The Heavy Bolter is a powerful Bolter weapon that is used for anti-infantry and fire support roles and is known as the "Backbreaker" or the "Bruiser" because of its great weight and the amount of damage it can deal. Unlike the Boltgun, it is relatively common in Imperial Guard armies and is also often used by the Space Marines. It has a high rate of fire and Heavy Bolters are relatively cheap to field. A Heavy Bolter can also be mounted on the cupola pintle-mounts of a wide variety of Imperial armoured vehicles. The Heavy Bolter is also commonly used as an anti-personnel weapon by Imperial fixed defences, including strongholds and other fortifications.
The Heavy Bolter's anti-infantry fire support role in an Imperial Guard unit is reminiscent of the same one once played by the World War II-era Browning .30 caliber machine gun, however, the Heavy Bolter is a much more powerful weapon as it fires rocket-propelled explosive rounds. Due to its size and weight, it is normally operated by a two-man team in the Imperial Guard. The Heavy Bolter is normally mounted on a stabilising tripod and fitted with a small defensive shield, granting the operators some protection from return fire. Both troopers collaborate to move the weapon and its munitions to new firing positions, and are trained to set it up and begin combat operations in a matter of seconds. Alternatively, unusually strong Guardsmen like Sergeant "Stonetooth" Harker dispense with the tripod and shield, and operate the weapon standing whilst their teammate carries the weapon's ammunition.
Unlike their mortal counterparts, a single Space Marine, being much stronger than a normal man and having the added strength provided by his Power Armour, can carry both the Heavy Bolter and its ammunition in a specially designed pack. Space Marine Scouts can also carry Heavy Bolters and the weapon is especially useful for supplying heavy fire support for Scout Marine sniper teams as the Heavy Bolter matches the snipers' own weapons range.
The Heavy Bolter fires a .998 calibre bolt, larger than the .75 calibre bolt used by the standard pattern Bolter, and makes use of the same gyro-stabilising technology as the standard Bolter's shells. The Heavy Bolter's casing can also be fitted with weight reducing anti-grav suspensor studs by Deathwatch Kill-teams, allowing it to be fired on the move; however, its effective range is drastically reduced when fired in this manner. As suspensor technology is very rare, it is rarely seen outside the Deathwatch. Various patterns of the Heavy Bolter see use in all branches of the Imperial military, including the Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Sisters of Battle, and all three main Ordos of the Inquisition and their militant arms, such as the Deathwatch.
Known Heavy Bolter Patterns
Over the millennia, the Heavy Bolter has been improved and changed many times. There have been hundreds of variants, but only a few have made any radical differences in the weapon's function. All of these variant patterns have the same basic features, but each has different additional features, depending on the weapon's pattern, that seek to improve upon its basic design.
- Accatran Mark Vd Heavy Bolter - Manufactured by the Forge World of Accatran, this Heavy Bolter variant is commonly utilised by the Imperial Guard's Elysian Drop Troops Regiments. It features an integral bipod for sustained firing and a sight inside of the carrying handle. The ammunition used by this weapon is intended for anti-vehicle effectiveness: it is self-propelled, mass-reactive, high-explosive, and armour-piercing.
- Asgal Pattern Mark VI Heavy Bolter - A Heavy Bolter variant only utilised by the Space Wolves Chapter.
- Astartes Mark IVa Heavy Bolter - Based on the original design, this is a commonly used Heavy Bolter variant utilised by the Adeptus Astartes.
- Hurricane Pattern Heavy Bolter - A Hurricane Bolter consists of three twin-linked Bolters fired as a single weapon. There are few anti-infantry weapons that can mow down the enemy like a Hurricane Bolter, wiping out entire squads at a time. This variant is utilised by the Space Marines of the Dark Angels Chapter.
- Godwyn Pattern Heavy Bolter - This is another commonly used Heavy Bolter variant utilised by the forces of the Imperial Guard.
- Maxima Mark IVh Heavy Bolter - Another commonly used Heavy Bolter variant utilised by the forces of the Adeptus Astartes.
- Solar Pattern Heavy Bolter - A commonly used Heavy Bolter variant utilised by the forces of the Imperial Guard.
Chaos Heavy Bolter
Just as the Adeptus Astartes of the Imperium wield weapons beyond the heft of mere mortals, so to do the members of the Traitor Legions arm themselves with larger Bolt Weapons that fire far more powerful rounds. Bolter Weapons used by the Chaos Space Marines are often true relic weapons, possibly even left over from the Horus Heresy itself, and thus are possessed by ancient and murderous Machine Spirits. The blood-thirst of the Traitor Marines' weapons is kept in check only by the formidable will of their fearsome masters. The Traitor Legion Heavy Bolter shares many design similarities with their Loyalist variations, the most sizeable difference being the more powerful rounds and more reliable mechanisms available to the ancient and in some ways, more advanced models.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), p. 157
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Editon), pp. 57, 59
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 81-82
- Codex: Chaos (2nd Edition), pg. 78
- Codex: Dark Angels (6th Edition), pg. 60
- Codex: Dark Angels (4th Edition), pg. 49
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 61
- Codex: Space Marines (4th Edition), pg. 22
- Codex: Space Wolves (5th Edition), pp. 58-59
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 134
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), p. 147
- Imperial Armour Volume Four - The Anphelion Project, pg. 96, 137, 159
- Imperial Armour Volume Five - The Siege of Vraks - Part One
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War - Part Two, pg. 65
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 122
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 54
- Warhammer 40,000 Wargear (4th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (2nd Edition)