HORUS HERESY 2.0: THUNDERHAWK GUNSHIP TACTICA

The Stormbird was the original heavy lift gunship for the Legiones Astartes. It was huge, imposing and incredibly expensive. Thus at the time of the Great Crusade, it was decided that the Astartes would need a new, cheaper gunship that was capable of wreaking havoc on a potential landing zone, disgorging it’s troops and then providing intimate fire support.

The Stormbird was armed with multiple Heavy bolter ball turrets, Hellstrike missiles and had void shields. Its replacement would mount Heavy bolter arrays, and carry Hellstrike missiles still, but would also have the option to be outfitted with a massive Thunderhawk Cannon or Turbolaser Destructor in lieu of void shields.

Thus, the Thunderhawk Gunship was created – a cheaper, more brutalist platform, for the discerning invading army compliance-ensuring forces.

Thunderhawk Gunship “Revenant” – It was moved over to the Sons of Horus and is somewhat still a Work In Progress after Heresy 2.0 ruled that Night Lords cannot take Lords of War in Terror Assault.

BASIC RULES

The Thunderhawk Gunship has never really been costed well. It carries a points cost that was always more relevant to what it was capable of carrying inside it instead of what it alone could do. In Heresy 1.0, this equated to 685 points stock with upgrades like Void-crafted Hull desperately needed to make sure it wasn’t brought down by Heavy Bolter fire taking it closer to 720-750 points. This was fairly excessive for something that might not turn up until Turn 3.

Well, in Heresy 2.0 it’s still 685 points sans upgrades; however, there has been some minor fettling. The Thunderhawk Gunship has a basic stat line of:

MBSFrontSideRear HPTransport Capacity
184121212 (10)932 (30)

The Italic bracketed figures are the stats for it in v1.0, which you can see is an improvement in the areas it matters – namely that horrific rear armour value and it can carry two more Astartes (or one if you’re a Terminator connoisseur like me).

It’s not all happiness, however, with the Thunderhawk Gunship increasing from £475 to £549 over the last few years. It takes it from “affordable with savings” to just over the wrong side of “that’s quite a lot for a model that probably won’t see the table in anything less than 3,300 point games.

The meme of “plastic Thunderhawk when” is about as comedic as “Failbaddon the armless” and “Dark Angels are Traitors”. Frankly, I can’t see it being a truly affordable kit even if it was in plastic due to the pure size of the thing. I also can’t see a huge amount selling – GW would do better by releasing the Primarchs in plastic than a Thunderhawk.

You’ll note the addition of the fixed movement value of 18, something that is a defining feature of Horus Heresy 2.0. This is nice, giving it a movement range of 18-36″ when conducting a Zoom move (Age of Darkness Rulebook, Pg 218). You can still fire up to four of its weapons when zooming, which is a bit of an irritation point. The reason is that the Thunderhawk Gunship is not a Super-Heavy Vehicle anymore. Merely a Vehicle (Flyer, Hover, Lumbering Transport). Therefore it cannot fire all of its weapons as if it had remained stationary. Instead, it follows the rules for Flyers. We will come to weapons later in the article, but for those who want to know how many it has; it’s five. So choices have to be made. It also can’t split fire because Power of the Machine Spirit is missing – good job GW. You’ve made a super heavy flyer that costs almost a quarter of your army more than a bit shit.

Back in 2022 (still Heresy 1.0) my Thunderhawk ferried Atramentar and Sevatar into battle on the Jmigen Bridge table at Warhammer World. Both the Sons of Horus (with the Porphyrion) and the Night Lords are my armies; supported by a friends Iron Warriors. We faced down Custodes, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Knights and Militia.

At least it can now Evade – even if that’s all it can do, reactions-wise. This is really the standard for Heresy 2.0 rules; it’s a mess of a system currently that detracts from the game. That’s a sentence I neither believed I’d write, nor wished to. More on that mess later though.

As a Lumbering Transport, the Thunderhawk Gunship is provided additional rules that ensure it isn’t immediately shot out of the sky by an Interceptor reaction – or is at least somewhat less susceptible to it. When they suffer an Explodes! or Wrecked result, they instead lose D3 hull points in addition to the original penetrating hit that caused that result. They’re also immune to the effects of Crew Shaken/Stunned and Immobilised or Weapon Destroyed results. It also cannot be affected by anything that permanently lowers the armour values, but rules like Lance still work. In short, aside from the weapons thing, this is really the same-old Super-Heavy Flyer rules from 1.0.

There will be a point in the shooty meta gun-heavy game that Heresy 2.0 currently is, that it does get shot down though – especially when facing more cheddar-enthusiast Legion players. When this occurs you want it to be empty of it’s cargo – because any model embarked when the Thunderhawk suffers Catastrophic Damage will be subjected to a Strength 10 AP 3 hit, before then taking a Pinning Check for good measure. That’s likely a death blow to most armies if rolls are poor.

Now, speaking of transporting stuff, we do have a hefty embuggerance to dig into.

See, in Heresy 1.0, the Thunderhawk profile specifically called out Jump Infantry as being transportable, alongside Legion Dreadnoughts (counting as 10 models, nonetheless). All the information was clearly displayed for this on the models rules profile page in the Legiones Astartes Army List book.

In 2.0, this isn’t clearly defined, with the Lumbering Flyers and the Transport Sub-Type rules instead stating that they may transport “Any number of Infantry units, so long as the number of models in the transported units do not exceed the Vehicle’s transport capacity. It then goes on to say that “Some lumbering flyers are able to transport other units in addition to Infantry; where this is true, the Vehicle’s profile will note exactly which units may embark”. Except, it doesn’t – there are no such overt rules displays on the Thunderhawk Gunship profile.

The ability for Jump pack and Jump jet equipped infantry to embark on Flyer sub-type Transports is under Transport Restrictions in the main rulebook, in a break-out box underneath the Transport Capacity rules. Interestingly, I can’t find an actual reference that they can be transported, because despite what the box states, Legion Warhawk Jump Pack actually doesn’t even mention transports. It’s just the same content that you find in the Age of Darkness Rulebook for Jump Packs except now it’s got a fancy name appended to it.

The entry for transport restrictions giving the example that Jump Pack or Jet Pack equipped models may embark on transports that have the Flyer type. An example that isn’t actually in any of the books outside of this entry.

The rule for what types of Dreadnought may be transported isn’t actually defined on the Vehicle’s profile either, it’s a separate special rule called Transport Bay. This rule is in the Liber Hereticus book, not in the main rulebook. So, you need to reference two books, in six different places to get any semblance of how many and what you can transport in a Thunderhawk Gunship;

  • Liber Hereticus, Pg 91, Thunderhawk Gunship Profile. Providing a list of new rules for the model such as Transport bay.
  • Age of Darkness Rulebook, Pg 219, Lumbering Flyers and the Transport Sub-type. Telling you that you can take any number of infantry units as long as they don’t exceed the capacity of the transport.
  • Liber Hereticus, Pg 126, Transport Bay. Telling you that you can take Dreadnoughts, Automata, and Cavalry – equating to 10 capacity for each one.
  • Age of Darkness Rulebook, Pg 211, Transport Capacity. Stating that you can pop Primarchs in platforms with the Transport capability.
  • Age of Darkness Rulebook, Pg 211, Transport Restrictions. Telling you models equipped with wargear may be able to get in transports – with the example of Jump Pack or Jet Pack and to refer to their wargear rules.
  • Liber Hereticus, Pg 145, Legion Warhawk Jump Pack/Age of Darkness Rulebook, Pg 163, Jump Packs and Jet Packs. The wargear rules that absolutely do not state anything about transports.

Frankly, it’s an absolute joke not least because it still doesn’t really define that Jump Pack and Jet Pack equipped Infantry can truly go in Flyer, Lumbering Transport platforms. It opens you up to pain in the arse “rules lawyers” and “that guy”. You can’t really argue Rules as Intended either, because, frankly, if you didn’t write the rules, you don’t actually know shit about the intent and therefore have to go by Rules as Written by default, which brings this cyclic mess back to the fore.

The Transport Bay rule is where things get decidedly odd/potentially nasty.

In 1.0 you could transport Legion Dreadnoughts which was somewhat ambiguous as to what type they had to be until you looked at the Stormbird which added the caveat “of any type”. This made it clear that the Thunderhawk was limited to Legion Castra ferrum Dreadnoughts. This was further reinforced by the rules for the Aetos Dios, which differentiated between Legion Dreadnoughts and Legion Contemptor Dreadnoughts.

In 2.0, there’s no clarification or qualification whatsoever. You can carry models of the Dreadnought and Automata unit types, and can take non-Antigrav Cavalry with each costing 10 points of the transport capacity; so three models then – and that leaves 2 points left over for one or two characters.

Something I’d be keen to try out is a Deredeo Dreadnought outfitted with a Hellfire Plasma Cannonade supporting ten Justaerin and a character such as my custom-narrative Praetor; Irulan Sheddim, or Ezekyle Abaddon. It’d add some helpful anti-Dreadnought and potentially anti-Terminator fire to the Justaerin at the bleeding-edge of the battle.

So, it’s business as usual in the most part, with some fairly considerable transport changes to consider, and an awful lack of rules to help it fire its weapons as it should be able to. You’re still arriving earliest, Turn 2, dropping to hover in Turn 3 and assaulting (even if you come in Turn 2 hovering, you still can’t assault until Turn 3 due to arrival from reserves rules). So, with that reminder that it is a mid-late game bloomer, has ill-defined transport types and can only shoot four weapons a turn, let’s look at what it is armed with – because for 685 points it should be good, right?

PRIMARY WEAPONS SYSTEMS

Whilst the function of the Thunderhawk is primarily about dropping in with ground forces onboard, it does have some significant weapons systems fitted.

WeaponRangeStrAPType
Centreline-mounted Thunderhawk Cannon72″84Destroyer 1, Massive Blast (7″), Rending 6+
Two turret-mounted twin-linked heavy bolters36″54Heavy 4
Two sponson-mounted twin-linked heavy bolters36″54Heavy 4
Two Hull (Front) mounted lascannon48″92Heavy 1, Sunder
Six Hull (Front) mounted Hellstrike missiles72″92Heavy 1, Sunder, One Shot
Note, there was an amendment to the Thunderhawk Heavy Bolters in the FAQ – which adds the Twin-linked rule.

So, it has a nice mixed-crate of anti-tank and anti-infantry firepower. The Heavy Bolters can genuinely do some work at clearing infantry units that might want to charge what’s inside it, and the Lascannons and Hellstrike missiles will certainly dent any armoured platforms lurking nearby. Just remember that a missile is one weapon of your available four to fire in a turn. You’re probably not going to fire four Hellstrike missiles though, you’re probably looking at the Thunderhawk Cannon and salivating.

Destroyer means that you roll 3D6, discarding the lowest result on a 1D6 for armour penetration rolls, with a further D3 being added to the strength of the attack in the event of a Rending 6+ being rolled in one of those three dice. The only fly in the ointment is that AP 4 value – Rending only confers AP 2 to non-Vehicle units. Still, even against Flare Shields, that’s a penetrating hit. In reality, it actually isn’t a huge upgrade from the Heresy 1.0 version, but it is somewhat terrifying against Infantry least.

So the Primary armament is able to gut enemy targets, but what about the upgrades?

UPGRADE WEAPONS/Defensive SYSTEMS

The real meat on the bones of the Thunderhawk Gunship comes with the upgrades it can take.

WeaponRangeStrAPType
Turbo-laser Destructor (+90pts)96″122Destroyer 1, Large Blast 5″, Ignores Cover
One Hull (Front) mounted macro-bomb cluster (+60pts)84Bomb 1, Apocalyptic Barrage (6), One shot
Ramjet Diffraction Grid (+50pts)Defensive-1 Str to attacks made on the side and rear Arc, -2 for blast weapons
Flare Shield (+50pts)Defensive-1 Str to attacks made on the front Arc, -2 for blast weapons

Let’s get the bombs out of the way. For 60 points you get to make a Bombing Run in the movement phase. You effectively drop a template on a unit/model that you flew over in the phase. It’s ok, but let’s face it, the Hellstrike Missiles are a solid all-rounder when it comes to punching out armour or Terminators. I’ve used Hellstrike Missiles to kill enemy Independent Characters, whereas I’ve never used Macro bomb clusters. It doesn’t even negate that limit of 4 weapons, as you count as having already fired one in the shooting phase. I’m sure there are niche use cases for them.

When it comes to outright devastation, you can’t get much more horrific on an airframe than a Turbo-laser Destructor. It’s 90 points and rightly so, this thing dishes out some hurt. Ok, you’re rolling with BS4, so that scatter might be bad – but this thing can utterly murder armoured platforms and Infantry alike. Don’t like the look of that Spartan Assault Tank? Hit it with a tubby and it’s got a high chance of not being there anymore. The enemy can’t even hide, due to it having Ignores Cover, making it perfect for murdering pesky Heavy Support Squads with Lascannons.

That said, that horrific firepower is nothing without being able to weather a storm and 9HP isn’t a huge amount. So the defensive suite on the Thunderhawk Gunship really does need some attention. With an armour value of 12, it doesn’t take much to start ruining your day when you inevitably get into hover, or the enemy unleashes Skyfire. There are a few weapons that glance on 2/3+ and when the penetrations start happening, those D3 add up very quickly. Flare Shield and Ramjet Diffraction Grid might be costly, with each being 50 points – but so is a Thunderhawk Gunship and its contents. The drawback here is that you may only choose one. Effectively, you have to choose between creating a bubble of -1 strength to the front or a bubble covering the side and rear arc. Either way it gives the Thunderhawk Gunship pseudo-AV13 on your chosen arcs which whilst still not great, does at least improve the odds in your favour. Personally, I rock a flare shield and try to force the enemy to engage that arc.

SUMMARY

To get the most out of the Thunderhawk Gunship you really want to be packing Flare Shield or Ramjet Diffraction Grid and a Turbo-laser destructor. That means you’re paying 825 points just for the platform. As it’s in the Lord of War section, it still counts towards the 25% rule, so you’re not going the whole hog in anything less than a 3,300-point game. Even so, you need to consider what you’re putting in it – as it’s likely going to be as expensive as the Thunderhawk Gunship. 3,300 points opens up a whole host of nasty anti-aircraft platforms to the enemy, so this certainly isn’t a platform that can come on the table and barrel around like a bruiser. You need to be smart with it and play intelligently.

That 18-36″ threat range as a zooming flyer, coupled with the weapons profiles makes it formidable at extreme ranges, even on Apocalypse boards. Use the combined threat range to neuter the more brutal threats with the Turbo-laser destructor and the Hellstrike missiles. BS4 with the Lascannons isn’t wonderful as they’re not Twin-linked and if you’re in range with them, you’re in range of the enemies own Lascannons. I personally think they’re a red herring weapon on the platform. Even in close range, I prefer the Heavy Bolter weight of fire.

Overall, it’s very expensive and fragile – as Heresy 2.0 favours the shooty armies heavily. It’s pointed to reflect what it can do, and that is to carry some very powerful choices into battle and disgorge them in the enemy’s face. Do I think it’d be overpowered if it came with a “free” choice between the Thunderhawk Cannon and the Turbo-laser destructor, or at least an all-round Flare Shield? Not really. It still needs to come on the table via Reserves, making it somewhat unreliable. It still needs to avoid mass Interceptor, something that seems to be everywhere due to how inexpensive the Augury Scanner is. It still needs to Hover to drop the contents off, meaning for a turn at least it won’t be 6+ to hit outside of Skyfire and as already mentioned the D3’s will really start to eat those 9HP quickly; especially as you’ll likely be in Armourbane (Melta) range once in hover.

Do I think it’s good? It’s better than it was in the most part in 1.0 – but that’s not saying a huge amount. Frankly, in the current meta for Heresy 2.0, it is neutered and probably better left at home when the Imperial Fists, Dark Angels or Iron Warriors players start the sweaty cheddar train (which isn’t hard and is beginning to be the seemingly default answer these days). If Interceptor reactions are toned down by GW, it’ll be better, but it’ll likely never earn its points back regardless.

It isn’t really there for that though. A Storm Eagle does a similar job, but certainly isn’t survivable, whereas the Thunderhawk Gunship might just do what you want it to do and not cost VP in the process. When it does it’ll be glorious, when it crashes and burns upon entering play it’ll look good at least.

In the meantime then, just note how pretty it is and enjoy it for what it is; a beautiful centrepiece model that looks amazing on the tabletop.

Example 3,500-point list

This certainly isn’t an efficient list. You don’t even get to take advantage of Abaddon’s Warlord trait – which is deep strike themed. Use the Rhinos to move onto objectives and purge the enemies with the Veterans Volkite and Carsoran Axes. Meanwhile you’re targeting key enemy characters and units with the Reconnaissance Squad and hitting the armour/dreadnought platforms with the Deredeos. Master of Signals provides re-roll all reserve rolls due to Strategic Comms rule, meaning that Thunderhawk should come in fairly timely. Once it does it’s all about smashing a key target from its transport and then dropping down for assault the next turn. It works well enough, but requires some fairly aggressive play and definitely some experience with the Legion. Alternatively, drop the Reconnaissance Squad and swap three Justaerin, from Banestrike bolters and Hammers to one with a Legion Standard and two multi-meltas, all with hammers in that Squad.
Black Reaving, a beautiful Rite of War. Use the Vindicators to snipe enemy vehicles whilst the Reaver Aggressors and the Javelins bound up the table. Use the Javelin to charge in, follow a squad of Reavers in with it and get that lovely Rage (2). You could comfortably drop a Vindicator for a third Javelin, just be wary of heavily armoured armies – as most of your anti-tank is tied up in Vindicators and the Thunderhawk. Doing this would also allow you to split the Squadron, and avoid the dog-shit rules GW have given vehicle squadrons. Again, this is not an easy list to play as you need to assure charges or targeting charges to get bonuses with relatively squishy units. That said, when all goes to plan, it’s quite devastating to the enemy.

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