Sunday, March 21, 2010

Admiral Thok at large

Since the battle of Alphe system in 10.009M42 admiral Thok's fleet had left the Alphe system and periodically raided Imperial convoys using the Farport passage, making the warp lane extremely dangerous to use. By 01.010M42 Thok was destroying one in four of all ships passing along the vital warp lane to the Zadoc subsector, making the task of battlegroup Apocalypse in the Perseus Deeps all the more difficult. Despite the urgings of sector Fleet Lord Bova Magnus, Sector admiral Jellicoe knew there was little he could do against Thok's marauding vessels. The Farport passage threads its way through a vast area of space, and finding Thok would mean tying down a force of at least five capital ships, something the Imperium could not afford. One more reason Magnus transferred Admiral Cornelius' force of sixteen capital ships to the Vastrid subsector in early 010M42.

Instead of searching for Thok's fleet in deep space, Jellicoe preferred to maintain the protection of the closer warp lanes, from his bases at Caitlen station, Corticant, Coronus (New Cerberex) and Farport. From here the Imperial fleet could project its powerover the Zadoc subsector and the whole of the Perseus Deeps, allowing vessels to use the slower, but shorter upper Perseus Reach for transferring vital goods. By 03.010M42 this strategy was working, with Admiral Dreyer, despite the clash with the UFP, preventing major raids on Imperial shipping through the Deeps. Even the Tau avoided confrontation with the Imperium.

On 0403.010M42, Jellicoe moved a substantial force under Admiral Beattie, his first command since his release from a Federacy detention camp in 007M42, to blockade the chaos system of Mordecai. Mordecai was home to Thok's dockyards, and protected by formidable system defences, so Jellicoe ordered a "distant blockade" with the specific aim of preventing Thok's new ships from joining up with the rest of his marauding fleet. Imperial intelligence knew of three new capital vessels which would be ready by 03.010M42 and when reports of anomalous readings from the Mordecai system came flooding in, Jellicoe set up his blockade.

On 2003.010M42 the chaos vessels, the devastation class Hyrrokin, acheron class Rheintochter and carnage class Baldr attempted to reach the jump point in the Mordecai system. Beatty had been forced to spread his powerful fleet up to counter all the possible avenues of escape, but as soon as the chaos vessels were detected, Beatty rushed to reform his fleet and destroy Thok's new warships with overwhelming numbers.

Beatty had a mighty warfleet. Aboard his flagship, the Invincible class fast battleship Tiger, the admiral could see the bulk of his fleet. a few hundred kilometres to port, the dictator class Audacious stood ready, escorted by five firestorm and three sword class frigates. Ahead, near a rogue rocky planet caught in Mordecai's star's gravity well, the dauntless class Ajax and tyrant class Intrepid were powering up their engines. Even further ahead, almost beyond sensor range, the venerable vengeance class Canopus, escorted by two cobra destroyes, led the patrol sweep at the outer reaches of the system.

When the chaos ships appeared it was clear that they were attempting to slip behind the Imperial battle line as it completed its sweep. Immediately Beatty ordered his escorts to lie in wait behind an asteroid field, while ordering the rest of the fleet to turn hard to port and sweep back round to intercept the chaos cruisers. The fleet manouevre went well. As the three chaos vessels approached, screened by three infidel class escorts, Tiger and Audacious heaved around in space, with Beatty planning to cut behind the chaos vessels and pummel them as they tried to escape. Further ahead Intrepid and Ajaz used the rogue planet's gravity well to turn rapidly, with Ajax racing ahead to reach Tiger's position and the tyrant class vessel turning even further, hoping to cut off the chaos fleet's escape route. Commodore Grant on Canopus meanwhile knew that he would be lucky to take part in the engagement. Even so he pushed his crew and ancient vessel to the limit, straining her engines as she came about then putting every once of energy into reaching the fight.

The chaos vessels continued their approach, with the carnage class Baldr closest to the Imperial fleet. As the infidels made a run at the Imperial vessels the first shots were fired at 18:10 local time, although Audacious' shields were up to the task of preventing damage to the vessel itself. Invincible then opened up as Audacious launched a wave of attack craft. Despite the awesome firepower being levelled at Baldr, the early engagement was characterised by poor accuracy from the invincible class, and the chaos vessels wethered the storm.

At 18:17 the Ajax, having raced to the scene, now accompanied by Canopus' escort corbas, unleashed her firepower on the Baldr, but accurate fire from the other two chaos vessels forced her to take evasive action. Once again Baldr's shields flared and minor damage to the superstructure was achieved, but the chaos warship escaped serious damage from Ajax's lance batteries. Meanwhile the infidels, despite facing Audacious' guns and her bomber waves, would not die easily, and the Imperial fleet was forced to divert significant firepower to finally destroy the escort threat, allowing the chaos cruisers even more time to flee the trap.

At 18:40, while Canopus still remained too far to open fire, Intrepid and the sword class escorts moved into a position to cut off the escape of Thok's new ships. However it became increasibly clear that the Intrepid would never get there in time, unless the chaos vessels could be slowed down. Repeated broadsides from Tiger straddled Baldr, slowing her, but salvo after salvo of torpedoes from the cobra escorts either failed to acquire their targets or simply exploded in plasma clouds created by the Baldr's shields overloading from the impact of Imperial ordnance.

By 18:50 Beatty was becoming frustrated. The Rheintochter and Hyrrokin, unmolested by fire as the Imperial ships concentrated on trying to destroy their consort, were unimpeded in their own fire. The firestorms took a storm of battery and lance fire, destroying three of five and forcing the escort squadron to take evasive action. Eventually the broadsides of Tiger and Audacious managed to score some success, with the Baldr taking heavy damage and slowing down, plasma and atmosphere venting from several large holes in her hull.

At 19:08 the chaos vessels had passed the Imperial fleet and Beatty's flagship, now finally joined by Canopus, were able to rake the stern of the chaos ships. By now, Intrepid had also joined in the fray, though the Imperial escorts had suffered more losses, with one sword wrecked and both cobras blown apart by Rheintochter and Hyyrokin (though the swords themselves had managed to pass between the two chaos cruisers at point blank range and somehow avoid annihilation). Baldr by this time was somehow still intact and moving, despite facing the combined fire of four Imperial capital ships. Her continued survival saw the chance for an Imperial victory slip away. Gradually the faster chaos ships extended the range, though at the last minute and at extreme range, a final salvo from Canopus exploded in Baldr's crippled hull, destroying her engines and hulking one of Thok's brand new ships.

By 19:30 admiral Beatty realised he could not catch the remaining two cruisers, who had by now reached the warp jump point. the Rheintochter and Hyrrokin had escaped the blockade and were now at large, able to join up with Thok's main battlefleet, somewhere in the Deeps.

Jellicoe was disappointed with the result. Beatty had outnumbered and outgunned the enemy fleet and yet only one of the three cruisers had been destroyed. The battle should have seen Thok's new vessels reduced to drifting debris, but the Imperial fleet, thanks largely to ineffective ordnance, poor shooting and effective evasive manouvring on the part of their adversaries, had missed a golden opportunity. Now Jellicoe feared that Thok, Shaidar Haran and Lord Traegan's vessels may all join forces and launch an assault on either Corticant or Caitlen Station. Either way he determined, the Imperial fleet would be ready.

Blockade Run

Imperial Fleet
Tiger - Invincible
Canopus - Vengeance
Intrepid - Dictator
Audacious - Tyrant
Ajax - Dauntless
Omega Sqn - Swords (1 destroyed)
2x Cobras (destoyed)
5 firestorms (3 destroyed)

Rheintochter - Acheron
Hyrrokin - Devastation
Baldr - Carnage (hulked)
Valkyries - 3x infidels (destroyed)

Thok: 490VPs (8)
Jellicoe (Beatty): 310VPs (2)

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