The Battle Barge is the largest class of warship used by the Adeptus Astartes and most Space Marine Chapters control two or three of these potent vessels. 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 Warp space and endure the titanic forces and hardships of the Empyrean and the Deep Void both. Military vessels were needed, not only to replace losses were 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 is 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 a 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 Geller 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 Geller 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 hours, it was more than a hundred 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 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 co-ordinated 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.
Space Born Home
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 space faring 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, Knights of Gryphonne.
Notable Battle Barges
- The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Emperor's Children
- Absolute of the Fire Hawks
- Angel of Retribution of the Dark Angels
- Armourum Ferrus of the Iron Hands
- Breakspear of the Luna Wolves
- Bellus of the Blood Angels
- Bucephelus Utilized by the Legio Custodes and the Emperor of Mankind during the early Great Crusade.
- Caesar of the Ultramarines
- Callidora of the Emperor's Children
- Carmine Talon of the Imperial Hawks
- Carnivore of the Soul Drinkers
- Cerberus of the Excoriators
- Conqueror of the World Eaters
- Daughter of Tempests of the Lamenters
- Destiny's Hand of the Word Bearers
- Endless Redemption of the Mantis Warriors
- Eternal Crusader of the Black Templars
- Europae of the Blood Angels
- Ferrum of the Iron Hands
- Fist of Iron of the Iron Hands
- Hammer of Nocturne of the Salamanders
- Harbinger of Doom (formerly Magna Tyrannis) of the Black Legion
- The Heart of Sotha (formerly Honour's Might) of the Scythes of the Emperor
- Holmgang of the Space Wolves
- Hunter's Premonition of the Night Lords
- Inexorable Fury of the Novamarines
- Infidus Imperator of the Word Bearers
- Liberatorii Delictum of the Angels of Absolution
- Light of Purity of the Black Templars
- Litany of Fury of the Blood Ravens
- Manifest Destiny of the Silver Skulls
- Misericorde of the Blood Angels
- Metallus of the Iron Hands (destroyed by the Diasporex)
- Nicor of the Carcharodons
- Night's Hag of the Executioners
- Night's Vigil of the Black Templars
- Octavius of the Ultramarines
- Omnis Arcanum of the Blood Ravens
- Phaeton's Wrath of the Executioners
- Photep of the Thousand Sons
- Pride of the Emperor of the Emperor's Children
- Punisher of the Exorcists
- Reapers' Scythe of the Death Guard
- Red Tear of the Blood Angels
- Redeemer of the Exorcists
- Serpentine of the Salamanders
- Severian of the Ultramarines
- Sigismund of the Black Templars
- Shadow of the Emperor of the Raven Guard
- Spear of Vengeance of the Imperial Fists
- Stalwart of the Death Guard
- Storm of Wrath of the Imperial Fists
- Sword of Truth of the White Consuls
- Temerity of the Iron Snakes
- Ultimate Vengeance of the Dark Angels
- Undying Faith of the Dark Angels
- Unrelenting Fury of the Dark Angels
- Vengeful Spirit of the Black Legion
- Victus of the Flesh Tearers
- Vinco Redemptor of the Dark Angels
- Battlefleet Gothic: Imperial Fleet, pp. 20-22, 26
- Battlefleet Gothic Resources: Imperial Fleets, pg. 22
- 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, p.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 "Warships of the Great Crusade," by Alan Bligh, pg. 15
- Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Shadows of Treachery (Anthology), "Crimson Fist" by John French
- 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
- Warhammer 40,000: Index Astartes - Volume I (Digital Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (PC Game)
- Battlefleet Gothic Resources: Powers of Chaos, pg. 10