The Space Marine Predator
The Predator is a variant of the Rhino armoured personnel carrier that sacrifices passenger capacity for superior armour and firepower. These vehicles have served the Adeptus Astartes since the dark days of the Horus Heresy, but were created long before the Emperor united Humanity and led the Great Crusade to reclaim the galaxy.
Every Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes has at its disposal a large pool of armoured vehicles, ranging from the ubiquitous Rhino to the mighty Land Raider. These vehicles each fulfil a specific battlefield role set down by the Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman in his epic tome - the Codex Astartes. The Predator is a light tank, and its primary battlefield role is that of squad support. Wherever a squad of Space Marines is in need of mobile fire support, be it against enemy infantry or armour, the Predator is there to provide it.
The technology of the 41st Millennium is steeped in superstition and ritual. Most of the technological achievements utilised by Mankind are creations based not in the era of the Imperium, but in the dimly remembered Dark Age of Technology. During this period Man travelled to every corner of the galaxy, surviving on the remotest of worlds thanks to the Standard Template Construct: a system that evaluated local resources and produced the designs for any tool the colonists might require, from a ploughshare to a warp drive. One design that served the settlers well upon a myriad of worlds was the Rhino armoured personnel carrier, and the Predator is an STC variant of this highly versatile blueprint.
The Rhino is an extremely adaptable and open-ended design that features in-built compatibility with many standard weapon and drive systems. This means that it forms the basis for a number of other vehicles besides the Predator, including the Razorback, Immolator, Whirlwind and many specialised variants such as field medic units, command vehicles and armoured recovery vehicles. The ease with which the basic Rhino pattern can be upgraded to the Predator, and the interchangeability of components, makes the Predator almost as ubiquitous a tank as the Rhino is an armoured carrier.
The Predator was first fielded during the Dark Age of Technology: the period of expansion that saw human settlers colonising vast swathes of the galaxy. During this age the Predator was instrumental in establishing Mankind’s dominance upon an untold number of worlds. What little evidence that survives from this period is jealously guarded by the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but it is theorised by those with access to the sealed archives that the Predator template was developed in response to Mankind’s earliest contacts with the Ork race. Where the Rhino had served Mankind well in previous conflicts with lesser races, the brutal, close quarters method of warfare favoured by the newly discovered Orks required different tactics altogether. The Predator was an ideal weapon against the Orks, who had few weapons that could penetrate its upgraded armour, and whose own armour offered no protection whatsoever against the tank’s autocannon and heavy bolter armament.
The Predators originally employed by the Emperor’s forces were only slightly different to those employed today, and it is a testimony to functionality of the original design that it has changed so little over the course of ten thousand years. The first Predators were equipped with a small passenger-carrying capacity, but during the prolonged campaigns of the Great Crusade it became obvious that this meagre facility was of less importance than the ability to carry greater amounts of ammunition, especially if the vehicle in question was to be fitted with side sponsons. By the time of the Great Crusade, a great number of Standard Template Constructs had been lost, and it was another five millennia before the template for the Razorback, a vehicle dedicated to the role of infantry fighting vehicle, was discovered. In the meantime, Imperial tactics sacrificed transport capacity for firepower, fielding Predators as light support vehicles alongside Rhino armoured personnel carriers.
Today, those senior Tech-Adepts with access to such ancient texts as Wilhelm of Mantrioch’s Liber Armourum believe that all of the Predators in service during the Dark Age of Technology were outfitted according to the pattern known today as the ‘Destructor’. Armed with a turret-mounted autocannon, this was the pattern in use by the armies of the Emperor at the very dawn of the Imperium.
The ‘Annihilator’ variant, featuring a twin-linked, turret-mounted lascannon did not come into service until many millennia later, during the Skarath Crusade. That an established STC vehicle should be adapted is highly unusual in the superstitious Imperium, where the Adeptus Mechanicus view anyone tinkering with their technology as guilty of techno-heresy of the very worst kind.
At the height of this great push into Chaos infested worlds bordering the Eye of Terror, a Great Company of the Space Wolves Chapter found itself besieged by the combined armoured might of several Traitor Legions.
The Space Wolves’ commander had requested the aid of a contingent of his Chapter’s Land Raiders, whose high-powered ‘Godhammer’ pattern lascannons would break the Traitors’ ring of fortifications and armoured vehicles once and for all. However, a great tragedy befell the Chapter, as the mass conveyance vessel transporting the Land Raiders was inexplicably lost in the warp, leaving the force on the ground with little more than their man-portable lascannons with which to face the enemy armour.
The Space Wolves are renowned for their ingenuity and refusal to stand down from a seemingly impossible situation. The Iron Priests struck upon the idea of modifying their Predators to carry the lascannons employed by the Long Fang heavy weapon squads. The Iron Priests and Rune Priests consulted every portent and cast every augury they could conceive, until they were convinced that all the signs were favourable and the modifications should be made.
The Space Wolves’ breakout at the height of the Skarath Rebellion was the first battle in which the newly dubbed ‘Annihilator’ pattern Predator saw action, and it was an overwhelming success. The armoured column cut a swathe through the Traitors’ Land Raiders and Dreadnoughts, who had been prepared for no more heavy weaponry than heavy bolters and autocannons to be employed against them.
In the wake of the battle, the Adeptus Mechanicus were outraged at the Iron Priests’ methods, and branded them desecraters and blasphemers against the Machine God. However, when confronted with its undeniable success, the Tech- Adepts decided to instigate an inquiry to ascertain whether the new pattern should be accepted and enter production as a standard variant. The inquiry lasted for two centuries, during which time the Annihilator was subjected to an exhaustive series of trials and examinations. The Tech-Priests prayed to the Machine God and made their supplications to the spirits of all those Predators they modified. At the end of this long and meticulous process they declared that the Omnissiah was in favour of the variant, and indeed that the facility to retrofit the vehicles with lascannons was an intentional feature of the original template.
After two centuries of investigation, the Adeptus Mechanicus pronounced that the Adeptus Astartes had the blessing of the Machine Cult to build the Predator Annihilator. The Space Marines had by this time already been using the new variant for one hundred and ninety years.
Most Space Marine Chapters have the facilities to construct their own armoured vehicles. These Chapters maintain a large forge in which its serfs, overseen by its Techmarines, produce all the ammunition, equipment and supplies required by the Chapter to fulfil its obligations and objectives.
The forge will produce large numbers of Rhino chassis, a small number of which will be earmarked to provide the basis for Predators, Whirlwinds and other variant patterns. Only the finest chassis are used in the production of a Predator, and one is only selected once the Tech-Adepts of the Chapter have made the relevant supplications and are sure the omens for the vehicle’s future are favourable. The entire process is carried out with the utmost reverence to the vehicle’s machine spirit, and every precaution is taken to protect against ill fortune. Every 13th vehicle to be outfitted as a Predator is blessed and purified to an even greater degree, and every 666th is melted down, its constituent materials returning to the forge in a solemn ceremony resembling a state funeral as much as a sacrificial offering to the Machine God.
The Adepts name the Rhinos as they emerge from the forge, and those designated to become Predators receive a name that reflects its role as a protector of the Brethren, and a mighty opponent to the Chapter’s enemies. The name is only chosen after the Emperor’s Tarot has been consulted, and it is widely held that the machine’s personality will adhere to its title. In battle, some vehicles are held to be utterly fearless in the attack, others stubborn in the defence. Vehicle crews hold that each vehicle is as individual as its name.
One advantage of the Rhino chassis is that, if absolutely necessary, it can be retrofitted to another variant with relative ease. During the Vern IV offensive in 140M.40 for example, the Death Spectres Chapter lost almost its entire pool of Predator Destructors when the Eldar of the Kabal of the Envenomed Thorn ambushed them. They were later forced to retrofit twelve Rhinos to Predators in response to the unexpected intervention in the conflict by the Eldar of the Void Dragons pirate fleet.
All of the Predators owned by a Chapter are the responsibility of the Chapter’s Master of the Forge. This officer, who is the most senior Techmarine within the Chapter, commands the armoury, which i includes all of the armoured vehicles that are not permanently attached to a Company.
A Chapter will on average own between 20 and 30 Predators. Most prefer an equal proportion of Annihilator and Destructor variants but some, such as the idiosyncratic Subjugators Chapter, exclusively maintain one model, in the case of the Subjugators, the Destructor.
The Master of the Forge is responsible for maintaining the vehicles in sufficient number and condition to meet the Chapter’s commitments. When a task force is dispatched on a mission its commander will request a detachment of armoured vehicles from the armoury, and the Master of the Forge will issue him with those vehicles he considers suitable for the task in question. The Master and his staff consider the Predators their own charges, and consider any mistreatment at the hands of a force commander an unforgivable insult. Woe betide the commander who returns a Predator to the forge in any less state of repair than it was issued to him at the outset of a campaign.
The crews of Predators are Space Marines who specialise in the operation of armoured vehicles and, while not actually Techmarines, they are fully trained in the operation and maintenance of their vehicles. It is considered a great honour to crew a Predator, the only one greater being promotion to the custodian of a Land Raider.
Upon the field of battle, the primary role of the Predator is as a mobile firebase acting in support of the Space Marines themselves as they undertake their mission. The Predator variant utilised for the mission will depend upon the foe they will be facing and the objective the force is attempting to achieve. The Destructor is considered the ideal tank to tackle light vehicles and large numbers of lightly armoured infantry, for instance, Orks or ill- equipped human rebels. Against enemy tanks and armoured infantry, the Annihilator’s lascannons will make a mockery of the thickest armour.
Many forces will field Predators specifically outfitted for a given mission as the side sponsons may be fitted with either heavy bolters or lascannons, irrespective of what pattern the turret mount adheres to. If the force commander was expecting to face a mix of lightly armoured infantry and heavily armoured vehicles, as is the case with Imperial Guard armies, an Annihilator fitted with heavy bolter side sponsons would provide an efficient mix of anti-infantry and anti-armour firepower.
Ten thousand years ago the Imperium was gripped by the most destructive conflict in its long history. Warmaster Horus revealed his true allegiance to Chaos and the Traitor Legions were let loose in an orgy of destruction that engulfed the greater part of the Imperium and cost the lives of millions.
The Iron Warriors Traitor Legion was responsible for just such an act of destruction upon the world of Tallarn, a planet of unparalleled beauty. Lush tropical forests and warm blue seas covered the planet’s surface and its people considered their world a paradise.
The Iron Warriors, for reasons known only to themselves, subjected the world to an utterly inhuman virus bombardment. The warheads of their missiles unleashed a strain of biological agent that killed every single living cell upon the surface of the world in a matter of weeks. So efficient was the virus that it even destroyed the bacteria that would ordinarily break down dead organic matter. The result was a world of lifeless slime; the remains of all plant and animal life reduced to an acrid, shapeless residue.
But some inhabitants had survived. Deep beneath the surface of Tallarn were sealed shelters, and as the survivors emerged to bear witness to the destruction wrought upon their world, the Iron Warriors struck. So inimical to life was the surface that the Tallarns were forced to fight within heavy protective suits, and at times even these offered no protection against the deadly viral strains running wild across the world. Infantry could play little part in the conflict and the war soon escalated into the largest tank battle of the Horus Heresy.
Imperial forces rushed to the world in response to the Iron Warriors’ attack, and the Predators of the Imperial Fists and Iron Hands Legions were instrumental against those of the Traitors. Across plains of slime and stinking mist the tanks clashed, fighting in formations hundreds or, at times, thousands strong. The armoured might of the Imperial Guard joined that of the loyalist Space Marines; an act of indescribable heroism as they lacked the sealed power armour that allowed Space Marine crew to survive should their vehicles be crippled. Many thousands of Imperial tanks were lost in the conflict as more forces joined the war for what was essentially a lifeless, worthless and dead world.
At length the Iron Warriors were repelled. No one can say why they attacked Tallarn, or why they put up such a fight in response to the Imperial counter-attack. What is known is that without the tank-busting armament, heavy armour and advanced life support systems of the Predator, the world would have remained in the hands of the Traitors, who would have been able to pursue whatever foul mission they had come to Tallarn to achieve.
This vehicle, designated Gladius, was commissioned following the loss of the Ultramarines’ entire 1st Company at the Battle of Macragge. Its custodians are stalwart veterans promoted from the elite of the Chapters’ vehicle crews, and Gladius has earned the honour of being permanently attached to the rebuilt 1st Company.
The Predator tanks of the White Scars Chapter are rarely fitted with sponson mounted weapons; they are equipped to provide heavy firepower in support of the Chapter’s fast moving bike and Rhino-mounted formations. Julak, whose long-range patrols are notorious for their bold ambushes, has commanded this vehicle for as long as any Space Marine of the Tulwar Brotherhood can remember.
The use of flames as vehicle livery is common amongst the vehicle crews of the Salamanders Chapter, and there are many potential meanings to be derived from the form and placing of the adornment. This vehicle, designated Noctus, displays a flame pattern around the turret-weapon mount, indicating that its commander is both a senior member of the Promethean Cult and a highly accomplished artificer.
This Blood Angels Predator fought in both the Second and Third Wars for Armageddon. It was left empty when its crew succumbed to the Black Rage at the Siege of Hive Tempestora, and was hurriedly re-crewed by Space Marines of the Storm Giants Chapter whose own Predator had been crippled. The vehicle was later returned having served with honour and courage during the battle.
The script adorning the frontal armour of this Black Templars Predator proudly proclaims its participation in the Teutanus Crusade that cleansed the Pleiades Cluster. The white weapon cowling indicates ten confirmed kills, and the crew of this particular vehicle were later promoted to custodians of a mighty Land Raider Crusader.
The Space Wolves are credited with creating the first Annihilator pattern Predators, when, lacking mobile anti-tank weaponry, they were encircled by enemy armour during the Skarath Crusade. The weapon cowling on this vehicle displays the markings of the Long Fangs pack that sacrificed its heavy weaponry that the company might gain mobile anti-armour support for the breakout.