Monday, 30 November 2015
Who Are The Iron Hands And Why Should You Care?
One of the problems I have seen over and over again among the Warhammer fandom is the lack of awareness and understanding when it comes to the Iron Hands chapter. It's for this reason that Codex: Clan Raukaan was met with objections primarily among long-time fans, as few people seem to really understand their traditions and how they operate. It's not universal to be sure, but whereas the Imperial Fists can be put down to siege specialists and the Raven Guard stealth specialists, the same cannot be said of the Iron Hands. In fact, so much of their lore is scattered and varied it's hard to really piece together a full picture at times. So, new players, think of this as a brief outline of their best strengths and defining traits.
First and foremost, the Iron Hands do not follow any Codex appointed chapter formation. Instead they follow a decentralized structure which organizes them into a number of demi-chapters, each maintaining its own specialist equipment and wargear. Rather than petitioning other companies to lend them their troops, or spending time with negotiations, each company is a force ready to move, fight and act on its own. This often leaves them better prepared for individually combating certain threats, and any unexpected twists in their theatre of war. Because of this structure they are never without the units they require and, not being bound to the Codex Astartes, have greater numbers of marines on hand. Those seen over the years have ranged from sizes comparable to the Space Wolves Great Companies to (as shown in Wrath of Iron) just over 130 marines. More than anything else, this is a reflection on how the chapter prizes individual strength and its ideology of individual endurance.
The very use of the Iron Hands' bionics is a reflection of their own ideology and a psychological drive to never fail. During the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy, bionics were used in favour of lengthier means to preserve the flesh as it ensured an astartes would more rapidly return to frontline combat. Having a bionic enhancement was seen as a sign of respect, that they had survived a terrible injury an emerged all the stronger for it. Over the course of millennia this was enhanced by the reflections of the embittered survivors of the Drop Site Massacre, turning into a continual practice. The chapter and its successors began actively enhancing their warriors to increase their prowess by any mechanical means possible. Many of their combat veterans, their sergeants encased in Terminator armour, became closer to miniture dreadnoughts than full marines; becoming beings of sheer metal with a core of flesh, capable of shrugging of incredible damage and enduring blows which would kill an astartes many times over.
While favouring machinery over flesh is often regarded as an act of insanity or hatred by outsiders, it's more an extension of the chapter's zealous perfectionist streak. While they abhor weakness, while they deride failure and their battlecry is "Flesh is weak!", they do not simply hate non-astartes. Instead, it is their own overcome failings that they hate, especially when reflected in others. Failure is not accepted in any way, and each warrior (astartes or otherwise) is expected to fulfill their abilities in every way possible. Other chapters do this via training; some by building better blades or bolters; The Iron Hands do this by building themselves into better weapons of war, and by serving as the literal Angels of Death the Imperium requires. After all, humanity needs monsters to combat the greater abominations lurking within the Warp.
The Iron Hands' use of bionics goes far beyond simple durability. Ocular and audio bionics in particular have been used many times to show marines being able to see into a much broader spectrum of light, "see" harmful energies and pinpoint major sources of thermal power. Cranial ones have been used to show the Iron Hands much more rapidly adapting to shifting environments, acting with a single mind thanks to constant mental updates and running through countless simulated tactical outcomes. Despite often being built into their armour, many have even been shown to have incredible accuracy with weapons of all forms. Their veterans can calculate the exact timing, precision and strength of a sword blow, or even allow them to shoot a grenade out of the air within a split second of leaving an enemy soldier's hand.
The use of such widespread machinery has allowed the chapter to retain closer ties with the Adpetus Mechanicus and even share a few specific beliefs. This has manifested through their Iron Fathers emerging in place of their Chaplains. As a result of this unity, and their own practices, the chapter often carries more advanced weaponry and equipment than their contemporaries. This beneficial deal often manifests in the form of steady, continual, unending attacks backed by overwhelming firepower; along with the liberal use of heavier ordinance to quickly break enemy ranks. While this is their traditional approach to war, the chapter is not nearly as bound to a single stratagem as many others. Guerrilla tactics and stealth were used throughout the Horus Heresy by surviving elements of the legion, and in M41 elements of the chapter easily adapted to recon roles prior to crippling an entire force in a single strike. While sheer armoured might is certainly favoured in battle, it does not wholly define them and they do not limit themselves to any narrow tactical spectrum.
Finally, given its close proximity to the Eye of Terror, the Iron Hands are one of the few First Founding chapters depicted as understanding that sacrifice is needed in the name of victory. Saving every life is pointless so close to Cadia, where every deflection of a Black Crusade and annihilation of a cult is bought with loyalist blood. We have seen this many times over, such as the Purging of Contqual, where the lives of thousands were spent to ensure a rapid victory. This said, as much as the chapter spends lives it never wastes them. For the thousands that died at Contqual, billions more would have met their end if the Chaos portal at the centre of Shardenus had not been closed. This is even shown in their history prior to being reunited with Ferrus, such as the Battle of Rust where Imperial Army elements were used to draw out enemy forces before the Iron Hands could fully annihilate a WAAAGH! of orks many times their number and strength.
Ultimately, when the Iron Hands are deployed to war, they are not sent to save worlds. They are sent to ensure loyalty, to purge corruption in all forms, to wipe out any trace of xenos of Chaotic threat and burn any remnant of a foothold humanity's enemies might retain. They are sent to hunt down and destroy the worst of threats, to completely crush the forces who contest the Imperium's might and so thoroughly destroy them that their very names are reduced to ash.
The Imperial Fists are the Emperor's shield.
The Raven Guard are the Emperor's shadows.
The Iron Hands? They are the Emperor's annihilators.
This is merely a short version of course, outlining their basic defining traits overall. If you want an in-depth look at the chapter's lore there is a fan-made document here, reconciling most old and new lore elements while ignoring Codex: Clan Raukaan.