- "To a Space Marine, the boltgun is far more than a weapon; it is an instrument of Mankind's divinity, the bringer of death to his foes. Its howling blast is a prayer to the gods of battle."
The Bolter, also called a Boltgun, and its variants are some of the most powerful hand-held ballistic anti-personnel weaponry in use by the military forces of the Imperium of Man. It is a powerful assault weapon that fires explosive kinetic rounds colloquially referred to as bolts. The Bolter is a weapon synonymous with the Adeptus Astartes, and rightly so. However, although the Space Marines are its primary users, the Bolter finds itself in use in military organisations throughout the Imperium. The weapon is fearsome, with explosive rounds capable of ripping through or blowing apart a foe. The Chaos Space Marines of the Traitor Legions were issued their Legions' Bolters before the Horus Heresy, and therefore, use generally older variants than the patterns available to present-day Loyalist Space Marines.
The Bolter is a mid-range anti-personnel ballistic weapon that lies between the lighter and more compact Bolt Pistol sidearm, and the more effective but more cumbersome Heavy Bolter. The most common standard patterns of Bolter can easily be wielded by a Space Marine, but on account of their size and weight, smaller human-scale pattern Bolters are used by the Battle-Sisters of the Adepta Sororitas .
For both the Space Marines and the Sisters of Battle of the Orders Militant of the Adepta Sororitas, the Bolter is viewed as a weapon intended by the Emperor of Mankind to bring his wrath to the enemies of Mankind. Both a weapon and an item of devotion to the Emperor, an Astartes' Bolter is carefully tended by its user. Indeed, a good part of the daily firing rituals performed by the Space Marines when not at war is spent carefully tending to the Bolter's multiple mechanisms and entreating its Machine Spirit, to ensure the weapon is always ready for war. Every Astartes carries a Bolter lovingly handcrafted by the Artificers of his Chapter's Armoury or by one of the Adeptus Mechanicus Forge Worlds. At each point in its construction, special rituals are observed by the Artificers or Tech-priests. The Bolters used by the Space Marines are known to be coded to Astartes genetic signatures so that they are only functional for members of the Adeptus Astartes.
The Boltgun, or Bolter as it is also known, has been the standard armament of the Adeptus Astartes for as long as Space Marines have defended the Imperium. But this was not always the case. The ancient Space Marine Legions once utilised Volkite Weapons, a class of powerful thermal ray weapons whose technology is pre-Imperial in origin and dates back to the Age of Strife. These compact weapons possessed considerable killing power, surpassing most other armaments of their size. Unfortunately, Volkite Weapons of the various types were difficult to manufacture, even for the most able of the Mechanicum's forges, and the demands of the expanding Great Crusade in the late 30th Millennium swiftly overwhelmed the supply of these relic-weapons. Furthermore, Volkite armaments were somewhat lacking in effective range, and had high maintenance requirements that were unsuitable for the wartime needs of the burgeoning Crusade. Once relatively common within the fledgling Space Marine Legions, Volkite Weapons had fallen largely from favour by the time the Horus Heresy began in the early 31st Millennium and had been superseded by the far more flexible and utilitarian Terran Bolter. A brutally efficient weapon, the Bolter fires mass-reactive bolts at its targets, each one a self-propelled missile which explodes with devastating effectiveness after penetrating its target. The fear and awe that Bolter fire creates makes it a perfect weapon for shock troops, the hammering thunder of the guns mixing terrifyingly with the dull, wet explosions as flesh is blown apart.
To the Space Marines, the Boltgun is far more than just a weapon; it is a symbol of his position as a chosen warrior of the Emperor and a physical representation of Mankind's supremacy. A Boltgun is a treasured weapon, but in the hands of a Space Marine it is a divine instrument of his wrath, a bringer of swift death whose howling blast is a prayer to the gods of battle. Bolters can only be made by skilled artisans and so are produced only in limited quantities, but always to the highest standards and using only the finest materials available. Even Bolter rounds cannot be easily fabricated outside of specialised workshops, and the weapons require regular servicing if they are to function properly. Each Space Marine is scrupulous in their attention to their Boltguns, regularly performing rituals of maintenance less he anger his weapon's machine spirit.
The Bolter is a large .75 calibre assault weapon. It has a much greater mass than most standard-issue Imperial weapons such as the Lasgun, although it is slightly shorter in length. Unlike most Imperial ranged infantry weapons, it lacks a stock, resulting in a grip much like a pistol's or a submachine gun's. A Space Marine's bulky Power Armour would make shouldering a stock an awkward experience, and Power Armour is most likely also able to compensate for firing vibrations and oscillation, making a stock redundant. Stocks are sometimes used, however, with an extended barrel and an M40 Targeter System to transform the Bolter into a sniping weapon system. These sniper Bolters, known as Stalker Pattern Bolters, are most often used with Stalker Silenced Shells.
The Space Marines are not the only warriors of the Imperium to carry Boltguns into battle, but the version carried by the Adeptus Astartes, the MK Vb Godwyn Pattern Boltgun, is by far the largest and most devastating. By comparison, the smaller patterns of boltgun carried by the Adeptus Sororitas or the champions of the Imperial Guard are pale reflections. So large is the Godwyn pattern that no normal man could heft one, let alone survive its unforgiving recoil. A blessed creation of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Godwyn pattern has served the Space Marines for millennia, its design based upon ancient STC technology from long before the birth of the Imperium. The Godwyn is not the only pattern of Boltgun used by the Adeptus Astartes though, and many of the Space Marine Chapters have their own variants, such as the "Angelus" Bolter used by the Blood Angels, or the "Fenris" pattern boltgun used by the Space Wolves. However, the Godwyn pattern remains the most common weapon of the Space Marines and fills the role of the sacred Bolter, as cited in the Codex Astartes as the primary weapon of a battle-brother.
This variant has a built-in ammunition counter which indicates how many rounds are remaining in the weapon on an external display. The number of remaining rounds will also be shown in the auto-senses display of an Astartes' helmet. The Mark Vb Godwyn Pattern uses a Sinister/Dexter locking mechanism with a sickle-shaped magazine that carries 30 bolts and can fire in bursts of up to four rounds with a single trigger pull. Other features include a biometric sensor integrated into the weapon's grip that allows the Bolter to identify its user's genetic signature so that only Astartes can make use of the Bolter. The Godwyn Pattern also possesses an integral targeter that links with the Space Marine's auto-senses for enhanced accuracy. Bolters make a unique roaring sound when fired, which is caused as the propellant in their shells ignites, followed by an explosion when the bolt detonates upon hitting its target.
Like other Space Marine weaponry, Astartes Bolters are designed to be handled by their superhuman physique. The weight of each Godwyn Pattern Bolter means that most normal humans cannot handle the weapon comfortably without the aid of a supporting brace, and the weapon's handgrips are too large for a mortal to grasp without assistance. However, even if a mortal were to fire the Bolter, the resulting recoil would most likely rip his or her arm from its socket. It is illegal within the Imperium for a non-Astartes to wield an Astartes Bolter, which is one reason why the weapons are genetically coded so that only a Space Marine can fire them. An Imperial citizen caught in unauthorised possession of a Bolter or even of just a bolt round can be harshly sentenced by the Adeptus Arbites. However, some Bolter patterns like the Godwyn-De'az or Locke patterns are specifically built to be wielded by unaugmented humans, and the weapon is sometimes favoured by officers of the Imperial Guard and members of the Adeptus Arbites who require a weapon with more stopping power.
The major advantage of the Bolter in comparison to the ubiquitous Lasgun is its stopping power, as the bolt's kinetic force and explosive head can deliver much more damage on a target than the coherent light beam from a Lasgun. However, the major reason that the Bolter never was favoured as a weapon for the soldiers of the Imperial Army is that next to its mass and weight, it is also a temperamental weapon that requires lots of care and maintenance to function properly. Where the Lasgun only requires a quick daily disassembly and cleaning while mumbling a prayer to its Machine Spirit to keep it going for over 10,000 shots, the Bolter requires much more careful tending and cleaning to ensure its proper function. While a centuries-old Astartes Veteran can tend to his Bolter blindfolded in less time than a freshly recruited Guardsman tends to his Lasgun, such familiarity with a weapon is impossible to attain for the average human soldier, hence the need for a simpler standard armament. Another disadvantage of the Bolter is the need for its heavy and cumbersome ammunition compared to the small and easily recharged power packs of the Lasgun. While this is seldom an issue for the Astartes, due to their focus on rapid and overwhelming assault tactics, the risk of finding oneself out of ammunition is very real for Imperial Guardsmen who favour the weapon during prolonged operations, or on missions where resupply is improbable or difficult.
The Boltgun can also be modified for a variety of roles; the Adeptus Astartes and the sacred texts of the Machine God sanction some of these, others are crafted by battle-brothers themselves and remain confined to specific Chapters. Scopes of all kinds are a common addition to boltguns, even though most marks of Power Armour incorporate optical enhancements. A scope can be tailored to its environment, keyed to different visual spectrums or the heat-trace of certain foes, giving a Space Marine a better chance to find his target. Drum magazines are sometimes used to increase the ammo capabilities of a boltgun, replacing the standard sickle clip. This extra ammo reduces the time between reloads and allows a battle-brother to keep up a sustained stream of killing fire. Regardless of modification or pattern, a Boltgun remains an ancient and deadly weapon in the hands of a Space Marine, and if all else fails, it is solid enough to crack skulls and snap bones with its heavy casing.
Standard Bolter Round
Bolter Ammunition (a bolt) is primarily a .75 calibre rocket-propelled round. Whereas conventional solid slugs utilise a propellant charge contained in a casing that forces the bullet down the barrel upon ignition, in contrast, a bolt is self-propelled; it features its own integrated solid fuel propellant that propels the bolt at high speeds, essentially acting like a miniature rocket. The propellant itself is shaped to control the bolt's direction and speed; however, this method of rocket propulsion would normally warp the barrel due to gas pressure. The Bolter uses an ingenious two-stage method to prevent this.
As well as the rocket propellant, a small conventional charge is also utilised. This charge is strong enough to force the bolt out of the barrel at a significant muzzle velocity, and simultaneously ignite the bolt's propellant. The rocket-propellant is precisely fused to ignite immediately as the bolt leaves the barrel, alleviating any possibility of pressure build-up. The bolt then accelerates toward the target under its own power.
Standard Bolter ammunition utilizes a mass-reactive fuze, designed to penetrate the target before detonating within, maximizing damage to the target and leaving little chance for survival.
The Bolter is complex to produce and requires dedicated maintenance, which prevents it from being issued more widely throughout the Imperial Guard. The standard pattern Bolter is also simply far too heavy to be wielded effectively by the average human being or Imperial Guard soldier. The Bolter is far more susceptible to being fouled by dirt and mishandling than the basic Lasgun issued to Imperial Guardsmen, requiring much more training to use than the Guard is ready to invest in the standard line Guardsman. The Bolter's need for physical ammunition as opposed to power packs demands far more logistical organisation to supply than the standard Lasgun, and Astartes Chapters have been known to go through a mountainous stockpile of rounds during a single campaign. However, the Space Marines wear massive suits of Power Armour that further enhance their already prodigious genetically-enhanced strength and allows them to control the powerful recoil of the weapon, and the armour also enhances the already prodigious skill of the individual warrior with autosense uplinks and suit-integrated targeting systems. This makes the Bolter a good fit as the primary weapon for the Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, who have used it since the Space Marine Legions were first raised at the dawn of the Great Crusade in the late 30th Millennium.
Known Bolter Patterns
Over the millennia, the Bolter has been improved and changed many times. There have been hundreds of variants, but only a few have made any radical differences in the weapon's function. All of these variant patterns have the same basic features, but each has different additional features (depending on the weapon's pattern) that seek to improve upon its basic design. The current standard-issue Bolter for the Space Marines is the .75 calibre Astartes Mark Vb Godwyn Pattern Bolter.
- Angelus Pattern Bolter - The Sanguinary Guard of the Blood Angels and their Successor Chapters make use of a wrist-mounted, drum-fed variation of the Bolter called the Angelus Bolter, which fires potent Bloodshard Shells filled with razor-filament that is very effective against most known forms of armour.
- Baal Pattern Bolter - The Blood Angels and their Successor Chapters make use of a variant of the standard Godwyn Pattern Bolter known as a Baal Pattern Bolter, named after their homeworld of Baal.
- Ceres Pattern Bolt Carbine - Relatively uncommon weapons (the design was said to have been rescued from a Space Hulk and pressed into production specifically for the long ago Angevin Crusade), Bolt Carbines are typically easier to wield than full-size Boltguns, due to their lighter, simpler construction and lower rate of fire. Without the multi-round burst ability common to many patterns of Bolter, a Bolt Carbine is incapable of the wholesale slaughter that characterise volleys of Bolter fire. However, their simpler design means that they misfire less frequently and are much easier to maintain. Bolt Carbines may use any form of special Bolter ammunition.
- Condemnor Pattern - The Condemnor Pattern Bolter is a highly specialised Combi-weapon used almost exclusively by the operatives of the Ordo Hereticus and Adepta Sororitas. It combines a Bolter with a single-shot crossbow armature. Though archaic in appearance, the crossbow fires a silver stake engraved with sigils of disruption that destabilise a psyker's connection with the Warp. A direct hit from the crossbow will therefore not only deal a severe wound to a psyker, it will also send his power spiralling out of control, consuming the user in a storm of untrammelled psychic energy.
- Crusade Pattern - The Crusade Pattern Bolter is the original type of Bolter used by the Astartes of the Space Marine Legions during the Great Crusade of the 31st Millennium.
- Filienostos Pattern
- Footfall-Pattern - The moniker "Footfall-pattern" is applied mockingly at best, said only with a straight face by arms dealers in the Koronus Expanse trying to fleece their customers with a false air of legitimacy. Comparatively crude and inefficient, these counterfeit weapons fail regularly due to insufficiently strict manufacturing tolerances, but the inconveniences of owning such a weapon are outweighed by their lethality for those who cannot obtain a true Bolter. Footfall-pattern Bolt Weapons, due to their poor design may not be used with any form of special ammunition.
- Gilded Bolter - The Gilded Bolter is a master-crafted Artificer Bolter of unsurpassed beauty, workmanship and artistry. It is a weapon used by certain Space Marine Captains and has sometimes been given as a gift to such powerful Imperial officials as Sector Governors. The weapon has been used by some of the most notable Ultramarines Astartes to have served in the Deathwatch in the tempestuous region of space known as the Jericho Reach.
- Godwyn Mark IIIa Pattern - The Godwyn Mark IIIa is an older pattern of Bolter still used by the Astartes of the Dark Angels Chapter.
- Godwyn Mark Vb Pattern - The current, most widely-used pattern of Astartes Bolter in the Imperium.
- Godwyn Ultima Pattern - The Godwyn Ultima Pattern Bolter is a variant weapon very similar to the Godwyn Mark Vb Bolter, and was known to have been used by the Minotaurs and Exorcists Chapters during the Badab War.
- Godwyn-De'az Pattern - The Godwyn-De'az Pattern Bolter is the standard pattern of Bolter used by all of the Orders Militant of the Adepta Sororitas since their formation in the 36th Millennium. This pattern has been in use by the Sisters of Battle since that time because it remains more reliable and more potent than any other pattern of Bolter developed for use by the Sororitas. The Godwyn-De'az Pattern is designed to be used by a normal human and thus is much smaller than an Astartes Bolter. This pattern of Bolter is designed to make use of the Sarissa as an attachment. The Sarissa is a vicious, curved, bayonet-like blade that can transform the Godwyn-De'az Bolter into an effective close combat weapon even as it retains all of its ranged functionality.
- Hesh Pattern - Since the 36th Millennium, the Astartes of the Deathwatch have been equipped with the Hesh Pattern Bolter, created by Magos Cymbry Jamis of the Adeptus Mechanicus as a reward for the Deathwatch's exemplary service to the Imperium. Bolters of this pattern are more compact than other variants and show unusually skilled craftsmanship on the order of a master-crafted weapon. Due to their smaller size, Hesh Pattern Bolters are well-suited for fighting in confined spaces and they are also favoured by Astartes vehicle crews and by certain Assault Marines. Hesh Pattern Bolters incorporate an integral folding stock, a motion detector and preysense sensors that connect to an Astartes' Auto-senses. Deathwatch Astartes who complete their term of service with the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Xenos are permitted to keep their Hesh Pattern Bolters when they return to their home Chapter.
- Heresy Pattern - Heresy Pattern Bolters first appeared during the Horus Heresy. Cut off from regular sources of supply and maintenance, many Astartes were forced to cobble together non-standard Bolters using a variety of different parts drawn from different patterns and existing variants of the weapon. These ancient weapons are collectively known as Heresy Pattern Bolters. Amongst Chaos Cultists, Bolters confer much prestige to the wielder. Many of these bolters still in existence are heirloom weapons, taken in ritual duels or armed conflicts and passed down through generations of owners. Though designed to be used by an un-augmented human, the recoil is still murderous.
- Hurricane Pattern - A Hurricane Bolter consists of three twin-linked Boltguns fired as a single weapon. First used by the Black Templars Chapter, Hurricane Bolter weapon systems combine the punishing firepower of multiple twin-linked Boltguns to produce a truly withering storm of shells.
- Locke Pattern - The Locke Pattern Bolter is a variant of an older pattern of Bolter used by the Adeptus Arbites, and is now the most common pattern of Bolter in use in the Koronus Expanse. Like the Bolter patterns used by the Orders Militant of the Adepta Sororitas, the Locke Pattern Bolter can be used without difficulty by normal-sized humans.
- Mark III Pattern - The Mark III Pattern Bolter was produced by the manufactora of Badab Primaris during the Badab War and was used by the Astral Claws Chapter.
- Mark IV Ultra Pattern - The Mark IV Ultra Pattern Bolter was known to have been used by the Red Scorpions Chapter, and carried a standard 25-bolt sickle magazine. This pattern also possesses a built-in ammunition counter, an Auto-senses targetting uplink, and a biometric handgrip sensor for genetic identification of its user as standard features.
- Mark IV Pattern - The Mark IV Pattern Bolter was an earlier standard variant of the Astartes Bolter that made use of a 20 bolt magazine and possessed the capability for both single-shot and three-bolt burst fire. The Mark IV Bolter also incorporated a biometric sensor in its handgrip to identify its wielder using his unique genetic imprint.
- Mark II Cawl Pattern Bolt Rifle - The Mark II Cawl Pattern is still the archetypal firearm of the Adeptus Astartes, but now re-engineered, re-crafted and perfected for use by the transhuman warriors of the newly-created Primaris Space Marines. This pattern of Bolter was named for its creator, Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl.
- Mark II Ultra Pattern - The Mark II Ultra Pattern Bolter was known to be used by the Red Scorpions Chapter during the Imperial operation on the Tyranid-infested world of Beta Anphelion IV. It made use of a Dark Eye nightscope that greatly enhanced the weapon's accuracy during nighttime operations.
- Mars Pattern Mark II "Scourge" - The Mars Pattern Mark II "Scourge" Bolter is the preferred pattern of Bolter used by the Battle-Sisters of the Order of the Ebon Chalice's Abbey of Dawn on the world of Iocanthos in the Calixis Sector. The Scourge has consequently been a favourite among several missionaries in the Koronus Expanse, particularly Genevieve Almace, whose followers have dispatched countless heretics and mutants with these weapons. Like the Godwyn-De'az Pattern Bolter, the Mark II Scourge Bolter can be used without difficulty by normal-sized humans. Scourges come equipped with a sarissa blade, a sharp, serrated bayonet that can tear open foes in hand-to-hand combat with ease.
- Nocturne-Ultima Pattern - The Astartes of the Salamanders Chapter are known to have made use of Nocturne-Ultima Pattern Bolters during the Badab War. The Nocturne-Ultima Pattern seems to be a modification of the standard Godwyn Ultima Pattern Bolter carried out solely by the Artificers of the Salamanders on their Chapter homeworld of Nocturne, hence the name of the pattern.
- Nostra Pattern
- Perinetus Pattern "Solo" Mark II - This pattern of Bolter is considered to be heretical in the eyes of the Machine God by some members of the Adeptus Mechanicus. It is far less sophisticated than the other extant patterns of Bolter and lacks the capability for automatic fire, allowing it to shoot only a single bolt with each pull of the trigger. However, the loss of this capability is made up for by the weapon's greater range, increased accuracy and enhanced reliability in adverse environmental conditions. This pattern of Bolter is intended to be used by normal humans and is sized accordingly. The Perinetus Pattern Bolter is very popular as a weapon with certain Planetary Defence Force garrisons and some rebel groups within the Imperium.
- Phobos Pattern - The Phobos Pattern Bolter is perhaps the most venerable design of the sacred Bolter used by the Astartes. This weapon was hand-crafted by the Fabricators of Mars at the very birth of the Imperium, to ensure that every Marine had the finest wargear with which to reunite the scattered elements of Humanity. The carnage caused by the heavy .70 Cal. shells of Phobos pattern boltguns caused many units to retain these weapons even once more advanced patterns became available.
- Relic Boltgun - Within the Calixis Sector, there may only be a handful of these extraordinarily rare and ancient devices. Bulky beyond the means of most men to wield, these weapons may once have been wielded by the Emperor's warriors during the earliest days of the Imperium, and bear the eagle's claw and thunderbolt symbols common to that distant age. More than merely fine examples of ancient Bolters, these weapons are holy relics imbued with a tiny fragment of the Emperor's wrath.
- Ryza-Ultima Pattern - The Star Phantoms Chapter are known to have made use of Ryza-Ultima Pattern Bolters during the Badab War. The Ryza-Ultima Pattern seems to be a modification of the standard Godwyn Ultima Pattern Bolter that first originated on the Forge World of Ryza.
- Skapulan Bolter - The Deathwatch of the Jericho Reach is strangely silent about the history of Watch Station Skapula, and how this lethal Bolter remains from the abandoned station. Techmarines fortunate enough to examine the advanced weapon frequently debate the number and nature of Machine Spirits necessary to achieve its flawless performance, but the most widely accepted theories place a union of over one hundred Machine Spirits within the casing of tenebrous alloys. In addition to accuracy and power unrivalled in other Bolters of its size, the Skapulan Bolter integrates a Fire Selector, a Targeter, and a melee attachment equivalent to a master-crafted Combat Knife. The Skapulan Bolter is unique and there are no other known Bolters of this type currently in existence.
- Stalker Pattern - The Stalker Pattern Bolter is a standard Godwyn Mark Vb Pattern Bolter modified with an M40 Targeter System and an elongated barrel so that it may also serve as a Sniper Rifle.
- Sternguard Pattern - The Sternguard are veteran members of the elite 1st Company of a Space Marine Chapter. They deploy wherever the battle is fiercest, particularly excelling in the use of ranged weapons. The standard modifications found on a Sternguard Bolter includes an enhanced scope, shoulder-sling strap, and a specialized magazine that allow the Space Marine to carry different types of ammunition and switch between them freely. The specialized magazine allows a variety of ammo types, at the expense of capacity of standard ammo and to reload.
- Tigrus Pattern - There are many types and patterns of the mighty and iconic boltgun used by the Adeptus Astartes, and the Tigrus Pattern Bolter is one such variant. During the latter days of the Great Crusade, it was first discovered in the depths of Forge World Tigrus. The STC data for this sleek weapon was quickly disseminated throughout the Imperium before the outbreak of the shadowed Horus Heresy. The noble bastion of Mars suffered irreparable damage at the hands of the Traitor Legions, yet the Bolters that bear its name continue to see service in the 41st Millennium; revered and honoured as ancient relics of Mankind's lost glory. Though one of the rarer patterns of Astartes weaponry seen on the modern battle, Tigrus pattern Bolters are renowned for their accuracy and the facility of their weapon spirits to operate in co-ordination with the systems incorporated within Space Marine armour.
- Umbra Pattern - The Umbra Pattern Bolter is one of the earliest patterns of Astartes Bolter and was produced in large quantities early in the Great Crusade. This reliable pattern of Boltgun saw widespread use amongst many Legions. It is still manufactured in the forges of some present-day Space Marine Chapters, including those of the Mantis Warriors, Executioners and Carcharodons Chapters, who made use of them during the Badab War.
- Umbra Ferrox Pattern - The Umbra Ferrox Pattern Bolter is a variant of the ancient Umbra Pattern that was mass-produced by the Techmarines of the Space Marine Legions in the midst of the Horus Heresy. Unlike the standard Umbra Pattern Bolter, the Umbra Ferrox is capable of replacing its sickle-shaped magazine with a box magazine that has a greater ammunition capacity, and incorporates Target Reciprocator Systems that enhance the weapon's range and allow it to better integrate its targeting system with an Astartes' Auto-senses.
Bolter Ammunition Types
- "Bullets or las bolts, it doesn't really matter at a practical level, both kill well enough in the right hands. But for me, the bullet is more than a mere munition, it is an ancient thing; it is an echo of very bullet ever fired, every death dealt out by the hand of man since the beginning. You hear a bullet thunder; you are hearing the sound of humanity's bloody history made real."
- — The Remembrancer Eldin Takley, The Viscera of War, a Memoir, 875.M30
The most common bolter round is the .75 calibre explosive tipped mass-reactive bolt. However, Space Marines use a variety of other ammunition, each tailored for specific needs:
The Standard Bolt is the standard-issue antipersonnel ammunition for the Bolter. It is designed to penetrate a target and detonate, causing horrific injuries.
- A solid-fuel rocket propellant base
- An outer casing containing conventional charge
- Mass-reactive fuse. Has a split-second timer to delay detonation upon impact until after the shot penetrates the target.
- Hardened diamantine penetrating tip. This allows for the bolt to penetrate most armour before detonation.
- Main Charge
- Depleted uranium core. This is a very dense material, adding weight and thus momentum to the round when in flight. This aids in the bolt's penetration of the victim.
Kraken Penetrator Rounds
Kraken Penetrator Rounds are potent, more power armour-piercing rounds than the standard bolt. The uranium core is replaced by a solid adamantium core and uses a heavier main charge. Upon impact, the outer casing peels away and the high-velocity adamantium needle accelerates into the victim, where the larger detonator propels shards of super-hardened metal further into the wound. These are effective against heavily-armoured infantry.
- The main charge is increased to enable a larger explosion.
- The uranium core is replaced by a core of pure adamantium to optimize the penetration of reinforced armour.
Inferno Bolts are designed to immolate their targets and destroy them with superheated chemical fire. The uranium core is replaced with an oxy-phosphorus gel, known as Promethium. However, due to the decreased projectile mass, armour-piercing capabilities are compromised.
(It should be noted that the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion has their own similarly-named but unrelated type of Inferno Bolts, which are actually psychically-bound slugs that release arcane energies; these slugs explode with sorcerous Warp energies upon impact.)
- In this bolt, the uranium core is replaced with a special gel that ignites with oxygen.
Hellfire bolts were created as one of the Imperium's desperate measures to stem the predations of Tyranid assaults within the galaxy. Each bolt is tipped with thousands of needles and a vial of mutagenic acid capable of dissolving its way through citin and carapace with equal ease. When the round enters the target's body, the vial shatters and the needles pierce the victim's flesh, pumping the acid into the target. Such is the success of the Hellfire bolt that it has found a use against a variety of foes, its acid just as effective at killing other foul xenos.
- In this bolt, the uranium core is replaced with a vial of mutagenic acid. The point is also replaced with a chemical substance that causes the vial to detonate once it has penetrated the enemy's armour.
Metal Storm Frag Bolt
In the Metal Storm Frag Bolt, the mass-reactive fuse of the standard bolt is replaced with a proximity fuse, and the uranium core and Diamantine tip are replaced with increased high-explosives and a fragmentation casing. This means the bolt explodes when it nears an enemy, creating a lethal hail of shrapnel. This bolt is capable of inflicting casualties on multiple lightly-armoured targets, but its effectiveness is dramatically reduced when facing heavily-armoured foes like Chaos Space Marines.
- Fragmentation Casing
- Increased Charge
- Fragmentation Charge
- Proximity Detector
Stalker Silenced Shells
Stalker Silenced Shells are Bolter rounds with low sound signatures, meant for covert fighting. They are often used in conjunction with an M40 Targeter System, an extended barrel, and a stock to create a sniping weapon system. A gas cartridge replaces both the propellant base and main charge for silent firing, but this sacrifices muzzle velocity as a result. A solidified mercury slug replaces the mass-reactive warhead for lethality at sub-sonic projectile speed. These rounds are used when stealth and precision are required.
- Gas Cartridge
- Solidified Mercury Slug
- Smooth Diamantine Tip
Utilised by Deathwatch Kill-teams, these precious rounds were developed using an unknown technology to help prevent Necrons from "phasing out" and returning to their Tomb complexes. In this way Imperial forces can ensure that even their undying foes stay dead.
These mysterious variant bolt shells, believed to have been designed in secret within the armouries of the Alpha Legion long before the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, had it seems a sole purpose; to breach the Ceramite Power Armour of Space Marines. Used openly for the first time at the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V in 006.M31, their dense explosive cores and firing stresses reduced their range and swiftly degraded the firing weapon, but their effect against the betrayed Loyalist Legions were devastating. Fortunately for the Loyalists, supplies of these difficult to manufacture munitions were limited, and only the Alpha Legion and the Sons of Horus were able to field them in substantial numbers beyond that incident of brutal treachery during the Heresy. These shells were primarily utilised by the Legion Seeker Squads of the Alpha Legion and the Reaver Attack Squads of the Sons of Horus.
Bloodshard Shells are large, bolt-shaped shells intended to be fired only by the Angelus Pattern Bolter used by the Sanguinary Guard of the Blood Angels Chapter and their Successor Chapters. Each Bloodshard contains a payload of razor-filament that can shred most known forms of armour upon impact.
Dragonfire Bolts are hollow-shelled bolts that are issued fo use by Sternguard Veterans, and explode with a gout of superheated gas that can eliminate the value of cover for enemy troops. Any targets struck receive full damage even when partially protected by cover.
Used exclusively by the Space Wolves Chapter, Helfrost Bolts are bolt rounds tipped with helfrost warheads. In battle, the glittering rounds impart their freezing payload as they explode deep in the flesh of their victims. Few enemies can survive both the destructive force of a detonating bolt shell and the frigid blast of the shattering glimmerfrost crystal.
Kraken Bolts were specialised Bolter shells with an enhanced adamantium core and improved propellant, and were utilised by Seeker Squads during the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras of the late 30th and early 31st Millennia, as well as Sternguard Veterans in modern times. They possessed superior armour-piercing properties and increased range compared to standard bolts, but the expense and resources required to create them kept them in limited issue.
Psycannon Bolts are used by the Inquisition, primarily the Ordo Malleus and its secret Grey Knights Space Marine Chapter. They are very similar in nature to the rounds fired by their namesake, the Psycannon, and are similarly used against psychic Heretic and daemonic targets. Of all the rounds available to the Bolter, these are the most expensive, as each and every bolt is inscribed with arcane runes on a microscopic level. According to some sources, the bolts derive their anti-psychic effect from being impregnated with an extremely rare negative psychic energy; the sole source of this energy is a metabolic byproduct of the Emperor of Mankind's Golden Throne. The anti-psychic nature of these rounds are not only effective at destroying daemonic targets but also highly efficient at piercing the powerful barriers created by force field generators (such as the Tau Shield Generator and the Imperium's own Iron Halo, Conversion Field and Storm Shield).
During the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras of the late 30th and early 31st Millennia, Scorpius Bolts were individually hand-crafted by the Techmarines of a Space Marine Legion's armoury. These specialised shells utilised a two-stage warhead which contained a micro-guidance system and a needle-like sabot dart that vapourises when striking an armoured target, providing enhanced armour penetration effects. Scorpius Bolts were rare and temperamental munitions which were hand-loaded into a Bolter for firing.
Seekers Bolts are unique, hand-crafted rounds created by Chaplain Boreas of the Dark Angels Chapter. Each bolt contains a miniaturised Cogitator that detects the infrared heat signature of a target and then steers the bolt unerringly towards it.
Tempest Bolts replace the standard mass-reactive core and armour-piercing tip of a bolt round with a fragmentation shell encasing a powerful micro-explosive proximity charge. This has the effect of showering a target with a murderous storm of shrapnel. These heavier rounds, however, lack range compared to standard bolt shells. Produced only on Mars, Tempest Bolts were designed to be particularly effective at incapacitating machines and other electronic devices. Such bolts are highly effective against targets like combat robots and cyborgs whose bodies are now more machine than organic tissue.
Vengeance Round bolts are designed for use against heavy infantry and armoured targets. Each bolt has a volatile core utilising unstable flux core technology that makes them hazardous to use, but extremely potent at penetrating through heavily armoured targets. They are especially effective at punching clean through even the Ceramite plates of Power Armour. As their name implies, these bolts were developed by the Imperium specifically to target the Chaos Space Marines of the Traitor Legions.
As well as the different types of ammunition available for the weapon, there have also been several different types of magazines. The standard magazine for the Bolter is the Sickle Magazine.
- Sickle Magazine: The standard-issue magazine, seen on most Bolter patterns. The magazine's shape is slightly curved to take up less space, and carries 20 to 30 bolts.
- Straight Magazine: A straight version of the sickle magazine. It holds less ammunition (only 10 to 20 bolts), but is easier to load in more intense situations.
- Drum Magazine: Drum magazines are a relatively rare sight in the 41st Millennium. This is due to their unreliability; drum magazines have an unfortunate tendency to jam. However, drums can carry up to 40, 60 or even 100 bolts, negating the need to reload as often. Despite the frequent jamming, they still brook some favour with local Hive Gangs or planetary defence militia. They are also frequently seen on Storm Bolters or in brutal assaults, where running empty in a firefight can mean certain death.
- Belt Feed: Some troops forgo using magazines at all, preferring to feed the bolts directly into the firing chamber using a linked belt. Because the belt is exposed to the elements, it is frequently clogged with dirt or dust. This can, like the Drum Magazine, lead to jamming, and is rarely used within the Imperium. However, it is very commonly used by the Chaos Space Marines of the Ruinous Powers. Note that Space Marine Heavy Bolters have the ammunition belt protected by a tough, flexible feed chute.
- Duplus X: This type of magazine is quite popular amongst local planetary law enforcement or Hive Gangs. It involves two standard Sickle Magazines which are attached together by some means, usually a band of cloth or tape (similar to the "ready-mags" of ancient Terra). This means when the weapon has to be reloaded, the user can simply flip the magazines around and insert the loaded magazine. This type is rarely produced officially, usually being "manufactured" by those who utilise it.
Other Bolt Weapons
Although the Bolter is the Adeptus Astartes' weapon of choice for Space Marine Tactical Squads, it is by no means the only Bolt Weapon in the Astartes arsenal. As well as the variants of the standard Bolter, there are several different bolt weapons.
The Bolt Pistol is a common variant of the Bolter, and apart from the Space Marines, is also available to officers and seasoned veterans of the Imperial Guard. They are often awarded to Commissars, both for battle and to perform field executions of those too cowardly to serve the Emperor properly, leading to the weapon being nicknamed the "Bravery Bolter". A standard Bolt Pistol magazine, due to varying manufacturing skills and machinery, is capable of housing between 6 and 12 rounds of ammunition. Such weapons are often used by the Assault Squads of the Space Marines, the Sisters of Battle, and the Chaos Space Marines. Many users of the Bolt Pistol prefer to wield a Bolt Pistol in one hand and a melee weapon, such as a Chainsword, in the other, allowing them to switch from a firefight to a close-quarters battle instantly. In extended engagements, when reloading can mean almost certain death, a drum magazine can be utilised, with the same capacity as those used on Storm Bolters.
Similar to the Storm Bolter, the Twin-Linked Bolter or Combi-Bolter is simply two standard pattern Bolters slaved to fire together. It was a bulky and somewhat crude, but very effective, weapon prototype that was gaining widespread use at the time of the Horus Heresy. The Combi-Bolter was a much more common weapon during the Horus Heresy era than at present in the Imperium. Chaos Space Marine Attack Bikes are still often equipped with the Combi-Bolter, though the Storm Bolter has replaced it as standard in the Imperial armoury.
Additionally, the Bolter can be combined with another weapon instead of a second Bolter, whether a Plasma Gun, Meltagun, Flamer or Grav-Gun. These Combi-weapons were also developed at the time of the Horus Heresy in an effort to augment the tactical flexibility of Terminators, and are still in use today, mainly by Sternguard Veterans and their Chaotic counterparts.
The Storm Bolter is a double-barreled version of the Bolter. As it is designed for brutal assault, and consumes more ammunition than a normal Bolter, it is not normally utilised by Space Marines attired in standard Power Armour. However, they are standard issue for Space Marine Terminators, and often serve as an Imperial tank's pintle-mounted weapon. They are also used by the Grey Knights as a gauntlet-mounted weapon, with its feed sourced from the back of their armour or from a magazine on the side of the gauntlet (as seen in Dawn of War - Dark Crusade). Like Bolters, Imperial Guard veterans and officers rarely can be seen carrying a Storm Bolter. The Sisters of Battle also will sometimes designate a member of a squad to carry a Storm Bolter as a special weapon. Due to the weapons' high munitions consumption, and the lack of manual dexterity in Terminator Armour, most Storm Bolters are fed from a large box magazine, carrying approximately 60-150 rounds depending on the size and style of the magazine. When the weapon is used without Terminator Armour, it usually has a more conventional magazine containing 60 rounds, which, given the double barrels and firing mechanism, gives the wielder approximately 30 shots before the magazine has to be replaced. A Storm Bolter's rounds are identical to those fired from Bolt Pistols and Bolters.
Before the Storm Bolter was created by the Tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Terminators were often equipped with special Combi-weapons which were essentially two Bolters fused together. These "Combi-bolters" were capable of a higher rate of fire than the Storm Bolter when at short range, but without a synchronised firing mount were less effective at longer range. As the Storm Bolter was one of the few perfections of preexisting technology the Imperium achieved after the Horus Heresy, Storm Bolters have replaced Combi-bolters in Imperial armies, while Chaos Space Marines still use Twin-linked Bolters instead.
The Heavy Bolter is a powerful fire support weapon. Unlike other Bolt weapons, it uses a much larger calibre round and is in common use by all but the Imperium's least well-equipped martial forces, such as backwater Imperial worlds' Planetary Defence Force units. It has a high rate of fire, a long range, is inexpensive to manufacture, and tolerant of mistreatment by inexperienced users. It is commonly equipped on Imperial tanks and a variety of vehicles, as well as on fixed defences, as an anti-infantry weapon.
Heavy Bolters operate differently to other Bolt weapons. Instead of a firing pin physically striking the bolt shell to activate the projectile, a specific electronic pulse is applied in the firing chamber. Bolts are fed into the chamber by an electric motor, rather than exhaust gases cycling the action as in other Bolt weapons. Exhaust gases are only used to generate the power needs of the weapon; the initial power and the impulse for the first round are provided by working a slide on the weapons side. These features enable the Heavy Bolter to maintain rates of fire that are physically impossible for a standard Bolter or Bolt Pistol.
Due to its bulk and weight, Imperial Guard infantry operate Heavy Bolters using a two-man team, mounting the weapon on a tripod. A single Space Marine, being physically much larger and stronger than a normal human, can carry both the Heavy Bolter and its ammunition alone, and fire it from a braced standing position (even with very little aid from the servos of their Power Armour). Space Marine Scouts without Power Armour can fire Heavy Bolters in this manner. The Sisters of Battle, with the assistance of their own Power Armour-augmented strength, are also capable of carrying the Heavy Bolter and ammunition alone. When used in this way by heavy infantry, the weapon itself is carried with both hands and fired from the hip, with the ammunition belt-fed from a backpack. Optical aiming is provided by a Heads-up Display (HUD) and an integrated laser pointer mounted just above the Heavy Bolter's barrel. Heavy Bolters are also referred to as "Back Breakers" or the "Bruisers", particularly amongst the inhabitants of various hive cities' underhives who have felt its kiss in the myriad battles between Underhive gangs.
Avenger Mega Bolter
An Avenger Mega Bolter is a deadly and formidable rapid-firing weapon notably used by the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter elite 2nd Company, known as the Ravenwing, and by the Dark Angels' Unforgiven Successor Chapters, although Avenger strike aircraft and Space Marine Fire Raptors also are armed with them. The Avenger Mega Bolter is a smaller version of the Vulcan Mega Bolter, with only one set of rotating barrels instead of two. Nose-mounted on the Dark Angels' deadly air corps of Nephilim Jetfighters and other fliers, they have proven an ideal weapon for these nimble support crafts, allowing them to both engage opposing flyers in deadly dogfights and carve easily through enemy infantry and vehicle squadrons on ground attack strafing runs.
Vulcan Mega Bolter
A Vulcan Mega Bolter is an immense, pneumatically-driven, five-barrelled, air-cooled, electrically-fired rotary weapon that makes use of Heavy Bolter rounds. This weapon is commonly mounted on Imperial Titans and super-heavy armoured vehicles. The Vulcan Mega Bolter is comprised of dual heavy-calibre, rotating Bolters with multiple barrels. Its staggering rate of fire makes it an ideal weapon for use against infantry, light vehicles and even small structures. Indeed, the Vulcan Mega Bolter is one of the most potent and effective anti-infantry weapons available to the armed forces of the Imperium of Man, and its fire easily carves through Heretics and xenos alike with shells larger than human skulls, firing two at a time and leaving a carbonised reek in the air.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 156-157
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Edition), pp. 50, 59
- Codex: Dark Angels (4th Edition), pg. 49
- Codex: Daemonhunters (3rd Edition), pg. 18
- Codex: Grey Knights (5th Edition), pg. 55
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pg. 88
- Codex: Inquisition (6th Edition), pg. 136
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition), pg. 121
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pp. 63, 88, 100-101, 118
- Codex: Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 1, 11
- Codex: Space Wolves (5th Edition), pg. 59
- Codex: Witch Hunters (3rd Edition), pp. 19, 22
- Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs (RPG), pg. 114
- Dark Heresy Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 133
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pp. 109, 148, 171, 173
- Deathwatch: First Founding (RPG), pp. 97-98
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pp. 134, 140
- Imperial Armour Volume Two - Space Marines and Forces of the Inquisition, pg. 101
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pp. 49-50
- Imperial Armour Volume Four - The Anphelion Project, pp. 126-128
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War - Part One, pp. 60, 86, 91, 94, 102, 120, 128
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Part Two, pp. 65, 71, 76, 86, 115, 128, 133
- Imperial Armour Volume Twelve - The Fall of Orpheus, pp. 138-140, 142
- Index Astartes III, pg. 58
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 122
- Rogue Trader: Faith & Coin (RPG), pg. 82
- Rogue Trader: Hostile Acquisition (RPG), pg. 50
- Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pg. 112
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal by Alan Bligh, pp. 230, 232
- The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre by Alan Bligh, pp. 53, 74, 76, 102-104, 106-107, 123-124, 126-127, 144-147, 185, 209
- Warhammer 40,000 - Apocalypse War Zone: Damnos, pg. 18
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 54, 56
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (4th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (3rd Edition), pg. 60
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pg. 70
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (4th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (2nd Edition)
- The Purging of Kadillus (Novel) by Gav Thorpe
- Warriors of Ultramar (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer (Background Book), pp.18-25
- Umbra Pattern Bolter
- Umbra Ferrox Pattern Bolter
- Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade - Rogue Trader Store: Sternguard Bolter