40K Tactics: Astra Militarum – Tank Commanders
Today is Tank Commander day recruits. Here’s how to get the most out of your mechanised Astra Militarum officers!
To attention, soldiers! This is Commander Learn2Eel reporting from the Bane of Traitors and on this day, the Sanguinala, we offer our prayers in veneration to Sanguinius, Saint and Primarch of the Blood Angels Chapter. Though we are not at home in the loving arms of our families, nonetheless we shall commemorate the sacrifice of the most noble of all the Holy Emperor’s children.
May his angel wings soar across the skies today, for the enemies of Mankind gather before us. Heretics, Xenos, Traitors – all are unworthy of the God Emperor’s benediction, and so we are charged with their destruction. Forwards, men and women of the Cadian 112th Armoured Battle Group, for the Red Saint and the God Emperor! Phalanx formation; weapons free!
There are few sights more inspiring than a squadron of Leman Russes pounding enemies into submission from afar, all the while being wrapped up in a classic World War I design. The new codex saw some massive improvements to those variants not sporting Ordnance weapons, but with the introduction of Wyverns and general re-balancing of the Heavy Support section those slots certainly were restrictive. Enter 7th Edition with unlimited detachments at any points limit provided mandatory choices are taken and, of course, the all new Tank Commander. While that particular edition change does somewhat reduce the value of the Tank Commander, there is nonetheless a lot to like about this addition to a Leman Russ squadron. After all, if you are taking platoons then taking extra detachments won’t be as manageable as taking mechanized Veterans!
The Tank Commander brings a selection of unique abilities to distinguish him or herself from a standard Leman Russ, including the obvious switch to the HQ slot from the usual Heavy Support position. An issue for many Astra Militarum players has been trying to find a Warlord choice to fulfill the mandatory HQ slot that is both survivable and fits into a mechanized list, and truth be told this has been the case since 5th Edition at least. The Tank Commander is not only incredibly durable as an AV14/13/10(11) tank with three hull points and at least one squad-mate with equivalent defensive stats, but obviously it slots in perfectly to a mechanized list and doesn’t force you to take a superfluous Lord Commissar or Company Command Squad.
What is also notable is that the Tank Commander generates a Warlord Trait much like the Command Tank from Forge World’s Armoured Battle Group, though the Tank Commander must instead roll a D3 on the Astra Militarum Warlord Traits table. The Tank Commander is thus restricted to the Grand Strategist, Old Grudges and Draconian Disciplinarian traits – this makes sense as all vehicles are already Relentless and (randomly) giving proper Orders to a Tank Commander would eliminate any need for a Company Command Squad.
All three of these traits are very useful and well worth making your Tank Commander the Warlord for. Outflanking Punishers, Hellhounds or Fearless Conscript blobs are brutal, just as giving Preferred Enemy to a squadron of Leman Russes is about as nasty as it gets. A mechanized list surprisingly gets a lot of mileage out of Draconian Disciplinarian seeing as whenever a transport is wrecked the unit inside has to take an immediate Pinning test and potentially a Leadership test if it explodes. Provided your army is Battle Forged, having a re-roll on a D3 gives you a great chance of getting the Warlord Trait you want – my favourite overall is Old Grudges as conferring Preferred Enemy on Executioners solves any issues they would otherwise have.
The interesting effect a Tank Commander has on list building is how much they boost the effectiveness of certain Leman Russ variants through the increased Ballistic Skill 4. While the types that use blast or large blast weapons won’t get all that much benefit from Ballistic Skill 4, the Vanquisher and Punisher in particular get important ranged efficiency improvements from a Tank Commander. A Vanquisher isn’t great on its’ own because of how unreliable it is, but Ballistic Skill 4 sees that it should hit in two out of every three turns. A Punisher usually averages ten hits with its Gatling Cannon, but the Tank Commander increases that to around fourteen and ensures the (probable) sponson heavy bolters make their points back with an average six hits out of nine shots.
The Exterminator gets the smallest boost by attaining a usual four hits rather than three but re-rolling to hit on Ballistic Skill 4 is a god-send next to Ballistic Skill 3 in my experience! Though the Punisher is good on its’ own, the Vanquisher is more mediocre as while it strips hull points off reliably each turn it is unlikely to get an Explodes result with the new Vehicle Damage Chart in 7th Edition. Ballistic Skill 4 sees that both of its Vanquisher Battle Cannon and hull Lascannon should hit each shooting phase which will see the Vanquisher do some hefty damage to any vehicle it sees.
The other unique ability exclusive to Tank Commanders and Knight Commander Pask are Tank Orders which are the obvious Leman Russ equivalent for standard Astra Militarum Orders. They are resolved in the shooting phase and based on a “test” like regular Orders, but they differ in that the Tank Commander must roll a nine or less on 2D6 – this represents the Tank Commanders’ “Leadership” value. Sadly these can only be issued to their own unit and the effects are nowhere near as significant as those provided by the infantry Orders. However, as much as many players have labelled them “useless” I have found them to be worth using in almost every game I have played so far.
Being able to move Flat Out is good enough for Heavy vehicles that otherwise lack mobility, but 6″ plus D6 can be a game-changer for a last minute objective grab or escaping a fast assault unit. Remember, Leman Russ tanks can normally only move 6″ a turn so mobile melee squads can corner them pretty easily, but add another 6+D6″ for a total possible move of 18″ and this allows you to reposition your crucial tanks like never before. Strike and Shroud works wonders with Night Fighting or Camo Netting to give the unit a 4+ cover save when you need it most – perfect for the medium ranged variants – but the best one by far is the ‘Split Fire’ equivalent. If you are taking a Tank Commander (or Pask) in a Vanquisher and have Executioners or Eradicators as squad-mates – the former to benefit from Old Grudges, the latter for their low cost – then being able to use an entire squadron to their maximum benefit by having the Commander shoot at vehicles and the others blast infantry is awesome.
Sadly, there are issues with Tank Commanders that need addressing. Firstly, while a medium points increase on a regular Leman Russ variant seems like a small price to pay for all the benefits Tank Commanders provide, they are hamstrung by a mandatory second Leman Russ to accompany his or her Command Tank. This sees that the bare minimum cost of a Tank Commander will be close to the 300 point mark, while adding upgrades, switching the variants or adding a third member can see points costs easily escalate up to the 600 area. Putting that many points into vehicles with rear armour ten or eleven and only three hull points generally isn’t a good idea, especially if you want to make use of the short ranged Punisher – krak grenades, haywire grenades and melta bombs are just far too deadly against an expensive unit. Additionally, all it takes is one Night Scythe full of Crypteks armed with Voltaic Staffs to completely wipe out three Leman Russes in one shooting phase – and that unit costs a third or less of a Tank Commander and two squad-mates!
There is also the consideration of whether you actually need the Tank Commander thanks to 7th Edition’s detachment changes, as Ballistic Skill 4 and Tank Orders are only really useful for Vanquishers and Punishers anyway. Infantry based lists get little real benefit from a Tank Commander seeing as a significantly less expensive Company Command Squad provides so many ridiculous buffs for them. If you don’t plan on using Vanquishers and Punishers, the points spent on Ballistic Skill 4 and the admittedly situational Tank Orders are just not worth it – especially with the forced addition of a second Leman Russ to form a squadron. Still, for a mechanized list that doesn’t want to use more than three Troops choices or one HQ choice, a Tank Commander is a fine addition because they give you what you want in that kind of list. Orders only work for non-vehicle units that are disembarked from their transports so paying more points for the incredible mix of damage output and survivability provided by Leman Russes makes perfect sense. As for whether you should upgrade to Pask or not, I will cover that in a separate article – the Knight Commander is a whole different story altogether!
Choosing which Leman Russ to put a Tank Commander in isn’t always easy, so I recommend looking at which variants benefit the most from Ballistic Skill 4 and the high possibility of Preferred Enemy. The tanks that use blast-type weapons won’t find nearly as much use from Ballistic Skill 4 as the “solid shot” variants, but Executioners in particular get ridiculous benefits from the Old Grudges Warlord Trait. I personally think Tank Commanders are the best reason to take Vanquishers for how important the extra pip of Ballistic Skill is to a one-shot wonder, while Punishers and Executioners are the close seconds because of their incredible rate of fire and unreliability.
I don’t really see any need to put a Tank Commander in the other variants, particularly the “budget tank” Eradicator, but if you just want to free up Heavy Support slots then there is no harm in trying out the different Leman Russes. Try to keep the squad-mates similar to the Tank Commander wherever possible so that you don’t end up wasting any of that juicy firepower, but keep in mind that the pseudo Split Fire Tank Order does allow you to mix distinct roles in the one unit. I would do this mostly to take advantage of Old Grudges with Executioners or use cheap Eradicators to fill up the mandatory squad-mate slots.
The key to this variant is its incredible range and versatility – Strength 8 AP3 Ordnance can reliably strip hull points off of all but the toughest vehicles, while it cuts a swathe through infantry lacking in either cover or 2+ armour saves. I would pair this up with either another Battle Tank or possibly even a Vanquisher so that the unit keeps an identical range and can ‘Split Fire’ where necessary. Battle Tanks are mostly an anti-infantry tool that can do some light damage to vehicles and monstrous creatures, the inability to one-shot either of those two larger unit types being its downside. These can preferably be kept on raised terrain features and perhaps in a corner, allowing them to reach across the entirety of a 6×4 with their whopping 72″ range. Alternatively, keep them behind some Infantry Squad or Conscript blobs so that they get moving cover from the Guardsmen and can fire over them without obscuration. Keep the upgrades to a minimum as the Battle Cannon will cause all other weapons to fire Snap Shots anyway.
As one of the longer ranged Leman Russ variants, the Exterminator is a decently effective anti-vehicle unit that can make good use of the Tank Commanders’ Ballistic Skill 4 through its sponsons and hull weapon. Four twin-linked Strength 7 AP4 shots are decent against light vehicles, but combine them with a hull lascannon and pair of either heavy bolters or multi meltas and the Exterminator becomes a tank-hunting force to be reckoned with at a low cost. The obvious comparison comes against the Vanquisher, and honestly the Exterminator wins hands down against any vehicle that is AV12 or lower due to rate of fire. Strength 7 can’t really touch AV13 or AV14 which is where the Vanquisher excels, though the significantly boosted range of the Vanquisher does give it a sizable advantage overall. If you like your chances of rolling up Old Grudges then pairing an Exterminator geared for anti-tank with a Vanquisher kitted similarly isn’t a bad idea with the mostly reliable “Gunners, Kill on Sight!” Order so that you can either focus down one vehicle a turn or take your chances at two kills per friendly Shooting Phase.
I honestly think the Tank Commander was designed with the Vanquisher in mind first and foremost simply because Ballistic Skill 4 is all that tank needs to be a worthwhile purchase in a competitive environment. The points you pay to see this tank hit more than 50% of the time with its titular Battle Cannon are well worth it, as is allowing you to pair it up with dissimilar Russ variants like the Eradicator or Punisher due to the “Gunners, Kill on Sight!” Order. Of course, the Vanquisher is also super cheap so there isn’t as much need to keep it with an Eradicator for savings.
Upgrades like the sponson multi-meltas and hull lascannon become so much more alluring with the latter being practically mandatory, though the former upgrade is hamstrung by a pitifully short range compared to the rest of the tanks’ weapons. Of course, even on a 6×4 with the Hammer and Anvil deployment it is very likely that an army will close within 24″ of a Vanquisher seeing as most armies’ best anti-tank weapons do operate at that kind of range – or at least those geared for destroying AV14 – so the sponson multi-meltas will prove valuable in most cases. If you are facing Land Raiders, even one Vanquisher fully kitted with a lascannon and multi-meltas will either slow them down or outright destroy them before they can unload their embarked units. A pair of Vanquishers works well but the squad-mate will still suffer from an unreliable 50% hit rate on average, so I would actually entertain taking an Eradicator to both save points and allow the squadron to be relevant even when vehicles are not present.
If you are taking a Tank Commander with an Eradicator, chances are you are doing so just to save points seeing as the two aren’t really suited for each other. The Eradicator is fantastic at clearing out light infantry from long ranges but its’ main advantage over the other variants is how absurdly inexpensive it is, something an upgrade like the Tank Commander doesn’t really work for. For such reasons I would make the compulsory second tank an Eradicator as well just to keep the points low and start putting out enough hits to really worry even elite infantry. Still, Ballistic Skill 4 on the near mandatory heavy bolter sponsons (and hull) is nice and the medium range is good for keeping your Warlord out of the forefront of battle. Aside from the sponsons this tank just doesn’t need or really want any upgrades, so aside from considering the usual defensive picks like Camo Netting I would probably just keep these as bare as possible.
As the most costly tank before any upgrades are considered, the Demolisher becomes a huge investment with a Tank Commander but thankfully does not need any of the extras to function. Despite being an expensive short-ranged tank that is likely to get destroyed by fast assault units or Deep Striking meltas, I probably wouldn’t bother paying for Camo Netting on a Demolisher seeing as it is likely to be outside of cover given how close it must be to fire, but pairing this variant up with a wall of Bullgryns and Camo Netting is actually a really good idea. A side note – Dozer Blades are practically a necessity for this tank as it is all but useless once Immobilized! I would keep it either with an Eradicator to save lots of points and still offer some threat outside of a 24″ range, or go all-out and terrify opponents with a brace of Demolisher Cannons. The latter is expensive but then that is always going to be the case when you field Leman Russ Demolishers with a Tank Commander, so doubling down on them isn’t a bad idea if you want to field one in the HQ slot. My advice is to not make this tank your Warlord though as these are most definitely on the “suicidal” scale and should be used as a terror weapon and line-breaker.
Twenty-nine Strength 5 shots at Ballistic Skill 3 are nice and all, but there’s just something delicious about resolving them all at an improved Ballistic Skill 4. Of the “siege” variants the Punisher is arguably the most commonly seen now – in no small part due to Pask – and like the Vanquisher improving the accuracy of this tank is easily worth the price of admission. Like the Demolisher, a short range does reduce the value of Camo Netting given that actually getting cover saves from multiple angles is more difficult up close, though the wall of Bullgryns tactic could still work. This is a tank that needs to be mobile even with all the heavy bolters and as such I also recommend Dozer Blades here. Seeing as a regular Punisher is only really a threat to light vehicles, monstrous creatures and infantry, putting it with a Demolisher that can shoot at anything without issue allows the squadron to engage more targets. Alternatively, an Eradicator is inexpensive and solves the Punishers’ main issue in dealing with cover-camping infantry squads, while an Exterminator provides significant damage output against light vehicles as well. Executioners are of course the most destructive anti-infantry Leman Russ variant and work well with Punishers, but their risky nature considering the Tank Commander will likely be your Warlord could be a severe issue.
Giving Ballistic Skill 4 to a single large blast might not be that valuable, but providing it for between three and five small blasts? Priceless. Unfortunately, unless you are going Battle Forged and thus have a good chance of rolling up the Old Grudges Warlord Trait, I can’t recommend putting a Tank Commander in an Executioner because of how incredibly likely it is to destroy itself through failed Gets Hot rolls. Otherwise, the plasma cannon sponsons are still worthwhile for the sheer damage boost they provide – even if it almost halves the tanks’ chances of survival – while exchanging the hull heavy bolter for a lascannon actually isn’t a bad idea on a Ballistic Skill 4 tank. The hull lascannon and five Strength 7 AP2 small blasts will annihilate light to medium vehicles with ease and evaporate infantry and monstrous creatures besides – make no mistake, the Executioner is the most destructive Leman Russ around. If you are putting a Tank Commander in an Executioner then the chances are you are going for the Old Grudges Warlord Trait, so taking a second Executioner is pretty much mandated.
All squadrons, I want casualties and damage reports immediately! The Bane of Traitors suffered minimal damage, though her sister tanks suffered catastrophic damage at the hands of the Chaos Warp Engines. I want a full account of each Leman Russ variant and remember to disable all primary weapons – we don’t need another unforced nova at the centre of an Executioner! Once damage assessment is complete, all squadrons must rally at Sector 9, Quadrant 3. The Red Saint was with us today!