The Horus Heresy – Legion Overview – The Iron Hands

The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. In this article – the second in our series – we delve into the background and rules for the Iron Hands for the Horus Heresy supplement – once among the largest and most powerful of Legions, before they were shattered on the black sands of Isstvan V. 

The X Legion

“Renowned for their pride, cold-hearted brutality and remorselessness in battle, the Iron Hands were among the most powerful and famed Space Marine Legions… caught up in the machinations of the Warmaster’s treachery, they were undone by their own hubris and the blade of the traitor both.”

Credit: Forge World

The Iron Hands are the Tenth Legion Astartes, and were led by the Primarch Ferrus Manus (until his untimely death at the hands of his brother, Fulgrim). They were famed for their armoured warfare and ability to lead from the front, which was a trait which ultimately became their undoing at the Drop Site Massacre. Ferrus Manus became the first Primarch to be slain during the Horus Heresy – and, unfortunately, not the last. 


The X Legion has a comparatively well-documented origin, with a wide recruitment base from all over Ancient Terra. They had a strong recruiting relationship with Old Albia – as did the Death Guard – which lent a fierce martial pride and a streak of brutality to the nascent fighting force. They won a number of honours in the pacification of the Sol System, including the battles against the xenos Lyasx on Oberath, and were clearly destined for greatness even before the Great Crusade began in earnest.  

Early on the Legion demonstrated a talent for remorseless and highly disciplined attacks, regardless of the environmental conditions or the foe. This came to a head in the Battle of Rust, where a full eleven Legions assaulted the Ork Empire of Wardog Kulo, the proto-Iron Hands among them. In this titanic engagement, Lord Commander DuCaine of the X Legion displayed merciless strategic genius when he used Imperial Army forces as bait to lure the Ork hordes in and hold them in place, allowing the Legion to smash their flanks with an armoured spearhead. This battle earned the Legion the moniker Storm Walkers – one they would hold until the discovery of Ferrus Manus.

Ferrus had landed on Medusa after the scattering of the Primarchs. It was a barren, harsh world nevertheless in possession of sophisticated and advanced technology. The infant Primarch had already gained great fame on the world – where he was known as the Gorgon – when he slew the great wyrm Asirnoth, a mechanical hybrid beast made of quicksilver. This act had caused the metal of Asirnoth to fuse to Manus’ hands, granting him his name. 

Manus took his Legion and reforged it – like a master artificer might reforge a journeyman’s blade – turning the Legion into one of the most deadly fighting forces in the galaxy. The Iron Hands, as they became known, were not fond of subtle warfare, focusing instead on direct, bloody combat. The Gorgon was an uncompromising master, and his warriors fought ever hard to gain just a scrap of his approval. Weakness could not be tolerated. 

As the Heresy began, the Legion found itself at a zenith of its power – it had a vast number of Legionaries in its ranks, and a close bond with the Mechanicum and Titan Legios  which allowed for an unparalleled exchange of information and skill into the Legion. Manus found himself taking an increasingly senior role amongst his Primarch brothers – often granted overarching command by the Emperor in large engagements. 

Indeed, some thought Ferrus, not Horus, should have been Warmaster. This rankled some, but Manus had one staunch ally, in the form of his brother Fulgrim. This may seem curious, as they were perhaps as unalike as two Primarchs could be, but nevertheless they shared a strong bond and shared appreciation for metallurgy and artifice. 

Credit: Black Library

During the Heresy 

“Make war and move on, and again, and again, until nothing breathes which stands against us. All else is sophistry and pretty lies.”

At the outset of the Heresy, most of the Iron Hands Legion were – by coincidence or design – serving under Ferrus Manus and his flagship, the Fist of Iron, in the 52nd Expeditionary Fleet. 

Prior to the Drop Site Massacre, Fulgrim felt that Ferrus (and his Legion) could have been prime targets to be swayed to Horus’ cause. Fulgrim’s attempt to convince Ferrus went, however, horribly wrong, ending in a violent confrontation. Fulgrim gained the upper hand, but his love for his brother stayed his hand at the fatal moment . Fulgrim’s treachery nonetheless caused significant damage to the 52nd Expeditionary Fleet as he made his escape. 

What happened next – the Drop Site Massacre – is a rubicon in the history of Imperial lore, which echoes through the ages even to the 41st Millennium. Ferrus Manus, Vulkan and Corvus Corax, with their respective Legions, led an attack on the Traitor positions in the Urgall Plateau on Isstvan V. They were to be supported by their supposed allies (The Word Bearers, Night Lords, Iron Warriors and Alpha Legion) after landing and securing the drop-site. 

The ferocity of this battle goes without saying – but the Iron Hands led the attack, with Ferrus at the very tip of the spear, supported by his Terminator-armoured Morlock bodyguard. He pushed through the Emperor’s Children forces, finally confronting Fulgrim in single combat atop an outcrop on the black sands. As the second wave of Traitors revealed themselves and began to massacre the beleaguered Loyalists, Fulgrim overcame Ferrus Manus and beheaded him in front of his horrified Legion. 

The Iron Hands were shattered. The only thing which stopped the Iron Tenth being reduced to a shell, like the Raven Guard and Salamanders, was the fact many of their ships were still in orbit when the Massacre began. They rallied, picked up survivors, and fled into the Immaterium, in shock at the death of their Primarch.

What followed for the rest of the Heresy was the Iron Hands becoming a Shattered Legion – a disparate fighting force with competing leaders – including Iron Father Autek Mor, Shadrak Meduson and the other Clan leaders . These titanic personalities spent the rest of the war all vying for overall control of the forces which remained. 

The Iron Hands as a whole prosecuted a vicious, sustained rearguard action throughout the remainder of the Heresy, and scored a number of significant victories, including the destruction of the World-Eaters recruitment world of Bodt. They were a steel thorn in Horus’ side until he drew his last breath on the Vengeful Spirit. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Legion Special Rules

The Iron Hands benefit from the following Legion Rules: 

  • Inviolate Armour – All models with this special rule reduce the Strength of all incoming shooting attacks by -1
  • Stand and Fight – All models with this special rule must pass a Leadership test in order to make a Sweeping Advance or a Run move. They also cannot voluntarily Go to Ground. 
  • Rigid Tactics – An Iron Hands detachment must have more Infantry units with the Legiones Astartes (Iron Hands) special rule than those with the Jump Infantry, Bike or Jetbike types. This means some Rites of War will be unavailable for the Iron Hands to use. 

These are an interesting set of Legion rules, which really give you a feel for how this army plays. It’s obvious you aren’t going to be fielding a lot of Assault Marines or Outriders with this Legion, but nothing precludes you from taking a squad or two of these – and, indeed, Inviolate Armour can make them very good indeed. 

Inviolate Armour is one of the best Legion rules in the game, making the Iron Hands as tough as their lore suggests they should be. Boltguns wound you on 5+, Rapier batteries become Toughness 8 equivalent, and Bikes are only getting wounded on 6+ by boltguns. It’s a potent passive buff, and means your enemy needs to bring Strength 9 weapons to cause Instant Death – great in the Heresy. 

Stand and Fight is a debuff, but one which won’t cause too many problems – Leadership is generally quite good for Space Marines. 

Legion Special Equipment 

As you would expect, the Iron Hands have access to some puissant unique equipment.

  • Blessed Autosimulacra – a 10 pt upgrade for vehicles which allow you to regain Hull Points at the end of your turn on a 6+
  • Cyber-Familiar – Adds +1 to your Invulnerable Save (or gives you 6+ if you don’t have one), to a maximum of 3+. This can be taken for 15 pts by Iron Hands characters. 


The Autosimulacra is quite good – it is quite situational and only on a 6, but it can be effective on backfield vehicles like Sicarans which might not be taking a lot of firepower in one go. The Cyber-familiar is incredibly good – it makes your Praetors and Consuls extremely durable, and can make Terminator Sergeants have 3+ Invulnerable Saves as well. Don’t leave home without them!

You can also give a Praetor an Iron-Father upgrade for 40 pts, which gives them Battlesmith, a Servo-Arm, and 6+ Feel No Pain. This is OK, but is for foot-slogging Praetors only. Battlesmith is a bit situational, but if you have the Praetor inside a transport, is quite helpful for keeping it going while you close with the enemy. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Legion Rites of War 

The Iron Tenth have access to two unique Rites of War – The Head of the Gorgon and Company of Bitter Iron

The Head of the Gorgon 

This is an excellent Rite of War – in fact, I would go as far to say one of the strongest Legion-unique Rites. You get a LOT of bonuses. 

To start with, Infantry in your deployment zone gain Stubborn. In the Horus Heresy this is a significant advantage, given that Legion units can break and run more often than their 40k counterparts. When combined with Inviolate Armour you can end up with very durable backfield units, such as Legion Rapiers or Heavy Support Squads, which are unlikely to run from shooting or break easily in assault. 

Any Infantry models with a Flamer can also swap it for a Graviton Gun for +10 pts. This is… good on paper, but a bit underwhelming in practice. Graviton Guns make very light work of vehicles, being Haywire, but given they are Heavy weapons with a very short range their usefulness is questionable unless the unit wielding them has Relentless. It is not a bad bonus, but not game winning, as if you transport a unit to within range, it needs to disembark and then sit there for a whole turn before firing. 

The fact all vehicles gain Blessed Autosimulacra for free is, however, very very good. This is a significant buff to vehicles, giving them a good chance of regenerating Hull Points over the course of the game for no additional cost. 

You can then take Battle-Automata as Elites choices – given all of these units are very powerful (not to mention fluffy for Iron Hands) and often carry weapons not available to Legiones Astartes, this is also great! Castellax are particularly good all rounders, as they can be equipped for a variety of roles. 

But the big stuff is saved for last… Squads of 10 men or fewer who can take a Rhino (i.e. most basic units) can take a Land Raider Proteus or Phobos instead – massively boosting the potential for heavy armour saturation. On top of that, all Tanks gain Outflank! This is crazy, as you can Outflank everything from Land Raiders to Rhinos – truly encircling your opponent and getting side shots on their vehicles. 

The downsides to this Rite are fairly slight – only one Fast Attack choice (take a Sabre!), no allies (who needs them when you have Castellax as Elites?) and only one non-Forge Lord Consul. 

All in all, a powerful and fluffy Rite of War. 

Company of Bitter Iron 

This Rite represents the Iron Hands after the Drop Site Massacre – grim, traumatised and ready to kill everything in their way. It is a much simpler Rite than the Head of the Gorgon, but still a solid and fluffy option. 

Medusan Immortals become Troops, and gain Stubborn if the majority of a unit is in the enemy deployment zone – making them even more hardy than they usually are. 

Everything in your army also gets Hatred (Traitors) – which is insanely good. You are rerolling all over the shop with this, and can combine it with nasty Melee units to turn into pseudo-World Eaters with better shooting resistance. 

The downsides, again, are limited – Loyalists only, no Ferrus Manus (he’s dead!) and no allies. Frankly, none of these are a problem for this list – the Immortals and Hatred will usually carry the day easily. 

Legion Special Units 

Gorgon Terminator Squad

Credit: Forge World

Gorgons are elite warriors of the Iron Tenth, representing experimental armour developed by Ferrus Manus before the outbreak of the Heresy. They are intruiging from an aesthetic perspective, being one of the few (if not only) examples of Indomitus pattern armour in the Heresy setting – the armour that later becomes the standard in the 41st Millenium. In a bleak twist here, Gorgons cannot take their armour off – and Ferrus unfortunately perished at the hands of his brother before the armour could be developed further, leaving Gorgon Terminators sealed forever inside their battlesuits. 

On the tabletop these are quite a good unit, but not exceptional. The Gorgon Pattern Terminator Armour they wear has an interesting special rule – when a saving throw or invulnerable throw is passed, at the end of the phase you roll a single d6, and on a 4+ all units (friend and foe) within 6” have to take a Blind test (with friendly units re-rerolling the test). This is situational, but definitely not bad!

They also get Feel No Pain as a base rule – making them very resilient – and can a Graviton Gun for every 5 men in the unit. Given that they are Relentless, this can be a very good combination – 5 Gorgons coming out of a Land Raider which has outflanked with Head of the Gorgon is a very good all round unit and will not break the bank in terms of points.

Medusan Immortals Squad 

Credit: Forge World

Medusan Immortals are one of the units which received “Playtest” rules in the latest FAQ – rules which everyone uses, so check those out at Warhammer Community.

In terms of their background, they are another grim unit – Legionaries who have failed in some way, or have been horribly wounded in a manner which does not justify the glory of internment in a Contemptor chassis. To become an Immortal was a path of redemption, ultimately ending in death – the Legionary in question would be implanted with bionic enhancements, stripped of rank, clan and honour, and sent into the jaws of hell. 

On the tabletop they are now a good choice for most Iron Hands lists – 205 pts for ten Breachers with Feel No Pain and Hardened Armour, making them extremely resilient to incoming fire when combined with Inviolate Armour. One disadvantage is that they cannot conduct a Sweeping Advance – instead doing a shooting attack, with blasts unable to be used and template weapons doing d3 hits – however this is pretty situational, and by no means a deal breaker.. 

What really makes this unit shine, aside from the ability to be taken in 20 man squads(!), are the upgrades available – Volkite Chargers on every model for +2 pts each (a mere 40 pts on a 20 man squad!) and the ability to take Graviton Guns makes these guys very versatile, particularly in a Company of Bitter Iron list. You can stick them on the backfield and hold an objective, or advance with Volkites to take the fight to the enemy


Legion Special Characters

Spearhead-Centurion Castrmen Orth

An Iron Hands tank specialist, Castrmen led the “Subjugator” tank battalion to many victories, and commanded the Fellblade Rashemion in the disaster at Isstvan V. He was dragged from the wreckage of the frontline and took command of the Sicaran Black Sun to hold off the Traitors while the Loyalists attempted to evacuate – his fate after this point remains unknown.

On the tabletop, Castrmen is a unique unit – he can be taken as the Warlord, but must be put inside a vehicle or super-heavy which has the Tank type as a “pilot”. If the vehicle is destroyed, he ends up on foot as a Consul-level threat. 

A Castrmen Orth-commanded vehicle gains Tank Hunters and uses his BS 5 – which can be nasty on Sicarans or Super Heavies. If he’s the Warlord, then all Tanks get +1 to rams – fun, but not game-winning. He is also, as you would expect, only for Loyalists. 

Iron-Father Autek Mor

Credit: Forge World

A savage, remorseless killer leading the Morragul Clan, Autek is a sinister presence within the Iron Tenth who has been stalked for years by dark rumours, even before the Heresy. After the Heresy he survived Isstvan V and commanded the Morragul Clan from aboard the Red Talon for the rest of the conflict, inflicting massive damage on the Traitors on multiple occasions. 

Rules-wise, Autek Mor is nothing to sniff at – he’s a Cataphractii-armoured Praetor, with a Cortex Controller (so great at baby-sitting Automata), a Paragon Blade, and Fearless (a rare rule in the Horus Heresy). 

He is Loyalist-only (as expected) and gets the Murderous Arsenal Trait automatically, which gives him and a chosen infantry unit Preferred Enemy (Infantry). One “disadvantage” is that he must be the Warlord unless Ferrus Manus is also present – but this is rarely an issue. 

Overall he is a very strong choice for an Iron Hands force, bringing a good combat punch with a great Warlord Trait (Immortals with 20 Volkite Chargers and Preferred Enemy anyone?), along with Fearless to augment his retinue. 

Ferrus Manus, The Gorgon 

Credit: Forge World

A tragic figure with the dubious honour of being the first Primarch to die during the Horus Heresy, Ferrus Manus also has a reputation for brute strength and a keen tactical acumen. 

His rules are, as you would expect, very high quality – to start with he gives Feel No Pain (6+) to all Iron Hands units in his army, which, when combined with Inviolate Armour, makes the army extremely durable all round.

Manus himself can also do Smash attacks (although it is unlikely you’d bother – he’s strong enough already!) and has Relentless (handy for his Graviton Gun – see below). He also imposes, as an individual, -1 Strength on incoming shots. Given he is Toughness 7, this makes him seriously tough to kill, as weaker weapons simply cannot damage him if he is on his own. 

Moving onto his other rules, he has Battlesmith (3+) (so can repair vehicles in a pinch – handy if he is in a Super Heavy transport) and all vehicles with at least 1 AV13 facing gain It WIll Not Die if Ferrus is in the army. This is absolutely insane in a Head of the Gorgon List – all your Contemptors, Land Raiders, Predators, etc will all have two rolls a turn to regain HP, and most of them will be able to Outflank. Truly, he is a master of armoured warfare. 

In terms of personal effectiveness, Ferrus is as you would expect for a Primarch, but is also Toughness and Strength 7, rendering him even more brutal in combat than his peers – and wielding Forgebreaker makes him Str 9 Ap 1, so able to deal with enemy walkers. 

Finally he has a 2+/3++ save, a Nuncio-Vox, and a Servo Arm (even more attacks in close combat), with the ability to fire two weapons from a great list – Plasma blaster, Graviton gun, Grenade harness and Heavy flamer. 

This feels like it has been a long section – but it is well deserved, as Ferrus Manus is undisputedly one of the best Primarchs point-for-point in the game. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Sample Army List 

The below list sets out a 1,500 suggested starter force for Iron Hands, which is designed to use primarily plastic kits with upgrades either from Forge World or third party retailers (Anvil Industry and Spellcrow are recommended for combat weapons and jump packs respectively). This is not meant to be a “perfect” list or the “best”, just what I would look towards if I wanted to get a balanced Heresy list going for this Legion without breaking the bank on resin kits. 

Rite of War – Pride of the Legion 

  • HQ – Praetor with Cataphractii Armour, Digital Lasers, Grenade Harness, Master-Crafted Paragon Blade, Cyber Familiar
  • Elites – Contemptor Dreadnought with Blessed Autosimulacra, Kheres Assault Cannon, Graviton Gun DCCW
  • Troops – Assault Squad with 15 men, Artificer Armour, Combat Shield, Cyber Familiar, Power Fist
  • TroopsGorgon Terminators with Graviton Gun, Chainfist x2
  • TroopsTerminator Squad with Cataphractii Armour, Chainfist x2, Combi-Weapon x6, +1 Terminator
  • Fast AttackSabre Strike Tank x2 with Anvilus, Volkite Culverins 
  • Heavy SupportVindicator with Blessed Autosimulacra

This list is designed to max out on plastic kits (assuming Anvil/Spellcrow upgrades) while using a select few Forge World sets – the lovely new Sabre, a Contemptor and 5 Gorgons. Assault Marines may seem an odd choice, but with Inviolate Armour they can be a great support to the Contemptor, and the Sergeant has a decent invulnerable save in close combat to smack people with his power fist. 

The Praetor walks with the Gorgons, absorbing heavy fire and dishing it out in return, with the Terminators running in support with Combi-plasmas to hose down a squad on the move. The Sabres and Vindicator provide much-needed fire support at short range to keep the pressure on the enemy. 

In terms of expansion, bulking out the infantry squads and perhaps adding a Spartan would be a good way to go. 


The Flesh is Weak!

The Iron Tenth are a very tough Legion with a focus on an uncompromising, in-your-face playstyle, taking advantage of powerful passive defensive bonuses and hard-hitting armour. I think they are a very forgiving Legion for beginners and come with a very simple paint scheme (check out Colour Shift paints!). They are also complemented by a high level of support in plastic by Games Workshop in terms of 40k kits, giving a great scope for conversions and modelling.

Check back in a couple of weeks for a look at the bad boys of the Heresy – the Word Bearers. Until next time.