(Space Marine Armour by Rick Priestley (White Dwarf 129))


Most humans who have any contact with Space Marines will know and recognise the most common types of Space Marine armour quite readily. However, there are other older types which remain in service to this day and which are very different in their design. Some Space Marine Chapters use only a single type of armour while others make use of several different types.

Many of the older variants have special associations for particular Chapters and may be worn by ceremonial guards or by elite units for example. Other Space Marine Chapters are less formal in their use of armour, mixing various types into their fighting units with little or no regard for conformity. The degree of uniformity within a Space Marine Chapter varies a great deal from Chapter to Chapter and is often determined by historical precedent or tradition.

The initial evolution of Space Marines and their armour occurred during the long period of Earth's isolation that preceded the rise of the Imperium and which later became known as the Age of Strife.

The Age of Strife lasted from approximately the 26th millennium to the beginning of 31st (i.e. roughly from 25000 AD to 30000 AD - further references to dates are given in terms of millennia). During these five thousand years the ancient pan-galactic human civilisation of the past broke down and was replaced by many thousands of local civilisations based around either a single solar system or, occasionally, a small duster of nearby stars. The reason this happened is that warp travel (the means by which spacecraft travel throughout the galaxy) became dangerous and eventually impossible due to colossal disturbances in the fabric of the warp. These disturbances, known as warp storms, were caused by the growth of the Chaos Power Slaanesh.

During the Age of Strife Earth and the other planets of the Terran solar system were unable to communicate with other human worlds, but maintained contact with each other. For much of this period the government of Earth held sway over the entire system, at other times Mars and the Moon were dominant.

For much of the time the different worlds found themselves at war. During the 28th millennium Earth government broke down completely and the planet divided into dozens of inter-warring nations. After two and a half thousand years of continuous warfare little remained of the once sophisticated civilisation of the past. The planet had become a battleground fought over by techno-barbarian warlords and their warrior hordes. This was a dark time for the people of Earth: a time dominated by brutal rulers like Kalagann of Ursh, Cardinal Tang, and the most infamous of all, the half-mad half-genius Narthan Dume Tyrant of the Panpacific Empire. It was against this background of techno-barbaric warfare that the first Space Marines were created and the first Space Marine Armour type developed.


This first type of armour is now often referred to as 'Mark 1'. In fact this is the sort of armour worn by the technobarbarian warriors that dominated the Earth. When the Emperor began his conquest of the planet his retinue was equipped and armed in the same way as the troops of other warlords. The first Space Marines formed part of that retinue and were equipped with the same sort of armour as other warriors of the time.

The thunder-bolt and lightning emblem on the breastplate of this suit was the personal badge of the Emperor in those days, predating the Imperial eagle which only became the symbol of the Imperium much later. This emblem gives the suit its other common name - Thunder Armour.

This is not really a single enclosing suit and offers no atmospheric protection or life-support facilities - all of these being unnecessary while fighting was restricted to Earth. The helmet and the top plume are fairly typical, but these early suits were manufactured on an entirely local basis and their exact designs were often a matter of personal taste. The main part of the armour is the massive powered torso which encloses the chest and arms. Beneath the armoured chest plate coiled energy cables transmit power into the arms, effectively multiplying the wearer's fighting abilities three or four times over. During this period most fighting consisted of close combat, warriors preferring to grapple with each other rather than use long range weapons - the power of a warrior's chest and arms was therefore of paramount importance.

The warrior's legs are not power armoured at all but enclosed in tough padded breeches. In the example shown the warrior wears armoured greaves and armoured boots. These were not standard by any means, but were worn by many of the better equipped warriors and were common amongst the early Space Marines. The warrior wears a backpack which provides his suit with power - most of its bulk is taken up by a cooling mechanism meant to prevent the power unit from overheating.

Warriors equipped in this way fought during all the Emperor's wars on Earth, and also on the Moon and Mars which have Earth-type atmospheres. Mark 1 armour is unlikely to be seen on the 41st millennium battlefield but ceremonial units are sometimes equipped in this way.


Once the Terran system was secure and the process of rebuilding firmly in hand, the galactic conquest could begin. Even before the warp storms and the Age of Strife ended, the Emperor started to make provisions for his Great Crusade. Part of these plans included the reequipping of the Space Marine armies with a far more sophisticated fighting suit.

With its advanced technology the newly conquered planet of Mars became the centre for munitions development. New types of armour were produced in great numbers in the Martian factories under the direction of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the ruling class of Tech-priests installed to administrate its affairs on behalf of the Emperor. This enabled the entire Space Marine Corps to be re-equipped.

The new type of armour was the Crusade Suit, which became soon became known as Mark 2 armour while the old style became Mark 1 retrospectively. The armour is totally enclosed and life-sustaining, and so suitable for fighting on alien worlds as well as in deep space. It is arranged into articulated hoop-shaped plates for ease of movement and these now cover die legs as well as the chest. The additional energy cabling required to operate the leg armour can be seen in the example illustration while the chest coils are enclosed by armoured plates. The old armour had deliberately placed these coils on the outside to help keep the armour cool, but more efficient coolers in the Mark 2 did away with this necessity.

The back pack retains the old shape but is now much more efficient and contains all the extra equipment needed to maintain life-support, air recycling, fluid recovery, and the various automatical medical functions which have remained common to Space Marine armour ever since.

The helmet is now fitted with automatic sensory devices developed in the Martian workshops. These consist of exterior sensors which gather visual and audio stimuli from the immediate environment - effectively functioning as eyes and ears. The information gathered in this way is processed by a computer brain and then transmitted directly into the wearer's mind by a neural connector. The practical result for the wearer is that he appears to see and hear quite normally, but he can also see infra-red and ultra-violet light, and hear a wider range of sound frequencies. The wearer is also able to selectively enhance a visual image or sound should he wish.

If exposed to blinding lights or deafening noises, the computer processor acts as a safety valve and dampens down the stimuli preventing damage to the Space Marine.

This sort of armour was used throughout the Great Crusade. Many maintain that it is the most efficient of all Space Marine armours, although its overlapping plates are notoriously difficult to repair. Actual examples of this amour, much repaired and carefully maintained, are still used in small numbers by many Space Marine Chapters.


The Mark 3 armour variant dates from the inner-galactic wars between the Emperor's forces and the inhabitants of worlds close to the galactic core, which included many of the Squat Homeworlds, not all of which were entirely pleased to find themselves the object of galactic reconquest. Mark 3 armour was never intended to replace Mark 2, but to provide an optional heavy armour type suitable for fighting on board spacecraft and in tunnel complexes. High casualties suffered during early battles had shown the need for such armour. Mark 3 therefore placed considerable emphasis on frontal protection, while the rear armoured plates were lightened to compensate. This armour was reckoned ideal where cover was minimal and combat was a matter of frontal assault.

The suit itself is a highly modified Mark 2 with the addition of fixed armour plates to the body and limbs and a new heavy armoured helmet. The sloping plates of this helmet were intended to deflect shot to the left and right, and was to inspire the Mark 4 and 6 helmet designs. No Space Marine forces were ever equipped solely with this mark although many modern Chapters still use Mark 3 armour for boarding actions and tunnel fighting.

While a successful solution to a specific need, Mark 3 armour is too clumsy and uncomfortable for everyday use. As the most visually brutal of all Marine armour, it is sometimes used as a basic uniform for ceremonial guards. Mark 3 armour is sometimes called the Iron Suit or Armorum Ferrum in recognition of its great strength.


The Great Crusade lasted for approximately 200 years at the end of which came a period of political consolidation. The Space Marines were now scattered far and wide throughout the galaxy, many serving as garrisons rather than as campaigning armies, and their size was scaled down to reflect this new role. Much of the equipment of the past was rapidly wearing out, including the old Mark 2 and 3 armour suits produced on Mars. While some Marine Chapters chose to continue local production and maintenance, the Martian factory hives of the Adeptus Mechanicus set about producing a new variant. This was to be the Mark 4 or Imperial Maximus Suit.

The main change was to abandon the separate abutting plates in favour of larger inflexible armour casings incorporating the flexible joints originally developed for the Mark 3. The result was only marginally less mobile than the earlier type and considerably easier to produce and maintain. Technical secrets uncovered on newly conquered worlds enabled the Martians to develop a more efficient armour, improving the quality of protection and reducing the weight of the suit at the same time. Improved armouring of the power cables enabled the main arm and chest supply to be safely relocated on the exterior of the armour, while use of new material also allowed the size and number of cables to be reduced.

The helmet is an entirely new type, the basic shape inspired by the sweeping front of the Mark 3. In earlier armour the helmet is fixed and the wearer's head is free to move inside. In Mark 4 and later versions the helmet is not fixed but moves with the wearer's head. This facility reflects the constructors' increasing experience with neural connector gear and the use of new materials which flooded into the Martian workshops as the Great Crusade progressed. Mark 4 armour was designed to be the ultimate and final type of Space Marine armour, able to offer the best protection in a variety of conditions. The Martian factories were turned over to its production and many of the Space Marine armies were entirely or partially re-equipped.


The general issue of Mark 4 armour was only half complete when the Horus Heresy broke out. This threw the entire program of supply into turmoil. In fact many of the most recently supplied Chapters were to turn against the Imperium while many loyal Chapters were forced to continue with older variants, and the confusion was considerable. The Space Marine armourers (Techmarines and Artificers) had hardly got used to the new armour and many were as yet unable to maintain it properly let alone duplicate it as was originally intended.

With the Mark 4 newly in service the need for large numbers of spares had not been anticipated, so that suits quickly became unusable due to quite minor battle damage. It was soon found that the new and rather specialised materials used in the construction of the Mark 4 were unavailable locally and this increasingly became a problem as Chapters moved from battle-zone to battle-zone. The Imperial forces were soon forced into a fall-back position. Production of Mark 4 armoured ceased, and a new type of armour was designed almost literally over-night. This was the Mark 5 or Heresy Suit.

The Mark 5 used as many pre-Mark 4 components as possible. Large stocks of these existed and the Marine Artificers were already familiar with their application. Once supplies of the new materials used in the Mark 4 armour dried up it became necessary to re-use older substances. In the illustration the lighter chest, arm and leg cabling of the Mark 4 has been replaced by older and heavier style cabling made from more readily available materials. However the cables are now exposed because they are too bulky to fit under the new style chest plate. This was to prove, a consistent weak spot in the design leading to the fitment of all kinds of improvised chest armour.

A distinguishing feature of the Mark 5 armour were the heavily studded armour plates. This was an attempt to reinforce the Mark 4 pattern plates when inferior materials were used due to lack of the proper supplies. An extra skin plate was fitted around the armour using molecular bonding studs. The extra weight was considerable, especially if a further chest plate had been added, leading increased pressure for energy from the power pack. As a result the wearer either had to turn up the power output ad suffer intolerable heat build-up, or leave the power apply as it was and accept reduced power levels.

The helmet type illustrated is a spin-off from the development program, an early type of preproduction helmet, sharing the same type of auto-sense components as contemporary Terminator suits. Being something of an improvised stop-gap, it is common for Mark 5 suits to vary a great deal. Where Mark 4 helmets, armoured plates and cabling were available these were often used.

Despite its inauspicious origin the Mark 5 armour proved remarkably durable and equally importantly it was easy to produce and maintain. Huge quantities were shipped out to Space Marine Chapters during the Heresy, including to Chapters which subsequently went over to Horus. As Horus's own supply position became tenuous Mark 5 suits were scavenged from fallen enemies and used by his forces. After the Heresy most of the Mark 5 suits were broken up or dismantled to provide spares. Few Chapters maintain examples of the design, preferring perhaps to forget the dark days of the Heresy. Renegade Space Marine Chapters may still be equipped with this armour.


At the same time as production of Mark 4 armour ceased, work began on a long term development program to replace the Mark 4 with a more durable type. The Mark 5, or Corvus Suit, was only ever perceived as a stop-gap design. The weapon development workshops on Mars began to experiment with a mixture of new and old technology, making the newer materials more durable where possible.

A notable feature of the resulting armour types (Marks 6 and 7) is the provision of dual technology circuits. These permit relatively rare or sophisticated functions to be temporarily replaced or repaired using common or very simple technology. Although development was incomplete the new armour was rushed into production while the forces of Horns advanced throughout the Terran solar system. Hastily equipped Space Marines wore the new style Mark 6 armour into battle while the development laboratories were disassembled and prepared for transfer to Earth. During the Martian campaign forces of Horus eventually overran the production facilities for Space Marine armour and soon began to manufacture new suits for their own use. Consignments were distributed to other forces elsewhere in the galaxy so that this new type of armour became quite widespread.

Distinguishing features of the Mark 6 armour are its relatively clean appearance due to rehousing the main power cables under the armour plates. The exterior chest and arm cables are duplicated under the chest plate and automatically isolated from the main system if damaged - thus providing a failsafe and overcoming the vulnerability of the Mark 5. The helmet is an improved version of the Mark 4 rather than a new type, although a new type was under development and was to be used on the Mark 7. The left shoulder armour retains the same construction method as the earlier Mark 5 and for the same reasons. Where supplies of material were short it is the right side of the warrior which needs to be better protected while he fires his weapon, thus the left side could be most easily replaced by slightly less effective plates. The need to economise in this way was very real at the time. Later the studded pad became associated with the Terran campaign and the final heroism of the Space Marines so that it became a traditional emblem of those days.


While the final battle for Mars was underway the Imperium, realising that the planet would eventually fall, set about duplicating the munition production lines back on Earth. The armour development teams from Mars were transferred wholesale to continue the development program and incorporate their latest work into a new armour type. As Horus's forces finally overcame the defenders of Mars new Mark 7 armoured suits started to reach the Space Marines on Earth and the Moon. Mark 7 represents the fulfilment of the new design program which was really only half complete in the Mark 6. In fact, so effective was the Mark 6 that both types continued in service thereafter and many Chapters chose to continue with their old armour rather than adopt Mark 7.

The main improvement is the newly designed chest plastron which covers the chest and arm cabling. This bears the eagle device and gives the armour its common name of Armorum Impetor or Eagle Armour. The other main difference is the abandonment of the studded right shoulder piece and the substitution of the new helmet for the old Mark 4 derived model. Improvements were made to the knee joint articulation, but this modification had already been incorporated into many of the later Mark 6 suits. On the whole it is fair to say that Mark 7 represents the final development of Mark 6 and that the two sets of armour have a great deal in common. Parts from one are readily interchangeable with parts from another, so that a Mark 7 helmet will fit a Mark 6 suit and vice versa.


The 7 basic marks of Space Marine armour were all developed up to and during the period of the Horus Heresy. During the production history of each mark various improvements were incorporated in the light of field experience. Thus there is a certain variation even within each mark although this is usually limited to the types of material used rather than to stylistic changes.

Following the end of the Heresy much in the Imperium changed, including the organisation and number of the Space Marine Chapters. Whereas up until this time there had only been twenty Chapters, henceforth the huge pre-Heresy forces were to be broken up into many smaller Chapters. The new Chapters that were founded were equipped with whatever suitable armour and weaponry was available. For the most part the armour used was either Mark 6 or 7, but with a fair sprinkling of older types.

Since that time each Chapter has largely taken over the production of its own equipment. That is not to say that every Chapter produces every single item of hardware that it uses. Some Chapters trade items with other Space Marine Chapters, or they commission work from local fabricators. This latter option is especially common where chapters hold the governorship of the world they live on - in which case the planet is effectively owned by the chapter and its resources can be organised by the Space Marines as they wish. In other Space Marine Chapters supplies are purchased through the Adeptus Mechanicus.


Within each Chapter Space Marine armour is maintained by skilled Marine Artificers. These are not Space Marines, but highly trained and dedicated servants who spend their entire lives working for the Chapter. Artificers are just one of the many types of 'civilian' servants who work for their Space Marine Masters. In some Chapters these Artificers traditionally work together in a single huge workshop and their products are distributed amongst the Space Marine chapter as a whole. In other Chapters individual Artificers are the personal servants of either a Squad of 10 Marines or an individual officer. These Artificers are very proud of their Space Marine masters, considering the status and reputation of their unit or officer to be of the utmost Importance. In their turn the Space Marines are equally proud of the Artificers whose fine workmanship adorns their armour and weapons. Over the history of a Chapter especially talented Artificers become famous and justly celebrated, and examples of their work are much sought after.

In many Chapters it is traditional for Artificers to come from special families, and for fathers to pass on their skills and position to their sons. In other Chapters the position is open to all, but involves a long period of apprenticeship to an older Aitificer.

The Artificer's job is to decorate and maintain the Chapter's armour and weapons. In fact, the Chapter also is Engineers and Techmarines whose role is to manufacture much of the equipment, so the Artificers are involved more with decoration, engraving, customising and modifying the basic equipment. For example, when a Space Marine earns a combat honour it is the Artificers who make the honour badges and fasten them on to the Marine's armour. Similarly, the Artificers make rank badges, long service badges and other marks of distinction that are used by their Chapter.

Older types of armour are associated with the past history of many Chapters and often with the deeds of heroic individuals. Artificers will carefully hunt down examples of ancient armour to use as the raw material on which they can engrave honour marks or purely decorative features. Such pieces will be lovingly restored, often plated with silver or gold, and then painstakingly engraved with naturalistic scenes, abstract designs or Chapter badges. A piece of armour that can be shown to have belonged to an old Chapter hero is valued above all others. As successful Space Marine Officers are often presented with ancient pieces of armour, a single armoured plate or helmet might have a long and famous history and could have belonged to a whole succession of Space Marine heroes and been worked on by many famous Artificers.


As well as resurrecting old pieces of armour for notable Space Marines, the Artificers also decorate new armour and modify armour to suit particular individuals. Only Space Marines earning some kind of reward or honour would be given such items. As a result of their efforts over the many thousand years the Chapter has been in existence, it is quite common to find suits which combine elements of the different marks as well as quite unique suits which have customised armoured plates or helmets.

Some Chapters reserve such armour for special individuals, officers, or high ranking commanders. There is no fixed rule on this, it is a matter of Chapter tradition and preference how such armour is used. However, it is generally the case that very high ranking officials inherit special suits of armour, which they may then combine with their own existing suits so that their individual honours or personal pieces of armour are retained when they are appointed