Imperial Guard (Warhammer 40,000)

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In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperial Guard is the army of the Imperium in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop miniature wargame.

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 Ogryns and Militarum Tempestus 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 Workshop's 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 organisation, 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 has the reputation of relying on massed assaults made up of endless waves of infantry and armor to achieve victory, however most imperial commanders are highly trained and skilled career soldiers who know how to use the variety of the Imperium to full effect. "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 organisation the moniker "The Sledgehammer of the Emperor". It also earns the Guard the reputation as a meatgrinder, whose most infamous or desperate 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 multiple regiments are grouped up into large fighting forces, they are issued far larger and more powerful assets such as planetary-scale artillery and super-heavy tank regiments from thousands of Munitorum armories, fortresses, and staging worlds, and the preparation for the larger scale Imperial deployments can take centuries of preparation. 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 and are entirely restricted from having any form of heavy armor or artillery, an armored regiment will consist of little else save its armored vehicles and support crews with no form of integrated air or artillery support, and an artillery regiment will be focused wholly on the task of providing fire support to front line regiments. This policy was put in place by the Imperium to prevent, or at least minimize, 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. However, all guardsmen, from the highest Lord General, to the lowest cook, has the secondary job of being a frontline guardsmen and are expected to know the basics of infantry warfare and the use of the most basic of standard kit.

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, or most often putting down rebellions or other human based enemies of the Imperium.

The Imperial Guard rely upon the Imperial Navy for transport to and from war zones, orbital bombardment, and most kinds of air support. 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, resulted in Horus acquiring a powerful fleet in addition to his vast ground forces.

Famous and Specialized Imperial Guard Regiments

Many regiments of the Imperial Guard do not adhere to the standard Cadian style of warfare displayed on the tabletop. Although Cadian-style regiments are the most common due to Cadians being the poster boys of the Imperial Guard, some regiments from other worlds specialize in other forms of war, a facet they often inherit from the conditions of their home planet. The Catachans hail from a jungle covered 'death world', and so use lighter, more mobile transports rather than heavy, cumbersome ones, specializing in jungle combat and hostile environments. The Death Korps of Krieg (chiefly inspired from World War I trench warfare) have a propensity for sieges and trench warfare, where their suicidal stubbornness and tenacity are most valuable, as well as their unusually large store of biochemical weapons. Some, most notably the Elysian Drop Troopers and the Harakoni Warhawks, rely on aerial deployment and are experts in vertical envelopment. Others, such as the Tallarn Desert Raiders train their men to fight best in certain climates, and adapt their style of warfare around their chosen specialty. While each regiment has strengths and weaknesses, Imperial Planners often are forced to deploy regiments where they are their most ill-suited, Tallarn Desert Raiders on an ice world, Elysian Drop Troopers on an ocean world, Death Korp of Krieg in garrison duty, etc. Oftentimes Imperial planners cannot even be sure which regiments will arrive to a hotzone, as the fickle nature of the warp means one can arrive tomorrow, or a hundred years later.


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

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, including; 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),Sentinels (a two-legged walker, similar to an AT-ST),.[3]

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.[4] 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,[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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 was the Imperial Army alongside innumerable Imperial Cults and Militias present throughout the Great Crusade, but also more elite forces, such as the Solar Auxilia. However, after the Horus Heresy, the Imperial Army was split into the Imperial Guard and Navy to prevent either force from either having the ability to their gain quick access to transportation or field occupational troops quickly if any of their divisional units turned traitor.


please note that this text was written during the 7th edition of the game and is therefore out of date, as an 8th edition codex has now been released

Individual guardsmen are weak and have low point-costs of 5, for comparison A Space Marine costs 14, 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 the total point cost of such a listing could be up to a 1,000 points and hundreds of dollars). 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, when they don't vastly outnumber the enemy, the guardsmen rely on their unique tanks and fire support.

In a later 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 baseline humans, the Imperial Guard also contains several types of abhumans — humans evolved from radically different planetary environment over tens of thousands of years 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 up to summary execution of units who display disobedience or cowardice (in gameplay, this is an often useful function that boosts the morale of wavering units and prevents possessed psykers from harming their comrades) This is useful for the Imperium who must keep an ever-watchful eye in case their subjects turn to chaos. 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 most if not all Commissars primarily inspire troops by heroic or suicidal example, hoping to emulate figures like the "heroic" Commissar Ciaphas Cain or Commissar-Colonel Ibram Guant.

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 their 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 Scout Sentinel to the devastatingly destructive Leman Russ Demolisher firing small nuclear weapons to the long ranged Basilisk self-propelled howitzer, 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 armored and varied armor force, with many devastatingly powerful units like the Baneblade Super heavy Tank, or the DeathStrike ICBM Launcher platform being added to the possibilities.

Video games

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.[8]

The Imperial Guard also make appearances as opposition in the Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior first-person shooter. Among the possible opponents, there are guardsman equipped with lasguns, autogun-wielding stormtroopers, officers with chainswords and a Valkyrie Gunship as a boss.[9]

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 number 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, an adeptus mechanicus forgeworld, 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.


  • Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; Hoare, Andy (2003). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-410-6.
  • Johnson, Jervis (2001). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Catachans. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-016-0.
  • Priestley, Rick; Ansell, Bryan; Stillman, Nigel; Davis, Graeme; Knifton, Pete; Weeds, Ivan; Brunton, Mike; Warwick, Andy; Norton, Derrick (1989). Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (1st ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-71-9.
  • Imperial Guard Homepage from the UK Games Workshop website. URL accessed on 9 January 2006.
  • Haines, Pete. "Chapter Approved – Rolling Thunder: Armoured Companies Army List". Games Workshop. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2007-08-12.

See also


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