under arms from birth, to Feral and Medieval worlds, and the contributions of some planets over the ten thousand years of the Imperium run into the billions of regiments, if not more. The Imperial Guard are constantly at war, freeing worlds from Chaotic or alien influence, or defending them from the same.

The Imperial Guard rely upon the Imperial Navy for transport to and from war zones. The Imperium's naval and ground forces are kept strictly separate such that a mutinous general will not have access to an integrated military machine. That was not the case with the pre-Horus Heresy Imperial Army, which had no such strict distinction.

Famous Imperial Guard Regiments[edit]

Cadian Shock Troops[edit]

It is said that in-universe a regiment of Cadians is worth 10 such regiments of lesser men. This is with good reason. The homeworld of the shock troopers, Cadia, is unique in the Imperium in that its entire population lives under arms, and every city (kasr)[3] is less of a city and more of a truly massive fortress, with each and every one designed specifically to repulse invasion. This is warranted by Cadia's location in the galaxy; it lies directly in the only space-stable path out of the Chaos stronghold region known as the Eye of Terror. This, constant subjection of Cadia to Chaos invasions has introduced another defensive strategy; 1 in 10 Cadian soldiers, when recruited, regardless of rank, will be permanently assigned to Cadia's planetary defence force, (PDF) making it one of the strongest in the galaxy. All Cadians are taught how to strip, reassemble, aim and fire a lasgun (the primary weapon of Imperial Guard infantry) before they are taught to read and write. The Cadians are famous for favouring the 'Kantrael' lasrifle, a weapon designed in the 36th millennium (tabletop Warhammer 40,000 is set in the 41st millennium.). The rest of Cadia's surface is dedicated to wargear production, and as such Cadian regiments are equipped with the finest gear the Imperium can offer to its Guardsmen (although these still pale before the equipment at the disposal of the Adeptus Astartes)

Mordian Iron Guard[edit]

The Mordians are famous in universe (as their namesake might suggest) due to their overwhelming disregard for the horror of death. Their homeworld, Mordian, is harsh and unforgiving, and so is its government, the Tetrarchy, which rules on Mordian with absolute authority, due to the planet's scarce and strictly rationed resources. The Mordian Iron Guard, whilst very strictly disciplined, is also very proud of the results of such intensive training; the result being that the Mordians are among the most reliable troops in the Imperium. This pride goes further than simple repute however. In stark contrast to the Cadians, who camouflage themselves to match their combat environment, the Mordian Iron Guard go into battle in parade outfits, usually cyan in colour. This lack of camouflage inevitably leads to unnecessary casualties, but Mordian discipline and pride still holds true even when criticised by more 'practical' regiments. At the formation of every regiment, they are gifted with a banner from the Tetrarchy, and every Guardsman swears to never let it fall or be captured, further stiffening the already strong Mordian resolve. As far as combat preferences go, Mordians are recognised for being among the best grenadiers in the Imperium, either with handheld devices or with launchers. Especially notable Mordian regiments include the 2nd Infantry, 3rd Infantry, 10th Infantry, 11th Infantry, 26th Infantry, 56th Infantry, 201st Infantry, 12th Armoured, 16th Armoured, 84th Armoured, 278th Armoured and the 3rd Heavy Tank Company.

Vostroyan Firstborn[edit]

The people of the planet Vostroya are considered to owe the Imperium as a whole a debt. During the most devastating war in the Imperium's history, The Horus Heresy, they failed to send aid to the besieged, infant, Imperium. Now, under Imperial rule once again, it is law on Vostroya for every family to submit their firstborn son for induction into the Vostroyan regiments, hence the name; Firstborn. The firstborn sons are raised to think as a warrior brotherhood, and their morale is often viewed as unshakable, for a Firstborn would sooner die a hero unlike his ashamed fathers, rather than betray his brothers in arms in the face of hostile forces. This is further reinforced by the fact that much of the armour and weaponry used by the Vostroyans are passed down from father to son. This means the Vostroyan gear is archaic, and although their las-weaponry may be antiquated by modern Imperial standards, forgotten technologies such as plasma weaponry are more common amongst the Vostroyans than other, more strictly Munitorum ran regiments. The Vostroyans have their own pattern of lasgun, produced on their homeworld, and they are known for their hand-crafted detail and customisation to suit the Guardsman's preferred style of combat with his lasgun. The Vostroyans are also known for specialising in urban and winter warfare, and often find themselves working with the Valhallan Ice Warriors when assigned to warzones involving the latter. Due to the tithe of firstborns Vostroya provides every galactic year, the Firstborn have a very steady stream of recruitment compared to most other regiments, which are simply raised en masse at the requiem moment by the Imperium. This yearly tithe again helps boost the feeling of brotherhood and therefore morale, whilst also ensuring that the Firstborns have a higher number of Veterans that most other regiments. The signature heavy weapon of the Firstborn is the Heavy Bolter, and again, many of these weapons in the service of the Firstborn are ornately crafted and customised to suit the needs or preferences of the company in question.

Armageddon Steel Legion[edit]

The steel legion are raised from the planet of Armageddon, a key hive world in Segmentum Solar. (the part of the Imperium closest to Holy Terra) Having fought the Ork hordes of Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka to merely retain control of their own planet, they are very experienced in anti-ork combat. Armageddon, as the name suggests, is an inhospitable world, and infantry combat on the planet is difficult to justify in attrition without mechanised transport. As such, the Steel Legion possess a high number of tanks relative to their strength in men, and their mechanised companies are among the finest in the galaxy. The Steel Legion often wear gas masks, and make prolific use of missile and grenade launchers. Due to the high amount of mechanised infantry in the Steel Legion's ranks, they often use strafing attacks, hitting the enemy hard with fast, light and easy to produce vehicles, leaving them in disarray before withdrawing to avoid retaliation, as these tactics mean they cannot make as much use of overwhelming manpower, a tactic often used in other guard regiments, such as the Mordian Iron Guard, and leaves a stark contrast between the two styles of war.

Harakoni Warhawks[edit]

As the name suggests, the Warhawks make prolific, almost exclusive use of aerial warfare, on a level akin to the Elysian Drop Troopers. The Warhawks equipment reflects their specialisation, even at the most basic level, their equipment has been adapted to their aerial style of warfare. For example, the most basic weapon of the Imperial Guard, the lasgun, is cut down to a las-carbine, with a shorter range and with a lower rate of fire, for the advantages of being lighter, easier to aim, and even able to be singularly hand-held. Due to the low amount of numbers they employ relative to most other guard regiments, they also equip their men with carapace armour as standard, a privilege normally reserved for generals, officers and veterans. They are also equipped with smoke grenades to aid rapid escape to a Valkyrie dropship in case of catastrophic failure. Their aerial deployment means that all of their troops are fitted with pressure adapting helmets and armour, further adding to the cost necessary to equip each man, in addition to the photo-visor also contained within the helmets. Therefore Warhawks training is arguably more intensive than that of the Cadian Shock Troops, due to the fact that recruits are made to hunt massive aerial predators which live on Harakon to prove themselves, most notably Vapour wyrms. Even more than other airborne regiments, with the only arguable exception being the afore-mentioned Elysians, the Warhawks are the aerial elite of the Imperial Guard.


The codex for the game's 2nd edition.
The first Imperial Guard codex for Warhammer 40,000 3rd edition.

History of the Imperial Guard as an Army[edit]

The first edition of Warhammer 40,000 included rules for a force known as the "Army". Later their name was changed to "Imperial Guard" and then as of 7th edition "Astra Militarum". The Imperial Guard make up the backbone of the Imperium's armed forces.

The Imperial Guard was initially bound by a series of rules, published in the Warhammer 40,000 Compendium, relating to its command structure. Squads of units formed platoons under a command squad. Units that were separated from the command squad were more limited in action. The initial Imperial Guard army could include, besides the basic squads, Rough Riders (a form of Cavalry), penal units, human bombs, abhumans and robots. Several vehicles were available; motorcycles with an optional side-car, Jet cycles (a form of jet propelled motorbike), grav attack vehicles (armoured fighting vehicles utilising anti gravity for propulsion), Land Raiders (armoured fighting vehicles with a similar design to the British Mark I tank), Rhinos (an Armoured personnel carrier), Sentinels (a two-legged walker, similar to an AT-ST), Predators (a Tank) and Land Speeders (a two-man hover vehicle, cf. Landspeeder).[4]

The first incarnation of the Imperial Guard as a fully supported army was in 1995, with the release of the Codex: Imperial Guard sourcebook for the second edition of Warhammer 40,000. This was the first time that the army itself had specific army rules collected in their own sourcebook.[5] With the release of the third edition of the game, almost all the Warhammer 40,000 armies eventually had new codices compatible with the new edition. In line with this, Codex: Imperial Guard was released in 1999,[6] followed by Codex: Catachans in 2001. This was a smaller sourcebook (or mini-dex/mini-codex) that was meant to be used in conjunction with the "parent" Codex: Imperial Guard. The mini-dex itself provided even more specific rules for fielding one of the more popular Imperial Guard sub-armies, the Catachan Jungle Fighters, for which plastic models were available.[7] In 2003, Games Workshop conducted the Eye of Terror worldwide campaign and released a corresponding sourcebook, Codex: Eye of Terror. This campaign sourcebook contained various rules, including a specific army list for another one of the Imperial Guard's notable sub-armies, the Cadian Shock Troops.[8] Soon after the campaign ended, the changes in the Cadian Shock Troops army list were integrated into the Imperial Guard rules, and Games Workshop released a second, revamped version of Codex: Imperial Guard.[1]

In the actual in-universe background, the predecessors to the Imperial Guard were innumerable Imperial Cults and Militias present throughout the Great Crusade, but also more elite forces, such as the Solar Auxilia.


Individual guardsmen are weak and have low point-costs, thus Imperial Guard armies are usually rather large (a full guard platoon can boast up to 138 models, not counting independent characters, per troops choice. When adding dedicated transports, this number rises to 144). In addition, they have access to various vehicles, such as the Leman Russ main battle tank, Basilisk mobile artillery, Chimera armored troop transport and the Sentinel walker. Because they require so many units, an Imperial Guard army can be expensive and time-consuming to assemble and paint. In regards to their weak infantry, the guardsmen rely on their unique tanks and fire support.

In the latest Codex, the Imperial Guard "doctrines" were removed, replaced by the "orders" system. Units designated by the "order" must be in a specific distance radius from either a Platoon Officer or a HQ Officer. Benefits are given if both the officer's unit and the squad receiving the order have vox-casters - in-universe term for radio.

In addition to humans, the Imperial Guard also contains several types of abhumans — species evolved from humans that differ markedly from the norm. The two species most commonly found are the Ogryns (the counterpart of the Warhammer Fantasy setting ogres) whose superhuman strength makes them excellent close combat fighters and the Ratlings (resembling halflings/hobbits) who function as expert snipers.

One of the more distinctive aspects of the Imperial Guard army is its Commissars. They are represented as akin to the ruthless, political commissars of the former Soviet Union. The Imperial Commissar, as described by many Warhammer novelists, is given complete jurisdiction to judge the actions of any trooper or officer and to act accordingly. This includes summary execution of units who display disobedience or cowardice (in gameplay, this is a useful function that boosts the morale of wavering units and prevents possessed psykers from turning on their comrades). Understandably, they are much hated by the guardsmen they serve with. Many novels hint that a good portion of the Commissars slain in battle are "accidentally" hit by friendly fire; the 4th-Edition Codex for the notoriously anti-authoritarian Catachan regiments of the Imperial Guard includes the "Oops, Sorry Sir" rule that gives Commissar models included in a Catachan army a 1-in-6 chance of having been killed - or more appropriately, fragged - before the game begins. There are also hints that some Commissars have taken to the tactic of inspiring troops by heroic example, hoping to emulate the "heroic" Commissar Ciaphas Cain.

Another unique aspect of the Imperial Guard is that the models for the regiments of different worlds are physically distinct, rather than the same models with different paint schemes like the other armies (save the Space Marines where the Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, and Grey Knights Chapters all have models specific to them which other Chapters may not field and as such are considered separate armies). For example, the models for the Cadian Shock Troops resemble the soldiers of the Mobile Infantry as seen in the movie Starship Troopers and the Catachan Jungle Fighters appear in the stripped down uniforms as worn by American soldiers in the Vietnam War and as seen in movies such as Rambo - a look befitting the inhabitants of a jungle world where everything is trying to kill them.

As a single platoon contains several squads, and each squad has options for taking special and heavy weapons, a single troops choice can take a staggering amount of said weapons: a fully loaded platoon may take up to 11 special weapons and 20 heavy weapons in a single troops choice, while most other armies can only take one of each. This, combined with the heavy firepower of Guard vehicles, produces an army that is primarily geared toward firepower. To offset this and create a proper balance to the game, the designers made the average Imperial Guardsman both physically weaker and less skilled with weapons. This means that should an enemy withstand the blistering hail of weapons fire and close the distance to assault the Guardsman in melee, the Guardsmen will more than likely be torn apart.

Some of the major strengths of the Imperial Guard army are their vehicles. From the fragile Sentinel to the devastatingly destructive Leman Russ Demolisher, the vehicles of the Imperial Guard can significantly add to their effectiveness as an army. Although individual tanks from other armies (such as the Necrons) may sport more firepower and/or armor than those of the Imperial Guard, the Guard has, overall, the most powerful armoured force (or, at least, the most varied).

Video games[edit]

Squad of Imperial Guardsmen led by a Commissar in the game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

The Imperial Guard make several appearances in many of the video games that occur in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

The Imperial Guard make a guest appearance in the single player campaign of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War led by Colonel Carus Brom as NPCs and playable units in some missions. They have since been expanded into a playable faction in the game's expansion packs:

The Imperial Guard were part of the Imperium's force in Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000, the other two parts consisting of the Space Marines and the Adeptus Mechanicus Titan legions.[9]

The Imperial Guard also make appearances as opposition in the Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior first-person shooter. Among the possible opponents, there are lasgun- and autogun-wielding guardsmen, officers with chainswords and a Valkrie Dropship as a boss.[10]

The Imperial Guard has also made an appearance in the computer game Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War, usually used alongside Space Marine forces (much like in the Final Liberation).

Much like in the original Dawn of War the Imperial Guard (more specifically stormtroopers and regular guardsmen squads) make a supporting appearance as NPCs in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II during several campaign battles, including the ending mission against the Tyranids. They also appeared in its expansion, Chaos Rising, with some guardsmen becoming traitorous and pledging their loyalties to Chaos in the early missions on Aurelia.

In Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution, the Imperial Guard have become a fully playable race and are most dangerous when they field a large amount of tanks or a huge horde of infantry.

In Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, the Cadian 203rd regiment (so battered up it is under the command of a second lieutenant) is trying to survive on Graia as the player's Ultramarines squad drops in. Guardsmen serve as NPCs throughout the game, and both the Guard and the player provide mutual support in terms of combat, navigation and air transport.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; Hoare, Andy (2003). Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd release) (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-410-6. 
  2. ^ Priestley, Rick (1998). Warhammer 40,000 (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-000-9. 
  3. ^ Games Workshop: Astra Militarum Codex 7th ed: ISBN 978-1782532590 Nottingham: Games Workshop
  4. ^ Priestley, Rick; et al. (1989). Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (1st ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-71-9. 
  5. ^ Priestley, Rick (1995). Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-872372-92-1. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Jervis; Gavin Thorpe (1999). Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-869893-52-1. 
  7. ^ Johnson, Jervis (2001). Codex: Catachans (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-016-0. 
  8. ^ Chambers, Andy; Hoare, Andy; Kelly, Phil (2003). Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-398-7. 
  9. ^ Holistic Design, Inc. (1997-11-30). Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000. Windows/DOS (v1.0). Strategic Simulations, Inc. 
  10. ^ THQ (September 2003). Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior. Microsoft Windows/PlayStation 2. KUJI.