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13th Penal Legion

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Targetdrone.gif This article is about the Imperial Guard unit; for the novels by Gav Thorpe, see Last Chancers (Novel Series).
The 13th Penal Legion: the Last Chancers

The 13th Penal Legion, also known as the Last Chancers, is a Penal Legion of the Imperial Guard. However, rather than being simply a general punishment unit aimed at achieving the redemption of all the souls unlucky enough to enter its ranks, the 13th Penal Legion is specifically used to create elite squads of soldiers for use in extremely hazardous, top-secret special operations missions. It is particularly notable for achieving the destruction of Coritanorum[1], the assassination of Tau Commander Brightsword[2] and also the assassination of the traitorous Overlord of Armageddon, Herman von Strab.[3]


Colonel Schaeffer

Members of the Last Chancers are all convicted criminals facing various punishments. While most of those inducted into the 13th Penal Legion are done so at the deliberate behest of Colonel Schaeffer, a small minority are random transfers. All are given one 'last chance' at redemption by fighting in the worst combat zones possible. If they manage to survive an unspecified number of these missions, which is highly unlikely given the nature of the operations they undertake, they earn a pardon, being forgiven their crimes in the eyes of the Emperor. A Last Chancer who dies fulfilling his duty is pardoned posthumously by the Colonel, who takes it upon himself to provide redemption to all of his troops, sometimes by his own hand. Schaeffer's dedication to his cause is unparalleled and he has never failed a mission with his Last Chancers.[Needs Citation]

The Last Chancers are kept in a constant state of battle-readiness, being sent from war zone to war zone across the Galaxy to protect the Imperium and earn their redemption. There is perhaps no suicidal action which the Last Chancers have not undertaken, including but not limited to suicide assaults on sieged cities, rear-guard actions against overwhelming foes, daring commando raids into enemy territory, human shield operations, and holding the breach throughout unrelenting assaults. It is the Last Chancers' duty to the Emperor to die defending his realm and many accept this as the depressing truth of their situation. Escape attempts are surprisingly low, perhaps due to the Colonel's reputation for delivering the Emperor's redemption personally to those who cannot stand the fires of battle. When not in combat, active Last Chancers are held on-board starships, heavily guarded by Commissariat provosts or Naval Ratings. Colonel Schaeffer also keeps a separate penal facility in an anonymous location to which he transfers convicted Imperial Guard troopers he has selected as potentially useful for future missions. These prisoners (no matter their actual original sentence) are kept in life imprisonment until the time they are offered their 'last chance'.[Needs Citation]

Operation Harvest

Little is known of the 13th Penal Legion before 993.M41 and the Second Tyrannic War. Prior to becoming engaged in combat during the war, the Legion is known to have consisted of 4,000 troops. Upon being removed from the combat theatre some 2 and 1/2 years later, unit strength was approximately 250 effectives. The survivors were organised into one unit under the command of Lieutenant Kage, the most senior surviving officer. This unit was then transferred from war zone to war zone, continually taking casualties - although two Afriel Strain soldiers were added after the battle on False Hope — until it finally arrived at Typhos Prime with a grand total of 12 surviving penal troopers. After incurring further casualties just getting to their briefing post, the Last Chancers were finally told the real reason behind their penal careers; the 13th Penal Legion existed as a training formation to generate the best possible soldiers for a secret mission organised by the Inquisition. This particular mission was to destroy the city of Coritanorum, which had rebelled against Imperial rule under the influence of Genestealer infiltration. The mission was accomplished when the surviving Last Chancers were able to detonate the power reactors of the city and cause a massive, vaporising explosion.[1]

Combat Missions

  • Ichar IV — Battled Tyranids. 4,000 effectives at commencement of mission.
  • Octo Genesis - Nothing much is known of this mission; presumably battled Tyranids.
  • Promor - Nothing much is known of this mission; presumably battled Tyranids.
  • Deliverance — Battled Tyranids. Death of Lieutenant Green. 250 effectives at mission's end.
  • Fool's Paradise — Hunted down and killed the Daemon Prince Mk'lrathirix. Only two Legionaries survived the battle.[5]
  • False Hope — Battled indigenous lifeforms. 47 effectives at mission's end.
  • Hypernol Penal Colony — Shuttle-crash followed by combating indigenous lifeforms. 45 effectives at mission's end.
  • Boarding action - Repelled Eldar Pirates. 24 effectives at mission's end.
  • Kragmeer — Battled Orks. 12 effectives at mission's end.
  • Typhos Prime — 2 survivors at unit's disbandment. (Not including Colonel Schaeffer or non-13th Legion personnel.)

Final Mission Personnel

  • Colonel Schaeffer — Commanding Officer. Survived the mission and escaped the destruction of Coritanorum in the company of Kage and Striden.
  • Lieutenant Kage — Convicted of murder. Survived the mission and escaped the destruction of Coritanorum in the company of Schaeffer and Striden.
  • Lieutenant Kronin — Brain-damaged on Deliverance, Kronin could only speak in phrases from holy scripture. Killed by a lasbolt to the chest.
  • LoriiAfriel Strain trooper. Survived the mission and escaped in the company of Inquisitor Oriel.
  • Loron — Afriel Strain trooper and Lorii's brother. Killed by a lasbolt to the head.
  • Adept Gudmanz — A member of the Adeptus Mechanicus from the forgeworld of Fractrix. Convicted of selling Imperial armaments to pirate forces. Killed by a lasbolt to the back.
  • Inquisitor Oriel — Planner of the entire mission; it was his attempt to study a Genestealer that doomed Coritanorum in the first place. Survived the mission and escaped in the company of Lorii.
  • Lieutenant Striden — Ground Observations Officer for the battleship Emperor's Benevolence. Not actually a Last Chancer, Striden was enlisted to co-ordinate a naval barrage on Coritanorum. He volunteered to accompany the penal troops on their mission and survived, piloting the shuttle used by Schaeffer and Kage to escape.

Brightsword Mission

The next mission undertaken by the 13th Penal Legion began approximately one year after the mission to Coritanorum, and differed from the previous one in that Schaeffer dispensed with his full-scale 'whittling-down' approach and instead chose to assemble a smaller strike team from the outset. To this end he ordered Lieutenant Kage (who, having once again committed murder, had been reacquired by the Colonel) to select the team from a selection of convicted Imperial Guard troopers held in a special prison that the Colonel appeared to have authority over. Despite incidents (including deaths) during the team's training process, an elite Last Chancers unit was put together over the course of a few months and engaged upon its mission - the assassination of Tau Commander Brightsword. Posing as diplomatic envoys, and later, mercenaries, the team was able to infiltrate Brightsword's command compound and assassinate the alien.[2]

The Last Chancers on this mission all adopted code-names.[2]

Final Mission Personnel

  • Colonel Schaeffer - Survived the mission.
  • Lieutenant Kage, "Last Chance" - Survived the mission.
  • Moerck, "Hero" - Ex-Commissar. Convicted of failing to obey orders (although actually innocent of the charges). Killed by Kage.
  • Tanya Stradinsk, "Sharpshooter" — Sniper. Convicted of failing to obey orders. Survived the mission.
  • Strelli, "Flyboy" - Shuttle and Thunderbolt-qualified pilot. Convicted of firing upon friendly troops. Deserted during the mission; Imperial forces were tracking his shuttle but it is unknown what occurred of his fate afterwards.
  • Quidlon, "Brains" - Trooper. Convicted of insubordination. Died during the mission when attempting to interface with Tau Battlesuit armour.
  • Oynas Trost, "Demolition Man" - Former agent of the Officio Sabatorum. Convicted of murder. Survived the mission.
  • Inquisitor Oriel - Orchestrated the mission and survived it.
  • DionisSpace Marine of the Deathwatch. Participated in the final stages of the mission, and survived.

First Armageddon Mission

The next mission undertaken by the 13th Penal Legion took place in the year 999.M41, on the world of Armageddon. Having assembled only 30 penal troopers, Schaeffer had them train in a variety of tactics for around a year (relative) of warp-travel. Unfortunately, their transport ship was critically hit by Ork gunfire on its approach to orbit and all aboard were forced to abandon ship. Landing in the jungles of Armageddon Secundus, Schaeffer and a small group of survivors were able to make their way to Cerberus Base and from there, whilst engaging in random combat actions, were able to embark upon their original mission - the assassination of the traitor, Herman von Strab. Infiltrating Hive Acheron, the mission was undone by the daemonic possession of Lieutenant Kage. Allying himself with von Strab, Kage led the others into a trap. However, shortly before the entire team was executed, Kage was able to briefly subsume the daemonic possession and attempted to commit suicide, taking von Strab with him. The fate of the other Last Chancers besides Oahebs after this event is unknown.[3]

Final Mission Personnel

  • Colonel Schaeffer
  • Lieutenant Kage - Fell into a lava-filled crevasse but survived; threw Herman von Strab to his death in the process.
  • Lieutenant Fenn — Ex-Armageddon Ork Hunters. Convicted of insubordination.
  • Corporal Festal Kinn-DruggDrop-Trooper. Convicted of looting.
  • Brin 'Brownie' Dunmore — Heavy Weapons Specialist. Died falling into a lava-filled crevasse.
  • OahebsSoulguard; purposefully placed into the Last Chancers by Inquisitor Oriel in order to neutralise Kage's developing psychic abilities. Survived.
  • Lorii — Previously pardoned and once an operative for Inquisitor Oriel, Lorii volunteered for the Last Chancers in order to gain an opportunity to murder Kage; she failed in her attempt to do just that and was in turn murdered by her intended victim.
  • Navigator Kelth - Kelth made planetfall with the Last Chancers and found himself seconded to them against his will. Died falling into a lava-filled crevasse.
  • Adept Erasmus Spooge — An Adept of the Ministorum, Spooge was the supply clerk assigned to the 13th Penal Legion and found himself seconded to them even during combat operations.

Following Armageddon Missions

Lieutenant Kage miraculously managed to survive his fall into the lava, and healed within weeks. Believing that the Emperor had both saved his life and permanently purged the daemon from his body, Kage took on the moniker of "The Burned Man". Gathering a slew of underhivers, deserted Guardsmen and even an Ork Nob under his command[7b], he managed to carve out a small area of safety for citizens until Schaeffer found out about his survival and collected another band of Last Chancers to kill Kage, believing he was either a traitor or still possessed.[7a]

Although Schaffer and his unit were captured by Kage's army, they were forced to work together after a daemonic incursion occurred nearby, resulting in both Imperium and Ork units fleeing from a superior force of Bloodletters led by a Bloodthirster.[7c] As it became evident that such incursions were occuring all across the planet[7d], Kage and Schaeffer simply attempted to keep as many Imperial citizens alive as possible while rendezvousing with other forces such as a group of wastelanders. The group sought refuge with a convent garrisoned by Sisters of Battle[7e] and took severe casualties fighting Khorne Berzerkers until a Salamanders task force arrived to assist them.[7f]

From thereon, the combined forces hatched a plan to close the main Warp incursion, which was high in Armageddon's sky- and growing larger with every drop of blood spilled on the planet.[7g] While the main contingent of Battle Sisters and Salamanders cleared the way towards the Warp tear, Kage's forces infiltrated an Ork base and kidnapped a Weirdboy Warboss of immense psychic power by using Oaheb's powers as a Blank to nullify it's effect.[7h] They then, in a suicidal action meant to save Armageddon, took a drop ship directly into the Warp tear and allowed the Weirdboy to explosively channel it's psyker energies akin to a bomb.[7i] While this had the effect of closing the warp tear, the time within was shifted to such an extent that the closing occurred fifty years after they entered, well after the establishment of the Great Rift. Only Schaeffer and Kage would escape the Warp alive, and both had set their new course on making another team of Last Chancers to help combat the perils threatening humanity.[7j]

Final Mission Personnel

  • Colonel Schaeffer - Survived the mission.
  • Lieutenant Kage - known as the Burned Man by his companions for surviving his plunge into lava from the last mission. Thought by multiple witnesses including Ecclesiarchy members to be a Living Saint. Survived the mission.
  • Oahebs - the last survivor of Schaeffer's original troops who were originally tasked to kill Kage. His powers as a Blank were instrumental in helping to contain the Weirdboy until entering the Warp. Killed by an errant lasbolt while the drop ship was within the Warp.
  • Sister Superior Aladia - of the Order of the Argent Shroud. At first skeptical of Kage's piety (let alone his possible Sainthood), by the end of the mission she believed in him wholeheartedly. Last seen ejected off a drop ship within the Warp, battling daemons alongside Nazrek and Grot.
  • Nazrek and Grot - an Ork Nob and his Gretchin, who both ended up loyally following Kage after witnessing him kill their Warboss. Nazrek could use his species latent psychic gestalt to estimate where enemy forces were- both ork and daemon. He also helped Kage to understand that Armageddon was once a major ork world. Last seen ejected off a drop ship within the Warp, battling daemons alongside Aladia.
  • Commander Neri - pilot of the drop ship used to funnel the Weirdboy directly into the Warp. Presumably died to daemons during the incursion.
  • Orskya - leader of the scouts in her wastelander clan. She ended up leading her people underneath Kage, as well as revealing to him the First War for Armageddon, passed down from her clan who were survivors of the war. Killed en route to a fuel depot by a World Eater.

Other Known Last Chancers

The following individuals were assigned to the Last Chancers at an indeterminate time and their fates are currently unknown.[4]


Last Chancers miniatures[6]


This unit draws heavy inspiration from the classic film The Dirty Dozen as well as the stories of penal legions in both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany during World War II. In his prefaction to the "Last Chancers" Omnibus, Gav Thorpe admitted that at least the first book (13th Legion) came as an inspiration after reading a Sven Hassel's book.