Death Korps of Krieg
"Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure."
- – Diary of an unknown German soldier at Stalingrad
"In life, war. In death, peace. In life, shame. In death, atonement."
- – Final litany of the Litany of Sacrifice, recited by Krieg Korpsmen when entering battle (and 9E, it seems)
The Death Korps of Krieg, the most Grimdark of Grimdark
The Death Korps of Krieg is a series of Imperial Guard regiments which hail from the Death World of Krieg. They like trenches and gas masks and are known for their iron discipline and suicidal tolerance for casualties. In fact, they will take any objective and vanquish any enemy, just as long as they have enough men to throw in the meat grinder. Hell, Krieg means WAR in German (as you have gathered, the Imperium does not do 'subtle'). That's how badass they are. What's the difference between them and other Guard units, you ask? These motherfuckers don't even give a shit. They're some sort of badass human lemmings, and they are so grimdark that they alone are responsible for about 20% of the grimdarkness in Warhammer 40,000. They have no will to live, no fucks to give, and one hell of a lot of xenos to shiv (with sharpened entrenching tools). This is said to be a relic of the tragic civil war on the original hive world of Krieg, a den of traitors, corruption and strife where rebels rose to power and seceded from the Imperium. However, loyalists Guardsmen decided to light Krieg up like it was nuclear 4th of July instead of letting the heretical rebels take control of the planet, resulting in their homeworld becoming a bitch of a radioactive hellhole (hence the Korps' gas mask fetish). Now the people of Krieg are so sad about their rebellious past they’d literally rather die than continue living their shameful lives.
The greatest source of mundane horror in all of Warhammer, the Death Korps does not need eldritch nonsense or nonsensical alien "biology" for the darkness factor. This is quite simply humanity at its worst and nothing more.
Also it needs to be said that in current non-jokey 40k canon there is an in universe romance novel about Kriegers titled "My Wish to Generate Children with You is Only Exceeded by My Devotion to Him."
If you think about it, the Death Korps suicidal nut jobs are better equipped than most Guardsmen. They have flak armor like any other, but they have plasteel helmets, their lasguns are much more powerful, their bayonet skill is outright legendary, their uniform is fully sealed against nuclear, biological, and chemical attack (also protecting them from the mud, rain, and other elements and likely acting as an any environment survival suit issued to the Guard), and they have a backpack full of gear and supplies instead of rushing into battle practically (or literally) naked. Heck, these suicidal guys even have grenadiers wearing carapace armor wielding hellguns despite being sent specifically to get killed doing something useful. Their tank regiments include heavy tank companies and super heavy tanks (like the Mordian Iron Guard, come to think of it). They also have WAAAAAY more artillery and heavy weapons than anyone else. They make the Cadians look under-equipped and poorly trained.
The Civil War
Some time ago Krieg was a pretty sweet planet to live on, until the heretical dickwad of a Planetary Governor (and most of the ruling elite) decided that the Tithe was wack and voted to detach from the Imperium. Needless to say the loyal citizens wouldn't let the rebel scum get away with that and a bloody civil war broke out. The loyalists were severely outnumbered, and only managed to seize control of a single hive called Ferrograd (ferro is Italian for iron and grad is old Slavic for town - GW being subtle), due to the fact that a loyal Krieg Imperial Guard regiment under the command of a Colonel Jurten was there, waiting to depart. While getting some turnips out of the basement Jurten tripped over some nukes and decided to even the odds by blowing the world back to the Stone Age. Afterwards, after just 500 years of continual terrible war, the loyalists managed to drag Krieg back into the paralysed lap of the Emperor. Today the citizens of Krieg celebrate the day their hero Colonel Jurten destroyed their planet's ecosystem on "Jurten Day", when everybody digs out entrenchments and practices NBC weapons drills, just like every other day, though everyone gets one crumbly chocolate chip cookie.
The Death Korps
The inhabitants of Krieg are mad sorry for their disgraceful past and try to make up for it by being the baddest motherfuckers since the Empra himself. In fact they've been so successful in producing hardass guardsmen that the Adeptus Mechanicus Biologis gave them some Vitae Wombs (IVF/clone tubes) so that they can produce even more top notch cannon fodder, which is important, because Krieg is a radioactive shithole, and most of them are sterile. So sterile that most Kriegers are born of complex gene-cloning and subsequent growth-vats. Their society is absolutely militarized. Children are being born only to be filled with the guilt of their ancestors, trained and sent to die for their Emperor. Contrary to other less
brainwashed LOYAL units they're truly happy to do so and would die with a smile on their lips for the glory of the Emperor, if they'd ever smile. Seriously, those guys are stone cold. You'd rather chat with a necron than a Krieg trooper. They don't even have names. They're just called Trooper #1337 or Major Alpha and such (although some of the higher-ranked survivors get names, like Colonel Tyborc, hero of Vraks) both to underscore what expendable clones they are and because they don't give a flying fuck about anything other than marching, dying gloriously and shooting heretics in the head (fluff dependent; McNeill and Mitchell portray them as stoic to the point of being cold but still personal whereas Steve Lyons depicted them as described as near drone-like automata). As such gung-ho individuals they technically don't even have the need for Commissars to maintain morale, since their deserting rate is practically zero and the officers (and probably even the regular troopers) will happily execute their soldiers themselves if need occurs. Commissars that are sent their way are usually sent in to say "Captain, I know you want to charge in and stab those Orks in the face with bayonets, but if you do that maybe one in ten is getting out of there alive. The Emperor needs you alive and we are going to goddamn wait until a situation comes where we can have enough survivors for the next battle and if you order a charge, it's blamming time for you." If a Commissar is the voice of reason in your ear, you know your priorities are interesting.
If one thing is even more serious business for Kriegers than dying, it's killing heretics with extreme prejudice, even by Imperial standards. As mentioned in the Codex: Stronghold Assault, once there was a Hive City that hadn't paid its tithe, and got a visit from the Death Korps for it. After five years of constant bombardment, the city surrendered unconditionally, but the Kriegers wouldn't just stop bombarding over such a small thing. After three more years, there was nobody left alive in the ruins anymore. The Death Korps still wouldn't leave until two years later - when they had eventually shot the entire mountain-sized Hive to rubble! (
That seems unusually wasteful for Krieger's. Aren't hives supposed to be sacred archeotech in and of themselves? Heretical Hives are worth less than the dirt under a Kriegers boot!) That was also more about making a point about why surrendering early is the best option for you. Wait, Hive Cities are protected by void shields capable of shrugging off orbital bombardment. Either the Kriegers had some huge toys or the humble Earthshaker isn't so humble.
A surprising degree of bio and cybernetic enhancements also appear to be common among Kriegers, which while taking away from their raw awesomeness, should give you idea of how high the esteem in which the Imperium holds the Death Korps.
The Munitorium has a hard on for these guys because unlike guardsmen from other places they always obey orders to the letter,
even especially when it means dying in droves. Most Kriegers never retreat, they almost fight to the death every time. Once when a Commissar ordered a retreat, an unknown Krieger shot the Commissar for cowardice. Seriously, these guys don't fuck around. The only thing that does happen once in a while that could be potentially seen as approaching a retreat is a regiment/army being reassigned if the high-ups conclude the objectives have been met or are simply no longer attainable and dying elsewhere serves the Emperor better. That being said, during the siege of Vraks the Kriegers shot their own Commissars who tried to stop their retreat, despite being the most fanatical of the Imperial Guard, they're still only human (p. 72, Imperial Armour 5, Siege of Vraks Part One, for all those who get a hard on for the Death Korps). On the other hand, the Kriegsmen are so well trained and experienced, they do know when to retreat. Commissars are well trained for war in general, but don’t necessarily understand siege warfare as a speciality enough to always recognize when retreat is the best option. Also, you can’t win a siege if you expend too many of your soldiers. You need to out number the enemy at least three to one for that. As such, the Kriegers being much more frugal with their lives during the siege makes very good sense to ultimately achieve victory.
Now these suicidal, violent siege specialists are ordered to fight in the most dangerous battles. The Death Korps of Krieg may want to die, but death is a bitch to them. When they do die though, they are easily replaced. Join the Death Korps of Krieg now (rebreather, lasgun and no will to live included)!
Yes, they ride gas mask-wearing horses into battle in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. These are not any ordinary horses, though. Like Space Marines, they are genhanced with extra organs implanted to deal with harsh environments (giving them 6+ invulnerable save), keep them fighting well after any ordinary filly would be blasted to the knacker's. They are vat grown and implanted with devices to increase aggression. These form the backbone of the Krieg Death Rider units, who are lead by a Sergeant known as a "Ridemaster." They are used as scouts and to harass the enemy. In addition to lasguns and grenades, they carry a one-use-only explosive-tipped lance, and can charge "fleet of hoof" if not shooting.
It is stated that the Kriegers make use of "Vitae Womb" technology to keep up the annual crop of 50 million suicidally fanatical gas mask mooks specifically given to them by the Adeptus Mechanicus. What that means is a matter of debate, ranging from exowombs to drugs which increase fertility and accelerate pregnancy. What is not disputed is that it keeps population production up well beyond what can usually be achieved by human uteri. At least take comfort in the fact that it, in all likelihood, can't be as bad as a certain Warsmith's pet project.
Or could it?
In all honesty it's almost certainly just an artificial womb. The basic technology itself is something that the Imperium makes use of on a regular basis and Vitae Womb is probably just a specific incarnation of it used to mass produce (biologically speaking) normal humans. There are no women in the Krieg military, because they also supply kids for their birth rates - they do both so they can recruit and tithe more regiments.
Vraks, and Forge World Stupidity
Now, for all that the soldiers of Krieg are supposed to be some of the hardest bastards in the Imperium and willing to sacrifice their lives in an instant if that's what is asked of them, there comes a point where going any further with that characterization crosses the line between "grimly awesome" and "over-the-top caricature". There's really nothing wrong with this since 40k originally started out as a parody setting, just so long as the writers meet one simple condition:
It has to be intentional.
When Imperial Armour released their Vraks trilogy, it was supposed to be an example of how dark and gritty siege warfare could become, and therefore a textbook example of how the Death Korps operates. Prior to this, they were written as pragmatic, capable, dedicated, and utterly ruthless soldiers who combined the tactical sense you'd expect from a professional soldier who had been trained from birth with a willingness to sustain whatever amount of casualties are required to achieve their objectives on the battlefield; meeting their deaths without the slightest hesitation, and making sure that the Emperor's foes paid as high a price for those deaths as they could arrange.
Instead, we were shown a teeming mass of "soldiers" who amounted to little better than shambler zombies with guns; utterly incompetent and suicidal to the point where they were more concerned with killing themselves than the enemies of the Imperium. The most sterling example of this has to be walking over minefields to clear them, something that could easily be accomplished with far less cost in men and materiel by using vehicles with dozer blades as mine rollers. They literally have to be convinced that there are better ways to fight the Emperor's foes than marching into the teeth of enemy fire until they ran out of ammunition by their damn Comissars; political officers whose entire job revolves around two things:
1. Inspiring soldiers through sheer hammy charisma.
2. Discouraging cowardice through the not-insignificant accomplishment of successfully being more terrifying than any enemy a Guardsmen might be facing at the moment. In a universe where said enemies might be the Legions of Hell, an endless swarm of alien horrors from beyond the stars, a race of sentient bioweapons whose extreme bloodlust is matched only by their uncountable numbers or genetically-engineered superhumans whose entire schtick revolves around being the most nightmarish motherfuckers in existence.
The sheer wastefulness of the Idiot Korps' tactics is so great that it becomes impossible to take any of the books seriously, and the setting is left poorer for it. If the Death Korps actually fought like they're described in Vraks then in all likelihood the Imperium would have long since discarded them as a useful fighting force due to how needlessly and exorbitantly wasteful they are of lives and materiel, and we would like to remind you that the Imperium measures the casualties of war in planets, not men.
Now to be fair, part of this characterization is likely caused by takeing the cultural memory of WW1 the idea of men mindlessly charging into Machine Gun emplacements across a no-man's land ripped apart by artillery and chemical weapons, and porting it into 40k.Viewed this way much of the above make sense, Death Korp Tactics are wasteful because in popular memory that's all World War One was, men jumping over trenches to run into enemy machine guns. The problem comes when you try to get into the head of an entire culture whose goal is doing just that, thus leading to the grim derp problems above of damn near suicidal soldiers whose primary tactic is the human wave charge, because again that's what WW1 was in memory, lions lead by donkeys who charged bravely, if mindlessly into certain death. This lead to the Death Krops being stupid and fighting stupidly. In the end when forge world tried to potray a ww1 style mud and blood conflict, they fumbled because World war 1 was an already pretty grimdark conflict so turning it up to the 40k required 11 on the old grim dark dial was bound to push it into Grim Derp Territory if handled poorly, and it was.
TL;DR: In essence, the Vraks trilogy wanted to recreate the muddy hell holes of ww1 in 40k, and in the process turned the Death Korps from something much like the Red Army during WW2 into a poorly-researched/malicious portrayal of the Red Army during WW2.
Thankfully they generally seem portrayed in lore usually as being unafraid of death but not willing to waste their lives (so they can kill more of the Emperor’s enemies). In fact, with their heavy tanks and numerous grenadiers and their engineers, the Death Korps seems more like a mashup of various real life successful ways the trenches in World War One were ultimately defeated. Their machines and units imply the Death Korps is more of a “line breaking specialists” army than a “dig trench and sit there forever” army. Their trenches seem to be used more like forward bases and mustering points for their breaching attacks than as their main method of defeating the enemy.
- Due to the Krieger ideology of repentance to the Emperor, dying is considered the greatest honor for an average Krieger, and dying while achieving a great victory is a Krieger's wet dream. The Death Korps of Krieg's version of Heaven (Or at the very least an equivalent concept) is to achieve a great victory for the Imperium, while sustaining 100% casualties. They would be the perfect soldier for the Normandy Landings or Stalingrad. They will attempt to achieve a glorious victory while drowning the enemy with their corpses.
- The Death Korps of Krieg kill.
- They seriously do not fuck around.
- They have cuirassiers that ride horses with fucking rebreathers. Yep...
- The lasgun model they use is called the "Lucius" Pattern No.98, in keeping with their German WW1 inspiration, (the standard-issue Mauser rifle was the model 1898). More powerful per shot than most lasguns, but it might blow up if you fire it too quickly.
- The Death Korps of Krieg resemble old World War I soldiers, with most people thinking they are German because of their name and the stahlhelm-style of their neck protection, however, the overall design of the Korps is actually a mix between various armies from WW1 and even the 19th century; their helmet is a stahlhelm-Adrian hybrid, their uniform is mostly French, their gas mask looks like British-American models, the grenadiers' armour plates are undoubtedly German and the Death Riders and officer are French cuirassiers from the Napoleonic Wars with the same WWI flavour. Meanwhile, their tanks, while the same Russes as everyone else in the Guard, have the trench-rails of WW2 French tanks.
- I bet they allow the use of hardcore cocaine. And they won't take it because it doesn't help in killing heretics or dying fast enough.
- They have cool looking "Grenadiers" for, well, grenadiering?
- They don't desert, ever (they're not all that into sweet things anyway).
- They're German-French-British-American, so of course they're gonna win (after taking a stupidly high amount of casualties).
- "Kill confirmed" is the only thing they ever say
in combatever. They don't fly aerial vehicles, they just crash them into enemy AA guns. 50\50 chance of them still surviving.They fly CAS and bomber aircraft into the most suicidal of missions, and once irreparably damaged, suicide-bomb them into enemy AA to clear the way for other air units.
- A Krieger's idea of courting involves finding a suitable female (or male) in the trench who doesn't look like all the other suicidal gas-mask wearing nutbars in brown who hasn't been blown to smithereens...yet.
- Krieger pickup lines are notoriously bad, so bad they make the Mechanicus look like Barry White! Notable lines include "I wish to have a cloning vat of fetuses with you", "Would you like to share this additional synthesized Mechanicus issued ration bar with me at sixteen hundred hours?", "Would you like to go for some recaf with me?" (so far so good), "I found this lovely little bombed-out fox-hole near our position, it's very romantic" (sure if you find love on Armageddon!), and "My gene donors (the parents) are away on deployment this weekend, I've got the whole barracks to myself, and I just picked up a mixtape of the most romantic Krieger music" (hint: it sounds like guns firing, orders being screamed, explosions, and marching boots...very romantic).
- Rejection in Krieg is common and common excuses include "I'm washing my scalp" (Kriegers are bald), "I'd love to but I have a Tyranid invasion to stop", "I'd love to but I've just been ordered to charge that dugout, gonna be busy all day", "I can't go to the dance with you I'm dying for the emperor tomorrow", and "I like you as a friend".
- If Krieg and Cadia swapped places Abaddon would have stayed in the Eye of Terror (but the Imperial casualties would have increased by an order of magnitude).
- A romantic evening to a Krieger usually involves barbed wire, grey dugout positions, landmines, a searchlight, latrines, an emplaced heavy machine gun, and some stick bombs.
- Their response to Necrons fucking vaporizing them is to continue firing, but also make sure to drop their weapon when they are hit so as to preserve as much of their equipment as possible.
- Kill or be Killed, either way, Krieg is redeemed. One millimetre at a time.
- A Krieg Death Corps trooper and a Catachan Jungle Fighter got into a fight to see who was the most badass type of guardsman ever. Except no they didn't, because a true Krieger always has more important shit to get done.
- They are highly popular with the Commissariat as they do not retreat. They hold the line.
- Fans do their heavy-WWI inspiration one better by portraying them as being highly eager to use sharpened entrenching tools/shovels in close-combat, though this has technically never really appeared in canon (the use of shovels in melee, that is. Their suicidal eagerness to get into melee is definitely canon as shit).
- Will kill their commander if they are ordered to retreat more than a few times.
Unless they have a reason, that isTHEY NEVER HAVE A REASON TO RETREAT, AVE IMPERATOR!!!!!!!'
- Jokes aside, the one time even they broke was against literally the single worst batch of chemical weapons in Warhammer history (which is really saying something) on Vraks by the The Purge. It literally took a rolling blackout of super-heavy tank melting gas fired by the single most life hating unit of beings to ever exist to drive them off. By one trench line exactly. (And even then they weren't so much driven off as melted where they stood.) Even then, this isn't really "breaking" - they're strategically repositioning so they can die for the Emperor in a more useful way than being turned into poisonous slag.
- They look down on other regiments that aren't as suicidally fanatical and/or disciplined as they are, because of this they get along with the Mordian Iron Guard as they also share their fatalistic devotion to duty, and absolutely despise the Jopall Indentured Guard as they are the complete opposite of what the Korps believes a soldier should be (however, they also openly praise Jopallian marksmanship).
- Did I mention that the greatest victory for a Krieger unit involves 100% casualties?
The Death Korps are very clearly based off of German, French, British, and American WWI soldiers, all the way down to their trenchcoats (French), gas masks (British/German), helmets (French/German hybrid), their riders (French), love of big guns (American/German) and of course, affinity for trench warfare. Just like the good ol'
Somme Ypres Marne Verdun Passchendaele, eh?
They also seem to be much more heavily focused on the machines, tactics, and special units that ultimately overcame trench warfare. Such as focused artillery barrages to cover for a large number of very heavily armored soldiers to get close and seize trenches and then be reinforced by normal troops. Tanks, lots and lots of tanks especially really damn huge ones, and so on. Which makes sense; they’re sent to win wars not stagnate them.
Alternative Modeling Options
As the most popular (Fluffwise) regiment, Forge World has models for them that cost more than the average Kriegsman's life, but then again that's not really a high bar. Thankfully, Anvil Industry comes to the rescue with their Regiments range, allowing anyone to build very authentic-looking Kriegers, complete with their signature death masks, unique lasguns and wheeled heavy weapons.
- Love and Krieg, and its various spin-offs.
- Tactics/Death Korps of Krieg
- Writefaggotry about the mind of a Deathkorps Medicae
- A rare female Krieger
- Krieg song by StringStorm