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While trying to find out if there has been a Dreadnought Chapter Master (there has been btw, Daggan of the Blood Swords), I read the following here (emphasis by me):

Daggan was a Venerable Dreadnought as well as the Chapter Master of the Blood Swords Space Marine Chapter. Unlike most Dreadnoughts, Daggan still retained a good memory of what he was before his internment within his cybernetic coffin and served the Chapter loyally as its leader.

What is the reason Dreadnoughts are forgetting who they were? And is that the only thing they forget?

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    Probably because marines who are entombed in dreadnoughts have suffered grievous wounds and are near death. I would imagine they are suffering from various forms of brain damage. Perhaps only those that the Apothecaries consider to have enough knowledge of who they once were are chosen to,become dreadnoughts. – Sarriesfan Nov 14 '19 at 21:20
  • I always thought it was because they were much older than most other Marines, and it was just a factor of age. – Moo Nov 14 '19 at 23:56
  • the wiki isn't loading for me - but I was reading in the Dreadnought page that they were venerated and regularly consulted for their experience and memories... which kind of is at odds with the idea of them forgetting over time... – HorusKol Nov 15 '19 at 2:29
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Being entombed into a machine that works as your contact with the rest of the world is a horribly traumatic experience. In the "Word Bearers" omnibus, we can find this fragment regarding Erebus dreadnought:

The meagre physical remnants of the inspirational leader had been interred within the sarcophagus that lay before Marduk. Though his body was utterly ruined, he was destined to live on within the tomb of his new shell, and become the Warmonger. While the other Dreadnoughts of the Legion had slowly succumbed to madness and raving insanity, the Warmonger retained much of his lucidity. It was his faith, Erebus himself had stated, that kept him from slipping into darkness.

So it seems that the whole process of becoming a dreadnought is just extending the inevitable madness and death - you need a really powerful mind driven by something like faith or vengeance to prevent yourself from slipping into a mindless monster. One obvious solution is to keep the ancient warrior asleep and wake them up only when the great need arises. Thus is the fate of the most famous loyalist Dreadnought - Bjorn the Fell Handed

Over the following five hundred standard years, he remained at the forefront of every battle, leading by example, and counselling his successors as the Chapter's Great Wolf. Eventually, the long years took their toll on the ancient warrior, and he began spending longer and longer periods dormant in stasis sleep. Now he is only awakened when the Chapter has the greatest need of his potent skills and ancient wisdom. [...]Bjorn is also awakened by his Chapter at the dawn of each new standard millennium to hold court at the Great Feast.

So from the fragment we can guess that the age and the stress of living in such conditions slowly starts taking toll on the mind of the entombed warrior.

Example of what happens to one entombed for too long, you can find in the "Red Tithe" novel:

‘Hail to you, Wandering Ancestor Itako,’ Nikora said, following the ritual response to the awakening ceremony. ‘Arise, for there is blood in the water. Your judgement awaits.’

For a moment the Dreadnought didn’t respond. For a moment, the Chaplain feared he had failed – Ancient Itako had once more slipped back into slumber, his mind lost in the void of dream-memories he had spent so long swimming through. Then there was a click, and a harsh blurt of static as the great Contemptor’s external vox-units came online. The sound was followed by another, altogether greater and more terrible. With a howl of purest, frenzied rage, Ancient Itako heralded his own awakening [...]

Itako screamed. It was a horrible noise, part human, part machine, grating and grinding from the vox-grille set in the war machine’s breastplate. It was something inimical to the void brethren in the cathedra, a shattering of traditions, a reminder that whatever was now nestled within the Contemptor’s armoured shell, it was far removed from the warrior that had once been. Such was the price of waking one of the Wandering Ancestors. Once unleashed, there was little that could be predicted, bar that they would wreak devastation.

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As mentioned in the comments I would question the veracity of this Wiki. There are a number of cases of Dreadnoughts not only remembering their past, but regaling their chapters with tales of those days.

The obvious one is Bjorn the Fell Handed who on a regular basis is called on to regale the spacewolves with his first-hand account of his time serving Russ; there are plenty of other Dreadnoughts who are able to remember their past. However as mentioned in other answers these dreadnoughts spend a lot of time in "hibernation" effectively switched off there consciousness allowed to rest. Some Dreadnoughts do lose their minds and forget their past over time, but others don't the main thing that prevents this seems to be strength of will.

I think the main thing about Daggan is that he does not need any of the hibernation time most dreadnoughts need and seems to have kept his faculties. However the fact he died in combat we don't know if he would have lost his mind over time but died before this could happen.

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    The same wiki says on the Dreadnought page: "The pilots encased in the shell of a Dreadnought often have memories stretching back for millennia, and these ancient warriors are a tangible link to their Chapter's past and heritage." I declare the OP's question to be heresy! – Harabeck Nov 15 '19 at 19:10
  • Please note that Bjorn currently is awake for about a day per millennium – Yasskier Nov 16 '19 at 5:39
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Actually Dreadnoughts do become unstable which is why they spend most of their time sleeping and are only awoken during times of great need. That's why Bjorn doesn't spend most of his time walking around, they only wake him in times of great need or to mark a great occasion as they know keeping him awake will cause issues.

I don't have any exact references to hand, but 1d4chan does have the following passage:

All that power comes at a cost, of course. The near-dead battle-brother no longer has senses of his own, his eyes and ears wired to the sarcophagus's auspex arrays. He lives in a bath of cool fluid, numb and sleeping without dreaming, when his services as a warrior or historian are not needed. Should he be crippled on the battlefield, he can do nothing to save himself and must have faith in his brothers and the God Emperor that they will retrieve him. The act of just creating one is highly traumatic to the internee and creates mental issues that living marines are not affected by. The best way of regulating this is by spending most of their time in suspended animation or full blown stasis till they are needed.

Most marines know this as well, which why there are examples of Marines not wanting to be placed in a dreadnought - one example that springs to mind is the Solar War, where an Imperial Fist marine is badly wounded helping Sigismund but does not wish to be interred in a dreadnought.

So yes they do have long memories, but they have to be suspended in order to preserve them.

  • This quote is a fan wiki, not a canon source. It also doesn't mention anything specific about memory loss, just "mental issues". – Harabeck Nov 15 '19 at 21:01
  • As I say, I have read about the effects of internment within a dreadnought and I will try to dig out an official source most likely from black library novels. But you can also see from here warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Bjorn_the_Fell-Handed (appreciate it's another wiki but they list their long list of sources) that Bjorn is only awoken once every millennium having to spend more and more time in stasis. The other immediate reference that springs to mind is Davian Thule of the Blood Ravens who's instability is portrayed throughout DOW 2 – TommyBs Nov 15 '19 at 21:08

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