- "Onward they came, silent save for the clatter of talons. No warcry on their lips, no cheers or taunts. Without mercy or jubilation, they solemnly slaughtered until nothing remained but silence."
- — Scrivener Cellivar Gehan
The Death Riders of Krieg are a famous and unique formation within the Death Korps of Krieg. These specialised units are superficially similar to the standard Rough Rider cavalry units found amongst numerous other Imperial Guard regiments from worlds where animals used as mounts or for draught purposes are commonplace. The Death Riders of Krieg are one of the most justly famous of the unique formations found within the forces of the Imperial Guard's Death Korps of Krieg regiments. The Death Riders make use of highly adaptable mounts who are descended from the original Terran horse but have been gene-tailored over the millennia for strength, endurance and aggression.
One of the most justly famous of the unique formations found within the forces of the Death Korps of Krieg are the Death Riders. Although superficially similar to Rough Rider cavalry units found among numerous other Imperial Guard regiments from worlds where riding mounts are commonplace, the Death Riders of Krieg are a direct result of Krieg's centuries-long civil war.
As the hugely destructive war raged across the face of Krieg, it became increasingly more difficult for the Loyalists and their traitorous enemies to field tanks and fighting vehicles. Supplies of parts and fuel quickly became scarce, the knowledge and manpower needed to pilot the vehicles and keep them operational dwindled as the war deaths mounted, and the very land itself became so blasted and broken that not even tracked vehicles could cross it with any ease. As vehicles succumbed to supply shortages, battle damage, and lack of crewmen, the loyalist Krieg turned to the ancient tactics of mounted cavalry to give them a competitive edge over their enemies. Breeding and genetically modifying the hardy local equines as warhorses and raising specially trained cavalry companies to ride them into battle, the loyalist forces unleashed these new mounted warriors on their unsuspecting foes with great results.
For nearly three standard centuries the Death Riders have been a staple of first the Loyalist forces of Krieg and then, once the rebellion was finally quashed and Krieg was brought back into the Imperial fold, of the Death Korps. Despite the fact that the Death Korps is now equipped with Leman Russ Tanks, Chimeras in all of their variety, and sufficient fuel, parts, and ammunition, the Death Riders still make up an important part of Krieg's tithe to the Imperial Guard. Every bit as dour and fatalistic as their infantry brethren, the Death Riders are, if anything, more eager to sacrifice themselves for the God-Emperor and the greater good of His Imperium. Faceless and nameless like the rest of the Death Korps -- even their Krieg Steeds wear heavy armoured respirators over their eyes and mouths, obscuring their strange equine faces -- the Death Riders throw themselves and their mounts into the midst of their enemies without a thought, typically at the culmination of a thunderous charge with fixed hunting lances. The grim solace they take in riding down the God-Emperor's enemies, along with the typical Krieg martyrdom complex, makes the Death Riders a very effective and dangerous unit.
Like their Attilan Rough Rider counterparts, the Death Riders are mounted on loyal steeds and used as fast attack units and scouting companies. However, whereas the Attilans use guerrilla tactics and lightning attacks to sow fear and confusion among their enemies, the heavy cavalry companies of the Death Riders use brute force and the strength of their mounts to carry the day. Their most singular aspect is the nature of the Death Riders' mounts -- the legendary Krieg Steed -- that is a highly adaptable form of the original Terran horse. This animal is now the product of extreme genetic engineering; tailored for strength, endurance and aggression, with numerous additional bio-sculpted organs that allow them to survive on the most polluted and toxic battlefields unscathed. Vat-grown on Krieg under the auspices of the Magi Biologis of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the animals are further augmented with sub-dermal organic armour, osmotic lungs, and a fully integrated drug injection system rigged with a potent mixture of stimulants, pain-blockers and other palliatives. The end result is that the Krieg Steed is capable of incredible levels of endurance and environmental tolerance. The Krieg Steed is also a weapon in its own right with its chemically enhanced aggression centres triggered at the rider's command, and virtually impossible to incapacitate short of massive bodily trauma.
Masters of the cavalry charge, the Death Riders pelt across the shattered battlefields of the galaxy, trampling and impaling their enemies. With little ceremony, these stoic fanatics charge directly into enemy formations to lay waste with their lances, heavy sabres, and sidearms, while their mounts bite, kick, and gouge the enemy into a trampled, bloody pulp. Death Riders never retreat once they have committed to the charge, instead they fight on until their enemies are destroyed or they are destroyed to a man, and only the most strong-willed or highly respected officer can cause them to call off their frenzied attack.
Death Rider Companies
The Death Riders form a special cadre within the regiments of the Death Korps of Krieg, and their inductees are chosen not only on the grounds of aptitude but also for independent thought and initiative. Many future Death Korps Officers are drawn from the ranks of the Death Riders' survivors. Death Riders are equipped with a variety of sidearms and sabre-blades, in addition to the signature explosive-tipped lance found in similar Rough Rider units. Death Rider companies are used both for battlefield reconnaissance, replacing the Sentinel's traditional role in the Krieg siege regiments, and as shock-troops, using their speed and impact to smash through enemy lines. They are commonly used in the role of reserves held back to break counter-attacks, or to press a breakthrough themselves. The Death Riders have earned their savage reputation among other Imperial Guard regiments for their merciless pursuit of fleeing enemy troops; it is standard practice for Death Korps of Krieg infantry to hold a freshly captured position while the Death Riders run down any routed defenders.
The Death Riders wear the same standard issue uniforms as the Death Korps infantry, including the distinctive heavy greatcoat. The Mark IX helmet is the same, with the extra badge attached to the front, marking the soldier as a Death Rider. The riders are selected for aptitude during the Death Korps Guardsman's training on Krieg, and will have already undergone a rigorous series of exercises on the surface of Krieg before deployment to their war zone. As well as his uniform, a Death Rider wears an ornamental breastplate. This is a cumbersome item, worn as a matter of tradition rather than practicality and many units choose to discard the item, especially when on long-range patrols, in order to conserve weight. It is made of plasteel with a hardened chrome facing. The uniform is completed by the tall, hard-wearing riding boots. These boots are also popular with high-ranking Death Korps Officers, themselves often men who have served with Death Rider squadrons in the past, as they are regarded to be much more comfortable than the Death Korps infantry's low marching boots.
The Death Riders' role as a siege regiment's reconnaissance forces (as well as acting as second-wave shock troops during a breakthrough) means they must carry a lot of equipment. Death Rider squadrons can operate far ahead or on the flanks of the main Krieg forces, and so must be self-sufficient. Saddlebags carry rations and other important supplies such as chemical filters, along with bedrolls and spare ammunition. Death Riders commonly wear Type V respirator units, the same type issued to Death Korps Grenadiers, with the regulator units inside a canister and worn on the back.
The Death Rider's primary weapon is his explosive Hunting Lance. This 3.5 metre long weapon is constructed of a hollow lightweight metal shaft tipped with a spear point, which is also connected to the impact fuse of the weapon's shaped charge. This small explosive charge is constructed to direct the blast and fragmentation towards the target and away from the user. Once detonated, the user is left with only the shaft, which is then discarded. The lance also bears the squadron's pennant. In close quarters combat against a densely packed enemy, or in close confines, the lance is very unwieldy and all Death Riders carry at least one back-up weapon. After the initial "shock" impact of the charge has been expended, a rider will reach for his sabre.
The Death Rider sabre is a long, heavy-bladed, single-edged curved sword used mainly for thrusting with the tip rather than slashing. The skewer-like 95 centimetre blade is designed to resist buckling in the impact of a thrust delivered at the charge. The blade ends in a sharp "spear" point and the bowl hand guard gives protection to the hand. The grip's design causes the blade to naturally align with the arm when the arm is extended, in position for a charge using the point. The rider's third weapon is often a Laspistol. Carried but rarely used, except as a weapon of last resort, the heavy pistol is difficult to aim and reload whilst mounted and generally thought to be ineffective as a ranged weapon.
Death Rider Mount
The Death Rider's mount is a heavily genetically modified version of the original Terran horse that no longer resembles its ancient ancestor. Having been designed to endure far worse battlefield conditions than ever existed in Terran history, its physique is far stronger than a normal horse's, with its hind legs being able to clear trenches and power the creature through thick mud or over rubble. Its splayed feet are also better adapted to moving in difficult or nearly impassable terrain. The creature is almost hairless. It no longer has a tail, only the remaining stump, while its mane has almost entirely been bred out, leaving just short bristles which do not become tangles and require no maintenance. Its neck is longer than that of a Terran horse, with broader shoulder and girth.
Psychologically these creatures are far more aggressive than their domestic Terran ancestors, with drug injectors being used to make the creature fearless in the face of an enemy. In battle the creature will charge directly into an the foe's lines and will not be startled by weapons fire or explosions. Due to the Krieg Steed's unstable body chemistry, it has to be constantly monitored by its rider and stabilised with additional chemicals. This means the creature can sustain injuries that would kill lesser creatures, but leaves many of these mounts with horrible scars from previous wounds. A Krieg Steed is equipped with armour to protect its head and a respirator system to protect it from poison gases and toxic atmospheres. These creatures are grown in vitaegenic cloning vats deep below the surface of Krieg, with their gestation carefully monitored by the Adeptus Mechanicus' Magi Biologus. Each creature is individually number branded at the genetic level for identification purposes.
- Imperial Armour Volume Five - The Siege of Vraks - Part One, pp. 91, 135, 140
- Imperial Armour Volume Six - The Siege of Vraks - Part Two, pp. 24-26, 100-101
- Imperial Armour Volume Seven - The Siege of Vraks - Part Three, pg. 111
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 18-19, 139