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- "Herein follows an examination of the most lamentable Siege of Vraks, bastion and Armoury World of his most Divine Emperor, of the plans of those treacherous and heretical rebels that led to its downfall and the glorious sacrifice of the Emperor's Imperial Guard among the grim and hardy regiments of Krieg, and those misguided Mortals who have unwittingly venerated the Powers of Chaos, at a terrible cost in blood, but worst still - to the eternal damnation of their own souls."
- — Inquisition report on the Siege of Vraks
The Siege of Vraks was an Imperial miltary campaign fought over the course of 17 standard years to retake the Imperial Armoury World of Vraks Prime from the heretical Forces of Chaos led by the Apostate Cardinal-Astra Xaphan. Vraks was besieged by the forces of the Imperium of Man in 813.M41, after the attempted assassination by an agent of the Officio Assassinorum of the heretical and traitorous Cardinal-Astra of the Scarus Sector, Xaphan, failed. The Imperial Guard's 88th Siege Army was raised from line regiments of the Death Korps of Krieg to undertake the siege of Vraks and bring the renegade cardinal down in a campaign of attrition that the Administratum's Adepts calculated would take 12 standard years to successfully conclude. Overall command of the army and the Vraksian Campaign was given by the Imperial Guard's Segmentum Obscurus Command to Lord General Zuehlke, the son of a well-connected Imperial noble family from Segmentum Solar, who maintained his campaign headquarters on Thracian Primaris. The Zuehlke family's influence stretched across the higher echelons of the Imperial Navy and the Imperial Guard. His great-grandfather had once served as an attache to the Lord Commander Solar on Terra. Lord Zuehlke's qualifications for leading the campaign, apart from his social rank, were few beyond his martial upbringing and a detailed study of the Tactica Imperialis, but political pressure and a good family name yielded its rewards. At the conclusion of what became a 17-year-long campaign of attrition requiring 34 regiments of the Imperial Guard to re-take the planet for the Emperor of Mankind in 830.M41, 14 million Imperial Guardsmen had been lost and Vraks Prime's entire original population of 8 million souls had been consumed in the violence or exterminated after they fell to Chaos corruption. The world was then declared dead and "Perdita" by the Imperium and placed under an interdiction to cordon it off from the rest of human space as ordered by the Ordo Malleus' Inquisitor Lord Hector Rex.
- "When the maelstrom descends, Vraks shall overflow with blood and skulls, and even the dead shall find no peace. Millions shall be sacrificed in their names, and the true Gods will rejoice...I have seen it, for I am the messiah of the coming apocalypse."
- — Xaphan, Apostate Cardinal-Astral of Scarus, Arch-Heretic and the Despot of Vraks
After the previous Cardinal-Astra Borja of the Scarus Sector in Segmentum Obscurus died in 366804.M41 following 400 standard years of life greatly extended by the ministrations of the Adeptus Mechanicus' Magos Biologis, his successor, Cardinal-Astra Scarus Xaphan, took his place as the Cardinal of the Scarus Sector. Over the course of 5 years, Xaphan undertook a pilgrimage across the Scarus Sector, his new domain. Along with the Cardinal, he traveled with a full entourage of a thousand preachers, deacons, chatelaines, servants and menials, along with a personal bodyguard of the Adeptus Sororitas. These warriors were a gift from the Abess of the Artorus Priory of the Order of the Argent Shroud, to celebrate Xaphan's enthronement. If was a dangerous galaxy beyond the fringes of the Artorus System, and a Cardinal must be ready to protect himself and his flock with force as well as with faith.
Xaphan conducted his grand tour of his new diocese, for he wished to see the places he must now rule, and he wished to bring a spiritual revival to the people. Where he and his entourage passed, he amassed ever more followers in a series of religious uprisings. Criminal governments and oppressive tyrannies were shattered with each world he traveled to. From world to world his small entourage grew into a small army. The Cardinal's arrival had been like a spark that ignited the fires of faith across the Scarus Sector. Some extremists were even calling him a messiah. Amongst all this fanatical devotion Cardinal Xaphan saw, perhaps for the first time, the true power that came with his esteemed rank. Out in the frontiers of space, he felt that he could take real action against the doubters and heretics that threatened the Emperor's divine rule.
Xaphan voiced his opinions to his advisors, in particular Deacon Mamon, a young man (and secret devotee of Chaos), who had recently joined the Cardinal's advisors on Thracian Primaris. Favoured by the Cardinal as a practical man of action, and for his local knowledge, the Deacon encouraged the Cardinal into believing himself to be a sacred champion of the Emperor of Mankind, who would single-handedly reignite the faith of the people of the Imperium and lead them to new heights of righteousness. Mamon continued to whisper in Xaphan's ear, twisting and poisoning the Cardinal's mind, convincing him that there were those who opposed him and his thousands loyal followers. These naysayers were weak-willed fools who lacked the Cardinal's clarity of vision and his holy purpose. With Mamon whispering in his ear, it seemed that Xaphan could not trust anybody. The Cardinal gathered about him an inner circle of trusted advisors -- reliable men who could be vetted and kept under surveillance in return, to safeguard their loyalty. The Cardinal tread softly, for is his desired war of faith was ever to come into being, he needed a safe, secluded planet on which to prepare and plan.
After years of pilgrimage, during which he was increasingly received as a living saint by the people of his sector, Xaphan went into seclusion on the Imperial Armoury World of Vraks in 809.M41, also the site of a popular Imperial Cult shrine of Saint Leonis the Blind, an Ecclesiarchy missionary who had been martyred in the 38th Millennium after having his eyes removed while spreading the word of the Imperial Creed across the less civilised worlds of the Scarus Sector. A shrine had been built to contain the saint's remains and relics, as well as a palace for the Cardinal-Astra of Scarus should he ever choose to make a pilgrimage to the shrine. Here, Xaphan chose his battlefield. As the Cardinal had come to hold, through Deacon Mamon's careful encouragement, that corruption was eating away at the Imperium, he now saw himself as a messianic figure destined to ignite a holy war and give the faithful a chance to purge the galaxy of darkness.
Though the Cardinal could not command any forces himself, in times of peril the Basilica of St. Leonis the Blind could raise a substantial Frateris Militia to protect itself. So, the Deacon's preachers and missionaries moved amongst the pilgrims and labour gangs preaching sermons that forecast that Vraks was under threat. The mood on Vraks soon became one of religious zealotry. Simultaneously, Deacon Mamon was also busy establishing an inner circle around the Cardinal of fanatically loyal followers drawn from the many frateris who had sworn oaths of loyalty during his pilgrimage, or from the pilgrims already on Vraks. Mamon instructed the Cardinal's preachers to recruit what he called, the "Disciples of Xaphan." Also into the inner circle were enticed the commanders of the Vraks' garrison, the Stewart of the Citadel and the high-ranking commanders of the Vraks' militia. The loyalty of such powerful men were deemed vital by the Deacon. The Cardinal soon had almost all of Vraks' military forces under his control. Only the Adeptus Arbites remained outside his influence.
The Assassination of Xaphan
The Cardinal's gospel to the repressed and hopeless of Vraks' labour gangs spread like wildfire, igniting the flames of rebellion. The message of redemption in the inevitable holy crusade gave them the hope of an escape from their brutal and short lives. But the Cardinal's message also reached other ears. There were many informers and spies for the Inquisition on Vraks. The news of the Cardinal's preachings alarmed the Ordo Hereticus. Theirs was the sacred duty to guard against heresy within the Imperial Cult, to monitor and police the Imperium against the enemy of corruption within. The Ordo Hereticus had seen it before -- Cardinals whose personal power led them to stray from the Emperor's light -- power men that began to believe that they themselves could be worshipped like the Emperor. Decisive action had to be taken. Believing the Cardinal to be amassing far too much popularity and power, an agent of the Officio Assassinorum was sent by the Ordo Hereticus to assassinate Xaphan during one of his sermons. An assassin of the Vindicare Temple had been lying in wait for many days. But when the time came, and the opportunity to kill the Cardinal was right, the sniper-assassin's shot failed to end Xaphan's short reign. The Cardinal was only saved from the deadly round by his Rosarius-mounted refractor field.
After the failed attempt on his life by this operative, the Armoury World of Vraks erupted in full-scale rebellion against the Imperium. It wasn't long until the Citadel and the industry of the armoury world were under Xaphan's control. By seceding Vraks from the Imperium, Imperial forces in the sector and, in some cases, the entire Segmentum, would be left without adequate resupply of arms and armour. By breaking the Imperial supply chain of which Vraks was a part, forces as far removed and important as the Cadian Imperial Guard Regiments guarding the Eye of Terror would be sparsely armed, allowing a potentially major Chaos incursion to occur in or around the Cadian Gate. The Administratum deemed that Vraks must be returned to the Imperium's fold. By the time word reached the Imperium of the rebellion on Vraks, it was already too late. Millions of Traitors and heretics were now dug into meticulously planned, constructed, and reinforced defences, with massive orbital lasers protecting the world's Citadel from orbital bombardment and assault. It fell on the Imperial Guardsmen of the Death Korps of Krieg, united under the umbrella of the Imperium's 88th Siege Army to dislodge the traitorous forces of Cardinal Xaphan in what would become a grinding war of attrition that would consume millions of lives across 17 standard years of battle.
- "The Scarus Sector is a tinderbox - one spark may soon become a great conflagration. I shall light the fires."
- — Xaphan, Cardinal-Astra Scarus
The Imperium's preparations for the Siege of Vraks were simple: how many men had to die before the world could be retaken? The Imperial forces had to overwhelm the Apostate Cardinal's defence lines, destroy his planetary defence batteries and then eventually storm and capture the Vraksian Citadel and starport, all operations where losses could be reduced to a simple mathematical formula. Everything in the 88th Siege Army was to be an expendable resource. The campaign for Vraks would be the most impersonal kind of warfare. Within the Death Korps of Krieg Regiments that would make up the totality of the 88th Siege Army, the men were not named, just numbered, so that they could be quickly tallied-up and counted off lists, whether for supplies or burial. The regiments would be ordered into combat already essentially knowing how many of their number were expected to die to secure their objectives. The lives of the Krieg Guardsmen were no more important than the daily fuel consumption rates of their vehicles or the expenditure of artillery shells. They were also expected to win the campaign in exactly 12 standard Terran years.
On Vraks Prime after the Cardinal's seizure of the world, the sudden uprising and the Apostate Cardinal's victory had escalated into an unexpected surge of mob violence. For several months the heretics fought amongst themselves to establish a new power structure centred on the Cardinal. New leaders emerged from the Vraksian Planetary Defence Force garrison and the Departmento Munitorum penal labour corps. Those who proved their loyalty to the Cardinal's new regime were rewarded with positions of power over their fellows. The very best of these men were inducted into the ranks of the elite Disciples of Xaphan, the heart of his new Chaos Cult, or given roles as Enforcers--essentially the Apostate Cardinal's cadre of brutal strongmen who served as officers and oversaw the rank and file, enforcing obedience and discipline through any means necessary, and the more brutal the better. After the rioting and bloodshed had ended, the Cardinal's commanders set about their first task--to defend Vraks from the Imperium's expected assault. They had to prepare their men and train an army. They had vast quantities of Imperial Guard supplies to plunder. Their army would be well-equipped and occupy very strong defensive positions, but they still had to be prepared for whatever the Imperium's armed forces would throw at them.
The Cardinal issued instructions that Vraks Prime should be turned into a slaughterhouse and that no defender could expect any mercy from the Imperium, so they must fight or face execution by the enemy. Only by defeating the Imperial enemy could any man on Vraks expect to survive. For those that fought well there would be great rewards. For those that failed in their duty to the Apostate Cardinal, there would be summary execution at the hands of Xaphan's corps of Enforcers. After the uprising the Traitors' newly won freedom was short-lived. The labourers of the Departmento Munitorum were soon put back to work for their new master, improving the Citadel's defence lines, moving minefields or laying new ones and rolling out miles of razorwire. Artillery crews practiced ranging shots while the Vraksian Traitor Militia, whether willing combatants or forced into service, were trained with their newly looted weapons, mostly standard-issue Imperial Guard Autoguns. The Apostate Cardinal's Traitor army was well-prepared. When it came, the battle would be hard fought and very bloody.
Vraks Traitor Forces
The Vraksian Traitor Militia was a formidable force, primarily due to its sheer size. Although no exact figures remain available, it was believed that the population of Vraks Prime was some 8,000,000 people and all of them now had to be considered Traitors and manpower for the Apostate Cardinal's army. Quality varied greatly in the militia, from well-trained and well-equipped troops who possessed fanatical morale to an undisciplined mob of half-trained conscripts. The best Vraksian troops were the Disciples of Xaphan. This elite cadre of troops were the Cardinal's own men, hand-picked by his Ecclesiarchical representatives for their loyalty to him. Many had prior military experience. All had sworn oaths of service to the Cardinal himself and in return they had the pick of Vraks Prime's plunder. The Imperium had no idea how many Disciples Xaphan had, but they would form the disciplined core of his Traitor Militia.
After the Disciples of Xaphan in quality, there was the original Vraksian planetary garrison's auxilia. Due to its strategic importance, Vraks Prime had been guarded by a large force of garrison auxilia. These troops were equivalent in quality to a well-trained Planetary Defence Force (PDF), the Imperium's standard reserve forces for the Imperial Guard Regiments. These auxilia did not have the training or equipment of regular Imperial Guardsmen, but access to the Departmento Munitorum stores on Vraks rectified any equipment deficiencies and provided vast numbers of heavy vehicles such as Leman Russ main battle tanks, Chimeras and Basilisks. The auxilia's fighting strength had been built around a backbone of veteran Imperial Guardsmen and officers drawn from disbanded regiments. Though now well-equipped, the Imperium believed it unlikely the garrison forces could do more than man a static defensive line.
The Traitor Militia's next group of troops were drawn from the Vraksian labour corps. The Departmento Munitorum maintained a labour corps on Vraks Prime that was large and included many Ogryns. The labour corps was made up of indentured workers who did routine labour like constructing and repairing roads, pouring the ferrocrete for new bunkers, digging out new underground storehouses and transporting goods and equipment to and from the planet's only starport. Most were downtrodden souls with little left to hope for in life other than endless toil and sweat. As such, many had willingly joined the Apostate Cardinal's rebellion and saw fighting for him as a way to escape their miserable lives. A general dislike for the Departmento's then-Master-Prefect on Vraks had also spurred on their support for the rebellion. Many of the labourers had already received some basic military training as the labour corps had also supplied power for the Vraksian militia. Although only poorly trained, Vraks' militia was a truly massive force. One in four labourers either volunteered or were conscripted into the militia. Lacking any sort of heavy weapons, artillery or vehicles, they were a third line force, but their lack of equipment could be easily rectified and once armed from the stores, with some additional training, they would be capable enough of joining with the auxilia to hold static defensive positions.
The fourth source of manpower for the Vraksian Traitor Militia were the itinerant pilgrims and the Departmento Munitorum's own workforce of administrators and bureaucrats. These were men with no military experience, but once armed they could hold a defensive position. Whilst many of the pilgrims on Vraks saw the Cardinal as their messiah, most had no idea who or even why they were fighting. Many volunteered for the Vraksian Frateris Militia raised by the Cardinal in the belief that they would be defending the holy Shrine of Saint Leonis the Blind against heretical forces. They had been told that the enemy were the true heretical renegades and that they must join the Vraksian Militia or see the holy place defiled. These troops were given the lowest priority in weapons and equipment drawn from the Vraksian stores.
To back up these Traitor forces, Xaphan had his own men, former Ecclesiarchy agents and preachers who moved through the ranks preaching the Apostate Cardinal's heretical religious gospel and reinforcing the militia's loyalty. Individuals from the PDF garrison auxilia, many former Imperial Guard sergeants, had been promoted to become the Vraksian Militia's Enforcers. These were the men who would enforce discipline and loyalty much like the Imperial Guard's own Commissars. In combat the Enforcers would stay behind the front lines and shoot any man who fled his post. Added to the Traitors ranks were the dangerously insane and psychopathic, as well as those individuals who had shown signs of developing psychic abilities. Unprotected psykers were always easy prey for Warp entities and there were several hundred such men and women in Vraks Prime's deepest underground dungeons waiting for transportation to Terra on the next Black Ship to arrive. The Cardinal believed these rogue psykers to be his own children, and claimed that they relayed messages to him from the Ruinous Powers.
The forces of the Imperium required to assault these formidable defences would be the Imperial Guard Regiments raised from the world of Krieg: the infamous Death Korps. These were the best Imperial Guard Regiments available to the Imperium. The men of Krieg were loyal, dutiful and extremely disciplined. They would fight with an almost inhuman disregard for the cost in casualties, seeing death in battle as the ultimate goal of their lives, to sacrifice themselves for the God-Emperor. The 88th Siege Army would be equipped depending on each regiment's designation. Most of the regiments would be siege regiments, equipped for a long war against static positions, with a special emphasis on artillery. Artillery was the heart of the plan for laying siege to Vraks Prime, and it would be a gunner's war. Large concentrations of heavy artillery would be needed to blast the enemy from their defensive lines, allowing infantry attacks to sweep forward in their wake. Each regiment would have its own artillery companies, with weaponry ranging from small mortars to the medium artillery of heavy mortars and quad-launchers. There would also be heavy artillery in the form of Medusa siege guns and Earthshaker Cannons, the work-horse of the 88th Siege Army, as well as the heaviest Imperial artillery in use, the deadly Bombards. To augment each regiment's own artillery company, independent artillery regiments would be attached to the army. Other regiments would be equipped as mobile armoured regiments, but for a siege campaign the armoured regiments would be used as breakthrough and gap exploitation forces and would not expect to man the lines as the infantry and artillery regiments would. The tanks would be used to support the infantry's attacks and there would be no mass tank battles since the Imperial forces intended to deny the heretics the chance to engage in armoured warfare. Still, Imperial Guard Leman Russes, Baneblades and Gorgons would all play their part in the siege.
For the men of Krieg, Vraks would prove to be an alien environment. All of them had been raised in the underground hive cities of Krieg, where they became used to the constant overcrowding and recycled air. They had trained for battle on their world's blasted surface, amidst the frigid cold and radioactive hot spots of a perpetual nuclear winter amidst a landscape of ruined buildings and the hideous metallic mass of trench and razor wire left from the planetary civil war that had devastated their world centuries before. While many of the Death Korps regiments were well-established, they had been brought up to strength with many new recruits who had never seen combat before they set foot on Vraks Prime. Vraks was a barren world, covered in a choking layer of volcanic dust, with little vegetation. Its climate was warmer than that of frigid Krieg, but violent electrical storms were a daily problem, as were the sudden downpours that accompanied them. These storms turned the ground into a churning sea of sticky grey mud as the water drained away into Vraks Prime's dusty surface. The battlefield encompassed the whole of the planet's Van Meersland Wastes, 5,000 square kilometres of dusty, rocky plains with the occasional outcropping of volcanic rock. The defenders knew this terrain well, but the forces of the Emperor would have to learn the nature of the battlefield as the siege progressed.
The Fortress of Vraks, also called the Citadel, housed the headquarters of the Vraksian Planetary Defence Forces, the Master of the Administratum's offices, the great Basilica of Saint Leonis the Blind, the Cardinal's Palace and the Citadel's own garrison barracks. By the time the Imperial siege of the world began, 3 defensive lines had been constructed to the north, west and south of the Citadel by the rebel forces, with the rest of the area to the south and east defended by gorges and canyons, rendering it unsuitable for a massed attack. At the time of the uprising, work had not been completed on the outer defensive lines, providing the Death Korps' forces a target for the first strike against the heretics' fortress when they arrived on the world in 812.M41.
The Killing Fields of Vraks
- "Our creed is this. We are ready, at any moment, to sacrifice all for victory."
- — Colonel Cseke, 15th Krieg Siege Regiment
Vraks Landings (7908812.M41)
In 812.M41, 200,000 guardsmen of the Krieg 143rd Siege Regiment marched, up the boarding ramps and into the holds of their transport vessels. They were the first men of the 88th Siege Army to begin their journey to Vraks Prime. They were just the beginning of a vast armada of vessels in orbit above Krieg now prepared to load and rendezvous for the journey to Vraks. Lord Commander Zuehlke established his headquarters on Thracian Primaris, a principal planet of the Scarus Sector. Now that the unstoppable Imperial war machine was in motion, his personal presence on Vraks itself was not required. He would oversee the campaign from a comfortable distance. Assuming victory was already assured, all he needed to oversee was the replacement of men and supplies.
The first convoy of tansport ships carrying men, equipment and supplies from Krieg began to arrive in the Vraks System at 1999812.M41. Carried in 21 transport vessels of various size was the vanguard 88th Siege Army, protected by a flotilla of Imperial Navy escort ships under the command of Admiral Rasiak from his flagship, the cruiser Lord Bellerophon. The landing zones had been chosen to provide the 88th Siege Army with a secure bridgehead on the surface. The first regiment to land was the 143rd, which provided vital protection against enemy attacks.
For months the landing zones were busy, as shuttles constantly shuttled supplies which were stockpiled in vast quantities of food, ammunition, water and every item the army would require for its 12 year war. This massive undertaking continued until all of the 88th Siege Army's regiments had arrived. It took almost a year for the army to be fully in place. The Krieg offensive lines were dug in 1,000 miles away from the Citadel, making use of Earthshaker and Bombard artillery batteries. A Departmento Munitorum labour corps of 500,000 men was brought in from the Imperial penal colonies of Arphista to lay railway lines across the barren wilderness to support the siege so that men, mounts and vehicles could reach the enemy in good condition to wage war against the heretic forces of Cardinal Xaphan.
The Campaign Plan
The 88th Siege Army's plan of attack to reduce Vrak's defences, and the eventual recapture of the Citadel, involved repeated offenses on two fronts. Rather than massing for one attack at a single point, and allowing the enemy to amass his forces to block it, the line korps would attempt to encircle Vraks and apply pressure all along the line. The approach to the Citadel was dictated by terrain. The area criss-crossed by Vraks' distinctive gorges and canyons were located to the south and east, unsuitable for any attack and creating an impassable barrier to an advancing army on foot. The attack instead, had to come from the west and north, where the vast majority of the defence lines were situated. The 1st and 30th line korps would form the northern part of the attack, whilst the 12th and 34th line korps formed the southern part, occupying an area from the Saritama Abyss to sector 45-45. These two korps' orders were to breakthrough the western outer defence line.
The orders for the 1st line korps was to attack the northern defence line, having circumnavigated the western defence lines. This might even make it possible for them to push further eastwards and avoid the northern defence line, which had never been completed, and attack directly south from sector 57-53 into the second defence line. Coordinating their attacks precisely would enable the Krieg regiments to drive deep into enemy territory with the support of flanking regiments. With the outer defence lines overrun, the encirclement could begin properly. Approaching the second defence lines the army's overall frontage would shrink, thus making all of its regiments less vulnerable to enemy counter-offensives. This meant that the first defence lines had to be overwhelmed quickly, at any cost.
Once regimental commanders reached the second defence lines they could take a more cautious approach to probe for weaknesses before committing any major attacks. Once the second line of defence was breached, the ring around Vraks' citadel could constrict and close in again to the inner defence line, entirely encircling the Citadel and for the first time bring it under long range artillery fire. This would send a clear message to the defenders that all was lost. Once in position the 88th Siege Army could then afford to sit and wait; their enemies pinned in, with no hope, no respite or a safe place to hide from Krieg's big guns, which would pound the enemy into so much dust.
The Beginning (166813.M41)
Official Imperial records show that the official time recorded from the beginning of the Siege of Vraks was at dawn, on 166813.M41, when Krieg's artillery opened up with a devastating barrage of Earthshaker round and the terrible howl of Bombard shells. The shells blew great craters in the soft earth. All morning the bombardment went on, hammering the outer defence lines, explosion after explosion, until the gun barrels of the 88th Siege Army began to glow red with the constant heat of firing.
Meanwhile, behind the outer defence lines' forward positions, the defenders' gunners responded in kind with counter-battery fire from their Basilisk artillery pieces. The artillery duel had begun. Far away in the Krieg gun lines the scream of incoming shells couldn't be heard over the sound of their own guns. The first enemy shells landed well short, then wide, then growing ominously closer. At the 413th battery, an enemy shell scored a direct hit, smashing an Earthshaker Cannon to pieces, detonating the ammunition stockpiled close-by and killing all 8 members of the gun's crew in the ensuing inferno. Though it was a lucky hit at extreme range, it signalled that the artillery duel would not be a one-sided battle that Imperial strategicians thought it would be.
As the artillery duel was getting underway, the gas-masked soldiers of the 158th regiment advanced at an even pace, moving steadily forwards as artillery shells tore through the skies overhead. The infantry was limited to a steady advance towards the enemy, then a halt with enough time to begin the work of digging the first trenches. The Death Korps guardsmen were not to attack the enemy positions yet, the artillery needed far longer to soften-up their lines, but the heavy shelling was acting as a covering bombardment, preventing the enemy from engaging the advancing infantry at long range and harassing the enemy's own artillery positions. By nightfall the first foxholes were dug.
The next day each foxhole was extended, via a narrow trench to connect with the next foxhole, thus establishing a single basic trench for each squad. This could then be connected into a platoon trench, and then they too would be linked into a company trench, which could then in turn be linked into other company trenches. Over the course of days, the trench lines would start to spread. These first hand-dug trenches were steadily improved, becoming the basis of a more permanent frontline position. Under the cover of darkness, razorwire teams stretched coils of wire in front of the trench to prevent enemy patrols or raiding parties gaining easy access. Heavy weapons teams were then sited and dug in. This methodically planned and efficient way of conducting war was the way the Death Korps regiments had trained to do it back on Krieg.
Despite the Death Korps methodical digging, the enemy did not attack. Pinned under the daily bombardment the enemy clung to his bunkers and defence lines, offering little fight except the occasional sniper shots and harassing mortar fire. While the Death Korps were digging-in and reinforcing their trenches, Cardinal Xaphan's renegade army was occupying the prepared positions opposite, parallel to the Imperial earth-works, staring across the vacuum of no-man's land, which neither side ventured into. The defence lines were formidable, the enemy burrowing deep underground to protect themselves from artillery. All of their positions were protected by miles of tank traps and razorwire, as well as anti-tank ditches and minefields. The enemy had also laid millions of mines. In places the defensive positions were combined into strongpoints, resistance nests that were strong enough to withstand the heaviest shells. These nests provided the defenders with interlocking fields of fire. Breaking each defence line would be a major undertaking, and any advance would have to be bought at a high price in casualties. To complicate matters, the three main defence lines surrounding the Citadel became gradually denser and harder to crack the closer the enemy came.
First Assault on the Outer Defences (212813.M41)
The 149th regiment was chosen to make the first assault in sector 46-39, for intelligence reports indicated that the defence line might be cracked here. On the 149th regiment's immediate left and right flanks the 143rd and 150th regiments would provide strong supporting attacks, pinning down enemy units and drawing enemy reserves into their sectors and away from the main effort. Behind the 149th regiment, units of the 11th Assault Korps were brought up and made ready. Should the first attack breach the enemy position, then the assault korps' tanks could drive through and thrust deep into the defence zone.
Over the course of two days, 500,000 infantry attacked in waves. The first wave was not expected to make much progress, but was to attack with strong infantry probes to find weak spots in the enemy lines. The second wave, led by Death Korps Grenadier units were to hit the weak spots hard, gaining a foothold in the defences lines and hold them until day two, when the third wave, would move through them and expand the breach. Once this was completed, the 61st Tank regiment would be released from reserve to smash through the hold. All this would follow days of heavy bombardment in 46-39 and its adjoining sectors.
As the Death Korps prepared for the assault, they brought forward large numbers of guns from the bombardment korps and more men in the infantry companies, all the time under harassing enemy mortar and artillery fire. When the guardsmen went over the top of their trenches, the infantry's own mortars would provide plunging fire into the enemy positions. Behind them, in the second line of trenches would be heavy mortars and quad launchers, targeting identified enemy heavy weapons positions. Still further back would be Medusa Siege Tanks, targeting enemy bunkers and pillboxes. Further behind even these would be the Earthshakers, providing a dense rolling barrage that would precede the infantry companies to pin the enemy infantry in their shelters. These guns would then switch to counter-battery fire against suspected or detected enemy artillery positions. Finally, there were the Bombards. These monstrous guns would be adding their considerable weight to the rolling barrage, then switch to hit enemy strong points deeper in the defence zone. Over 4 million artillery shells had been stockpiled to support the offensive, it would be the heaviest barrage of the war yet, concentrated across three sectors.
The guns of the 21st bombardment korps opened fire, assisting the siege regiment's own artillery companies. It began five days of shelling that would soften up the enemy for the coming attack. The remorseless guns of the Death Korps turned no-man's land and the forward enemy positions into a cratered landscape. The drumbeat tempo of the devastating display of firepower pounded the enemy day and night. It seemed that when the attack went forwards, there would be nothing left to stand in the way. At 212813.M41 the first attacking companies were in place, filling the front line trenches as the squads packed shoulder to shoulder. Overhead the barrage intensified, crescendoing into a rolling thunder of noise as the explosions followed each other so quickly they became a single wall of noise. Then suddenly, it was over, as horrible silence engulfed the battlefield as the guns lifted their barrage. The order to advance was given over the vox-net.
As one, the first squads surged forwards towards the scaling ladders and appeared above the parapet and moved forwards, dodging through their own wire to form lines of dark, hunched figures advancing through the craters of no-man's land. But despite the ferocity of the bombardment many of the enemy had survived, hidden deep within their personnel shelters underground. As the bombardment stopped, the enemy squads rushed to man their defences. After advancing more than twenty yards, the guns of the enemy opened up. Even as the shells exploded amongst the ranks of advancing guardsmen, the Death Korps, resolute and steadfast, continued to advance in parade ground order. And so, they died, scythed down by enemy fire, as they walked long into a pitiless hurricane of enemy fire.
To add to the Death Korps' misery, the pre-sighted enemy artillery began to land all around them, no-man's land lighting up with explosions, plumes of flames and earth fountaining amongst the attackers' lines. Bodies were flung into the air like rag dolls by the shell impacts. But still the advancing lines did not falter, on they came, walking ever forwards into the firestorm. As the intensity of the fire grew, some squads went to ground, scrambling into shell craters for cover, only for more plunging enemy artillery to land amongst them. Officers urged their platoons onwards, only to be cut down in turn. Back in the trenches the next squads were assembling, as the shells and bullets whined overhead, they fixed bayonets and waited their turn to charge into the maelstrom.
As they next squad of men climbed the ladders, many were immediately hit, and fell backwards onto their comrades in the trench behind them. Those that did make it over the parapet could barely make it ten yards before being forced to ground. A few squads made it to the enemy lines, charging at the defensive units, bayonets level, hurling grenades ahead of them. But even here they were met by an enemy who fought hard, holding their positions to the last man. In sector 469-391 nowhere did any platoon reach the enemy lines. Of 32nd Company's nine platoons some 600 strong at the outset, 542 were killed or injured in the first wave. Every officer was killed. At roll-call that evening, the 58 survivors were not enough men to constitute a single full strength platoon.
Despite the slaughter ahead of them, in the second line trenches and communication trenches the second wave stoically prepared for its turn to attack. Amongst the jostling men, grenadier squads lumbered forwards under their heavy armour. They faced an advance into almost certain death. Such it was to be a soldier of the Death Korps. The second wave would walk the same ground over which the first had been all but destroyed. On cue, the second wave launched their assault as planned, adding their bodies to the first wave. All day long the slaughter continued, until nightfall saw a halting of the attack. Throughout the night the wounded crawled back over the parapet as the occasional star-shell exploded overhead to reveal a hellish scene of writhing figures. Some survivors held their position in no-man's land throughout the night. Sporadic firefights ensued as brave men still attempted to press forwards towards their objectives.
The cost had been horrific and the gains negligible. At dawn, the slaughter continued. The third wave launched their attack as well, and it too, paid a heavy toll in blood for no gains. The desired breakthrough never came. The defence lines' construction work had been completed, and if anything, improved upon, and the line held. At 218813.M41, the enemy launched its own counter-attack, hoping to exploit its victory, against the surviving Krieg units now back in their trenches. They traitor's counted upon their attackers being weakened by the heavy losses. But the battered men of Krieg manned their heavy weapons, most of these were still in place having never been committed to the ill-fated assault across no-man's land. All along the line determined fire halted the attack, and the quad-launchers and heavy mortars of the second line quickly adjusted their fire, pinned the enemy down. By nightfall the enemy attack had spent itself, their dead piled on top of the men of Krieg. The opposing sides were again at a stalemate. The artillery duel continued, but the fury of three days of battle had subsided.
Life in the Trenches
All along the line, both sides dug themselves in deeper. Systematically, a maze of trenches spread across the Van Meersland Wastes. It seemed neither side planned on moving for a long time. For weeks on end the stalemate held each side firmly in position, sentries staring out across the desolation of no-man's land at the enemy positions. Despite the stalemate every unit would still have to take its turn at patrolling and raiding the enemy lines. Night operations in no-man's land saw patrols finding or laying minefields, or identifying gaps in the wire for a subsequent raid to exploit. Trench raids to take enemy prisoners were common. The 88th Siege Army was losing an average of 2,000 men a day, without any regiment actually launching an attack. Of course such losses were a planned eventuality for the Krieg regiments as they kept receiving daily replacements to re-fill the ranks. The first year of the siege slipped past. The outer defence lines had held against the first assaults, and both sides contented themselves with wearing down the other, the opposing armies locked in a grinding stalemate of slow destruction.
The Battle of Fort A-453 (897814.M41)
On 897814.M41 the grenadiers of the 261st Krieg Regiment of the 30th Line Korps were ordered to conduct a probing attack along its entire front after six months of relative inactivity. The 9th Company of the 261st, under the command of Commander Tyborc, had been given the task of attacking a strong point in the heretics' line, designated Fort A-453. The Death Korps forces were able to move quickly across the no-man's-land, covered by the smoke from the offensive's heavy preliminary artillery bombardment. Some Krieg troops were able to reach the enemy trench lines under heavy and indiscriminate bombardment. Sending a runner back across the lines to call for reinforcements, Tyborc and his men were able to gain a foothold in the entrance of a personnel shelter, hunkering down as enemy artillery was called in upon them. The runner, having taken several hours to return across no-man's land, was eventually able to report the breakthrough to the 30th Line Korps' commanding officer, General Durjan, in his own command post. The next day, grenadier units worked their way towards the fort while Tyborc's men fought a fierce battle in the galleries and corridors beneath it.
The third day of the battle saw the deployment of 3 tank companies from the 6st Krieg Tank Regiment of the 11th Assault Korps, augmented with a Baneblade super-heavy main battle tank. These units were accompanied by Atlas Excavators, equipped with dozer blades to fill in the anti-tank ditch that protected the fort and allow the tanks to cross. Meanwhile, underground, the Vraksian Renegade militia attempted to burn out Commander Tyborc with Flamers. Grenadiers were able to force their way into the underground complex and captured the main access tunnel. From there, corridor by corridor, they were able to clear the complex of the heretics' forces. The men of the 261st ultimately secured the area, narrowly avoiding being attacked by their own men before establishing that they were friendly Imperial forces and members of the 88th Siege Army's 30th Corps.
With more men and tanks thrust into the breakthrough at Fort A-453, the Vraksian Traitors were no longer able to control the entire outer defence line. With the heretics' frenzied attempts to stem the tide, other sectors in the heretics' defensive lines soon became undermanned. The 8th Assault Corps made its way through these breaches and then completely rolled up the heretics' outer defence lines until they were no longer tenable positions. The Apostate Cardinal's units began to abandon their defences and move back to man the second defensive line. Death Riders harried the enemy hard as they fell back en masse. Once the mopping up of several heretical units trapped behind the breakthrough had been completed, the first objective of the Imperial Siege of Vraks had been won.
War of Attrition
- "The Krieg method of war is a measure of their discipline and their sacrifice. It demands respect from all - friend and foe alike."
- — Lord Commander Militant, Segmentum Obscurus
The Crisis of 1st Korps (255815.M41)
Following the Krieg breakthrough, the enemy abandoned not only its outer defence lines, but also the northern line, itself a spur of the second defence line, now felt to be undefendable due to the situation on the ground; outflanked to the south, and faced by a recuperated Krieg 1st and 30th Line Korps. Pinned by enemy attacks to the front, any defenders could quickly be cut-off by the advance of the 12th line korps. Instead of risking a catastrophic defeat by holding onto untenable ground, the defenders withdrew furthers. The 1st and 30th line korps found the northern defence lines abandoned, and were soon pushing forwards against light resistance from rearguards, snipers and the inevitable harassing artillery fire. As the 1st line korps moved south and eastwards, it was also encircling the second defence line. So far, in over two years of war, the 88th Siege Army had been constantly on the attack. But at 255815.M41 the strategic position changed as the 1st Line Korps closed in from the north towards the second defence line, its was subjected to the enemy's first concerted offensive of the war.
The northern defence line might have been abandoned without a fight, but the ground between the two positions had been identified as the scene of a strong counter-attack. The 19th Siege regiment was occupying overnight positions in sector 60-53. There was reported movement of enemy vehicles throughout the night by Krieg sentries, and, in response, harassing artillery fire was increased in an attempt to impede whatever the enemy were planning. Expecting a local counter-attack the forward companies were reinforced, and a general stand-to was issued at dawn. The newly dug trenches were lined with men, lasguns at the ready. The enemy responsed with a sporadic barrage of artillery shells, before they unleashed a tornado upon the Imperial defenders. A mass of concentrated artillery fire thundered over the 19th regiment's positions, rolling like a storm of thunder from the ocean. Amongst the heavy shelling came smoke shells, spouting thick white clouds that obscured the battlefield. Behind the smoke came the first wave of enemy attacks.
Through the dust and smoke the growing noise of approaching engines sounded like the forges of hell opening. Enemy tanks opened up with their main guns, the shells flying into the front trenches of the Krieg guardsmen. A series of explosions tore bloody gaps in the crowded trench lines. Soon the vox-net was inundated with reports of squadrons and enemy tanks and Chimeras all along the 19th regiment's front. The Vraksian Renegade Militia troopers swarmed forward, bayonets fixed, knives, axes and fighting blades in hand. They charging recklessly as the Krieg guardsmen returned fire with Lasguns, Heavy Stubbers and Heavy Bolters. The enemy were like rabid dogs, hunting in packs as bullets and tank shells destroyed the 19th regiment's trenches piecemeal.
One after another, the Krieg units were overrun, and onwards thundered the enemy tanks. Watching through his magnoculars from his command post, Colonel Adal, commander of the 19th regiment could make out the fighting through the drift of smoke and dust thrown up by the bombardment. As reports filtered in of positions being overrun, he watched as the enemy tanks engaged and destroyed his forward positions. In desperation, Adal ordered his reserve companies into the line to try to stem the momentum of the enemy assault. The Colonel requested reinforcements from higher command, but reinforcements were unavailable. He must hold his ground with the forces at his disposal. The fighting continued all day and by mid afternoon murderous artillery fire had started again from both sides.
During the day 19 quad-launchers and heavy mortar positions had been overrun, and in many cases the enemy turned the guns around, using them until the ammunition stores were gone. As night dawn, both sides continued to harass one another with probing attacks, but the situation was confused, as there was no longer a clear front line, just a chaotic mess of units. At dawn the enemy attack renewed, and the 19th regiment's own artillery replied in kind. Soon the blood-soaked enemy moved forwards, fighting from trench to trench. The first attack was driven off, the Colonel himself, lasgun in hand, firing from behind sandbags. A second attack as also held, but the shallow trenches to the left and right were now in enemy hands, and the Colonel and his defenders were isolated. His second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Dyneh, was killed when enemy tank fire destroyed Adal's command dug-out. Down to just 80 men, communication to the rear was soon severed. He ordered the wounded to be evacuated as best as they could, and divided the survivors into two groups. The first unit would break out and take new of the enemy breakthrough back. He would command a rearguard and hold for as long as possible, until either relief arrived or he was overrun and killed. He knew there was little hope of rescue, but the taciturn Colonel would fight as long as possible.
The Colonel's group battered survivors fought on bravely, until the Colonel himself was killed when the enemy brought forwards a Hellhound flamethrower tank to smoke them out. Of his fate nothing was ever known, his body incinerated in the blasts of super-heated Promethium that finally destroyed his command outpost. The second line had also been breached with the loss of the command post. The 19th regiment's position was not saveable. Though they no longer had a commander to co-ordinate the regiment's actions, isolated groups of survivors fought on, but as a cohesive unit the 19th regiment was a spent force. In the chaos of the retreat much of the equipment and stores had to be abandoned. It was now left to the 1st line korps to salvage what they could from the sudden fury of the enemy assault.
After two days of grueling fighting the enemy had their breakthrough, and 1st line korps was forced to make a tactical withdrawal, as its entire position was in danger of being compromised by the collapse of the 19th regiment on its left flank. First and foremost the enemy attack had to be stalled, delayed as long as possible to buy time for the other regimens to reposition themselves. 1st korps gathered elements of the 7th Tank regiment and the surviving Death Rider companies of the 19th regiment. They threw both of these elements into the enemy's path in the hope of delaying the advance. It wasn't enough to stop it altogether but any time it bought the 1st korps was now vital. Orders were issued to the other regiments to withdraw, whilst the 261st regiment would need to turn its flank and dig-in as best it could. This lost ground as a major setback to Lord Zuehlke's campaign timetable. The enemy had now seized the initiative
On the third day, the enemy tanks continued to roll forwards as 1st Korps had at last repositioned some forces to meet the enemy. In all, 52 tanks of the 7th Tank regiment, Leman Russes and Macharius Heavy Tanks, had been positioned, against an estimated enemy attack that still had over a hundred, although their numbers were growing all the time if reports were to be believed. Eventually the enemy armoured thrust was seriously blunted, due in no small part to days of multiple delaying actions by valiant Krieg tank commanders, and with each day the enemy captured less ground. After three more days the counter-attack had been stalled, but it had cut a swathe through 1st Korps and forced it to give up much captured ground. The 19th Regiment had been shredded in the first two days, over 80,000 men of the regiment had been captured or become casualties, including its commanding officer. Enemy losses had also been heavy, especially in armoured vehicles. All along the frontline, attacks that should have weakened the enemy only seemed to have emboldened him. Enemy defences had been organised, and now the second defence line would be much more difficult to crack.
Battles of the Second Defence Line (120816.M41)
After the sudden rush of the breakthrough and the crisis of the 1st Korps, the advancing regiments of the remaining three korps were ordered to halt. Instead of a headlong rush, the Krieg regiments would approach the task at hand like they did the first line, by slow attrition. The leading infantry companies and Atlas Excavators were called forwards, to dig the trenchworks all over again, always forwards, yard by yard they would close in. The enemy lines would be approached slowly, under the cover of artillery fire. Soon the Van Meersland Wastes were criss-crossed with a spidery network of trenches, which, day after day, grew into a labyrinth.
At 120816.M41, the 88th Siege Army again committed itself to the offensive. An all-out assault was launched by no less than six entire regiments. After hours of saturation bombardment the Krieg guardsmen would surge forward to attack the enemy's front line, trenches, defence lines or inter-connected bunkers. In most placed the attack was stalled, leaving the dead lying in piles across no-man's land. In some places the assault succeeded and the attackers occupied the defender's positions, only for the attack to then stall under the counter-barrage as the enemy's pre-sighted guns unleashed an accurate storm of fire, isolating the attackers in their new positions. The enemy would then counter-attack before the assault troops could be reinforced, as the artillery storm raged unabated. The sudden riposte would drive the Krieg guardsmen back. The waves of Krieg infantry would crash in, only to be repulsed, like the ebb and flow of the tides. This remorseless cycles of abortive offensives went on, each time the attack would be stalled, and the next day the attack had to be widened, to take in a neighbouring sector and eliminate its flanking fire. Always the gains were negligible. Over the months, hundreds of attacks were made, but there was no breakthrough. Another years passed in stalemate.
In the north, the 1st Korps was finally reinforced by an influx of freshly-arrived troops from Krieg. They continued to push their trenchline forwards. The enemy continued to skirmish and harass, but without the protection of their deep bunkers and the reinforced ferrocrete of the defence lines, the Krieg artillery pulverised them. Slowly the ground lost to counter attack was reclaimed, it took almost six months to recover all the ground lost in just a week. By the end of the year hab-zone one had systematically been pulverised by artillery fire, and then captured with barely a fight. After the attack, the hab-zone's prefabricated dwellings had been wiped off the map. The 1st Korps was finally in position against the second defence line, and the Citadel was surrounded by a front of 250 km. During the 88th Siege Army's advance they had overrun many of Vraks' outer storage facilities which had been stripped bare, the war materials plundered to the last round by the rebels. These war materials had been moved closer to the fortress for protection.
The tireless, pitiless cycle of war ground on like an insatiable beast, consuming men and equipment daily. The endless artillery duel began again, turning the frontline into a crater field. Another year passed, then another, and the conditions worsened. Wherever the Krieg regiments made any gains, they were soon recaptured by enemy counter-attacks. Both side employed the tactics of constant harassment, which never allowed their opponents across no-man's land a moment of unguarded rest. The result was that for long periods of time, sometimes years, the front was entirely static. The Krieg commanders wanted a big breakthrough, but for the time being, the war of attrition continued.
Raid on Sector 50-45 (649818.M41)
At 649818.M41, the 158th regiment made a large raid in sector 50-45. Their objective - capture and destroy a defence laser silo, part of Vraks' network of orbital defences. To gain the element of surprise, the attackers went without the usual artillery bombardment that preceded an attack on the ground. The attack was led by grenadier squads, infiltrating forwards across no-man's land under cover of darkness to quickly seize the silo's surface at dawn to clear the silo, which was mostly underground, protected on the surface by razorwire, a dense minefield, and several reinforced gun emplacements.
The grenadier squads set off under cover of a dark and gloomy night, stealthily slipping into no-man's land and crawling from crater to crater through the mud. As starshell rounds burst, casting its harsh light over them, the grenadiers froze or played dead, disguised as just another corpse. Once the light faded to earth, the grenadiers continued to slither forwards. One squad stumbled into an enemy patrol, and a firefight erupted, but to the defenders' sentries it was just another nightly clash in no-man's land. The grenadier squads that reached their objective cut the first band of razorwire, clearing a lane for their fellow squads, when a starshell burst overhead. An eagle-eyed sentry noticed the unfamiliar shapes on the perimeter and shouted out a warning as a Heavy Bolter open fired. The men below were roused from their sleep by their bellowing officers.
With little choice, the grenadiers pressed on, scrambling through the wire and rushing forwards to avoid being massacred on the wire. The nighttime erupted in explosions and heavy weapons fire. By dawn, the silo was shrouded in smoke and dust. Though the mission accomplished order had not been received, the order was given by the Krieg commanders to continue the attack as planned, and so, the infantry companies swarmed up and out into no-man's land. But, unknown to the new attackers, the genadier's attack had gone badly. Soon withering defensive fire turned no-man's land into a charnel house of burned, concussed or dismembered men. The survivors straggling back into the cover of their own trenches again. The following day, only superficial damage could be seen, but the silo remained intact and functioning. Several hundred had died in the hopeless attack. Only a few of the attacking grenadiers ever reached their own lines again. Most were killed, those that were captured were tortured for information and then executed. Their bodies left hanging on the razorwire as grisly reminders of their fate.
A New Threat: The Get of Alpharius (820.M41)
By 820.M41, seven standard years had passed since the start of the siege, seven years of bitter and grueling fighting that had seen millions of men on both sides slaughtered for the gain of only a few miles by the Imperial Guard forces as they moved onto the inner defence lines of the Vraksian Citadel. Each side had won victories and suffered defeats and both had suffered terrible losses, but neither side was yet ready to collapse. Lord Commander Zuehlke requested from the Lord Commander Militant of Segmentum Obscurus a new line korps of Imperial Guardsmen from Krieg to join the fighting on Vraks. He believed that these extra men would bring the campaign, already running longer and far more costly than originally planned by the Administratum, back on schedule and help break the stalemate at the Traitors' second defensive line. The order for more men was put through the standard Departmento Munitorum bureaucratic channels and the Adepts set to work to find the needed men from Krieg.
The siege took an unexpected turn for the Imperium when disturbing reports reached Commander Zuehkle's headquarters on Thracian Primaris. Not only was his campaign plan still well behind schedule, the defenders had also been reinforced. A warband of Chaos Space Marines of the Alpha Legion under the command of the Chaos Lord Arkos the Faithless managed to secretly insinuate themselves among the Chaotic forces defending Vraks in 820.M41. Arkos' Battle Barge, the Anarchy's Heart, had crept into the Vraks System unnoticed and had landed its contingent of Traitor Marines at the Vraks Prime Star Port, who had passed themselves off as Loyalist Astartes come to join the fight. The Chaos Space Marines had crossed the no-man's land between the Loyalist and Chaotic lines by pretending to launch a counter-attack during an attack in sector 52-49 by the 261st regiment. Several Gorgon assault transports had overrun the enemy lines and were threatening to force a gap in the second defence line, when the enemy had counter-attacked. Only this time, the counter-attackers had been Adeptus Astartes in dark blue Power Armour. They had launched the swift attack that had seen the breach quickly sealed and all the Gorgon transports destroyed in battle.
Unknown to the commanders of the 88th Siege Army, Vraks had indeed become a draw to the Traitor Legions. Arkos and his followers had presented themselves at the Citadel of Vraks Prime, offering their support in the name of Chaos Undivided for the Apostate Cardinal's cause. Arkos could not only provide the Chaotic defenders with superb superhuman troops, adept at raiding and disruption behind enemy lines, but also better training for the Apostate Cardinal's poorly-performing Vraksian Militia units. Arkos could also add his own enormous tactical experience to the defensive campaign while his Astartes, all unflinchingly loyal to their lord and their foul Gods, would relish the chance to join the war. The Alpha Legion had been drawn into the battle by the intensity of the fighting and their own desire to win the favour of the Dark Gods by compounding the slaughter for the servants of the Emperor. Lord Arkos was a useful and powerful ally for Cardinal Xaphan and the Chaos Lord's offer of aid was gratefully accepted by the Vraksian Traitors. The Chaos Space Marines were immediately put to work bolstering the Vraksian defensive lines around the Citadel. This unsettling news was made far worse when the Chaos Sorcerers of the Alpha Legion sent a psychic signal burning through the Warp to call old allies to the support of the Chaotic forces fighting for control of Vraks Prime. Those elements of the Forces of Chaos lurking around the Eye of Terror were drawn like moths to a flame by the flickering psychic light emitted by the Alpha Legion's message that promised battle, slaughter and plunder.
The Angels of Caliban
In 821.M41, Lord Commander Zuehkle's requests for reinforcements were finally met. A convoy of transport vessels entered the system carrying the 46th Line Korps, with three more regiments to assist in breaking the deadlock around the second defence lines. These were troops that had been designated for other warzones, but now Zuehkle's political connections had proved useful in getting the extra troops he wanted. The Lord Commander Militant's office had also provided some unasked for assistance. The chance that the war on Vraks would escalate could not be taken. Instead, the Lord Commander Militant had acted independently of his subordinate commander and sent his own delegation in search of aid from the Adeptus Astartes. The first to answer were the Dark Angels, the infamous First Founding Chapter, whose mobile fortress-monastery known as The Rock, had allowed them to react quickly. Led by Supreme Grand Master Azrael, the Chapter had responded with a huge commitment of forces - almost half of the Chapter's battle-brothers had been embarked for Vraks, with Azrael himself taking command. The Battle-Barge Angel of Retribution powered into the Vraks System along with the Strike Cruisers Sword of Caliban and Salvation and a small fleet of Escorts.
Azrael sent no communications to the 88th Siege Army's commanders. He simply set about his self-assigned mission -- the destruction of Vraks' star port which would sever any easy access to off-planet reinforcements. Needing no assistance, he saw no reason to involve the Imperial Guard regiments engaged on Vraks. While Lord Zuekkle's staff were adjusting their plans for the inclusion of his new line korps into his front, Azrael and his Company Masters manoeuvred into low orbit and deployed their powerful strike force onto the surface of Vraks via Drop Pods and Thunderhawk gunships.
Achieving orbit outside Vraks' orbital defence laser coverage, the Dark Angels released their cargos of Thunderhawks to enter the atmosphere and fly around the planet to the chosen landing zone at the Srna Flats. Azrael had chosen this area for landing because it was located at the foot of the Abaros Hills directly south of the star port. It only took mere hours for the Dark Angels to unload their forces from orbit. The star port was chosen as the Dark Angels' primary objective for three reasons: one, the star port was the easiest way for off-planet support to reach the defenders. Secondly, a new attack would force the defenders to commit forces against a new threat. There was currently, only a small garrison to defend the star port, because it was not directly threatened by the Krieg regiments, and this in turn freed troops for the front line. The Dark Angels would draw the enemy troops into a new battle, and thus thin the lines, which would aid the 88th Siege Army's attacks and help bring about the long awaited breakthrough. Thirdly, and known only to the Dark Angels themselves, and probably the most compelling reason for their quick response, was that there were Traitor Legionnaires now on Vraks. These traitors might have knowledge about the "Fallen". Though Azrael had no proof that any of the Fallen were amongst the defender's new allies, the Inner Circle of the Dark Angels knew the name Arkos well - a reviled black-hearted traitor from the ancient days of the Horus Heresy. If Lord Commander Militant Zuehkle could not identify the power amoured forces now facing him, the Dark Angels' Inner Circle knew full well who these warriors were. Azrael had brought along Interrogator-Chaplain Belphegor to extract information from any traitors he could capture.
Azrael's plan of attack was carefully considered. He would launch a fast moving armoured column across the Srna Flats, envelope the star port, and then strike at wherever he felt the enemy was weakest. He could not afford to enter a war of attrition. Taking calculated risks, the Supreme Grand Master was going to commit his battle-brothers to intense street fighting without the aid of the orbital bombardment guns of his battle barge and strike cruisers. His ships would not risk Vraks' defence lasers. Once the attack on the star port was underway, he would attempt to seal off the battle areas from further reinforcements by capturing and destroying the main roads across the Srna Fault line and Balan trench, a set of grand causeways that carried the service roads over great chasms. With these gone no reinforcements could move from the Citadel or the defence lines to assist in the battle at the star port. This task was given to the 3rd Company under Master Orias. Once completed they could move to aid the rest of the strike force already engaged at the star port.
The arrival of highly mobile Adeptus Astartes forces created a strategic problem. They could strike anywhere at anytime, simply flying over the defence lines to strike directly at the Citadel itself. Now Arkos' wisdom proved invaluable and correct. The Dark Angels could not risk attacking the Citadel with its defences and garrison fully intact. Still, in order to counter the Space Marines' attack wherever it fell, troops had to be withdrawn from the second defence line and sent to garrison other locations, including the star port. The presence of just 500 Space Marines was already influencing the entire war on Vraks.
The Battle of Vraks Star Port (944821.M41)
At 944821.M41, the Dark Angels began their assault on Vraks' star port. The armoured columns of Land Raiders, Predators, Rhinos, Vindicators and Whirlwinds were preceded by the Ravenwing's Land Speeders, skimming ahead, flying close to the ground in search of enemy blockades along their chosen route of advance, 200 kilometres overland across the Srna Flats. The Land Speeders stayed in constant communication with the Thunderhawk gunships, which acted as aerial cover to the advancing armoured column. The battle-brothers of Orias' 3rd Company maintained a defence around the base until required to launch their own vital part of the operation on the causeways.
The enemy responded with its own reconnaissance forces, composed of Sentinel walkers and Salamanders, criss-crossing the flatlands of the Srna Flats in an effort to locate the Dark Angels. Some of the Sentinels were taken out by black Land Speeders that swooped in, Assault Cannons blazing. Soon the enemy commanders knew that the Dark Angels were heading across the flatlands, their target plainly clear -- the star port. Reinforcements were immediately ordered to strengthen the garrison. Leading the vanguard himself, Azrael rode in his personal Land Raider Prometheus Angelis Imperator, and were soon in sight of the star port.
Battle at the Causeways
As Azrael's attack commenced, Master Orias' force closed in on the Balan trench causeway. Leaping from a speeding gunship, two Assault Squads made a low level jump directly onto the eastern end of the mile long causeway and quickly overwhelmed its defenders. Most fled rather than face the wrath of the Dark Angels. Those few that did, were quickly cut down like chafe before a scythe. Two more Thunderhawks opened fire with missiles and turbo-lasers, blasting great hunks of masonry from the monumental causeway and turning the checkpoint to rubble. The Dark Angels' Tactical Squads deployed as soon as the gunships touched down. Rushing along the roadway their Bolters hammered into the defenders causing them to fell back before the Astartes' furious onslaught, only to find themselves quickly cut-off by the Assault Squads which had already captured the eastern end. Caught between the opposing Space Marine forces, the garrison was wiped out.
Master Orias' lightning airborne assault captured the target in just a few minutes. As he set about rigging demolition charges, he had a Devastator Squad dig in on the eastern end to cover any enemy approach from the west. Soon, enemy vehicles were seen approaching along the road, heading towards them in an attempt to reinforce the star port. The leading tank erupted in flames as a well-aimed Lascannon shot tore through its front armour. As the following Chimeras swerved to avoid the flaming wreckage blocking the road, they soon found themselves under the withering fire of Orias' Devastator Marines. Krak Missiles and lascannon blasts turned the vehicles of the armour column into smouldering wrecks. In just a few minutes the area was littered with the burning hulks of Leman Russ Tanks, Chimeras, Sentinels and Basilisks.
As the Devastator Marines defended the bridge, the Assault Squads completed their demolition work, explosive charges attached to each of the causeway's main supports. Ordering all his men back across the causeway for immediate evacuation, the Thunderhawks swooped in and picked up all of Orias' battle-brothers. The first attack had only cost the Captain three injured men, all of which, due to their enhanced physique, were fit to continue. As the last Thunderhawk lifted off and banked away north, Orias triggered the detonator. Each of the causeway's supports exploded in rapid succession. The causeway crumbled under its own weight, the rubble plunging into the deep abyss of the Balan Trench, leaving only an expanding cloud of dust. By the end of the day, both the causeways across the Srna Trench would also be captured and destroyed by Orias' forces. The main routes of reinforcement had been severed.
By the Emperor's Wrath
As the 3rd Company successfully accomplished their objective, Azrael moved closer to the starport. Detecting a nearby enemy armoured column moving southwards from the starport, the Chapter Master directed his covering Thunderhawks to intercept, and ordered his own column forwards to engage. By the time the leading Land Raiders were directed to battle by the Land Speeder scouts, the flats were already shrouded in the drifting smoke of burning wrecks. The Land Raiders smashed into the remaining enemy tanks, Lascannons cutting through the Leman Russ tanks and Chimeras as the enemy sought to withdraw to the relative safety of the starport. Azrael's thrust cut clean through the enemy, and swept eastwards, circling the starport. The Supreme Grand Master had already received Master Orias' confirmation of the destruction of the first causeway. Now Azrael planned to attack from the east of the starport, draw the bulk of the enemy garrison to him, then move in 3rd Company from the west, catching the garrison between Orias' anvil and his own hammer.
After the Ravenwing's Land Speeders reported back the best routes of advance into the city, Azrael sent forward his Vindicators, supported by Battle-Brothers riding in Rhinos and Razorbacks. The Vindicators smashed the building occupied by the enemy infantry before the Dark Angels disembarked and began clearing the ruins of any survivors. Azrael's strike force continued to move through the streets of the starport and unleashed unrestrained destruction upon it. Thunderhawk gunships that had already re-armed streaked overhead, remorselessly bombing the enemy from above. Whirlwinds fired salvo after salvo into the starport, their fire directed by the Ravenwing as they identified enemy concentrations before speeding away to safety. The enemy found themselves under constant attack as Azrael's armoured thrusts carefully advanced, clearing the way as they went.
As night fell, there was no let up in the attack, and the Supreme Grand Master continued to push forwards in the darkness. By dawn, the Dark Angels had cleared the eastern approaches to the starport's northern landing fields, and the enemy had fallen back in disarray. Before dawn the 3rd Company was also in position, landing to the west of the main landing fields and deploying as the back stop against the enemy withdrawals. By first light, the enemy occupied the large building surrounding the landing fields, hangars, warehouses and maintenance sheds, turning them into strongpoints as the Whirlwind's barrage continued to fall about them. The roar of Thunderhawk engines could be heard again as the gunships arrived to deliver another payload of bombs upon the defenders. For the second day of his attack, Azrael contented himself with softening up the enemy and sending out fighting patrols to probe enemy positions, giving the enemy time to bring more defenders into the defensive ring. The Supreme Grand Master sought not only the quick destruction of the airfields, but the annihilation of the enemy forces defending the starport. The second day passed with sporadic fighting, but the starport continued to echo to the sound of Whirlwind missile impacts and the crash of the enemy artillery as it returned fire, although the Whirldwinds' mobility made counter-battery fire very difficult as they lighter artillery changed position after each salvo.
By dawn of the third day, the landing fields were a veritable warzone, with rubble and masonry scattered about in piles around the streets. From the patrols conducted the day before, the Supreme Grand Master had an excellent idea of where he would attack in force. He mustered the battle-brothers of the 6th Company, mostly Tactical Squads, placed them under the command of Interrogator-Chaplain Belphegor and gave them the honour of being accompanied by the Chapter's Sacred Standard of Devastation into battle, handpicking veteran brother Anmael as its bearer. The 6th Company hooked southwards and launched an attack to seal the defenders in. Accompanied by Vindicators, Whirlwinds and Predators, the company jumped off its attack and was soon enmeshed in house-to-house fighting with the defenders. The dark green armoured figures could be seen advancing through the ruins, as bright orange tongues of flamer blasts burned the defenders out of their cover. After a day of fighting the streets were littered with the dead. Belphegor reported that the souls of 15 battle-brothers had joined the Emperor, but that the southern sectors had now been cleared of resistance.
Day four of the battle began with Azrael again content to improve his position and bomb the enemy into submission. Azrael knew that the renegade forces now occupying the starport were effectively cut-off from resupply and reinforcement. After consolidating his position, Azrael called for his Company Masters together for a briefing. Gathered inside the Supreme Grand Master's personal Land Raider the veteran commanders discussed the best plan to destroy the pockets of enemy forces they had created. A plan of concentric attacks was decided upon, with the first attack coming from the east by Azrael's forces, then from the south by Belphegor's Company, then from the west by Orias' Company. Over the course of three days each force took its turn squeezing the enemy tighter. During Orias' attack, 3rd Company reported they had overrun several landing pads and identified and engaged a force of Traitor Legionaries -- treacherous followers of Arkos. Azrael wanted as many of the Traitor Legionaries captured as possible. This would be one of the objectives of the Deathwing assault come the final battle.
Fighting for the Vraks Star Port for eight days, Azrael finally ordered the final assault. Leading elements of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th Companies the Supreme Grand Master led his Dark Angels to finish the enemy's resistance and finally overrun the starport. Dismounting his Land Raider, Azrael led the assault as he plunged into the enemy ranks of militia men, his black blade, the Sword of Secrets, cutting a bloody swathe. As the Dark Angels were about to achieve victory, the duplicitous Alpha Legion sprung their trap. The Chaos Space Marines had been lying in wait, using the militia as bait to draw the Dark Angels on. As the fighting intensified Azrael saw brother Anmael fall, riddled with fire, and the Sacred Standard he was brandishing toppled. Azrael knew he must recover the banner for it could not be allowed to lie in the dust. Racing through enemy fire he reached the banner just as the enemy did. The Dark Angels and Alpha Legionnaires fought over the fallen body of brother Anmael, neither giving ground. While the other Dark Angels fought to escape the Alpha Legion's sudden ambush, Azrael cut down the last of his enemies and plucked up the sacred standard. As he did so, a massive armoured figure stroke through the smoke, his ancient Terminator Armour decorated with blasphemous runes and the heretical eight-pointed star of Chaos Undivided. It was Arkos the Faithless, the Chaos Lord of the Alpha Legion. An Assault Marine launched himself into Arkos' path, only to be cut clean in half by the stroke of the Chaos Lord's Warp-powered blade. The two mighty heroes, one of the Emperor, the other of the Dark Gods, clashed in a titanic close combat.
Azrael was confronted by Arkos, and soon the two were engaged in furious combat. In one hand Azrael held his Chapter's Sacred Standard of Devastation, in the other the Sword of Secrets. The two rained down smashing blows upon each others' armour, until blood seeped through the joints of Azrael's suit of Artificer plate. The weight of Arkos' mighty blows had badly wounded the Supreme Grand Master in the one-sided duel. The Chaos Lord had the combined power of the four Chaos Gods with him this day. Arkos' blows forced Azrael ever backwards, weakening his opponent until a shoulder charge and a fast, low sweeping cut sent Azrael sprawling to the ground, the Sword of Secrets skittering from his grasp. Prone amongst the rubble, the banner still clutched to him, Azrael saw death approaching as Arkos loomed over him, raising his Darkblade for the killing blow.
As he reached out to strike the blow that would see Azrael's reign as Supreme Grand Master end, the impacts of an Assault Cannon sent Arkos staggering backwards. Racing up the street came Deathwing Terminators led by Interrogator-Chaplain Belphegor, who, enclosed in his black Terminator Armour, charged into Arkos, his Crozius Arcanum swinging. Belphegor managed to strike the Traitor to the ground with a blow that cracked his Terminator Armour. Arkos fell dazed and bleeding. Concerned for his wounded commander, the Chaplain turned to aid him. When he turned back to face Arkos, the Traitor had vanished. Though the ambush had inflicted painful losses upon the Dark Angels, the Traitors were unable to carry the day, and soon drifted away as they had been recalled by their thwarted commander. The Dark Angels proceeded to hunt down and destroy the remnants of surviving militiamen. Their ambush had inflicted painful losses on the Dark Angels, with the loss of 200 Battle-Brothers, but the traitors could not win this battle alone. The Dark Angels had failed to take a single Traitor Legionairy alive, although their Battle Barge's cells did contain many captured Renegade militiamen who would face the formidable Interrogator-Chaplains on return to The Rock. After ten days the starport was securely in the hands of the Dark Angels. They set about destroying the facility with demolition charges. Two days later, the starport was damaged beyond repair. Upon completing their mission, the Dark Angels strike force departed the Vraks System.
- "To retreat is defeat. Advance! Advance! In our death lies victory."
- — Captain Denos, 19th Company, 468th Regiment
The Big Push (101822.M41)
It had been nine years since the Siege of Vraks had begun. By now the 88th Siege Army should have been entrenched at the inner defence ring having cracked the defences of the first two rings, and it should have had the Citadel itself within the sights of their heavy artillery. But nine years of war had not gone entirely to plan. The 88th Siege Army had been forced to request more men. The success of the Dark Angels attack gave cause for new hope, and Lord Zuehkle saw the chance to redeem earlier failures with a decisive breakthrough. The addition of a new line korps with three fresh new regiments gave his commanders on the ground the extra forces they needed to mount an unstoppable offensive. Lord Zuehkle was running out of time, he had been given twelve years to complete his mission and the resources of Krieg had poured onto Vraks in vast quantities. He ordered the three new regiments, and those already in the line to plan and execute a big push, an all out offensive that applied constant and sustained pressure on the second defence lines over its full frontage. This would draw in the enemy's reserves and then destroy them under the artillery bombardment or in powerful infantry attacks. By sustaining the pressure, the enemy would eventually have to break somewhere. When they did an assault korps would be ready to pour into the gap and smash through to the inner defence line. If the breakthrough attack was fast enough they might even be able to drive into the inner defence line and establish a foothold before the enemy had a chance to dig himself in again.
The defenders could not fail to notice the build-up for the attack. Patrols and observation posts reported the increase in troop numbers at the front and the stockpiling of arms and equipment. In response, shells rained down on the Krieg trench lines in an attempts to "spoil" the preparations now underway. Krieg's guns replied in their counter-battery role. Every gun destroyed now was one less to rain destruction down on the attack when it finally came time for the infantry to go over the top. At 089822.M41, the preparatory bombardment began in earnest. Every gun in the 88th Siege Army roared out, lightning the sky with muzzle flashes as they poured high-explosives down on the defenders. All day and all night the guns fired in an attempt to break down the defenders' resistance. The defenders grimly awaited the coming assault as the ground outside and above them shook with the force of the explosions. In darkness the communication trenches began to fill up with troops, as the first wave got into position. The second wave was also ready, crowded in shoulder-to-shoulder, heavily laden with extra equipment, grenades, ammunition and rations for the coming battle. As the darkness soon gave way to the first weak rays of dawn's light, the fury of the barrage stopped, and for a brief second there was silence.
The attack order flashed through every vox-caster set in the forward trenches, and was relayed to the men. The Krieg guardsmen scambled up the ladders and over the parapet, surging forward in a tide across no-man's land. Across no-man's land the enemy responded to the lifting of the bombardment. They ran to crew their crew-served weapons, awaiting the inevitable ground assault. Though their targets had not even come into view, the defenders opened a lethal hail of grazing fire. Men started to fall, but the attackers pressed on. Soon the defensive batteries that had not been knocked-out opened up with their own barrage. Shells started to crash down into the advancing Krieg rank, as the defender's fire increased. As the artillery fire hammered down it caused the utter collapse of the 158th regiment's attack in sector 50-45. The Commissars amongst the retreating assault squads demanded that the men stand firm and push on, summarily executing the first men to take any steps backwards. In return, several Commissars were shot out of hand by their own side as the shredded assault companies scurried back to the safety of their own trenches. At the parapet the first wave collided with the second wave as they moved forwards to begin their advance. Fighting broke out as the officers of the second wave tried to force passage forwards. After only a couple hours the 158th regiment's attack had disintegrated into shambles. For the regiment's abject failure, the colonel and his staff would be arrested and eventually executed. The regiment was then disbanded by the 88th Siege Army's commissars. All the survivors would be sentenced to serve amongst the Penal Legions.
In other sectors there was more progress. The Krieg guardsmen pushed on regardless of heavy losses. In places they reached the enemy lines and overran them, bayonets fixed. In places regimental commanders reported good progress, in others failure and heavy losses. Despite the pandemonium, the second wave was ordered forwards, and the guardsmen of surged into no-man's land. As the battle progressed it became clear that most of the enemy had held their positions, but where they had been overrun they had fallen back into the defence line and manned new positions. The 34th line korps attacks seemed to have achieved the most gains. In the 291st regiment's sector they had achieved complete artillery supremacy, having destroyed just about all the defenders' guns. Their infantry pushed on, continuing the attack even in the darkness. The 88th Siege Army seized upon this success as the point of maximum effort tomorrow. The 11th assault korps had so far been held in reserve, and now it was ordered into position to begin a fresh attack through the 291st regiment. The guardsmen clambered aboard into Gorgon assault transports. It would take a day to prepare the attack, so the 291st regiment would need to consolidate its gains tomorrow, and could expect relief on day three.
The cost of the first day's attacks had been appallingly high, and many companies were already faced manpower shortages. Those that had won a foothold would need to hold until reinforcements could be rushed to them. Day two would be a day of consolidating those gains and holding against the inevitable counter-attacks, before day three saw another mighty effort. In truth, the gains had been minimal, the enemy had fought hard, in places with fanatical zeal, to hold their ground, but the attack had to continue.
Day two was a day of consolidation and disjointed attacks, as each Krieg company tried to secure its own position or push on to the objectives they had failed to carry the day before. As the artillery duel reigned overhead, the infantry troops continued to fight separate battles from their makeshift positions. Small actions were fought all along the front on day two, as the 88th Siege Army sorted to secure the gains it had made by the sacrifices of the first day. By the end of day two, several regimental colonels were requesting that the offensive be called off, or at least scaled down. At the current rate of attrition their regiments would soon be annihilated. The 88th Army Command, and in particular Lord Commander Zuehkle, would not -- could not -- consider such a request. The offensive was too important to set aside because of dreadful casualties. Speed of action was deemed all important, for the longer follow-up actions were delayed, the longer the enemy had to dig himself in. On day three, more attacks would be launched. Though the 88th Siege Army was sorely hurting, they understood that the enemy must also be feeling the pain.
On day three, the fighting continued, as ordered, all along the entire front but the focus of the 88th Siege Army would be in the south in sectors 51-41 and 52-41, where the 11th Assault Korps was being committed to the attack. The tank companies rolled forwards, slowly crawling across the pitted wastes of no-man's land, fanning out into battle lines and began their thrust. Behind them followed the massive Gorgon transports, packed with platoons of fifty men each, ready to disembark and charge the enemy's positions. The loose line of smashed bunkers, walls and shells holes held by the enemy were soon overwhelmed as the Gorgon carrier's ramps crashed down and hordes of Krieg guardsmen disembarked. The first thin lines could not hold the crushing weight of the 11th Assault Korps' attacks for long, and by mid-morning the tanks and infantry were advancing again. It seemed that the long desired breakthrough of the second defence line was close, but the enemy commanders were not ignorant of the situation on the ground. They had identified the potential threat of the 291st regiment's penetration, and had a day with which to reinforce the sector. The enemy soon executed a renewed counter-attack, pouring forth to meet the 11th Assault Korps. Leman Russes, Chimeras, new Basilisks, Medusas, even a squadron of 12 Destroyer tank hunters had been ordered to attack. As the vanguard of the Krieg assault korps rolled steadily forwards, enemy resistance began to increase. The enemy's counter-attack had the desired effect, by mid-afternoon the Krieg guardsmen were no longer advancing, and the enemy's armoured thrust forced them backwards. Tank losses mounted, and a defensive barrage was hastily requested. The breakthrough had been halted. Fortunately, there was better new in other sectors. On the extreme east of the attack, the 3rd Siege Regiment of 1st Line Korps had now achieved its day one objectives in sector 62-48. The 3rd regiment was gathering itself for a second mighty push on day four. Tank companies of the 14th regiment were brought forwards to assist the drive.
Day Four, and Onwards...
The slight gains and prospective breakthroughs of the first three days could not be given up. It seemed the 88th Siege Army was intent on battering itself to destruction on the second defence lines. The whole of the 88th Siege Army was now committed, its only reserves were those reconstituted companies that had been formed from the survivors and stragglers left by day one. At the new front the battle continued unabated. As company commanders fought to capture and secure local objectives, the initial momentum of the offensive began to substantially subside. Stockpiles of ammunition, especially heavy artillery ammunition, were dwindling. Companies had been reduced to the size of platoons, platoons to the size of squads.
The offensive had raged for seven days, and still no breakthrough had come, until at 122822.M41 the 468th regiment, a new uni in its first battle launched an attack in sector 57-50. Colonel Attas, commanding officer of the 468th, devised a plan to mount a night attack against the enemy trench line now facing him. Finally, in all the confusion of battle, he managed to galvanise his sub-commanders into making a new concerted thrust, rather than the clumsy and uncoordinated thrashings of the past days that had resulted in very little extra ground captured, for the loss of a lot of men and equipment. Korps command at first denied permission for the attack, believing the coordination and difficulty of moving large bodies of men at night, and then stranding them in no-man's land should they become detect, was too risky. But Colonel Attas responded that if supporting artillery concentration was strong enough then the enemy guns could be suppressed, even in the event of failure, and the troops had to be withdrawn, failure would not necessarily be so costly. His superiors were eventually convinced and Attas was granted permission to attempt his plan.
At 124822.M41, on a dark night, Attas' assault companies set off, slithering through no-man's land on their bellies, their Colonel at the fore. As they crawled, every gun in the regiment, plus those independent companies that Attas had secured for the attack, opened fire in a thunderous barrage. At the designated time, the fire concentrated on the front line. Then the barrage lifted, and rolled forwards. The lines of infantry rose as one and began to run. Caught completely unawares, the enemy had little time to react to the surprise infantry assault. Leading his men forwards, Colonel Attas vaulted across a trench, waving his men to follow and give pursuit, only to be suddenly face to face with a huge beast that stood ten feet tall and built of raw muscle. An enraged Ogryn emerged from its trench and dealt a smashing blow with its massive sledge hammer, killing the Colonel instantly. Despite Colonel Attas' death, at dawn the second wave advanced, passing through the successful attackers. The second defence line had been breached.
New of the 468th regiment's success reached high command quickly, and the reinforcements needed to widen the breach were soon on their way. First to arrive was a battery of Quad Launchers, towed forwards by Centaurs, and these were set up and soon in action, firing off rapid salvoes of shells to smash the enemy's last desperate attempts to counter-attack. Soon more troops followed; tanks, Gorgons, heavier guns, squadrons of Death Riders galloping through then wheeling eastwards and westwards to attack the enemy further down the line from behind. As with the first breakthrough almost eight years earlier, the following days would see the second defence line fold like a house of cards. The dam had finally broken, and the guardsmen of Krieg flowed through in an unstoppable tide. Leaving suicidal rearguards to stall the enemy advance, the defenders pulled back. One by one the siege regiments advanced, in some place unopposed. Any enemy who had not escaped the encirclement were overwhelmed and destroyed.
The 88th Siege Army was too badly damaged to rush headlong into the inner defence zone. It needed time to rebuild and prepare for its next move. The cost of the breakthrough had been too great. It had taken nine years of attrition to reach this position. Years of blood and slaughter equal to the worst warzones anywhere in the Imperium. Over four million guardsmen had already been sacrificed on Vraks, but it seemed that now the ultimate victory was within grasp. The enemy was now bottled up and the front lines had once again been reduced in length, meaning that for future attacks the concentration of guns and men could be even greater. Now the Citadel of Vraks was within range of the Earthshaker Cannons. For the first time the ultimate objective was within striking distance.
As the rebel leaders stood on the precipice of defeat, Cardinal Xaphan seemed not to care. The foretold apocalypse was finally here, the slaughter must continue; he cared not for victory or defeat, only for death and destruction. By now Arks had become Xaphan's closest and most valued advisor, and he counselled the renegade Cardinal that all was not yet lost. The false Emperor's armies might be tightening the noose, but there were powers in the universe far greater than that wielded by mere soldiers with guns. The Chaos Gods would favour Xaphan if he stayed resolute and fought on. Arkos told Xaphan that many allies were ready and willing to aid him, if he only knew how to ask for their aid. The Dark Gods would still bring him victory. Arkos summoned his sorcerous advisors to him. In secret the cabal of Chaos Sorcerers set about a bloody sacrificial ceremony that would summon the Chaos Gods' aid directly to Vraks.
Krieg's sentries soon reported unusual sightings. Strange storm clouds were gathering on the horizon, which was lit red by lights in the sky that seemed to be painting the sky in blood. As the days passed, the storm grew in intensity. The crackling lightning no longer seemed to be natural weather of the world. A huge storm dark storm was gathering directly above the citadel. It was a red and black mass of clouds, flicking with lightning that steadily grew into a whirling maelstrom in the upper atmosphere. After nine years the men of Krieg might be winning their war, but the warp-spawned storm presaged worse horrors still to come.
On the Tides of the Warp
The Chaos Sorcerers of the Alpha Legion sent a psychic signal through the Warp, a call to draw old allies to Vraks. Those forces secretly lurking around the Eye of Terror who heard the call were drawn like moths to a flame by a flickering psychic light that promised battle, slaughter and plunder. Fortunately, the tides of the Warp were against them. The fickleness of the Warp was embraced by the Chaos armadas that dwelled within the embrace of the fierce tides that raged without end. If the gods deemed they should be cast adrift to some distant system, then so be it -- as the gods will it, so shall it be. Most of those that received the Alpha Legion's psychic signal were raiding ships and their supporting transports. Most of these vessels were made up of simply pirates or other renegades from the Imperium's justice. Worst of all were the fierce warbands of the Chaos Space Marine Traitor Legions. Arkos' spell had signalled to them that Vraks was a system worthy of raiding and rich for plundering and slaughter, and so they came.
The Chaos Fleets Approach
Observation station DM498-066 was just one of many secret Imperial listening outposts that maintained a silent vigil on the Eye of Terror. Vraks itself had been a collating point for some of this data, with its choir of Astropaths being able to relate any important information obtained by the listening posts to surrounding star systems as an early warning system against Chaotic raids or even an emergent Black Crusade. The station's sensitive Auspex detected the passage of several large, unidentified vessels in its vicinity, well off the usual trade and patrol routes. The station's astropath transmitted a warning message which, after several weeks, reached Battlefleet Scarus' High Command. Taking careful plottings and referring to their own diviners, the Imperial Navy commanders dispatched patrol groups to systems likely to be the intruder fleet's destination. Several cruiser groups were alerted and brought to readiness in expectation of a raid by Chaos vessels. Even an Adeptus Astartes fast response strike force was put on alert to move to intercept if needed.
Secretly, the Ordo Malleus, ever wary of any potential threat from the Eye of Terror, initiated its own information-gathering mission. A nullship sent on a one-way mission into the Eye crewed by automated Servitors and a single pariah, untraceable through the Warp but equipped with powerful augurs and communications equipment was launched. The Inquisiton's vessel tracked the target's passage before continuing its suicidal one-way mission deeper into the raging Warp Storms, transmitting until all communication was lost forever. The Inquisiton was alarmed by the null ship's findings -- it seemed an enemy armada comprised of almost thirty vessels which had been positively identified was mustering for a major attack. It had to be hounded, cornered and destroyed. Astropathic messages flashed around the ports, bases and command ships of Battlefleet Scarus. Scout and patrol vessels were re-directed to cover the enemy armada's suspected approach. The large capital ships were also ordered out from their home ports, including the fleet flagship, the mighty Emperor-class Battleship Constantin Valdor. The battlefleet mobilized and prepared itself for a major action.
Ten years had passed since the first Imperial Navy transports arrived in the Vraks System carrying the lead regiment of the 88th Siege Army. As the Imperial build-up of troops was completed, so the need to transport the many supplies to prosecute the war began. These valuable supplies required the constant protection of the Imperial Navy so a fleet of Imperial vessels had been stationed semi-permanently in the Vraks System. There was an Escort squadron of Sword-class Frigates to accompany each convoy to and from its destination and patrol the system's outer reaches to guard against raiders. A squadron of System Defence Monitors had been towed in to provide close protection for the vulnerable freighters in orbit; these vessels carried enough firepower to deter the boldest pirates or even roving raiders from the Eye of Terror. Commanding these squadrons was the venerable Lunar-class Cruiser Lord Bellerophon under the flag of Rear-Admiral Rasiak. The Lord Bellerophon (known affectionately to her crew as the "Big Ruffian") was the system's main deterrent. A potent ship-of-the-line, she had been seconded from Battlefleet Scarus for the duration of the campaign. One of over 600 Lunar-class vessels in service across the Segmentum Obscurus, she bristled with weaponry and was able to outclass anything pirates, aliens or even most Traitor Marine warbands could use to threaten the Imperial supply lines to Vraks Prime. The Lord Bellerophon was constantly on-station or escorting the Imperial supply convoys as the convoy leader.
After a decade of war on the ground, and with no sign that the system was under threat from outside forces or an impending planetary assault, the Imperial fleet defending Vraks had been gradually reduced. The Escort squadron had been reduced in number and the remaining three starships were now in need of refits, having ploughed the Warp lanes back and forth from supply depots across the Scarus Sector or even as far as the Lucius Forge World. Only the Defence Monitors were still rated in good fighting condition. Battlefleet Scarus' high command had requested that their Cruiser be returned for other, more urgent duties. Nobody expected an attack on Vraks, especially not in a sizable enough force to overwhelm its current defenders. In all his reports, Rear-Admiral Rasiak was convinced that the Vraks System and its interstellar supply lines were secure and in safe hands. He was soon to be disavowed of this conviction.
First Battle of Vraks
- "You are expected at all times to conduct yourself in a manner appropriate to the great duties and traditions of the Emperor's Most Glorious and Honourable Navy. Our orders demand nothing else. Look only to your duties gentlemen."
- — Rear-Admiral Rasiak before the First Battle of Vraks
Rear-Admiral Rasiak was aware of the frenetic activity of Battlefleet Scarus. He too had received the order to stand-to in expectation of the large Chaos raid in the sector. It was now, under the shadow of this growing threat, that the Rear-Admiral re-appraised his status and found it wanting. Only his defence monitors were ready for action, but even these needed extra crew, and their main magazines were not full due to the necessity to maintain regular firing drills. He had just seven ships under his command, which would not be enough. While Rasiak's preparations continued, he placed escort Exuo's three Sword-class frigates on picket duty in the system's outer reaches, where they were to search for intruders and act as his early warning. They were instructed not to engage any enemy ships, but to fall back to the main fleet at full speed and take their places in the battle line so that Rasiak could meet the enemy with his full force.
Soon, the Rear Admiral received a priority message from the frigate Exuo-Four-Three. She had made contact with a squadron of three ships inbound and their energy signatures confirmed them as Infidel-class Raiders. More would follow, Rasiak knew it in his blood. This was just a probe, scouts testing his defences. The smaller vessels did not risk entering into range of the Lord Bellerophon's guns, even to unleash a speculative volley of torpedoes at long range. Instead, they scanned and watched warily before withdrawing. Now the enemy knew Rasiak's strength, or lack of it. Now the enemy would surely feel that the day would be theirs and come in strength enough to overwhelm this ad-hoc fleet.
Six days later at 054823.M41, the Exuo Squadron contacted fourteen different energy signatures as the Chaos warfleet called by the Alpha Legion by-passed the system's outer asteroid fields and made best speed for Vraks Prime. Rear-Admiral Rasiak led the Imperial Navy's defence of the system from the Lord Bellerophon, leading Exuo Squadron's complement of 3 Sword-class Frigates and a hastily-assembled fleet of 3 Defence Monitors, 2 armed freighters, 1 heavy transport and 3 Fire Ships. Despite the reinforcement by the Cruiser Group Marhzur, which arrived not far behind the Traitor warfleet, the Imperial fleet proved unable to prevent several vessels of the Chaos warfleet from entering orbit of Vraks.
The enemy fleet soon divided, with five vessels, led by Arkos' flagship, the Despoiler-class Battleship Anarchy's Heart, which manoeuvred to swing around Rasiak's battleline's port ship. A larger concentration of nine enemy vessels of varying sizes and classes, with the Styx-class Heavy Cruiser Blood Dawn in the vanguard would pass by him off the starboard side. The two fleets slid past each other in a murderous gun battle. It was a vicious duel and both sides were soon wounded. The Anarchy's Heart had raked the length of the Imperial battleline, its firepower stripped shields and buckled armour as it passed. The Sword-class Exuo-Four-One was crippled by the enemy battleship's batteries and was left adrift and helpless. Two of the monitors were also gone. The Izra Mors had lost three plasma reactors to enemy bombing attacks, and was operating on minimal power, and with her manoeuvre thrusters disabled she was a sitting duck. Rasiak was forced to abandon her to her fate. Rather than abandon the ship, the Izra Mors captain ordered his surviving crew to man the guns and keep shooting.
The Lord Bellerophon itself had been blasted and buffeted. The old warship was battered and listing, wounded but still fighting. Her guns had damaged the Chaos heavy transport Aharon's Bane and destroyed another of the Iconoclast destroyers. The Chaos fleet had also been wounded, but for reasons as yet unknown two of the cruisers had failed to engage. These had been the rearguard of the second battleline and even as Rasiak watched from his command pulpit console they were coming about and seemed to be disengaging. These enemy vessels' guns could have easily have finished the Lord Bellerophon and her surviving escorts. With much of his communications destroyed, Rear-Admiral Rasiak had no idea that reinforcements were on their way. Battlefleet Scarus had directed the closest battle-worthy force to Vraks. Cruiser group Mahzur, under Rear-Admiral Titus Mahzur, had arrived not far behind the Traitor fleet. Led by the Gothic-class Cruiser Consul Thracii, with the Dominator-class Cruiser Orion and the ancient Grand Cruiser Covenanter in support, as well as a squadron of escorts, the cruisers were now racing towards Vraks and the battle. Together they could swing the battle in the Imperium's favour.
Even with the advent of additional forces, the Anarchy's Heart and the Aharon's Bane both moved towards Vraks, intent on achieving orbit and delivering their payloads to the surface. The Blood Dawn manoeuvred to launch her re-armed attack craft, this time Dreadclaw assault boats sped towards the crippled Izra Mors, intent on making the stricken giant transport their prize. It was then that Rasiak ordered his reserves into the fray, the three fire ships. One of these vessels, ignoring instructions to abandon ship, steered itself directly into the Aharon's Bane. The fire ship his the Chaos vessel in the stern quarters. Critically damaged by the collision, the Aharon's Bane was already caught in Vrak's gravity well and began to plunge planetwards. By some dark miracle, the bridge crew of the Chaos vessel somehow managed to break the vessel's wild descent. The Aharon's Bane impacted with the ground close to the Chaylia Plateau, tearing a great gouge into Vraks' surface. From within the hold the hordes slowly began to emerge, dazed and blinking onto Vraks' surface.
While the Aharon's Bane fell, the Anarchy's Heart manoeuvred into low orbit, and cast hundreds of drop ships and landing craft down onto Vraks. The Alpha Legion had gathered together their allies, other warbands keen to seek battle and plunder. Waves of Dreadclaw Drop Pods rained down onto Vraks, carrying bands of Chaos Space Marines to the war below. Rear-Admiral Mahzur knew he was too late to stop the Anarchy's Heart seeding Vraks with her evil cargo, but he still raced onwards in the hope that he could engage and destroy the mighty battleship. But in the ensuing melee, Cruiser group Mahzur suffered multiple losses of its escort vessels as well as the crippling of the Lord Bellerophon's engines, turning the battle decisively in the enemy's favour. They had four capital rated ships still in the fight, including a battleship and heavy cruiser. The battle for the Vraks System was effectively lost. Rasiak had failed in his duty as an officer of the Emperor's Navy and he gave instructions that the captain of the Covenanter should see to it that these opinions passed to a board of enquiry on Cypra Mundi. Rear-Admiral Rasiak might survive the battle but he would most likely pay for his failure with his career. For himself, Mahzur refused to return to base with his tails between his legs. His only chance for glory now was the destruction of the Anarychy's Heart. With the Emperor standing at his shoulder, Mahzur ordered the Consul Thracii to ramming speed.
Rear-Admiral Mahzur's single-handed (but vain) attempt to ram the enemy battleship was the stuff from which Imperial Navy legends were made. It was a heroic but ultimately futile act that cost Battlefleet Scarus a good Gothic-class cruiser and the Rear-Admiral and his crew their lives. The battle had turned the immediate area of space around Vraks into a graveyard of burned out hulks. Debris from vessels and the abandoned hulks of eleven Imperial Navy ships now littered the area. The butcher's bill had been a costly one; one of the largest capitol ships, four Sword-class frigates, two defence monitors and the heavy freighter Izra Mors. The three freighter converted into fire ships had also been lost. Added to the losses was the damage to just about every other vessel. The Lord Bellerophon had survived, but barely and would need years to be re-fitted and made ready for duty again. Likewise the Orion was heavily damaged. Only the Covenanter had survived with slight damage, fit to continue her duties.
Of the enemy fleet, kills could only be confirmed on the Anharon's Bane and at least four Infidel or Iconoclast raiders. But the enemy had seized control of the Vraks System and were now free to unload their cargos of troops to the surface. The Blood Dawn would launch more Dreadclaws, all full of Khornate Berzerkers, including the infamous Berserkers of Skallathrax and the Skulltakers warband of the infamous Warmaster Zhufor the Bloodreaver, himself believed to be a trusted lieutenant of Abaddon the Despoiler. In all, tens of thousands of new Chaos troops would land on Vraks, screaming their insane prayers and liturgies and eager to kill in the name of their blasphemous gods. The Ferrum Invictus unleashed a large warband of Iron Warriors known as the Steel Brethren, whose expertise in siege warfare would aid the heretical defenders of Vraks greatly in their attempt to break the Imperial offensive.
Breaking the Deadlock
- "For these men, there can be no "after Vraks."
- — Commissar Obionsk, Krieg 19th Siege Regiment
The Greatest Obstacle
The Assault on Mortuary Ridge
Death from Above
With the arrival of the Chaos Space Marines, the situation rapidly deteriorated for the Imperial besiegers. The appearance of Khornate Berserkers stole the initiative from the Imperial Guard of the 88th Siege Army. Khornate warbands, including Traitor Marines from the World Eaters warbands called the Skulltakers and the Berserkers of Skallathrax, roamed the Imperial trench lines, attacking wherever they encountered the enemy. Fort C-585 was attacked by the Skulltakers, who arrived in Drop Pods and then began clearing the trenches of Imperial Guardsmen in savage close combat. The 468th Krieg Regiment was forced to withdraw down Mortuary Ridge. The Chaos Space Marines' sudden arrival forced the Imperial Guard's forces to return to their prior positions, effectively restoring the heretics' outer defensive perimeter and guaranteeing that the siege would continue to grind on.
The arrival of the Chaotic reinforcements radically altered the momentum of the Siege of Vraks. A slow, static war of attrition had suddenly been transformed into a more fluid battle, as the deployment of the Chaos Space Marines provided the Apostate Cardinal's forces with the ability to strike deep behind the Imperial lines. But even the Traitor Marines' warbands lacked the heavy artillery and armoured vehicles required to smash the 88th Siege Army's deeply-entrenched positions, nor were they able to effectively hold onto the ground they had retaken from the servants of the Emperor.
Yet being pushed back on the defensive incurred a troubling cost for the men of the Imperial Guard on Vraks. Cut off from easy resupply efforts because of the Chaotic forces' constant and costly harrying pressure on their lines, the Death Korps' units were no longer able to get the regular resupply of men and materiel that was brought in from off-world by the Departmento Munitorum. Whilst the stockpiles of the 88th Siege Army were vast, these supplies could no longer be readily replenished and the Imperial forces on Vraks were now taking far higher casualties than the Administratum had ever expected when its Adepts had laid out the course of the siege.
- Imperial Armour Volume Five - The Siege of Vraks - Part One
- Imperial Armour Volume Six - The Siege of Vraks - Part Two
- Imperial Armour Volume Seven - The Siege of Vraks - Part Three