Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Battle Of Cerberex

The battle of Cerberex was the largest fleet encounter between the UFP fleet and the Imperial fleet in the Aleph Sector. The events which led up to this titanic encounter were long and complex but the main reason was the UFP’s desire to conquer the planet of Cerberex itself.

Were Cerberex captured the Federation would control all routes into the sub sector, an excellent strategic position. They would only face a real threat from the Chaos forces on Kendrenec, but with the Zadoc reach and the Valitane run shored up, the UFP fleet could contain this with patrols and the mighty UFP fleet.

Haskel had arrived in the sector with eight cruisers, a grand cruiser and a Despoiler class battleship. Since then however he had added four new cruisers (two mars class and two dominator class) built at the shipyards of Tallax. Early in the campaign the light cruisers Romulus and Remus, with their Tallaxian crew, had defected to the UFP.

The Imperium was still stronger in the sector however, with four battleships and seventeen cruisers. However, in the middle of 007M42 the advantage was lost as external factors gave the UFP a golden opportunity to strike at the heart of Imperial rule in the sector.

The first blow was the Tau invasion of Melberg. This forced Admiral Jellicoe to move a substantial part of his fleet to defend the planet. While in transit the second blow fell on the Imperial defenders. Cerberex had always been defended by innumerable static defences, minefields, space stations and gun batteries which had turned the planet into a fortress. Only a truly massive fleet would ever be able to assail this position and the UFP could not afford the losses. Public opinion in the democratic Union abhorred wasted life.

Then using a blasphemous Necron device the fleet of Kendrenec led by the Warsmith Gallowfen was able to breach this fortress. All systems in the Cerberex area failed as the Necron device somehow interfered with the machinery of the Imperium. The fleet, disabled, was able to get clear, but a lane of defences had been rendered useless. Once the Chaos ships landed their troops on the planet they retreated, fearful of a devastating response from the Imperium. The UFP however hastily formed up an invasion plan of their own.

The Imperial fleet had now been reduced to something comparable with the UFP fleet. Battlegroup Tallax were still on station at Myrentas II, which was unfortunate, but the federal government voted overwhelmingly to invade Cerberex as soon as possible. The planet they coveted could not be allowed to fall into Chaos hands.

Admiral Haskel himself would lead the task force consisting of over one hundred vessels, mostly transports and fuel tankers. Only ten capital ships were available, but with the forces at his disposal the Grand Admiral was confident of victory.

Capital Ships in the UFP Task Force

Hand Of Freedom
Radiant Light
Stellar Vengeance
Pride Of Sartosa
Pride Of Hartak
Errant Marauder
Radiant Light

Capital Ships defending Cerberex

Sword Of Damocles

Prelude to Battle

Grand Admiral Haskel arrived in the outer reaches of the Cerberex system in good time. He decided to leave the transports in the Empyrean while the fleet dealt with the approaching Imperial defenders who had been alerted to his presence by the UFP task force’s massive warp signature. He would engage the Imperial fleet, destroy it or force it to flee, then escort the troop transports to the planet for landing.

The strategy was not without risk and was time critical. Haskel knew he only had a day before the transports would have to jump into real space or risk being wisely scattered on the warp currents. This would leave them easy prey to the Imperial fleet if he had not succeeded in committing them to a decisive engagement. Fortunately for the UFP Grand Admiral the Imperial defenders were not aware of his plans and were about to gift him the perfect opportunity.

Admiral Craddock had no intention to let the UFP get close to the capital of the Imperium in the Aleph Sector and as soon as the UFP ships were detected he ordered the fleet to the system’s jump point, intent on surprising the UFP task force and destroying the heavily laden troop carriers.

When the UFP ships did jump into real space his scouting escorts soon reported the presence of nine capital ships, but no transports. Craddock realised the Grand Admiral’s plan too late and was unable to avoid a fleet action. Grudgingly the Imperial commander formed the fleet into line ahead and approached the enemy, his two battleships leading the line.

Haskel also detected the Imperial battlefleet as he dropped out of the warp. Initially there was some concern among the UFP officers that they would not have enough time to form up before the battle. This would give the Imperium a stunning victory through sheer luck. Fortunately the Grand Admiral had just enough time to order his ships with the slaughter class vessels to the fore, before setting the fleet onto an intercept course.

As the two fleets approached each other in line astern both admirals prepared to pass each other to deliver the maximum broadsides. At 01:00 on 1606.007M42 Admiral Haskell turned the UFP fleet slightly towards the Imperials as he approached and the distance began to diminish rapidly. Craddock, aware the Grand Admiral was attempting to close with his fleet as quickly as possible attempted to open the range by turning two points to port. Craddock wanted to keep the UFP at long range for as long as possible, but by 01:07 it was clear that any further turns risked the Imperial fleet being surrounded from the rear. Travelling on parallel courses the two fleets approached. Hand Of Freedom opened fire at 01:22 and the battle of Cerberex had begun.

The Battle

The initial salvoes from the ships with long range weaponry were out of range at 01:30. Grand Admiral Haskel ordered his fleet to turn to starboard and close with the enemy. The three slaughter class cruisers did just that and increased speed while the rest of the fleet turned in more slowly. In front of the fleet Haskel’s six excort vessels also followed the order to close, though there remains some doubt as to whether the order applied to them.

Never-the-less the six Iconoclast raiders charged the rear of the Imperial line but their firepower was ineffective. The Sword class escorts of the Cerberex battlgroup counterattacked and the Iconoclasts were lucky to withdraw with four of their number still operational. The first strike of the day had been made by the Imperium.

However the attack had left the four sword class vessels extremely vulnerable as the Errant Marauder, Arbitrator and Pride of Sartosa, with their faster speed, accelerated away from the rest of the UFP vessels and bore down on the escorts. The result was inevitable as the Swords were torn apart. Only one survived the initial onslaught.

Meanwhile the van of the UFP fleet had approached to within weapons range of the battleships and heavier cruisers of both fleets. Admiral Cradock ordered his battleships to turn 45 degrees to starboard and fire at the nearest enemy cruiser. The luckless target was the Pride of Hartak, a carnage class cruiser which had strayed just a little to close to the Imperial line.

The order was given to open fire and Colossus and Sword of Damocles soon had the enemy vessel straddled. Despite her attempts to avoid the incoming fire the ship was hit on her starboard side, the shot penetrating her armour and causing ruinous damage to her thruster array. Critically robbed of her manoeuvrability the Pride of Hartak received several more hits and was crippled before she could lurch out of line behind the cover of the rest of the fleet.

The UFP response was swift. While the two Imperial battleships were pouring fire into the rear of the UFP line the three slaughter class vessels had turned towards the Imperial fleet and were now involved in an unequal duel with Galileo, Invincible and Conquerer, Supported by longer range firing from the Warlord which was struggling to keep up.

The three Imperial ships were unable to concentrate their fire while the UFP vessels poured shot after shot into the rear of the Imperial line. Too far from the enemy Titan couldn’t help out as the shields of her consorts flared with impacts. Invincible was soon crippled as was Galileo as both ships took the brunt of the enemy firepower. Weaving to dodge the incoming fire the two ships had also inadvertently closed with the UFP and now the fate of both was sealed as bomber waves from the Hand Of Freedom approached to finish them off.

Conquerer was luckier, using the moon Paraxtas as cover before heading for a nearby gas cloud to escape. She too though was seriously damaged and never returned to the fight. Invincible meanwhile was facing a full bomber wave from Hand of Freedom as Intrepid, at the head of the Imperial line, had had trouble launching her fighters and they were still out of range. Despite the fierce anti-aircraft fire the Invincible was left a burning wreck as bombs penetrated her armour from bow to stern.

Worse was to follow. As the internal fires reached her plasma drive the propulsion unit overloaded and the ship detonated in a cataclysmic fireball which produced a shockwave strong enough to inflict further damage as it bathed the Galileo in fire and shrapnel. Barely recovering from the effects of this blast a wave of bombers from Stellar Vengeance arrived leaving the ship a burning wreck. Unable to regain control the Galileo’s surviving crew suffered an unfortunate end as the ship vaporised when she impacted with the nearby moon.

The loss of the two cruisers in the centre of the Imperial line was a devastating blow to Craddock’s battle plan. Now Titan was cut off to the rear as she was pursued by the three slaughter class vessels and the remaining Iconoclasts. Craddock immediately ordered a 90 degree turn to starboard for the remaining four lead ships, allowing Colossus and Sword Of Damocles to engage the entire UFP line.

Grand Admiral Haskel meanwhile was exceedingly pleased, realising that total victory lay in his grasp. He remained unconcerned when the entire Imperial fleet turned towards him and started opening fire on the nearest UFP slaughter class vessel.

On Errant Marauder things were rapidly turning into a shambles as they paid the price for being the lead UFP slaughter class in the fleet. Fire from Colossus, Sword of Damocles and Repulse was simply too much to bear as the starboard side of the vessel suffered multiple impacts, killing hundreds of men and starting hundreds of fires. In an attempt to shield their comrade the four remaining Iconoclasts rapidly closed with the two mighty Imperial vessels, but the manoeuvre was in vain. The Imperial battle line switched its fire for a few minutes, destroying the remaining escorts, before returning to the destruction of Errant Marauder at 03:40.

At the same time the Intrepid, up till now unable to bring her guns to bear, had turned sufficiently to allow her Nova Cannon to become active. With a blinding flash a lucky shot detonated on the Radiant Light, crippling her and sending her careening towards the Imperial line. Admiral Craddock smelt blood in the water and immediately ordered a torpedo run by the under pressure Titan to finish her.

Both ships, heavily damaged, approached each other head on. Titan managed to loose her full compliment of torpedoes at the UFP battlecruiser before being pummelled by the UFP battle line and reduced to a hulk, Arbitrator firing the decisive shot which sheared off the Imperial vessel’s bridge superstructure and port engines. Titan’s guns fell silent.

Against the odds Radiant Light dodged Titan’s death run and survived just long enough to drift into the sights of Sword of Damocles. Recognising the importance of the UFP battlecruiser the Imperial battleship switched her fire from the devastated Errant Marauder to reduce Radiant Light to a hulk. The ship drifted powerless through the void but unlike the Imperial vessels, did not explode.

By 03:50 the greater manoeuvrability of the pre-heresy ships had allowed them to take up a favourable tactical position to the rear and to the starboard side of the remaining four Imperial vessels. Having lost four cruisers (three destroyed and one disengaged) to two and one crippled the UFP were also numerically superior. That advantage grew when the Repulse, now at the rear of the Imperial line, faced concentrated fire from the entire UFP line. She was crippled in short shrift and her captain decided to ignore Craddock’s “to the death” signal and disengaged, masking his retreat using a nearby gas cloud.

The Imperium now had three ships facing seven, and though powerful the retribution class vessels could in no way stand up to the weight of fire Haskel could now bring to bear. Despite crippling the Stellar Vengeance the Imperial ships’ fate was sealed. Intrepid was the first to go at 04:10, once again detonating as her plasma drive overloaded. Sword of Damocles faced a similar fate when the UFP fleet closed to an almost suicidal range and the ensuing explosion caused significant damage to Ravager who withdrew briefly to lick her wounds.

Colossus was soon the only ship left but Admiral Cradock refused to surrender. Fire from Ravager, Pride of Sartosa, Warlord and Arbitrator crippled the vessel before Haskel ordered the Hand of Freedom to close to within boarding range. The UFP flagship fired the final shots into the stricken Imperial battleship before boarding her. After a brief firefight the Imperial flagship surrendered and the battle of Cerberex was over.

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