There are few Space Marine legions in Warhammer 40k more famous than the Space Wolves, and few Primarchs as renowned as Leman Russ. The Wolf King is one of the mightiest warriors known to humanity, and, in the grim darkness of the far future, he is a legend to both friend and foe alike.
Though he was undoubtedly a fierce, doughty warrior raised by actual wolves, Leman Russ was still a Primarch and, as such, capable of greatness off the battlefield, as well as on it. That said, it’s his prowess in combat and his dedicated loyalty to the Emperor which secure him legendary status throughout the universe of Warhammer 40k.
Known as the Emperor’s executioner, there are many mysteries surrounding Warhammer 40k’s Leman Russ which are yet to be revealed by Games Workshop. The foremost of these is: what part – if any – did he play in the fates of the missing second and 11th Primarchs (and their corresponding legions?) It’s doubtful we’ll ever get a confirmed answer, but fan theories swirl like snowflakes around this icy warrior – and will likely do so for as long as the universe draws breath.
Somewhat easier to answer is the question of how the Leman Russ Battle Tank – ubiquitous and well-loved armoured workhorse of Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard) forces across the galaxy – came to be named after the commander and gene-father of a troop of long-fanged Fenrisian warriors – read on to find out.
Come with us as we take a closer look at the Wolf King, where he came from, and where he might be hiding in the current setting.
Leman Russ – From cub to wolf
When the Primarchs were scattered through the Warp as infants, many of them landed on remote planets that were as near to hell as anything we can imagine.
Leman Russ was no different; his pod crashed down on the planet of Fenris, an ice-covered world where every breath is a struggle. Adopted by a Fenrisian she-wolf along with two wolf brothers named Freki and Geri, Leman Russ’s first experience of humanity was when he was raiding food storage in a nearby village alongside his sibling wolves.
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In retaliation against this lupine incursion, the forces of King Thengir, a local human leader, wiped the majority of the wolves out. In their midst they found the young Russ, eventually capturing him and bringing him back to their settlement.
There, Leman Russ grew swiftly, learning their language and their ways of war as if born to them. Eventually he earned his own proper name – Leman of the Russ – through his many battles against the foes of his adopted people.
Unlike many of his Primarch brothers, Leman Russ did not join the Emperor immediately upon being found. Instead he challenged him to a series of tests. The first two involved eating and drinking prodigious amounts, both of which the Emperor lost.
Finally they wrestled in combat – whereupon the Emperor struck down Russ, felling him with one blow. This won over the Primarch to his father’s side, and soon he was given command of his own legion – officially named the Space Wolves (though they have always called themselves the Vlka Fenryka – Wolves of Fenris).
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During the Great Crusade, Leman Russ gained a reputation across the galaxy as a great leader, a cunning tactician, and a fierce warrior. On occasion, he acted as an enforcer for the Emperor within the legions, fighting against Angron when the World Eaters Primarch was ordered to stop performing the Butcher’s Nails surgery on his legion.
He also earned the enmity of Magnus the Red in a tussle over the fate of a newly conquered library, filled with knowledge.
When civil war broke out and the Horus Heresy began, Leman Russ sided immediately with the Emperor. Such was the trust bestowed upon Russ that, when it was decided Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons needed to be razed, Leman Russ and the Space Wolves were the instruments of the Emperor’s justice.
Leman Russ was not an unthinking tool, however, and began to question the Emperor after fighting extensively against the traitor legions. This line of questioning in his father’s lordship led Leman Russ to take his Space Wolves away from Terra – in search of the traitorous Warmaster Horus Lupercal himself.
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Upon locating him – and after one titanic battle – Russ managed to wound Horus with the Spear of Russ.
This wound had many effects, curing Horus of some of the Chaos taint that riddled him, and may very well have paved the way for the Emperor’s victory over his errant son during the final stages of the Siege of Terra.
Where is Leman Russ in Warhammer 40k?
The location and whereabouts of Leman Russ in Warhammer 40k’s current setting are shrouded in mystery.
Unlike many of the other Primarchs, Russ neither fell to Chaos, nor his life – at least, not that we know of.
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Instead, some time after the end of the Horus Heresy, Leman Russ announced his decision to lead a hunt into the Eye of Terror, stating that he would return for the “final battle. For the Wolf Time.”
He took with him his personal retinue – except for Bjorn the Fell-Handed, who still lives to this day inside a dreadnought – and set off, never to be heard of again.
To this day, the Space Wolves seek word of their Primarch, sending expeditions out in what they call the Great Hunt. So far, only his armour has been found, with no concrete evidence of his passing ever located.
It’s rumoured the Thousand Sons Primarch Magnus the Red knows his location – but, even if that’s true, as Leman’s nemesis, he’s not willing to share that information.
Leman Russ Battle Tank (and why it’s called that)
The Leman Russ Battle Tank is the most common weapon of war used by the Astra Militarum. Seen by the thousand on battlefields across the galaxy, it’s as ubiquitous as lasguns or the threat of death from a Commissar.
Knowing what we do about Leman Russ, the Primarch, it may be considered unusual that a tank would be named after him (despite both being loud and violent). There are, in fact, two separate reasons why the Leman Russ Battle Tank is named after the Primarch.
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The current reason is that, during the Great Crusade, the plans for the tank were discovered on a planet named Nova Borilia. These plans were held by a Xenos civilization known as the Noman who had enslaved large swathes of humanity in the region for millennia.
As the Noman were slaughtered by the Space Wolves, the tank was given the name of their Primarch in honour of their great triumph over the forces of the alien.
The original reason (which is currently non-canon, for reasons which will become obvious), is that the tank was named after a legendary Imperial Guard General named Leman Russ.
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Back in the first edition of Warhammer 40k, Leman Russ was simply a man who founded the Space Wolves – before Primarchs, gene-seed, or anything superhuman was added to the backstory of Space Marines. As a general of the Imperial Guard, naming a tank after him would be a common honour given to a worthy warrior.