Today Loremasters we delve into the bravest and most feared members of the Departmento Munitarum, the Commissars of the Astra Militarum.
Commissars are special Imperial officers assigned to Imperial Guard regiments and Imperial Navy ships, whose purpose is to enforce discipline and devotion to the Emperor of Mankind. Independent of the conventional Imperial Guard Hierarchy, Commissars are instead attached to the Departmento Munitorum‘s Commissariat and are formally part of the Militarum Tempestus.
Commissars are invariably stern and uncompromising individuals, able to keep even the most anarchic regiments in line through fear, strength and power. Every regiment has one or more attached Commissars who remain with the regiment throughout its duties. Commissars are assigned to regiments by the Departmento Munitorum‘s Commissariat department, which provides high-ranking commanders to Imperial Guard armies. They have authority over both the soldiers and regimental officers. Commissars have both the right and duty to immediately execute any Imperial guardsman or officer who shows cowardice or incompetence in battle. They must also ensure the regiment does not harbor the likes of Genestealer Cultists, Chaos heretics, spies, or mutants.
Personnel selected to become cadet Commissars are drawn from the Schola Progenium – Ecclesiarchy-run schools, where the pupils have already received a strict Imperial Cult education. The training of Cadet Commissars lasts for an indeterminate length of time, and their advancement depends entirely upon the judgment of the full/senior Commissar responsible for their development. Training may involve deployment as part of a Commissar Training Squad and/or secondment to an individual full/senior Commissar.
Advancement beyond Cadet ranking can lead to becoming a full Commissar in their own right, or a further developmental role as a Junior Commissar. Full Commissars can be further advanced to senior roles within the Commissariat such as Commissar-Captain, Lord Commissar, or Commissar-General. The exact method of advancement to these positions is unclear.
Cadet Commissars are given the standard arms and equipment of a Guardsman, although they retain their distinctive uniforms. These uniforms differ from those of a full Commissar by featuring blue trim and a specific Cadet emblem.
Their training has no set duration and a Cadet will be graduated as soon as he is deemed worthy. Part of the training of a Cadet-Commissar emphasises learning standard infantry tactics and gaining experience in situations common to standard Imperial Guardsmen. In order to ensure this, Commissar-Generals may decide to form up the Cadets under their purview into Training Squads, nine Cadets under the command of a specially chosen full Commissar.
Commissar Training Squads
Commissar Training Squads are groups of Cadet-Commissars, formed up into a fighting squad and led by a full Commissar into battle. These Cadets are then trained, under battlefield conditions, in how to live, fight and even die alongside the troops they are supposed to one day inspire and discipline. They are sent into the fiercest fighting, in which they are expected to show bravery and devotion enough to earn the respect afforded to them by standard troopers. Commissar Training Squads are highly motivated and pious fighting units and an Imperial Guard force accompanied by such a squad will consider itself destined for victory.
When a Commissar decides that a Cadet has failed in his duty to become a Commissar, but has not shown cowardice or insubordination, the Cadet is relieved and may be either sent to a Stormtrooper unit or become an officer in a penal battalion. Others volunteer for service in a Rogue Trader‘s entourage, and others may face darker destinies.
A subordinate role to a full Commissar, a junior aids his senior in overseeing the the regiment or ship assigned to the full Commissar, performing adjutant and investigation duties as well as Commissarial ones. Junior Commissars do appear to undertake Commissarial supervision at a regimental (or equivalent) level, starting with smaller formations, such as an individual squad.
The standard rank of Commissar, at least one is assigned to every Imperial Guard Regiment. Their duty is to oversee the morale of the regiment, enforce discipline, and inspire the men in combat.
Commissars are also in charge of supervising the raising of new regiments, sometimes from primitive worlds whose inhabitants are savage and do not adapt well to Imperial discipline.
Both of these roles require Commissars to lead by example, and demonstrate outstanding personal bravery on the battlefield, as an example to their men.
A rarely seen intermediate role between full Commissar and Commissar-General, the particular role of a Commissar-Captain is unclear, other than ranking above full Commissars. They have been seen to supervise at a regimental level.
Higher ranked Commissars, promoted after exemplary battlefield service. Their battlefield heroics are the thing of legends for average Guardsman.
The most senior known rank in the Commissariat, Commissar-Generals are highly experienced Commissars, having the additional responsibilities of assigning Commissars under their command to officers and promoting cadets to full Commissar status.
Colonel-Commissar is a very rare rank of the Imperial Guard, held usually in only extraordinary cases, and apparently referring to a Commissar who is awarded regimental command rank in the Imperial Guard itself. Though the records show the rank being held as recently as the Sabbat Worlds Crusade (Ibram Gaunt) the inherent clash between the two roles is normally seen as a threat to a regiment’s discipline – Commissars maintain discipline and watch commanders, the commander leads the regiment in combat – the two roles are technically exclusive.
In theory, the Commissariat has oversight authority over all branches of the Imperial military (with the obvious exceptions of the Space Marines, the Sisters of Battle, and the soldiery of the Adeptus Mechanicus), which include Planetary Defence Forces. In practice, however, only a single Commissar is assigned to the PDF of an entire planet, or even several planets in a subsector, and so plays little to no role in these forces’ activities. As a result, many of these forces are ignorant that these commissars even exist. Commissars assigned to these thankless postings are usually advanced in age, or have been subject to disciplinary action.
Some PDFs maintain their own local Commissariats. Tensions are often strained between these local units and the Imperial Commissariat, especially with issues of jurisdiction, with Commissariat members even known to execute their local counterparts for overstepping their authority.