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Literature / Imperial Guard

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For every hero commemorated, a thousand martyrs die unmourned and unremembered.
Imperial Guard Proverb

The Imperial Guard is the collective military of normal humans and the military backbone of the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000. It has been said that if the Space Marines are the tip of the Imperium's spear, the Guard are the rest of the spearhead, the shaft and the man holding it. While often the designated victim in works featuring other forces, the Guard appears to have considerable success in the 41st millennium, as well as having a considerable favor with the fans.


Besides the popular Gaunt's Ghosts, Ciaphas Cainnote , and The Last Chancers series, they feature in Fifteen Hours, Death World and Rebel Winter (collected in the Imperial Guard omnibus), Steven Lyon's Ice Guard, Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Cadian Blood, Steve Parker's Gunheads, Desert Raiders, and Henry Zhou's Flesh and Iron, just to name a few. They also commonly appear in other 40K works, such as Henry Zhou's The Emperor's Mercy, and Graham McNeill's Storm of Iron. The Guard also got their own game in the 40K roleplaying series, Only War.

Not to be confused with Praetorian Guard,note  which is the trope of imperial/elite guards as a whole.


The novels about the Imperial Guard provide examples of the following:

  • The Bait: In Baneblade, the taskforce led by Mars Triumphant is this, distracting Ork forces from one side while other Imperial forces attack elsewhere.
  • Bug War: Typically Guard vs Tyranids. "Desert Raiders" is a Bug War with a twist.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: The Cadians in general and the Kasrkin, oh boy the Kasrkin.
    • The Kasrkin had a standout moment in the second Eisenhorn book. Totally dedicated badasses. The squad escorting Eisenhorn are surprised by a daemonhost, and the ones that die don't go down like Red Shirts.
    • In-universe, elite units like Storm Troopers or Kasrkin are often derided as "Glory Boys" and "Toy Soldiers" by the regular soldiery. The Kasrkin actually prove to be an exception, at least to the run-of-the-mill Cadian guardsmen serving with them, who recognize their superior abilities and look up to them. Not to mention that one of the reasons for Kasrkin's respect was their selection from rank and file in contrast to Stormtrooper's training.
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    • Death Korps Grenadiers as well, more so than other Veterans, as they usually match the Kasrkins stated above (and are still viewed as cannon fodder, being the first ones charging the enemy).
  • Empathic Weapon: In Gunheads, Wulfe is disgruntled with his new tank, Last Rites II, because it was not its predecessor. When it breaks down near the end, he grumbles that she could not have picked a worse time, and the rest of the crew point out that she could have easily have picked a far worse time — she had carried them farther than any of the other tanks and broken down near safety. Wulfe realizes that he owes her more respect and when his commander makes the same comment he had, Wulfe repeats his men's objections.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: In Ice Guard by Steve Lyons, the planet Cressida is plunged into an ice age-like state by the Chaos powers that are taking it over.
  • Glory Hound:
    • In Mitchel Scanlon's novel Fifteen Hours, it's what kills the protagonist: he is part of a recon team on the field of the day's battle, led by an officer looking for an easy medal. Things go horribly wrong, most of the team being killed by scavenging Orks.
    • In Steve Parker's Gunheads, General deViers starts out as a competent and respected commanding officer but after his previous campaign turns from a major victory into a massive disaster, he becomes obsessed with preserving his legacy. He sends his Army Group to attack an Ork world in the hopes of retrieving a legendary battle tank. If he can accomplish his goal he will be proclaimed a hero of the Empire and will earn a spot in the history books. The fact that his entire Army Group is getting destroyed in the campaign does not seem to matter to him at all.
  • High Turnover Rate: Fifteen Hours is named after the average life expectancy of new Guardsmen in the book's war zone.
  • Hope Spot: Desert Raiders has one after the regiment has managed to destroy the Tyranid swarm in a series of Heroic Sacrifices and Last Stands. There are only a few survivors and they are without supplies in the middle of the desert. Still they are hopeful that they can last till the fleet returns. Then they found out that the defeated swarm was just a scout force and the main swarm is arriving.
  • Last Stand:
    • In Cadian Blood, the Cadian forces are unimpressed by the Last Stand of some New Meat: they can tell by where the bodies fell. Later, Seth makes a more impressive Last Stand in the Battle in the Center of the Mind, and though the daemon kills him, he dies laughing and saying the look at the daemon's face made the fight worth it.
    • In Gunheads, the 98th is staging a Last Stand — the colonel refused to try to escape and went to hold up their regimental banner to encourage them — when the Gunheads arrive. (The colonel is perfectly willing to escape if the tanks can open up a corridor where his men can escape.)
    • In Henry Zhou's The Emperor's Mercy, Imperial Guardsmen are surrounded by Chaos forces and are fighting on, despite dying of hunger and disease. Roth tells Celemine that they had no choice but to stay with them. The commander hears and instantly wants to fight a last charge: they can get them to their ship and hold off the enemy — and that way, they can be remembered. (They are. In fact, their eighteen minutes defense of the ship is immortalized in a mural on Terra.)
  • The Medic: In Gunheads, Wulfe's Back Story includes an incident where a medic jumped to save him from a wound that would have killed him. A few days later, the medic was captured by Orks and tortured to death. Wulfe thinks that he's still trying to avenge him.
  • The Men First: In Gunheads, the colonel of the 98th refused to try to escape a Last Stand when the Gunheads arrive. He immediately asks if the tanks can open up a corridor where he and his men can escape.
  • Remember That You Trust Me: In Gunheads, Siegler blurts out that they know Wulfe was helped by a ghost (in the Back Story), and with that out, his squad tell him that they were hurt that he didn't tell them.
  • Superpowered Mooks: The Death Guard in Cadian Blood.
  • Tarot Motifs: In Cadian Blood, the regiment's sanctioned psyker, having read the cards, boldly asks to speak with the Space Marine librarian about "the Emperor's Tarot". This conversation leads to a general warning.


Example of: