It goes without saying that the Ultramarines aren't too popular among a lot of fans. While much of that can be put down to them so frequently stealing the spotlight, a big point of contention among fans has so often been the Codex Astartes. Drummed up as the big book of war for the entirety of the Codex Astartes, its inclusion was one of the most defining moments of the whole setting. It arguably helped define a massive chunk of Warhammer 40,000 as a whole and altered the very way the astartes themselves worked within the Imperium.
There have been many points of contention among fans, both for and against the Codex and how it impacted the chapter. This has been largely stemming from poor misrepresentations of claiming it was only Guilliman's book, that all astartes are required to emulate it and the Ultramarines to be true space marines (thus presenting pale shadow of one army in the eyes of some), and Graham McNeill. However, of all the points made, some of the biggest criticisms of the work have surrounded something which came in conjunction with it: The end of the Legiones Astartes and creation of the chapters, demanding that each could only support one thousand marines as opposed to the roughly hundred thousand each legion had.
Many have the right to criticise this and what followed as a result, but many seem to be based upon common misconceptions and overlook the benefits of the work. So, as such, this is going to be the first of two articles covering both sides of the debate. One highlighting the issues and problems of separating out he legions and one pointing out the often overlooked advantages of the chapters, and to a degree certain further elements of the Codex itself.
Arguments Against The Formation of Space Marine Chapters
The foremost point so often brought up when it comes to how the legions were scattered across the universe focuses upon limitations. The big argument often surrounds how this made chapters isolated, the astartes easier to pick off and ultimately die away from outside help. There have been many examples of this in the past, where certain chapters have been targeted by Chaos, xenos forces or enemies of the Emperor and crippled as a result. The events on Rynn's World and the ork invasion almost resulted in the total destruction of the Crimson Fists chapter, who were left without further outside support until late into the war. The Scythes of the Emperor were cut down by Tyranid invaders to the point where they are a shadow of their former selves, the Marines Errant lost the entirety of their stockpiled gene-seed while isolated, and the Crimson Consuls were annihilated one company at a time by the Alpha Legion.
Atop of this, rather than allowing certain forces to gradually develop and build in power, the limitation of a thousand marines can seem arbitrary. It never allows a chapter to grow in strength and the very idea of it is often deemed to be heretical as a result. This can often mean that the astartes can find themselves almost perpetually outnumbered, often unable to take on entire warzones more or less single-handedly as they had been presented with the legions, being left to act as shock troops. With greater sledgehammer tactics and massed assaults as seen in the Great Crusade, many threats might well have been driven back by concentrated efforts and better co-ordination could have prevented other failings. If the Crimson Fists were a part of a greater legion working in cohesion with a much larger organisation, or the Scythes of the Emperor were backed by far greater numbers of astartes, neither might have met with their almost complete destruction.
Sticking with the subject of massed xenos invasions, another point to consider about this time was that it was seemingly created to stabilise the Imperium, but little else. Following the Scouring and the Great Crusade, much of the Imperium had been ultimately retaken, unified and the biggest threats dealt with via massed assaults. It was noted at the dawn of M32 that several xenos empires had grown into existence in the Imperial heartland and needed to be driven out, and that many following assaults were only accomplished by focused efforts from entire legions. It seemed that Guilliman regarded that with the Imperium as it was, it needed to re-consolidate its forces and focus upon stabilising them, as if another massed use of astartes would not be needed. As such, this left it ill equipped to face many of the threats which were to follow, such as the Tyranid Hive Fleets or awakening Necron Dynasties. Forces which were acting on such a sale, they needed single united forces acting in close co-ordination to really combat.
One notable issue worthy of mentioning is also the feuding and conflicts which have arisen between the varied chapters, with many developing grudges. Some of these are so infamous that they will refuse to fight alongside one another or will get into open brawls over certain age old grudges. While the legions had their disagreements, even in the short time they existed each one managed to keep their disagreements under wraps. At worst you could say there was open dislike among some, but it was rarely so great that any entered open fights with one another of it. That or anything so truly terrible that the Emperor needed to send his personal executioners after them, as we would later see with the Administratum's use of the Minotaurs.
Finally, perhaps the single greatest point which can be brought up in favour of the legions is the ultimate state of the Imperium at the end of M41 and the situation it was left in. Well, not even that but also the way in which many enemy strongholds were left completely ignored and unharmed. Even following the Scouring, large swathes of the galaxy were left still beyond humanity's control or with xenos empires left completely intact. A large number of ork empires were noted to be still in existence, enough to launch repeated WAAAGHs! against the Imperium in the future, many sub-sectors fell under the influence of the Ruinous Powers, and others would grow over time. Despite the Imperial Fists being noted to have torn down an entire Iron Warriors empire just prior to the Iron Cage incident, many would later make successful in growths into the Imperium. Even the very Eldar Craftworlds themselves were left ignored and repeatedly repelled multiple Imperial attacks. Alaitoc held out against a massive Imperial Crusade, Biel-Tan took out a sub-sector fleet on its own, and Idharae (a minor one) was only brought down at a staggering cost to the Invaders chapter. It seemed that, once their job was done, Guilliman's split did not factor in just what might be required should such a mighty force need to be fully united and arrayed once more.
Atop of all of this, their fragmented nature and loss of overall power also allowed for the Administratum to gain power over them. Despite their remaining autonomy away from the core of Imperial control, many sides would often overstep their boundaries or try to use them as their own personal weapons. The Steel Confessors, the aforementioned Minotaurs, the Exorcists and multiple other chapters, many were founded to act as little more than muscle to certain Imperial forces. Even without that, many others were further thanks to the authority the Imperium lost, with the Inquisition notably waging a war against the astartes' freedom at times. In all honesty, if they were a part of a force so massive as a full legion, the Inquisition would never have dared to launch an attack against the Celestial Lions or wipe them out as it did. Without that massive backing, with them numbering only a thousand and lacking the resources on equal scale to the Ordos, they were easy pickings.
As a whole the issues which keep coming up time and time again is how, through breaking up these forces, bonds of brotherhood were strained and weakened. By separating them as they were, much of that same unity, that same singular strength found among the legions was lost. It allowed for fractures to gradually emerge among the forces defending humanity just as with the Heresy, and sapped the astartes of much needed strength, holding them back. For every foe they defeated, the astartes never again met with the same accomplishments they did during the Great Crusade, and never again accomplished those same heights of glory.
Still, this is only one side of this argument. Click here to take a look at the opposing points.