Saturday, April 29, 2023

Tau invade New Cerberex - Zadoc subsector

The T'au Empire had been patiently watching and waiting as the Imperium became more and more overstretched. With the Imperium sinking most of its resources into the Hecate Gap crusade and the grinding war of attrition on Mordecai, and what little strength was left busy fighting fires across an entire sector, the Zadoc subsector was left virtually undefended. Any re-enforcements would have to be withdrawn from other critical warzones. Plans to initiate a new expansion sphere were already well underway when Farseer Tarquil from Kel Sandros arrived to pledge his craftworld's full military and diplomatic assistance to such an endeavor provided the Tau would agree to avoid certain areas of nearby space the Aeldari had proscribed as off limits.

With the last Imperial fleet suddenly being withdrawn and dispatched to the Valitane sub-sector the T'au knew there would never have a better opportunity to attack. A fleet entered the New Cerberex system and took advantage of gaps in the Imperial sensor net to build up a considerable bridgehead in the unpopulated wilderness areas of the planet. The first Imperial forces knew of the Tau presence was when a vital power relay station came under orbital bombardment from a cloaked Tau battleship. Astra Militarum defenders began rushing to defend the station only to find Tau ground forces already there.

Commander Dawnstrike, living up to his moniker, attacked out of the morning mists with a sizeable force of armoured vehicles and battlesuits. His intention was to ensure the destruction of the hardened power substations which mostly lay buried beneath the surface. His mont'ka was perfectly executed and the lead Leman Russ tanks detonated as they were ambushed at point blank range by crisis teams and enfiladed by Hammerhead tanks.

Despite the initial success things soon started to go wrong for the Tau as Imperial resistance proved unexpectedly effective. The Librian regiments stationed at the plant, thought to be poor quality rear-echelon units, instead showed a high level of training and co-ordination despite the dire circumstances and re-enforcements began arriving from all directions. Soon it was the Tau that were surrounded and fighting for their lives.

Casualties began to mount and Dawnstrike himself was surrounded and pounded by small arms until he was forced to burn his thrusters and disengage by launching his coldstar battlesuit like a ballistic missile into the skies. After hours of fighting the battered remnants of the hunter cadre fell back and ceded the field to the Librians, but they had completed their task. The relay stations were smoking ruins and much of New Cerberex's defence infrastructure now lacked power.

As Dawnstrike floated in his convalescence tank he made a note to upgrade his assessment of the planet's defenders, but also noted that for all their competence the Librians had exhibited poor morale and seemed little inclined to die in the cause of an Imperium which treated them with hatred and suspicion following their worlds defection to the Federacy. Maybe words could achieve the Tau aims more cleanly than force?

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Battle of Primaris Run - Decisive Imperial Victory

Prelude to Battle
Admiral Stark was quick to attempt to capitalise on the success of defeat of the two chaos cruisers that had tried to disupt the convoy route, and sent his plans by astropathic message to Jellicoe back at Vastrid. The Lord Admiral sent back a response approving of Stark's next action, aware that if anything went wrong it would be Jellicoe, not his subordinate who would shoulder any blame directed at battlefleet Aleph. Many in battlefleet Ultima were still not impressed at the unexpected removal of the late Lord Admiral Bova Magnus, and the mysterious reappearance of the presumed dead Jellicoe, so he reasoned that Stark could be protected from the political machinations of the Imperial Navy, leaving his admirals to get on with the job of fighting the enemy.

Stark's hunch was that the enemy would not have sortied with only one or two cruisers, but that the appearance of chaos heavy ships attacking the convoy was aimed to provoke an imperial response, such as a cruiser force to protect the convoys, as he had discerned that the enemy's plan was likely to pick off portions of the imperial fleet piecemeal, until the numbers were less unfavourable to the forces of chaos. Stark however, planned a surprise for this fleet. The ships had been positively identified as those loyal to Tragean, or rather traitor admiral Khazia, and the imperial admiral knew that this likely meant the rest of his fleet would be loose in the system, but not, probably, those of the Emerald Serpent. It was a risk, but one Stark thought worth taking. He took his own battlegroup headed by the battleship Kirov, and headed in system, attempting to bring the faster chaos fleet to battle under favourable circumstances, if there was in fact any fleet at all.

What then followed for Stark on 1604.023M42, was a series of events that were part providence, and part tactical brilliance by the imperial admiral, not just because of his masterful knowledge of imperial tactics, but because he read his opponent correctly. His experienced crew then provided the final edge which put the chaos fleet at an appalling disadvantage before the first shot had even been fired. As soon as long range augur probes detected the enemy fleet, admiral Stark recognised the characteristic cross formation, indicating the chaos forces would try to envelop him. Quickly he ordered the imperial fleet to form into a protective sphere, but as the chaos fleet moved towards him, now obviously accepting battle, the admiral changed his plan again, outmanoeuvring admiral Khazia to end up enveloping the chaos fleet.

This, was risky. As the two fleets approached the imperial fleet detached Tannenberg and Tsushima, leaving them facing the chaos fleet with their powerful prow nova cannons, while the rest of his fleet now moved up the chaos left flank, putting Kirov and the rest of the imperial battlefleet prow on and ready to strike. This was a dangerous ploy, as if the chaos fleet detected the imperial vessels as they moved amongst the gas clouds and asteroid belts cluttering the space between Mordecai Primaris and Secundus, he would be facing the entire enemy fleet's broadsides before Stark could charge in with a torpedo strike. Now he had to hold his nerve and trust in the frontal armour of his ships.

The Battle
The opening salvoes of the battle of Primaris Run took place at 15:20 local system time, and it was the imperial fleet that fired first. The chaos fleet of admiral Khazia had finally become aware of the enemy's plans but were slow in powering up weapons systems, and before they had managed to come to full readiness, the imperial fleet was opening fire and had loosed their first wave of torpedoes. The battle of Primaris Run had started.

Imperial report excerpt follows:

15:24 - Torpedoes launched from Narva, Eagle, Viper squadron and Kirov towards van of enemy fleet. Narva and Eagle detached to move round enemy's rear, firing macro batteries and lances at enemy from their port quarter. Enemy fleet seen to take evasive manoeuvres. 
15:50 - Nova cannon fire from Tsushima, Izmail and Tannenberg is accurate. Decisive shot believed from Tsushima. Enemy grand cruiser Pestilent Miasma heavily damaged and seen breaking off action.
15:51 - Torpedo wave arrives at chaos fleet. Enemy hades class Doombringer seen on fire and crippled by mass torpedo salvoes.
15:53 - Chaos fleet returns fire but believed hampered by clouds of gas, radiation and debris from imperial fire. Various chaos vessels taking evasive action from torpedoes. Chaos fleet focusses flagship but return fire is poor and largely inaccurate due to our surprise strike. Kirov focussed but damage is not critical.
15:56 - Report all ships reloaded torpedoes. Eagle preparing to send bomber wave to chaos fleet. Flagship will be target.
15:59 - Enemy flagship Mutable Transfiguration focussed with torpedoes, bombers and weapons batteries from our van. Kirov recovering from damage. Chaos flagship confirmed heavily damaged as a result of our actions. Enemy heavy cruiser Doombringer out of control and on fire.
16:10 - Enemy flagship Mutable Transfiguration has lost shields and is trying to disengage.
16:12 - Confirm enemy flagship on fire and out of control. Suspect total power failure. Doombringer confirmed out of action and drifting.
16:14 - Tannenberg and Tsushima closing with enemy fleet from the port bow.
16:16 - Tannenberg rammed by enemy cruiser Unbridled Depravity, Captain of Tannenberg reporting minimal damage but under heavy fire from chaos fleet. Enemy wave of assault boats seen inbound on Tannenberg's position.
16:18 - Tannenberg reporting loss of all weapons to enemy assault boat attacks. Have given permission for disengagement. Rapturous Agony duelling with Eagle and Narva.
16:19 - Narva reports Rapturous Agony heavily damaged and disengaging. By the Emperor I think we may be in for a stunning victory.
16:20 - Tsushima reports accurate nova cannon shot. Devastation class cruiser Unbridled Depravity disengages from battle.
16:25 - Tannenberg reports successful disengagement from battle.
16:30 - Doomblade only chaos ship remaining hostile. Have regrouped fleet to give her full broadside. Viper squadron ordered to torpedo her.
16:41 - Viper squadron torpedo run successful. Enemy carnage vessel Doomblade suffers plasma drive overload. No damage to imperial vessels.
16:45 - Confirm no enemy hostile vessels remain. Receiving damage reports. We have secured tremendous success here today.

The final result of the battle of Primaris Run could not be described as anything other than a stunning imperial victory. For the price of light damage to the battleship Kirov, and the heavily damaged Tannenberg, admiral Stark had secured the loss of three enemy capital ships including a heavy cruiser and a battleship, as well as heavy damage to a grand cruiser and two more cruisers. The Imperium celebrated this success with sector wide broadcasts, and Lord Admiral Jellicoe publicly announced admiral Stark's promotion to High Admiral, along with the highest campaign medal he was able to bestow on his subordinate, the Star of Ultima.

The fate of Khazia the Schemer was less glorious, as, on his drifting and battered ship the Mutable Transfiguration, the millennia old worshipper of the dark gods found to his cost, the price of failure. His body writhing in agony as the chaos gods withdrew their patronage, mutations running wild, Khazia the Schemer became Khazia, the cursed, chaos spawn of Tzeentch.

In the Mordecai system the strategic value of this victory was immense and immediate. The crippled chaos ships not only fled, but Tragean withdrew his remaining vessels from the entire system, leaving only the Emerald Serpent now to oppose the imperial vessels and supply train. Even more significant, the diminishing threat from chaos raiders allowed Stark to send Admiral Hughes' powerful fleet, with many squadrons of fighters and bombers, to provide air support and bombardments to Kutuzov's army. For the first time, the Imperium now looked in a strong position to actually finish the campaign on Mordecai Secundus.

Order of Battle

Imperial Fleet (Admiral Stark)
Kirov - Retribution class battleship - light damage
Narva - Gothic class cruiser
Tsushima - Dominator class cruiser
Tannenberg - Dominator class cruiser - crippled
Izmail - Dominator class cruiser
Eagle - Dictator class cruiser (attached from admiral Dreyer)
3 Viper class escorts

Chaos Fleet (Khazkia the Schemer)
Mutable Transfiguration - Despoiler class battleship - hulked
Pestilent Miasma - Repulsive class grand cruiser - crippled
Doombringer - Hades class heavy cruiser - hulked
Doomblade - Carnage class cruiser - exploded
Rapturous Agony - Carnage class cruiser - crippled
Unbridled Depravity - Devastation class cruiser - crippled

Imperial convoys attacked at Mordecai

For many months the chaos fleet had been holed up in their base at Mordecai docks. The docks themselves were too powerful and too close to Astralis for the imperial fleets to challenge, but the fleet "in being" was making almost no contribution to the war in the Mordecai system. At the docks two fleets remained, those of the Emerald Serpent but also two battlegroups who pledged allegience to Lord Tragean, lord of Kendrenec. Tragean himself had grown tired of the war on Mordecai, and although his two fleets remained in situ in the system, he gave overall command to the fleets to the chaos lord Khazia the Schemer, while Tragean himself pursued his pursuit of power with the dark god Tzeentch, uninterested in the fate of Mordecai or that of the Emerald Serpent. Mad admiral Thok had also not been seen for many years, and Warsmith Stahl hadn't been seen since the debacle at Hexis, having apparently returned to the Enceladus subsector to brood, and imperial intelligence were now confident that the forces they had deployed in the system would be difficult to challenge.

The Imperium was not without its own difficulties, as Admiral Hector had been withdrawn from the sector, and Jellicoe had to ensure the entire remit of his domain was adequately protected, which given the reach of the extended campaigns was a serious challenge, but by 04.023M42 the admiral was reasonably confident that the Imperium had a three to two advantage in capital ships in the system, though the power of Astralis and the actual fleet numbers at the disposal of the Emerald Serpent was difficult to accurately assess. Jellicoe also had confidence in the overall command of the four battlegroups at Mordecai, which he gave to Admiral Stark. Stark was a bold and confident admiral, something Jellicoe admired, and the lord Admiral had good reason to be confident as his subordinate had regularly delivered decisive imperial victories.

Admiral Stark, with his flag aboard the Kirov, a mighty retribution class battleship, had three other battlegroups under his command, making four in total. His own personal command was reinforced by admiral Dreyer's and that of admiral Hughes, while his own protégé admiral Gorshkov commanded another force, which had now been tasked with escorting the vital convoys from the system's jump point to the warzone at Mordecai Secundus. Stark himlelf along with Dreyer, stood guard against any sortie by the chaos fleets from their anchorage, while admiral Hughes was assigned to patrol the outer reaches of the system and crucially the jump points into the system.

In mid 04.023M42 the change in chaos posture within the system became evident with multiple contacts being picked up by a convoy as it transferred men and materiel to the armies of Kutuzov. The cruisers Narva, a gothic class and the Eagle, a dictator class on loan from admiral Dreyer's fleet moved in swiftly to investigate while ordering the transports to form up into a single squadron for mutual defence. Soon attack waves of bombers appeared to harass the convoy, but these were easily dealt with. More worryingly, no sooner had the chaos attack craft been dealt with than the augurs detected what appeared to be two capital class chaos vessels.

The commodore aboard the Narva ordered battle stations, and soon engaged in a duel with a carnage class vessel that did not appear to be loyal to the Emerald Serpent. The Narva joined battle quickly, but not before the enemy vessel had taken down two of the eight transports. Then, a squadron of chaos escorts materialised in front of the Eagle, with yet another contact appearing off the dictator class's bow. The captain of the Eagle wasted no time for confirmation of the contacts and launched all bomber waves against the escorts, while issuing orders for a full broadside. Meanwhile, taking a risk, he ordered the torpedoing of the unknown contract off the bow, before setting all ahead full to deal with this new unidentified enemy.

The Eagle's bold move took the chaos escorts completely off guard, and they were quickly destroyed. Meanwhile the duel between the carnage class and the Narva reached a crescendo, with the chaos vessel concentrating on the transports the Narva was unmolested as it patiently took aim with its massive lance batteries. The Narva's accuracy was creditible, and although the chaos cruiser managed to take out a third transport, the enemy vessel was driven off, heavily damaged by Narva's guns and a torpedo strike. While the Narva duelled the carnage class, the Eagle now saw what the enemy contact was, as the hasty torpedo salvo detonated against the thick hull plating of a hades class heavy cruiser. Not expecting the sudden appearance of torpedoes while still apparently hidden from the imperial vessel, the hades barely made any move to avoid the torpedoes, and the damage was severe. With one salvo the eagle had crippled the enemy heavy cruiser, and to add insult to injury the captain of the imperial ship moved in, silencing the enemy ships guns and boarding the vessel. 

Having dealt with the two cruisers and escorts, the engagement then turned to mopping up. A few more attack waves were spotted and dealt with, and the remaining five transports, who themselves had acted creditably in the action using their limited gun batteries to aid the Narva, made it safely to Mordecai Secundus. As a bonus, the Eagle sent the now captured badly damaged hades class back to the imperial docks as a prize of war, while messaging admiral Stark. Stark immediately judged that this meant lord Tragean's subordinate, Khazia the Schemer, was probably at large in force, and sent Dreyer to Mordecai Tersius in case of a sneak attack, while he ordered Eagle and Narva to rendezvous with him near Mordecai Secundus, where a sudden strike by one chaos battlefleet would be the most damaging.

Orks eliminate Ferrosiun Prime Bridgehead

As 04.023M42 began, the decisive battles for the Hecate Gap worlds had still not taken place. The Tau prepared for the imperial assault on Ergura's Fall, while the Imperium continued to prepare to take on the Orks at Haven. In the meantime the war for the Rifts of Hecate worlds continued as Inquisitor Huron urged general Maximus to pursue an "all fronts" strategy and not to wait until success in the Hecate Gap.

This strategy suffered a setback in the Ferosiun system however in early 04.023M42, as the imperial bridgehead won by the astartes on Ferosiun Prime, came under unexpected attack from the greenskins as the imperial guard were deploying to take the offensive to the orks.

unexpected, because instead of their larger brethren, the greenskin attack was led by the diminutive "grots", who attacked in overwhelming numbers. Imperial intelligence had clearly underestimated the combat strength of this force as it became known to general Maximus that they had known about the grot horde, but merely considered it a non combat formation. This error would cost many imperial lives as well as the future prospects of the imperial intelligence cadre working for the crusade general.

Wave after wave of greenskins overwhelmed the imperial defensive lines, and each time their lines were cleared there were fewer defenders, and with the orbital landers unable to reinforce to make good these losses, it was only a matter of time before those imperial defenders left on Ferosiun Prime were overrun and the imperial bridgehead lost. Unwilling to reinforce failure and cost more lives, the imperial battlegroup retreated away from the inner planet, leaving it to the greenskins for now, and consigning any imperial prisoners to a short brutal life as a slave to the greenskin race.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Mordecai Secundus: Hammers of the Emperor Breakthrough

By late 03.023M42 the forces of chaos were decidedly on the back foot following victories by the Imperial Guard and the ever increasing supplies now reaching the system thanks to the protection of no fewer than four imperial battlegroups in the system. The power of Astralis maintained the chaos logistics but the inactivity or inability of the chaos warfleets to oppose the imperial fleets had ensured that as the armies of general Kutuzov expanded their control over the vital resources of Mordecai Secundus, the gap between the chaos forces reinforcements and those of the Imperium of Mankind continued to widen.

To capitalise on this Kutuzov asked his council of war for new plans for a breakthrough, and the Hammers of the Emperor, having fully recovered from their losses in previous actions offered to decisively break the chaos lines and drive deep into enemy territory, on two fronts simultaneously, in three carefully planned operations.

In the central sector the Hammers drove swiftly west, hoping to take the chaos forts of Parganath just north of the Sarkar Traps, and fort Mekken, guarding the high ground of the Mekken plateau. In the east, a smaller operation would drive the chaos forces out of the Abrax mines once and for all, and in both cases the Imperial Guard would follow up behind and dig into new defences.

The success of these operations would break the chaos forces in the central sector, while shoring up the east front. If the astartes achieved their objectives, the way would be open for a grand offensive over the Mekken plateau and down into the Jurukai mines, all but ensuring victory for the Imperium on Mordecai Secundus.

In all three operations the Hammers quickly overwhelmed the light forces holding the front lines, but were opposed rapidly by elite chaos knight formations that threatened to block the astartes advance and undo the whole operation. At fort Parganath, the astartes faced two blocks of enemy war machines, but were able to utilise their speed and mobility to focus down one flank, then turn their attention to the other. Fort Parganath fell in hours and the Imperial Guard began moving up behind.

On the east front, the marines were also successful, although the battle was far less one sided. The knights took a terrible toll on the marines but were forced to withdraw having lost all but one of their mighty war engines. The sacrifice of many marines was worth it however, as the Abrax mines were retaken and the east front shored up.

Fort Mekken was a different story however. Once again the chaos knights deployed in two supporting echelons, but this time the Hammers were unable to separate them as they supported one another. The fighting bogged down into violent close range melee, and the marines found themselves now surrounded and in desperate straits. The Guard, realising the fort would not fall dug in where they were, in case of a breakthrough, though the Hammers and chaos logistics prevented this from happening. A company of astartes was all but wiped out however, and fort Mekken stayed in chaos hands, stubbornly holding out and preventing any massive imperial breakthrough.

Despite the setback at Mekken, the Imperium had made good, if not spectacular progress, and while the chaos central sector hadn't completely collapsed, fort Mekken was now the last bastion of chaos force preventing the Imperium from driving west in strength.