The term "battle barge" does not refer to a single designation or class of warship as such, but rather is a title given to any variant or retrofit of battleship class hull modified and optimised for use by the ancient Legiones Astartes or present-day Adeptus Astartes, specifically for Space Marine planetary assault and ship-to-ship boarding actions.
Battle barges are extremely powerful starships and were designed during the Great Crusade with only one purpose in mind -- assaulting other planets. A battle barge is primarily configured for the close support of planetary assaults and surface landings and carries numerous bombardment turrets and torpedo tubes.
A large amount of the starship's hull space is dedicated to launch bays for intra-system spacecraft like Thunderhawks and Drop Pods and up to three Space Marine companies are capable of deploying simultaneously.
A battle barge is extremely heavily armoured and possesses heavily reinforced Void Shields so that it can breach planetary defences without harm coming to its precious inhabitants and their lethal cargoes. The battle barge is a literal mobile fortress in any situation in which an opponent seeks to board one with hostile intent.
A battle barge is essentially one of the most potent starships deployed by the Imperium of Man, easily equivalent in power to that of an Imperial Navy battlecruiser or even a battleship when the additional power of its Space Marine contingent is added to the equation.
The conduct of the Great Crusade required vessels by the thousands, vessels that could not only carry armies and bring apocalyptic destruction to bear, but that could also endure the perilous transit of Warpspace and endure the titanic forces and hardships of the Empyrean and the Deep Void both.
Military vessels were needed, not only to replace losses but meet the ever-expanding demands of the Expeditionary Fleets, the Armada Imperialis and, on a lesser scale, the Rogue Traders and local navies.
To satisfy this constant need, a bewildering variety of classes of warship were developed to fulfil an equally bewildering variety of roles. Battle barges, a development of the Great Crusade, were not a single designation or class as such, but rather a term given to any variant or refit of battleship class hull modified and optimised for use by the Legiones Astartes specifically for Space Marine planetary assault and ship-to-ship boarding actions, although purpose-built ships of this role had also been constructed, particularly in the Great Crusade's later years.
In common parlance, however, any capital vessel used by the Legiones Astartes exclusively was often referred to as a "battle barge" regardless of the technical truth of the matter.
After the Horus Heresy, measures were taken to contain the power of the Space Marine Legions, solemn decrees that would ensure no single individual could ever again command such might in isolation. As is well-documented, the Legions, each numbering thousands of Space Marines, were divided down into smaller warhosts called Chapters; each of only a thousand warriors.
What is perhaps of greater importance is that the Space Marines were divorced from the old Imperial military: the new Adeptus Astartes Chapters would no longer hold dominion over vast fleets of battleships or grand regiments of vassal soldiery. If they were to triumph among the stars and stand resolute against the darkness of the void, they would need to work within the Imperium, and as part of it.
Since that time, Space Marines have been granted only such warships as are needed to patrol their system borders, and deliver them to battle. To this day, the primary function of their fleets has been to transport battle-ready forces of Space Marines into war.
Though formidably armed and armoured, the battle barges of the Space Marines are no exception to this rule, and were designed first and foremost to facilitate full-scale planetary assaults. Each has enough hold space to accommodate three full companies of Space Marines, along with their vehicles and support elements.
Indeed, the majority of a battle barge's interior hull-space is given over to launch bays, muster decks and transport holds. Housed there are squadrons of Thunderhawk gunships, an array of intra-system craft, and dozens of Drop Pods.
With such resources at its command, a battle barge can deploy almost all of its forces simultaneously, putting its entire complement of Space Marines on the front lines within minutes of reaching orbit. The speed and ease with which this is accomplished has caught many a foe off guard, allowing them little time to prepare before the Angels of Death bring fire and vengeance to their door.
Considering its size, a battle barge has little in the way of Space Marine crew. The warriors of the Adeptus Astartes are too rare and too valuable to be tasked with performing the myriad mechanical functions required to keep a warship at operational readiness. Instead, they act as officers, overseeing the ranks of servitors and Chapter serfs who carry out other, less critical duties; performing all of the menial and manual tasks unworthy of their Space Marine lords.
Yet even these subordinates are too precious to be wasted in the gunnery decks. Loading and calibrating a starship's weapons for firing is a perilous undertaking. Plasma wash, unscheduled detonations and residual radiation keep the attrition rates in these areas high. Those with enough luck and the fortitude to survive such daily toil are soon claimed by combat, beaten past their physical tolerance by a gang-master's whip or obliterated by enemy fire targeted to rob a battle barge of its capacity to attack.
With such high mortality rates, the crewing of the gun decks falls to an indentured underclass of slaves and vat-grown dregs. In this way, their worthless lives are given purpose, for even the lowliest may redeem themselves by giving their lives in service to the Emperor and the Imperium.
Armour and Shields
The magos-architects and master artificers who built the first battle barges knew full well the terrible storm of violence such a vessel would have to suffer. In order to deliver its payload of Space Marines and attack craft, a battle barge needs to enter a planet's orbit, leaving itself open to attack from nearby ships and ground-based orbital defences.
Depending on atmospheric and gravitational conditions, successful deployment may require the battle barge to enter a synchronous or low orbital hold, making it even more vulnerable to attack. To compound the problem, the sheer size of the vessel makes it easy to target, and its low engine power-to-mass ratio makes it unable to execute dynamic evades.
With deployment complete, a battle barge is then expected to remain defiant in orbit, an immovable object acting as guardian over the Space Marine units below. In short, a battle barge will absorb more fire and weather more damage in a single mission than most warships are capable of withstanding over the course of their service. Fortunately, a battle barge is almost indestructible.
Constructed with its unique role in mind, the battle barges' skeletons were forged from an ultra-dense alloy. The rare base mineral can only be mined from the sites of recent volcanic eruptions, and is further hardened by ballast compression tanks situated on high-gravity moons.
The pressurised environment hardens the alloy, ensuring the superstructure is as solid as the doors protecting the Emperor's throne room itself. These inner frameworks were then girded in kilometres of hardened plasteel and adamantium, and edged with thick ferrocrete buttresses that surround the main hull like a reinforced rib-cage. Finally, a second and ablative layer of armour was added to each vessel's prow, forging an impenetrable figurehead for the indomitable fury of a battle barge.
Like all Warp-capable vessels, battle barges are protected by Gellar Fields, arcane devices that create a bubble of realspace around a ship as it passes through the tides of the Immaterium. Unlike Imperial Navy warships that are required to spend large portions of their deployment guarding a single system, and who are called upon to travel in the Warp infrequently, battle barges are in constant motion, traveling from one war zone to the next without respite.
Such frequent Warp travel puts these prized vessels at great risk, and as such they are frequently outfitted with two inter-connecting Gellar Fields. Should one fail, the other will continue to protect the battle barge from the Warp's hostile environment and the foul entities that dwell there. Yet this extra precaution has not always proven enough. The denizens of that twisted realm are relentless and on at least one occasion have conspired to breach both fields simultaneously.
The Novamarines' battle barge Liberator, for example, was found drifting near its last recorded entry point. A stricken hulk, the initial salvage crew found no signs of life aboard. A Grey Knights Kill-team was dispatched to cleanse the ship, plunging into the madness that had enveloped it.
Reports of the incident are sealed, but even though their helm-logs reported a mission time of seven solar hours, it was more than a hundred solar days before they emerged from the craft.
In realspace, battle barges are protected by a group of layered Void Shields, wavering bands of energy that spark around the vessel to create a teardrop of invisible force. These energy barriers are capable of absorbing or deflecting the worst excesses of stellar radiation and meteor showers, and can sustain a succession of weapon hits and explosive impacts before overloading.
Once overloaded, the shield generators must be power-cycled in order to let them vent off the excess energy. This is not a simple process -- many slaves and Chapter serfs lose their lives in the resulting plasma fires and sparking energy discharge.
The shields protecting a battle barge are, however, among the most sophisticated that the Emperor's armies have at their disposal. Segmented into a series of zones, it is possible for an area of shield to fail without leaving the ship entirely exposed. Further to this, energy can be siphoned from one zone to another, and redirected to where there is the most need of protection.
In dire circumstances the shields' energy can be driven up past their normal maximum. This temporarily provides the Battle Barge with greater protection but soon burns out the generators, and renders the shields inert. Long is the list of bold Space Marine Captains who, when faced with overwhelming odds, have used this tactic to close to attack distance, and claim victory from certain defeat.
Though often severely damaged, some beyond repair, there are scant recorded reports of battle barges being destroyed outright. Perhaps this is just as well, for each Space Marine Chapter typically has only two or three of them under its command.
They are as much prized relics as warships, icons of strength and endurance that echo the might of the Space Marines, and the resources required to build them anew are difficult to come by. The loss of even a single one of these vessels would not only be a great blow to the military capabilities of a Chapter, but would also damage its morale, robbing it of part of its proud warrior history.
Ship to Ship
The Adeptus Astartes only engage enemy warships on favourable terms, if indeed at all. As has already been noted, battle barges were not built for naval engagements -- they lack the long-ranged firepower of larger capital ships and the maneuverability of light cruisers. In void combat a battle barge will rely on its heavier armour to close with enemy ships and launch devastating boarding actions.
As it closes, a battle barge can use the weapons batteries that stud much of its hull to rake the enemy with fire. Rank upon rank of plasma projectors, macro-laser cannons, missile racks and fusion beamers fire in diffuse salvos, a coordinated pattern of shots designed to strip a target's shields and overwhelm its close-range defences.
With its shields down, an enemy vessel is left open to a teleport assault. Few ships can survive such an attack, the swift wrath of a squad of Space Marines stalking their corridors and attacking critical systems. It is because of this that an enemy captain will do everything in his power to try and prevent a battle barge from drawing too near to his vessel.
If this form of close-range attack is untenable or proves ineffective, a battle barge can always fall back on its Bombardment Cannons. While their primary purpose is as orbital support weapons, they can be used to great effect against enemy warships. Though they lack the range of lance batteries and the fast reload times of standard ship-to-ship weapons, they more than make up for it in raw killing power. When magma shells impact upon another ship, they do not crash down through their hulls as they might with a planet's surface.
Instead, they break upon contact, erupting outwards, broiling over the surface of a vessel to strip away its plating and shred its battlements. The immense heat and shrapnel from the resultant explosion confuses automated defence turrets and sensors, allowing the Thunderhawk gunships and boarding torpedoes launched from the battle barge to close unharmed. A series of concurrent blasts is enough to knock an enemy ship off course, and a sustained assault from a bombardment cannon can cripple and blast apart even the largest of capital ships.
Although most Space Marine Chapters have a fortress-monastery housed on a moon or world, many do not. These Chapters have been forced into the void by war or cruel circumstance as spacefaring fleets.
To these Chapters, battle barges play an even more important role, forming bastions that carry the Chapter's legacy and a haven when pressed. Several Chapters are rumoured to possess even larger vessels adapted from the battle barge, or built by some other means.
As of 999.M41, the following Chapters are known to be almost entirely fleet-based, though this record is doubtless incomplete: Imperial Fists, Black Templars, Executioners, Black Dragons, Invaders, Charnel Guard, Minotaurs, Fire Hawks, Lamenters, Mantis Warriors, Relictors, Scythes of the Emperor, Carcharodons, Knights of Gryphonne.
Noteworthy Battle Barge Classes
- Ironclad-class Battle Barge
- Legate-class Battle Barge
- Warspite-class Battle Barge
- Gloriana-class Battleship
Notable Battle Barges
Great Crusade and Horus Heresy-Era Vessels
|Legio Custodes and the Emperor of Mankind||Bucephelus||Unknown|
|Dark Angels||Invincible Reason||Flagship of the I Legion; Status Unknown|
|Angel of Retribution||Unknown|
|Emperor's Children||Pride of the Emperor||Flagship of the III Legion; boarded and crippled at the Battle of Thessala|
|The Agony and the Ecstasy||Unknown|
|Wage of Sin||Unknown|
|Iron Warriors||Iron Blood||Status Unknown|
|White Scars||Swordstorm||Flagship of the V Legion; destroyed during the Battle of Catallus|
|Space Wolves||Hrafnkel||Flagship of the VI Legion; Declared missing by the Space Wolves|
|Allfather's Honour||Current Chapter flagship|
|Herald of Morkai||Unknown|
|Spear of Russ||Unknown|
|Imperial Fists||Antorax||Destroyed by Orks during War of the Beast|
|Hammer of Terra||Destroyed during Horus Heresy|
|Lanxium||Destroyed by Orks during War of the Beast|
|Spear of Vengeance||Unknown|
|Storm of Wrath||Unknown|
|Night Lords||Nightfall||Active, flagship of Gendor Skraivok's warband|
|Blood Angels||Red Tear||Crashed on Signus Prime, towed to Baal|
|Iron Hands||Armourum Ferrus||Unknown|
|Fist of Iron||Unknown|
|Metallus||Destroyed by the Diasporex|
|World Eaters||Conqueror||Active, Flagship of Chaos Lord Kossolax|
|Ultramarines||Macragge's Honour||Active, Flagship of Roboute Guilliman|
|Caesar||Destroyed during M'kar's Invasion|
|Excelsior||Destroyed in the Warp in 977.M35|
|Rath's Honour||Rescued the Raptors from Death World of Jemdal; Status Unknown|
|Seditio Opprimere||Active: Rebuilt after combat with Hive Fleet Behemoth|
|Death Guard||Endurance||Active, Flagship of the XIV Legion|
|Scion of Prospero||Unknown|
|Luna Wolves / Sons of Horus||Vengeful Spirit||Flagship of XVI Legion; currently flagship of the Black Legion|
|Harbinger of Doom||Unknown|
|Word Bearers||Fidelitas Lex||Flagship of XVII Legion; destroyed during the Shadow Crusade|
|Chronicle of Ashes||Captured by the Nemesis Chapter, renamed Lex Talonis|
|Destiny's Hand||Destroyed during the Battle of Calth|
|De Profundis||Destroyed by the Ultramarines vessel Samothrace|
|Infidus Imperator||Destroyed by Macragge's Honour during the Battle of Calth|
|Salamanders||Flamewrought||Flagship of the XVIII Legion; Status Unknown; A new battle barge of this name was built for the Salamanders Chapter in memory of Vulkan's flagship|
|Hammer of Nocturne||Unknown|
|Pyre of Glory||Unknown|
|Raven Guard||Shadow of the Emperor||Former flagship, destroyed at Istvaan V by the Terminus Est|
|Beta||Unknown, took part in attack on Ravendelve on Deliverance|
|Angels of Absolution||Liberatorii Delictum||Unknown|
|Astral Knights||Tempestus||Chapter flagship; destroyed in collision with the Necron World Engine; Hull recovered and converted into an Imperial shrine on the world of Safehold|
|Black Legion||Harbinger of Doom (formerly Magna Tyrannis)||Unknown|
|Black Templars||Eternal Crusader||Chapter Flagship|
|Abhorrence||Fought during War of the Beast; Status Unknown|
|Light of Purity||Unknown|
|Sigismund's Oath||Took part in Third War for Armageddon; Status Unknown|
|Blood Drinkers||Lux Rubrum||Current Chapter flagship|
|Blood Ravens||Litany of Fury||Unknown|
|Ominous Insight||Watches over Qulus Trine in Qulus System|
|Scientia Est Potentia||Unknown|
|Dauntless||Destroyed during the Acheron Campaign|
|Carcharodons||Nicor||Current Chapter Flagship|
|Doom Eagles||Doombearer||Took part in defence of Cadian Gate during 13th Black Crusade; Status Unknown|
|Executioners||Night Hag||Chapter Flagship|
|Fire Hawks||Absolute||Presumed lost in the Warp|
|Fists Exemplar||Alcazar Remembered||Took part in the War of the Beast; Status Unknown|
|Flesh Tearers||Victus||Chapter Flagship|
|Grey Knights||Bright Sword||Unknown|
|Fire of Dawn||Unknown|
|Redeemer of Souls||Unknown|
|Howling Griffons||Force of Destiny||Took part in Third War for Armageddon; Status Unknown|
|Imperial Hawks||Carmine Talon||Unknown|
|Lamenters||Daughter of Tempests||Unknown|
|Mantis Warriors||Endless Redemption||Unknown|
|Novamarines||Inexorable Fury||Destroyed by Craftworld Iyanden in 993.M41|
|Red Corsairs||Spectre of Ruin||Unknown|
|Red Scorpions||Auel's Bane||Unknown|
|Sword of Ordon||Unknown|
|Scythes of the Emperor||The Heart of Sotha (formerly Honour's Might)||Current Chapter flagship|
|Silver Skulls||Manifest Destiny||Unknown|
|Soul Drinkers||Carnivore||Presumed Destroyed|
|Thousand Sons||Tizca's Revenge||Current flagship of Daemon Primarch Magnus the Red|
|Warmongers||Allegiance of Terra||Unknown|
|White Consuls||Sword of Truth||Unknown|
- Gladius-class Frigate
- Gloriana-class Battleship
- Hunter-class Destroyer
- Nova-class Frigate
- Rapid Strike Vessel
- Strike Cruiser
- Vanguard Cruiser
- Battlefleet Gothic: Imperial Fleet, pp. 20-22, 26
- Battlefleet Gothic Resources: Imperial Fleets, pg. 22
- Battlefleet Gothic Armada II (PC Game) (Image)
- Codex: Black Templars
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition), pg. 14
- Codex: Grey Knights (5th Edition)
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition) (Digital Edition), pp. 54, 78, 87, 94, 106, 112, 115, 151
- Codex: Space Marines (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Tyranids (5th Edition), pg. 14
- Dark Heresy: Daemon Hunter (RPG), pg. 106
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 39, 345
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pg.54
- Imperial Armour Volume Five - The Siege of Vraks, Part One, pg. 54
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War, Part One
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War, Part Two
- The Horus Heresy - Book Three: Extermination (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, "Warships of the Great Crusade", pp. 15, 51, 53, 254
- Warhammer 40,000: Index Astartes - Volume I (Digital Edition)
- Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Shadows of Treachery (Anthology), "Crimson Fist" by John French, pp. 35, 37, 47-49, 51, 53-55
- Wolf's Honour (Novel) by Lee Lightner: [Needs Citation]
- Bringers of Death (Anthology), "Xenocide" by Simon Jowett, pg. 210
- Legion (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Chapter's Due (Novel) by Graham McNeill, Chapter Nine, pg. 124.
- The Gildar Rift (Novel) by Sarah Cawkwell
- Accursed Eternity (Novella) by Sarah Cawkwell
- The Emperor's Gift (Novel)
- Armageddon (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Macragge's Honour (Graphic Novel) by Dan Abnett and Neil Roberts
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (PC Game)
- Battlefleet Gothic Resources: Powers of Chaos, pg. 10
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III (PC Game)