The Chainsword is the preferred close combat melee weapon of many of the military forces of the Imperium of Man. The Chainsword is essentially a sword with powered teeth that run along a single-edged blade like that of a chainsaw. Most versions of the weapon make use of monomolecularly-edged or otherwise razor sharp teeth. Chainswords are not subtle weapons, and wielding one is a statement in its own right: they are horrific tools of war, designed to bite, tear and eviscerate where more primitive blades merely cut and slice. The weapon makes an angry buzzing sound as the teeth spin around, intensifying into a high pitched scream as they grind into armour. It is not unlike a modern chainsaw, but lighter and able to be wielded with one hand. It is often used in conjunction with a Laspistol.
A Chainsword brings the weight of intimidation with its obvious effectiveness, and it promises pain before death. On worlds claimed by Humanity, these blades are items of status for criminals and high-ranking gang fighters, as well as weapons of lethal (and crowd-pleasing) necessity for indentured gladiators. Among Mankind's endless armies, the ubiquitous Chainsword has found a home in the arsenal of many Imperial Guard officers and Commissars, as well as serving as the weapon of choice for countless warriors among the Adeptus Astartes since the ancient era of the Space Marine Legions in the Great Crusade. This weapon serves in all forces that serve in boarding and assault parties -- such as Space Marine Assault Squads, Chaos Space Marines, especially the Chaos Space Marines' Raptor Assault Squads, and Eldar Striking Scorpions Aspect Warriors. The Chainsword has also been seen in common use amongst Imperial pirates and Rogue Trader captains.
In alien hands, chainblades take more exotic forms despite obeying the same function. An Ork "chain-choppa" will have none of an Eldar chainsabre's bone-sung elegance, and little of the reliability of a Space Marine's mass-produced weapon, but it will carve flesh and shed blood with the same eagerness. Orks often steal them for Mad Doks and Meks and it has been reported that Slugga Boyz also use them. Some Ork Warbosses have been known to attach them to their hands instead of Klaws.
Like many examples of human invention, the Chainsword's many variants seem to have their roots in the shrouded heresies of the Dark Age of Technology. Accordingly, it saw consistent use in the armoured fists of techno-barbarians during the Age of Strife, and among the Emperor's own armies during his Thunder Warriors' brutal conquest of Terra. But Chainswords have been wielded by inhuman hands for aeons. Several xenos races have borne such blades into battle even in the ages where Mankind could only look up to the stars with spears in their filthy hands. Tech-Priest foundry masters have speculated, down the centuries, that it is simply a natural evolution of the sword's design: from bronze to iron; from iron to steel; from steel to chain-teeth; and from chain-teeth to a weapon wreathed in an energy field -- such as the Imperial Power Sword.
But doubt remains. More than one Martian magos has devoted their life's work to researching the primeval origins of Chain Weapons ; mostly likely as an inspiration stolen from an alien race, in a war that may never be remembered. If this theorem ever bears fruit, it is distinctly possible that the galaxy's first wielders of Chainswords were jade-clad warriors of the ancient Eldar. As befitting the galaxy's most common type of chainweapon, chainswords come in hundreds upon hundreds of styles, patterns, and local variants. Two-handed blades are often referred to as "Eviscerators" by the Imperium, but these immense weapons come in almost as many variants as their more common counterparts.
Every Space Marine Chapter will forge its own blades with subtle differences to those of its brethren, just as every Forge World produces its tried and tested signature weapons based on its preferred schematics. The most common template for any Imperial chainsword is the Mk. XI "Hell's Teeth" pattern, with thousands of minor variations seeing use throughout Mankind's endless armies. Chapters such as the Flesh Tearers, the Marines Errant, the Minotaurs, and the Blood Eagles have made no secret of their own named pattern chainblades, usually divergent in matters of decoration and reverence. Unsurprisingly, one of the most dramatic Imperial variant is also found among the Adeptus Astartes: the so-called "Krakentooth" frost blade of the Space Wolves, with its chain-teeth supposedly formed from the fangs of the sea monsters blighting the oceans of their homeworld of Fenris.
Battle and Maintenance
Despite their relative ease of manufacture, few weapons require as much maintenance as the Imperial Chainsword. Fortunately the maintenance is of a mundane nature -- easily performed by any ganger or warrior -- rather than something like plasma technology which inevitably requires the sacred insight of a tech-priest in order to keep it functioning over time. Replacement teeth-tracks are found in vast crates alongside Lasgun power packs in every Imperial Guard drop zone, as well as being similarly stored aboard every Space Marine Thunderhawk Gunship. The first concern is that even the most well-forged chainsword will blunt quickly against heavy armour, especially the dense, ablative layers bolted onto an Orkish warlord, or the tainted Ceramite of a Traitor Marine. Chainswords lack the heavy cutting weight of Chainaxes and their bulkier ilk, and are better served to cleaving through the joints of heavy suits of armour.
Secondly, Chainswords are thirsty weapons. Some variants are much more efficient in terms of fuel consumption, but those that aren’t powered by self-sustaining energy generators drink Promethium fuel no differently to countless other low-tech Imperial machines, and emit the same crude, oily reek as any tank's engine. The final concern is one of skill. Chainswords can "throw" teeth when they're used in poorly executed parries, slapped blade-to-blade with other chainweapons, or simply wielded with all the precision of a club. While teeth are easily replaced and repaired, it is not uncommon for battles between Chainsword duellists to end with both the victor’s and the loser’s blades missing several teeth, especially if the fighters wore heavy armour. Ork weapons, especially those with chain-teeth made from the alien "ivory" of an Ork's own sharpened fangs, are especially vulnerable to this kind of degradation. Anyone with a modicum of experience wielding one of these weapons knows to parry with the reinforced flat of the blade, rather than catch a blow on the toothed, moving edge.
These issues of durability rarely apply off the battlefield. A hive ganger or sump-waste outlaw can own a Chainsword his entire life without suffering the same degenerative annoyances as an Assault Marine of the Adeptus Astartes, because – like any weapon –- a Chainsword's use depends entirely on context. When used as intended against lightly armoured foes, a Chainsword is lethality incarnate. No other blade in existence cuts flesh with the same vicious, ravening hunger as a Chainsword. A fighter's strength will add to the blow's devastating effects, but where other melee weapons may rely purely on strength, a chainsword makes for a perfect duelling weapon; just as effective when wielded with grace and speed over brawn. Once the teeth even graze flesh, their motorised bite hooks deeper and saws through muscle, sinew and bone with the same, surgical ease. Just as nothing cuts meat and bone like a Chainsword, nothing bleeds like a Chainsword wound. Enemies losing arms and legs to these weapons (a practice commonly called "limbing" by Imperial Guard veterans with unpleasant smiles) can look forward to one of the bloodiest battlefield deaths imaginable, as their life pours out through the uncauterised, mangled stump of flesh that remains in place of a whole limb.
- Acitus Pattern Chainsword - A common pattern Astartes Chainsword utilised by such Chapters as the Novamarines Chapter.
- Astartes Chainsword - This massive weapon is commonly utilised by Assault Marines. These weapons generally have a flat carapace containing the chain teeth, with only the forward, curved section open where the spinning chain teeth can bite into flesh and bone.
- Drusian "Crusader" Chainsword - Manufactured by a variety of Forge Worlds, these popular weapons are a familiar sight throughout the edges of the sector where memories of Saint Drusus burn brightly. On Drusus Day, many shrines are crowded with multitudes of followers, raising their Chainswords (or mock replicas for the poor or young) in the air in honour of his works and sacrifice. For those who seek to continue the crusade in the Koronus Expanse, the most common pattern of this weapon uses a curved cutlass-like blade. Most are a holy silver in colour, and favour a large spiked basket-guard to better smite the unclean xenos.
- Eviscerator - Favoured by Ecclesiarchy zealots and Witch-Hunters, the Eviscerator is an obscenely large double-handed Chainsword fitted with a crude version of the disruption field generator more commonly found on Power Weapons. Although very unwieldy and tiring to use, the Eviscerator is fully capable of ripping an armoured man in half or tearing open the most blasphemously corrupted mutant in a single stroke.
- Frost Blade - Frost Blades are potent weapons unique to the Space Wolves Chapter, and can carve through the heaviest armour with ease. Frost Blades usually take the forms of Chainswords or Chainaxes, though they can exist in the form of any type of Imperial melee weapon. Frost Blades are master works created by the Space Wolves' Iron Priests -- each is incredibly rare and prestigious. The teeth of these icy Chain Weapons are always cut from nigh-unbreakable substances such as Ice Kraken fangs or tempered diamond. The unique power fields enveloping Frost Blades have a distinctive blue cast. A Frost Blade combines the best qualities of a Chain Weapon and a Power Weapon. Some Frost Axes have blades of energised diamond rather than chainblades, which gives the weapons the appearance that they have been carved from a single, lethal shard of ice.
- Gore Prow Pattern - A notable Chapter subtype pattern Chainsword known to be utilised by the zealous Fire Hawks Space Marine Chapter.
- Hecate Pattern Chainsword - This pattern of Chainsword weighs a full 6 kilograms but remains a well-balanced weapon useful in melee combat that is often used by Rogue Traders to intimidate foes and mutinous crew members alike.
- Hydraphur-Pattern Chainsword - Sometimes called a Chain-Cutlass, these short-bladed, curved Chainswords are favoured by armsmen crew chiefs for their brutality. Their shorter length makes them easier to wield in the close confines of a starship corridor, while their more compact design conceals two parallel rows of teeth, allowing it to deal greater damage than its size might otherwise suggest, at the cost of poorly-distributed balance.
- Locke Pattern Double-Edged "Mercy" Chainsword - Some of the more maniacal wielders of Chainswords use customised models with two ripping edges, created by removing the protective carapace surrounding the near side of the weapon. This modification (also available as a finished product due to demand) makes the weapon dangerous to the user as well, but this is not generally a concern and wielders proudly wear the numerous self-inflicted scars that using one often entails. "Mercy" chainswords typically come with a longer haft, so that they can be swung using two hands for deeper strikes.
- Mark IID "Errant" Pattern Chainsword - A notable Chapter subtype pattern Chainsword known to be utilised by the Marines Errant Space Marine Chapter.
- Mark V "Fangmaw" Pattern Chainsword - A notable Chapter subtype pattern Chainsword utilised exclusively by the savage Space Wolves Space Marine Chapter.
- Mark XI "Hell's Teeth" Pattern Chainsword - This pattern of the weapon is the most current version of the Chainsword used by Imperial military forces. The Mark XI pattern designed for use by an Astartes is much larger than one designed for use by a normal-sized human who is an Imperial Guard officer. This pattern is known to be utilised by the Lamenters Space Marine Chapter, amongst others.
- Thunder Edge Pattern Chainsword - An ancient pattern Chainsword utilised by the warriors of the Legiones Astartes during the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras, this pattern of Chainsword's origins may lie even further back in history, and were most likely utilised by the Thunder Warriors during the Wars of Unification on Terra.
- Legion Chainsword - As the name suggests, Chainswords are roughly sword-like in shape with a large flat housing containing the chain. Chainsword variants often used by the servants of Chaos have the entire blade chassis opened to expose the chained teeth. This makes the weapon more dangerous to both user and victim, but for a truly dedicated warrior this is of little concern. Like all their weapons, the Chainswords used by Chaos Space Marine forces are longer and heavier, fit only to be carried by these mightiest of warriors.
- Ironfang Chainsword - Designed to allow mere humans to approximate the deadly blows of a Chaos Space Marine, the Ironfang features a thick, bladed area with chained teeth nearly twice as wide as other Chainswords. The power from the backpack-mounted supply provides greater tearing strength, and the weighted nose of the sword allows the user to strike with heavy slashing blows.
- Phobos Pattern Great Chainsword - This huge two-handed weapon can run almost two metres in length, with a long grip and weighted pommel to allow for some semblance of balance in use. The chained teeth are exposed along the entire length, so that the user can swing it in both directions in combat more like a flail than a real sword. Originally used in Forge Polix as a tool for ripping apart large bulkheads and armour during construction, the tool was repurposed by warriors of Khorne who found it brutally effective on the battlefield. This is a two-handed melee weapon.
- Biting Blade - Utilised exclusively by the Striking Scorpions Exarchs, these large swords are reminiscent of the massive Eviscerators used by zealots within the Imperium, as Biting Blades are also long-bladed, two-handed chainswords. However, where Eviscerators are heavy, noisy machines, Biting Blades are slender and quiet, but no less deadly for their relatively light weight. Wielded properly, their razor-sharp teeth can tear through flesh and bone with horrific speed, and a skilled warrior can cleave a man in two without difficulty.
- Eldar Chainsword - A seldom-seen weapon, Eldar Chainswords bear only a superficial resemblance to the roaring, heavy blades of humans or Orks. Almost silent, they produce little more than a sibilant whisper as they tear through flesh and bone. Their swiftly-cycling rows of mono-edged teeth cause considerable damage to any creature in their path.
- Scorpion Chainsword - A lightweight Chainsword used by warriors of the Striking Scorpions Aspect Warriors, they are a deadly one-handed melee weapons whose vicious blade is comprised of diamond-toothed edges that mangle and tear flesh. Its advanced design augments the user's strength, making it an incredibly deadly weapon to use in close combat against infantry and lightly armoured targets.
- Choppa - Orks use a bewildering variety of bladed, spiked, serrated, jagged, barbed and notched hand weapons ranging from the proverbial blunt instrument to whirring Ork-tooth chainsaws. An Ork Chain Choppa is the Greenskin equivalent of a Chainsword, a large blunt instrument of death with large whirring jagged metal teeth that rip and tear an enemy apart in a hail of gore.
Notable Chainsword Wielders
- Wolf Lord Ragnar Blackmane of the Space Wolves Chapter
- Chapter Master Gabriel Seth of the Flesh Tearers Chapter
- Captain Leonatos of the Blood Angels Chapter
- Commissar Ciaphas Cain
- Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gauntof the Tanith First and Only ("Gaunt's Ghosts")
- Eldar Striking Scorpion Phoenix Lord Karandras
- Blood Reaver (Flesh Tearers) - Chapter Master Gabriel Seth of the Flesh Tearers wields Blood Reaver, one of his Chapter's most deadly relic weapons. Blood Reaver is a massive two-handed Chainsword that is almost twice the size of the standard variant used by Astartes squad Sergeants. It is deadly in its own right, but if the wielder is surrounded by dozens of enemies it can be swung in a 360 degree arc, shattering all foes in its path.
- Frostfang (Space Wolves) - The Wolf Lord Ragnar Blackmane received his Frost Blade while serving as a Wolfblade. The blade was said to have been carried by the earliest Wolfblades, since the days after the Primarch Leman Russ made his original agreement with House Belisarius to provide a force of Space Wolves Astartes as a security force. Passed down through generation, Frostfang is a mighty Frost Blade crafted centuries ago by the Iron Priest Fergus Forgrim, the famed master craftsman of the Space Wolves. Its chainsaw blade is fashioned from a rare metal that was created using a secret technique, that of which died with the ancient Iron Priest.
- Jaw of Bloodchairn (Ultramarines) - The Jaw of Bloodcharn was the Chainsword wielded by Tactical Squad Sergeant Kuriel during the war for a vital Agri-World in the Ango Sub-sector. Sudden attacks by dark-armoured Chaos Space Marines brought death to Kuriel’s captain and the sergeant stepped into his place to take command of the Ultramarines strike force. As the conflict escalated, Kuriel coordinated his efforts with allies from the Red Wolves and Sons of Orar Chapters, showing outstanding leadership ability. He was subsequently elevated to the Ultramarines' 1st Company and his promotion to the rank of Captain was only prevented when he volunteered to join the Deathwatch. His weapon is the mark of a great commander and is often given to up-and-coming Ultramarines slated for eventual officer status.
- Memor Nihilis (Flesh Tearers) - This massive Eviscerator Chainsword is intricately worked, with each tooth of the roaring blade inscribed to a level of detail few artisans could manage. This ornate work was done by the hand of a Sanguinary Priest, to commemorate the loss of the Chapter’s warriors claimed by the Black Rage. Barely visible script details the history and heraldry of dozens of warriors along the length of the blade, ever reminding its wielder of the peril of losing control of himself.
- Scipio's Regret (Angels Vermillion) - As with many other Blood Angels Successor Chapters, it is the practice of the Angels Vermillion to master many crafts and trades over the course of a Battle-Brother’s long life. The ornate and intricate ornamentation worked into the Chainsword now called Scipio's Regret could not have been achieved without such a life span to perfect the craft. It might have been better for its wielder had he not made his work so well, for Scipio was mobbed by desperate underhivers after defeating the beasts that plagued them, with the ungrateful wretches seeking to steal his marvellous blade. A Deathwatch Kill-team on the world was diverted to avenge the noble warrior and recover his weapon.
- The Teeth of the Blizzard - The Wolf Guard named Ralaff saved the life of the Great Wolf Logan Grimnar in the face of a Tyranid assault while using the Frost Blade called The Teeth of the Blizzard.
- Witchbane (Black Templars) - Black Templars Brother-Sergeant Navrell bore the Chainsword Witchbane into battle against Eldar pirates on the world of Scoth in the Ixaniad Sector. What started as a small skirmish escalated when a Webway portal opened on a ridge above the fighting. Through it stepped a black-robed Farseer, and behind him, a stream of Eldar reinforcements. Navrell led three squads to eliminate the new threat. Crackling balefire and slicing Eldar shurikens decimated his men, but Navrell fought through to cut down the Farseer. The portal snapped shut, and Navrell's Chainsword slew many more Eldar that day. It was this deed that led to Navrell’s secondment to the Deathwatch, bringing his weapon, now named Witchbane, with him.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 162
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Blood (RPG), pg. 37
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Edition) pg. 59
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 34, 84
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition, 1st Codex), pg. 20
- Codex: Dark Angels (4th Edition), pg. 48
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition), pp. 33, 156
- Codex: Orks (4th Edition), pg. 89
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pp. 60, 97
- Codex: Space Wolves (5th Edition), pg. 57
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 140
- Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs (RPG), pg. 116
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 153
- Deathwatch: Honour the Chapter (RPG), pp. 130, 132
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pg. 156, 158
- Games Workshop: Specialist Games Catalogue, pg. 105
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine - The Badab War - Part One, pp. 72, 78, 117
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Part Two, pg. 80
- Imperial Armour Volume Eleven - The Doom of Mymeara, pg. 114
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 115, 129
- Rogue Trader: Hostile Acquisitions (RPG), pg. 55
- Rogue Trader: The Explorer's Handbook (RPG), pg. 122
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 203
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 156
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (2nd Edition), pg. 7
- Warhammer 40,000: Munitorum - Chainsword (Digital Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (Video Game)
- Dawn of War II (PC Game)