Playing EPIC in 28mm.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Creating the Imperial Guard.

So longer term readers will recall my series of posts about the viability of M41 Space Marine Chapters, the whys and wherefores of the inquisition and how the DM supports the IG.  But what of the IG ?

As you read this, please remember that I am generalising, this is an exploration of ideas for the background for the Grimdark, not a real political/military essay, despite the illustrations.   Hopefully it’s food for thought.

Tiawanese conscripts
The fluff is stuffed full (and always has been, which is weirdly consistent for this game) of tales of martial societies presenting regular tithes of fully formed and armed regiments, gangs from underhives conscripted by force and tribes from deathworlds, horse borne warriors from feudal worlds and loads of others in between.  Whole armies of volunteers, holy warriors, conscripts, professional soldiers, militia, farmers, criminals, web designers, redeemed harvest clanners, people who fight because they must, because they can, because they should and because they don’t have any other option.

All of these people represent 10,000 years of human diaspora since the Horus Heresy.   Across over a million worlds, living in every conceivable mode of governance and variation of society, family and culture.  We have examples in the fluff of where stiff upper lip formations jeopardise or harm the Imperial war effort due to their mindset.   The Imperium has had 10,000 years to sort this out, but hasn’t. 

The obvious answer to this seemly solvable conundrum is that the losses involved have always been made up from available resources.  But as world after world is lost and the available resources decrease over time, this will become a problem.  The fluff as is seems to leave the impression that, possibly only a century or so after this tipping point, we are witnessing the point where the Imperium is under such pressure that if it does not embrace critical thought instead of ages old dogma, it will pass the point of continued viability.

But what of the problems with integrating all of those disparate humans into a working military apparatus ?

USMC Drill Instructor giving some handy hints to one of his charges. 
The issues the US military has taking young men from the oil field of Alaksa, farms of Arkansas,  Bible thumping heartlands, Hispanic communities and hard edged east-coast capitalist bastions are, these days, somewhat mitigated by America’s widespread access to common culture through television, education and technology.  Contemporary accounts from recent conflicts do mention these differences, but more as literary colour than any real difficulty[1].

May Day Parade.  Very 'IG' in scale.
Across the vastness of the former Soviet Union, a vast army has well documented troubles due at least in part due to its scale and the relationship between geography and communication technology.  Russia’s paramilitary security forces were widely mobilised for the first Chechnya war – they were noted for having vastly different performance in combat due to units from different locations having vastly different levels of training, professionalism and equipment. 

At what might be the zenith of its power, the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the British Empire managed to meld together armies from across what is now the commonwealth by dint of officering almost all of its units with public school boys from the UK who had been through the same officer training establishments.   Arguably, this was possibly the most important factor in successful imperial wars[2], not necessarily that these officers were any good (although the war office did obviously recognise a need for a certain level of common professionalism), but that they were culturally homogenous and shared understanding of military knowledge and purpose[3].

The British Military has for a long time, stretching back to Napoleonic times[4], a culture of institutionalised off duty alcohol abuse as bonding mechanism, in certain units, being in the right drinking circles has been as important as blood and class ties of previous centuries.   With Operational theatres being ‘dry’, parts of the modern US military wholly embrace chewing tobacco.  The Afghan National Army was often viewed as barely functional when off duty soldiers were smoking marijuana – by western mentoring teams were probably incapacitated to a far greater degree during their last mess function[5].

Armies that commanders expect to function must have self-belief,  for some contemporary armies, this manifests itself as in certain uniform items which in past have designated elite status being worn by a much wider population to encourage espirit de corps .   We (on both sides of the pond) are familiar with a regimental system which embraces tens or even hundreds of years of history – ask most people who have served in the British Army where their Regiment was at Waterloo and most of those in the combat arms can tell you.   Thousands of words have been written about why men fight, ‘for their comrades’ always comes out on top, but the weight of history and expectations of wearing that cap badge is also very strong.

OMON Officer wearing striped jersey copied from the Russian Airborne Forces.

Rolling forwards 30,000 years and that espirit de corps may well manifest itself in units raised from militarily focussed worlds like Mordia, Kreig and Vostroya[6].  Others do not enjoy this historical (military) advantage.

People drawn from worlds where the unit for warriors is the tribe or liege lord’s retinue or warband[7] are going to behave differently; on parades where they are being addressed by a General these cohesive groups of individuals might spend more time eyeing each other up than listening to a keynote speech[8].   Individuals unused to parades like this may just get up and walk off[9].

Zulu.  A few Impis could well satisfy a planetary Governor's obligation
There are many apocryphal tales of individuals from 2nd and 3rd world countries attending 1st world training establishments (including other non-military situations, the Olympics spring to mind for some reason) where persons have to be constantly dissuaded from cooking their own food over open fires or petrol burners in corners of accommodation blocks or other public spaces.  You can tell people where the cookhouse[10] is but if they culturally all cook their own food, then they might just nod and smile and carry on doing what they always have done.  Dropping a pastorialist or hunter gatherer in to a barracks in uniform is only the beginning.  Some of these people will not have worn shoes before and will be required to learn a new language (hey, they got there in a space ship, they'll cope). 

Sierra Leone's West Side Boys.
Some of those who are enlisted for the Emperor’s wars will be from strongly patriarchal, even misogynistic cultures.  Others will represent more enlightened cultures with mixed or wholly female units.  Some will be deeply religious, others less so.  Some will feature units where holding hands is common, some where favourite off duty pass times include cross dressing, some where individual morality is a strong factor, some where catamites are a perk of higher status.  Constant assessment at every stage and finding a suitable army for the unit to join will be what the Departmento Munitorium officials have been doing for thousands of years. 

More Russians. Just different ones.
The incredible diversity of the Imperial Guard and the almost constant risk of internecine combat breaking out, the inadvertent burning down of training establishments by accidental cookery, mass food poisoning through bootleg bushmeat and reheated poultry, mean that the Departmento Muntorium  has had to develop a strategy for ensuring that the tithe is not wasted. 

The first part of the strategy is cadres.  In the same way that colonial powers of the 19th century led their locally raised units with their own officers, so the DM will use cadres from its reliably military sources[11] to train and lead units raised form places with a less martial outlook.   Whether this is a permanent arrangement, with the cadre become the command echelon of the unit, or whether they are ‘only’ there in a mentoring role, is going to be dependent on circumstances.

Legion de Etranger - successfully doing what I'm talking about for about 200 years. 
Second phase cadres will be those IG regiments who have ‘done their bit’.  Possibly settled on a ‘trophy world’, possibly retired to a quiet garrison post – a regiment where the bulk of the personnel are getting towards the top end of fighting age, settled with intention of allowing time for them to raise a new generation (who will grow up in a culture where nearly everyone in authority was a member of the same military unit) who will them provide the next tithe.  This could go for generation after generation, if circumstances allow.  Some of these garrison worlds, by M41, will have been inhabited by retired iggies for possibly thousands of years, its own population subsumed in the population so long ago it’s not even in available records[12].

Much rarer would be the circumstance where a regiment could be reinforced by a fresh intake of recruits from its own homeworld.  Much more common would be breaking up no longer functional regiments as Battle Casualty Replacements for still functional regiments from the same homeworld, or at least one where they have something in common.  The sensationalistic GW fluff loves smashing regiments from disparate origins/different strategies, tactics and technological competence and them either being the worst things ever or superlatively good[13].  The point is that arrangements are in place to preserve experience and that invaluable espirit de corps. 

The second part would be mustering/training/equipping worlds.   The Departmento Muntitorium supports war on a vast scale; the Sabbat Crusades, the “100 Regiments of the Crusade of Fire” and even 72nd Army Group on Devos IV.  All of these require tens or hundreds of regiments.  These would have to be supplied from Forge Worlds to ensure some degree of interoperability of weapons and equipment.    Tithed bodies of men would arrive in whatever state they arrived in and leave, perhaps years later, organised and deployable as an Imperial Guard regiment.  This is not to say that they are all going to look and behave the same, simply that they can function as a part of a larger army. 

Irish OCS
These establishments could also possibly be thousands of years old (maybe not the infrastructure, but it’s place in wider imperial culture and in administrative terms as far as the DM is concerned).  And well set up and practiced at taking a body of men in whatever state they arrive in and taking appropriate action to turn them into a formation which can contribute to the fighting power of a larger army.

A third part is the Schola Progenitum.  I’m guessing if you’ve read this far you have your own ideas and opinions about these.  I think that there probably ought to be one on every planet with a space port.  Some will be modest, some could be huge.  Vast, even.

The fourth facet of the strategy is the Commissariat.  This is why Commissars belong to the DM and not the Imperial Guard – the power of life and death has the net result of furthering the aims of the IG, but is granted on behalf of the DM in order to provide continued assurance that the unit will continue to do what it is supposed to.  The Commissar's purpose as part of the Departmento Munitorium is to take any measure necessary to ensure the functionality of the unit. 

What these training establishments do not have to do is to train people who are already seasoned fighters into a crack infantry (armoured/airborne/artillery/etc) unit.  Of course, if the draftees have no combat training or experience when they arrive, then this is provided.  However, if they are already capable, they may only need conversion training to new weapon systems; the establishments are more properly concerned with the new intake addressing administrative detail like accurate reporting[14] (of manning levels, casualties, numbers of enemies sighted, etc).

A military structure that many of you may recognise as a modern military pattern is also not something strictly necessary for assimilation into the IG or successful campaigning.  I refer you to the Tanith 1st and Only, who appear, despite being the size of ‘a normal IG Regiment’ seem most of the time to have only two commissioned Officers and one NCO and still manages to function.   So there is no requirement for a regularised rank structure.  It is entirely possible that the DM doesn’t give a hoot how big sub units are either – so we needn’t expect a Regiment to be split into three battalions of four rifle companies of equal size[15].

A ~5,000 man IG regiment from a feudal world could include the warbands of over 800 cheiftains of varying size who would constantly re-brigade together along ethnic or tribal lines depending on the current situation.  As long as the overall corpus follows the leadership of their anointed leader, the regiment can still hold a place in one of the IG’s expeditionary armies[16].   This is what the Commissars are really for, ensuring that the mid-level chiefs use their influence to ensure that the commanders intentions are carried out.   Given these circumstances, the on the spot execution of dissenters looks like a viable management tool.   The DM is not short of recruits for the IG, some bits more skilled (useful) can be more carefully handled, those which are used as a blunt tool will tend to be controlled with blunt tools.

Of course the Departmento Munitorium would prefer to accept foundings of Regiments like the Gudrun Rifles, Tanith Frist and Only and DKK.  But more often will take even formed military units and pass them through its training establishment worlds, just to be sure of a good fit into whatever army they are going into.  And to assess the unit’s capability and readiness for deployment.  

This is getting a bit long so I’ll leave you with a couple of things to think about:

·         Staff colleges where those earmarked for greatness are removed from their native culture and schooled in the ways of the DM and the wider Imperial Guard.
·         Some Regiments leave behind their nearest and dearest forever.
·         Some Regiments will have a ‘baggage train’ of families, children and other non-combatants.
·         The institutionalised inflexibility for which the DM is (in)famous.

  • Locally raised Regiments who havn't been through homogenisation. 

I know that none of this new or spectacular, but it does make for some interesting fluff….

[1] And there can be benefits; Native American code talkers, Japanese American units etc are all well documented examples of diversity being a positive asset.
[2] Imperial wars appear mostly to be the imperial power controlling the conquered population or defending its imperial territory from outside aggression – mostly (Hittite, Chinese, Roman, British, French [you could include the ‘Vietnamization’ of that war and the ‘Iraqi/Afghan solution to an Afghan/Iraqi problem] empires all did this) local troops with imperial leadership.
[3] My emphasis (obviously) but purpose – on a wider level as well as understanding the commander’s intentions on the ground, as vital to success.  After all, if you don’t what the objectives are, you will not know when or even if you’ve won.  Or lost.
[4] The same units, same messes, preserve by tradition (which is as we know stronger than regulation or law) that which has gone before.  Including institutionalised alcohol abuse.
[5] Leaving one with the unenviable task of comparing a little after duty social smoking with sustained and relentless alcohol abuse.
[6] And all the others.
[7] Askari, ashiguru, housecarls or whatever else they may be called.
[8] Or, more importantly, an orientation or operational briefing.
[9] If their culture is one where personal fealty to a great warrior who has to prove himself personally to his followers, then the individual is not going to comprehend how ‘important’ the General is, much less being inclined to wait around and listen.
[10] Mess, Galley, cookhouse, refactory, dining room etc.  So many different names for a place to eat.  It’s the same with the ablutions/toilets/head/john/bathroom/etc.  And culturally these all function differently (do you sign for your meal ?  Do you pay for your meal ?). It’s going to be confusing and people won’t automatically know what to do, even if it’s their ‘own’ establishment they are in.
[11] Cadia, Krieg, Mordia, Valhalla, Vostroya, Tallarn, Narmenia, Catachan etc.  One can only hope that the DM examines the candour of the new tithing and sends them the most appropriate mentors.
[12] Agripinna.  Almost certainly
[13] Yawn.
[14] This can be a problem if the individuals who make up the unit are not literate.  Illiterate soldiers required to report into a modern army can be seen as liars or fantasists.  Unreliable reporting and inability to keep records (for things like feeding states and ammunition accounting) make the job of the Departmento Munitorium officials exponentially harder.
[15] And HQ Companies in each Bn and supporting arms and detachments at Regimental level.
[16] It might wear uniform and march in formed bodies of men when the Commissars crack the whip, but may well abandon imposed regular formations and personalise their uniform to a point where it isn’t (uniform), but such an uncivilised regiment ‘going feral’ in contact with the enemy might not be a disaster, it could even be an advantage.  However, in the training establishment, on troop transports transiting the empyrean and sailing through the void, a tight lid needs to be kept on the barbarian hordes in the IG. 


  1. I was always under the impression that a large part the IG comes from PDF units. One of the biggest issues the DM would have to deal with is the logistics of collecting men, equipment, etc. and then getting them to the warzone. My understanding is that part of that logistics process is that troop ships, which would have to collect the forces from their home planets, would probably provide them with stock IG equipment (or would have to stop off somewhere to pick up that equipment) and then providing time during transit to the required area for training. I'm guessing depending on the tithe situation (how urgent things are, how many other units have already been sent from that planet, how little the Planetary Governor can get away with, etc) the training may be more or less intense, and more or less based on basic military principles or more advanced stuff depending on the quality of the recruits or the journey time. Troop ships are vulnerable (and valuable) so would travel in convoy. Convoys mean multiple ships to be worth the escorts, which might mean multiple visits to different systems to fill the ships and make it worth the escorts time. Which means some units would have more training times than others and some would be more professional than others. Your comments on the societies they come from would be a major part as well.

    The DM has been doing that (collecting and training troops) a lot, so I am guessing part of that process would be making sure that the various DM elements and support were present on the ships. Troop ships would probably be on a constant loop between systems and warzones - and I am guessing they would get quite efficient at the whole training and equipping routine. I would also guess that troop ships would work within a specific sector for most of their operational lives, which would mean they would see certain cultures repeatedly, and the local DM institution would have lots of experience working with foundlings from specific planets, their recruitment, training, psychology, etc. While the fluff has the imperium as being totally inefficient, it can't be so inefficient as all that, else it wouldn't function. And the feeding of units into the grinder that is total war on that scale must be something they are good at. Troop ships would be the space borne 'institutions' - mobile military cities, catering for every aspect of training and military life.

    In the longer term, I think units become less 'local' and more 'of the guard'. This probably helps units intergrate and work together. When you have seen hell itself on a load of planets, might never see home again and probably share more in common now with your fellow guardsmen than you do with your homeworld residents... I would think that units become gradually more similar.

    1. Absolutely, I think that is entirely correct; I think that the staging post training world type places I mentioned would also be a part of that - to take units from planets who do not regularly contribute to the tithe or where the contribution is not a formed PDF unit. Also, where there is a ongoing war (like the sabbat crusades, for instance) on the door step, the DM will use up all of the PDF units in the vicinity and need to broaden their recruiting base somewhat will add to the need for the staging/training worlds.

      The longer serving more homogenised units you mention will eventually be those chosen to settle with other longer serving units to form populations from which to raise new units.

      And, yes, as you say, the monumental waste of resources mentioned has to be one offs and other apocryphal tales.

    2. I would suppose that the times that a planet was unprepared for the collection of troops would be quite rare. Given the time delay in Warp travel, astropathic communication, etc. A planet might have months or years to recruit and train a unit (units? it seems unlikely that a normal size planet would only be asked for a few thousand men. I would think for it to be worth the while of even collecting them there would have to be tens or hundreds of thousands of personnel - taking into account planetary population and the likes) before it is collected. I know there are tales of gangs being rounded up and the likes, but if memory serves that was on a planet currently under attack, rather than a 'normal' tithe.

      The tithe would also, theoretically, have to include the staff and such that the DM would need to support the tithe?

      To be honest, the whole numbers thing is also a bit of a head scratcher. A regiment is what size on average? 3000, 30,000, 300,000? How many men would you need to defend a planet? Or attack a planet? Given that attackers generally need a 3:1 advantage, attacks on things like Hive Worlds would take billions of troops. Maintaining security within one hive on a hive world would take millions of military and paramilitary personnel. Attacking defended positions with a hostile population and millions of PDF would take so many thousand or hundred thousand regiments. Then all the support. Obviously smaller, less densely populated planets would take far less. But even looking at the North West Europe campaign of WW2, there were hundreds of thousands of troop fighting over a relatively small portion of the planets surface - and the front line was no where near continuous. A Division then was roughly 13 to 17 thousand men - so to that scale a planet raising regiments calls into question what size those regiments are. I've always thought they would have to be at least divisional sized by our understanding just to make sense, and be able to absorb the casualties and remain combat effective for any amount of time.

    3. Yes, viewed like that, the numbers alone make any star-spanning deployment of an IG army seem like a miracle. Adding in logistics support makes the task even larger.

      In fact, it makes the maintenance of a mere Space Marine chapter seem incredibly easy by comparison.

  2. Love it - thanks!

    Naturally, I'm a big fan in particular of Different Russians and Footnote 13...

  3. Footnote 13 gets my vote as well.

    One of the more engaging pieces you've written mate, very nice.