Death from the Skies: The Sternhammer Strike Force and Drop Pod Sternguard to the Max!

I have been struggling for some time to figure out how to best employ the Imperial Fist unique “Decurion-style” detachment, the STERNHAMMER STRIKE FORCE. As most people are probably aware, the STERNHAMMER STRIKE FORCE requires 1+ Core choice (Battle-Demi Company or Centurion Siegebreaker Cohort), 1-10 Auxiliary choices per Core (Armoured Task Force, 1st Company Task Force, 10th Company Task Force, Storm Wing, Anti-Air Defense Force, Suppression Force, Land Raider Spearhead, Strike Force Ultra, Skyhammer Orbital Strike Force, Skyhammer Annihilation Force, Raptor Wing, or individual units of Devastators, Centurions, Vindicators, TFCs, or Ironclad/Contemptor Dreads), and 0-1 Command choice per Core (Strike Force Command, Reclusiam Command Squad, and Libarious Conclave).

If you meet these requirements, then all units in the detachment get +1 to their armor penetration rolls on buildings, get Stubborn as long as the WL is alive (and chosen from this detachment), and get Superior Bolter Drill if they have Imperial Fist Chapter Tactics (i.e. re-roll ALL to Hit rolls for any Bolter Weapons, including when shooting with Special Issue Ammunition).

Looking at this, I think the best units to make use of these benefits are Sternguard, since this makes the most of their elite status and further amplifies both their superior shooting and leadership abilities. Looking at the STERNHAMMER STRIKE FORCE, the only way to get access to Sternguard is via the 1st Company Task Force, which also fills the mandatory Auxiliary slot. This formation also gives all its members Fearless/Fear USRs, lets them choose one enemy unit to have Preferred Enemy against for the entire game, and debuffs enemy unit’s leadership by -2Ld if they within 12″ of three or more units from this formation.

Taking all this into account, I think the most efficient way to take the 1st Company Task Force looks something like this:

-10 Sternguard with Drop Pod and MB on Sgt

-10 Sternguard with Drop Pod and MB on Sgt

-10 Sternguard with Drop Pod and MB on Sgt

-10 Sternguard with Drop Pod and MB on Sgt

 

While there are no “frills” on these units, they do have the ability to deal with pretty much any kind of non-vehicle unit (even TEQs, using massed Hellfire rounds) except perhaps GMCs, they have the MB to give them some chance against vehicles in combat, they have Drop Pods to get them exactly where then need to be (don’t forget, Drop Pods from this formation count for the -2Ld debuff rule on enemy units), and they can Combat Squad to minimize the impact of enemy return fire and to engage up to eight separate targets themselves (thereby, maximizing the efficiency of their own shooting). Finally, they get permanent re-rolls for all their Bolter shooting (without any requirement for Psychic tests) which, combined with the versatility of their Special Issue Ammunition, makes them very effective against all kinds of enemy threats.

 

Now, with the 1st Company Task Force set, there is still a mandatory core choice, so looking at what would complement what I already have, I am thinking of a Battle Demi-Company (with all of its Objective Secured units) that looks like this:

-Cataphracti Terminator Captain (with Shield Eternal relic and Power Fist)

-5 man Tactical Squad with Grav Cannon/Amp and Drop Pod

-5 man Tactical Squad with Grav Cannon/Amp and Drop Pod

-5 man Tactical Squad with Grav Cannon/Amp and Drop Pod

-2 Biker Attack Bike Squad with Heavy Bolters

-5 man Devastator Squad with 4 x Grav Cannon/Amps and Drop Pod

 

So, this provides us with 10 Objective Secured units (also, don’t forget, one free use of the Tactical Doctrine for the units from this formation), including three MSU Tac squads with Grav Cannons to take Objectives and provide fire support, a fast-moving Bike squad to chew up hordes with its TLed Heavy Bolters, grab Objectives, and/or tie enemy units in combat, and a “assassin” unit comprised of the Grav Cannon Devastators and the Cataphracti Terminator Captain for taking our critical enemy units like Wraithknights, Stormsurges, various close combat deathstars, LOWs, etc. (the Cataphracti Terminator Captain makes the whole unit Slow and Purposeful, allowing it to fire at full effect when it arrives in its Drop Pod, and also “tanks” for the unit/provides close combat ability).

Now, looking at everything together, this 2000 point army has eight Drop Pods (so four guaranteed to arrive Turn 1, plus another four to “mop up” on later turns), 60 MEQ bodies (plus the Warlord Cataphracti Terminator Captain, who makes the entire detachment Stubborn as long as he is alive, and two Attack Bikes), the potential for up to 22 separate MSU units/squads, and the ability to put out the following firepower per turn:

-6 Heavy Bolter Shots, 20 Storm Bolter shots, and 24 Bolter shots (at 12″ Rapid Fire range), all permanently Twin-Linked

-35 Grav Cannon/Amp shots at 24″ range, provided the unit did not move (or has Slow & Purposeful)

-80 (at 12″ Rapid Fire range) Special Issue Ammunition shots per turn (choosing between Ignore Cover, Poison (2+), long-range AP4, and short-ranged/Get’s Hot AP3 ammunition types), all permanently Twin-Linked

While this will still struggle against certain armies, especially heavily mechanized forces (outside of Grav weapons and MBs, there is not a lot to deal with armored forces) and very mobile forces (once the army Drop Pods in, it is basically confined to footslogging 6″ if it needs to get anywhere after that, except for the Attack Bikes), overall I think it would make for a fun, thematic/fluffy, and powerful alpha-strike style army that makes competitive use of the Imperial Fists traits and the benefits of their unique STERNHAMMER STRIKE FORCE formation.

 

Devastators and the Sternhammer Strike Force

As I have reviewed the new Sternhammer Strike Force (basically, the “Decurion” for Imperial Fists) I have been struck by how, in some ways, the detachment is quite “clunky” (i.e. only 1 Command choice per Core and Core options being limited to the Battle Demi-Company and the Centurion Siegebreaker Cohort) and how in other ways it is quite versatile (i.e. it has some of, IMHO, the best Auxiliary choices around, including 1st Company Task Force, 10th Company Task Force, Storm Wing, Raptor Wing, Skyhammer Annihilation Force, single Devastator squads, single Centurion squads, single Vindicator squadrons, and single Thunderfire Cannon batteries).

In terms of Special Rules, again it is a mixed bag:

1 – As long as the WL is from this detachment and is alive, then all models have Stubborn (decent leadership buff, but not necessarily a game-changer)

2 – Models from this detachment add +1 to their armor penetration rolls against buildings (a pretty mediocre buff, given the lack of fortifications in most 40K games)

3 – All models with Bolter Drill rule in this detachment get to re-roll ALL to hits, not just 1s to Hit (an outstanding benefit, especially since it doesn’t require any Psychic tests or Ld tests and affects so many different common weapons, even including Sternguard Special Ammunition)

So, the question is, how to best employ the Sternhammer Strike Force in competitive lists for Imperial Fists players? What jumped out to me, among all the excellent Auxiliary options, is the access to almost unlimited numbers of Devastator squads. Imagine the following:

-Devastator squad with 10 models, 2 Grav Cannons, a MB and combi-Flamer on the Sgt, and a Rhino

This unit, while not super cheap, is exceptionally versatile. Against tough targets like TDA, Meganobz, MCs, and even vehicles, you have the two Grav Cannons (one of which can shoot at BS5 using the Sgt’s Signum) that can fire out of the Rhino’s hatches. Against light infantry and hordes, you have 8 permanently twin-linked bolters, plus a one use flamer template, which basically deals with any low armor save units that the Grav Cannons are weak against. Add in the MB for anti-vehicle use and the Rhino for protection/mobility, plus Stubborn to help the squad hold objectives and the option to Combat Squad into two 5 man teams that can still share the Rhino and you have a true “multi-tool” unit.

Better yet, since all you need is a single Core choice (if you take the Battle Demi-Company, you can have another Devastator squad) and you can have up to 10  Devastator squads like this. While they lack Objective Secured (a pretty big hit), their double Grav Cannon, TLed Bolters, and other versatile features really help them work as a strong “all-comers” alternative to Tactical Squads.

Finally, on top of all this, you can supplement the Core choice and Devastator squads with any of the other great Auxiliary options from the Sternhammer Strike force, such as the Raptor Wing for air support, the Thunderfire Cannon batteries for additional firepower, or the Skyhammer Annihilation Force if you need Relentless Drop Pod Devastators and Assault Marines who can arrive by DS and charge turn 1.

Sentinels of Terra Lascannon Centurions — “Broadsides” for the Astartes

Remember the old version of Tau Broadside Battlesuits… i.e. 3 Battlesuits, all with S10 AP1 TLed Railguns and either Smart Missile Pods or Plasma Rifles? Deployed in multiple groups of three along the Tau back line and upgraded with Advanced Stabilization Systems (to give them Slow and Purposeful and, hence, the ability to move and still fire), these provided the backbone of most 4th/5th edition lists and truly were feared by most other armies.

With the change in points cost for Lascannon Centurions (-10 points each, plus no mandatory Sergeant tax) and the “Siegemasters” portion of Imperial Fist Chapter Tactics providing Devastator Centurions with the Tank Hunter USR, I think IF Lascannon Centurions can quite handily mimic the same tactics as the old school Tau Broadsides.

Imagine the following task force, taken from the Sentinels of Terra supplement (Imperial Fist Chapter Tactics, but allows Devastator Centurions to be taken as both Elites and Heavy support):

-4 x 3 man Devastator Centurion squads with Lascannons, MLs, and Omniscope each (three squads are Elites Choices and one squad is a Heavy Support choice)

-Aegis Defense Line with Comms Relay

-2 x 10 man Tactical Squads with Grav Cannons/Amps and Grav guns (they use Close Range Bolter Drill from Sentinels of Terra supplement instead of normal Bolter Drill for their Boltguns)

-2 x Stormraven Gunships with Locator Beacons, TLed MMs and TLed Lascannons

-2 x Techmarines with Conversion Beamers

Tactical squads go in Stormravens, come in from reserve to help seize objectives, provide extra shooting (both Grav and Bolter fire) and Stormravens provide anti-air and anti-tank support.

Techmarines attach to two of the Centurion Squads (gaining both Tank Hunter and Slow and Purposeful for their Conversion Beamer shooting) and all/most Centurions set up behind the Aegis line for built in 4+ cover saves to supplement their T5, 2W, and 2+ armor.

Now, if you compare the TLed Lascannons (S9 AP2) on the Centurions with the oldschool TLed Railguns (S10 AP1), at first they seem quite wanting. On clsoer look, against infantry the only advantage the old Railguns had is the ability to double out T5 units and the ability to wound Wraithknights/Wraithlords on 2+ (vice the 3+ from a Lascannon). Otherwise, the BS4 Centurions are more accurate, wound pretty much all non-vehicles on 2+s, are tougher than Broadsides (T5 vs T4), and have better leadership/staying power with ATSKNF.

Against vehicles, except for the AP1 factor, Lascannon Centurions with Tank Hunter are actually better tank hunters than Railgun Broadsides of yore.

Against AV12 tanks:

-A squad of 3 Sentinels of Terra Centurions with MLs and TLed Lascannons shooting at 48″ gets 3 lascannon shots/3 krak missile shots, 2-3 lascannon hits/2 krak missile hits, and 3-4 stripped hull points

-Comparitavely, a team of 3 old school Broadsides with TLed Railguns and TLed Plasma Rifles shooting at 24″ got 3 Railgun shots/3 Plasma Rifle shots, 2-3 Railgun hits/2-3 Plasma Rifle hits, and 1-2 stripped hull points.

Against AV 14 tanks:

A squad of 3 Sentinels of Terra Centurions with MLs and TLed Lascannons shooting at 48″ gets 3 lascannon shots/3 krak missile shots, 2-3 lascannon hits/2 krak missile hits, and about stripped hull points

Comparitavely, a team of 3 old school Broadsides with TLed Railguns and TLed Plasma Rifles shooting at 24″ got 3 Railgun shots/3 Plasma Rifle shots, 2-3 Railgun hits/2-3 Plasma Rifle hits, and about 1 stripped hull point.

As you can see by the Mathhammer, Tank Hunter Centurions (i.e. Sentinels of Terra or Imperial Fist variety) are measurably stronger against vehicles than the old Broadside teams.

Combined with the Aegis Line and T5 for enhanced survivability and adding in Conversion Beamer shooting from the Techmarines and the fire support from the Tac Squads/Stormravens, I think you can produce a very effective, shooty-focused Sentinels of Terra list built around a foundation of Lascannon/ML Devastator Centurions.