40K Lore: Squad Cycle of Space Marine

The path of duty for a Space Marine is clear cut – but the order might not be what you think.

Space Marine Scouts

Scouts are the new recruits of a Space Marine chapter who have advanced far enough in the early stages of their training and biological transformation to take part in battle with the rest of the Chapter.

More lightly armed and armoured than full Battle brothers, their role is to range ahead of the main Space Marine force, preparing the way for the main advance by infiltrating enemy lines, sabotaging and gathering intelligence – causing as much chaos and disruption as possible.

Every Marine belonging to a Codex chapter begins his combat life as a Scout. Over a period of several months, under the tutelage of a Sergeant, the Scout learns the use of all the weapons at the disposal of the Adeptus Astartes, and becomes skilled at every aspect of war.

As part of a Scout Squad, a Scout enters combat for the first time as a skirmisher, or an infiltrator. Relying on stealth rather than brute force, Scouts slip behind enemy lines, gather intelligence, destroy strategic targets, and capture or assassinate key enemy commanders, then fade away before the enemy has had a chance to react. Because of their speed and stealth, Scout Squads are often assigned to boarding actions against Tyranid Hive Ships, or to search-and-destroy missions against key synapse creatures that direct the rest of the Hive Mind. For these missions, their armament often includes Heavy Bolters loaded with Hellfire rounds. During the final stage of their training, Scouts are trained in the use of Bikes, performing a faster-moving version of the reconnaissance and skirmish roles they fulfill on foot.

Off the battlefield, the scouts train and learn under the tutelage of a veteran Sergeant, taking to heart the lessons and skills that will one day see them elevated to the rank of a full battle brother. A Scout receives his final implant, the Black Carapace, when he is deemed ready to join the Chapter as a full Battle-Brother – the implant marks him as a full Marine and allows him to interface with his suit of power armour.

Space Marine Devastator

Devastator Squads are specialised Space Marine squads tasked with long-range fire support, entrusted with the Chapter’s rarest heavy weaponry. In a typical Codex Chapter, two Devastator Squads are assigned to each of the four Battle Companies, while the entirety of the 9th Reserve Company is composed of Devastators.

Most Devastator Squads are composed of Space Marines who have recently been promoted from Scout Squads. Though veterans of dozens, even hundreds, of campaigns, service in a Devastator Squad will be their first experience in power armour as part of the main Space Marine army. Those newly-appointed to a Squad, armed only with basic gear, are given the primary duty of providing close support and calling out targets for their more experienced battle-brothers. These Space Marines are armed with the squad’s four heavy weapons, an honour earned only after the Marine has proven himself steady and dependable in the heat of battle.

The Devastator Squad is made up of between four to nine Devastator Marines and a Space Marine Sergeant. The type and use of these heavy weapons can vary greatly, depending on the mission or nature of the Chapter itself.

After completing tours of service in the Devastators, Marines are typically assigned to Assault or Tactical Squads.

Space Marine Assault Marines

An Assault Squad is a Space Marine unit that excels at close combat. In a typical Codex Chapter, two Assault Squads make up part of each of the four Battle Companies, and the entire 8th Reserve Company is composed of Assault Squads.

Marines are commonly assigned to Assault Squads after exemplary service in a Devastator Squad, where they have garnered experience in holding their ground against any foe. As an Assault Marine, they must not only prove themselves in close combat, but learn other vital skills, such as the operation and maintenance of Space Marine Bikes and Land Speeders. Assault Squads are used for a variety of roles; reconnaissance-in-force, decapitation strikes, and counter-assault missions are common assignments for Assault Squads.

The Assault Squad is made up of between four to nine Assault Marines, led by a Space Marine Sergeant. Because they often operate far ahead of the main force, the Sergeant has a direct uplink to the myriad datastreams and tactical overlays used to coordinate the Space Marine army, allowing for complete situational awareness.

Space Marine Tactical Marine

A Tactical Squad is the most versatile and tactically flexible force in the Space Marine army, making up the majority of the four Battle Companies and the entirety of two of the four Reserve Companies in a typical Codex Chapter. This makes them the most common type of unit in the Space Marine forces.

Prior to service in a Tactical Squad, Space Marines must prove themselves capable in all aspects of warfare by completing several campaigns in Assault and Devastator Squads, a process that can last years or decades. Not all Space Marines are able to make the transition, either possessing a particular talent or obsession within one area, or simply lacking the mental flexibility required to embrace the Tactical Squad’s fluid nature.

The basic squad is made up of four Space Marines and one Space Marine Sergeant; up to five additional Marines may be added.

Space Marine Dreadnought

The Space Marine Dreadnought is a massive war-machine piloted by an honoured Space Marine hero whose body has been ravaged in battle. The most commonly used pattern as of M41 is the Castraferrum Pattern (or MkIV and MkV), but many variants exist. Dreadnoughts also known as the Old Ones in the Space Marines Chapters.

A Space Marine Dreadnought is a large, walking tank which carries both powerful guns and lethal close combat weaponry, armoured to withstand all but the most powerful of enemy firepower and often relied on by Space Marine forces to tear an opening in enemy defenses. Each Dreadnought contains a living being, permanently interfaced with the machine through a form of Mind Impulse Unit. Dreadnoughts are surprisingly agile, able to walk and balance with the ease of a living creature.

It is said that old proto-Dreadnoughts of the Unification wars could be piloted by non-Adeptus Astartes warriors, but later only Space Marines could be inherited in them.

The pilots within Dreadnoughts are Marines who have suffered mortal wounds in battle, maimed and crippled beyond recovery – instead of being mercifully killed, the greatest heroes are instead given what is considered the honour of continuing to serve the Emperor past their normal life. Once interred within the Dreadnought, the Marine cannot leave the metal womb and is destined for a life of endless battle until destroyed. Some are so ancient their memories may extend back to the founding of their chapter and its earliest history. For this reason they are revered not just as powerful warriors but also as ageless forebears and living embodiments of battles fought long ago. If a dreadnought is destroyed, the Space Marines will fight to retrieve the armoured shell so that the occupant can be returned to the chapter’s mausoleum for his long-deserved final rest.

Dreadnought machines themselves are ancient, the oldest dating back tens of thousands of years to the Age of Strife. Because the art of constructing them has been almost lost, Dreadnoughts are revered as rare machines, though the most revered specialists still dare to construct ‘new’ Dreadnoughts.

Dreadnoughts are armoured with ceramite and adamantium, their muscles are formed of electro-fibre bundles and magna-coils. They are usually armed with weapons to suit a particular role, such as destroying other heavy armoured vehicles.

Although a Dreadnought can be damaged and disabled, it can survive unless the actual armoured tomb containing the occupant’s form is destroyed. When not fighting, the Chapter’s Techmarines will allow the fallen heroes to sleep away the centuries, sealed in stasis vaults, until once more they are called to battle. Usually Dreadnoiughts waked from their slumber only in time of great need or when their advice is needed for some special missions.

All Dreadnoughts contains speakers and the warrior within can communicate with other Space Marines. The synthesized, crackling voice emanates from within the machine, making a conversation with a Dreadnought in eerie experience. Also traditionally every Dreadnought bear a scroll with the inscribed name of the hero on it. When the new warrior is interred as a pilot, Dreadnought will take a new name.


For More on Space Marines be sure to visit the Lexicanum for all your Lore-seeking Needs!

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    I loathe the fluff change.

    It should go:

    Scouts -> Tac Marines -> Specialized Units

    Not: Scouts -> Specialized Units -> Tac Marines

    • Carey_Mahoney

      Couldn’t agree more.

    • Anders Busch Hjarlvig

      Its been like this since at least the 5th edition SM codex… so not really a change you know;)

    • AEZ

      Well to me it seems odd that the infiltration specialists and assassins are the rookies.
      But it seems more logical that backline longrange weapons (devastators) are handled by fresh recruits.

      • I still kinda think of the scouts as the rookie version with power armoured recon marines as the real deal.

        • AEZ

          Well that IS the lore. But assassins being rookies .. well some could see that as less logical too.

          • Ronin

            Tell that to Solid Snake in the original Metal Gears on MSX. 😉

            Scouts technically aren’t supposed to fight in prolonged engagements. They’re meant more for recon.

          • euansmith

            A squad of mine spent an entire game “reconning” a pub when I forgot to roll for them coming in from reserve.

      • Because you want your most powerful weapons in the least experienced hands? When this happens in real military units it usually has to do with the weight of the weapons and experienced soldiers not wanting to carry them. That’s not really in line with how I see Space Marines.

        • euansmith

          I guess that the mass of the weapons is less of an issue with suspensors and powered armour; but the heavy weapons must still be a pain to lug around on patrol.

        • Gregory Heyes

          Because the “recently promoted” marines don’t handle the heavy weapons – they’re the bolter-carrying marines in the Devestator Squads, calling out targets, watching the squad’s flanks etc.(carrying ammo? No, that would be handled by servitors following the squad). The actual gunners have already gone through the progression and proved themselves as having a better aim. It gives the fresh blood a chance to experience battle as a full marine without putting them at the forefront of battle and potentially losing them early in their career.

          • This comes with the implication that being with heavy weapons is safer, which it isn’t. In game terms those marines are only there to be ablative wounds anyway, which makes them less useful than scouts. It’s fine for fluff in a game where super soldiers wield chainswords and wizards cast magic spells though.

      • Inco Gnito

        Bear in mind that new recruits to a space marine chapter are not really “recruits”.
        By the time they have been accepted to the chapter, they had to go through lethal trials and prove their combat and survival skills. Most are already well trained as soldiers/warriors/killers before they are elevated to an Astartes.
        Also, given that new recruits (just like all marines) are subjugated to the most grueling training and drills before they enter their first combat, it can be argued that the only thing they are actually lacking by the time the begin their first operation, is experience.
        Granted, training and an actual battle are different, but looking at how Space Marines train (live weapon training etc.) one might argue they are pretty close to the real deal.

      • Muninwing

        less “specialists” and more “if you survive this tricky but dangerous job, you get promoted”

        means darwinist promotion to the next phase.

    • Kyle

      Actually it should be Scouts -> where ever they are needed or display an aptitude for like a real military. When infantry companies get boot drops they parse them out based on need first and their base MOS second. IE: I know mortar men who spent most of their career operating as machine gunners because that’s what we needed extra bodies for. Both the old fluff and the new are kinda silly.

    • Kinsman

      I like the Space Wolf format. Generally makes more sense to me, being based on the personality or longevity of the individual.

      I agree, however, that the current Codex pattern is derpy.

  • Carey_Mahoney

    No word on Vets or Termies? But yeah, Dreadnoughts…

  • memitchell

    Of course, in military terms, this is exactly backwards. Tactical Marines have the most generalized skills. Skills ALL Marines would learn and need. Devastator Marines are more specialized. Assault Marines have even more specialized techniques, tactics and weapons. Scouts have the most specialized skills, from infiltration to reconnaissance to assassination to planing explosives. The path would not be from most specialized to least. Nor would progression from one type of specialization to another be necessary or desired. But, it’s all fun.

    • Dan Wilson

      Which is exactly the way it is for the space wolves, their scouts are their most veteran marines.

      • AEZ

        Scouts in power armor then?

      • LordKrungharr

        I thought Long Fangs were the Wolves’ most veteran marines?

        • threeorangewhips

          Both Scouts and Long Fangs are veteran wolves.

        • Ravingbantha

          Yes and no, Scouts and Long Fangs are about the same in veteran status. The difference being their personality, most Wolves go into the Long Fang Packs, but those that tend towards ‘Loner’ personalities go into Scouts.

      • Kinsman

        This is how every Chapter should roll, honestly.

  • Ronin

    Considering tactical marines are supposed to be graduates of the specialized classes, they should have 2 attacks lol.

    • Djbz

      Or they should come with a Bolter, Bolt pistol and combat knife so they are as tactically flexible as they’re supposed to be.

  • Stig Christensen

    and this is that damned wardian legacy once again. think it over the most numerous unit in a sm company is the tactical marine unit. six compared to two devastator you would have a bottleneck to get your full complement of tactical marines if the company have had some serious loses during a campaign. besides that the true / old lore stated scout- tac- specialization (aka assault or devastator ) in regards to what the marine was best suited to

    • AEZ

      No. They live LONG time.. PLENTY of time to make sure the majority of troop end up in the highest class of troopers before getting stalled there (if not becoming officers). They need tacs a lot.. and if that was the first step most of them wouldn’t get any promotions ever.

      • Stig Christensen

        yes they live a long time but the need for new sergeants and higher up´s is not that great. uriel ventris of the ultramarines was a veteran sergeant for at least 50 years before he became a captain and at the time he became a captain he had served for about 150 years if memory serves me right besides heavy weapons takes a lot longer to become proficient in compared to standard weaponry. the bolter in it self is a fairly standard very high caliber assault rifle (.75 caliber) as a former soldier myself i can attest to this fact heavy crew served weapons takes a lot longer to master then your standard rifle or sub-machine gun. and if you read the old fluff which for me makes it more true then what matt ward have concocted.

        • Yeah, people tend to think that operating a Machine Gun efficiently is easy. They don’t realize the skill and composure it takes. A trigger happy shooter will melt the barrel/run out of ammo and won’t have accomplished more than a minute or so of noise.

        • Brian Griffith

          A bolter doesn’t fire solid ammunition, it’s far more akin to a full-auto shotgun firing grenade rounds.

          • Stig Christensen

            brian yes the bolter is comparable to a 20mm automatic grenade launcher but my point still stands it is a fairly simple weapon as it operates along the same principles as an real world assault rifle. older versions of the bolter even had a butt stock to take the recoil

    • ikari_kun2002

      The Devastator Reserve Company make take care of some of that.

      • Stig Christensen

        if you read the chapters due, of Graham McNeil “spoiler alert”
        in the end the ultramarines win but take some major loses in the 350 marines range. that 3½ times more then the combined total of the devastator company so if we keep up the same wardian idiocy that devastator comes before tactical. you would effectually wipe out the whole company to fill up the battle companies leaving the entire chapter devoid of any heavy support units besides of the nominated 2 devastator squads per battle-company.. the other way around if you stick to the old ultramarine lore (or space marine lore in general) the chapter has so large a recruiting base because they control 9 planets that they would be able to refill the companies with tactical marines in the span of about 15-20 years if you go with the wardian crap (sorry for the language but i think it is crap) it will take considerably longer

        • ikari_kun2002

          Presumably they vary the progression when they must, like all wartime armies.

          • Stig Christensen

            due to the set schedule of the progression of when to implant the biological hardware of a space marine you are bound to a 15-20 years span from recruit to fully grown marine. it was one of the things learned from the horus heresy. you can make a space marine in a shorter period of time but it will be at an increased risk of failure or the marine becoming unstable and not fit to be a space marine.

          • ikari_kun2002

            The biological process is nearly done by the time the neophyte Marine becomes a Scout. There’s a lot more freedom to reassign at that point.

          • Stig Christensen

            please note that i said recruit not neophyte for the 15 – 20 years span and yes by the time they become neophytes the only thing they are missing is the black carapace. at the same time as a neophyte they will be assigned to the 10th company to become a scout, the 10th is also the only company which has a fluid structure.

  • I like the old RT fluff that assault marines were much more likely to be killed so choosing to join an assault squad guaranteed fast promotion…if you survived. 😀

    • euansmith

      The Falorn Hope model of accelerated promotion? 😉

      • Loki Nahat

        “forlorn hope” 😉

        • euansmith

          Spollang his novir baon my strang peunt 😉

  • David Leimbach

    The whole concept of a ladder kindof sucks. Scouts should be marines that specialized in – scouting. Tacticals specialists in general combat, and devs in heavy weapons. Each of these roles has their own skill set that is not lesser than any.
    Scouts should wear light armor so they can move stealthier and quicker, not because they’re noob marines who didn’t earn their full armor suits yet.

    • ikari_kun2002

      There’s a better rationale. Scouts may not be called upon to fight at all in any given deployment, and when they do fight they are likely to be shooting from ambush or sneaking up and slotting some poor bastard. This gives them an opportunity to taste real combat without being exposed to the same jeopardy faced by full Space Marines.
      And if it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve saved the cost of a Black Carapace.

  • Commissar Molotov

    Great idea, giving the new initiates fresh out of Scout School control of the heavy weapons…

    No wonder the Space Wolves do it differently!

    • palaeomerus

      They have hypno-training that starts them out qualified and hardened. There are no green wet scouts.

    • Reven

      The article says they are newly assigned to the Devastator squads they aren’t given the weapon, they spot for the more veteran members until they prove themselves steady and dependable in battle.

  • Wolf-Assassin

    Its funny how much changes, for the Space Wolves the scouts used to be the recruits then going on to become Blod Claws and later on becoming Grey Hunters And if they live long enough got a chans of becoming a Long Fang or a Wolf guard if they excel enough in combat in front of there Wolf Lord. And they could even split there Squads into 5 men Battle Packs.

    • Brian Griffith

      That’s still true for the Space Wolves. They’re not a Codex Astartes chapter.

      • Simon Bates

        Yes, but Wolf Scouts are now veteran specialists and not new recruits, they changed the fluff in 3rd edition. I think it works better now though, especially as it then follows that the packs get smaller from Blood Claws, to Grey Hunters, to Long Fangs or Wolf Scouts.

  • Sonic tooth

    Ooooh i would not like to be a space amaine scout. Tyranids? No no no

    • Mr.Custodes


      • ikari_kun2002

        Advanced Space Crusade! Hey, why doesn’t that make a comeback? Or better yet, regular Space Crusade. I bet a lot of people would buy Warhammer40Kwest, especially if it had new and unusual minis in it.

  • ikari_kun2002

    For all the commenters who missed this, the new Devastators don’t use the heavy weapons. They use the Awesome +1 in Space! battle rifles alongside the actual specialists, to gain field experience in what the heavy weapons are for and can do. While not in the field, they do the extensive training required to actually use the heavy weapons.

    • Brian Griffith

      Yeah, and they’re doing something that’s a natural progression. They used to be recon, now they’re spotters for the gunners.

  • David

    Can anyone recommend somewhere to get 40K art/prints please?

  • Gabriel De-Vere

    Just one of the reason I play WOLVES, Bloodclaw (Young & Impetuos), Grey hunter (Seasoned), Long Fang (Old and don’t like to move) Scouts (Lone warriors of the Above) Wolf Guard (Best of the above)… :p

  • GnomesForge

    WRONG! Don’t you know? The tallest Marine always comes out a head above the rest