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Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts – the complete guide

From Space Marine Dreadnoughts to Chaos Helbrutes and Eldar Wraithlords, war walkers are iconic Warhammer 40k units - here's a full guide.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Redemptor Dreadnought in Ultramarines colors

Striding tall across the battlefield, clad in thick plates of armour, Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts are walking tanks that represent the pinnacle of devastation for many armies. Beloved by fans and highly recognizable, Dreadnoughts have been part of 40k for decades – this guide explains all the main types, their lore background, and their role in tabletop 40k battles.

Bristling with weapons and adept at stomping foes into fine paste underfoot, Dreadnoughts form the adaptable, heavy armored core around which many Warhammer 40k factions build their armies.

For more in-depth exploration of the Space Marines’ weapons of war, try our guides to the secretive Dark Angels and their returned gene-father Lion El Jonson, or the noble Ultramarines led by Imperial Regent Roboute Guilliman. We also have a complete guide to every single one of the Warhammer 40k primarchs and where they are now. For now, though…

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Castraferrum Dreadnought in Ultramarines colors

What are Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts?

In short, Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts are walking war machines, piloted by a single warrior encased in thick armor and wired in to control the suit directly.

In miniature wargame matches, they operate as slower, but more versatile alternatives to traditional Warhammer 40k tanks, retaining a tank’s heavy armor and survivability, but trading the speed of a tracked vehicle for the ability to fight more effectively at close quarters once the enemy closes in.

Part siege weapon, part weapons platform; all fire and fury, Dreadnoughts are some of the toughest, strongest, and most powerful units you’ll ever see on the battlefield – they feature heavily in not only regular Warhammer 40k, but also Warhammer: The Horus Heresy and its brand new, tiny-size counterpart Legions Imperialis.

Dreadnoughts are both an unofficial class of unit and a specific technology used by the Imperium of Man. Other factions, including Xenos races like the Eldar and Orks, have units that are unofficially referred to as Dreadnoughts – but technically speaking the only Dreadnoughts that exist in the setting are those in the armies of the Emperor of Mankind, and the forces that have descended from the Imperium.

When you head down to your friendly local game store to smash armies together in a glorious celebration of tabletop war, you’ll come across many large figures which may be referred to as ‘Dreadnoughts’. While they may not be true Dreadnoughts, they still fall under that umbrella – and you’ll get to meet them further on in this guide.

But first, let’s get clad in ceramite and meet the venerable and horrifying Dreadnoughts of the Imperium.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Leviathan Siege Dreadnought in Imperial Fists colors

Imperial Space Marine Dreadnoughts

The Imperium of Man is renowned for seeing its human populace as mere grist for the mill. Forces such as the Astra Militarum often find that their tanks and walkers are more valued than their flesh and blood comrades in arms (they’re far more expensive to replace, you see). In a civilization filled with billions of human souls, human life is a resource the Imperium spends with abandon.

One of the few exceptions to this rule are the forces of the Adeptus Astartes, commonly known as the Space Marines. Each Space Marine represents a huge investment by the Imperium in terms of training, genetic engineering, and armament. With millions of planets to defend against countless horrors and only limited numbers available, every individual Space Marine is an army unto itself – and the Imperium doesn’t throw these lives away without good reason.

Even with advanced armor and a near immortal lifespan, Space Marines can and do die. Dreadnoughts offer a way for some to be retained and continue to be deployed in battle, thus recouping some of this investment. Not all dying Space Marines can be interred as Dreadnoughts, but the best of the best have a chance of serving beyond death. It’s not a pretty process, however.

When a Space Marine has been wounded beyond all healing, their body shattered and unable to fight any further, their legion may decide to give them the dubious honour of becoming a Dreadnought. Any body parts deemed non-essential are often stripped away by the apothecaries of their Space Marine chapter and adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus, and the wounded soldier is permanently wired into a metal casket, which is then fitted into their permanent walking tomb. In a universe of horrors, becoming a Space Marine Dreadnought is a particularly unparalleled nightmare.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Blood Angels Death Company dreadnought model

Once interred, the sarcophagus is filled with amniotic fluid and permanently sealed. Thus begins the long service of the Space Marine, who will never see with their own eyes or hear with their own ears again. If that wasn’t enough, the brutal technology of the Imperium offers them no respite from the sensations of their terminally wounded bodies. Their nerves burn, their old wounds ache, their existence is torture.

Often all that remains of the Space Marine is the desire to fight and a rage that cannot be quenched. To preserve what little remains of their sanity, most Space Marine Dreadnoughts are kept asleep in the long years between engagements, though often their sleep is disrupted by terrible dreams.

Once awakened they are armored in their colossal walking tank bodies and deployed on the battlefield, many having lost their minds, believing they are still fighting wars and battles that happened eons ago. It is an honor to become a Dreadnought, but an honor that none would choose willingly.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Ballistus Dreadnought in Ultramarines colors

Space Marine Dreadnought models

Recent technological advances and the introduction of Primaris Space Marines have seen Dreadnoughts become far more effective on the battlefield in the form of the Redemptor Dreadnought.

With specialised roles such as the melee-focused Brutalis Dreadnought or the long-range Ballistus Dreadnought, Imperium forces have never been so well supported. For the Primaris interred within, though, the torture remains much the same.

There are currently 17 distinct Space Marine Dreadnought models available from Games Workshop, as well as several earlier out of production models you’ll need to trawl Ebay to find – here’s the full list:

Model name Setting Faction Model status
Ballistus Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Available
Redemptor Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Available
Brutalis Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Available
Leviathan Siege Dreadnought Horus Heresy and 40k Space Marines Available
Contemptor Dreadnought Horus Heresy and 40k Space Marines Available
Relic Contemptor Dreadnought Horus Heresy and 40k Space Marines Sold Out Online
Blood Angels Legion Contemptor-Incaendius Class Dreadnought Horus Heresy Blood Angels Legion Available
Legio Custodes Contemptor-Achillus Dreadnought Horus Heresy Legio Custodes Available
Legio Custodes Contemptor-Galatus Dreadnought Horus Heresy Legio Custodes Available
Legio Custodes Telemon Heavy Dreadnought Horus Heresy and 40k Legio Custodes / Adeptus Custodes Available
Deredeo Dreadnought Horus Heresy Space Marines Available
Thousand Sons Contemptor-Osiron Dreadnought Horus Heresy Thousand Sons Legion Temporarily Out of Stock
Word Bearers Mhara Gal Dreadnought Horus Heresy Word Bearers Legion Available
Venerable Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Available
Space Wolves Venerable Dreadnought 40k Space Wolves Available
Furioso Dreadnought 40k Blood Angels Available
Librarian Dreadnought 40k Blood Angels Available
Castraferrum Pattern Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Out of production
Doomglaive Dreadnought 40k Grey Knights Out of production
Chaplain Dreadnought 40k Space Marines Out of production

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing Bjorn the Fell-Handed

Famous Space Marine Dreadnoughts

With over ten thousand years of Dreadnoughts fighting alongside their Space Marine brethren, many Dreadnoughts have made their mark and become storied heroes of the Imperium.

The most famous Space Marine Dreadnought is undoubtedly Bjorn the Fell-Handed of the Space Wolves. Not only the oldest living Dreadnought, he fought alongside Leman Russ during the Horus Heresy, becoming a hero many times over.

Fatally wounded, he fights on in a Dreadnought body armed with a colossal lightning claw that can peel apart enemies with ease. Bjorn is also notable for having maintained his sanity through the long millennia, only being woken once every thousand years when the Space Wolves need their old warrior the most.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing the Dreadnought Davian Thule from Dawn of War 2

Dawn of War fans may remember Davian Thule of the Blood Ravens. During the Aurelian Crusades of Dawn of War 2, Captain Thule was fatally wounded fighting against the alien Tyranids. With a deadly poison searing through his veins, the only way to save his life was to place him within the sarcophagus of a Dreadnought.

Despite many victories as a Dreadnought, the current status of Davian Thule is unknown, as he was last seen engaging in combat as a planet-destroying Exterminatus action began around him.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Custodes Telemon Dreadnought model

Custodes Dreadnoughts

Though the majority of Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts belong to the forces of the Space Marines, some rarer variants do exist – such as the Telemon Heavy Dreadnoughts fielded by the Adeptus Custodes’ elite Custodian Guard. These advanced warriors are as far ahead of Space Marines as Space Marines are of baseline humans, and to inter them in a Dreadnought is a mighty task in itself.

During the final, apocalyptic battles of the Horus Heresy civil war, some Custodes warriors were able to be saved and placed in the gleaming bodies of the Telemon Heavy Dreadnoughts. Though few in number, a single Custodes Dreadnought was capable of single-handedly turning the tide of battle.

Like the Custodes themselves, their Dreadnoughts were armed with hand-crafted weapons that were light years ahead of anything the rest of the Imperium could field. However, as of the 41st millennium, it’s unknown if any Telemon Heavy Dreadnoughts still serve in the forces of the Adeptus Custodes, with their fate remaining an enduring mystery .

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Chaos Dreadnought and Helbrute models

Chaos Dreadnoughts

When the traitor Space Marine legions split off from their loyalist brethren, they took with them their technology, tech-priests, and more as they fled to the Eye of Terror and took refuge within the Warp. Their Chaos Dreadnoughts came with them, and like the Chaos Space Marines themselves, the infection of the Ruinous Powers has since slowly twisted these immortal warriors into something darker, and in some ways more deadly.

For millennia Chaos Dreadnoughts fought alongside their legions, often not as heroes being venerated, but placed within their leaking, rotting sarcophagi as a punishment. The degradation of Chaos Space Marine technological knowledge has led to Chaos Dreadnoughts receiving little maintenance, staying awake through the millennia and sinking into ever greater depths of insanity, trapped in a nightmare that never ends.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing a Chaos Helbrute in battle

In the 41st millennium the majority of Chaos Dreadnoughts have been mutated by the warp into Helbrutes. Both lesser and greater than a Dreadnought, these crazed warriors have little remaining of the proud Space Marines they once were. Helbrutes are armed with weapons spawned from the Warp itself, fighting in a berserker rage that can often be as much a danger to friend as foe.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing an Orks Deff Dread model

Ork Dreadnoughts

Ork Dreadnoughts appear to be very different to those fielded by the armies of the Imperium, however when you delve into their workings they are often very similar. The two main Dreadnoughts you may see upon the battlefield are the Deff Dread and Killa Kan.

Deff Dreads are colossal metallic creations that have an Ork wired surgically inside. For the Ork in question this process is torture, as they must give up much of their Orkiness to become a Deff Dread – though for many the increase in sheer destructive power makes up for it. Armed with huge brutal weapons, the Deff Dread is a clanking monster of smoke and death that stamps over the battlefield, crushing any that oppose it.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing three Orks Killa Kans models

In comparison, the Killa Kan is a much smaller Dreadnought, piloted instead by a diminutive Gretchin a.k.a. Grot. Despite the surgical act being similar to that of the Deff Dread, Gretchins approach their internment with glee. The pain of being hard-wired into a metal can is far outweighed by the chance to destroy and earn glory as part of an Orkish Waaagh! Often deployed in small groups of two or three, the Killa Kan can swarm larger opponents and are no less a deadly opponent on the battlefield than their larger siblings.

Warhammer 40k Dreadnoughts guide - Games Workshop image showing an Aeldari Wraithlord in Saim-Hann colors

Eldar Dreadnoughts

The creations of Ork and Man are often crude but Eldar Dreadnoughts are anything but. Like the rest of their technology, the Aeldari Wraithlords are a thing of sheer grace and beauty. Constructed out of curved wraithbone, these Craftworld Eldar walkers are as much art as they are a tool of war.

No living creature pilots a Wraithlord, instead a Spirit Stone is placed into the chassis which contains the soul of a departed Eldar. This leads to an unearthly, unnatural aspect to the Wraithlord, with their ‘pilot’ existing both in the world of the living and the dead at once. In battle an Aeldari Spiritseer must remain nearby in order to direct their actions, lest the Wraithlord may become inactive, their spirit retreating away from reality.

The weapons of a Wraithlord are no less graceful. Shuriken Cannons, Ghostglaives, Starcannons, Bright Lances, and more are armament options for Wraithlords, each capable of weaving a dance of death amongst the foes of the Eldar.

If you’ve been inspired by these monstrous walking war machines, chances are you need to take a deeper dive into Games Workshop’s grim, dark far future. Try our guides to the best Warhammer 40k games and the top tier Warhammer 40k books you should play and read. If you didn’t know, there are also some fantastic Warhammer comics, a whole range of Warhammer 40k action figures, and even some brilliant Warhammer 40k RPGs we recommend.

If you’re already in the hobby, though, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest army releases – for that, our guide to Warhammer 40k codex release dates has you covered.