Disclaimer: I am not Nicholas Moran, aka The_Chieftain, although I do recommend his channel on youtube. All opinions expressed are mine. Battletech is the property of Topps, last time I checked, along with their licensees.
Inside the Thug's Hatch with the Chieftain
Open with the Chieftain standing between the legs of a 'Mech.
"Today we're going to be having a look at one of the stalwarts of the SLDF's Dragoon and Heavy-Assault regiments."
Camera pans back and up, revealing the 'Mech in all its glory.
"This is the Thug, to be precise it's a THG-11E which was the most common variant used by the SLDF. This particular 'Mech is in the regimental museum of the Kestrel Crucis March Militia, which is a great place to visit if you get the chance to look at it. Lots of First Succession War history is preserved here, you've got to remember that back in the 2790s right here was the frontlines between the Draconis Combine and the Federated Suns, which gives you an idea of how bad things were for House Davion at the time."
"Going back to the Thug, this one was captured by the AFFS in a DCMS repair bay during a counter-attack in late 2796. The owner, who some of you may have heard of, had been called away to a little place called Kentares IV due to a death in the family. The Kestrel CMM consider this to be the prize of their collection and there have been fourteen attempts over the years to steal it back for House Kurita, thus the armed guards."
Pan briefly to four fully armed AFFS infantry standing at attention around the 'Mech, which is standing in the middle of a repurposed hanger with various other exhibits visible in the background.
"Anyway, it's not the 'Mechs' fault who piloted it and this one never went anywhere near Kentares." The Chieftain walks around the large feet. "I believe the reactor had been pulled when it was captured and never got put back, but otherwise it's in pretty good condition. There was actually some talk about putting a new engine in it at one point, but obviously someone thought better of that."
"The Thug was developed by the Maltex Corporation back in the 2560s and 2570s when a little thing called the Star League was still being put together. The Hegemony Armed Forces were looking at folding into the new Star League Defense Forces and handing some of their older equipment down to planetary militias, including much of their fleet of Warhammer heavy 'Mechs. This had been a standby of their heavy regiments for about fifty years, and it had handily countered House Davion's Hammerhands and Battleaxe heavies, but it was beginning to look a bit long in the tooth." Chieftain pauses. "Which is a bit ironic now, but they looked at things a little differently back then."
"With a lot of components being standardised at the time, to keep the SLDF's logistics from being more of an absolute nightmare than they were inevitably going to be, it really looked like a good time to take a fresh look at the Warhammer's role and see what else could be offered for the heavy-trooper role. They'd had plenty of time to see what worked and what didn't, after all."
Pan up to the Thug again.
"The most obvious thing to retain was the Particle Projection Cannon. Twin PPCs were a pretty ambitious undertaking, they build up a lot of heat, and the Battleaxe and Warhammer had been about the first 'Mechs to seriously try to operate with a pair of them and it was clearly a strain for both of them. But the pay-off was that frequently they would wreck anything they hit. You have to remember, standard plating wasn't very standard at the time - a lot of second-tier units still used primitive or industrial plating and a PPC had a decent chance of not just ablating away more than half a ton of the stuff, they also had a nasty habit of causing the interior of the protection to spall - which was really good at shredding any systems - or crew - behind the plating."
"Throw in the fact that the secondary effects could impair electronics if your shielding wasn't right on point and taking even a single PPC hit tended to cause a significant emotional event for the people on the receiving end. And these bad boys were running around with two of them?" Chieftain winces. "Anyway, the issue was the amount of heat being built up. Maltex had access to the new endo-steel materials that let them lighten the frame and more importantly, to include next-generation heatsinks - what we call freezers. They fitted the Thug with more or less the same tonnage of cooling jackets, heat exchangers and so forth as the Warhammer, with the result that firing both PPCs barely spikes the temperature at all."
"Maltex didn't go for the same Donal PPCs that had been used on the Warhammer, instead they opted for these Tiegarts. Common 'Mechwarrior wisdom was that Donals do a little more damage, while Tiegarts are a fraction more accurate, so the decision makes sense. The Warhammer couldn't maintain a sustained barrage from both PPCs, so pilots wanted every hit to count, while the Thug could pretty much hold down both triggers with bricks and step away for a mug of coffee so it was more useful to make sure those shots hit. Ironically, of course, Tiegart was a casualty of the Succession Wars so a lot of later Thug's use Donals anyway."
"Now if you look down at the forearms, you can see another improvement the Thug offered over its predecessor: it's got hands. I really can't overstate how useful this made them. You could use them to help lift and carry supplies, drag damaged 'Mechs off the field, pick up salvage or an ejected pilot - even punch someone with a greatly reduced risk of damaging your PPCs. You can imagine how frustrating it is to find yourself having to get out and rig some sort of strapping so a Warhammer or Marauder can be useful for those circumstances, while in a Thug the Mechwarrior could just reach out and do it."
"Moving in towards the centre of the 'Mech, you can see the secondary weapons. This is the same place the Warhammer mounted its distinctive cluster of lasers and machine guns, but the Thug sweeps those away and doubles up on the Short-Range Missiles that were always something of an afterthought on the Warhammer. We can only see one of them here, up on the right, because the cover is closed on the left one. Those panels just slide back to reveal a second launcher... well, that's the theory. In practise, they had a nasty habit of getting jammed open, leaving the launcher uncovered, or closed - so you couldn't use it - or even half-way, which was the worst of both worlds."
"This is only the second biggest complaint about the secondary weapons though. The first is that without the machine guns, there's no dedicated anti-infantry capability. Maltex argued - and the SLDF agreed actually - that this could be left to supporting infantry units and dedicated anti-infantry 'Mechs. As people later found out, the real world isn't always that convenient. The common fix was to replace one of the two bins of SRMs with fragmentation missiles, which were certainly effective in an anti-personnel role, but they're not all that much use against armoured opponents, At least you could keep the other bin for conventional missiles."
"The other major change from the Warhammer is that the Thug is ten tons heavier. That's not always the best choice, because it means you need a stronger internal structure, a bigger engine, and in this case a more than thirty percent increase in the size of the gyro in order to maintain performance - and the Warhammer was pretty average in that respect as it was. But in this case, I think Maltex made the right call because they had endo-steel structure which offset most of that extra weight anyway and it let them pack in another five and a half tons of Mitchell armour plating and fit both ammo bins with cellular ammo storage."
"Now as a Mechwarrior, I'm always in favour of the last part, because having your 'Mech explode is always a bit traumatic. But the former was a huge improvement over the Warhammer. Back when that was brought in, around the start of the twenty-sixth century, ten tons of standard armour was considered perfectly acceptable but times had changed and heavier protection now seemed like a good idea. The Thug actually carries slightly more armour plating than the famously sturdy Awesome that was also being developed at the same time."
"Right, that's enough about the outsides, let's see what it looks like inside."
The Chieftain starts climbing a ladder hung down from the cockpit. "It certainly makes it easier when..." Pauses for breath. "When these are in 'Mech bays with gantries. I don't really miss this part of active service." Pauses again. "With the cockpit down between the shoulders, it's not really higher than a Warhammer's cockpit even if the 'Mech itself is a bit taller."
"Okay then." He lowers himself down the cockpit. "Normal layout here. Command seat at the front and," he cranes around, "just enough room for a passenger behind the seat if they're not too large. Just pray that you don't have to pull the ejection lever while there's someone back there."
"Two control sticks where you'd expect them and the pedals work the same way pretty much every 'Mech since the Mackie has. No jump jet controls, since no one was trying to make one hop around like a Victor. Which I imagine a lot of people are grateful, not least the designers because that would mean shellhorning in around... well, the HildCo Model 12s on a Victor weigh in at about three and half thousand kilograms if I recall correctly." (Camera blips slightly.) "Four thousand and change kilograms, I should say. Well, close enough for government work if you're a Capellan."
"There's just enough power here to bring up the systems, that's a line from the museum because, as I said, the reactor's not in this thing anymore." The Chieftain hits the reactor power switch and several side-displays light up. "In fact, here on the damage display you can see it's telling us this right here. Auxiliary power only. Here on the left is the communications, a Colmax 90, which got the job done. And on the right, behind this panel should be a..." Pauses, looks at the empty space. "On loan to NAIS. Well, hopefully they mean New Avalon not Noius Archipelagus. Anyway, the TharHes Area-5 targeting computer, which got a lot of credit for the Thug's accuracy with the PPCs. As I mentioned earlier, it later turned out to mostly be the Tiegart's better focusing, but that doesn't make the Area-5 bad and who knows."
"One last thing." He indicates the damage display. "Down here are the capacitors feeding electricity from the reactors to the PPCs. These are the same basic units found on contemporary Warhammers and unfortunately completely slagged here. Which is a shame, because Star Corps lost the ability to make those years ago and we've since standardised on the competitor, as used on the MAD-1R Marauder - the later twin PPC heavy 'Mech of the Star League Defense Forces, and can't quite handle the same load. If anyone does have a mint-condition set of original capacitors, you're sitting on something that would probably net you more than the cost of the attached 'Mech these days. Good luck."
"So, that's the Thug. I'd love to take one out on a gunnery course, but as mentioned this one has no reactor and Maltex's Errai factory hasn't made any since the factory was destroyed in 2835, although not before providing a replacement to same Mr. Jinjiro we mentioned earlier. Earthwerks had licensed the design, since Maltex wasn't quite prepared for the popularity of the Thug and they build about a dozen THG-10E models - without the advanced endo-steel and cooling systems, unfortunately - on Keystone but unless I can scrape together jumpship fare to get across to the Free Worlds League, this is probably the closest I'll get. Which is a shame."
"So that's it from the tour of the Thug. Hope you found it interesting."
Chieftain's Questions and Answers
Reading from a folded piece of paper: "Dear Chieftain, given the Thug is such a huge improvement over the Warhammer, why did it drop out of use while the Warhammer's still very common?"
"Good question. I assume that it's the result of my recent visit to Kestrel. For those who missed it, there should be a link to that video over here..." Chieftain points to where, sure enough, an inset thumbnail link appears briefly; and then drops his hand and tucks the paper away under a model Mk VIII Merkava tank sitting on the desk.
"So, assuming everyone's caught up, the Thug was developed in the 2560s - it actually entered production in 2572 - to replace the Warhammer, which had been doing fairly well for itself over the previous sixty years. The Warhammer I'm referring to here is the WHM-5R, which differed from the 6R only in some fairly minor details, predominantly the standardisation of components that the SLDF was insisting on at the time. The expectation was that the Warhammers would drop into the Hegemony's militia units, with the Royal Command transitioning to the Thug more or less immediately, and the rest of the SLDF to follow as things played out."
"The first Thugs were assigned out to the SLDF after the United Triumph exercises in late 2572 - the exercises, were a bit of a debacle for the SLDF tactically but it did give them a pretty good idea of the logistical challenges they were about to face. It also saw a lot of mercenaries hired to fill in for regiments taking part in the exercises, quite of a lot of whom were paid in equipment such as Warhammers being retired from active service, and presumably propping up the market for spare parts from Star Corps."
"The same year, the Star League deployed the SLDF and DCMS into the Outworlds Alliance, one of the first moves in the as-yet-undeclared Reunification Wars. Bloody Santiago, in 2572, hardened opinions and then the following year the Malagrotta Crisis made it clear that the Periphery States weren't going to peacefully join the Star League and the League wasn't going to take no for an answer."
"This, of course, meant that the SLDF would need a lot more 'Mechs than envisaged as it expanded and also had to replace its losses. More Thugs were requested but Maltex really hadn't envisaged this and were caught off guard. The best they could do was offer EarthWerks a license to start building the Thug on Keystone, which doubled production and ultimately kept the Thug in production two hundred years down the road when Maltex fell victim to Mr. Jinjiro taking Errai off the Capellans in 2835."
"Star Corps, on the other hand, were eager to get a slice of the pie and offered to rework the Warhammer to suit the SLDF's new protocols, which yielded the 6R model we all know and love today. This pretty much saved the Warhammer from vanishing the same way that the Battleaxe did. The SLDF bought a lot of them, the House armies bought them and after they were allowed to start building their own forces up again, so did the Periphery, who had a whole lot of nothing left and wanted to correct that in a hurry."
"That's where Taurus Territorial Industries got their licenses to build Warhammers and why the Taurians currently control about half the Inner Sphere's Warhammer output, since they shared the design with what's now Vandenburg Mechanized Industries. The Rim Worlds also bought quite a lot of them, contributing Tadeo Amaris' brinksmanship in the 2650s, mostly from the Star Corps factories on Son Hoa and Loxley. And in time-honoured tradition, that convinced Michael Cameron to start beefing up the SLDF again, with a new generation of BattleMechs."
"This, of course, meant that the Royal Command started handing their Thugs down to line 'Mechs and looking for replacements - and famously in 2681, the first duel of what we now call the First Hidden War took place on Benjamin. For those unfamiliar, the First Hidden War had DCMS mechwarriors displaced by the Edict of 2650 rocking up to SLDF bases and challenging the garrison to face them in duels. And in that very first battle, the SLDF officer who accepted lost... and he lost while piloting a Warhammer."
"StarCorps could see the writing on the wall: the Warhammer was likely to be pushed out of the Regular SLDF 'Mech regiments by the Thugs and one of their most successful products would be killed by the poor publicity. Meanwhile the SLDF was frantic to find out why they couldn't win the succession of duels, speculating wildly that the Combine had made some significant breakthroughs. They hadn't, by the way."
"So when the SLDF decided on the Gunslinger programme - more properly at this date it was called the Advanced Combat and Manuvering Skills project - to provide intensive training for fifty-two Mechwarriors who would act as their champions against the Combine, StarCorps offered very generous terms on their WHM-6Rb model, on the condition they were sent to SLDF units inside the Combine, reasoning - correctly - that the gunslingers would be given the best and newest equipment, and hopefully, some victories in the Warhammer would reverse the bad publicity."
"The 6Rb wasn't actually all that new: it was StarCorps attempt to counter the Thug's technological advantage over the Warhammer and they'd developed it in 2599, where the SLDF - just winding down the Reunification War and very happy with the 'Mechs they'd used to win it - weren't really interested. Nonetheless, it was a pretty good machine. It had the advanced heatsinks, to a slightly lesser degree than the Thug - largely because it had had been determined that the Thug really didn't need quite as much cooling equipment as it had - advanced targeting systems for the SRM launcher and the shortfall in armour was made up for a little with ferro-fibrous armour. I'd prefer a Thug, personally, but there's no denying that a 6Rb was definitely better than a 6R."
"In 2687, Colonel Donovan Fresnel of the 75th Royal Hussars was the first gunslinger to take the field against one of the ronin duellists. The duel was on Minakichi and in an hour long battle, Fresnel was victorious... and he was piloting a WHM-6Rb."
"StarCorps was happy, the SLDF was happy, everyone was happy. Even the Draconis Combine, I assume, because they didn't stop the challenges for another fifty years. While gunslingers didn't always use the Warhammer, they were quite a visible part and the SLDF picked up the 6Rb production for Royal Command. For security reasons they were mostly built on Fletcher, in the Terran Hegemony, but sales of the 6R were still reasonably strong outside the SLDF and those were being built at several factories outside the Hegemony."
"The factory on Fletcher was a victim of First Succession War, but the other factories survived although one by one they mostly lost their Warhammer lines. Nimakachi Fusion Products even managed to piece a new line together out of salvaged factory parts from the Hegemony. The capacitors that gave the Warhammer such an edge with its Donal PPCs had always come from the Hegemony so those were a wash, but the four lines that remained managed to provide adequate substitutes. Five lines, if Olivetti can get theirs off the ground. Which would be great news because Nimakichi's line on Tematagi is on its last legs."
"The Thug, in contrast, only had two factories to begin with and after Maltex was destroyed in 2835 there was just the EarthWerks line on Keystone. Which took a certain amount of damage itself and lacks the supplies of endosteel due to the orbital factories having been over Errai and experiencing intimate relations with some nuclear missiles. Whether that was the Federated Suns or a Draconian effort to deny them to the Davions, is a subject of debate to historians to this day."
"So there you have it. Three production lines for the Warhammer, compared to a dozen Thugs being basically hand built with what parts EarthWerks can still produce the components lines on Keystone, and substitutes for the rest. And given their problems making PPCs these days, I think we're pretty lucky to get as many Thugs as we do."