The Cadian 81st Armoured Regiment of the Imperial Guard, known informally as "Rolling Thunder", is a veteran armoured regiment that forms part of the 18th Imperial Guard Army Group "Exolon". They are most commonly remembered for their (now deceased) commanding officer, Colonel Vinneman, who embodied the fighting spirit of the regiment fiercely, and for the 81st Armoured's actions on the Ork-controlled world of Golgotha during Operation Thunderstorm.
Mercy Run on Palmeros
The 81st Armoured Regiment's earliest confirmed combat was on the planet of Palmeros. There, the regiment fought a losing battle against the Ork forces of Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka which were seeking to conquer the world. During the campaign, all of the regiment's 10 companies took heavy casualties, and were among the last Imperial Guard Regiments to withdraw before the planet was destroyed by Thraka's fleet of Ork Roks. The 81st Armoured Regiment's last recorded operation on Palmeros was a classified operation to Ghotenz, an anarchic city far from the 81st's forward base. Three tanks of the regiment's 10th Company (known as "The Gunheads"), under Sergeant Oskar Wulfe, escorted a Chimera carrying three Adepta Sororitas agents who were tasked with extracting a life-saving bone marrow sample to save the life of an important Imperial general and boost the morale of the Imperial soldiers extracted from Palmeros. As the group entered Lugo's Ditch, Sergeant Wulfe's Leman Russ tank, the Last Rites, suddenly stopped. The tank of Sergeant Strieber, the Steelhearted, carried on and hit a mine, wrecking the vehicle's treads and immobilising it. An Ork force then ambushed the Imperial column, but the surviving tanks, the Last Rites, the Sororitas' Chimera and the Champion of Cebera, the tank of Sergeant Kohl, broke out of the Greenskins' ambush, leaving Sergeant Strieber behind as a decoy. However, Kohl's tank had taken heavy damage and was delaying the rest of the column and so it turned back to help delay the Orks. Arriving in the city of Ghotenz, Last Rites and the Sororitas' Chimera made their way to the city's Imperial cathedral, delivering false messages of salvation from the Orks to the people in the city as they went to give them hope in their final hours before the Ork conquest. After the bone marrow was extracted from the right donor by the Sororitas, the two tanks proceeded back to the 81st's base, but the crew of the Last Rites were forced to abandon their tank to use the faster Chimera. The crew of the Last Rites and the three Sororitas boarded the final Imperial transport heading off-world just before Ork Roks (asteroid ships) slammed into the world of Palmeros, and the rest of the 81st Armoured Regiment proceeded towards the world of Golgotha, where Operation Thunderstorm was about to get underway.
Operation Thunderstorm was a mission to extract Commissar Yarrick's abandoned Baneblade super-heavy tank Fortress of Arrogance from the planet of Golgotha, where it had lain since the last Golgothan War against the Orks, where Commissar Yarrick had been captured and then released in time to face the Orks again in the Third War for Armageddon. The regiment's deployment went well, but Ork anti-aircraft fire scattered the 10th Company far from their intended landing zone when their dropship crash-landed in the desert. As the operation proceeded, the regiment secured the outpost at Karavassa, eliminating the Orks alongside the rest of the Imperial Guard's 10th Armoured Division deployed to the world. Meanwhile, the Gunheads linked up with 6 companies of the 98th Cadian Regiment under Colonel Stromm, losing one tank in the process. The two units merged their forces and proceeded to try and regroup with the main Imperial task force. As they did so, a large body of Orks drove them into a sandstorm, and another tank was lost after it drove over a cliff in the blind conditions. However, close after that, the force reached the outpost at Balkar, and regrouped with the rest of the 18th Army Group.
Proceeding through Red Gorge, the 81st Armoured Regiment launched a hasty attack on a large Ork fortification. Colonel Vinemman's personal Shadowsword was used to destroy the fort's gates, but Ork Fighta-Bombas took out the super-heavy tank before it could escape. Command of the regiment then fell to Captain Immrich, who led the regiment in an operation to create a gap in the Ork lines to allow the rest of the 18th Army Group to pass into the Ishwar Mountains. However, as the 18th Army Group reached the reported location of the Fortress of Arrogance, the famed super-heavy tank was no longer there, and so the regiment proceeded towards a large Ork camp, passing through Dar Laq in the process. Upon arriving at the Ork camp, a fierce battle ensued, with the 81st playing a key role in destroying Ork tanks and artillery. However, the appearance of a rampaging Ork Squiggoth caused havoc with the regiment's battle plan until Captain Immrich drew the Squiggoth into the Ork lines, creating an orgy of destruction among the regiment's green-skinned foes. After a tense battle, a shot from a Leman Russ Vanquisher pierced the heart of the Squiggoth, bringing it down for good.
Pushing into the Ork camp, the 81st's tanks came under heavy fire from Ork ambushers and a former Imperial super-heavy tank that they had modified for their use, later discovered to be the Fortress of Arrogance. The 18th Army Group's commander, General DeViers, ordered no one to fire upon the Fortress of Arrogance, but a missed shot by the gunner of the tank Last Rites II caused Major General Bergen to order all tanks to fire upon the Fortress, with a final shot killing the Ork Warboss who commanded it. However, the battle had taken a fierce toll on the regiment. Of the 100 tanks in the company at the start of Operation Thunderstorm, less then 10 remained, including the Last Rites II, commanded by Sergeant Wulfe, and Captain Immrich's tank, Firemane.
- Planetkill, "Mercy Run" (Short Story) by Steve Parker
- Gunheads (Novel) by Steve Parker