40K Lore: Hive Fleets


Loremasters – prepare your minds to engage the Hive Fleets of the Tyranids!

Hive Fleets are massive locust-like Tyranid swarms, comprising billions of creatures including the actual bio-ships, living spacecraft used to cross interstellar space and the voids between galaxies. Each creature of the Hive Fleet is an inseparable part of the Hive Mind.


An entire Hive Fleet is directed by the single coordinating will which is its Hive Mind, formed from untold billions of individual consciousnesses, each of which is a living creature in the fleet. Mankind still searches vainly for the higher beings they suppose control the Hive Fleets, and though such mighty creatures exist, they no more control the Hive Mind than single brain cells control a man’s body. It is the sum of the Hive Mind which motivates it, not its constituent parts.

Hiveship TyranidsTyranid Hiveship

Three major Hive Fleets have invaded the galaxy, each coming into conflict with the Imperium. Of the three major Hive Fleet invasions, two entered the galaxy through the Eastern Fringe, but one is moving up from below the galactic plane. The Hive Fleets encountered thus far are just a splinter of the main Tyranid invasion force that is traveling through the void between galaxies.

DevourerCruiser TyranidsDevourer Cruiser

The bio-ships contain everything required to sustain the fleet; some ships being purely for crushing resistance, the larger ships contain birthing pools to create the huge land armies of the Tyranids and even more ships when the need arises. The nutrients used as food and raw material are replenished by scouring conquered planets of every cell of biological matter, including all the Tyranids it seeded onto the planet. Because the Tyranid forces are recycled in this way, the “design” of the Tyranid warriors can be altered by genetic engineering, allowing the Tyranid forces to rapidly adapt to overcome any enemy. Further, the Tyranids absorb the DNA of defeated enemies, allowing for further genetic diversity. It is believed the Genestealer and Broodlord are derived from Human DNA, the Zoanthrope from Eldar and the Biovore from Ork DNA.

Deathburner_KrakenDeathburner Kraken (Scout Class)

By the adaptive nature of the Hive Fleets, fierce resistance on a planet will only make the fleet stronger in the end; for this reason only a few tactics have been found to work. The first is to draw the Tyranids into a large ground battle, forcing the fleet to deploy as large a ground force as possible. Once this is achieved, the planet is evacuated, following with Exterminatus as the Tyranids strip the life of the planet. This tactic is effective as Hive Fleets are dependent on the impetus gained from absorbing each conquered planet; the Hive Fleet will also have lost the biological “energy” expended to conquer it, including all of the bio-material of the ground forces and by the nature of Exterminatus will not be able to recover any from the planet. This tactic is extreme and also damaging to the Imperium, as it destroys a valuable and habitable planet every time. It has been projected that there may not even be enough habitable planets in the galaxy to stop the Tyranid threat, especially if more Tyranid fleets arrive from outside the galaxy.

Major Hive Fleets

600px-Behemoth_forceTyranids of Hive Fleet Behemoth

Hive Fleet Behemoth was the first Tyranid Hive Fleet encountered by the Imperium, and was also the first contact the Imperium had with the Tyranids as a race. Behemoth made a juggernaut rush into the Galaxy from the Eastern Fringe and proceeded into Ultramar, resulting in what became known as the First Tyrannic War. It was eventually destroyed at the Battle for Macragge in 745.M41 or 746.M41 depending on the source.

800px-IyandenBattleTyranids of Hive Fleet Kraken fighting Eldar of Iyanden

Kraken was the second major Tyranid Hive Fleet to invade the galaxy. It was responsible for the Second Tyrannic War, occurring in 993.M41.

The invasion began 250 years after the last Tyrannic War and the destruction of the hive fleet Behemoth. An armed presence had been maintained in the galactic southeast, which members of Earth‘s Administratum began to question the need for, arguing that Behemoth had been the sum total of the Tyranid race. When worlds along the eastern fringe began to erupt in rebellion, terrorism, riots and sabotage, the same adepts claimed the people were dissatisfied with living amid an armed camp. Among the first worlds known to be consumed by Kraken were Sotha, Miral, Graia and Radnar.

Leviathan_forceTyranids of Hive Fleet Leviathan

Hive Fleet Leviathan is the largest and greatest Tyranid Hive Fleet to invade the Galaxy. It attacked in 997.M41 from the galactic south. Unlike the majority of previous Hive Fleets that attacked from the Eastern Fringe, Leviathan instead skirted under the galactic rim of the galaxy and then pushed upwards through the galactic plane, spreading its forces across a broad front that covered the Ultima Segmentum, Segmentum Tempestus and even into the Segmentum Solar. Leviathan’s strategy was to form its forces into two giant tendrils hundreds of light years apart in such a way that it stretched the Shadow in the Warp over the vast distance between the two tendrils, stopping all psychic contact between the trapped worlds and the Imperium and also blocking Imperial reinforcements from navigating the Warp towards the beleaguered worlds.

One of Leviathan’s main tendrils, which was on a projected course directly to Terra, was eventually stopped at Tarsis Ultra. However, Leviathan as a whole remains undefeated and continues to assault the galaxy. Thus far Leviathan has consumed countless worlds. In response, the Imperium is reinforcing entire Systems, raising thousands of armies and dispatching dozens of Space Marine Chapters to troubled areas; meanwhile, several Craftworlds of Eldar are using ancient destructive weaponry to reduce planets to Dead Worlds, and the Tau are developing new technologies and weaponry to combat the Tyranids. However, Leviathan is only being slowed down rather than fully stopped, and it continues to assault all life in its path.

800px-HiveFleetsMapCurrent Hive Fleet Invasions

Learn the different types of Bio-Ships in the Tyranid Arsenal


The Shadow in Warp grows…Will you succumb to the Great Devourer?

  • Witch Beatrice

    I wish the fluff matched the game rules. Masters of evolution cannot roll on biomancy. Communicate telepathically via the hive mind cannot roll on telepathy or telekenesis. Recycle the dead tyranids and flora and fauna of a planet for evolution – i wish there were “something akin to khorne daemonkin blood tithes called biomass points”

    Also lately i feel i am outnumbered by guardsmen and space marines. Too expensive in points to field mass innfantry with enough synapse and support monsters and assault monsters to make an enemy feat my pitifully small numbers. Maybe give endless swarm rolls to every unit and make units 50+ in size? I dunno how to fix nids.

    • Gary Collins

      I’ve always enjoyed the fluff and realize the limitations that game makers would have trying to incorporate what makes a great story into a playable game mechanic. However, if we want to discuss how to make Tyranids viable once again, we must look no further than giving units the ability to assault out of deep strike (like raveners, Trygons, genestealers, hormagaunts), enhance strength (raveners, genestealers,) and make some niche units worth taking by either dropping points (in the case of lictors) or giving a special ability boost. Space Marines have already established assault out of deep strike and transports… so its not that unimaginable. Here’s crossing my fingers for the future.

      • MPSwift

        Something like all units within 12″ of a trygon/mawloc must take a pinning test at -2 or something when it erupts from the ground would help too. Not a game breaker but gives them a little bit of protection when they arrive and is fairly fluffy as I’m pretty sure I’d be bricking myself if a hungry xenos snake the size of a bastion suddenly broke through the floor behind me!

    • Moonsaves

      Nods really should the be horde army to end all horde armies, coming from an ork player. Always felt like playing a mostly-gaunt army, but always stopped by the wonky implementation of the fluff.

    • BodyMassage

      Reducing the cost of MCs would help, I think, in allowing for the synapse coverage we need AND giving opportunities to field larger numbers of troops.

      It’s frustrating because I feel the Nids are just sooo close to being a viable threat to other armies, yet GW continually writes poor rules which keep the bugs from fulfilling their destiny as the Great Xenos Antagonist.

  • AwesomePizza

    Are there any set colors for minor fleets?

    • rtheom

      There are some smaller fleets with recognized color schemes, like Eumenides, and there are a few Splinter Fleets that are variations on the larger fleets, but it’s always been kind of recognized in the fluff (if not said directly) that the color schemes for ‘nids are much less “set” than they are for the other actual military forces of the galaxy.

  • The Suave Lion

    It’s unfortunate that, despite being the most adaptive race in the galaxy, the codex has made the tyranids a one trick pony. We don’t even have any decent units, just two decent biomorphs being wings and TL devs with BL worms. Strip those away and flyrants are horribly overpriced for something with 3+, no invuln, and no fnp. Any no name marine captain can quite easily thrash a tyrant.

    Also, being close combat orientated, I cannot remember the last time I declared an assault with my nids. I find it a shame that to have any real decent chance, you have to spam flyers or FW models (csm have a similar problem imo)

    Nids need to be updated to make swarms more viable. Something involving unit numbers eg hormies having +1S when numbering 15 or more to represent a 15 wound blob crashing against the enemy. Gaunts having a synaptic neural node that increases their bs when having certain numbers. Max size squads having fnp?? Just something to make swarms attractive.

    I also believe having different hive fleet genealogy as chapter tactics would be sweet as would varying tyranid psyker tables such as wrath, will and dominus of the hive mind. Last but not least, instead of fortifications, tyranids instead get invasion stages where you can pay points to have either stealth and fear, board wide Synapse etc

    Here’s hoping