Exterminatus is the name of an order given by the Imperium to destroy a planetary biosphere. To the right are images depicting the planet Dolumar IV undergoing an Exterminatus following a battle between the Imperium, Tau and forces of Chaos.
Exterminatus is typically only used as a last resort, when the price of holding or retaking the world is deemed too high, or the threat of mutation or heresy too great to contain by conventional means. Thus Exterminatus has very rarely been used on vital or valuable planets to the Imperium. Typically, the order may only be given by a high-ranking Imperial Warmaster, a member of the Inquisition or a Space Marine Chapter.
Exterminatus can be carried out in many different ways, as outlined below.
Note that with the exception of those listed under the section Other, the rest of the entries are deployed from space.
Orbital bombardment is the simplest means of carrying out an Exterminatus, as it can be done solely through the conventional firepower of the Imperial Navy. Typically however, special weapons are used, designed to destroy all life on a planet's surface and potentially any entrenched in the planet's crust.
Virus bombs release a special virus designed to quickly spread and destroy cell structures, reducing all planetary life into organic slime. This produces huge volumes of flammable gases as a by-product, which is later ignited and turns the atmosphere into a firestorm that usually takes out whatever is left. Only those who may have escaped into especially-deep underground shelters can survive a Virus Bomb attack. The Tallarn population managed to escape complete destruction this way, but the once-verdant world was forever transformed into a desert. Virus bombs are known for their extreme speed; Istvaan III's entire population of 16 billion was wiped out in just minutes.
Cyclonic torpedoes are much more immediate in action, having enough power to directly ignite a planet's atmosphere. As seen in the images to the right, the blast radius is large enough to be seen from outer space.
Two-stage torpedoes are the most common of a special class of rare Exterminatus weapons, designed for use against atmosphereless or biologically-void worlds (Necron Tomb Worlds being the main example). These have two-stage warheads: The first stage is a melta charge that bores straight through a planet all the way down to its core. The second stage is a modified cyclonic charge that destabilizes it, in most cases physically destroying the planet.
During the 13th Black Crusade, Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed ordered a massive nuclear reactor on the prison world of St. Josmane's Hope to be overloaded when it seemed that Chaos would finally take the world. Rather than a colossal meltdown, the reactor exploded and blew the entire planet apart.
- Images are taken from the Fire Warrior game.
- Wikipedia: Exterminatus