- "If you will not serve in combat, then you will serve on the firing line."
- — Commissar Anton Gebbet, 1st Kronus Regiment
Commissar is the term used to designate a political officer in the Regiments of the Imperial Guard. 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, and is regarded with a mixture of fear and admiration by regular Guardsmen.
History of the Commissariat
The Imperial Army of the Great Crusade was organised from the fighting men of the worlds liberated by the Space Marine Legions of the Emperor of Mankind. 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 they began to be stretched more thinly across the growing Imperium. The Imperial Army was organised with no particular standardization, 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.
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 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, 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 heavily standardised. 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. The 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 re-forged, millions of people would be executed by the Commissariat as Traitors or heretics. Eventually, this role was given to the Imperial Inquisition and its Ordo Hereticus and Ordo Malleus.
Over the last 10,000 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.
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 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 Weapons and Gear
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 field roles, wear breast plates, usually decorated with the same motifs as their caps. Many also carry devotional symbols such as Aquila pendents or copies of various Imperial gospels or war manuals.
Commissars are issued with a standard weapons complement of a Bolt Pistol and a Chainsword, which is first presented at their inauguration 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 Commissariat.
Commissars have also been known to carry las weapons, from Laspistols with a close combat weapon to Guard-issue Lasrifles. This is usually attributed to a familiarity and fondness developed for the reliability of the less powerful but more stable laser weapon during their stints in the Guard as Commissar Cadets.
Commissarial Duties and Powers
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 Guardsman or officer showing signs of breaking due to overwhelming odds, which serves the dual purpose of reminding soldiers of their greater fear for the Commissar's Bolter 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.
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 attained leadership of large forces, usually commanded by a Lord Commander, or even a Governor Militant, such as Yarrick at Armageddon, and only a couple are known to have retained full command of an entire regiment, such as Colonel Commissar 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.
- 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.
- 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 Anton Gebbet - 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 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.
- Terrax Imperial Guard Regiments - Terrax is the location of one of the Imperium's largest Schola Progenium facilities, and all regiments raised there are sent through the facility, and trained using the Commissarial training program. As such, a Terraxian Regiment is equivalent to a full regiment of Imperial Commissars.
- Dawn of War - Dark Crusade (PC Game)
- Ciaphas Cain (Novel Series) by Sandy Mitchell
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pp. 32, 63
- Codex: Imperial Guard (4th Edition), pp. 41, 52-53
- Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 1st Codex)
- Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd Edition) pp. 20, 78, 84
- Codex Imperialis
- Dark Heresy: Inquisitor's Handbook
- Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000 (PC Game)
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, p. 121
- Gaunt's Ghosts (Novel Series) by Dan Abnett
- Rebel Winter (Novel) by Steve Parker, p. 52
- Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (1st Edition), pg. 151
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (3rd Edition), p. 7
- White Dwarf 113 (UK), "The Pacification of Flotis III"
- White Dwarf 115 (UK), "Commissar Training Squads"
- White Dwarf 152 (US), "Commissar Yarrick and Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka", pp. 14-22
- White Dwarf 227 (US), "Chapter Approved - Imperial Guard, Commissar Yarrick"
- White Dwarf 248 (US), "In Defence of Armageddon"