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"If you will not serve in combat, then you will serve on the firing line."
— Commissar Anton Gebbet, 1st Kronus Regiment
Commisar Officer

Typical Imperial Guard Commissar panoply; a greatcoat with epaulets and red-lined collar and cuffs, an officer's peak cap with Imperialis device, Bolt Pistol and Chainsword

Commissar is the term used to designate a political officer of the elite Militarum Tempestus who serves in the regiments of the Imperial Guard or aboard the voidships of the Imperial Navy as the representatives of the Imperial Commissariat. Commissars are tasked with the duty to maintain the morale of the troops during their massive campaigns, often in the face of staggering casualties. The Commissar is empowered to use any means necessary to ensure the loyalty and moral purity of his or her charges, including overriding or even executing a regiment's commanding officer if necessary, and so is regarded with a mixture of fear and admiration by rank-and-file Guardsmen -- and not a few of their officers.

History of the CommissariatEdit

The Imperial Army of the Great Crusade was raised from the fighting men of the worlds liberated by the Space Marine Legions of the Emperor of Mankind in the late 30th Millennium. They were used almost exclusively for garrison and pacification roles on both their home and foreign worlds throughout the early stages of the Crusade, but by the latter half, they were fighting offensive battles and supplementing the Space Marine Legions as the Astartes began to be stretched too thinly across the growing Imperium. The Imperial Army at this time was organised with no particular standardisation, and regimental makeups ranged from barbarians wielding Power Axes to advanced mechanised infantry armed with energy weapons whose designs have now been lost. During this time, the regiments were left almost exclusively to their own recognisance as long as they served faithfully, and conformed to the few restrictions placed on them.

Discipline Master

Imperial Army Discipline Master during the Great Crusade, the position which later evolved into the Commissar

During the Great Crusade, some Imperial Army regiments utilised specialists known as Discipline Masters. These stern task masters were responsible for maintaining discipline within the regiment to which they were assigned. They were also responsible for tracking down Imperial Army deserters that repudiated their oaths to the Emperor and shirked their soldierly responsibilities. They were known to use hunting eagles to help them track their prey. Their fanatical dedication to the service of the Emperor overrode any feelings of compassion, mercy or humanity when carrying out the summary executions of those found wanting, for which they employed a ceremonial Electro-scythe. The Discipline Masters served as the pre-cursor and model for the later Imperial Commissariat and its merciless Commissars.

During the Horus Heresy, an estimated 40-50% of the Imperial Army turned on the Emperor and joined the Traitor forces of the Warmaster Horus to make war on the Imperium. Most of these Traitor Army regiments eventually broke down into feudal and fragmented Chaos Cults, worshipping the various Chaos Gods, and causing great havoc amongst the civilian populations of thousands of worlds. With the added range of their regimental Cruisers, the Traitor Army units spread quickly and left a bloody swathe of depopulated and dead worlds in their wake, many of which had once been their own responsibilities to defend or even their homeworlds. It is suspected that a number of Traitor Army regiments were used in the Battle of Terra, though the exact extent of the Traitor forces has never been properly calculated, and most Chaos-tainted Imperial Army regiments became indistinguishable from one another as their corruption deepened.

With Horus' defeat in the early 31st Millennium, and the retreat of the Forces of Chaos to the Eye of Terror, the remaining Loyalist regiments of the Imperial Army underwent massive changes, and became much more heavily standardised under the logistical aegis of the Adeptus Administratum's Departmento Munitorum. The Imperial Navy was separated from the Imperial Army and transformed into a separate service, whilst the Imperial Army's ground forces were renamed the Imperial Guard. During this time, the Commissariat was formed to be the Imperium's bulwark among the members of the Imperial Guard against the influence of Chaos. A Commissar was given power to ensure his or her regiment's continuing loyalty, and was charged to do anything necessary to prevent the corruption or spread of Chaos among the Guardsmen of that unit. Commissars were attached to every regiment, and were used extensively in the immediate wake of the Traitor forces' retreat to ensure that the population of planets that had been ravaged by Chaos were not subverted by Chaos splinter cells or sleeper Chaos Cults. Before the Imperium was fully re-forged under the leadership of the Primarch Roboute Guilliman, millions of people would be executed by the Commissariat as Traitors or Heretics. Eventually, this role was handed over to the Imperial Inquisition and its Ordo Malleus (and later the Ordo Hereticus after it was founded during the Age of Apostasy in the early 36th Millennium) which as investigative agencies were much more suited to rooting out internal threats to Mankind than the primarily military political officers of the Commissariat.

Over the last 10,000 Terran years, the Commissariat has remained an important facet of the Imperial Guard's command structure, and it is rare not to see at least one Commissar attached to the command staff of a Regimental Officer or Lord Commander's staff. Several Commissars have even attained Imperial commands of their own, including the Commissar Yarrick, who took command of the Steel Legionnaires of Hades Hive during the Second War for Armageddon, and became overall commander of Imperial forces during the Third War for Armageddon. The only known Commissars to have held and retained overall command of a full regiment included Commissar Ibram Gaunt, who became the only known Colonel-Commissar of the orphaned Tanith 1st Regiment, after receiving command of the Tanith 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments from Warmaster Slaydo during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and losing the 2nd and 3rd when Tanith fell to Chaos. Commissar-General Delane Oktar also commanded the Hyrkan 8th Regiment and was Gaunt's personal tutor. Also, a ruthless individual named Lady Commissar-General Viktoria Balshin was charged with purging the perceived taint of Chaos from the Second Front of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.

Commissar TrainingEdit

Commisar Training Squad 2

Commissar Training Squad

Commissars are trained from a young age to be strict adherents and upholders of the Imperial Creed and its associated strictures by the Schola Progenium, which serves the purpose of education and military training centers for Commissarial Cadets, Grenadiers, and Storm Troopers for all Imperial Guard regiments, and also provides officers for some. Training in this respect is highly demanding, and is designed to weed out the weak as soon as possible so as to concentrate on the most skilled candidates. Training includes military exercises, weapons proficiency, hand-to-hand combat, religious studies, and is directed at ensuring the total dedication of the student, and developing the ability for them to deliver the Emperor's Justice without hesitation or remorse.

After attaining suitable age and education at one of the many Schola Progenium institutions, a potential Commissar is assigned to a regiment in the Imperial Guard at the rank of Commissar Cadet (akin to the rank of Private in the Guard), and under the tutelage of either the regiment's commanding officer, or another Commissar. These young soldiers form their own units of ten to twenty Cadets, lead by a veteran Commissar and armed with the ubiquitous Lasgun like all other regular Guardsmen. Guard commanders consider themselves fortunate when a Commissar Cadet unit joins their campaign, for the Cadets fight with a ferocity and courage uncommon even in the elite units of the Imperial Guard. Some of this may be put down to the fact that they will be summarily executed if they falter or retreat on the field of battle, but most Commissar Cadets are so dedicated to the cause of Mankind that they will eventually go on to become fully ordained Commissars if they do not die in combat. Other Imperial Guardsmen see the Commissar Cadet units as a blessing from the Emperor Himself, and as an omen of certain victory. Promotion to full Commissar status happens only when the Commissar Cadet unit's observer considers a Cadet ready, and this can take any length of time depending on the commanding Commissar in question.

Commissar Rank StructureEdit

  • Commissar-General - Commissar-General is the senior-most rank within the Commissariat. Besides their usual duties, these highly experienced Commissars are also tasked with the additional responsibilities of assigning Commissars under their command to overwatch Imperial Guard officers and promoting Commissar Cadets to full-Commissar status.
  • PDF Commissar - The Commissariat has oversight authority over all branches of the Imperial military (with the exception of the Adeptus Astartes, Adepta Sororitas and Skitarii soldiers of the Adeptus Mechanicus), which would include Planetary Defence Forces (PDF). Commissars assigned to these thankless postings are usually advanced in age, or have been subjected to disciplinary action. In practice, only a single Commissar would be assigned to a PDF of an entire world, or even several planets within a Sub-sector, playing little to no role in the activities of such forces. Therefore, the majority of these local Planetary Defence Forces are ignorant of these Commissars' existence. Some Planetary Defence Forces maintain their own local Commissariats. Tensions are often strained between these local Commissariats and the official Imperial Commissariat, especially in the matters of jurisdiction. It has even been known for Imperial Commissars to execute their local counterparts for overstepping their authority.
  • Lord-Commissar - Lord-Commissars are senior-ranking Commissars, promoted to this esteemed rank after displaying exemplary battlefield service. The battlefield heroics of a Lord-Commisar are often the stuff of legends to the average Guardsman.
  • Colonel-Commissar - Colonel-Commissar is a very rare rank, conferred upon a Commissar only in unusual or extraordinary circumstances. This rank refers only to those Commissars awarded regimental command rank, and charged with commanding an Imperial Guard regiment. Though the award of such a rank occurred as recently as the Sabbat Worlds Crusade to Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt of the Tanith First and Only regiment following the destruction of Tanith, the inherent conflict between the performance of the dual roles of Commissar and regimental commanding officer is normally seen as a threat to a regiment's discipline by the Commisariat.
  • Commissar-Captain - Commissar-Captain is a rarely-seen rank that is an intermediary position between a full Commissar and a Commissar-General. Though the particular role of a Commissar-Captain is not easily defined, it has been observed that Commissars who maintain this rank have been seen supervising at a regimental level.
  • Commissar - Commissar is the standard rank of these political officers, at least one being assigned per regiment of the Imperial Guard or voidship of the Imperial Navy. It is their duty to "encourage" the men of an Imperial Guard regiment to fight, fighting alongside the regiment's officers and taking control when morale is flagging or the men are not fighting with sufficient zeal. In such situations a Commissar can take over command from an officer and summarily execute any man who tries to flee. Even a Colonel of a regiment must be sure to display courage and zeal at all times when a Commissar is watching them.
  • Junior Commissar - Junior Commissars are subordinate to full Commissars, performing the role as a junior aide in the oversight of the regiment or voidship assigned to a full Commissar. They primarily perform as adjutants and in an investigatory role as well as carrying out the usual Commissarial duties. Junior Commissars often undertake their Commissarial role with smaller formations such as an individual squad, platoon or company.
  • Cadet Commissars - Cadet-Commissars are Commissars-in-training. Assigned to Commissar Training Squads they are armed and equipped with the standard gear of a regular Guardsman, although they maintain their usual Commissar panoply; leather long coat, gloves, jack boots, and high-peaked caps. Their uniforms only differ slightly from a full Commissar by featuring blue trim and a Cadet-Commissar emblem instead of the usual death's head emblem of a full Commissar. Their training has no set duration, and a Cadet-Commissar will only be graduated to full Commissar status upon being deemed worthy by the Commissariat.

Commissar WargearEdit

FemaleCommissar

A female Commissar with a Power Fist and wielding a Bolt Pistol

The Commissar's standard uniform consists of the great coat, with identifying gold and red epaulets, and red lining on collar and cuffs, a peaked officer's cap, usually black with red lining, and bearing an Aquila, or skull motif that denotes a member of the Commissariat, a black undercoat, with either red or gold finery, black combat pants, and combat boots. Many Commissars, particularly those who take on active combat roles, wear breast plates, usually decorated with the same motifs as their caps. Many also carry devotional symbols such as Aquila pendants or copies of various Imperial Cult gospels or Imperial war manuals.

Commissars are issued with a standard weapons complement of a Bolt Pistol and a Chainsword, which is first presented at their commissioning ceremony as a full Commissar in their Schola Progenium's High Chapel. Commissar Cadets are issued with a standard Imperial Guard Lasgun or an Autogun depending on their associated regiment, as well as any other kit their regiment may supply them with. Commissars attached to certain regiments sometimes adopt unique elements of that regiment's uniform, such as a gas mask or desert head scarfs, for the dual purpose of practicality and to make them seem more at home in the regimental culture.

Commissars have access to the Imperial Officer's Armoury, and as such, can arm themselves with a variety of weapons. Commissars usually tend to stick with their standard load-out for sentimental reasons, until they lose an element of it or gain enough notoriety to request more powerful weapons. Plasma Pistols, due to their rarity, are usually reserved for high ranking officers and Commissars, though many tend to stick with their Bolt Pistols, due to plasma weapons' tendency to overheat when used rapidly in the heat of battle. Power Weapons are easier to requisition, and are often requested to replace the standard issue chainsword. Commissars have been seen carrying anything from the classic Power Sword to the rarer Power Axe. Some Commissars have been known to use Power Fists, though these are by far the rarest weapons used by the members of the Commissariat.

Commissars have also been known to carry laser weapons, from Laspistols paired with a close combat weapon to their regiment's standard-issue Lasrifles. This is usually attributed to a familiarity and fondness developed for the reliability of the less powerful but more stable laser weapons during their stints in the Imperial Guard as Commissar Cadets.

Commissarial Duties and PowersEdit

Inspecting the troops

Commissar inspecting Imperial Guard troops

A Commissar is empowered to ensure the moral purity and devotion of the men and women of his platoon, company, or regiment by any means necessary. It is therefore not uncommon to see a Commissar executing any enlisted Guardsman, non-commissioned officer or officer showing signs of breaking due to overwhelming odds, which serves the dual purpose of reminding the Guardsmen of their greater fear for the Commissar's Bolt Pistol than the encroaching foe, and "inspiring" adjacent units to avoid the same fate. Commissars attached to a unit will rarely see their unit break in combat, however, as their own presence is usually enough to ensure that only the weakest and the most stupid will attempt to flee. Commissars unable to demand the fear and respect of a broken unit however often find themselves killed by the deserting unit as they know the Commissar would shoot them all before he let them retreat.

Guant Attack

Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt leading troopers of the Tanith First and Only regiment in battle

Commissars have been known to assume leadership positions for brief periods (usually only one battle), after executing a leading officer, such as a sergeant or minor lieutenant, and lead their charges forward with zeal and confidence that other Officers are rarely capable of even considering in the face of the enemy. Only a handful of Commissars have ever obtained leadership over large Imperial forces as a Lord Commander, or even a Governor Militant, such as Yarrick at Armageddon, and only a handful are known to have even retained full command of an entire regiment, such as Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. Commissars are enabled to execute any officer they see fit, including regimental commanding officers, and can even execute Lord Generals and Governors Militant if they have sufficient evidence of incompetence or treachery.

During planetary reclamation campaigns, in which the populace has been living for extended periods of time under alien domination, it is not an uncommon practice for the regimental Commissariat to set up information stations for the locals to give anonymous information detailing the activities of human Traitors who aided the alien forces in their occupation of the planet. This is most common on worlds retaken from the Tau Empire, as most other alien races usually destroy the previous occupants of the world. When the activity of Chaos is suspected, however, it is usually common practice for the Commissariat to refer this to the Inquisition, though Commissars are empowered to deal with the situation on their own if no Inquisitorial forces are available to answer the call.

Extended campaigns often call for extra duties to ensure the morale of the troops is kept high. As such, Commissars can requisition Administratum scribes to draft extensive propaganda pieces so long as their superior officer approves. This is a favoured tactic during siege campaigns, when Imperial forces can be cut off from reinforcements and supplies, and troop dedication becomes of the utmost priority. All Commissars are trained as excellent orators, and often deliver stirring speeches to their regiment or company prior to battle. During battle, the Commissar is almost always amongst the front lines, and roars a litany of battle cries and prayers to the Emperor to inspire his troops to battle. This often leads to friendly rivaleries between the Commissar and any Priest of the Ecclesiarchy present, as both men will constantly try to outdo each other with both stirring speeches and demonstrations of valour meant to motivate the troops.

Another of the Commissar's duties is to keep a watchful eye on any psyker under his care. Astropaths and Sanctioned Psykers attached to the Imperial Guard are trained to use their powers and are "in theory" capable of controlling them, but Commissars are trained to watch out for any signs of possible Warp taint and daemonic possession (gibbering, foaming, sleepwalking, revulsed eyes, etc.). Whenever this happens, the Commissar will swiftly step in and execute the psyker with a point-blank shot to the head. While this policy has led to many unnecessary executions of the Imperial Guard's corps of Sanctioned Psykers, the Commissar never hesitates; it is better to kill an "innocent" than to be faced with the fury of a newborn Daemonhost.

Notable CommissarsEdit

  • Lady Commissar-General Viktoria Balshin - Commissar-General Viktoria Balshin was the senior-ranking Commissar assigned to the Fifth Army Command Staff and thus its senior representative of Lord-General Barthol Van Voytz, the commander-in-chief of Warmaster Macaroth's Fifth Army forces, and supreme commander of the second front during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.
  • Commissar-General Delane Oktar - A senior-ranking Commissar that with the Hyrkan 8th, from the regiment's foundation to their victory on Balhaut, a world reclaimed by the Imperium during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. He is also notable for having mentored the young Junior-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, who gained full rank status of Commissar at Oktar's death-bed. He learned many important lessons from Oktar that taught him the resolve of serving as an effective Commissar tempered with humility and concern for the troops under his charge. These key lessons would later play in Commissar Gaunt's development of the Tanith First and Only into a very successful and notable fighting regiment of the Imperial Guard.
  • Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt - Commander of the Tanith 1st and Only regiment, and one of the few Commissars known to have commanded a full Imperial Guard regiment in his own right. He is the main character in the Gaunt's Ghosts series of novels by Dan Abnett.
  • Commissar Tomas Beije - Tomas Beije was an Imperial Commissar who served with the Tallarn 229th Regiment during its deployment to Adumbria to defend it against the Forces of Chaos in 937.M41. Beije was in the same Schola Progenium class as the famous Ciaphas Cain, and the two shared an intense hatred for one another throughout their careers. Beije was filled with an assortment of emotions; moral outrage, bafflement and seething envy for his rival, Cain, who has somehow, despite his lack of display and proper fear of the Emperor, had somehow managed to rise so high as a celebrated Hero of the Imperium, while Beije himself had not.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cain - Ciaphas Cain was an Imperial Commissar who was attached to the 597th Valhallan Regiment in the late 41st Millennium and who became lauded as one of the greatest heroes the Imperium had ever seen, a man held up as the pinnacle of achievement among the servants of the Emperor despite his own private memoirs which revealed that he thought of himself as a coward and a fraud. Cain was the main protagonist of the novels of Sandy Mitchell.
  • Commissar Doran Farrier - Doran Farrier was the Regimental Commissar and second-in-command of the 252nd Kauravan Conservator Regiment, serving under the command of Lord General Vance Stubbs during the Kaurava Campaign. Unlike many Commissars and their commanding officers, he proved to enjoy an amiable relationship with Stubbs, and Farrier served as a part of the Lord General's Honour Guard for nearly the entirety of the campaign.
  • Commissar Anton Gebbett - Regimental Commissar of the 1st Kronus Liberators, and second-in-command of the Imperial Guard forces on the world of Kronus during the Dark Crusade of the late 41st Millennium in the PC game Dawn of War - Dark Crusade. The Commissar's role of maintaining morale is underlined; in that if the Imperial Guard Headquarters at Victory Bay is attacked, and Commissar Gebbet, placed in command of the Regiment's 5th Company (whose loyalty and steadfastness is questionable), is killed, the morale and order of 5th Company deteriorates and they ally themselves with the enemy troops against the rest of the Regiment. In game, he is rarely seen without his entourage of Ogryn Bone'eads, who act as his bodyguards during any assault on Victory Bay.
  • Commissar Viktor Hark - Commissar assigned to the Tanith 1st and Only regiment by Lord General Lugo during the campaign on Hagia. Now promoted to Regimental Commissar by Ibram Gaunt. A main character in the ‘’Gaunt's Ghosts’’ series.
  • Commissar Holt - The player's advisor and second-in-command in the turn-based strategy computer game Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000. The only Commissar to be portrayed in live-action Full Motion Video by Larry Rew.
  • Commissar Pius Kowle - Pius Kowle was an effective and ruthless Commissar beyond reproach, but his actions were not tempered with humility or concern for the troops under his charge. After having a Guardsman flogged to death for wearing the wrong badge on his cap, Commissar Gaunt reported Kowle's heinous actions to Warmaster Slaydo, shorty before the climatic battle on Balhaut during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Kowle felt cheated and robbed of glory and never forgave Gaunt for this personal slight to his honour. Commissar Kowle was reassigned to the world of Verghast to the Vervun Primary Imperial Guard regiments, and took charge as the senior commander of the Vervun Primary Commissariat. This local Commissariat was theoretically subordinate to their parent organisation, the Imperial Commissariat, and possessed fewer powers over regular Imperial Guardsmen, but jurisdiction concerns arose during the Defence of Vervunhive during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.
  • Commissar Sebastian Yarrick - Hailed as the greatest Commissar in Imperial history, Yarrick was key to the defeat of the Ork invasions in both the Second and Third Wars for Armageddon.
  • Junior Commissar Nahum Ludd - Nahum Ludd is a Junior Commissar assigned to the Tanith First and Only Imperial Guard regiment, assisting fellow Commissar Viktor Hark with disciplinary duties. Despite his combat experience, the young Ludd was still naive, which prompted the senior Commissar Hark to take the Junior Commissar under his wing, to teach him the finer points of performing his Commissarial duties.
  • Terrax Guard Imperial Guard Regiments - Terrax is the location of one of the Imperium's largest Schola Progenium facilities, and all the Terrax Guard Imperial Guard regiments raised there are sent through the facility, and trained using the Commissarial training program. As such, a Terrax Guard Regiment is equivalent to a full regiment of Imperial Commissars.

SourcesEdit

  • Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pp. 32, 63
  • Codex: Imperial Guard (4th Edition), pp. 41, 52-53
  • Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 1st Codex), pp. 6, 13
  • Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd Edition) pp. 20, 78, 84
  • Codex Imperialis
  • Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 260
  • Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook, pp. 18, 60-61
  • Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000 (PC Game)
  • Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pg. 121
  • Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 61
  • Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (1st Edition), pg. 151
  • Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (3rd Edition), pg. 7
  • White Dwarf 248 (US), "In Defence of Armageddon"
  • White Dwarf 227 (US), "Chapter Approved - Imperial Guard, Commissar Yarrick"
  • White Dwarf 152 (US), "Commissar Yarrick and Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka", pp. 14-22
  • White Dwarf 115 (UK), "Commissar Training Squads"
  • White Dwarf 113 (UK), "The Pacification of Flotis III"
  • Ciaphas Cain (Novel Series) by Sandy Mitchell
  • Gaunt's Ghosts (Novel Series) by Dan Abnett
  • Rebel Winter (Novel) by Steve Parker, p. 52
  • Dawn of War - Dark Crusade (PC Game)
  • Dawn of War - Soulstorm (PC Game)

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