+ inload: The history of the Leman Russ battle tank – 1991–2024 +

+ Rivet-counter Friday: The Leman Russ Battle Tank +

+ Games Workshop updates models every so often, and while they sometimes make a song and a dance about it, at other times it happens without much fanfare. The Imperial Guard (or Astra Militarum, if you're feeling SEO-fancy) are close to my heart, and their Leman Russ Battle Tank is one old warhorse that – perhaps fittingly – hasn't had much fuss made about its various incarnations. +

+ In looking at it, I was surprised to find out quite how many versions of the basic Leman Russ that there have been – and that's without going down the rabbithole of Forge World variants. Given its ubiquity in-universe, it struck me that it'd be fun to have a look at them, so let's pull on our best enginseer's robes, get down to the garage-barrackshrine, and have a proper viddy at this timeless classic. + 

+ Notice: This inload is an unapologetic deep-dive for rivet-counters and model tank obsessives, so be prepared for quite a lot of unnecessary detail and detective work about a fictional tank! My aim for this inload is to scribble down some notes I've found while working on in-universe article for The Ashes of Armageddon project [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+], and so I hope it's interesting or helpful, whether you're trying to work out the provenance of your second-hand tank, or trying to add some coherency to your army background lore. +

+ Secondly, I have scoured the noosphere for pictures, so do check out the links to the people who have unknowingly supplied some of the pics – my thanks to them, and if any owner would like me to take their picture down, please just let me know. +


+ What is the Leman Russ? +

+ Leman Russ of the 2nd Tank Division, Armageddon Steel Legion +

The Leman Russ is the primary battle tank of the Imperial Guard, forming the spearhead of countless armoured columns. Those enemies that do not fall to the bombardment of their cannons and numerous hull-mounted guns are crushed mercilessly beneath their heavy treads. These reliable and formidable tanks can be found in nearly every Astra Militarum regiment in the galaxy, and have become synonymous with the Imperium's fury.

+ With the exception of the specifically labelled Mark II and (curiously) Mark VII, all the mark designations in the article are my own; just to make discussion and comparison a bit easier. In the background there are at least 33 marks of Mars-pattern Leman Russes alone; and another 9 or so just from Ryza. The lesson to take is that there are clearly a lot of subtle differences in-universe! +


+ Leman Russ Mark I +

+ The first iteration of the Leman Russ arrived in Epic scale alongside Armies of the Imperium (1991), an expansion for the second edition of Epic: Space Marine (SM2). The tank thus rumbles into the books as a Rogue Trader-era vehicle. +

+Pict-capture from Stuff of Legends+

+ A two-part model designed by The Citadel Design Team (and I suspect either Colin Dixon or Mark Copplestone – if you can confirm, please let me know in the comments), the underlying silhouette is in place already. Taking clear inspiration from World War II-era tanks, it sports a tiny little turret, front-facing hull-mounted weapon and sponsons. +

+ I'm not convinced that the sponsons were heavy bolters at this stage. I have a vague recollection that they were simply bolters – but happy to be corrected on this. Likewise, I think the hull weapon was a heavy bolter. +

+ Whatever the armament, it's clearly recognisable, even if the details and proportions would go on to fluctuate to the present day. +

+ This version was used in the Armies of the Imperium rulebook (and reprinted in a White Dwarf of the period) as the vehicle on which 'Codex colours' were demonstrated – these were accompanied by a new range of paints. +


+ Leman Russ Mark II +

+ The first version was not around for long, and the Mark II – specifically so-named, as you can see from this excerpt from the 1993 catalogue – came to replace it. This version of the Leman Russ was designed by Norman Swales. +

+ Quite why it was updated is unclear to me. The original had been around for less than two years when it was replaced – but perhaps it was as simple as Swales updating it to fit stylistically alongside his other tanks, such as the new Hellhound flamethrower tank and Deathstrike Missile Launcher released at this point. +

+ The same catalogue page has not one, but two replacement Space Marine Predators (the Mark II and Mark III), so it's not like the Leman Russ was as special case. I confess to missing it entirely being advertised in White Dwarf, so if it received any coverage within, it's certainly slipped my mem-coils. +

+ Whatever the reason, the new Leman Russ was much simplified. The bubble-shaped sponsons were replaced with drum-like ones, and the hull-mounted weapon became nearly as prominent as the turret cannon.  The tiny turret of the original becomes still more noticeable as the battle cannon calibre is further exaggerated.+

+ Perhaps most notably, the track units now look much more similar to the current version, with a longer flat top bit (probably not the technical term). +

+ Looking at the timelines, I'm led to understand that lead times for GW these days are that the studio are five years or so ahead of plastic releases (i.e. they start work five years before a plastic kit hits the shelves); while metals could be turned around in months or even weeks. I don't know if that was the case back in the nineties, but if it was, it perhaps hints that the extremely simplified Mark II was a prototype/tester for the plastic. The underlying shapes of the turret of the Mark II and Mark IV are very similar, once you strip away the ammo box at the back of the 40k-scale one. +

+ Whatever the truth, this was destined to be another short-lived version... +


+ Mark III +

+ ... Because Swales quickly went on to produce this version, which came out as one of the supporting releases for Epic: Titan Legions in 1994. +

+ This is the first hint at the number of variants we would see in later years, with a special command turret and entire recovery version being created alongside the refreshed version. +

+ In retrospect, perhaps the Mark II was simply a prototype that was cast up and released. That would explain the bare-bones styling – for the revised version is considerably more detailed and characterful – and also explain why the 92/93-era vehicles got short shrift in terms of coverage in White Dwarf. +

+ Change for this version are notable. From subtle details like the appearance of exhaust pipes, and ammo box at the back of the turret (itself no longer the tiny one of the Marks I and II) to more obvious changes, like the now-familiar box sponsons and distinctive lascannon in the hull, this is a tank now clearly recognisable as the Leman Russ familiar to 40k-scale gamers. +

+ This is no coincidence, because it's almost certain that this was produced at the same time as the entry below was being developed. +


+ Into 40k: the Mark IV; the first plastic Leman Russ +

+ Catapulted into 28mm scale, the Mark IV Leman Russ was the first big plastic vehicle kit for the Imperial Guard. +

+ Released in 1995, the 40k-scale Leman Russ got a lot of coverage in White Dwarf. Given the relative lead times in producing the white metal Epic Mark III and big plastic 40k Mark IV, I wouldn't like to bet which was first. I would suspect, however, that the Mark IV was designed first, and the Mark III scaled down from that. +

+ This chassis would serve for a long time, and changes from here on in got progressively more subtle.+

+ The five-sprue original. Note the holes in the track side panels – these would later be lost (see Mark VIII below). Pict-capture from Dakka Dakka forum +

+ The Mark IV initially had fixed armament, with no options for the guns beyond a heavy flamer on an accessory sprue. The tracks were more complex than later releases, with separate wheels and track links. This last fact is the clearest way to distinguish them from later models, but for obvious reasons it's also quite hard to tell once it's assembled. +

+ More subtle giveaways are that you've got a Mark IV:
  • The hatches on the side of the tracks. On this version, they are separate pieces, and stand proud of the side of the tank. In later versions, they'll become integrated.
  • There were two options for the turret hatch; one rounded, with has an armoured back, the second flat and split. The turret itself is connected to the hull by a large ring with two little clips (see 'variants', below, for a pic).
+ Hatch option 1 +

+ Hatch option 2 +
  • When looking at the front of the tank, there's a recess on the left for a light fitting.
+pictcapture from TrollTrader; used without permission+

  • Rear of the tank: offset storage bin on the right, two tubular exhausts on the left of the ammo box.
+pictcapture from TrollTrader; used without permission+


+ Back into Epic scale: the Mark V +

+ Two years later, the Leman Russ was once more updated for Epic scale, this time for the ill-fated Epic: 40,000 (E:40k). +

+ And what a shame that E:40k fell stillborn from the presses, as the models were – in my opinion at least – clearly the best iteration yet. Even as the rules were becoming completely abstracted, the inimitable Tim Adcock was producing the most distinctive, varied  and characterful tank models. Completely interchangeable (and compatible with the Demolisher variant), the Mark V  range could be assembled in literally hundreds of combinations, allowing you to have an entire armoured regiment with no duplication. +

+ I absolute adore this range, and these are without a doubt my favourite iteration of this great tank. +


+ Mark VI +

+ 2003 saw the release of Epic: Armageddon, and another Epic-scale Leman Russ. Now it was officially titled the Mars pattern Leman Russ – by this point GW seems to have leaned into the idea that the real world variants related to the in-universe naming a bit. +

+ Available as a tank company box, this variant is surprisingly rare – likely because this edition of the game had little support, and saw Epic unsupported in the wilderness for the next 20 years. +

+ It's a nice two-part sculpt (turret and hull), and as such more akin to the simpler Mark III than the Mark V. All the variation of the Mark V was gone, and the appearance of the tank much more uniform. The +

+ Of course, given the relative price of Epic: Armageddon against earlier editions, it was very common for gamers to use their old models, which is part of why it remains less recognisable then some of the earlier versions. +

+ You'll spot the Vanquisher command tank – picked out as a 'Stygies pattern' – in its first mainstream GW release, too. The variant had appeared as a Forgeworld turret in both 40k and Epic scale. +


+ Variants +

+ Time, space (and frankly, inclination) mean that I won't go into detail about the dozens of variants created by Forge World (FW), but I will point out that FW largely exists because of Tony Cottrell's treadhead dream of super-detailing the Mark IV Leman Russ. The first releases for the subsidiary were super-detailing parts for the Leman Russ like searchlights and alternative turrets, and by 2006 there were loads of them in both 40k and Epic scale. +

+ Epic-scale Leman Russ variants +

+ As far I'm aware, there wasn't a 'normal' Epic-scale Leman Russ mark from Forgeworld, but you can see that there are lots of turret variants on a common chassis – so it's arguable that this is a Mark in and of itself. Rivet-countery though this post is, I don't really have a dog in the race, so I mention it more for interest. +

+ 40k-scale Leman Russ FW variants and upgrades +

+ FW came close to a complete variant in a couple of places. The Ryza pattern (top row, second from left), for example, had a resin body and turret, but still required the track sections from the plastic kit. +

+ Forgeworld Mars Pattern hull upgrade and Stygies-pattern Vanquisher turret +

+ Even these variants had variants, as the resin parts were adapted to the changes in the plastic 40k-scale tank... +


+ Mark VII – the Mark IVa in disguise +

+ Joyfully nerdery – besides the Mark I original, this is the only tank that has had an 'official' designation on the box/blister from GW; and happily it seems to tally up with the list above. +

+ 2005 saw 5th edition 40k arrive, and the Leman Russ was repackaged. The underlying kit was the same, but the old upgrade sprue was completely rehashed, and as a result the tank looks quite different. +

+ Most notable are the track guards and new turret hatch, which change the silhouette quite substantially. The inimitable Dave Taylor's Genswick force features a squadron of these beauties: +

+ Genswick 5th Armoured squadron from Dave Taylor Miniatures +

+ The earlier Mark IV hatch is visible above on the left and right tanks, and the new one in the centre. Since you got the entire old kit with the 2005 'Mark IVa', you often saw people take advantage of the variety on the sprues, so if you really want to find out whether yours is a Mark IV or Mark VII, it's surprisingly difficult to tell. +

+ Mark VII turret hatch – note also the big box on the side of the turret. This would disappear in the Mark VIII. +

+ Unless there's a part from the old or new upgrade sprue on the tank (and even that's not foolproof), the only way I can think of to work out the vehicle's vintage is to gently scratch the paint off a section of the tracks – if the underlying plastic is black, it's part of the older Mark IV release (you can see the black track sprue in this image on Dakka Dakka). If it's grey, it's a later Mark VII. +

+ Leftovers of the later grey sprue. This is a grey-plastic cast of the same sprue pictured above, rivet-counters – the runners are the giveaway; as the later Leman Russ kit had the tracks integrated into fewer, bigger sprues. +

+ Cosmetic differences aside, the 2005 Mark VII tank was still the same kit as the Mark IV. You can see the recess on the left at the front and the large ring for the turret to fit in in the WIP pic below, from the Scattered Dice Gaming blog. +

[+pictcapture from Scattered Dice Gaming+]


+ Mark VIII +

+ In 2009, a completely retooled Leman Russ tank would start rolling off the presses. This is the current 40k-era kit sold by GW +

+ The new kit sacrifices some of the flexibility of the old kit for variety and options. Most notably, the tracks no longer have their own sprue, and the wheel sprue is gone too. In their place is this:
+ Note the hatch for the front hull weapon is also integrated, rather than separate parts. +

+ This is much, much easier to build, with the tracks numbered and slotting into place more cleanly. The flip side of that is that it's now much harder to convert, as there's nothing within the hatch body. 

+ The Mark VIII kit also included lots of weapon options, so what GW tooketh away with one hand, they gaveth back with the other. Leman Russ variants, previous metal upgrades provided in a blister in the tank box, are presented in plastic for the first time. The kit includes options for the Battle Cannon, the Vanquisher (cleverly tooled as an extension to share parts with the Battle Cannnon), twin autocannons for the Exterminator variant, and the Eradictor, (which I love for the cool muzzle break, even if it's always been a bit crap in-game). + 

+ Eradicator on the left, based on a Mark IV with a FW Mars-Alpha conversion kit and turret (converted to hold the micro-nuke cannon); then an unconverted Mark VIII in the centre; and a Mark VII with Mars-Alpha conversion kit and turret. Phew!+

+ In fact, while the silhouette is similar, everything is different. Key changes include:
  • Smaller turret connection – this would require FW to retool their upgrade kits, and you can thus date those by the change too. The first ones had a simple big 'plug' of resin that fitted into the big gap. Later ones had a small plug to fit into the hole shown directly above – but in a nice touch FW also supplied a sort of converter: a large plug with a recess for the small plug, so whether you had a Mark IV/VII or VIII, the turret upgrade would fit. Nice touch!
  • The sponsons are also interchangeable now – even allowing you to friction fit them and change them on the fly. 
  • The hatches are now integrated parts of the tank. This is obvious in the side hatches, which are no longer separate parts – this flush side is a good diagnostic, as it also helps to date FW variants and conversions, like my Lamb's World tank below. +

    + The flush side hatches indicate the tracks (and thus the Mars-Alpha conversion kit) are the later versions, modified to fit the Mark VIII. +

  • The turret has a lower profile and a shape closer to that of the Mark III than any of the following Leman Russ models – and as part of that, the box on the side (for a targeter? Ammo?) is also gone.
  • The recess at the front has gone; the entire front is now a single slab. 
  • At the back, the engine hatch is now (as elsewhere) integrated into the hull – and centred, with the stowage box option now gone. The exhaust pipes are now much more detailed, and are intended to sit either side of the (stowage?) box. 
+ Detail of the Mark VIII back +

Although I'm sad that the increase in options and ease of building has come at the expense of the hatches, which were always really tempting for conversions, in reality I think I built precisely one Leman Russ that had an open side or back hatch, and so it's not a terrible disaster. +
+ There's always going to be an element of nostalgia for the kit you had as a nipper, but the new kit has benefitted from years of technical improvement and digitisation. The latter is not always a good thing for character, but I think a sense of organic sculpture is more important for individual figures than tanks and war machines. On balance, I think the Mark VIII is an improvement over the Mark IV/VII. +


+ Mark VIIIa+

+ Not a mark in itself, really, but today the kit includes a third sprue. This was originally sold separately, but GW have bundled it in as part of a price rise. Designed for the slightly more heavily-armoured Demolisher variant, it also includes parts for the Executioner (the plasma variant) and Punisher (the big BRRRRRT rotary cannon), along with some quite subtle differences to the hull, like reinforcement around the engine block and cover, and options for the ammo box at the back of the turret. +
+ As it's completely compatible with the sprue above, you'll probably find that this hull top and turret appear every so often – so if you're scratching your head at an unfamiliar  detail of a Mark VIII, check out the Demolisher sprue, too. +


+ Mark IX +

+ Appearing in 2024, this is a 30k-era dual scale release – both for Age of Darkness and Epic: Legions Imperialis (LI). This was thus the first Epic scale Leman Russ in 21 years (unless you count FW, and even then well over fifteen years). +

+ ChaosBunker has done a brilliant run-down of the larger version [+noosphericexloadlink embedded+], so go check it out if you'd like to see sprue breakdown etc. – and you'll find the designer's notes on WarCom here [+noosphericexloadlink embedded+], so you can hear it from the horse's mouth.+

+ I've not seen the larger version in person, but it seems a worthy successor to those that went before. I like the square hatches, additional detail and so forth; and it seems somewhat fitting that a tank that emerged largely unheralded in SM2 as Epic moved into the 40k era, should come full circle and end up rolling out in 30k era with the new Epic.


+ Conclusion +

+ I'll restrict myself to saying that the new Epic ones are lovely little kits, which fit what I wanted the Leman Russ to look like for a long time – I'm also delighted that it took a mere 34 years for Epic ones to emerge in plastic... +

+ You can see from my Lamb's World tanks that while a fan of the Leman Russ in all its forms I've never been completely satisfied with the aesthetic, but the fact that it's so open to conversion, adaptation and customisation is what makes it such a reliable and versatile tank, both in-universe and out. +

+ All hail the Leman Russ! +

If you enjoyed this inload, you might enjoy Ork Vehicles of Armageddon Secundus on The Ashes of Armageddon


(Kym) + Warburton + (Classic40K) said...

Great post - there were things in here I hadn't seen before! I'm still sad they got rid of the wheels, as you say it makes it much harder to convert the kit now, but overall it's still a good kit.

Suber said...

Awesome review, I believe it's the most complete one I've ever seen. I've loved going through it!!

Engel said...

Excellent history lesson. Thanks

Bill Ford said...

Wow. What an exhaustive history of such an iconic tank!

I remember when Apocalypse first released back in the day and I was able to buy the Armored Company set - imagine my joy when I got to build no less than ten of the 2009 version of the Russ!

I can't imagine trying to assemble one of the older kits these days. They've come a long way in design, even if it means we've lost a lot of kitbash capabilities.

Would be curious to hear your thoughts on the Rogal Dorn tank. I personally am not a fan. It's too 'round' for my taste.

Ragsta said...

Thanks for taking the time to create this article on the Russ, Apologist - always enjoyed this kit despite certain foibles about the design! I have 4 waiti f for paint, your post makes me think I should go back over them to see if I can add some extra kit!!