Commander Longstride viewed the breakout by Shadowstrike with mixed feelings. It could lead to a quick victory on Melberg but once againt the Laurels of victory were going to a rival. However in the spirit of the greater good the Tau commander obeyed his orders and was delighted when given the chance to strike the final blow against the Imperium.
Intelligence suggested the Imperial Guard units supporting the PDF on the planet were running out of ammunition, stores, petrol and resolve to carry on. A final strike against the heavily armoured Librian 101st in front of longstrides line could break the defence of Atlas Prime while Shadowstrike was still mopping up resistance around Corunium.
Longstrides plan called for the deployment of all his anti-tank forces in a last gambit. The attack started with no preparatory bombardment and no warning, but Cunningham’s most experienced troops were arrayed against him. They saw the attack coming and within hours of beginning the Tau were staring a rout in the face. Broadsides and Hammerheads were shot to pieces by massed anti-tank fire, deployed on fast moving sentinel walkers. Before long the Librian armour rolled in and it looked like Longstride’s position would become untenable, marooning Shadowstrike in Corunium.
Just as Cunningham was about to celebrate success things took a turn for the worse for the Imperial commander. Longstride deployed his fast moving Crisis Suit units, tearing into the Librians at close range and neutralising their armour. Burning tanks littered the battlefield and blunted Cunningham’s counter assault before it began, allowing the Tau to withdraw. The battle had been a bloody draw with very only losses on both sides. Longstride was deeply disappointed, but the opportunity the destruction had created was not lost on another Tau commander...
Shadowstrike breakthrough – Atlas Prime falls
With Longstride locked in a devastating and ruthless firefight on the main front line, Commander Shadowstrike planned to make the most of the situation. Having secretly communicated his intentions to overall commander Sunstrike, Shadowstrike began a stealthy march towards the capital, outflanking the Imperial positions and carrying out hit and run attacks.
Shadowstrikes forces crossed the Atlas river to the north of the capital with only minor resistance. General Cunningham expressed his concerns over the strange movements of these Tau forces but he was overruled by Lord Commander Lenord, who urged him to take the fight to Longstride who was on the defensive. It was a fatal mistake.
Having crossed the river the Tau forces turned 90 degrees to the right, swooping down on unprepared and unsuspecting defences. The encounter was bloody and very one sided. It was almost like a training mission as each of Shadowstrike’s units performed their task with textbook efficiency. Before the end of 2004.008M42 word reached Cunningham that Atlas Prime had fallen, and he was surrounded.
Cunningham began organising his troops for a fighting withdrawal, pulling back from the front line. This allowed Longstrides forces to once again resume their forward momentum and their pressing attacks were strong enough to force the Librians and other units to abandon all their heavy equipment, tanks and artillery pieces which were invaluable to the Imperial war effort.
Only half Cunningham’s forces made it back to the next line of defence, while the Whettis army found itself forced back into an ever shrinking pocket of resistance around the capital itself. Thousands of panicked citizens tried to leave by boat, while the Tau air caste bombed the city without mercy.
The new turn of events was the final straw for the remaining unoccupied nations on Melberg. They had been loyal to the Imperium throughout but now it seemed that the Imperium had deserted them. On 2104.008M42 the remaining countries convened a meeting.
The leaders of Thorland, Veraconia, Actopia, Cannabrini and Vaskia, with agreement from Whettis and Coronia, met with the Imperial High Command soon after the fall of Atlas Prime. It was clear from the outset that no amount of Imperial Commissars would dissuade them from their course of action. They voted unanimously to relieve Lenord from command and placed him under house arrest. Soon after they contacted the Tau.
A ceasefire was easy to obtain from the Tau who seemed all to eager to accept an end to the fighting, even if it was only short term. Negotiations then began in earnest. The remaining powers on Melberg made it clear they had no particular loyalty to the Imperium and would be content for the Tau to be nominally in command of the planet, but that they wished to remain in control of their own nations.
There were divisions in the Tau high command from the outset. Many felt that Melberg should join the Tau Empire and that no compromise could be tolerated. Others felt that the fighting had gone on long enough and that an honourable peace was certainly acceptable. After all, it was inevitable that the human societies, seeing the successof the Tau model in the territories they controlled, would join the Greater Good and find their niche in the grand plan.
The UFP were called in to arbitrate, much to the irritation of many on both sides, particularly Sunstrike, the overall commander of the Tau, and Lord General Lenord, still under house arrest. It would take weeks to sort out the details, but in the mean time the front lines fell silent, prisoners were exchanged and both sides took a deep breath.