|Attacker||Imperium of Man|
|Defender||Various independent human-settled worlds and xenos species|
|Attacking Commander||Emperor of Mankind, Warmaster Horus, Roboute Guilliman, Rogal Dorn, Leman Russ, Lion El'Jonson, Fulgrim, Perturabo, Jaghatai Khan, Konrad Curze, Sanguinius, Ferrus Manus, Angron, Mortarion, Lorgar, Magnus the Red, Vulkan, Corax, Alpharius Omegon, various Imperial Army commanders|
|Date||ca. 798.M30 - ca. 005.M31|
|Theatre||Multiple Sectors across the Milky Way Galaxy|
|Strength (attackers)||Space Marine Legions, Imperial Army, Collegia Titanica, Adeptus Mechanicus military forces|
|Casualties (attackers)||Within expected Imperial tolerances|
|Casualties (defenders)||High, many xenos species were driven to exctinction while human worlds that refused to accept Imperial Compliance suffered often bloody assaults with high casualties|
|Status||Incomplete Imperial Victory; Great Crusade interrupted by the outbreak of the Horus Heresy|
|Outcome||Large swathes of the galaxy were unified under the rule of the Imperium of Man|
The Great Crusade was the period in the early history of the Imperium of Man, lasting from approximately 798.M30 into the first decades of the 31st Millennium (approximately a little over two standard centuries), when the Imperium was expanding as it sought to bring all of human-settled space back under the control of a single ruler, the Emperor of Mankind. The Great Crusade marked a brief era in human history of rebuilding, reunification and rapid technological advancement following the complete regression of Mankind into techno-barbarism during the 5,000 years of the Age of Strife. It was a time when the Emperor of Mankind still lived in the conventional sense and led His people in person. The Great Crusade era is considered the Golden Age of the Imperium before the long, slow slide into cultural stagnation, political repression and increasing warfare that marked the ten millennia after the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy had ended.
The Emperor of Mankind sought to unite all of humanity under one banner following the Long Night of the Age of Strife, and end inter-human conflict. Once united, the Emperor intended to begin the next stage of His great plan to ensure human domination of the Milky Way Galaxy, which He judged to be necessary if humanity was to survive the never-ceasing threats to its existence embodied by Chaos, myriad xenos races and its own fragile human nature. To carry out the Great Crusade and reunite all the scattered colony worlds of Mankind beneath the single banner of the Imperium of Man, the Emperor created the Space Marine Legions that would form the core of the later Adeptus Astartes and the Imperial Army to serve as a support and garrison force for the Astartes. The use of accelerated gene-culturing of gene-seed organs to fill the need for vast numbers of Space Marines later lead to the development of genetic flaws in many of the Legions, which would be one factor in bringing on the Great Betrayal of the Horus Heresy.
These forces, with the technological and military aid of the Mechanicum as required by the Treaty of Mars, would bring the light of the Imperial Truth and enforce Imperial Compliance with the new regime on every human world encountered. At its peak in the early 31st Millennium, some 203 standard years after it began, there were 4,287 primary Expedition Fleets engaged upon the business of enforcing Imperial Compliance and extending the Imperial aegis across the galaxy as well as 60,000+ secondary deployment groups involved in regulating Compliance or Imperial occupations. A further 372 Expedition Fleets were regrouping or refitting in the Sol System or other Imperial hub star systems or resupplying as they awaited new orders. Some 4.3 million Remembrancers, official Imperial artists and journalists, were sent out with these fleets in the final days of the Great Crusade to record for posterity in pictures, words and music all that the Imperial warriors of the Crusade were accomplishing in the name of Mankind. Finally, every Imperial Expedition Fleet carried with it a corps of Iterators, Imperial philosophers, rhetoricians and propagandists who sought to spread the Imperial Truth to every human world and convince their populations of the benefits to be had from Imperial rule.
The Great Crusade was under the direct, personal command of the Emperor of Mankind until the great victory won against a massive Ork WAAAGH! during the Ullanor Crusade. After the defeat of the Orks achieved a new high point for the Great Crusade, the Emperor retired to Terra to begin work on a secret project deep within the Imperial Palace to open the labyrinthine interdimensional Eldar Webway to humanity's use so that the Imperium could be tied together as never before. The Emperor named His favorite son Horus, the Primarch of the Luna Wolves Space Marine Legion, as the Imperial Warmaster and gave him full authority to direct the Great Crusade's progression as he saw fit, including the right to command all of his fellow brother Primarchs and their Legions of Astartes. The Emperor also established the Council of Terra and the Imperial bureaucracy, the forerunners of the later Senatorum Imperialis of the High Lords of Terra and the Adeptus Administratum, to begin shifting the Imperium from His personal rule to a government that more closely served the needs of the Imperium's common people. The Emperor's secrecy and willingness to hand power over to others produced enormous tensions with some of the Primarchs and ultimately became one of the weaknesses that the Ruinous Powers exploited to corrupt 9 Primarchs and their Space Marine Legions into the service of Chaos, unleashing the terrible civil war known as the Horus Heresy. This conflict ended the Great Crusade and the Golden Age of the Imperium. From that time to the present in the late 41st Millennium, the Imperium has known only stagnation, oppression, religious strife and endless war.
The End of the Age of Strife
During the Age of Strife the Emperor, who had spent all the years of his immortal life since his birth in the 8th Millennium B.C. seeking to guide Mankind to a better destiny, was trapped on the techno-barbarian-ravaged Earth, due to the massive Warp Storms prevalent throughout the galaxy in the 5,000 standard years before the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh once more made travel and Astropathic communication through the Warp possible. Not content to simply sit back while humanity suffered through the long years of Old Night, the Emperor of Mankind spent this time performing intensive biological research on the human genome in gene-laboratories hidden deep below the Himalayan Mountains, seeking a way that he could ultimately reunite all of humanity so that it could once more pursue its destiny of taking control over the Milky Way Galaxy as other intelligent species like the Eldar had already done. The Emperor, who did not bear that title at this early date, had always worked to advance his agenda from behind the scenes and a long list of different identities over the millennia, some of them very well-known. But to save Mankind from the disaster of the Age of Strife, it had become apparent that he would have to take a far more open political role than he had previously preferred if the human race was to be saved from ultimate extinction.
The result of his scientific work was the creation of the first prototype supersoldiers who would serve as a template for the later development of the Space Marines. Using these first genetically-engineered supersoldiers, the Emperor unleashed the Unification Wars upon the techno-barbarian tribes and nation-states of Terra, forcing them to unite under a single government represented by a banner filled with thunder bolts with himself taking the title of the "Emperor of Mankind" after years of savage warfare. This event was later known in Imperial records as the Unification. After this, the Emperor realised that to reunite all of humanity, he would need generals in addition to himself whom he could trust absolutely and who possessed capabilities similar to his own. So he ordered the creation of 20 highly advanced, genetically-engineered super humans known as the Primarchs. These super humans, created using the Emperor's own genome as the foundations of their genetic code, were intended to be the next stage in human evolution and to lead the reunification of Mankind. The Ruinous Powers of Chaos, however, fearful of the effect the Emperor's plans would have upon their own power within the Immaterium, managed to bypass the arcane wards protecting the Emperor's secret gene-laboratory under the Himalayas, and teleport the unborn Primarchs, still in their gestation capsules, away from Terra, scattering them on different human-settled worlds across the galaxy and tainting several of them with the touch of Chaos that would bloom in time. Facing this setback, the Emperor decided to change his tactics if not his ultimate goal of reunification. He gathered the remaining genetic material that had been used to create the Primarchs and from it cultured thousands of sets of gene-seed that could be gestated into individual sets of 19 separate organs that when implanted within the body of an adolescent human male would transform him into the superhuman warriors known as the Astartes in High Gothic, the first true Space Marines. The Emperor raised 20 Legions of Astartes, each making use of gene-seed organs cultured from the DNA of one of the Primarchs, from among the population of a newly unified Terra. After five millennia and the birth of Slaanesh following the events that led to the Fall of the Eldar, the massive Warp Storms finally dissipated across the galaxy. With their absence allowing interstellar travel once again, the Emperor moved forward with his plans to begin the conquest of the galaxy.
Mars and the Adeptus Mechanicus
The Emperor's first obstacle to the reunification of Mankind was the existence of the empire of the Tech-priests of the Cult Mechanicus on Mars, who had historically been fiercely independent of Earth. Instead of an outright war, the Emperor used the threat of an assault by his Space Marines on Mars in the 30th Millennium to form an alliance with the Tech-priests of what would later be called the Adeptus Mechanicus on the Red Planet, an alliance that would form the heart of the newborn Imperium of Man and would be symbolised by the adoption of the two headed-eagle or Aquila that is till the primary icon of the Imperium. Despite his disdain for their reliance on religion and cybernetic augmentation of their bodies, the Emperor knew that he would need Mars' great manufactorums (factories), mechanical output and ancient technological knowledge to build the military force required to reunify humanity across the galaxy, and he incorporated them into the Imperium. The Tech-priests of Mars, likewise, saw the Emperor's extraordinary scientific knowledge and technological skill as proof that he was the Machine God (also known as the Omnissiah), who the creed of the Cult Mechanicus had promised would return one day to the Red Planet and offer the true way forward for humanity.
The Conquest of the Void
The Great Crusade was the largest and most ambitious military endeavour ever undertaken by Mankind. As mighty and valiant as the hosts of the Emperor were, this epic undertaking would have been entirely impossible without the countless thousands of Warp-capable vessels that transported hundreds of thousands of the superhuman warriors of the Space Marine Legions and many millions of Imperial Army soldiers from one star's light to the next. The Great Crusade saw a staggering array of vessels constructed, reclaimed or pressed into service. Some were used for a matter of months before being declared obsolete or wearing out and degrading to destruction, quite apart from losses incurred in battle, while others gained a permanent place in the canon of war, with successful designs endlessly copied and modified as the decades progressed. The first vessels to enter the service of the Imperium were constructed in the orbital foundries of Terra, and later Mars' Ring of Iron and the orbital shipyards of Saturn, under the scrutiny of the Emperor and the Forge-wrights of the Mechanicum, and indeed it was only that in alliance with Mars that the trans-solar expansion was possible in any meaningful way. This was further aided when at last the Saturnyne Dominion, with its accomplished ship-masters, joined the Imperium after their alien overlords were overthrown, and as the Imperium expanded, many more great shipyards were added: Voss, Grulgarod, Lorin and Cypra Mundi, all grew to near rival Mars itself in voidship production.
Driven by the will of the Emperor, the first Expeditionary Fleets pushed outwards into the galaxy. Preceding each great Expeditionary Fleet of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of vessels often ranged smaller contingents of independent flotillas led by a class of martial leader that would become known as the Rogue Traders Militant. Many of these individuals were former rulers of the numerous realms the Emperor had cast down first during the Unification Wars and later as the Great Crusade spread, formerly independent human worlds. They were offered a stark choice--bend their knee before the Emperor and swear service to the Great Crusade, or die by His hand. Though many set pride before what they regarded as slavery, others chose service and took up the Emperor's Warrant of Trade. There was a price, however. The Rogue Traders Militant were expected to scout ahead of the leading edge of the Great Crusade, accompanied by their own armies as well as whatever assets had been ceded them by the Emperor. Operating so far ahead of the Emperor's crusading armies, the Rogue Traders Militant could expect little or no aid should they encounter foes too powerful for them to overcome. After several Terran decades penetrating the inky black of the void, Rogue Trader Militant fleets often appeared as ramshackle vagabonds, many of their starships taken from defeated enemies, sometimes including xenos vessels of entirely novel or esoteric form. They were forbidden to return to Terra, for in His wisdom the Emperor sought not to just rid Himself of powerful rivals, but to ensure that even in their deaths they might serve Mankind. Many vanished alone and unheralded; slain, consumed or enslaved by nameless xenos abominations far form the light of Terra.
As the Imperium expanded, so too did its fleets. Countless long-lost wonders of technology were recovered, some wrested from the dead hands of unwilling custodians, and others surrendered willingly as fitting tribute to the Master of Mankind. Some vessels were unique, constructed by methods even the most accomplished Adepts of Mars could not hope to replicate: the Terminus Est, the Nicor, the Mirabilis and the Phalanx foremost among them. Other patterns and classes proved possible to reproduce and replicate, and before long the various arms of the Imperium's military acquired their own distinctive panoply of warships. Those of the Legiones Astartes were often blunt of prow and slab-armoured, built to endure the withering storm of fire that accompanies a planetary invasion, their plasma furnace-hearts powering some of the most destructive weapons known to Mankind. But beyond these practical needs, each fleet favoured the nature of its Legion, from the sable black marauders of the Raven Guard to the baroque crimson and gold battlecruisers of the Blood Angels to the brute functionality and unadorned steel of the Iron Warriors' siege-barques. The ships of the Emperor's wider naval armadas were more diverse affairs, built for void supremacy. They ranged from stately battleships, multi-kilometre long engines of doom, their armour concentrated to the fore and their flanks repleted with rank upon rank of broadside batteries, to lithe and deadly destroyers and stripped-bare Warp Runners, to watchful piquet frigates and lumbering star-fortresses. Beyond these were innumerable classes of transports, arks, conveyers and supply ships, the forge vessels of the Mechanicum and their own strange space-going engines of war.
Rediscovery of the Primarchs
Even with access to the vast fleets of starships and military materiel that the Forges of Mars could churn out, the expansion outwards into the galaxy from Terra was slow, primarily due to a lack of the necessary manpower and skilled leadership. Without access to the Primarchs' unique genomes, the time required to create a Space Marine was far longer than ideal. The Emperor was also adamant that all the genetic material for new Astartes gene-seed must come directly from him, to keep the gene-seed organs pure and 100% effective, as mutation had a habit of setting in even at this early date in the Adeptus Astartes' existence. Only a short time after he had launched the great expedition to reunite Mankind that he called the "Great Crusade," the Emperor was reunited with one of his Primarchs after his Great Crusade Expeditionary Fleet reached the nearby Mining World of Cthonia during one of its first journeys through the Warp; this was Horus, the future Warmaster of the Imperial armies. Being the first Primarch rediscovered by the Emperor, the first of his beloved sons who had returned to him, Horus and the Emperor soon formed a truly unique bond of friendship and paternal love, saving one anothers' lives on many occasions. Horus was given command of the XVI Legion of Space Marines, the Luna Wolves, and he soon set the precedent for raising all future Astartes for his Legion from among the men of his former homeworld, in this case Cthonia. With the increased Space Marine production made possible by direct access to a Primarch's genome, the Great Crusade began picking up steam, with the Emperor's "Imperium of Man" bringing many new worlds into "Imperial Compliance" either through negotiation and diplomacy or outright conquest when all other methods failed. Each world was also introduced to the Imperial Truth, the Emperor's chosen philosophy and the foundation for Imperial culture, which was stridently atheistic and rejected all forms of human religion or spirituality as mere superstition to be replaced by the cold rationalism of scientific progress. Though the Emperor loathed war, he understood that if Mankind was to survive the rigours of a hostile universe it must stand united, even if that unification had to be forced in certain instances.
After 30 years of successful Crusading, the Emperor discovered another of the Primarchs. Although Horus was pleased at the discovery of one of his brothers, he secretly hoped to always be the Emperor's favorite son, no matter how many of his brothers were rediscovered. Over time, all of the Primarchs were rediscovered by the various Expeditionary Fleets of the Great Crusade and given command of the Space Marine Legion for which their genetic code had been used as the foundation of that Legion's gene-seed. The order in which the Primarchs were discovered is not clear in the Imperial records. Horus was clearly the first to be rediscovered, and Alpharius of the Alpha Legion was the last. Rogal Dorn of the Imperial Fists was the seventh of the Primarchs to be found, while Lion El'Jonson was discovered on the Death World of Caliban after Leman Russ of the Space Wolves had already been recovered by the Emperor on Fenris. Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons was found on Prospero before his brother Lorgar of the Word Bearers welcomed the Emperor to Colchis. Angron of the World Eaters was rescued against his will from his homeworld of Nuceria before the Great Crusade recovered Perturabo of the Iron Warriors from his homeworld of Olympia.
The Crusade also grew larger as the decades of conquest passed. With each new world brought into Imperial Compliance and made accepting of the Imperial Truth, its resources could be harnessed for the construction of ever more starships and the massive amounts of materiel needed to keep the entire massive enterprise moving forward. With the rediscovery of all of the Primarchs, the time required for Space Marine production was dramatically decreased; a new Astartes could be created in as little as a year at the height of the Great Crusade. This rapid creation process, however, would prove disastrous: mental defects and unique eccentricities began to creep into the ranks of the Astartes as the manpower needs of the Great Crusade called for larger and larger armies. Yet, by the early 31st Millennium, some 200 standard years after it had begun, the Great Crusade had reunited vast swathes of the galaxy under the leadership of the Emperor of Mankind, seemingly initiating a new Golden Age of progress and reason for the human race.
Blood and Illumination: The Pax Imperialis
- "There is no salvation from the darkness in men's hearts."
- — Ancient Terran Proverb
The Great Crusade brought peace to Mankind, ending wars between peoples and nations, binding all together in unity. It broke the chains of superstition and freed billions from the whims of tyrants and murderous xenos. Where before there had been strife and the cloud of ignorance, now there would be peace and truth. These were high ideals indeed, but ideals that came at a price. Mankind had to be dragged to illumination, and many tried to pull it back into the shadows, into the old ways of ignorance and discord. The Emperor had unified Terra not only through words and alliances, but also through force of arms. Illumination and peace had to be won by blood. This was the basic truth of the Pax Imperialis, and when the Great Crusade took to the stars, this truth went with it. But it was not only in open war that the blood price for universal peace had to be paid. The enemies of the Imperium were manifold, and even before Horus turned from the Emperor, there were those who nurtured treachery in their hearts, who mouthed words of loyalty whilst seeding discord. While the ideals of the Great Crusade saw warriors marching in open war, the truth was that there were other methods and other less noble battles fought to keep the peace. The Assassin Temples, the networks of informers and the Silent Agents of the Sigilite, the Annihilation Protocols, and the ancient and all but forbidden weapons wielded by a chosen few in the Legions, all these were the tools and warriors by which the Imperium enforced its ideals and, for a time, brought peace to the galaxy. For the Emperor, the means justified the ends in the pursuit of His great dream.
Fractures in Loyalty
As the Imperium grew and the Great Crusade fractured into hundreds of different Expeditionary Fleets that could be separate from one another for decades of relative time, the Primarchs and their Emperor began to grow distant from each other. The Night Lords and World Eaters Legions grew infamous for their ever-greater atrocities during the conquest of new worlds, the Thousand Sons' pursuit of knowledge transformed into the use of sorcery through the temptations secretly offered by Tzeentch, and the Word Bearers' fanatical religious beliefs in the Emperor's divinity led to a rift between them and the Emperor when he dramatically rejected their attempts at worship in light of the atheistic nature of the Imperial Truth he sought to impress on all the worlds of the Imperium. The Imperial Army, composed almost entirely of normal human soldiers (some Regiments such as the Geno Two-Five Chilliad were the products of selective breeding to produce more capable soldiers or officers), provided much-needed manpower for garrison and support duties for the planets brought into Imperial Compliance by the Crusade. Freed from garrison duties, the Space Marines who comprised the core of each Expeditionary Fleet could conquer yet more worlds in a shorter space of time. Many Astartes and Imperial Army soldiers began speaking only of their loyalty to the Primarch that they served, and not to their Emperor. Owing to the isolation between the Legions and the Emperor after the Ullanor Crusade when the Emperor returned to Terra and left the Great Crusade in the hands of his favoured son Horus as the new Imperial Warmaster, this growing breach between the military and the people of the Imperium as represented by the Emperor essentially went unnoticed back on Terra.
Twilight of the Great Crusade
After Horus' successful campaign to destroy the largest Ork WAAAGH! known in the history of the Imperium to that point at the world of Ullanor during what became known to later Imperial historians as the semi-legendary Ullanor Crusade, the Emperor declared it the greatest victory of the Imperium to date. Horus' reward was the title and position of Imperial Warmaster and with it the supreme command of all of the Imperium's armed forces, Space Marines and Imperial Army starships and troops alike. After doing so, the Emperor made it known that he was needed back on Terra, where he would undertake a secret project intended to open the next phase in human cultural evolution. What the Emperor intended was to make use of the ancient artefact known as the Golden Throne, an instrument of technology created before the Age of Strife that had been unearthed on Terra that acted as a powerful psionic augmentation device, to open the Eldar Webway to the use of humanity, allowing all the worlds of the Imperium to be instantaneously interconnected through the Webway in a way that would make travel by starship obsolescent. The creation of a human Webway was intended to be the Emperor's greatest gift to Mankind and usher in millennia of progress and peace once the Great Crusade was complete.
Horus was not informed of the Emperor's plans on Terra, and felt deeply troubled by his father's sudden unwillingness to confide in him, once his closest confidante, and by his decision to retreat to Terra with the Great Crusade yet unfinished. To make matters worse, while some of his fellow Primarchs accepted his promotion, others, chiefly Angron, Night Haunter and Perturabo, openly begrudged Horus his new authority. There was also the widespread erroneous belief among the Astartes that the Emperor would disband or reduce the Space Marine Legions to the level of peacekeeping forces once the Great Crusade was completed. Horus resented his brothers' feelings and thought that while he was winning new worlds for the Imperium the Emperor was handing the Imperium he, his brothers and the Astartes had won to corrupt bureaucrats and Terran nobles who knew nothing of honour or sacrifice. These existing seeds of bitterness, jealousy and pain were all the Ruinous Powers of Chaos needed to sow the seeds of dissension in the Warmaster's mind.
Events came to a head following Horus' wounding at the end of the Great Crusade during a battle on the moon of Davin against Nurgleite undead by the Chaos-tainted weapon known as the Kinebrach Anathame that had been wielded by the Nurgle-corrupted former Planetary Governor of Davin, Eugen Temba. Even Horus' superhuman immune system could not defeat the terrible Nurgle-created toxin that had laced the blade of the Anathame, and in their desperation to save his life, the Captains of the Luna Wolves gave in to the machinations of the Word Bearers Legion's First Chaplain Erebus and gave Horus into the keeping of the Chaos Sorcerers of the Temple of the Serpent Lodge on Davin. As part of their "healing" ritual, the Sorcerers sent Horus' mind into the Warp, where Erebus, acting as the agent of the Dark Gods, used a deceptive vision of the future of the Imperium where the Emperor was worshiped as a God to convince Horus, who was filled with jealousy at the sight of thousands of pilgrims worshiping in a grand cathedral dedicated to the Emperor, to replace his father as the master of the galaxy. When Horus awakened fully healed, he awoke already corrupted, ready in his terrible ambition to turn on his father and attempt to wrest control of the Imperium from the Emperor no matter the cost, unleashing the terrible civil war known as the Horus Heresy. In return for his allegiance to their cause, the Chaos Gods offered Horus the power of the Warp, cementing the corruption of his soul.
Horus would never realise that the dark future of the Imperium that the Chaos Gods had shown him, where Mankind was oppressed by superstition, ignorance and constant war, would be caused by his actions and his betrayal of his father. The Heresy would end with the death of Horus, the exile of his 9 Traitor Legions into the Eye of Terror, and the quasi-death of the Emperor of Man following his internment within the Golden Throne, ironically the very instrument through which he had hoped to open the Webway and create vast new vistas of progress for Mankind.
Chronology of the Final Years of the Great Crusade
Note: The following information was compiled by agents of Malcador the Sigillite following the outbreak of the Horus Heresy. As more information is uncovered in newly discovered Imperial records, it will be added to the chronology.
The Emperor's Mistake
At first glance, the forging of the Imperium of Man and the Imperial Truth during the Great Crusade seems to be a great contradiction: why would the Emperor of Mankind, an immortal being who had been alive for millennia and who well knew about the existence of the Chaos Gods, daemons and all the other psychically-reactive entities of the Immaterium, promulgate a code of belief that only upheld reason and science? Particularly when the psychic power within the Warp generated by the faith of billions of people could be used to protect them from the influence of Chaos. The reason seems to be that the Emperor's entire purpose in initiating the Great Crusade and the creation of a galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man was to seek the destruction of Chaos once and for all. The Emperor, who had himself been responsible for the development of several of the major religions once prevalent on Old Earth, had dedicated his entire existence to the ultimate benefit of Mankind. Yet time and time again, he had seen the principles he had propounded in the form of religion become twisted by human nature, transforming a faith based on the tenets of love and respect for one another into bloody creeds of violence, repression, murder and holy war that actually strengthened the Chaos Gods.
After the onset of the Age of Strife brought an end to humanity's previous interstellar Golden Age and savagery consumed human civilisation, the Emperor decided that his long policy of hiding his true nature from his fellow men as he sought to guide them towards a better future had failed. He needed to take a far more active role in shaping his species' future, so he created the persona of the Emperor and intended to use his own potent psychic abilities, intellect and extraordinary scientific knowledge to reunite the scattered human race, by force if necessary. The Emperor came to this harsh conclusion because he feared that unless all of Mankind was united, it would eventually be destroyed piecemeal by the hideous dangers lurking in the galaxy, including Chaos and the other alien races. By promulgating the Imperial Truth on every world inhabited by humanity in the galaxy, the Emperor ironically hoped to eventually create a psychic well of belief in reason and science so strong that the Chaos Gods, who thrived and grew stronger on Mankind's darker psychic emanations, would be fatally weakened.
Of course, the Ruinous Powers were aware of the Emperor's intentions and they moved from the beginning to destroy this plan and actually make it work in their favour. They first corrupted several of the Primarchs almost at the moment of their birth when they were stolen from the Emperor's gene-laboratories beneath the Himalayan Mountains and scattered through the Warp across the galaxy. They next corrupted the Primarch Lorgar and used him as their instrument to corrupt Horus and eventually all of the Primarchs who turned against the Emperor and ended his dream of a united Imperium opening a new Golden Age of reason and progress for Mankind. In the end, the Emperor miscalculated, deeply underestimating Mankind's basic need to believe in something larger than itself beyond the stale confines of science and technology. Ironically, what ultimately presented the only hope for Mankind surviving the Age of the Imperium that unfolded after the end of the Horus Heresy was religious faith in the Emperor himself. Humanity's religious faith in the God-Emperor empowers his psychic form within the Warp, allowing him to combat the destructive influence of Chaos and providing his servants with the psychic power to defend themselves against the threats of daemons, aliens and heretics alike. Though the price for the survival of the Imperium has been incredibly high, a cost far greater than the Emperor hoped humanity would have to bear, a new version of the Imperial Truth has become predominant among the million worlds of Mankind, a truth that lies at the heart of the Imperial Creed: the Emperor protects.
An Expeditionary Fleet was the basic military unit of the Great Crusade. At its peak in the early 31st Millennium, some 203 standard years after it began, there were 4,287 primary Expedition Fleets engaged upon the business of enforcing Imperial Compliance and extending the Imperial aegis across the galaxy as well as 60,000+ secondary deployment groups involved in regulating Compliance or Imperial occupations. A further 372 Expedition Fleets were regrouping or refitting in the Sol System or other Imperial hub star systems or resupplying as they awaited new orders. While all of the original Expeditionary Fleets had been assembled in Terran space by the Adeptus Mechanicus, by the height of the Great Crusade they had been dispersed throughout the Milky Way Galaxy to reunite all the human-settled colony worlds under the Emperor's rule to bring to fruition his dream of a united human race dominating the stars. The Expeditionary Fleets were given a broad remit to bring human-settled worlds into the Imperium by diplomacy if possible but by force if necessary, and to cleanse any xenos species from the galaxy who represented a threat to humanity. As almost all intelligent alien species encountered by Mankind had proved hostile, outright genocide was the usual expected remedy. The fleets were also tasked with the secondary mission of exploring the galactic wilderness following the terrible anarchy of the Age of Strife so that new frontiers could be opened for human settlement and resource extraction in formerly virgin regions of the galaxy.
While the Emperor hoped that most human civilisations would willingly accept reunification under the Imperial aegis because of all the benefits interstellar unity offered, he knew that many human worlds would forcefully reject Imperial Compliance. As such, each Expeditionary Fleet was a potent military armada usually under the overall command of a high-ranking officer of the Imperial Army who bore the rank of Lord Commander and the expedition's fleet elements were commanded by an officer with the rank of Master of the Fleet. Additionally, each of the Emperor's Primarchs was given command of an unusually large Expeditionary Fleet, to which was attached the main body of their Space Marine Legion as well as substantial starship and Imperial Army assets. These Expeditionary Fleets, which were quite rare since the majority of the Great Crusade's fleets possessed no Astartes contingent at all, usually undertook the major thrusts into completely new areas of the galaxy. Smaller fleets with less combat capacity would then follow in a major fleet's wake, branching off to ensure Imperial Compliance on worlds that presented less human or xenos resistance than those faced by the fleets carrying Astartes complements. However, the Primarchs of several of the Legions were known at times to split off smaller units of Space Marines from their main fleets to accompany Expeditionary Fleets that were otherwise lacking in Space Marine support. In such situations, the ranking Space Marine officer served as the fleet's Lord Commander since Astartes always assumed command over normal troops in any military situation where they were present during the Great Crusade. What follows here is a list of the few Expeditionary Fleets of the Great Crusade that have been recovered from ancient Imperial records.
4th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Primarch Lion El'Jonson
- Space Marine Complement: I Legion (Dark Angels)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The 4th Expeditionary Fleet was originally under the command of a much smaller contingent of Space Marines from the V Legion, the White Scars, and was commanded by a White Scars Captain (Khan) named Shang Khan. The 4th Expeditionary Fleet was one of the smaller Imperial fleets deployed during the Great Crusade and was comprised of the Battle Barge Invincible Reason, the Imperial Army troopships Noble Sinew and Bold Conveyor, the Frigates Intrepid and Dauntless, the Destroyer Arbalest, and the White Scars Strike Cruiser Swift Horseman, later replaced by the Dark Angels Strike Cruiser, Wrath of Caliban.
12th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Primarch Roboute Guilliman
- Space Marine Complement: XIII Legion (Ultramarines)
- Imperial Army Complement:Unknown
27th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander:Corvus Corax
- Space Marine Complement: XIX Legion (Raven Guard)
- Imperial Army Complement:Therion Cohort
The 27th Expeditionary Fleet was the name of a Great Crusade expeditionary force commanded by the Primarch Corvus Corax and whose Astartes complement was made up of his XIX Legion, the Raven Guard.
28th Expeditionary Fleet (1st Iteration)
- Commander: Primarch Magnus the Red
- Space Marine Complement: XV Legion (Thousand Sons)
- Imperial Army Complement: Lacunan Lifewatch and elements of Prospero Spire Guard
The first iteration of the 28th Expeditionary Fleet was commanded by the Primarch Magnus the Red and its complement of Astartes was made up of his XV Legion, the Thousand Sons. Though two versions of this fleet was documented, the records do not make clear whether this was the same 28th Expedition later commanded by Primarch Fulgrim or whether it was an entirely different unit with the same designation that was later transferred over to the Emperor's Children.
28th Expeditionary Fleet (2nd Iteration)
- Commander: Primarch Fulgrim
- Space Marine Complement: III Legion (Emperor's Children)
- Imperial Army Complement: Archite Palatines
The 28th Expeditionary Fleet was also the name of an expeditionary force during the Great Crusade commanded by the Primarch Fulgrim whose Astartes complement was made up of his III Legion, the Emperor's Children, and supporting military elements from the Imperial Army regiments of the Archite Palatines.
40th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Unknown
- Space Marine Complement: Unknown
- Imperial Army Complement: G9K Division Kill
The 40th Expeditionary Fleet was an expeditionary force during the Great Crusade that was shadowed by an Astartes complement made up of the Space Wolves' 3rd Great Company ("Tra" Company).
47th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Primarch Lorgar
- Space Marine Complement: XVII Legion (Word Bearers)
- Imperial Army Complement:Ouranti Draks
51st Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Warsmith Barabas Dantioch
- Space Marine Complement: 14th Grand Company of the IV Legion (Iron Warriors), flagship Benthos
- Imperial Army Complement: Ninth-Ward Angeloi Adamantiphracts
The 51st Expeditionary Fleet was responsible for the Imperial Compliance of Lesser Damantyne and the construction of the mighty fortress called Schadenhold on that world. Unknown to the Iron Warriors on Damantyne, the Horus Heresy had already begun. When Warsmith Idriss Krendl, the new Warsmith of the 14th Grand Company (who was staunchly loyal to the Warmaster Horus) returned to Damantyne, which served as a garrison world for the Iron Warriors, in order to recover his troops and materiel, he ordered Warsmith Dantioch to stand down. Krendl then informed Dantioch that his fortress would be commandeered as a resupply point for the Warmaster's armies. Dantioch remained Loyal to the Imperium and refused to betray the Emperor for Horus. Warsmith Krendl then informed Dantioch that his beloved fortress would be crushed in the name of the Warmaster. For the next 366 days, Dantioch commanded his paltry force against the bulk of the 51st Expeditionary Fleet. When the siege was finally drawing to its inevitable conclusion, an Emperor-class Titan of the Legio Argentum was deployed against Shadenhold by the Traitors, but was eventually destroyed. As the fortress was about to fall, Dantioch teleported himself and a few other Loyalist Iron Warriors with him aboard the Traitor’s flagship Benthos in orbit above Damantyne. Using superb military strategy, Warsmith Dantioch and his men managed to commandeer the Traitors' vessel and set a course for Terra. Their goal was to assist the Emperor with the fortification of the Imperial Palace against the encroachment of the Warmaster and his Forces of Chaos. Warsmith Dantioch’s ultimate fate is currently unknown.
52nd Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Primarch Ferrus Manus
- Space Marine Complement: X Legion (Iron Hands)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
63rd Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Warmaster and Primarch Horus
- Space Marine Complement: XVI Legion (Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus)
- Imperial Army Complement: Byzant Janizars, 15th Hesperan Lancers
The 63rd Expeditionary Fleet was one of the largest and most powerful deployed during the Great Crusade and it was the home fleet of Horus, the Warmaster of the Imperium and the supreme commander of the Great Crusade after the Emperor returned to Terra. The 63rd Expedition had the powerful Legio Mortis Titan Legion attached to it as well as Horus' massive flagship, the Battle Barge Vengeful Spirit.
140th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Unknown
- Space Marine Complement: 3 Companies of the IX Legion (Blood Angels)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown Imperial Army Regiment (known to be 4,000 troops strong)
The 140th Expedition's Space Marines were commanded by the Blood Angels Captain Khitas Frome. It is unknown if he also served as the Lord Commander of the entire expedition, though this would have been likely. These Blood Angels were lost in combat against the powerful arachnoid xenos called Megarachnids of the Death World dubbed Murder by the Luna Wolves after the 63rd Expedition arrived at the world to determine what had happened to Captain Frome and his Astartes.
203rd Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Primarch Angron
- Space Marine Complement: XII Legion (World Eaters)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The 203rd Expeditionary Fleet was a Great Crusade expeditionary force commanded by the Primarch Angron and whose Astartes complement was made up of his XII Legion, the World Eaters. The 203rd Expeditionary Fleet encountered the Lacrymole-infested world of Alpha Shalish. Spearheading an assault, the World Eaters Legion burst into the Lacrymole mound cities with righteous fury, cleansing the planet of their foul, man-eating kind with extreme prejudice, throwing off the shackles of alien rule by bringing the Imperial Truth to Alpha Shalish's beleaguered human population. The 203rd Expedition also fought alongside the Sons of Horus and their 63rd Expeditionary Fleet on the world of Aerius.
376th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Unknown
- Space Marine Complement: XIX Legion (Raven Guard)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The 376th Expeditionary Fleet was a Great Crusade expeditionary force commanded by an unknown commander whose Astartes complement was made up of units drawn from the XIX Legion, the Raven Guard. Overall command of the 376th Expeditionary Fleet still belonged to the Raven Guard's Primarch Corvus Corax.
406th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Iron Father and Captain Lasko Midoa
- Space Marine Complement: X Legion (Iron Hands)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The 406th Expeditionary Fleet carried out multiple Imperial Compliance actions on various worlds during the Great Crusade, both before and after the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V. Following those events that decimated the Loyalist Legions of the Iron Hands, the Raven Guard and the Salamanders, the 406th Expeditionary Fleet engaged a Traitor Death Guard fleet in a vicious campaign around the world of Perditus Ultima.
670th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Lord Commander Teng Namitjira
- Space Marine Contingent: None
- Imperial Army Complement: Crescent-Sind 6th Torrent, Geno Five-Two Chiliad, Outremar, Regnault Thorns, Zanzibari Hort
The Legio Xerxes Titan Legion was attached to the service of the 670th Expedition. The Primarch Alpharius and a force from his XX Legion, the Alpha Legion, fought with the 670th Expedition during the tragic campaign to bring the world of Nurth to Imperial Compliance, but never became an official part of the 670th's order of battle. Lord Commander Namitjira remained in formal command during the operation, though of course he deferred to the Primarch's orders.
915th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Unknown
- Space Marine Contingent: V Legion (White Scars)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The White Scars of the 915th Expeditionary Fleet conducted a xenocidal purge against the Orks on the world of Phemus IV.
954th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Wolf Lord Bulveye
- Space Marine Complement: The 13th Great Company of the VI Legion (Space Wolves)
- Imperial Army Complement: Arcturan Dragoons
The 954th Expeditionary Fleet was the official name given to the Space Wolves' 13th Company and their supporting Imperial Army units. This same Expeditionary Fleet would ultimately be lost in the Eye of Terror after being ordered during the Horus Heresy by their Primarch Leman Russ to hunt down the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion. This same fleet would not be seen again until 10,000 standard years later when they returned to realspace to aid the Imperium during the darkest hour of the 13th Black Crusade of 999.M41.
1301st Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Chapter Master Deumos of the Serrated Sun Chapter of the XVII Legion (Word Bearers); Master of the Fleet Baloc Torvus
- Space Marine Complement: Serrated Sun Chapter of the XVII Legion (Word Bearers)
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
The 1301st Expeditionary Fleet was the Imperial Expedition that undertook the Pilgrimage of Lorgar forty standard years before the start of the Horus Heresy for the Word Bearers' Primarch in his quest to discover whether the Old Faith of Colchis and the existence of its Gods was true. The outcome of this Pilgrimage confirmed for Lorgar that the atheism of the Imperial Truth was a lie and turned him against the Emperor of Mankind. Lorgar was the first of the Primarchs to be corrupted by Chaos based on the information brought back from the survivors of the 1301st Expedition during their extraordinary journey into the Eye of Terror itself. This Expeditionary Fleet is also notable for the rediscovery of the Feral World of Cadia, the exploration of the Eye of Terror as well as multiple Imperial Compliance actions following the events that occurred on the world of Khur where the entire Word Bearers Legion was dramatically censured by the Emperor for their continued violations of the Imperial Truth.
2188th Expeditionary Fleet
- Commander: Unknown
- Space Marine Complement: Unknown
- Imperial Army Complement: Unknown
- Codex: Imperial Knights (6th Edition)
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition)
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition)
- Imperial Armour - The Horus Heresy - Book Two: Massacre, pp. 14-16, 19
- Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 102
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook(4th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook(2nd Edition)
- White Dwarf 321 (US), "Warhammer 40,000 Tactica: Walkers"
- White Dwarf 140 (US), "Space Fleet"
- White Dwarf 139 (US), "Space Fleet"
- Warhammer 40,000: Compilation, p. 20
- Age of Darkness (Anthology), "The Iron Within" by Rob Sanders
- A Thousand Sons (Novel) by Graham MacNeill
- Descent of Angels (Novel) by Mitchel Scanlon
- Fulgrim (Novel) by Graham MacNeill
- Horus Rising (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- False Gods (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Galaxy In Flames (Novel) by Ben Counter
- Legion (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Tales of Heresy (Anthology), "Wolf at the Door," by Mike Lee and "After Desh'ea" by Matthew Farrer
- The First Heretic (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden