The High Guard, the Void Nobility: the Imperial Navy is a culture unto itself. Many of its Officers and Crew are born aboard the vast city-sized Battleships, and the leadership of many vessels is often determined by a combination of merit, breeding and heritage. Every ship has its own community, and every Fleet its own culture. The Ships of the Imperium are truly deadly things, each carrying enough firepower to utterly destroy anything from a city, to an entire planet.
Five Things To Know About the Imperial Navy
- They are traditional. The Imperial Navy is home to a myriad of ancient and often incomprehensible traditions, superstitions and obscure piece of etiquette, many varying from vessel to vessel.
- They love their ships. The crew of a Voidship have bonds as close as any Imperial Guard regiment, and their first loyalty is to their vessel. When two Navy crews meet on shore leave, one can expect sharp banter at best; open brawling is not uncommon. Ratings often sport tattoos or uniforms bearing the name or insignia of their home vessel, though this habit is considered gauche for officers.
- They are technical specialists. The complex and ingenious machinery which keeps a Voidship flying through the Warp
- They have the big guns. No matter what massed ground power the Imperial Guard can bring to bear, or what strange and deadly weapons the Inquisition or fabled Astartes boast, it is the Imperial Navy who hold the greatest firepower in the Imperium of Humanity. The destructive power of a massed macrocannon broadside or the planet-burning might of a cyclonic torpedo fusillade outweighs any mere ground armament by several orders of magnitude.
- Their ships are vast. The smallest scout-ship in the fleet has a crew of some seven and a half thousand souls; the crews of battleships can number into the hundreds of thousands. More akin to vast, ancient void-capable cities than oceangoing vessels, every Navy vessel has its quirks – its bad neighbourhoods, its darkholds, and its hidden secrets.
The Ships of the Imperial Navy
The vast cathedral-like edifices of Imperial Navy ships mare machines dedicated to two overriding tasks of awesome difficulty: to bring the Imperium’s terrible firepower to bear against the Enemies of Humanity, and to keep the thousands of human souls within safe from the hostile Void and the even deadlier depredations of the Warp. Most Imperial Ships are hundreds or thousands of years old, born in the shipyards of distant Sectors or even the Rings of Iron around Holy Mars itself. Designated HIMVS (His Imperial Majesty’s Voidship), they often bear grandiose, pious or boastful names commemorating Imperial saints, famous victories or phrases from Ecclesiarchy scripture.
The ships of the Navy fall into three broad categories:
- Battleships and their smaller cousins Battlecruisers and Grand Cruisers, usually between 6 and 8 kilometres in length, with crews usually over 100,000 souls. These ships are usually escorted by a mass of escort and tender vessels; while they are astonishingly powerful fire platforms, or carrier bases for vast fleets of attack craft, they rarely travel anywhere alone – with rare exceptions such as the Exorcist class Grand Cruiser, optimised for deep-void solo missions.
- Cruisers, usually 5-6 kilometres long, optimised for firepower and durability, with a usually complement of 50-100,000 souls. A Cruiser Group is a deadly void force in its own right, often enough to quell most pirate incursions or enemy raids.
- Escorts, usually 3 kilometres long or smaller, are rapid and aggressive vessels which protect and screen the slower Capital Ships to allow the larger vessels to get into position and use their devastating heavy weapons. Escorts almost always operate in squadrons, sometimes called “Wolf Packs”, and are vulnerable alone. Frigates and Destroyers are the most common, but this category also includes Scout Sloops, Corvettes and other specialist vessels.
The Captains and Bridge officers of Imperial Navy ships are often augmented, either through the efforts of their ship’s assigned Magos Biologis – aboard larger vessels – or from personal funds. These augmentations can range from variations on the typical cosmetic enhancements found amongst terrestrial nobility, to complex and substantial nervous system modifications which allow the officers to interface directly with their vessels through a Mind Interface Unit. Whether such direct interface substantially improves one’s ability to helm a Voidship, or comes at the cost of reducing situational awareness and a dangerous reliance on the Machine-Spirit over good old-fashioned human intuition and Naval training, is a matter for vigorous and heated debate in a hundred clubs and wardrooms across the Sector.
Rank and Status in the Imperial Navy
Much like the Imperial Guard, the Imperial Navy is divided into officers and enlisted ranks, the latter often referred to as “sailors”, “rates”, “ratings” or simply “crew”. The system is designed to provide the vast mass of humanity required to operate a warship with oversight, leadership and discipline from a highly-trained cadre of expert commanders. At its best, the courageous, self-sacrificing and diligent officer corps work tirelessly to hone their subordinates into a perfectly cohesive and pious crew who demonstrate absolute loyalty to their peers and commanders; such a crew will fearlessly overcome privation, isolation, the horrors of the Void and the depredations of the Enemy. At its worst, the system of patronage, nepotism and privilege means that the younger sons and daughters of wealthy houses enjoy the luxuries of the Officers’ Wardroom in idle bliss while the miserable half-starved and semi-literate wretches of the underdecks toil ceaselessly in unspeakable and often lethal conditions to keep the ship afloat.
With many ships employing pressed or penal ratings among their crews, often negotiated or purchased from colonies such as Lubyanka, mutiny is always a danger aboard such vessels. The Captain of even the most loyal crew will rarely leave her quarters without a bodyguard, and the work of the Ship’s Commissar and Security Officer is an unending struggle against the criminals, cowards, would-be mutineers and lurking horrors of the darkholds.
The precise names for different ranks can vary from vessel to vessel – much like Guard regiments, every ship has its own ancient traditions. The one constant, however, is that the commander of a vessel is always referred to as its Captain; the title is always correct, even if the commander’s actual Naval rank is different. Below are some examples of the most common ranks.
- An Admiral oversees fleets of warships and command whole Salients, often deputising individual actions to Vice-Admirals and Rear-Admirals.
- Beneath the Admiral, their Commodores command squadrons of several ships.
- The Captain is the master of a Voidship, and absolute ruler of all they survey aboard. Their word is law, and the hold powers of summary execution aboard their vessel. When serving on detached duty away from the main fleet, the elevated rank of Flag-Captain (sometimes, confusingly with the Rogue Trader title, Lord or Lady Captain) may be granted.
- Commanders and Lieutenant-Commanders serve as subordinate officers aboard large capital ships, or command their own smaller Frigates or other escort vessels (rarely found apart from their Capital-class mothership.
- Junior officers in their hundreds attend to the day-to-day leadership and command of the vessel’s crew. Lieutenant, in a variety of grades and designations is the most common, while younger junior officers still in training for their role might be called Midshipman, Ensign or Sub-Lieutenant.
- Flying officers, in charge of a carrier ship’s deadly waves of small attack craft, often have their own parallel rank structure, and might be called Flight Lieutenant, Squadron Leader, Group Captain, Wing Commander etc.
- The Warrant Officers of the Navy are senior and experienced enlisted crew, using their decades of technical expertise to guide and advise the vessel’s most senior officers. While not Commissioned, these subject matter experts attract substantial respect even from the officer classes.
- Petty Officers (including grades such as Chief Petty Officer, Master Chief &c.) sit in the same space as Non-Commissioned Officers in the Guard, providing leadership and oversight for groups of tens or hundreds of junior ratings. Some ships call these ranks “Crewboss”; specialists might be called Boatswain, Yeoman, Caulker etc.
- Ratings, often called “Voidswoman”, “Voidscrew” or “Voidsman” – with designations such as “Ordinary” or “Able” appended based on seniority and expertise. Crew specifically trained in close-quarters combat and boarding actions are often called “Arms-crew” or “Armsfolk” (Armsman, Armswoman) and may be led by a Sergeant-at-Arms.
Every Ship has a number of personnel who sit slightly outside the Naval hierarchy, but who are vital for its continued function. These include the Astropathic Choir, the Navigator, the Enginseer and her staff, the Chaplaincy, the ship’s senior Chirurgeon and medicae staff. Larger vessels will also have a bevy of Administratum and Munitorum staff to ensure the smooth running of the vessel, and record births, marriages, ident changes and deaths. These attachments are usually granted courtesy ranks and treated with the same respect as senior Naval officers. While etiquette varies with ship, most Naval officers find they can overcome their natural squeamishness around Navis Nobilite and Psykers when reminded that it is only by the good offices of the Navigator and Senior Astropath that a void craft enjoys reliable communication in the deep void, and safe travel in the warp.
Proud, noble and often considered to be backwards by their peers, Battlefleet Prosperitas is a bastion of the highest Imperial Culture in the Prosperitas Sector. Maintained by those of good breeding, the Battlefleet sneers with disdain at the ‘ground pounders’ of the Crusade and often believes itself a separate entity from the Crusade’s ‘lesser’ forces.
In truth the Battlefleet is one of the worst equipped in the Imperium, with many vessels being ancient long before the start of the Prosperitas Crusade; they are old venerable models of vessels, but with their own severe limitations. For example, the “Iron Lady”, an ancient Gloriana-class Hull, is a potent and deadly Battleship, but due to the long-distant failure of her maneuvering thrusters, she is now unable to turn under her own power – dependent on assistance from other vessels, or the pull of stellar bodies to alter her course.
Though it is easy to dismiss the Navy as hiding behind the hulls of ships and the gigantic guns of its vessels, Naval Officers and Armsfolk are no less deadly in a fight than a member of the Imperial Guard. Often they make excellent close quarters fighters, and are incredibly dangerous melee opponents.
The Captain of an Imperial Navy warship has absolute authority over her ship. Even an Inquisitor might think twice about contradicting a Captain on her own deck, though it would be a foolish officer indeed who tested this tradition. To avoid confusion with the junior rank, Imperial Guard officers ranked “Captain” are by ancient tradition temporarily brevetted as Majors for the duration of their transit aboard Prosperitas fleet voidships. A ship’s Commanding Officer is referred to as “The Captain” aboard that ship regardless of rank – for example, the master of a frigate might be ranked Commander, but referred to as “Captain” on board.
Forms of address
Officers are usually addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am” by subordinates; informally, commanding officers of ships might be called “Captain”. Ratings and junior officers are usually addressed by rank and/or surname by their superiors.
Among their peers, Prosperitas sector Captains tend to be known by an abbreviated form of the name of their ship. The Captain of the Malcador’s Reply might therefore be known as “Reply” by his fellow Captains, while the unfortunate commander of the Fires of Damnation would be called “Damnation” by hers.
Still On Patrol
Ships lost in the Warp rarely return – and those that do are often, at best, lifeless, airless hulks with nothing recognisably human left alive aboard. Nevertheless, by Battlefleet tradition, ships which disappear into the Empyrean are politely referred to not as “lost” but “Still On Patrol” – an optimistic but unrealistic nod to the idea that “absent friends” may yet return from their voyage.
An officer of Battlefleet Prosperitas has the right to expect a salute and greeting (called ‘paying the compliment’) from ratings and junior officers. (The Captain of a ship is always saluted aboard her own vessel – even by visiting officers who outrank her.) Unlike other Sector fleets, the officers of Battlefleet Prosperitas do not keep elaborate traditions concerning wearing or removing head-dress before saluting.
In former years, some officers adopted the Gothic Sector tradition of clicking their heels together when greeting a superior or receiving an order; this is now seen as archaic and has fallen out of fashion with younger officers.
Toast of the Day
After a meal, Battlefleet Prosperitas officers typically drink the “Loyal Toast” to “His Divine Majesty, the God-Emperor of Mankind” (shortened on some ships to simply “The Emperor” or other acceptably orthodox variants). This is usually followed by the Toast of the Day, given by the youngest officer present:
Sunday: Absent Friends
Monday: Our Ships in the Warp
Tuesday: Our Ratings
Thursday: Victory for Us and Glory for our Comrades
Friday: A Willing Foe and Void-Room
Saturday: Spouses and Sweethearts (may they never meet)
Language and Slang
When Battlefleet Prosperitas personnel are forced to operate on planets, they take great delight in confusing their Guard comrades with their unique dialect. Terms vary substantially from ship to ship, but some common ones include:
Ashore – on a planet
Deck – floor or ground
Deckhead – ceiling
D’y’hear there – a signal warning that a formal announcement or vox transmission is to follow; equivalent of the Guard vox word “Hello”.
Galley – kitchen or dining facility
Forward, aft, port, starboard – ahead, behind, left and right. Navy ratings and officers often use these directions even ashore, to the great frustration of Guard soldiers.
Dit – A story or information
Joss – Nickname for the ship’s Fleet Commissar (never in their presence!)
Pit – also rack – bed space
Stoker – Irreverent nickname for a member of the ship’s Adeptus Mechanicus priesthood
People of Note
- Admiral Sarina Khan, commander of Fleet Arm Mostoller in the Nemean Gulf. Lady-Admiral Khan is a brilliant but eccentric commander, favouring lightning-fast decisions and reversals of strategy to confuse the enemy. Her detractors say that she was promoted too early – she was a Commodore only three years ago – and that she delegates too much to her subordinates. Her loyal generals and Navy Captains revel in the freedom she gives them to carry out her missions in whatever way they see fit, and believe it makes Fleet Arm Mostoller one of the most flexible and aggressive in the Sector if contained to ‘lesser’ operations.
- Admiral Ridea Holz, commander of Battlegroup Hesperidus at the Strayvian Gateway. A shadowy figure with a rumoured background in Navy Intelligence, she favours deception and surgical strikes on key Archenemy command nodes, and has an utterly ruthless dedication to safeguarding the secrecy of her plans. In person, Admiral Holz is reportedly polite, charming and humble, but the lack of publicly available information on her previous career – coupled with a tendency for her political rivals to suffer embarrassing or lethal accidents – makes her brother and sister commanders extremely nervous in her company.
- Group-Captain Albinus Beaumont, co-commander of Fleet Arm Geryon in the Polarnus Nebula. A pragmatic, cautious and experienced Navy fighter wing officer and ex-flying ace, Beaumont is more interested in keeping good operational communications with High Command than scrabbling for political influence, and has said himself he intends to retire as soon as the demands of the Crusade will permit. Beaumont has no aristocratic origins or family connections – indeed, he is that rare creature, a Navy officer commissioned from the ranks. As a result, he is often overruled in strategy and policy discussions, and lacks the clout to protest it.
- Commodore Harridax Kirill, a notable raider fleet commander from Fleet Arm Mostoller with a dubious past. Fleet gossip has it that he was once a notorious pirate captain until captured by Imperial forces and giving the choice of turning his coat or execution – Kirill is a skilled commander and a dangerous political opponent, and rumoured to be favoured by Admiral Khan and her primary enforcer when dealing with opposition within her Salient.
Ships of Note
- Iron Lady, a Gloriana-class Battleship once the flagship of the Regency fleet. The hulk was found following Warmaster Jacinta Durovera’s disappearance and rehulled, losing its old name the Manifest Destiny. Its maneuvering thrusters permanently damaged and off-line, it was recently removed from Salient command and re-tasked to the defence of Polarnus Station.
- Exile of the Void, a rare and luxurious Orion-class Star Clipper which serves as the flagship of the Di Firro Rogue Trader house.
- Word of Despite, an Exorcist class Grand Cruiser recently fully refitted by the shipyards of Ferraeus. Serves as Warmaster Armelius Durovera’s Flagship.
- Stormchaser, Warmaster Jacinta Durovera’s Nemesis class fleet carrier. Still On Patrol with all hands as of the Warmaster’s disastrous final voyage hunting the Manifest Destiny, when it translated into the Empyrean without its escort vessels and was never seen again.
- Lion of Terra, Warmaster Ulian’s flagship, an Emperor class Battleship. Still On Patrol since the Lash of the Eye and the loss of Subsector Tenebris.
- Righteous Indignation, a Gothic-class Grand Cruiser equipped with Thunderbolt fighter wings under the command of Lord-Captain Grolgor, a close associate of the Durovera family.
- Will of Iron, a Mercury-class Battlecruiser and the flagship of the Durovera Rogue Trader Warrant holders. Currently Captained by Lady-Captain Hermione Durovera, the Sector Governor’s sister.