Imperial Guard

posted: 12th Aug, 2007 - updated: 1st Feb, 2013

Cannon Fodder

Imperial GuardThe concept of the Imperial Guard as part of a futuristic fighting force may seem a little strange to our modern eyes. The Imperial Guard are often portrayed as basic in comparison with current militaries, having more in common with the warfare, tactics and gear of World War I than a future combat force. However, like all things in 40K it is not always as simple as it first seems, and we can't compare our world to the future galaxy spanning might of the Imperium or their many powerful factions such as the Adeptus Mechanicus (note to self: Ad-Mec = Enemy tech suppression + weird views of genetic management of populations, and form of 'practical' and 'situational' eugenics).

In short the Imperial Guard is not the Imperium's main fighting force when dealing with rogue planets and aliens - that is down to the Navy. This is an important distinction as the Imperial Guard is not used in the same way as out modern millilitres. Primarily the Imperial Guard is a peace keeping force used for Imperial nation building. They are deployed to ensure a stable environment for the Imperium to put into action various programs to fully convert the world over to the Imperial way. Eventual the Imperial Guard peace keepers change roles once the world is stable and become Arbites and PDF (Planetary Defence Force), and after a few generations are fully integrated into the gene and meme pool.

Another aspect of the institution of the Imperial Guard is one of population control and disbursement. The excess population of super massive and loyal Hive Worlds are routinely skimmed off for service in the Imperial Guard. These conscripts are shipped to a world that needs to be stabilised. World population losses through the conflicts in unstable areas are literally replaced by Imperial Guard who will later settle on the peaceful world (should that come to pass) and who know how to live proper hive life. The traitors are systematically replaced by loyal Imperial Guard.

It should be noted that even though the Imperial Guard is a peace keeping force is does not mean that they have not been involved in epic ground battles. Though most full scale 40K ground battles are over in seconds, thanks to the Navy's WSDMs (weapons of super massive destruction) which can lay waste to an entire worlds from orbit, there are occasions when the Navy holds its fire even when they have orbital superiority. These scenarios often revolve around large Imperial Guard presence on a world and the possibility that the Imperial Guard could win a good old fashioned counterinsurgency/ ground war. The Navy will help out, and any positions overrun will disappear in a flash of brilliant sunfire.


The vast bulk of the Imperial Guard is drawn from Hive Worlds (Ecopolis). For more information on conscription; Ecopolis Info Page. This is done to control the vast populations of these Hives as failure to check rampant population growth would lead to a failure of the hive eco-systems. Hive living is a life of checks and balances, yet humans often procreate when it is not environmentally expedient to do so. The Imperium steps in; but instead of culling the population they transport them to new worlds to serve in the Imperial Guard.

Note: The Imperial Guard is not one monolithic organised army and there are many avenues the a person may take to become an Imperial Guard Trooper. 'All roads lead to Rome' in this sense and what I cover here is my vision of the 'standard' (but often changed in the field) practice of how the Imperium deals with conscripts from Ecopolis hive worlds. Other regiments can be taken whole from PDF serving on worlds, or recruited from many worlds, but these 'roads' will be covered another day.

Composition of recruitment

The composition of the Imperial Guard is roughly half women half men. The Adeptus Mechanicus is well aware of genetics and state that an over culling on male weakens the blood lines (degradation of the Y chromosome due to a lack of diversity). On many primitive worlds the populations believe that loosing males in war doesn't matter because those who survive can take multiple wives and repopulate the world. In addition to this that the victors can take women from the side that looses once their males have been eliminated. The Adeptus Mechanics have put a stop to this 'barbaric' practice on Imperial worlds in order to preserve Y chromosome diversity. This has lead to the enforcement of the 'equal conscription policy', where there should always be diversity within the recruitment drive and no single social element of society is over depleted. Diversity is key.


All inductees are shipped off world in transport carriers of the Imperial Navy. These vast carriers are ancient and often several Km in length. These carriers form the core of an armada: formed from hundreds of small support ships to massive frigate escorts. Each carrier houses millions, sometime billions, of inductees.

Note: Could introduce the idea of a 'Warp Tug'. The carrier container for the Imperial Guard remains in orbit until full. Once full, an Imperial Navy Warp Tug rendezvous with the container, links up and moves out. Warp Tugs are 'Imperial Navy' but are really a combination of the Adeptus Mechanicus and Navis Nobilitie. 'Tug' conjures an imagine of a Tug Boat, however this is very wrong as a Warp Tug is a compact warship with massive warp engines and kited out with extreme Ad-Mec fire-power and shielding. Warp Tugs are the trucks of 40,000AD.

Preparation of Inductees: All new inductees are quarantined and placed in secure cells. While contained they are scanned and pumped full of a cocktail of potent drugs*. It is virtually impossible too fail an Imperial Guard medical as the Imperium takes the view everyone is eligible to fight, only those who are totally incapacitated though long term illness are euthanized though many illnesses are curable with the Imperial Medicine of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Once prepared they (both sexes) are striped, shaved and sanitised, before being jabbed with a powerful contraceptive injection**, implanted with a Imperial Guard sub-dermal Electoo (RFID?) and scribed with external indents (barcode?). When they come to, they are given clothing and assigned to their barracks.

Ship Barracks: Are huge rooms full of hydroponics racks and bunks. The recruits having come from Hive Worlds where they are familiar with rack farming are given racks to tend while in transit. It is part of the continued social routine that they are responsible for their own food and contributing to the air of the barrack.

In flight Training: The majority of physical and close combat training is done on route to the staging world. Recruits are checked for aggression and tempered with harsh discipline. The Imperial Guard institutions take the view that a recruit should be kept in a constant state of stress during training hours, and that any acting up should be dealt with quickly with the application of more, not less, pressure. This means the Imperium do not use a punishment systems based of the concept of imprisonment. If a recruit proves they can not be disciplined in timely fashion they are executed on the spot. If they can be trained, corrective punishment is brutal and fast. The use of non-lethal strikes targeting pressure points to inflict maximum pain but little physical damage ensure the recruit stays healthy but complies. Alternatively electro-shock therapy or the cold water 'cool off' tank is used (if heart stops followed by electro-shock therapy to restart the heart) and straight back to training (with adrenaline shots if needed).

Staging world

Often vast (deep) space stations. This is where the recruits are trained and organised ready for shipping.

Naming: The correct terms for those serving in the Imperial Guard are: Imperial Guardsman, Imperial Guardswoman or Trooper, and collectively as Trooper. Collective terms for each sex are rarely used, though regiments from non-Hive Worlds may be all men (or women) and use 'Imperial Guardsmen' (Imperial Guardswomen). This is against official doctrine.


The ubiquitous Lasgun is the primary weapon of the Imperial Guard. It is basically a streaming stun gun, delivering an incapacitating shock to insurgents to enable capture and later interrogation by the Inquisition. The Lasgun is designed with peace keeping in mind, but even peace keepers have to kill. The Lasgun has a secondary mode that is a lethal high energy 'pulse' setting that packs quite a punch. The electroshock is about 30W and good enough to stop the heart of most humans, and the 'exotic' laser can defeat lesser armours to deliver the shock. The extreme wavelength of the laser gives it unusual penetrative powers, and can create an ionisation tunnel thorough armour to deliver the shock. It can also super-heat the water in the body to cause an explosive expansion of stream. This can cause serious wounds (combined with the electroshock can hurl targets quite a distance).

The last mode of the Lasgun is a low power 'laser disrupter' mode. This is use to mess with the vision of a charging enemy protected from the stun effect (i.e. inside a car etc.). The prime use of this is to stop vehicles are road blocks.

All these modes allow the Imperial Guard to be far more decisive in scenarios where civilians are involved. It has also lead to the Imperial Guard view that it is better to 'stun first and ask questions later', the concept expanded to the 'stun everyone and let the Emperor sort them out' ethos of crowd control. However, the stun effect can be lethal to children and the elderly, and trigger happy Troopers have caused incidents where the vulnerable have perished to the shock effect even on the non-lethal setting. Lasguns have also be used in war crimes, torture and abuse. The most notable is the practice of 'execute and revive', and the use by 'gangs' (rogue element within the Imperial Guard, or AWOL) to capture victims at long range.

The Lasgun is seen as a weapon of Imperial oppression and the preeminent weapon in psychological warfare. It causes great fear among civilians; who often see the Imperial Guard as having no impediment to using it. The Imperial Guard are quick to stun even over minor infractions, and some seem to enjoy it and are looking for an excuse to use the weapon.

Note: Some Lasgun have the pulse mode disabled due to excessive civilian deaths. Without the pulse setting the Lasgun can be ineffective against determined or protected enemy combatants.

Tech note: The Lasgun may use electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate and be based on a 'graser/ gaser', (a gamma ray laser), x-ray laser or ultraviolet laser as an ionising medium. If so, this is why it will penetrate armour, go through mirrors etc. Running with this idea, I would speculate that in strict STC designs the graser is not powerful enough to debilitate a target immediately on it's own, it is the electroshock that stuns and stops the target dead in their tracks. It would cause ionisation damage at higher energy levels, but this could be somewhat mitigated due to the secondary shock effect and the associated lower energy level needed to pull it off. In this concept the Lasgun is a relatively low power weapon compared to regular laser weapons that used brute force photon energy to destroy targets. It only takes around 25W of electroshock to stop the human heart.

Wounds: Even peripheral strikes to limbs from a Lasgun will stun and take a person down. On the pulse setting a strike would stop the heart and render the person disabled via spasm; locked up in excruciating pain before loosing consciousness and dying. High powered Lasgun (hot shot?) may cause explosions of super heated steam to erupt from the strike zone creating large ragged holes in the flesh of the target, and induce radiation sickness. This is not a 'humane' weapon.

The Grinder

15 hours: In the initial part of their service the average life expectancy of a trooper is 15 hours. The troopers are cannon fodder, and often the commander uses this time as a 'Baptism of Fire' and weed out those who do not have the will and wits to survive. In many regiments the idea of the 'Emperor's Fate' is used as a justification, that through the chaos of war the Emperor protects the worthy and preserve them. Troopers die in there millions, in many ways it is the enemy that culls the excess humans, but at the same time the cullees inflict massive damage of the enemies of the Imperium.


A tour of duty in the Imperial Guard lasts 25 years (terra standard years). This is same as that of a legionary in the Army of Ancient Rome, and like the ancient Romans the last 5 years are 'veteran status'. On completion of a full tour the trooper is granted settlement rights, often on a world they fought to reclaim from xnos aggression.


There is no trick to surviving the Grinder. Survival is essentially down to luck and death totally random. The weapons used in 40K can have huge impact and even nukes turn up. it is quite possible to be standing on the wrong continent. If you are lucking enough to end up in a protracted warzone, preferably with rebel humans you have a good chance at survival, sometimes as high as 5% in the lighter warzones, dropping to 0.0000001% on Ork or Nid worlds where survival and completion of a tour is a 'fluke'.

Back to Basics

The warfare of he Imperial Guard is primitive and basic and akin to our World War I. Trench warfare is common, and much of the tactics of the Imperial Guard look like something out of the Neapolitan era (squares vs Nids etc). At first this gives the impression that the Imperial Guard is somehow less sophisticated or able than a modern military, but this is not looking at the bigger picture. The Imperial Guard do not fight in isolation, they fight as part of the Imperium and therefore have some serious allies in the Navy and the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Trench Warfare

With the Adeptus Mechanicus using all it power to suppress communications, disable networks and cripple lesser technologies, it becomes very difficult to mount a modern coordinated attack. This would seriously hinder what we consider to be a modern military, yet the Imperial Guard are used to fighting 'blind' and relying on people on the ground to provide intel and runners to keep the war machine moving. It also explains why the Imperial Guard fight the way they do, because it is very difficult to fight any other way!

No Electronics: While many new worlds the Imperial Guard are sent to re-conquer have developed (blasphemous) electronics, these are utterly useless in the presence of the Adeptus Mechanicus' advanced science and counter measures (effect similar to massive EMP damage or energy drain). Armies which rely on electronic based technology are suddenly face with no comms, and all their machines cease to function!

No Unauthorised Comms: One rebel worlds with Imperial tech, the Adeptus Mechanicus will basically disable the world's technology, as it all effectively belongs to the 'Adeptus Mechanicus' and only on loan. Again this cripples an army's/ PDF's (Planetary Defence Force) effectiveness to wage a conventional war, or even a guerrilla asymmetric war.

On a few campaigns, where the rebels have the backup of rebel elements of the Ad-Mec, the entire area is blanket jammed and most technology will fail.

Most armies are not used to fighting in such harsh and bewildering conditions, but the Imperial Guard are trained for it.

Modern mind set: To our 'modern' mind set the Imperial Guard seems barbaric and backward, yet if we were fighting the Imperium our tanks would fail to start, planes would plunge into the ground, ships drift dead in the water, satellites would fall like shooting stars, and all communications would fail, no tv, telephones, mobiles or internet. In such an environment, it is likely we would do as much damage to ourselves as would the Imperium. Our military would most likely surrender not because of a lack of will to fight, but because the whole world would be tearing itself apart, and we would agree to anything to restore order; even sign up the the Imperium.

The 'Family*'

Those Troopers who survive the baptism of fire that is The Grinder, are considered 'Chosen by the Emperor', and are posted into various specialist units know collectively as Family* Units. The practice of moving experienced troopers back from the front line is similar in idea to the Roman army moving experienced men back - Hastati > Principes > Triarii. Each Family Unit is a specialist in a given type of warfare, and operate on the periphery of the main army (the main army being those currently in The Grinder) providing support.

The most notable feature of these units unlike modern armies is that once you are in: you can't leave leave. You're there for the full life tour, regardless of behaviour or injury. All higher command is run by the Nobility, and they never get personally involved in the actual day to day running of the Imperial Guard. They only issue objectives and grant end of tour papers.

* Family: Family has move than one meaning, and this is instance it refers to a band of comrades, where all are 'battle brothers' and see themselves as a 'band of brothers'. Except in the IG units are often mixed - and contain 'battle sisters'. The two when combined are considered all battle brothers and sisters, and considered a 'family'. Family bonds are reinforced with Blood Oaths, and many in these unit consider this family their real family (as it is now the only family they have). The families have there own markings and rules on conduct, and are virtually autonomous in action with 'mobile territory' assigned by high(er) command. The IG can seem very 'tribal' as a whole, where some campaigns see the emergence of sub-tribes and cultures. This of them more as warbands of warriors, that units of soldiers.

Training: As Imperial Guard training is initially limited (considering the looses) and as the family units are specialists, those new to the fold are given 'on the job training'; serving an apprenticeship in the field and learning first hand. Those who are green learn from veterans not a book, and are taught how to do things the 'experienced way'.

MAS [Mobile Assault and Sniper] Units

In base concept this unit is similar to the British Rifle Brigade (Sharpe/ 95th). These family units consists of a core of snipers, with a supporting assault troops who also act as body guards. It is the duty of the assualt troops to secure flanking positions for the snipers to 'set up house' and provide the main Imperial Guard army with cover fire. The are equipped with light transport (bikes, horses, some type of alien beast).

Similar to soviet sniper doctrine, where snipers where used as 'Designated marksman' attached to a squads, to effect long range suppressive fire rather than full snipers firing from concealed locations. The Imperial Guard snipers are a mix of the two, as they are attached to a squad, but the squad is a mobile unit following the snipers! In many ways they are an Imperial Guard skirmisher unit.

Usually the snipers are predominately female, and the assault troops are predominately male, thought this is not set in stone and merely an average. There are male snipers and female assault troops in the MAS units.

During WWII the Soviets recruited hundreds (thousands) of women to become snipers. Some of the more famous female snipers; Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya (WWII, 308 kills), Lyudmila Pavlichenko (WWII, 309 kills), and Roza Yegorovna Shanina (WWII, 54 kills).

BL forum topics: Female 'Guardspeople' and More female characters!

AFC [Artillery and Fire Control] Units

These family units operate from behind the front line and rain heavy bombardments down onto the enemy. The loaders keep the mighty guns feed and fire where the comms operator tell them to. Women are very common as comms operators, and run the vox systems (and natter to each other constantly :p) with each AFC unit forming a node in a network, all co-operating with each other and acting as 'traffic control' for those in 'The Grinder' and orchestrating the whole show. The comms operator in these units run the backbone core of the army's communication network (counts are a distributed command structure), taking objectives from higher command (Noble) and working out plans on the fly. This allows the Imperial Guard huge flexibility in the chaos of war (where the best laid plans mean nothing).

A high percentage of loaders are male, though same physically strong females prefer the work, and comms are predominately female. Like all family units this is not set in stone or enforced through dogma, it is all down to the best person for the job, or rather the job the person is most comfortable with and can do.

War is a management issue, and the brave women (and a few men) of the comms of the AFC units do it with ease (they run it like a busy deli, with firing co-ordinates on notes stuck the the gun plate). The Imperial Guard guns never stop once they start until the war is over.

CAS [Close Air Support]

Each aircraft squadron is a family, a clan. This mobile unit all moves and works together, setting up mobile bases as need be, securing supplies and working closely with the AFC.

Leman Russ [Support Tank]

The Imperial Guard troopers are supported by mobile armour called Leman Russ. These are not main battle tanks as we in the modern world understand them, but are used in a similar manner as close support tanks like the Matilda and follow a similar doctrine. However, the Leman Russ was not always used in this role, it was originally an STC design hailing from the Dark Age of Technology.

Infantry Close Support

LR1 (STC) pre 'Leman Russ'.

The LR1 is the first forerunner of the Leman Russ infantry support tank. To understand the unusual design of this tank we have to take a look at it's history and how it came into the Imperial Guard and the original role.


Drone: This is the original STC version of the LR1 (Tank Drone). The above is a very rare surviving example with Imperial markings. These models have been recalled from service and are revered by the Adeptus Mechanicus are holy relics.


It is an unusual design compared to modern MTB (Main Battle Tank), and much of this can be put down to it's role and the technologies used during the Dark Age of Technology. The high tracks are prevalent in Mag-Lev track systems, and the small sloping turret and narrow top are design more to deflect attacks from above than the side.

Modular Drive

The LR1 is a modular design with many units such are drive arrays made up of sub-units locked into a mainframe. The LR1 had two types of drive system: a conventional wheel and caterpillar tracks system, and a Mag-Lev and floating track system.

Wheels: Each sub-unit contains a wheel, suspension, motor, linkage and auto tracking cover armour. The whole sub-unit is slid into the mainframe and bolted in place. The mainframe is bolted to the superstructure. All is replaceable and repairs are very quick to turn around. The track is laid over the wheels once in place. The remarkable feature of this system is that is the track is lost, the wheels still have drive and the tank can still move! Through traction is greatly reduced on the rough (can get out of mire with boards), it is still reasonable mobile on hard surfaces.

Mag-Lev (Magnetic Levitation): Each sub-unit is similar is dimensions to the above, except the wheel and motor is replaced with a direct drive magnet array. These magnets react with the 'track' to provide a closed loop Mag-Lev system. The tracks on the Mag-Lev system are very thick and robust, with each link fashion like a tooth with a deep root, and counts as full armour plate! Trying to shoot of the tracks on a Mag-Lev is virtually pointless, as even if the links break the track will not come off as each link is treated as an individual unit (a single link will still flow around the Mag-Lev system). The only way to stop is to destroy the Mag-Lev units, which are solid-state and armoured.

One design concern with the Mag-Lev system is spacing. This is why the track is kept so far apart, and give the LR1 is characteristic WW1 look from the side. The height of the LR1 is so it can accommodate the Mag-Lev track system as a modular option.

Modular Defence

The LR1 had no defence system installed during peace time. Such advanced technology was locked away by the corporations in underground bunkers. This stopped colonies going rogue with the tech, as without the corporations blessing the tanks lacked any defence system and would be easy pickings to the corporation's troops. In time of war is was a simple affair to install these modular units, but they would not run forever, and needed corporate 'maintenance' to continue to function.

Electric Armour [Local]: The most basic armour enhancement system used to defeat RPGs and HEAT rounds. Electric Armour uses high current to disperse the jet of molten metal formed by shaped charges before they can cause serious damage. Coupled with the basic toughness of the Ceraform armour, the LR1 is reasonably protected against 'insurgents' and low level guerrilla warfare.

Auto-Las Shield (ALS) [Corp]: This was a mushroom shaped device mounted on the turret that tracked all missiles and shot down incoming ordnance with a focused hail of las fire. The core technology is similar to the multi -'laser'. The ALS shares similar technologies to modern sniper location systems, only far faster and could shoot down individual bullets from automatic weapons (though not lasgun fire!). Though priority was given to heavier ordnance.

Power-Field [Corp]: Advanced technology (p-field), which creates a field that destabilizes matter and energy. A bullet passing though the field is 'softened' as it is phased, and when is strikes the hull of the tank is splashes before solidifying. Explosives and penetrators do not work, and nor do high energy beams. Conversion filed beamers cause problems as does D-Cannon.

Modular Turrent

The LR1 has a remote controlled turret similar to the T-95 concept. This isolates the crew from the turret, and improved their chances of survival if hit. The design is quite 'pointy', with much consideration to countering vertical strikes. The turret can be armed with a variety of weapon systems.

Macro-Bolter: Basically a very large bolter. Ordnance is cased and uses a kicker charge to clear the barrel before the main rockets engage. The missile is either preprogrammed (like a true bolt) or a guided missile. A vast array of ordnance can be launched via the Macro-Bolter. The tank makes up for any lack of prowess with the advanced missiles it can deploy, which could engage targets hundreds of miles away, and with seekers even targets that could not be initially seen (with final decision to strike down to the missile). Not so much a tank as a mobile silo, more M270 than M1, but with better protection.

A mind of it's own: The cortex (bio-brain) operating system. Robot/ drone.

Thermoelectric Engine

The whole system is based around thermoelectric principles to directly convert heat energy into electrical energy. The main power plant of the LR1 is designed with adaptability in mind. Therefore it is a two stage system with variable modular front end heater feeding a standardised converter/ power system.

The Heater: Comes in various forms, from basic wood (biomass) burners to advanced plasma cores. If the device can fit into the standard heater chassis it can slid into the bay and used! All the units have the same goal and that is to heat the cells (see below), and the more heat the unit can supply the better. Many variants are, or have been, available at one time or another, and each is matched to the world on which the LR1 was based. Aside form the two already mentioned, there are records for coal, alcohol (popular :p), biofuels, petroleum, oxidiser (great symbols), nuclear, and antimatter! (dark age only). Some units cover several fuel sources, the most common to survive into 40K is the liquid atomiser injection units, that can handle virtually any combustible liquid fuel that requires oxygen to burn.

The Thermoelectric cell array: Each cell within the array takes 12 standard power packs. These are same power packs as found in the standard issue Imperial Guard Lasgun (later versions of the LR1 retain this engine and as such are a source of ammo for the troopers). The cells convert heat to electricity and then store the electrical energy as a battery. Normally electrical systems have problems around p-fields but these arrays are managed by a cortex rather than delicate chips. No sensitive electronics are needed, and this means the arrays and power supplies are highly robust (part of the p-field drain affect is what keeps the power-field running! - if fitted ;) ).

LR1a (modified STC) pre 'Leman Russ'.




Humans Inside: This early version certified by the Adeptus Mechanicus has a modified turret to allow humans to get inside, and much of the internal space of the hull had to be modified. The capacitor systems that could drive the Meg-Lev modular drive blocks had to go, and along with it the option of Meg-Lev drive, leaving only the wheel units. The suspension system is retained at this stage. An extra ablative armour plate layer has be added to the sides to compensate for the lack of defence systems which also had to be removed. Obviously the cortex and support systems where taken out of the design.

With the lack of options imposed by converting the design to allow humans to operate it, the design slowly drifted from its modular roots. It is used in a role it was never intended to be used for.

LR1b (heavily modified STC) known as the Leman Russ.



Veterans of the Imperial Guard who actually complete a tour are granted 'rights of settlement'. Imperial Guard who stabilise a world and have not finished their tour may be inducted into the Arbites or PDF (Planetary Defence Force).


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