Thursday, April 10, 2008

3rd Battle Of Melberg

The Imperial Task Force under Admiral Jellicoe reached the Melberg system on 0404.008M42 and dropped out of warp in good order. Immediately it was clear the Tau intended to attack as sensors on the lead scouting vessels picked up the main Tau battlegroup heading towards them. Jellicoe decided on immediate action and both fleets began closing at maximum rate. Very soon the third and final battle of Melberg would be decided.

Around the small moon of Vedra the two fleets met, with Jellicoe forming his fleet into a tight battle line of three squadrons. The massive lance boat, Agamemnon led Black Prince and Warrior slowly towards the Tau fleet firing their destructive Nova cannon. This proved almost immediately effective as the Protector Class cruiser Sun Sword was almost immediately reduced to a hulk as she emerged from an asteroid belt.

To the right of the Agamemnon and two cruisers, Vanguard and Emperor’s wrath were also closing with the Tau, while a squadron of Swords protected the left flank of the Imperial Van.
The Tau had formed up as they cleared Vedra’s asteroid belts which they had been using to screen themselves from the Imperial firepower. Vigilance and Shadowstrike’s Castellan escorts stayed back, launching waves of Mantas, while the line of forward firing Protectors, now reduced to two, we rejoined by the UFP Squat vessel Hearthguard, and prepared to engage the Imperial fleet head on.

At close range the Imperial fleet with their tough front armour were still almost invulnerable to the Tau guns and torpedoes, and the Tau very quickly lost Guardian, another Protector, the burning hulk careering towards the Imperial fleet totally out of control. Her prow deflectors were unable to defend against the awesome firepower of Agamemnon and Vanguard as Jellicoe turned the fleet to port, bringing their broadsides to bear.

The Imperial fleet had started well but were soon in trouble as the combined waves of Manta bombers arrived. The fighters put up by Emperor’s Wrath were pitifully few and quickly dispatched by Barracuda fighters. Soon the Imperial ships were forced into evasive action and their fire lessened, enabling the Tau to conduct damage control. Commander Shadowstrike’s Emissary class the Enigma, was forced to disengage after suffering serious damage, leaving the Tau with just one functional cruiser. The Vigilance and Hearthguard however, were relatively untouched.

As the Mantas began their return to their carriers the damage they had caused was evident. Both the cruisers Black Prince and Warrior had suffered severe damage and turned hard to port, disengaging from the battle. Agamemnon too had been badly damaged leaving just the Vanguard and her carrier escort in the fight. The Imperial battlegroup’s sword escorts had also been reduced to drifting hulks.

The fleets passed close, before the two Imperial battleships turned hard to starboard and tried to rake the Tau rear. The Tau however were able to counter this, using their Mantas to strike at their enemy and using the Hearthguard as a rear guard. On the “pass to the right” the Emperor’s Wrath became the closest target, and she was attacked by the full force of the Tau fleet. There was nothing the captain could do and her magazine detonated, blasting all nearby ships in a fireball which caused their shields to overload and collapse. Miraculously all the Tau Castellans, fully caught up in the explosion, came out unscathed.

Admiral Jellicoe took stock of the situation. With no escorts and no cruisers in the fight he knew the superior Tau ordnance capability would eventually overwhelm his damaged leviathans. The captain of the Agamemnon signalled the need for urgent repairs and under the cover of the Vredan asteroids, the Imperial fleet disengaged. The 3rd battle of Melberg was over.

The Imperial fleet reassembled in the outer reaches of the system and immediately began making their hulls safe for the return trip through the warp. Jellicoe could not hope to break the blockade with the Vigilance still undamaged. The battle had only been a minor defeat on points. The Imperium had destroyed two capital ships while the Tau had only destroyed one. However the crippling of the Agamemnon and destruction of the task force’s only carrier was a fatal blow to the mission.

Perhaps had the Vigilance been destroyed Jellicoe may have tried again, but on 0904.008M42 the Imperial Admiral made the jump back to the Zadoc subsector. The Tau were jubilant. Now the Imperial forces on the ground had no chance to resupply or receive reinforcements while they would continue to receive fresh troops and equipment from the Tau Empire.

Even so Commander Sunstrike new the Tau will to prosecute the war on Melberg was failing. The war had to be finished, and quickly. Tau analysts estimated the Tau forces had only one month to take the Capital and conclude the war. They were wearing out. Sunstrike could only hope that the isolated Imperial forces would wear out first.

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