Monday, September 15, 2008

Battle of Tarsis Major

The battle of Tarsis Major became the largest fleet action between Chaos and Imperial forces since the incursions into the Aleph Sector in 001.M42. Admiral Jellicoe had moved a substantial force to Tarsis following the activity in the outer reaches by both Tau and Imperial forces. He knew that the Chaos fleet would strike Tarsis Major sooner or later, and wanted to inflict severe damage on any invasion force well before it reached the planet itself, which had little in the way of external planetary defences.

Jellicoe had mustered eight capital ships at Tarsis, including his flagship, Vanguard, and the Apocalypse class battleship Agamemnon. The admiral was unaware of how many ships Thok and Traegan could or would throw against him, but he hoped the significant presence of the Imperial Navy would deter a full scale Chaos invasion, and it was certainly enough to deal with the Tau.

The news that astropaths had detected eleven Chaos capital ships inbound for Tarsis major came as something of a shock on 0809.008M42. Apparently Imperial intelligence was for once correct, and the forces of Chaos had far more ships available to them than the Imperial Navy had ever thought possible. Despite their recent losses the traitors were still able to outnumber the Imperial vessels by almost 3-2. Never-the-less Jellicoe immediately set off on an intercept course.

Imperial Forces
Vanguard - Retribution Class Battleship
Agamemnon - Apocalypse Class Battleship
Illustrious - Mars Class Battlecruiser
Redoubtable - Dictator Class Cruiser
Indomitable - Gothic Class Cruiser
Conquerer - Lunar Class Cruiser
Ajax - Dauntless Class Light Cruiser
Achilles - Dauntless Class Light Cruiser

Chaos Forces
Mutable Transfiguration - Despoiler Class Battleship

Mjolnir - Despoiler Class Battleship
Ragnarok - Blasphemer Class Fast Battleship
Fafnir - Hades Class Heavy Cruiser
Skoll - Slaughter Class Cruiser
Doombringer - Slaughter Class Cruiser
Unbridled Depravity - Devastation Class Cruiser
Doomblade - Hades Class heavy Cruiser
Reaver - Slaughter Class Cruiser
Queen Hel - Carnage Class Cruiser
Wanton Ruination - Murder Class Cruiser

As the two fleets closed in the outer reaches of the Tarsis system the Chaos fleet organised itself into three divisions while the Imperial Admiral kept his fleet closely packed for mutual support. A battleship led each division with Mutable Transfiguration closing head on with Jellicoe's fleet, while Ragarok and Mjolnir approached from the starboard beam and from starboard respectively. At 20:52 local time the battle of Tarsis Major began.

The first shots were ineffective at extreme range, as Mjolnir's division of long range gunboats opened fire at Vanguard, the most exposed Imperial battleship in the port wing of the fleet. Almost immediately however Agamemnon claimed the battle's first casualty as Doombringer took a direct hit from her Nova Cannon at 21:02. The Hades class cruiser immediately suffered internal fires and power blackouts and was forced to disengage.

The Chaos fleet responded swiftly, with accurate fire from Mjolnir's long range division quickly bracketing Vanguard. The Imperial flagship fired back and did minor damage, but could not whether the storm of three cruisers and a Despoiler class battleship which were closing fast. By 21:19 the ship was almost a wreck, her port batteries disabled and fires consuming her inner structures. Reluctantly Jellicoe formally handed command of the fleet to Agamemnon and disengaged his crippled vessel.

The Imperial fleet, now led by Agamemnon, headed straight for the closest enemy division, intending to apply maximum force to one division before dealing with the others. Their course inevitably meant that Ragnarok and her consorts were to distant to aid the Mutable Transfiguration and her cruisers, while the Mjolnir and attendant capital ships would have to turn in a wide arc to catch the Imperial fleet, now moving away on their starboard bow.

The tactics of the Imperial fleet meant that Mutable Transfiguration, Fafnir and Skoll now faced the entire Imperial battle line. The Despoiler was quickly crippled by concentrated fire from the Dauntless light cruisers and Agamemnon's awesome lance batteries, and heeled off to port making smoke. Fafnir and Skoll faired little better and both were severely damaged in the next few minutes. Mutable Transfiguration disengaged at 21:32, and Fafnir at 22:18, after having been bombed mercilessly by starhawks from Illustrious and Redoubtable.

Skoll suffered a worse fate. The closest ship to the Imperial fleet, which had now swung round 90 degrees to starboard to form a battle line - the Ragnarok and escorts approaching from the bow and Mjolnir and consorts from the starboard beam, Skoll was caught by the full firepower of the Imperial fleet. Unable to disengage, her prow burning brightly, successive ships used her as target practice before the drifting hulk floated out of control out of range.

At 22:20 the Imperial fleet was winning. Four Chaos vessels had been crippled, including a battleship, and one had been destroyed, with only Vanguard taking significant damage. However all this changed at 22:26. By now the Dauntless class light cruisers Ajax and Achilles, formerly in the right wing of the formation, had reached the head of the Imperial battle line, with the heavier cruisers further back and Agamemnon now in the rear. All of a sudden the two light cruisers faced the brunt of Ragnarok and her squadron, while Mjolnir and her long range battlegroup were now abeam and in range.

A colossal firestorm soon raged around the two least protected Imperial ships, but it was Queen Hel who delivered the fateful blow. Her gun batteries scored an impressive set of hits along the spine of Ajax and almost immediately the ship went dark and drifted to port. In one shot the light cruiser had been reduced to a dark and lifeless hulk. Achilles fared no better. Despite using her engines to weave furiously, she was no match for the Blasphemer class battleship Ragnarok at close range, and her unequal duel ended when Ragnarok's heavy guns split her open from prow to stern, Venting plasma and burning brightly Achilles was sent spinning into an asteroid belt.

Seeing that the Chaos fleet had now formed into a coherent battle line the captain of Agamemnon decided to call it a day. Outnumbered and outgunned the commander of the Apocalypse class vessel order his ships to "battle turn away in turn". This they did, turning 90 degrees to port and disengaging. Agamemnon was the last to disengage, using her long range lances once more to pound the Chaos vessels. This time the victim was Queen Hel who was swiftly crippled, her starboard quarter reduced to a mangled mess. Revenge for the Ajax.

And so at 22:45 the battle ended. Both sides searched for survivors with their escort vessels. Both sides' ships, though heavily damaged were able to rendezvous with each other and effect repairs, though Vanguard had to be taken in tow on her journey back to Tarsis Major. The damage also meant the trip would take more than a week. The Chaos fleet meanwhile made for the jump point, leading Jellicoe to believe the battle was a victory. In fact, it was hard to work out what it was, and for who.

The wreck of Skoll was discovered by the Imperium as was the surprisingly intact Achilles. Ajax however was nowhere to be found. After the battle analysts took stock. The Chaos fleet had forced the Imperials to disengage, but overall, despite the damage to Vanguard and the loss of two light cruisers the destruction to the Chaos fleet was more costly, and inflicted by the smaller fleet. Even more strange the Chaos had not pressed their advantage, nor had Jellicoe or any other commander found evidence of an invasion force. Which prompted the question; why had the battle been fought at all?

Jellicoe would find out two days later as his damaged vessels limped back to Tarsis spaceport. While his fleet had faced off against the might of Thok and Tragean, the Night Lords, along with tens of thousands of cultists, had slipped past the battle fleet and arrived in orbit over the planet. One battlebarge and two strike cruisers had been more than enough. The Marines had led the charge and established a foothold on the planet. By the time his fastest ships reached Tarsis the landing would be complete and the beachhead established. The largest diversionary fleet action in history had succeeded.

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