Monday, October 10, 2011

5 Minute History: Thunderhawk

The Thunderhawk is a massive, heavily-armoured spacecraft used by the Space Marines for a variety of missions. They carry a payload of powerful bombs and can easily claim the skies above a battlefield. There are currently two different variants that have rules for both Warhammer 40,000 and Epic tabletop games.

The Thunderhawk Gunship is a large, heavily armed transport aircraft that can sometimes be found in Space Marine armies. In the Warhammer 40,000 game, it can only be fielded under specialized conditions and is rarely seen. It is seen far more frequently in Epic, as there are more opportunities to field them, even in flights of multiple gunships. Its most important role in Epic is transporting entire detachments of Space Marines. The first models were in Epic scale, initially a blocky square ship with large roof mounted turret and then the later design which has been reproduced in 40K scale.

Forgeworld Thunderhawk
 Over the years, Forge World has released several Thunderhawk Gunship resin kits in the Warhammer 40,000 scale. The Thunderhawk is not a staple part of a Space Marine army and rules for it have never appeared in an official codex, Games Workshop itself has not released an official Thunderhawk Gunship model for use in play. In 1995, promotional Thunderhawk Gunship models were featured during that year's Games Day. The following year, a Chaos Thunderhawk conversion was featured in White Dwarf. The metal Thunderhawks were released for a limited run and are significantly smaller than the Forgeworld resin counterpart. Most estimates place the number of these kits produced at about 400.

1995 Release of an all metal Thunderhawk
The gunship is armed with a massive main weapon, either a battlecannon similar to the ones mounted on the Leman Russ tank or a turbo laser destructor, commonly mounted on titans. It is also armed with four twin-linked heavy bolters and twin-linked lascannons as secondary weaponry. Numerous bombs and missiles can also be carried by the gunship.

In-game, it can transport many more Space Marines than most other units in the game. The Thunderhawk Gunship has space for at most thirty standard Space Marines, although it can also transport other aspects of the Space Marine army. It can even fit a full bike squadron or several larger attack bikes. In the background material, the Thunderhawk has been described to contain an armory, and an apothecary and a small number of techmarines are usually assigned to each gunship.

The Thunderhawk Transporter is a specialized variant of the Thunderhawk. In 2006, a resin kit of the Transporter was released by Forge World and rules for it were released with the 2006 update of Imperial Armour. This version is comparatively lightly armed, but can carry three Dreadnoughts, two Rhinos (or variants), or a Land Raider straight into combat.

Games Workshop developer Gav Thorpe experimented with house rules in a December 1997 White Dwarf article to give the Thunderhawk the capacity to transport vehicles. (At the time, the Thunderhawk was the only aerial transport in the Marine arsenal). There was the Intrepid payload, consisting of ten space marines and an underslung Rhino, to allow marines to deepstrike. There was also the Furioso payload where there is the option to replace a five-man squads with a Dreadnought (1-6 substitutions), as a way to make Dreadnoughts more deployable as they were otherwise not frequently used due to their slow speed. Gav also proposed a loadout where three Rhinos (or its variants) could be accommodated in its storage bays (recommending that such a cargo be paired with a second Thunderhawk carrying three ten-man squads), or even one Land Raider; he suggested there could be disassembly and reassembly times. It is likely that the Thunderhawk Transporter resulted from this.

These ships make brief appearances in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War; whenever a Space Marine vehicle (i.e. a Dreadnought, Rhino, Predator or Land Raider) or a Space Marine HQ is requisitioned, a Thunderhawk flies in to deliver the vehicle/HQ to the battlefield before flying off again.


  1. Now, that's what I like to see with these History posts. Something that has been around for awhile, and everyone knows its current form, but there are little things that we don't know. I never knew there was an all metal TH. That thing must have weighed 25 pounds.

  2. no way, you didn't know there was an all metal one? It came in a special wooden box with all the pieces in little compartments...