In the grim darkness of the far future the first line of defence between humanity and annihilation is the army of the Imperium of Man, known formally as the Astra Militarum, or informally as the Imperial Guard.
When it comes to a universe packed full of nightmare-fuel xenos races such as the Necrons and Tyranids you’d have thought that standard-issue humans would be quickly trampled into the dust of whatever world they’re trying to stake a claim to. And you’re kind of right; it’s a widely reported statistic that the average lifespan of a guardsman in combat is 15 hours. But the grim reality of the Imperial Guard? There is always another Guardsman to step forward when a comrade falls.
The Astra Militarum is the largest coordinated fighting force in the galaxy. An endless tithe of fighting men and women are drawn from the planets under the Emperor of Mankind’s control forming an army that is countless billions strong. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of regiments are raised, transported to warzones and deployed into the meat grinder that holds back the endless tide of the Imperium’s enemies. Once you’ve been enlisted into the Astra Militarum you’re no longer a citizen of your homeworld, you’re a Guardsman and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever return to your planet.
The Imperial Guard are the first response to a threat or attack after the forces garrisoning a planet, known as the Planetary Defence Force, fails to resist it. Regiments will be deployed in whatever combination the command structure feels is appropriate and engage the enemy. Their tactics are often heavy handed, earning the Astra Militarum the moniker ‘The Hammer of the Emperor’ – as opposed to the precision of the Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes who get labeled as ‘The Scalpel of the Emperor’.
The Origins of the Astra Militarum
The founding of the Astra Militarum dates back to the Great Crusade in the 30th Millenium as the Emperor of Mankind lead his Space Marine forces to conquer the galaxy and unite the dispersed human settlers. While the heavy lifting of the crusade was done by the Space Marines they were a limited force and the vast interstellar distances made it impossible for them to face all the threats and demands for military force. Instead the Emperor created the Imperial Army, a huge force of soldiers supported by everything from sentinel walkers to super-heavy tanks and interstellar spacecraft. They initially served to garrison planets and mop up resistance in the wake of the Adeptus Astartes assaults. They didn’t directly attack the enemies of the Imperium, but once the resistance was broken they prevented resurgences and maintained compliance to the will of the Emperor. Again, distances and the demands of the Great Crusade altered the role of the Imperial Army over time, and eventually they were deployed to the forefront of the advance assaulting planets alongside the Space Marines.
When the events of the Horus Heresy occured the Imperial Army was also engulfed in the civil war, with it’s forces and fleets deploying to support both sides of the conflict. In the aftermath of the fighting the Imperium Army was dissolved and completely restructured to prevent the possibility of rebellion on such a large scale being repeated by the military leaders of the Imperium. The soldiery were restructured into the Astra Militarum, divided into planet sized forces known as Militarum Regimentos that were further subdivided into smaller regiments. The principle of ‘Masters of Discipline’ from the Imperial Army was carried forwards, with the Officio Prefectus deploying Commissars to each of these regiments to ensure the unwavering discipline and loyalty of the men serving the Emperor.
The space fleets of the Imperial Army were in turn reorganised into the Navis Imperialis or Imperial Navy. Ground commanders would never again command interstellar craft, leaving them reliant on the Navy for transport between worlds – meaning that if future Imperial Guard regiments turned traitor they would be unable to spread this treachery between planets.
Imperial Guard Regimental Structure
There is no universally applied process for structuring an Imperial Guard regiment, the planets that found the regiments can organise the forces as they see fit. Some regiments prefer to lean into the support of armoured vehicles and form mechanised forces, some specialise in sieges and become experts in trench and urban warfare and still others use skills developed in soldiers raised on jungle planets to become expert at guerilla warfare in jungle worlds. The variety of forces is as diverse as the Imperium itself and there is a regiment that serves whatever purpose the Emperor requires of them. However, a lot of forces are structured in the same way as notable Militarum Regimentos that have proved the success of their forces in battle. The key example of this is the Cadian Shock Troops – thousands of other regiments copy their regimental organisation as they’re widely regarded as the Imperiums most successful regiment.
The reality of life as a Guardsman can be bleak, unforgiving and quickly forgotten. On every front of the Imperium a countless number of heroic deaths occur everyday and the soldiers involved are merely noted as statistics on a ledger of the dead. That said, heroes of the Imperium do rise to positions of power and prominence serving as inspirations to grunts across the galaxy, and many regiments rise to prominence on their soldiers exploits, their actions and victories being heralded across the Imperium as uplifting propaganda for the citizens. You can find loads of stories of them in the tomes of the Black Library.
We’re going to be going into detail on some of the notable regiments of the Astra Militarum in future articles, but some of the most well known ones are:
Cadian Shock Troops
As mentioned they are widely regarded as the most successful regiment and their structure is copied by regiments across the galaxy, they’ve repeatedly defended Cadia against Chaos Space Marine invasions until the planet was destroyed. It’s widely said that the planet broke before the guard did as the survivors fight on regardless.
Catachan Jungle Fighters
Famed as some of the toughest soldiers in the galaxy they’re raised on an incredibly unforgiving, densely jungle covered deathworld and consequently are unrivaled at jungle warfare.
Death Korps of Krieg
Another notorious regiment the Death Korps seek atonement for their planets betrayal of the Imperium. The loyalists overcame the traitors by sacrificing everything and launching nuclear armageddon on their homeworld, and now all they can offer is manpower to repay their debt.
Armageddon Steel Legion
The Steel Legion of Armageddon have defended their planet from two huge Ork invasions lead by none other than Ghazghull Thrakka in fights that match their planets name. The soldiers are experts in siege and attrition warfare and very good at killing greenskins.
Elysian Drop Troopers
The Elysians are the some of the premier airborne troops in the Astra Militarum, making use of transport aircraft and grav chutes to deliver their elite troopers to the heart of the battlefield, and while they don’t make much of use of heavy armour they offer broad tactical versatility.
Another elite airborne regiment the Harakoni soldiers develop an unparalleled ability to judge ai currents (and be fearless about heights) as they hunt vapourwyrms in the valleys around their hive cities. They often form elite strike forces in Imperial forces.
Mordian Iron Guard
The Iron Guard bring discipline to another level, dour and duty focused they turn out in fine uniforms when they enter the battlefield. Some enemies underestimate them based on their looks, until they form lines in parade ground ranks and destroy their foes with unyielding volleys of las-fire.
Tallarn Desert Raiders
There aren’t many regiments that match the Tallarn for mobile warfare. Adapted to guerilla hit and run actions thanks to their desert homeworld they make use of armoured personnel carriers and even horses to move troops rapidly and attack the enemy before they even know they’re there.
Valhallan Ice Warriors
Valhalla is a world encased in ice, and its soldiers have been forced to adapt to fighting in sub-zero conditions. Their planet was beleaguered by an Ork invasion that was only overcome in the final moments. They’re known for their ability to fight Orks and their determination to fight on regardless of the odds.
The firstborn come from a prosperous industrial hive world and are another regiment that seeks to atone for past sins. The Vostroyans refused orders to send their troops to aid the Emperor during the Horus Heresy, instead focusing on manufacturing weapons and munitions. They were met with mercy after the Heresy, and seek to repay this by giving their first-born sons to the Emperors service. They consider this an honour and are known for given their soldiers the best possible equipment they can produce.
If you liked this article you might be interested in learning some of the foes the Imperium faces! Check out our posts the Orks, Necrons and Tyranids!
Did you enjoy this article or found it helpful? You could always tip the author with a coffee (or something stronger). If you want to pick up any Astra Militarum units for your own army (or buy something else) then check out Element Games. They have up to 25% off on a wide range of units, box sets and accessories. Finally, make sure you’re following us on Instagram to stay up to date and get involved in our community!
Leave a Reply