Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tarsis Major: Imperium begin evacuation

For months the Tarsis campaign, starved of support and reinforcements had ground down the Imperial and Tau forces with little or no gains on either side. The Tau, commanding most of the world's strategic assets, were prepared to wait the Imperium out, and the deployment of a large fleet in the system ensured that only a full scale invasion force would tip the balance of power in favour of the humans, and that seemed unlikely given the events on Betor and in the Perseus Deeps. Eventually the Imperial forces would run out of supplies and ammunition and the remaining pockets of Tarsis loyal to the human God-Emperor would succumb, sooner or later. Even General Cunningham knew this fact, at least in private.

Lord General Roover was not entirely blind to this fact, and in late 02.011M42 he and his advisors hatched a plan to "better use" the forces deployed on Tarsis. The reconquest of the world was now seen as secondary to the successful prosecution of the Perseus Deeps. Once the Chaos, Necron and Tau strongholds in the Deeps had been overcome, Tarsis, isolated, would fall.

To accomplish this Admiral Beattie was first despatched with a significant portion of the Battlefleet Aleph, with the mission to extract forces, equipment and an important secret individual from the orbital docks of the system, situated close to the Tarsis sun itself in the dangerous flare zone and still loyal to the Imperium. This would be the first in a series of steps to extract cunningham and his forces from the Tarsis system.

Beattie's fleet included the fast battleship Tiger, the old grand cruiser Canopus, as well as four other ships of the line and a squadron of swords. Beattie arrived at Tarsis and managed to approach the flare zone almost without detection, but as soon as his flotilla passed the orbit of Tarsis Major itself, the Tau battlefleet reacted, quickly realising the Imperial destination. Two Custodians and several protector class cruisers begam travelling at full speed on a converging course with the Imperial fleet towards the orbital docks.

The two fleets gradually approached each other as they neared the docks, passing a number of asteroid belts and stellar fragments as they battled fierce solar winds and radiation bursts. Manouvering in this environment was difficult, as was passing orders between ships, due to fierce interference caused by the roiling magnetic fields and plasma thrown out by the turbulent stellar atmosphere.

Beattie formed his fleet with the Canopus set behind the dominator class Repulse and the carrier Repulse, while keeping the two lunar class vessels behind as a strike force. Meanwhile, seeing the Tau fleet apparently racing for the orbital docks, Beattie ordered full speed on his flagship, Tiger racing away from the rest of his force intent on reaching the orbital docks first. As Tiger passed another asteroid field a critical moment had come. The Tau realised that now the fast battleship would be unable to support the rest of his fleet in battle. The Tau abandonned their race to the orbital docks and turned their fleet en masse towards Beatties main battlefleet.

The Tau vessels swung round in space to face the Imperial fleet, holding off launching their considerable ordnance until they were sure of a decisive strike. Canopus and a wave of bombers from Intrepid quickly crippled one protector, but shooting from the Repulse was poor and her nova cannon barely found its mark.

Beattie's fleet, adrift of their flagship, fought well, throwing in Agincourt and Conquerer with a torpedo run followed by full broadsides, but with the carrier Intrepid crippled and disengaging early on, the Imperial vessels suffered badly as wave after wave of Mantas and torpedoes from the Tau ships battered them from all quarters. Soon repulse was hulked along with the Lunar class cruiser Agincourt.

Canopus also took heavy damage and fled, her portside batteries a flaming ruin.
The Tau suffered too, with one Custodian and two protectors badly damaged, and one Emissary class cruiser blown to pieces by long range gunnery from Tiger, now in orbit around the orbital docks. The rest of the Imperial fleet disengaged leaving the relatively lightly damaged Conquerer to rendevous with Beattie's flagship, which by now had successfully extracted the troops, equipment and important personnel from the Imperial docks. As the Invincible class battleship powered up her engines and began to race for the system's jump point and escape, the remaining Tau protectors began to swing slowly round in space to give chase.

They almost succeeded, torpedoes and long range gunnery causing significant damage to the lightly armoured fast battleship, but Tiger and Conquerer were just able to keep ahead of the remaining Tau vessels who gave up the chase when they realised they could not match the speed of the Imperial ships over long distances. Beattie met up with the remaining battered Imperial vessels and limped away from Tarsis Major. The mission had been accomplished but at a terrible cost. Two cruisers reduced to drifting hulks in a system still controlled by the Tau.

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