The Taros Campaign was an Imperial military campaign fought by the 4621st Imperial Guard Army of the Astra Militarum and elements of the Adeptus Astartes to reclaim the Imperial desert Mining World of Taros from the Tau Empire and its Kroot and human (Gue'vesa) allies among the Taros Planetary Defence Force in 998.M41. The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful for the Imperium due to the high number of casualties taken at the hands of the technologically-advanced xenos. Taros remained in the possession of the Tau, who renamed it T'ros.
The Road to War
The Imperium Under Threat
The Imperium of Man is vast, consisting of over a million worlds scattered the length and breadth of the galaxy. It is the greatest empire in human history, and as a great empire the casual observer might think that the Imperium is strong – strong enough to resist and defeat any threat – but it is not so.
In truth, the Imperium is failing. The galaxy is a dark and terrible place filled with bloodthirsty aliens, malign powers and horrors too terrible to name. Beset by external wars and internal divisions, the Imperium of Man must constantly fight for survival. The continued maintenance and protection of the Imperium is governed by the Adeptus Administratum, a vast and labyrinthine bureaucracy centred on Terra, from which every Segmentum, Sector, Sub-Sector and solar system is run. The task is vast and complex, so complex that the Administratum cannot control every aspect of it. Within the Administratum sub-organisations have their own areas of responsibility. One of the largest of their organisation is the Departmento Munitorum, which oversees the supply of men and material to the Imperium’s largest armed force, the Imperial Guard. In itself this is a task of epic proportions. The Imperial Guard is a fighting force consisting of billions of men and millions of fighting vehicles. It is deployed to warzones and garrisons all across the galaxy. At any one time the Imperial Guard might be engaged in thousands, maybe tens of thousands of conflicts, all of which need supplying. As the Departmento Munitorum labours to meet these demands, the threat to the Imperium’s continued existence is growing.
As the end of the 41st millennium grew closer, the omens of a new and terrible threat to the Imperium began to grow. Within the Eye of Terror, where Warp-space and realspace overlap and the worshippers of the Chaos Gods rule, the Warmaster of Chaos, Abaddon the Arch-Traitor, Destroyer of Worlds, was making his plans and gathering his strength for a new assault upon the Imperium and its false Emperor. Driven by the bloody desires of his insane gods and a thirst for vengeance which had not been quenched by ten thousand years of war, Abaddon’s 13th Black Crusade was mustering its forces, secure within the Eye of Terror. When Abaddon’s storm broke it would be the largest Black Crusade yet. Abaddon would unleash his diabolic forces from within the Eye with the objective of capturing the Cadian Gate.
The Cadian Gate is the only stable passage from the Eye of Terror and the most direct route between the Eye and the centre of the Imperium, Holy Terra. Abaddon’s ultimate objective, like that of Horus, his master before him, is overthrowing the Emperor's rule and the destruction of the Imperium. To do this he must eventually assault Terra. The capture of the Cadian Gate would be a large step towards that ultimate objective. But the Cadian Gate is a lynchpin in the strategic defence of Holy Terra. Cadia is a bastion world, the most militaristic in the Imperium -- a hugely strong Fortress World protected by fleets of the Imperial Navy -- orbited by powerful battle stations, and defended by the strongest bastions, garrisoned by regiments of hardy Cadian Shock Troops. The surrounding worlds are also well protected and garrisoned. The capture of the Cadian Gate would require a huge assault, and plunge the Imperium into its largest single war since the arrival of Hive Fleet Kraken on the distant Eastern Fringe. When Abaddon’s crusade struck, it would be a war that required the full weight of the Imperium’s resources to win. It would be a battle of titanic proportions.
War on such a massive scale does not come secretly or by surprise. The Imperium is not completely blind to events within the Eye of Terror. Sages and seers were forecasting dire warnings long before Abaddon launched his crusade. Omens taken from the Emperor's Tarot predicted the threat. Raids were increasing around the Eye of Terror. The Adeptus Mechanicus Exploritas launched nullships deep into the Eye of Terror to send back information about events inside. What they found sent shock waves through the upper echelons of the Imperium. The twelve High Lords of Terra, the council that rules the Imperium in the Emperor’s place, long debated what course of action to take. It was clear that the defences must be strengthened, reserves must be found, weapons, ammunition and supplies stockpiled on armoury worlds across Segmentum Obscurus. Space Marine Chapters must be readied and positioned to respond to the attack. Wherever the hammer-blow fell, the Imperial Guard must first hold, and then drive back, the followers of Chaos. Every fighting force at the Imperium’s disposal must be ready to fight to the last shell and last man to protect the Cadian Gate. If the High Lords of Terra decree it, then so it shall be, for they speak with the authority of the Emperor. Their word is law. The Administratum set about the task of preparing the Imperium for another great war.
Stygies VIII Forge World
Abaddon’s 13th Black Crusade would indirectly affect every part of the Imperium, whether it was the demands for new Imperial Guard regiments, increased tithes or higher production from Forge Worlds to meet supply demands. Abaddon’s ambition could be likened to throwing a stone into a pond, where the ripples stretched out to the far corners of the galaxy.
In the Ultima Segmentum, the largest of the five great Segmentums that divide the Imperium, the effects would also be felt, even as far away as the Eastern Fringe. Stygies VIII is one of Ultima Segmentum’s greatest Forge Worlds, and one of the Adeptus Mechanicus' largest research and production facilities. In productivity Stygies VIII stands in the second tier of Forge Worlds, with Mars alone on the top tier. Situated in the Vulcanis system and covering the entire surface of the eighth moon of the ringed gas-giant Stygies, the Forge World is one of the most productive in the Ultima Segmentum, and of great importance to the Imperium’s war efforts.
As a Forge World, Stygies VIII does not pay tithes to the Administratum; instead it is bound to supply arms, munitions and equipment to the Departmento Munitorum for use by the Imperial Guard. This is a very important task as productivity is carefully monitored to meet demand forecasts (itself something of an arcane art practiced by the Adeptus Mechanicus’ Logis). Should the Forge World fall behind, there might be serious consequences in the future when, in some far-off warzone, ammunition or replacement weapons begin to run out. The Departmento Munitorum spends a lot of its time and resources making sure this does not happen.
Carrying the authority of the Master of the Administratum, a Departmento Munitorum official arrived on Stygies VIII with a new set of production figures and targets. The forecasts of a coming Black Crusade meant many new Imperial Guard regiments were being raised, and these fighting men needed equipment. The rules of Stygies VIII and the High-Prefect of the Departmento Munitorum held long councils to discuss the new requirements. At this council, Stygies VIII argued that if production was to be increased, then more refined and raw materials would need to be found. The lifeblood of any Forge World is the material it consumes. For production on the scale found on Stygies VIII, vast amounts of minerals and chemicals are required. Mining planets across the Imperium supplies these demands. The task of finding new material was a big one, and the Departmento officials returned to Terra to begin it. Administratum Auditors set about finding where reserves had been located and catalogued, and where planetary-audits suggested that extra productivity might be squeezed from refineries.
It was during this process of evaluation and cross-referencing that the planet of Taros first came to the Administratum bureaucrat's attention. Taros was a small Mining World deep in Ultima Segmentum. It was unremarkable except for two things: the estimated size of the planet’s untapped mineral wealth and secondly, its rather too-close-for-comfort proximity to the expanding borders of the alien Tau Empire. The Departmento Munitorum briefed a delegation to visit this backwater planet. Armed with an ancient audit report compiled in the 38th millennium by officials collecting data for just such circumstances, Auditor Prime Nymus Dree and his team of scribes and archivists were dispatched to inform the Planetary Governor of Taros of his new increased production targets and to help organise the meeting of these. Dree was authorised to use the Departmento’s ultimate sanction. Under the conditions of the Pax Imperialis, if the Planetary Governor could not, or would not, meet the increased targets, then he would be replaced by a new Governor who would.
The Departmento Munitorum Delegation
The man chosen to lead the delegation to Taros was Auditor-Prime Nymus Dree, a functionary from the upper ranks of the Departmento Munitorum. He was accompanied by a team of record scribes and messenger-cyphers. On leaving Terra, his first port of call was Stygies VIII to collect representatives from that Forge World, including a High Magos Metallurgicus, an expert in the study of metals. Dree also needed to confirm his own figures and calculations with the needs of the Forge World before moving on to Taros. Given the location of Taros, an Imperial Navy escort was requested, and granted, for the delegation’s transport ship.
The first Taros’ rulers knew about the delegation from Terra and Stygies VIII was when a transport and two Imperial Navy frigates unexpectedly arrived in system. This was a deliberate policy by Dree, so as to not forewarn the Planetary Governor of his arrival and thus give the delegation the best chance of seeing how efficiently the mining operation was currently being run.
After a long and arduous Warp journey, the three ships of the delegation entered orbit around Taros. Dree’s delegation boarded a flight of Aquila Lander shuttles and were transferred down to the spaceport at Taros City (Tarokeen), the planet’s only city. The Planetary Governor, with his advisors and officials, awaited the delegation’s arrival and greeted them with due ceremony. The entire entourage transferred to the Governor’s Palace, where an official meeting was scheduled for Dree to inform the Planetary Governor of the Administratum’s revised plans.
After the meeting, Dree began a tour of the mining works to see for himself how the operations were conducted and interview the mine owners in person. Meanwhile, the Adeptus Mechanicus representatives would begin to assess the quality and purity of the ore currently being supplied from Taros.
Planetary Governor, Lord Aulis, accepted that, with the Munitorum’s aid, current productivity levels could be increased and that the new targets required to keep Stygies VIII operating at its increased capacity were achievable. He promised to do all in his power to meet the targets, and in all respects was a loyal and convivial host to the Imperium’s officials. To begin with, he aroused no suspicion within the delegation.
It was not until Auditor-Prime Dree started to visit the outlying mining sites that he started to wonder about certain aspects of the mining operation on Taros. Firstly, there were many abandoned mining sites scarring the deserts, evidence of much activity. Each time he was told that the lode or ore seam had been mined out, and the operation had moved on. To the mine owners, this was evidence of industrious hard work, but to an Auditor it was physical evidence that the planet’s estimated reserves were being eaten into, or were not as large as had originally been claimed in the M38 audit. Dree’s tour continued, and each mining operation seemed to be working hard, finding new lodes and blasting them out in huge strip mining operations. The ore was being separated and shipped in large quantities to the spaceport at Tarokeen. The stockpiles at Tarokeen were now large, awaiting the arrival of empty transports to carry it away to refineries. On the surface all was well, but Auditor Dree started to look deeper.
Each mine was requested to hand over productivity statements, going back for ten or twenty years. Several mine owners could not comply as their records were incomplete, but most responded, and from them Dree began to get an overall picture of how ore had recently been exported off Taros. Next he looked into survey and geological reports about new lodes and the sizes of these finds. From this information he gained a good idea of how much mineral wealth remained. These figures did not tally with how much the ancient audit report claimed. At the current rates of extraction, using figures collected from refineries and Stygies VIII, there should have been more left than current estimates stated. There was a disparity between the figures of the different sources, which concerned Dree. Had Taros been over-mining, in which case where were the stockpiles? Those in storage in Tarokeen did not cover the disparity. Or had Stygies VII got it wrong, in which case the forecast figures might also be mistaken, and the far-reaching effects of this could result in a future lack of supplies. For now the Auditor kept his suspicions to himself.
It took Dree several weeks to gather all the information he needed from Taros. By the end of his investigation he had a good idea of what had been happening there. The mines had been over-producing. For years they had been stripping out ore at a greater rate than was required or needed. All this ore had been shipped to Tarokeen, and although quotas for refineries and Stygies VIII itself had been met, the rest of the valuable ores had vanished. Because there was no letup in supply the mistake had never been noticed. The book-keeping trail ended there. Where had the missing ore gone? Before leaving Taros, Dree decided to confront the Planetary Governor about the disparity and seek an explanation, although it was likely the Governor himself had no idea about the problem.
Governor Aulis did indeed claim ignorance. As far as he was concerned quotas had been met and shipments had been made on time. He didn’t concern himself with the day-to-day running of mines, that was the job of the owners. Governor Aulis’ advice was to ‘ask them!’. So Dree did just that, requesting that the largest mine owners each attend a hearing to explain the figures. They had no explanation. They just dug and blasted, and dug some more. They found lodes and stripped them out as fast as they could with the workforce available to them. Ignorance was their defence. Getting nowhere and suspecting a conspiracy of silence, Dree decided more drastic action was needed.
Conspiracy on Taros
Unknown to Auditor Prime Dree, he was starting to scratch the surface of events which had been developing over the past two decades on Taros. The arrival of his delegation had, to the casual observer, been gracefully received. In fact, his presence had caused widespread concern throughout the ruling elite of Taros.
The Tau had a long-time interest in the planet of Taros. As their Empire had expanded, systems had been systematically scouted for possible colonisation. Many worlds had been identified, and one such planet was Taros. It had a breathable atmosphere, and although it was a harsh desert planet (the Tau themselves better adapted to hot climates than cold), it had some water and was capable of sustaining life. Best of all was its abundant mineral wealth. It was noted as a good prospect for future expansion and swift colonisation, but there was one major drawback. Taros was the Imperium’s world, and that meant capturing it would be difficult. Since first contact with the Imperium at Devlan, when a scout ship had been destroyed, the Tau had learned that the Imperium would not easily give up worlds claimed in the Emperor’s name. Any military attack would bring a swift response. Capturing Taros would involve a major war, and the Ethereals on T'au did not believe the gains outweighed the risks. For now there were other, easier, targets. Any initial plans for a quick invasion were shelved, but Taros was not forgotten.
Instead of calling upon the Fire Caste to capture Taros, the Ethereal council first turned to the Water Caste. Diplomatic moves might bring results if the Water Caste played a quiet, patient game. The Imperium’s worlds usually refused all contact with aliens, and the Water Caste had learnt that many Planetary Governors could not be seen being in negotiations with xenos, for fear of their own rulers finding out. However, deals and small trading could be negotiated if everything was kept secret. Merchant guildmasters and the leaders of trading cartels were rich, greedy men, and a chance to trade with the dynamic Tau Empire offered them riches they could not find anywhere else on the Eastern Fringe.
A delegation of the most experienced and cunning Water Caste diplomats was sent to Taros to seek a meeting with its rulers. This team included human representatives from other worlds already working with the Tau. Armed with assurances that the Tau Empire had no ambitions to continually expand in this area of space, and that Taros was completely safe from attack, the diplomats offered small trading contracts. In return for very small amounts of manganese ore, the Tau could offer water purification and recycling technology, as well as hydroponics equipment for growing food and luxury goods. These items could make the harsh life on Taros that much easier for its social elite.
At first, the Planetary Governor baulked at the Water Caste’s approaches. He knew full well that trading with aliens was strictly forbidden, but Taros was just one planet in a million, and small amounts of ore would not be missed. Governor Aulis talked to the mine owners and the merchants, and in turn saw a chance to make extra money and amass wealth. The Imperium’s quotas had not been changed in generations. The mining operations were working efficiently. The Administratum was content .Who would know or care if some extra manganese or vanadium ore was blasted out and sold to these Tau? Other human worlds had grown rich doing it, the alien delegates had brought proof with them, and, in the long run, good relations might help keep Tau expansionism at bay.
Negotiations were completed some twenty years ago, and the Tau got their first foot in the door on Taros. The agreement started out very small, no more than one shipment of manganese and vanadium a year, but gradually, as the Planetary Governor and his mine owners got away with it, the amounts being shipped increased. The tithes set by the Administratum were still being met, but the mines began to find extra new lodes to exploit. Over the next ten years, the Tau gained more and more say in the mining operations, and several Earth Caste delegations visited to offer aid and advice. The Tau had paid for the ore in technology and luxury goods such as precious stones from Tash'varr and exotic fruits from Au'taal. The high society of Taros began to grow wealthy on the illicit trade. For almost two decades the Administratum’s bureaucrats remained ignorant, whilst the Tau’s influence grew.
The unexpected arrival of the Adeptus Munitorum delegation caused much concern in the inner circle of Taros’ ruling elite. Those mine owners who were profiting from the deal became very nervous. Governor Aulis urged calm. He argued that they could bluff it out, claim ignorance, like, cover-up, anything. He believed the delegation would do its duty, the increased tithes could still be met, and nothing need ever be found out. Act too hastily and the conspiracy would be uncovered and they would all be arrested. However, the Planetary Governor did not reckon on the thoroughness of Auditor-Prime Dree.
Soon, cracks in the cover-up and lies were being found and suspicions aroused. As Dree dug deeper, concern grew. For the conspirators, the situation was becoming desperate. Some mine owners even advocated assassinating the entire delegation and blaming the Tau. The Planetary Governor forbade the action. If the delegation were harmed, it would only be worse for them all in the long term. Maybe he could find some way of discrediting Auditor Dree’s report. Lord Aulis continued to try and bluff it out until the delegation left. Unknown to him, events far away and beyond his control in the Denab system would reveal all…
The Denab Incident
Meanwhile, unrelated to events around the Eye of Terror or Taros, the Imperial Navy’s Patrol Group Ravanor was conducting a routine anti-pirate sweep though the Denab system, an area of wilderness space on the edge of the Damocles Gulf. The five-ship patrol, operating under standing orders to attack and seize suspected pirate vessels or conduct harrying raids against Tau targets of opportunity, was under the command of Captain Darillian of the Dauntless-class Light Cruiser Lord Ravanor. The patrol had been out for several months with little success, and Captain Darillian was preparing to return to base and report that pirate activity in the area was minimal when the Sword-class Frigate VCS-6 of Scadryn squadron, positioned well ahead of the main line, reported sensor contact with three unidentified transport vessels. Suspecting these may be the pirate vessels he was hunting, Captain Darillian began a cautious pursuit.
Patrol Group Ravanor carefully stalked the three vessels though the Denab asteroid belt, maintaining a distance that would not reveal their presence and making maximum use of the asteroid belt’s cover. For three days they maintained the stand-off pursuit, hoping the three vessels would lead them to a pirate base or a rendezvous point, and a far greater prize. It seemed Captain Darillian was correct. The convoy was making for a deep-space facility on the edge of the Denab belt. As the ship approached, it was revealed to be no pirate base; instead, scanner readings from Darillian’s leading ship revealed the presence of a small Tau waystation. Captain Darillian had experience operating around the Damocles Gulf and had encountered such facilities before, scattered in remote locations. He wondered why three transport freighters would be rendezvousing with an alien waystation. Positioning a single escort vessel to maintain surveillance, the Captain withdrew and reported the curious events to fleet command. Whilst the Lord Ravanor was away, the frigate VCS-6 observed the three transports dock at the waystation, and a single Tau vessel of the Emissary-class leave shortly afterwards. Hidden within the asteroid belt, VCS-6 watched and waited.
Meanwhile, Captain Darillian’s astropathic message reached the Imperial Navy High Command in the area, who was equally in the dark about these events. Inquiries about these three ships revealed nothing. Whoever these ships belonged to, they were obviously consorting with aliens. New orders were issued to Patrol Group Ravanor – destroy the Tau waystation and capture the transports. Prisoners were to be taken for further interrogation. The Lord Ravanor returned to rendezvous with VCS-6 and prepared to attack. The crews were roused to battle-stations and the escort captains briefed. The group would slowly approach the station through the asteroid belt, and then attack at all full ahead, giving the rogue transport the minimum of time to make an escape. The Lord Ravanor would engage the waystation, whilst the escorts prevented any escape or pursued any transports that tried to flee. After crippling the waystation, the Lord Ravanor would then grapple alongside a transport and board to take her as a prize and capture the crew.
With a single order, the great plasma reactors of the five Imperial Navy ships roared into life, accelerating them out of the asteroid belt in line astern directly at the waystation. With surprise on their side, the patrol group raced past the waystation, unleashing a full broadside at short range. Lance batteries and Macrocannons roared into the void, impacting upon the waystation with shuddering explosions. The station attempted to return fire as best she could, with little effect. One transport was immediately hit and crippled as it lay at berth, the others, as predicted, attempted to disengage and flee. Scadryn squadron was immediately in rapid pursuit. It seemed his surprise attack had worked, except Captain Darillian was about to get a surprise himself. His bridge survey-controllers urgently reported more Tau vessels approaching. A second convoy of transports and an escort of light warships, identified as of the Castellan-class had appared on scanner screens, and they were closing fast. Suddenly, instead of a one-sided ambush, Patrol Group Ravanor had a real fight on its hands. Reacting to the new situation, the Captain recalled his escorts from their pursuit and set a new course to intercept the approaching Tau vessels.
The gruff old Captain ordered a new attack, calculating that he had enough firepower to see the Tau convoy off or destroy it entirely. With her four escorts closing in behind her, the Lord Ravanor ploughed in amongst the alien convoy, broadsides blazing from both starboard and port batteries. In return, the Tau vessels peppered her back, shields flaring and decks quacking under the impacts of Railguns and Ion Cannons. It was a bitter and hard-fought battle at close range, with both sides inflicting heavy damage during the engagement. The Sword-class Frigates VCS-6 and 7 were both crippled, and the Lord Ravanor was limping with engine damage and fires on several decks. However, the Tau convoy was scattered, leaving one drifting transport as a wreck and both Castellans, the targets of the Lord Ravanor’s biggest guns, as burning hulks. To the cheers of her gun crews, Patrol Group Ravanor had had the best of it and decisively won the skirmish. In the process, two of the rogue transport had escaped.
Captain Darillian gathered his battered but victorious officers and issued orders for the post-battle operations. Boarding parties were to be readied to board the waystation and crippled transport. All prisoners were to be brought directly to him. A second party was to board the Tau transport and seize her cargo. Meanwhile, VCS-8 and 9 were to rescue surviving crew from the patrol group’s two crippled escorts. After the completion of the operation they would make course out of the Denab system and home, battle-scarred but victorious. Aboard the Tau transport the boarding party found only empty holds. The waystation had been badly damaged and a final bombardment before departing would destroy it beyond salvage. Crewmen from the crippled rogue transported were captured after a brief skirmish with its survivors. It seemed they had no knowledge of the ship’s cargo, but the ship’s log recorded that their last port of call had been Taros. The crewmen claimed not to know why there were there, or why their cargo was being unloaded by the Tau. They were just following orders, but orders from whom? The prisoners would be turned over to Inquisitorial interrogators once the Lord Ravanor returned to port, and then lying tongues would loosen.
On his return, Captain Darillian was ordered the Order of the Knights of Damocles, and promoted to Captain the cruiser Hammer of Thrace for his part in winning the engagement. He filed a full report about the 'Denab Incident', but the truth behind the events remained a mystery to the Imperial Navy.
The truth remained a mystery only until the Denab Incident report was discovered by Auditor Prime Dree, during his research into the missing minerals on Taros. For Dree, Patrol Group Ravanor’s discovery was evidence of treachery. Dree's suspicions were confirmed. The three transports had been carrying a cargo of manganese, vanadium and rhenium ore, loaded at Taros and originally destined for refineries which in turn supplied Stygies VIII. But the convoy had been diverted and then ordered to unload some of their cargo at the Tau waystation, from where it would be transferred to Tau vessels and transported back into the Tau Empire for their own use. This would not have been the first time valuable resources had been given, or more likely sold, to the aliens. The patrol group's luck in stumbling across the convoy and waystation had given the Departmento Munitorum official the damning evidence he needed. There was a conspiracy on Taros, a secret deal with the Tau Empire to syphon off mineral resources, which belonged to the Imperium. Dree was sure that the Planetary Governor must be at the heart of the conspiracy. Lord Aulis might be all industrious loyalty on the outside, but within beat the black heart of a traitor to the Imperium. The Planetary Governor had broken the sacred Pax Imperialis, and swift retribution would be his reward.
Auditor Prime Dree presented his report to the Office of the Master of the Adeptus Munitorum on Terra, for consideration of action to be taken. Dree had completed the investigation, but everything was now out of his hands. He had no power to decide what to do about Taros, only to present his findings. Only an Inquisitor would have the sweeping powers to intervene, and Dree was a mere bureaucrat. The Office of the Master of the Adeptus Munitorum on Terra is in itself vast, overseeing much of the work of the Departmento's many sub-departments. It would take several months for the bureaucracy to process Dree's report and for anybody with real authority to eventually see it. His report was just one amongst thousands.
Dree returned to his day-to-day functions. The wheels of the Administratum's bureaucracy do not turn fast, but slowly events on Taros came to the attention of the Master of the Adeptus Munitorum's office. A report claiming serious breaches of the Pax Imperialis and conspiring with aliens was to be taken seriously. Dree was summoned to a hearing to explain his findings, which he did. Things on Taros were rotten, Dree said, and the Planetary Governor was at the heart of the conspiracy. Action needed to be taken; swift action to end the problem. Amongst the upper ranks of the Adeptus Terra it was decided that the Planetary Governor should be removed and replaced with a more trustworthy candidate. The Administratum started to consider its options. The first and most obvious option was to contact the Officio Assassinorum and secretly dispatch one of the Imperium's most lethal weapons to Taros. Maybe a servant of the Vindicare Temple to execute the Governor for his crime with a single well-placed sniper shot to the head, or a servant of the Callidus Temple could infiltrate his organisation and get close enough for a silent knife in the dark. But the simple death of the Planetary Governor would not solve the problem. Taros was close to the Tau Empire, and an obvious prospect for Tau expansionist ambitions. The Imperium needed to send the aliens a strong message - that Tau interference on Taros would not be tolerated. The problem was not just the Planetary Governor, it was also the Tau. Simply assassinating Lord Aulis would not deter their ambitions.
The Officio Assassinorum was ruled out in favour of a bolder, larger plan - a coup d’état. A strike force would target the Planetary Governor and his supporters. Using maximum force, they would demonstrate to Tau observers the Emperor's will to hold onto Taros. Once the operation was complete, the strike force would become a temporary garrison to deter any Tau counter-attacks. There was only one force capable of such a mission at short notice - the Adeptus Astartes. The Space Marines would be the Emperor's instrument of divine justice on Taros. During the Damocles Gulf Crusade the Tau had learned to fear Mankind's finest warriors, and a strike force on the ground would send an unmistakable message - the Imperium will do everything it can to hold Taros. If the Tau wanted the planet, they would first have to face the Space Marines!
A Space Marine Chapter was quickly identified for the coup d’état mission and a high-level delegation with the relevant intelligence information was immediately dispatched to the Chapter-Monastery of the Avenging Sons, along with a well-worded request signed by the Master of the Administratum office asking the Chapter Master for his assistance. Official records would later name this operation 'The First Taros Intervention'.
The First Taros Intervention
The Avenging Sons responded swiftly to the Administratum’s request for punitive action to be taken against Taros. After receiving the Administratum delegation, the Chapter Master summoned his company commanders and explained the mission. It was to fall to Captain Armaros to do the Chapter’s duty, and the second Company readied itself for battle. Boltguns and Power Armour were anointed and blessed by the company Chaplain, whilst Brothers Hakael and Caim were awoken from their slumbers. Their Dreadnought systems were checked and declared fully functioning by the Chapter Techmarines. For twenty four hours the Chapter-Monastery was a bustle of activity as the second company, assisted by a squad of the veteran first company and Scouts of the tenth, mustered its full strength.
Captain Armaros and his men embarked onto the Strike Cruiser Proxima Justus and, accompanied by a single escort vessel, made best speed out of the system before engaging its Warp-Drives. There would be time enough on the month-long journey for briefing and training. The Taros Intervention Force was on its way to battle.
Whilst bound for the Taros system, Captain Armaros began planning his attack and briefing his fellow officers and squad sergeants. The mission objective was straightforward – locate and eliminate Planetary Governor Aulis. In the process, the operation should be a strong show of force. The attack should be swift, ruthless and brutal. All opposition was to be destroyed. It was the kind of mission Space Marine strike forces excelled at. Armed with all the intelligence the Administratum and Auditor-Prime Dree could provide, the Captain planned the assault in detail. First he would need to locate the Planetary Governor. The first and most obvious target would be the Governor's Palace, his residence. Armaros had detailed layouts of the large building to plan the assault. If the Governor escaped or was not present, then the attack would move into a second phase; a search and destroy operation. This would involve moving heavier equipment and vehicles onto the ground and beginning a sweep through the city. Other likely hiding places were earmarked for immediate follow-up raids. During the second phase of the operation Armaros would also need the aid of the Proxima Justus in low orbit, utilizing its powerful surveillance and sensor equipment, and should resistance require it, the Strike Cruiser's weapons for orbital bombardment. As a show of force, the willingness to flatten Tarokeen would send a strong message, as well as help subdue the local population. If the population began to feel that they were all suffering for their Governor's crimes then they might turn against him and inform on his hiding place. It was a brutal tactic, but Captain Armaros was a Space Marine, with a lifetime of indoctrination and hypo-suggestion that meant he cared not one bit. His duty to the Emperor was all that mattered. To his mind, there were no innocents on Taros anymore.
Rather than a single building, the Governor's Palace was a complex of government buildings, but Aulis' private residence would be the first target. For speed and surprise Armaros planned a Drop Pod assault. All of the 2nd Company's manpower, aided by the teleporting Terminator veterans of First Company, would play their parts. First, four of the six Tactical squads were assigned their roles. Using darkness for cover, each squad would establish a blocking position. Landing close to their target location they would move to form a roadblock, holding the key locations to prevent reinforcements from reaching the Governor's Palace quickly. This part of the mission would be under the subcommand of Veteran Sergeant Einem of the first squad. He would be responsible for holding these locations, moving men between them as he saw fit to reinforce if one position came under heavy enemy attack. Armaros, briefing Sergeant Einem, felt this was unlikely as the entire mission was planned as a swift strike. The Captain did not intend to be waiting around long enough for the enemy to react and gather a large force.
Isolated by the four blocking squads, the Battle Company's two Assault squads, supported by the two remaining Tactical squads, would land within the palace complex itself, directly on the heels of a Deathwind Drop Pod, which would be the first to impact, before unloading its lethal cargo of missiles indiscriminately. The assault units would overcome any resistance at the palatial residence before sweeping through it to locate Lord Aulis. Captain Armaros himself would lead this assault along with Chaplain Baraqel. The First Company's Terminators would be the ultimate instrument of justice. Once his force had located the Governor within the palace, Captain Armaros would use his Teleport Homer to summon the waiting Terminators. Arriving via a teleporter, the Terminators would appear at the location and use their massive close range firepower to eliminate the target.
Immediately upon success the code word 'Justice' would be given and the operation could move into the evacuation phase. Should the code word not be received after one hour, or the override code 'Malevolent' be issued, this would mean that the target was not present or had escaped. 'Malevolent' would mean everybody moving to phase two - search and destroy. During the first phase attack there would be a small reserve force consisting of both Devastator squads, the two Dreadnoughts and the Scout squad. Their primary mission would be to cover the company's withdrawal and then form the backbone of a secure perimeter about the Governor's Palace whilst an evacuation was conducted by Thunderhawk gunship. This force would also be relied upon to counter any stronger-than-expected enemy resistance. At Captain Armaros' call they would move to intercept and engage. With their heavy weapons fire they should be able to inflict serious damage rapidly, buying the company enough time for the other squads to complete the mission and either withdraw or move to phase two.
Captain Armaros' plan had three things to its advantage, even though he would be attacking into the heart of enemy territory with only 120 battle brothers, no heavy support or armoured vehicles and no preparatory bombardment to soften up the target. Firstly, and most importantly, was surprise. The enemy may have been expecting an attack, but they did not know when, where or how. Secondly, the defenders were only local Planetary Defence Forces, low-quality troops with little discipline and, by Space Marine standards, poorly equipped. Their morale would also be poor, and Armaros expected that after a sudden, swift blow organized resistance would crumble. Thirdly, overwhelming concentration of forces. The Avenging Sons strike force would be close together and fighting as one unit. The enemy would need to call in reinforcements from other defensive positions: if these could be delayed, it would give him time to complete the job. Success would require courage, precision and speed, and the Space Marines had all three.
Battle of the Governor’s Palace
The Avenging Sons' strike cruiser Proxima Justus disengaged its Warp-Drives and plunged back into real-space just beyond the Taros system. It immediately came to battle-stations and made best course for Taros. Most Imperial planets have some form of systems defence, and Taros was no different. It could call upon its network of surface-to-orbit missiles and a single squadron of three system defence monitors. It was a force incapable of matching a heavily armed and armoured Space Marine strike cruiser, and although the Monitors were given orders to engage the approaching Space Marines, all three ship crews refused the order and mutinied rather than face almost certain destruction. The Space Marine's reputation travelled before them, and the Proxima Justus’ approach to Taros was unimpeded. Once in orbit, the only threat to the Proxima Justus would be the missile silos. These would take some time to target, prepare and launch. Upon arrival in orbit, the Avenging Sons, however, would already be ready to launch Drop Pods. After launching and planetfall, the Strike Cruiser and her escort would withdraw to stand off Taros at a safer distance whilst the ground assault was completed. It would only move in again when required.
The Proxima Justus swept into position in low orbit and Captain Armaros gave the order to launch the first Drop Pod wave before boarding his own Drop Pod to lead the second wave, which followed close behind the first. The launch operation went like clockwork. One after another the Drop Pods sped away from the Strike Cruiser, burnt through the atmosphere and plunged down, retro-thrusters reorientating each pod towards its pre-programmed landing coordinates. The first pod to land was the Deathwind, aimed directly at the Governor's residence and loaded with a lethal cargo of missiles to sweep the area with indiscriminate fire. As it opened fire, the four blocking Tactical squads would be landing and disembarking to take up their defensive positions.
From the inner courtyard in front of Governor Aulis' residence the sky above was streaked with fiery comet trails as the Drop Pods burnt through the atmosphere. The distant roar of engines and rushing wind grew louder. Then came a sudden hissing roar as the retro jets went into a full burn to slow the final descent of the rapidly approaching Drop Pods. Next came a ground-shaking impact which shattered nearby windows and created a rising plume of thick dust. Through the dust the distinctive shape of a Drop Pod, sitting upright in the courtyard, could just be made out. A brief moment's silence and stillness followed before the electronic servo-whine of the locking bolts disengaging and the ramps starting to fall. Stunned onlookers watched as the dust cleared to reveal the Deathwind Drop Pod's lethal contents.
The courtyard became an inferno as rapid firing missiles sprayed out in all directions. A cacophony of explosions shook the palace, one after another, pulverizing masonry and sending onlookers fleeing for cover. The bombardment was brief but intense, turning the courtyard into a smoking hell of shrapnel and flames. This was only the beginning. Amidst the sudden missile attack the fiery con-trails of the second wave of Drop Pods had not been noticed by anyone. Having discharged its missiles, the Deathwind pod fell silent, but the roar of retro-engines again filled the sky. With a crashing, jarring impact, the Drop Pods landed one after another, split open like the petals of a deadly flower to disgorge squads of power-armoured giants, moving with purpose through the dust, smoke and flames. The battle for the Governor's Palace had begun in earnest. The initial attack stunned the defenders. The residence building was guarded by a single squad on sentry duty, and they had borne the brunt of the firepower. Several of those caught in the open had been killed, their bodies tossed through the air like ragged dolls to lie broken upon the courtyard's now rubble-strewn floor. The Palace garrison was already responding to the attack, gathering weapons and running from their barracks buildings to meet the attackers head on.
Captain Armaros issued commands over his helmet comm-link and moved towards the target building. Ahead of him the Assault squads were running, Bolt Pistols drawn, Chainsword and Frag Grenades held ready to assault the building entrance. The distinctive bark and thunder-clap explosion of Boltgun shells could already be heard. The sentry squad survivors attempted to return fire, Lasguns flashing with little effect. Those guards that stood their ground to defend the entrance to the palace residence died screaming as the Avenging Sons Assault squads mercilessly tore through them, leaving their victims as little more than bloody offal. Melta-charges destroyed the armoured doors, and through the explosion leapt the Assault squads. After viewing the scenes outside nobody inside had the metal to stand and fight. All fled rather than faces the notorious 'Angels of Death'.
Captain Armaros and his squads swept through the Governor's residence, room by room, throwing fragmentation grenades and clearing rooms with bursts of Bolt Pistol fire. The training doctrines were second nature. Any who did not escape fast enough were cut down. Eventually the lead squads crashed into an inner council chamber where a group of officials and guards had sought sanctuary. The guards opened fire, more in desperation and self-defence than in any hope of victory. This was it, Governor Aulis must be amongst them. From outside the chamber doorway, as Lasgun fire flashed by, Armaros activated his Teleport Homer. The signal was received on board the Proxima Justus. In the on-board teleport chamber, five heavily armoured Terminators awaited the summons. Each was armed with a Storm Bolter and Power Fist, except for one man carrying a Assault Cannon and Veteran Sergeant Foras with the squad Chainfist, a Power Weapon capable of cutting through just about any material. The titanic energies of the teleporter made the room throb with power. Lightning flashed and arced across the room as the Tech-Priests made their final adjustments and issued fervent prayers to the spirit of the ancient machine. The prayers did not fail. In a blinding flash of white light, the Terminator squad vanished, briefly being cast across the Warp before reappearing amidst crackling lightning in the council chamber far below.
The firefight was over in a fraction of a second. The Assault Cannon whirred into life, raking the room with a storm of shells which tore up the desks and walls. Storm Bolter fire joined the slaughter, blazing explosive rounds into the officials and guards. As the smoke cleared, none were left standing. The Planetary Governor was dead. Captain Armaros ordered Apothecary Actium to cross-check DNA samples from the party with Orders Famulous records of the House Aulis genetic codes. It was information the Administratum had provided at the beginning of the mission, and the test would confirm the mission was complete. Meanwhile, the Assault squads and Terminators deployed into holding positions against those who were arriving too late to save their commander. Apothecary Actium set about his task, using his Narthecium and checking the ragged, bloody bodies one by one. All failed the genetic matching test. Actium informed his Captain that Planetary Governor Aulis was not amongst the dead. He must have escaped, or by some ill-fortune never have been there at all. Captain Armaros cursed, and issued the code word ‘Malevolent’ over the comm-net – mission objective failed, prepare to go to phase 2.
Blocking Position 3
Meanwhile, beyond the palace walls, the four blocking positions had been formed. Veteran Sergeant Einem had the squads under his command well organised. Upon landing resistance had been zero, but it did not remain so for long. After a quiet couple of minutes, the sound of jet engines could be heard approaching. Overhead the dark, swept-wing outline of a Tau Manta swooped over the city like a great shadow skimming low over the rooftops. The battle-brothers at each position braced their Boltguns tight and took aim up the street. They did not have long to wait.
Captain Armaros had expected some attempt to break through to the Governor's palace by exterior forces, but not so swiftly, and he had not expected to encounter well-equipped Tau forces. The first the Avenging Sons knew of any Tau forces on Taros was the arrival of the Manta over the night-darkened city. Soon, Hammerhead gunships followed by XV8 Crisis Battlesuits and Devilfish-mounted Fire Warriors would be closing in on blocking position three. An entire Hunter Cadre was bearing down on the Space Mannes, moving at speed to reinforce the Governor's Palace. At blocking position three the street was suddenly criss-crossed by Boltgun and Pulse Rifle fire. The smoky contrail of the squad's Missile Launcher screamed up the street, impacting upon the front of the Hammerhead in a bright explosion which buckled and scorched the armour but did not stop the approaching grav-tank. It opened fire in return, punching through the buildings with its long Railgun, sending masonry crashing to the street.
The opening skirmish was a one-sided affair, but the Avenging Sons stood their ground and hammered out round after round, refusing to fall back. Sergeant Einem ordered the squad at position two, the next closest to position three, to move and reinforce their battle brothers. The Tactical squad moved out, pounding down the streets towards the sounds of fighting now echoing off the buildings of Tarokeen. At position three, the situation was deteriorating rapidly. With heavy support and weight of numbers on their side, the Tau advanced down the street. Fire Warriors dodged from doorway to doorway under the covering fire of Tau Battlesuits and the Hammerhead. It was fierce and intense, but the remaining Avenging Sons knew they must hold. The longer they fought, the more time they bought their Captain to complete his mission. Already several brothers had been killed by heavy weapons fire, others were badly wounded but fighting on regardless. Sergeant Andura of third Tactical squad was amongst the dead, his broken body lying half buried under fallen masonry after a Railgun round impacted next to him. The arrival of Tactical squad two did little to help the situation. The Tau Hunter cadre was too strong. Their firepower swept the roads clear, forcing the Space Marines into the cover of the buildings. The Crisis Battlesuits led the final assault, leaping down the street on Jetpacks to rake the buildings with Flamer and Fusion Blaster fire. Unable to win the one-sided contest, the survivors of squads two and three were ordered to disengage and fall back to the Governor's palace. The remaining Tactical squads at positions one and four were also recalled to the palace as Captain Armaros regrouped his full strength. Ten out of the twenty brothers involved in the fighting at position three had been killed in the firelight; six more were wounded. These were heavy losses for Einem's force. The Tau had broken through the cordon and, leaving a few units to secure the area, moved on towards their objective: the Governor's palace.
Defence of the Governor’s Palace – Day 1
Pre-warned of the approaching Tau Hunter Cadre by reports of the firefight at blocking position three, Captain Armaros set about reorganising his forces for a defence. Governor Aulis had not been found, and time was running out. The presence of strong Tau forces on Taros had been unexpected and unplanned for. Their swift counterattack had seized the initiative off the Space Marines and put them on the defensive. The Avenging Sons were now reacting to Tau moves. Captain Armaros' immediate task was clear, repel the counterattack with the forces he had at his disposal. Phase two of the mission, and his hunt for the Planetary Governor, would for now have to wait.
The Tau’s next attack was preceded by the roar of jet engines. Barracudas raced low over Tarokeen to launch missiles in the Governor’s palace. Already battle-scarred from the Space Marine attack, the once elegant buildings were rapidly becoming ragged ruins. Masonry and support beams collapsed under the repeated impacts. Fires were burning out of control and spreading rapidly, smoke billowing high into the sky. Through the wreckage stalked the armoured bulk of the Space Marines finding positions from which to repel the coming attack. Captain Armaros had few illusions; this would be a stern test of his men. He was now heavily outgunned by the Tau. When it hit, the attack would be powerful and concentrated. It would be deadly close quarters combat, building to building, room to room, but this would be to his battle-brothers' advantage. Any Space Marine was easily a match for the aliens at close quarters. The ground fighting followed close behind the Tau's air strike. Tau ground forces were infiltrating through the buildings, and Rail Rifle-armed marksmen had moved into position at any high points overlooking the palace courtyards. Firefights started to break out as perimeter squads were engaged by Pulse Rifle fire. Along the surrounding streets came Devilfish transports, disembarking Fire Warrior units who attempted to rout out the Space Marines with Photon Grenades and Burst Cannon fire. It seemed each squad was fighting its own small but deadly battle. As the Tau attempted to press forwards the Space Marines stood firm and threw them back, inflicting heavy losses in the close quarters combat. The Terminators and Assault squads were the busiest. Stalking from room to room through the now empty and burning barracks buildings, they repeatedly charged the enemy, Chainswords whirring and Storm Bolters barking. Against such fierce counter-attacks the Tau gained no headway and eventually retreated, leaving their dead and dying scattered through the buildings.
As night fell, Armaros and his men were still holding their positions, but casualties were mounting, and the supply situation was becoming a problem. Armaros took stock. Ammunition, especially Frag and Krak Grenades, was running low, but he had some eighty one men still battle-worthy, including all the Terminators and both Dreadnoughts. The Tau must also be feeling the strain of battle. The Hunter Cadre had been mauled by the Space Marines' stoic defence. After a day of fighting there was finally a pause. For the first time since the Drop Pods had landed, Tarokeen did not reverberate to the sounds of gun fire and explosions. It was as if both sides were taking a deep breath before resuming.
The second night did not pass without combat. The Tau sent out small teams to infiltrate into good firing positions, using the darkness as cover, but the Space Marines had their own roving patrols moving through the rubble in pairs or threes. In the darkness, short firefights would suddenly erupt when two patrols clashed, only for the Tau to quickly withdraw.
It was now that the Space Marines began to show their true worth. For a second night they did not need to sleep like Imperial Guardsmen, their Power Armour continuing to supply them with the nutrition and liquid they needed to keep fighting at peak efficiency. Their endurance and superior powers of recovery meant that after a day and night, they were all still as ready for the fight as the moment they landed. Many bore wounds that would have killed mere men, but still fought on regardless.
The second day dawned with the red haze of fires illuminating the smoke-blackened sky over Tarokeen. Except for the sporadic patrol clashes the night had been quiet. Dawn would see that change. With their infantry-led attack repulsed yesterday, the Tau now moved their heavier weapons into position to lead the second attack. With jet engines whirring, the Tau Hammerheads, Devilfish and Battlesuits slowly moved through the streets, Drone-controlled Burst Cannons covering the buildings as they manoeuvred into position to bombard the Governor's Palace. It seemed that if the Tau could not drive the Space Marines out, they would pound them with destructive fire.
For the Avenging Sons the battle for the Governor's Palace was now a bitter struggle for survival, but their mission was not complete, so Captain Armaros was determined to fight on. To do so he needed assistance and called on the Proxima Justus. Aboard the Strike Cruiser, the hangar decks were full with Thunderhawk gunships and Thunderhawk Transporters loaded with armoured fighting vehicles, all waiting for the order to launch. But with only a small secure perimeter to land in, sending the transporters was judged to be too risky. The Thunderhawks, armed for a ground attack mission, would be of great assistance, but with Tau Barracudas already over the combat zone, they risked a dogfight. For now, the Thunderhawks must be kept safely in reserve in case an evacuation mission was required. Only if Armaros' situation became critical would the Thunderhawks be called upon.
The first day of the battle had been fierce, day two would see the intensity increase even further. The Tau had used the night-time full to reinforce their mauled Hunter Cadre. Now they would throw everything they had at the Space Marines to destroy them. At first light, the Barracudas were ready for new strikes on the Governor's Palace, then the ground assault would resume. Attacks would commence from all directions, but the main weight of today's attack would be aimed at the gate. Crush resistance here, and the Space Marine forces could be broken into small pockets to be mopped up later, but the battle would be won.
As with day one, the Tau attack was presaged by a flight of Barracudas whose missiles and Burst Cannons strafed the Space Marines' positions amongst the rubble. Lacking any form of anti-aircraft defence, the Space Marines could do little against the Barracudas, except stay low in their cover and wait for the attack to end. After several low passes the Barracudas departed to re-arm, and the Tau ground bombardment began. With their distinctive whip-crack sound, Railgun rounds slammed into buildings. Burst Cannon pulses ricocheted of walls and rubble. A phalanx of heavy fire hammered the palace, round after round, relentless and merciless. The Tau were blasting the Space Marines out from a distance, building after building was targeted. Roofs collapsed, walls cracked, rounds punched through masonry to explode within. The noise was deafening as the buildings of the Governor's palace were systematically destroyed. A choking cloud of dust rose to blanket the battleground. Opposite the main gate two Hammerheads slowly manoeuvred through the streets constantly firing on the move. The impact of round after round eventually caused the gatehouse to collapse. The Devastator squad within returned fire with their Missile Launchers and Lascannons, but the weight of fire kept them pinned down. It was punishment not even the mighty Space Marines could withstand for long. It seemed the Tau were attempting to match their enemy's brutality. The bombardment lasted all morning and well into the afternoon. Captain Armaros had little to respond with, except his own man-portable heavy weapons. It was an uneven match. With no other option open to him, the Captain contacted the Proxima Justus to request air support. The Thunderhawks were still prepared and ready to launch. It was a risk, but the situation on the ground was deteriorating. An air strike by the Thunderhawk's bombs and missiles was quickly planned. The Barracudas were still in the sky overhead, but the Thunderhawks would have to run the risks to assist their embattled brothers on the ground.
All five Thunderhawk gunships on board the Strike Cruiser launched and made for the Governor's palace. It was a powerful strike force, enough to keep the Tau at bay, but first it must run the gauntlet of the Barracuda fighters. As the squadron vectored in on Tarokeen, descending rapidly, weapons primed, the Barracudas climbed to intercept. The Thunderhawks dove through the fighter screen, Heavy Bolters blazing as the Barracudas opened fire with Burst Cannons. Despite the repeated impact of pulse rounds, the formation did not waver, keeping their formation tight and on course, trusting their thick ceramite armour plating. The Barracudas' fire was ineffective. Calmly the Space Marine pilots kept their aircraft on course until over the city, whilst the gunners located targets and prepared to open fire with their main weaponry. The flight of Thunderhawks roared down onto the city, strafing with Battle Cannons, Turbo-Laser Destructors and Heavy Bolters before releasing their bombs. The guided bombs ripped into the palace surroundings. Explosions rippled through the buildings, tearing great holes in roofs and walls, flames and shrapnel engulfing whole blocks. Buildings across the city were rocked by the concussion of the bombing. Now the destruction was radiating outwards from the palace. The air strike must have caused the Tau Commanders serious concern, as in the aftermath their attack died down to sporadic sniping and skirmishing. What damage it actually caused was unknown, but as the roar of the Thunderhawks faded, the Tau withdrew again. It was a brief lull in the battle that did not last long, but it had bought Captain Armaros' men precious time to reorganise their defences.
It was at the gate that the hammer-blow eventually fell. Hammerheads and Battlesuits led the way, attacking at full speed they crashed through the rubble of the gate house. The lead Hammerhead was immediately hit by Lascannon fire and exploded in a blossoming orange fireball. Fire from the second grav-tank killed the Lascannon gunner in return. A krak missile destroyed a XV88 Broadside Battlesuit but, after the brief firefight, only three remaining Devastator squad members were alive to withdraw. Devilfish-mounted infantry close in behind the Tau armoured vanguard.
Captain Armaros realised he was losing his hold, and his perimeter was in danger of breaking. Faced with no other choice, he committed the Terminator squad to the fight. Wading through fire and smoke, the veterans met the assaulting XV8 Crisis Battlesuits head-on in an exchange of fire. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Space Marines fought for every inch, but the Tau’s heavier weapons could not be matched. Three of the veteran Terminators died in the fighting, as did four Battlesuits. Brothers Hakael and Caim joined the battle, destroying the second Hammerhead with their heavy weapons before Brother Caim sustained a hit which tore off his left leg toppling the Dreadnought to the ground, leaving it stranded and a sitting duck for following shots. For an hour the fight at the gate raged. Led by Chaplain Baraqel, the defenders fought heroically. Pressure was intense, and with the commitment of the Dreadnoughts and Terminators, there were no more reinforcements to give. Bolter rounds and missiles whined through the air, holding the Fire Warriors at bay. Meanwhile, the Tau continued to launch secondary attacks all around the perimeter, pinning Space Marine squads in position, units that could otherwise be used to bolster the defence of the gatehouse. Captain Armaros knew that his position was hopeless. The Tau had bled his force and now heavy casualties and a lack of ammunition were forcing him to accept that withdrawal was the only course open to him if he wanted to save his company. It galled him, but resistance here was now greater than his company could match. He had no idea of the enemy’s total strength. He knew that his men might hold out for days only to eventually be overwhelmed by their numbers, and for what gain? The Governor of Taros was now beyond his reach and the Avenging Sons were facing annihilation. Armaros needed to evacuate the survivors and rescue what he could from the mission.
After a brief command meeting in the ruins of the Governor’s residence, Armaros informed the Proxima Justus of his decision to evacuate. At nightfall, the Thunderhawks were to be launched for an extraction mission. Orders were given to all the squad leaders, or stand-in leaders in those squads that has lost their sergeants. At nightfall there would be a staggered withdrawal to the inner courtyard, where one by one the Thunderhawks would land, load up, and carry them back to their Strike Cruiser. It was an operation fraught with difficulty, and needed to be done swiftly so as to give the encircling Tau forces minimum time to respond. Captain Armaros himself would lead the rearguard and be the last to board a Thunderhawk.
As night fell over the battlefield the Space Marine commander again took stock of his situation. The force had been reduced to approximately forty battle-worthy brothers and one Dreadnought, merely enough men to need only two Thunderhawk gunships for the extraction. The other gunships would fly as cover to those required to make the landings. Re-armed and refuelled, the Thunderhawks set about their new mission
Apothecary Actium started recovering the Progenoid Glands from all of the fallen brothers he could find, some were already buried deep under the ruins. It was an important task if the Chapter's heavy losses were to be made good. Chaplain Baraqel said prayers for the dead, standing over the lifeless form of Brother Caim. Once a proud war-machine and a hero of the Chapter, now nothing more than a smoking wreck of twisted metal and wires. Amongst all the losses for the Space Marines, his was the most grievous for the 2nd company.
Captain Armaros took command of an understrength Tactical squad and the remaining Scouts as the rearguard, and gave orders to the first squads - including Brother Hakael, Apothecary Actium and Chaplain Baraqel – to withdraw to the first Thunderhawk when it touched down. After they blasted off, the second wave was then to abandon their position covered by the rearguard and make for the landing zone. In all, the evacuation operation should take no more than ten minutes; not enough time for the Tau to react in force.
The distant sound of Thunderhawk engines approached and the evacuation began. Moving slowly through the darkness, crunching over rubble and broken glass, battle-scarred, scorched and wounded, the survivors loaded into the waiting Thunderhawk's hold. Overhead four other gunships circled. Brother Hakael was the last to climb the ramp, closing it behind him. The Thunderhawk blasted off for orbit, accelerating away from the battlefield. Alerted by the engine noise, Tau patrols cautiously crept forwards to investigate. Where once Space Marines had barred their advance with Boltgun fire, now there was nothing. Meanwhile, a second transport had landed and the remaining squads quickly embarked. Captain Armaros fell back to the landing zone, bringing up the rear of his squad, Boltgun in hand. He ran up the ramp and hit the door close button. The triple engines boomed into life and thrust the Thunderhawk skywards again. The battle was over, but the mission had failed.
The First Taros Intervention had been a heavy reverse for the Imperium. The Tau had inflicted serious damage on the Avenging Sons in two days of intense combat. The damage inflicted on the aliens was unknown, but must also have been significant. There had been many confirmed kills and the battlefield was littered with wrecks of Tau grav-tanks and Battlesuits.
The Avenging Sons took the defeat badly. Space Marines Chapters enjoy a glorious reputation as the 'Shield of Humanity', and defeat by an alien-invader was not to be taken lightly. The death of Brother Caim was to be avenged. The Chapter's fortress-monastery mourned the dead, and the great bell tolled once for each of the brothers lost on Taros.
Events on Taros, the failure of the Intervention Force, and the confirmed report of strong Tau forces fighting in the defence of the Planetary Governor, forced a change in attitude by officials of the Administratum towards the Taros problem. News of defeat was bad enough, but it seemed the Tau had already staked a claim to one of the Emperor's worlds. What had been a border skirmish was now a serious threat. Events around the Eye of Terror might be demanding many of the Imperium's resources, but Taros would not be ignored. Taros was officially declared Ex Imperius Rebellis, a system in rebellion against the Emperor's divine rule. The sacred Pax Imperialis had been torn up by Planetary Governor Aulis. His actions now made him not just a criminal, but a traitor. The Tau were already on Taros in force and must be ejected. The Master of the Administratum signed a document stating just this, as well as listing the Planetary Governor's crimes (over 100 in all, mostly punishable by death). The document, called the 'Taronian Declaration' was a licence to action a new, larger attack against the rebel world. Next time, the attack would not be a surgical strike by a single strike force of Space Marines. It would require the involvement of all those fighting arms of the Imperium willing to commit forces to repel alien aggression. The invasion of Taros was now in motion…
Adeptus Arbites Operations on Taros
Every world under the rule of the Imperium has its own Adeptus Arbites Precinct Houses or Fortified Courthouse. The Arbitrators are the Imperium's police and enforcers, tasked with combating and punishing crimes against the Imperium. Prior to the Avenging Sons' attack, the Magister commanding the Adeptus Arbites precinct in Tarokeen received a secure astra-telepathic communication warning him of events about to unfold. It also instructed his precinct to carry out a simultaneous operation to arrest the wealthiest mine owners. These men belonged to the hereditary noble class which had run the mines for generations. Having been found guilty of colluding with the Planetary Governor and the Tau, they must also face justice. They were to be arrested and imprisoned in the Precinct House, and then turned over to the Space Marine Commander once he had concluded his operations.
After receiving his instructions Magister Skalka knew that his Precinct House was in great danger. If the Planetary Governor was planning on rebelling against the Imperium then, as the most obvious representatives of Imperial authority, the Arbites would have to be disposed of. He could expect to be attacked at any time. The Arbites commander did not know when the Space Marine attack would come, but prepared to act quickly when it did.
As the Space Marines fought around the Governor's palace during the First Taros Intervention, the Arbitrators moved against the mine owners. Away from the city in the surrounding deserts, fearsome Arbites arrest units, clad in their black Carapace Armour and armed with Shotguns, Riot Mauls and Suppression Shields, moved in to surround and arrest the mine owners. Upon arrival at the mines, the Arbites found themselves confronted by gangs of angry mine workers. The confrontations rapidly became riots as the mobs refused all orders to disperse. The work gangs were very loyal to their mine, their fellow team members and their masters. At each mine, the attempted arrest became a pitched battle against the crudely armed miners. As more and more work teams joined the fighting the Arbitrators were forced to withdraw. Protected by their workers, the owners were safe from Imperial Justice, for now.
Most of the battle-scarred arrest units did not return to the Precinct House in Tarokeen until after the Space Marines had evacuated the planet, leaving Magister Skalka's men trapped on the rebellious planet and now heavily outnumbered by Tau forces. They had little hope but to stand firm in the name of the Emperor and await relief.
The Tarokeen Precinct House was attacked and destroyed three days after the Avenging Sons' evacuation. There were no known survivors.
Planning the Invasion
The High Command Staff The Adeptus Administratum decision that the recapture of the Taros system was instrumental to the continued effective operations of the Stygies VIII Forge World and, to a lesser extent, other dependent Forge Worlds, meant it was now the duty of all servants loyal to the Emperor to help bring these misguided subjects back under the Imperium's rule and protection. The first step was to appoint command staff to organise and oversee the planning of the operation. The man chosen to lead the staff and take command of the entire invasion operation was Lord High Commander Otto Ivan Gustavus: a man with long military record who had risen from the officer ranks of the Imperial Guard into the upper levels of the Imperium's military hierarchy. Gustavus' first task was to appoint his command staff and prepare for the invasion. He was given two major questions to answer: when could he be ready to invade Taros, and where should that attack fall? His instructions made the manner clear the invasion should come as soon as possible. By Adeptus Administratum standards, this could mean anytime in the next five years. Gustavus intended to begin within a standard Terran year.
Appointing his staff was no simple matter. The upper echelons of the Imperium's military hierarchy are rife with politics, intriguing, favours owed, debts to repay and self-interest. Gustavus had not risen this high without making a few enemies, or without calling on a few favours that he was now in a position to repay. Selecting his command staff took several weeks of hard work and hard negotiations. The first position to be filled was not of Gustavus' own choosing. Commissar General Mordred Van Horcic would be Gustavus' shadow and right-hand man for the duration of the campaign. The high-ranking Commissar was tasked with making sure that the officers of Gustavus’ force did their duty, or faced the consequences. A powerful man in his own right, van Horcic had the power of life and death over many of the Imperial servants involved in the campaign. Whether by choice or coercion, over the subsequent weeks Gustavus made the following appointments. Not all were men he liked or even trusted, many were decisions forced upon him by other political factors. It was Gustavus' job to bring all these factions together and make them work towards ultimate victory. The High Command staff would include: Venerated High Magos Zadakine Volta; a high-ranking Adeptus Mechanicus representative from Stygies VIII; Fleet Admiral Kotto, appointed by the authorities on Kar Duniash to command the invasion fleet; Lord Marshal De Stael, the overall commander of all Imperial Guard regiments who would bear the brunt of the invasion fighting; and Provisioner-Prime Nymus Dree, a bureaucrat from the Departmento Munitorum who had only been granted a place on the High Command staff after his initial investigation into events on Taros. Others included Air Marshal Denvelt, Staff Colonel Scheja, Deacon Gotz, the appointed representative of Cardinal Astral Velas, and Curator Adept Skel. Many others would follow, including any Space Marine commanders or Titan Legion Princeps to be involved in the campaign. The High Command staff would be required to organise and plan the invasion, each member would have his own area of responsibility, and each would have their own staff, aides or retinue to assist them. In all, the High Command staff for the invasion, including all the sub-departments and functionaries, would number approximately three thousand souls.
Before any military plans could be put in place, Gustavus and his staff first needed to know what they were facing. Nobody on the staff, except Dree, had ever even heard of Taros until now, let alone knew anything about the planet or system. Gustavus wanted information about the planet. Climate, population, industrial capacity, rulers, topography, history, anything. It was a huge research task to be undertaken by the Adepts of the Administratum. In charge of the information gathering would be Curator Adept Skel: an Administratum official promoted from the Archive Historicus. Curator-Adept Skel had access to thousands of archives throughout the Segmentum and across the Imperium, including the great archives on Terra itself. In those archives, thousands of curators, prefects, archivists and menial workers went to work, finding out anything they could about Taros. From ancient records, a picture of the planet and its population was slowly compiled. From tithe levels and tax records, a picture of the planet's mining industry was built. Old censuses revealed the planet's population growth. No piece of data about Taros was to be considered too trivial.
A team of Lexmechanic and Logis, under the command of Magos Volta, was also assigned to the information gathering task. They worked with computer speed to compile all the data Skel was producing. The Adeptus Mechanicus' part-human, part-machine servants forecast the planet's population growth, weather patterns, climate, volcanic activity, atmospheric conditions, and orbital cycles. Information stretching back as far as the Great Crusade was found. Even a scrap of the original Exploritas report on the planet's suitability for terraforming and colonisation was found. In all, millions of fragments of information were gathered to create a complete picture. Satellite survey images, language studies, missionary reports, journals of long dead servants who had visited or been stationed on Taros. There were old genetic studies on the population and the ruling households, carried out by the Orders Famulous seeking evidence of genetic deviation or mutation, Adeptus Arbites crime rate reports, and geological and seismic surveys. No detail could be ignored; anything that might inform Gustavus' staff decisions was included. In all, it took six months to compile all the information the High Command staff needed before the invasion planning could get started. After six months of work Gustavus had as good a picture of what was facing him as the Adeptus Terra could provide. He knew what the planet was like, how big the population was, and how this might translate into the Planetary Defence Forces' military strength, given the equipment that had been supplied to Taros down the years. He knew how the planet might be able to re-equip or resupply its forces, or create new units. He even had a forecast of what the criminal population of Taros was likely to be (often the first supply of manpower to be used as replacement troops). What he didn't know was anything about the Tau's strength on Taros.
Finding information about what the Tau might be planning was far harder, and not a task the Adeptus Terra could help with. The man on the Lord High Commander's staff assigned to this task was Staff Colonel Scheja, Gustavus' Director of intelligence. A secretive individual, Scheja was a spy-master with former experience of working with the Inquisition. The Tau, with their philosophy of 'the Greater Good', were a difficult prospect. There were few informers or spies on the inside of the Tau Empire. There were a few humans, mostly merchants or mercenaries, whose loyalty could be bought by the Imperium, but most humans within the Tau Empire were simply traitors who had abandoned the Emperor. By assessing information from other planets along the borders of the Tau Empire, studying previous estimates of Tau military strength and historical precedents, Colonel Scheja could himself make an educated guess as to how strong Tau forces might be on Taros, but without people on the ground, he had no confirmation.
Whilst the information gathering was going on, the other members of the High Command staff were not idle. The Departmento Munitorum officials on the staff began the long process of finding the fighting forces and supplies needed for the invasion. Imperial Guard regiments needed to be raised, trained and transported across the Imperium. This was no easy task. The demand for troops in the build-up around the Cadian Gate was vast, particularly now, as the 'Plague of Unbelief' around the Eye of Terror continued to spread. The Imperial Guard might be huge, but still demand for regiments is always far greater than supply. To counter the effects of increased demand, Gustavus devised a scheme to overestimate the troop strength needed. He knew all along that he would not get all the forces he requested, but this way he might get close to his actual requirements. As yet he could give no definitive numbers, but he set the logis to work making an initial statistical analysis, and this gave him a starting point. Over the coming months the numbers would be modified and gradually evolve into a final figure, but for now it was enough to have a figure which the Departmento Munitorum could base its work on, and so get the slow turning wheels of the Departmento's bureaucracy rolling.
The 4621st Imperial Guard Army
The Imperial Guard force needed for the invasion of Taros was founded as the 4621st Imperial Guard Army, and this large unit would be under the command of Lord Marshal De Stael. Bearing the honorific title 'Chief of Arms', De Stael would be in overall command of all Imperial Guard ground forces on Taros. All the Generals and Colonels of the Imperial Guard regiments constituting the 4621st Army would report to De Stael and his staff. Gustavus, in consultation with De Stael, began to draw up detailed orders for the forces he would need for a successful war. The Imperial Guard might be vast, but with demand for regiments currently so high, it was not infinite. No commander ever has enough troops, and Gustavus and De Stael were no different. De Stael's initial request to Gustavus for twenty-one regiments was turned down as over-cautious. A force of that size could not be found in the tight timescale that Gustavus had devised for the invasion; Gustavus himself was under pressure to speed up the invasion. Each day that passed was lost production that had to be found elsewhere. De Stael, rebuked, had to think again and revise his figures. The Lord Marshal returned with a more moderate twelve regiment request, which Gustavus accepted, taking it in tum to the Departmento Munitorum. However, they refused, offering an absolute maximum of ten regiments. Even then it took much bartering with the Munitorum officials to get them to agree to find ten regiments. Gustavus only agreed to attempt the invasion with ten regiments after receiving an oath from High Magos Volta that at least one Titan legion would be committed to the invasion force. Consoled by this promise, Gustavus informed De Stael that the 4621st Army would consist of ten regiments, and, for ease of administration, the army should be divided into two corps, designated X Corp and XI Corp.
After prolonged arguments over the size of the Imperial Guard force, Gustavus and De Stael got down to the specifics of building it. The first regiments Gustavus requested were those recruited form Tallarn. Given Taros’ desert climate, the men of Tallarn (itself a desert world) would quickly adapt to the arid conditions. They would make the most effective soldiers when it came to important skills like desert survival techniques and water discipline. Fighting men are fighting men, and any Imperial Guardsman could be made to adapt to the conditions, but the famed Desert Raiders of Tallarn were the logical choice. However, Tallarn was only a single world, with a limited supply of men. Most of its existing regiments were already committed to other warzones, and ten new regiments simply could not be raised. The tithes on the planet did not allow for such a massive drain. A single new recruitment could be ordered from Tallarn, and that process was instigated. The Tallarn 331st regiment would be raised, equipped, and shipped to Taros to see its first action. Three other Tallarn regiments could also be withdrawn from their current commitments and embarked for Taros, although they had all recently been engaged in battles and also needed replacements of men and equipment. A fifth regiment, the Tallarn 3rd Armoured, was currently on garrison duty on Balle Prime. If a replacement garrison force could be found, it too would join the invasion force. In all, half the Imperial Guard regiments destined tor Taros would be from Tallarn. These would be combined to form X Corp.
XI Corp would be composed of the other Imperial Guard regiments that the Adeptus Munitorum would commit to the Taros campaign. Five more regiments still needed to be found. The first was the 23rd Elysian Drop Troops regiment. This regiment was unlike any other in the 4621st Army's order of battle, being an air mobile unit equipped with Valkyrie airborne assault carriers. Against the Tau, mobility would be important. Tau forces, with their Mantas and a preponderance of grav-tanks, Drones and Battlesuits, are fast and highly mobile. Conventional Imperial Guard infantry and armoured regiments could not hope to match their speed, and because of this they would be continually forced to fight on the aliens' terms. A Drop Troop regiment, although lightly equipped for airborne operations, would help redress the balance and give Lord Marshal De Stael the chance to match the Tau mobility on a strategic level. The second unit was one of De Stael's own request. The Sarennian Assault Engineers were, in his opinion, some of the most useful troops in the Segmentum. They were equipped for close quarters combat, assaulting fortified positions, clearing minefields, and breaching defense lines. Few in number, the Sarennians would not be required to fight as one regiment but, before the invasion began, they would be divided into platoons and companies and attached to all the other regiments of 4621st Army. This way, they would provide a core of assault troops when, as predicted, the time for hard street fighting in Tarokeen arrived. Other regiments scheduled to join the 4621st Army on Taros were the 114th Cadian Shock Troop regiment, an entirely mechanized unit under the command of Colonel Stranski. Then would come the 8th Brimlock Dragoons, a regiment with experience of fighting Tau raids around the Damocles Gulf. The final regiment was harder to find. Several were considered and either rejected or found to no longer exist. The 12th Manninen Rangers regiment was transported, but on arrival turned out to be only the strength of a reinforced company. On Commissar-General Van Horcic's orders, the regiment was disbanded and the survivors enrolled with the Tallarns. The 42nd Mordian regiment was also embarked for Taros, only to be diverted to face Hive Fleet Kraken on the Eastern Fringe. Gustavus' deadline for the invasion was closing, and the tenth regiment remained elusive. Eventually, the 19th Krieg Armoured regiment was requested, but it would take time to find their current location, get new orders to them and embark them for Taros. They would not be available for the initial invasion. In De Stael's strategic plan for the campaign, XI Corp would act as the support to X Corp. The Tallarn regiments would be required to do the bulk of the initial fighting, and would also lead the landings. XI Corp would follow on and be fed into the ground campaign once it had started. The actual invasion fleet would only be carrying X Corp when it arrived in the Taros system. It would be the Tallarns' job to get a secure lodgement area established on the planet for XI Corp to reinforce. Once the entirety of X Corp was established, the next priority would be to get the 23rd Elysians 'in country' to give the 4621st Army the ability to strike just about anywhere, anytime. Behind them would come the Cadians, the Brimlock Dragoons, and eventually, the men of Krieg.
Of course, the Imperial Guard are not the only fighting forces in the Imperium. When the Adeptus Administratum committed itself to an invasion of Taros, it also sent requests throughout the other fighting arms of the Imperium. Whilst the Imperial Guard forces were the backbone of the mission, the Imperium has many other fighting forces that would be expected to do their duty.
Firstly, the Adeptus Astartes. The Avenging Sons Chapter had already been engaged on Taros, but they were now rebuilding their strength after their heavy losses. They would have to wait to have their revenge on the Tau. The other Chapter to make forces available was the Raptors. A strike force of two companies and a Battle Barge from the Raptors Chapter would contribute significantly to the Imperium's combat power, both on the ground and with the fleet.
High Magos Zadakine Volta had already promised the aid of a Titan Legion, but delivering on the oath would prove more difficult. Stygie VIII was the natural Forge World of choice to provide the aid of the Legio Honorum, but the legion was already fully committed. There were no battlegroups available to lend assistance. To fulfill his oath, Volta had the difficult task of finding replacements. In the end he turned to the rulers of Mars, traveling to the heart of the Cult of the Machine to personally request the aid of the Fabricator-General. He had only limited success. Many of the Titan battle-groups were already being committed to the Cadian Gate; the need for the Imperium's greatest fighting machines was pressing if the tide of Chaos was to be stemmed. Volta argued that he had sworn the aid of a Legion, and the Adeptus Mechanicus stood to gain much from the recapture of Taros. In the end, the intervention of the Fabricator-General secured Volta a small battlegroup from Legio Ignatum under the command of Princeps Jernay. The battle-group consisted of just four Warhound Titans, hardly the force he had hoped for, but enough to satisfy Volta's oath to Gustavus.
The Departmento Munitorum, along with raising and transporting regiments, could also provide assistance in the form of indentured engineering and labor corps. They were not combat troops, but units for the rear area, to dig and build. It was valuable work that helped release Imperial Guard infantry from such arduous and time-consuming duties.
The Adeptus Ministorum could also provide assistance, albeit not in the form of combat troops. Cardinal Astral Velas was not inclined to lend military aid to the Taros Invasion Force. He only attended the first High Command meeting in person, after which he left a representative to speak for him, one Deacon Gotz. The Cardinal made it clear he was not in favour of this expedition. To him, it was a waste of resources that could be put to better use fighting heresy elsewhere in his diocese. Taros was a dust-bowl planet of just twelve million souls, and there were still wars to be fought on Hive Worlds to save the souls of billions. The Cardinal felt it was only the malign influence of the Adeptus Mechanicus lobby that had forced the Adeptus Terra into sanctioning the attack, and he did not trust the Cult of the Machine and their mysterious ways. The Cardinal would supply no fighting forces, but would do the duty required of him. Ministorum Priests and Confessors would be found for each of the Imperial Guard regiments to guard the souls of the men of the Imperial Guard. The Orders Dialogous would supply useful support in the form of Tau language experts. The Orders Hospitaller would provide medical care to the injured. Ultimately, however, the contribution was minor. Politics within the upper ranks of the Ecclesiarchy probably had much to do with the Cardinal Astral's reticence. A powerful man in his own right, in shadowy corners it was spoken that Velas was not a supporter of the current Ecclesiarch. To be lending aid to the invasion might have been seen as responding to the Ecclesiarch's recent anti-alien sermons. The Cardinal liked to think of himself as his own man, with far greater concerns than twelve million wretched miners. He has also been seeking favour with those factions within the Ministorum that had their own plans for the succession to the Ecclesiarchal Throne on Terra.
Place and TimeGustavus' command had been almost a year in pre-invasion information gathering and mustering the forces, and now it came to planning the actual attack. How would they commit the troops they had requested, and how would they keep them supplied once on the ground? One immediate consideration for Gustavus was that the longer he spent planning and mustering, the more likely it was that information might leak out. A traitor from within his ranks with access to classified information might sell it to the Tau for a vast price or the promise of safety within their Empire. Pre-warned, the Tau would be in a far better position to defeat his attack. Security around the planning needed to be tight. Colonel Scheja, whose efforts thus far to have a spy infiltrate Taros had come to naught, was given the task of maintaining internal security. He would establish a network of informers and spies within the High Command and Imperial Guard regiments, people paid by Scheja to keep their eyes and ears open and report to him. To further aid with the internal security, Gustavus ordered that the gathering invasion force should not be concentrated just yet. The men would be scattered about surrounding Sectors. This way, it would merely seem that many other small warzones were being reinforced. Hopefully, the build-up would go unnoticed until it was too late. Imperial Guard regimental commanders were not to be informed of their actual destination until the last moment.
Drawing on the good work of the previous year, the High Command began the invasion's planning process in earnest. In order to satisfy the demands of the Imperial Guard, regimental commanders, and Lord Marshal De Stael, three key objectives had to be considered. First, the invasion would need to quickly capture an operational spaceport, if not in the initial assault then in the immediately following few days of ground operations. A large spaceport would be vital in maintaining the flow of supplies needed by the forces on the ground once battle was joined. Second, the invasion would be undertaken by at least three regiments simultaneously. This would be a force large enough to overwhelm all but the strongest resistance and would mean a firm bridgehead could be established between orbit and the planet's surface, strong enough to resist all immediate counter-attacks. Without a secure deployment zone, the invasion would be defeated in its first few days. Third was the water supply. On a desert world like Taros, water was a valuable commodity, supplied from hydro-plants and recycling. The ground forces would need to secure a supply of water rapidly, or the fighting men would be unable to operate effectively.
These three reasonable objectives contributed much to the planning process. Firstly, Taros had only one spaceport, in Tarokeen, hence a direct assault on the city was considered in some detail. Tarokeen was also the center of the planet's industry and administration. If the war was to be won, Tarokeen would have to be captured quickly. Whilst the traitors or the Tau held the city the war would drag on, and the mineral resources would be unable to leave the planet. The enemy knew this, too. Tarokeen and its immediate hinterland, the lracunda Isthmus, would be the most-defended part of the entire planet. A direct assault under the guns defending the city would invite disaster. Too many enemy ground forces would be waiting for them and too many orbital defenses would threaten the invasion fleet. The direct approach was dismissed as too risky. The landing zone would have to be close enough to the ultimate objective to keep supply lines short, but not so close as to risk too much enemy resistance. The impracticalities of landing on the far side of the planet and then transporting every man, gun, and shell around the world were impossible to overcome. With the invasion fleet in orbit, it was only prudent to get as close to the final objective as possible. As for the spaceport, it would be the priority once the ground forces had landed. In the meantime, an entire Engineer Corp would be tasked with constructing a landing site suitable for the delivery of the supply ships.
Secondly, the main restriction on the initial attack would be the number of drop ships and assault transports available. Fleet Admiral Kotto had the task of organising the Imperial fleet's role in the invasion. He had to find the landing craft needed. This was no easy task, and it was unlikely that enough could be found to simultaneously land three regiments in time. At any rate, Gustavus wasn't convinced this was necessary. Three regiments would give the invasion force the flexibility to attack several locations at once: De Stael argued for this plan, but Gustavus overruled him. To split their forces would be to give up their biggest advantage as attackers. Even if Taros was expecting an attack (a reasonable assumption), they would have to defend every possible location where an invasion might fall. This would cause Taros and the Tau to spread their forces thinly. Gustavus' plan would allow their forces to concentrate at a single point in overwhelming numbers. If the landing was to succeed, then it had to hit one place so hard that it could not be repulsed. Although it might be a tempting option, even if only used as a diversion to draw away enemy forces, splitting the ground forces over several land zones would mean each regiment risked becoming isolated from support and destroyed in detail in subsequent engagements. In the end, a single landing-zone strategy was settled upon. It would include as many troops as Fleet Admiral Kotto could find transports for. Next, the invasion location needed to be decided upon. Somewhere within the Aestus, either north or south of the city was the best option. North would mean increased exposure to the high temperatures and violent storms of the Great Sand Sea. South would be slightly cooler and more stable, but the enemy also knew this and may be better prepared there. In the end, Gustavus preferred the latter option.
Thirdly, the water supply situation. An unopposed landing in the uninhabited and undefended deep deserts with their high temperatures and lack of any water supply as well as the risk of desert storms and the huge distance to the objective rapidly ruled this option out. Wherever the landings eventually occurred, water would have to be supplied from off-world, shipped in on heavy tankers in vast quantities, at least until sufficient production sources could be captured. Standing orders were to be issued to all Imperial Guard regiments that any moisture extraction equipment or hydro-plants captured during the course of the campaign were to be undamaged and turned over to High Command. In this way the advance could help meet some of its own water requirements. Ultimately, there was no easy answer to this problem. Life on Taros was harsh especially because water was so scarce, and as such the invasion force would have to be very careful in rationing it, and make sure a secure supply line from off-world provided enough for the ground troops. Additionally, extra water evaporation equipment would be loaded on board the transports.
At 2392998.M41, the Taros Invasion Fleet officially came into existence under the command of Fleet Admiral Kotto, who raised his flag on board the Overlord-class Battlecruiser Righteous Power. The six ships of the line, their escort squadrons, and the troop transports began assembling. The holds of the transports were loaded with Imperial Guardsmen, artillery pieces, vehicles, tanks, and vast supplies of fuel, food, ammunition, and, most vitally, water. The fleet rendezvoused over the course of three days, each transport and its escorts arriving from different systems and forming up into lines astern to create the invasion armada. Each Imperial Guard regiment had been embarked on its assigned transports to a carefully-devised timescale, so as to bring all the transports together at the rendezvous point at the same time. As the fleet readied, only X Corp was present. The regiments of the XI Corp would follow behind as a second wave after the fleet had fought its way in-system, launched the invasion forces, and established a secure deployment area on the surface. Also not yet present was the Legion Ignatum Titan battle-group, but the fleet could not wait for stragglers. Already waiting at the rendezvous point, and forming the head of the column were the armada’s two largest ships, the Battlecruiser Righteous Power and the Raptors Chapter Battle Barge War Talon. These two ships and their escorts would be the first to arrive in the Taros system. They would be the spearhead of the invasion force, fighting their way in-system towards the objective. The three other cruisers of the line would be following closely behind, forming a potent battle-group in the vanguard of the invasion force. Behind them would come the flotilla of transports, with an escort of light cruisers and frigates for defense.
Admiral Kotto was in supreme command of all the naval elements of the invasion plan. He did not know what resistance to expect within the Taros system, but from the formation of his fleet, he was preparing to meet Tau ships in a fleet action and to use his largest ships as a shield for the smaller and highly vulnerable transports. At 404988.M41, the astropathic signal was sent to the bridge of the Righteous Power instructing the fleet to get under way. Ship after ship engaged its main thrusters and began to move in formation towards Taros. The long-planned invasion had finally begun.
The Taros System
After three weeks navigating the fickle tides of Warpspace, the Righteous Power disengaged its Warp-Drives and emerged out of the Immaterium. The crews ran to battle-stations as klaxons blared through the decks. Immediately behind the Righteous Power was the War Talon. When the vanguard of the invasion arrived, it found no enemy fleet waiting for them. Admiral Kotto set course directly for Taros, but sensor readings showed no enemy ships in the vicinity. The Space Marines verified this; their more advanced scanners located no contacts. Admiral Kotto’s approach was cautious, maintaining his alert status and expecting a surprise attack, but none came. In the vanguard’s wake followed the cruiser-group, the mainstay of Kotto’s fighting force. As the Star of Cassiopeia, Black Duke and Hammer of Thrace powered towards their target, they were unemployed. The Tau fleet was nowhere to be found. Several of the escort squadrons were detached to begin wider patrols for enemy vessels, but they too found nothing. Maybe the Tau had abandoned the system to its fate, afraid to face the might of the Imperial Navy, or maybe it was a trap. Admiral Kotto proceeded towards Taros with due caution against zero enemy resistance, but the invasion transports would approach unhindered.
The expected fight to gain low orbit and allow the invasion forces to disembark never materialised. The Imperial fleet moved steadily onwards. It seemed there would be no attempt to halt the invasion in space. With each passing minute it became clearer that there was no Tau fleet here. Free from defensive duties, the War Talon powered up and raced ahead, the Raptors' commanders keen to begin their deployment operations. The War Talon and her escorts were the first to arrive in low orbit, the rest of the fleet keeping a safe distance until the Space Marines had completed their mission.
Missile Silo Decima
For the landings on Taros, the Raptors Chapter had pledged its third and sixth companies to the invasion force. Under the command of Captain Orelius, the strike force would be supported by elements of the Chapter's armoury and fleet, including the immense power of the War Talon. The mission assigned to and accepted by the Raptors was of critical importance to the landings. They were to make sure that the only planetary defense missile silo in a position to threaten the invasion fleet in geostationary orbit above the landing zone was neutralized. Missile-base 'Decima,' as it was codenamed for the operation, was part of a network of such facilities built by the Imperium as Taros' primary defense against hostile aliens. If left unhindered, the silos could engage the vulnerable troop transports in orbit. The loss of a single transport would cause massive loss of life amongst the Imperial Guard units on-board, and could drastically affect the outcome of the landings and the following campaign. It was a risk that could not be taken, and thus Decima had to be silenced before the Imperial Guard's landings could commence.
The target area was to first be subjected to a heavy bombardment of 250 rounds from the War Talon’ s bombardment cannons. If the silos were destroyed by the shelling that was all well and good, but there was no guarantee of success unless there were troops on the ground. The underground silos were designed to withstand the heaviest bombardments; even the fearsome weaponry of the War Talon might not be able to destroy the missiles within. High Command deemed Decima to be the single greatest threat to invasion forces, and it fell to the Battle-Brothers of the Raptors to ensure its destruction.
The Raptors would be the first Imperial troops to land on Taros. The Third Company of the Raptors Chapter, led by Captain Orelius, would be responsible for this vital mission. The operation was to be a swift surgical strike from orbit, a task the Astartes were unrivaled at persecuting. There would be no supporting armoured vehicles. The objective was simple: destroy the missile silos at all costs. Once destroyed, the objective-achieved signal would summon the remaining landing craft to reinforce the ground forces by the Sixth Company and the Chapter's vehicular assets. Once landed, the Space Marines would be ready to strike overland or counter-attack enemy moves against the landing zone.
Once his mission was confirmed, Captain Orelius set about gathering all the intelligence he could about the target and its defenses. From the High Command’s earlier work, there was some relevant information to aid the Space Marines’ attack. One of the documents unearthed by Curator Adept Skel's search was a Departmento Munitorum construction report, almost a thousand years old, and it described the construction of a missile site by a penal labor corp. It gave details of what the site contained: two underground missile silos, a command bunker, and two personnel shelters, enough for a hundred-strong silo crew and security staff. External defense works included a minefield, trench, razor wire, and an anti-aircraft position equipped with a Hydra Platform turret, as well as other vehicle shelters and stores. Most of these would be below ground, making them nearly impossible to destroy with conventional artillery; even the War Talon’s bombardment cannons might not reach deep enough. Amongst the data recovered were also three faded vid-slate images of an inspection made by the then-Planetary Governor of the site after it came into service. From these images and the construction report, a map could be created of the target. Attacking the site based only on secondhand information was risky, though. What if the regime or the Tau had upgraded the defenses, or increased the size or the number of silos? It was not unreasonable to assume that given the planet's renegade status, the Planetary Governor would seek to increase his defenses against an outside attack. Captain Orelius needed firsthand information he could rely upon. Before any of his Battle-Brothers were committed to the assault, he would send his one available Scout squad to the surface to reconnoiter the site and relay their findings, thus giving him the information he sought.
Planning and Training
On board the War Talon, Orelius and his senior Battle-Brothers prepared for the coming battle. This assault was the sort of mission they had trained for all their lives, but it still needed detailed planning. Refresher training in the use of Melta Bombs and Demolition Charges, as well as fire and movement routines and Thunderhawk disembarkation drills were practiced time and time again aboard the Battle Barge.
Orelius was well aware that the initial threat to any planetary assault would be the anti-aircraft defenses. These would be high-priority targets, because the loss of a Thunderhawk gunship full of 30 Battle-Brothers could put the whole mission in jeopardy. Before the main force could attack the silos, these defenses in particular had to be removed.
Third Company, being of a standard Codex Astartes Chapter, contained two Assault squads trained to use Jump Packs for deep strike operations from high-to-low altitude. A single Assault squad led by Veteran Sergeant Igis and deploying from Thunderhawk gunship at high altitude would be committed first to attack the Hydra emplacement. Such deployments are usually made from low altitude to avoid the worst of any ground fire, but given the nature of the target, Orelius commanded that the Thunderhawk stay above the maximum known range of the Hydra’s Autocannons. This way, the Thunderhawk carrying the Assault squad would be safe. The risk of brothers being hit whilst in freefall was judged to be far smaller than that of a Thunderhawk being destroyed or so badly damaged that it would be forced to abandon its mission.
The Assault squad was to land as close to their target as possible, rapidly overcome any resistance and set Melta-charges on the Hydra turret. The time the Assault squad jumped from their Thunderhawk would be designated Z-hour. All timing for the operation would be planned with Z-hour as the base. The Scouts would launch in Drop Pods at Z-hour -105 and land at Z-hour -102, thus giving them 53 minutes after landing to get in position, observe the target, and report back their findings. The second wave was scheduled to attack at Z-hour +6, giving Veteran Sergeant Igis and his nine Assault Marines just six minutes to eliminate the AA turret. The third wave would consist of the main strike force: two Thunderhawk gunships each carrying two Tactical squads and a Devastator squad, designated as Strike-Forces B and C. The Thunderhawks would land their cargos inside the battery perimeter. The squads would then disembark to attack the missile silos themselves. A third Thunderhawk carrying Captain Orelius and his Command squad along with other vital support (Apothecary, Techmarines, etc.) and a reserve force of Third Company's remaining two Tactical squads would land just behind them. This was designated as Strike-Force D. These reserve units had a flexible role to reinforce either of the attacks should they meet with stiff resistance. If all went according to plan, they would not be needed for the main assault and could be saved to establish a secure perimeter on the ground after the silos were destroyed. The final squad of his Company, the second Assault squad, was to remain on the War Talon to deploy with Sixth Company. The plan for Strike-Forces B and C was simple; the two Tactical squads would advance on the silos under dedicated covering fire from their supporting Devastator squads. Once close enough, they would set the Demolition Charges on the silo roofs. They would then fall back to a safe distance and the squad Sergeant would detonate the charges, collapsing the silo roof onto their payloads to prevent missile launch. Their primary objective completed, Third Company would then sweep through the rest of the silo site, eliminate any resistance, and secure a perimeter before reinforcements and vehicles from Sixth Company landed. Overall, it was estimated the entire operation would take just 30 minutes from Z-hour to all objectives being completed and secured.
With the vanguard of the invasion fleet now approaching Taros, the War Talon quickly manoeuvred into its bombardment position in a geostationary low orbit. Its target location already locked in, the bombardment cannons and lance turrets prepared to open fire as the planet's rotation slowly brought the target area into the Battle Barge's line of fire. If the gun crew's mission was successful, then the subsequent attack would be a simple mopping-up operation. With luck, the Demolition Charges would not be needed at all, and the War Talon's guns would knock out the missile silos with direct hits. This was unlikely, though; over such long distances, destroying a small, armoured target would be difficult, and confirmation would still be needed on the ground.
Whilst the gunners prepared, the flight decks and launch bays of the War Talon were a mass of activity. Thunderhawk gunships prepped for take-off, fuel tanks were filled, every system was checked and double-checked. Four of the Raptors' Thunderhawks stood ready to begin the invasion of Taros. Each individual Space Marine was also prepared for battle. His Power Armour was calibrated for desert environments, 99% efficient water-recycling, and maximum heat-dissipation. Bolters and heavy weapons were test-fired on the ship's range before being issued. Extra ammunition, grenades, knives, Chainswords, and Bolt Pistols were handed out to the files of armoured Battle-Brothers. Finally, each Tactical squad was issued two bulky Demolition Charges, and the squad Sergeants were given the detonators.
Before embarkation, the entirety of Third Company stood shoulder-to-shoulder in ranks as Captain Orelius addressed his Battle-Brothers. He told them that they would be the first to bring the Emperor’s justice to those that have chosen to turn away from his divine light: Theirs was the honor of striking the first blow. In life or death, each Raptor would do the Chapter great honor this day. Then, as one, they knelt before their Company Chaplain as he led them in the ritual pre-battle prayers. Third Company rose as one as the War Talon’s bombardment cannons opened fire, the concussion reverberating through the decks. The first shells to fall upon Taros itself would presage the beginning of the invasion. The Raptors Space Marines efficiently filed into position within their Thunderhawk gunships and awaited launch.
Before the bombardment started, the Space Marines' operations had already begun. The Scout squad in their Drop Pod had already launched. The pod made planetfall safely and the Scouts moved out across the sun-scorched surface of the planet, disguised by their Cameleoline cloaks and carrying heavy surveillance equipment as well as their Sniper Rifles. Once in position, the squad set up their equipment and began beaming a secure transmission back to the War Talon’s operations room. Initial intelligence was mostly correct; the site contained two silos and an AA turret, but the outer ring of defenses had been improved with the addition of turreted gun emplacements. These heavy weapons would be a major threat to the landing Thunderhawks and the warriors they deployed, so, as Captain Orelius watched the relays aboard the War Talon, he swiftly made adjustments to his plans.
Strike Force B was to abandon its target silo and instead use their heavy weapons to engage and destroy the turret emplacements. The three reserve Tactical squads would take over Strike Force B's part of the mission. This left Orelius with no flexible reserve on the ground to counter unexpected enemy moves, so he quickly contacted Captain Kaedes of Sixth Company. Kaedes' Company was already on standby to reinforce the assault. Instead of waiting for Third Company to secure the landing zone, Orelius requested that two Tactical squads immediately prepare for a Drop Pod launch and stand by should he need rapid reinforcement on short notice. Last-minute adjustments to the plan complete, Orelius boarded his own Thunderhawk, the ramp closing behind him. The planning was over. Now it was time to bring the Emperor's wrath upon His foes.
Down on the surface, the Scout squads watched from a safe distance as the orbital bombardment began to impact upon the surface. Huge clouds of smoke and dust were thrown up in the desert as the flashes of lance beams and great explosions rent Taros' surface. It lasted exactly 30 minutes, as an area of 5 kilometres around the site was smothered in heavy explosions. What damage had actually been done to the silo site was impossible to tell through the thick dust. Aboard the War Talon, the four Thunderhawks received clearance to launch. Engines roared to life as one after the other the gunships accelerated from the launch bay and headed for the surface. The first Thunderhawk to pass through the heat of atmospheric entry was that carrying Strike Force A. Inside, ten heavily armed Assault Marines, each with a Jump Pack, Chainsword, Bolt Pistol, and a bandolier of Melta Bombs stood ready. Following instructions from the cockpit, each Brother awaited in silence for the order to jump.
Its nose still red-hot from the friction of atmospheric entry, the Thunderhawk's rear ramp lowered, blasting all inside with a rush of air. The first squad members stepped forwards to the edge, each powering up his Jump Pack's systems. When the order to jump was received through their helm-comms, there was no hesitation - two by two the assault troops stepped over the edge into the void. Instantly each Space Marine was flicked into the Thunderhawk's slipstream, the torrent of fast-moving air created by the gunship's forward motion. The impact of the wall of air was severe, and each Marine fought to avoid being flipped and tossed uncontrollably by it. As the force of gravity pulled the Assault Marines downwards, their Jump Packs screamed to life. At a mere 100 meters above the ground, the thrusters ignited to slow the plunging descent. The braking power of the jump packs exerted huge gravitational pressure on the Raptors, pressure that could crush a normal man, but protected within his Power Armour and by his genetically-enhanced physique, each Space Marine could overcome the lethal Gs, orientate himself to the landing zone, and control the direction of his descent without problem. Using his Jump Pack’s thrusters, he could guide himself directly onto the target safely. From jump to planetfall, the descent took no more than sixty seconds.
Assault on Missile Silo Decima
As Strike Force A hit the ground, they came under sustained fire from the Hydra emplacement. Explosive Autocannon rounds began to kick up dust and tracers flashed past the descending Raptors. Unable to hit their attackers in the sky, the AA gunners had waited, and now laid down a hail of shells, the quad-barreled cannon thundering. Despite the heavy orbital shelling, it seemed most of the defenses had remained intact, as had the silos. The area was scarred with smoking impact craters, but the bombardment had scored no direct hits. The craters would be vital cover for the following the assault; Veteran Sergeant Igis found himself in one such crater. Two of his squad had already been seriously wounded during landing. There was no time to waste. The crater offered cover, but his Battle-Brothers had to silence that gun before the other Thunderhawks arrived. Gathering his warriors immediately around him, Sergeant Igis gave the order to move forwards, before launching himself over the crater rim. The barrage that greeted him was intense, autocannons barking as their rounds flashed across the desert. As the Assault Marines rushed forwards, several more were hit, the force of the rounds knocking each Raptor clean off his feet. Sergeant Igis was the first to arrive at the target, weaving through the onslaught, Bolt Pistol in one hand and Melta Bomb in the other. In one mighty leap, he cleared the emplacement parapet, ducked under the red-hot gun barrels and rolled to the base of the turret. He was quickly followed by two of his Battle-Brothers. Igis activated his Melta Bombs and slapped the magnetic disk to the turret. "Six seconds!” he warned over the comm, as the others placed their charges and jumped away.
Within the turret the gun crew knew what to expect when they heard the metallic clang of the Melta-charges being fixed outside. The gun's commander threw open the hatch and leapt clear as the Melta-charges detonated in sequence, a triple explosion that turned the turret into a blazing inferno. Molten metal sprayed the compartment within, killing the remaining crew before igniting the remaining ammunition store. Fragments of the gun turret were thrown high into the air as it was ripped apart from the inside. Igis and his men rolled away, their Power Armour peppered with flames and shrapnel but most of the lethal blast clearing them. The first part of their mission was complete. In all, three assault brothers had been seriously wounded in the headlong attack. The others who had been hit were not quite as injured, saved by the adamantium shell of their armour; they would continue the fight.
Now the distant sound of Thunderhawk jets could be heard growing louder. The silo’s security platoon, who had survived the orbital bombardment in their underground shelter, began to emerge. At first they faced little fire, only the Bolt Pistol rounds from Squad Igis, who were now clustered around the wreckage of the AA turret. Then, as the roar of the Thunderhawks' engines grew closer, Heavy Bolter fire began to sweep the area. It was a deluge of firepower raining from above as the Thunderhawks raced in, slowed, hydraulic landing gear lowered, and the aircraft flaring back its nose before touching down. The ramps were already opening, crashing down to reveal the Space Marines within. The Tactical squads rushed down the ramp and into the battle, Boltguns levelled at the hip and rounds slashing across the silo compound. The Planetary Defence Force security squads had seen enough. Most broke ranks rather than face the wrath of the God-Emperor's Angels of Death. As mass-reactive shells detonated all around them, some sought cover, while the rest fled. The Tactical squads advanced steadily upon the traitors whilst the Devastator squads took up their firing positions. Only seconds after landing, the Thunderhawk behind them powered skywards again, leaving a thickening pall of dust swirling in its wake.
Underground, in the silo command bunker, the controllers were frantically trying to arm and prepare the missiles for launch. News from the battle above was confused and unclear. It was a race against time. The command bunker had a clear target, the Battle Barge stationed in low orbit above, but could they get their missiles launched before the silos were destroyed? For the Space Marines, overcoming resistance on the ground was simple enough. The security platoon had offered little fight after the first uneven exchanges of fire. The attacking Tactical squads had little to fear from Lasgun fire. The perimeter turret emplacements were a different matter. These weapons were sighted to defend the base against a ground attack, but they could also sweep the silo site with fire. Captain Orelius had diverted Strike Force B to engage them, hoping to use the Devastator's heavy weapons to destroy the well-armoured guns. They were now engaged in a heavy exchange of fire. Meanwhile, against only light resistance, Strike Force C had reached its target silo. Having cut through the encircling razor wire with their combat knives as if it was little more than a stretch of yarn, the squads were already planting and fusing their Demolition Charges. The first silo was doomed. The second silo was holding out due to the fire of the turret emplacements, but as the Devastator squad began to win the engagement, destroying the turrets with Krak Missiles and Lascannon hits, the assault units were closing in on it too.
The desert shook to the sound of the first silo being destroyed. The shaped explosives of the Demolition Charges splintered the reinforced plascrete silo roofs, causing them to collapse. The launching tube within was choked with rubble. Any attempt to launch now would cause the missile to explode inside, with catastrophic results. Realising they had lost the race, the command bunker crew abandoned their posts. Soon the Raptors would be blasting in the bunker doors and sweeping the interior with Boltgun fire. The command crew fled rather than face certain death.
Target Decima had been taken, the second silo destroyed soon after the first. The last remnants of resistance surrendered or routed. It had been a frantic but short-lived battle, and the Raptors' casualties had been light. One dead, five seriously wounded, twelve lightly wounded. Captain Orelius surveyed the smoke-blackened scene; the dead lay scattered in the sand where they had fallen, while his Space Marines moved quickly into new positions to defend the site's perimeter. Upon hearing each squad report in and declare their area of the perimeter secure, he contacted the War Talon with instructions to launch the Sixth Company.
The Raptors' Sixth Company arrived in a flight of Thunderhawk gunships and transporters, setting down inside the silo site perimeter to unload Marines, vehicles, and fresh ammunition supplies with machine-precision. They had run the same operation countless times in the past. Quickly, smoothly, and without a hitch, the Space Marines prepared for the invasion force following behind them. They had cleared the way with a ruthless efficiency only the Adeptus Astartes could provide. Even as the custodians of the strike forces' vehicles climbed aboard their charges and awoke the Machine Spirits within, the Taros Invasion Fleet was moving into orbit. Captains Orelius and Kaedes awaited new orders. Their task now was to sit tight, and should any enemy force threaten to attack the landing site, launch a fast armoured counter-attack. They had cleared the way for the Imperial Guard transports, now they acted as a security shield around the landing zone.
Imperial Guard Landings
The mission-objective-completed signal from Captain Orelius was the cue for the first invasion transports to move into low orbit and begin their own landings. The first Imperial Guard troopers to land in hostile territory on Taros were to be the infantry companies of the 17th Tallarn regiment. Many felt the elite Storm Trooper companies, specially trained to spearhead the invasion, should be deployed, but this action in De Stael’s staff was overruled. Lord Marshal De Stael wanted a rapid build-up, more men, more heavy weapons, more vehicles, and more tanks. A Storm Trooper company offered good infantry, but could not provide the heavier equipment. General Barim-Abas of the 17th felt that his men had the experience, training and equipment to perform the mission admirably.
The original plan had required enough landing craft to put down three entire Imperial Guard regiments in the first wave. Fleet Admiral Kotto had been unable to supply the vast numbers of landing craft required to fulfill that plan. Instead, the fleet had enough landing craft for just over one regiment. The others would have to wait for their turn. On board the sister transports Imperius Javelin, Gauntlet, and Anvil, in excess of 10, 000 men of the 17th Tallarn regiment were being transferred from their berths to the landing craft. As well as men came vehicles, equipment and supplies. The men destined for the first wave were equipped with full combat loads; armour, grenades, extra ammunition, rations and water supplies had been issued to the leading infantry companies. The men filed into the bellies of the big landing craft, packed in shoulder to shoulder in the darkness. The last man on board from each company was the company commander. On landing he would also be first man off. At the back of each assault company was a Commissar, bring up the rear to force any malingerers out of the landing craft and into battle.
Whilst the three transports moved into low orbit, the fleet’s escort ships took up patrol stations, and the larger cruisers piquetted the surrounding space to defend the waiting transports against sudden attack. The Righteous Power herself stayed in low orbit with the lead transport, ready to provide orbital bombardment. Aboard several of the landing craft were Imperial Navy shore parties led by Navy officers from the Righteous Power. They were there to act as a liaison between the Imperial Guard and the fleet, and as fire control teams should resistance be strong enough for the Righteous Power’s guns to be needed. Also on board the Battlecruiser was Lord Marshal De Stael, in place to oversee landing operations until he could transfer his headquarters to the surface.
After a bumpy descent through the atmosphere it seemed De Stael had chosen his southern landing ground well. In the deserts of Taros' Aestus there was no resistance. The landing craft, each packed with men and materials, were not fired on. When the great loading doors opened and the ramps fell, crashing into the desert sand, the men of the Tallarn 17th marched out into scorching temperatures and bright sunlight to find there was no battle. The enemy was nowhere to be seen. As the landings proceeded, not a shot was fired. File by file the lead companies of lmperial Guardsmen marched down the ramps and into the savage, dry heat of Taros. With their officers shouting orders, the disembarkation was orderly and quick. Immediately upon landing the companies began to move forwards to begin forming a defensive perimeter. Following the lead infantry came the first tanks. One after another, Leman Russ rumbled down the ramps and followed the men to form strong points in the new perimeter De Stael listened to the reports from the surface of an unopposed landing. So far so good, but the enemy might already be reacting and mustering a counterattack force. He needed to seize this opportunity and reinforce as rapidly as possible; he didn't know how long it might last. Company by company the 17th Tallarn landed, disembarked and marched away from the landing zone. Once unloaded, the landing craft blasted off and returned to dock with the other transports now moving into low orbit to begin the process again. The 89th Tallarn would be the next regiment to land. The transports repeated the process of the 17th. The invasion force had its foothold, now they needed the extra forces and extra supplies to make it stick.
Whilst the regiments of X Corp began the long process of transferring everything from orbit to the landing zones, the Raptors Chapter had already completed its landings. The entirety of Third and Sixth companies and all their vehicles were in position surrounding Decima silo. Captains Orelius and Kaedes placed themselves in the task force's Damocles Command Rhino and listened to the incoming reports. The invasion was progressing as planned. No enemy contact had been reported - yet. As it turned out, the Raptors assault on Decima was the only combat on the first day of the Taros invasion. It seemed the enemy had been caught by surprise by the landings and had no forces positioned for an immediate counter-attack. The second day might see the expected attack materialise, but the longer the enemy held off, the stronger the lmperium's forces would become and the harder it would become to remove them.
Days went by and nothing was seen of the enemy. The 17th Tallarn regiment, now dug-in behind sand-bagged positions, their artillery batteries located, Leman Russes half-buried in tank scrapes in the sand, was ordered to begin reconnaissance operations Their Sentinel companies and selected infantry squads were to launch long-range patrols out into the surrounding desert to see if they could find any evidence of enemy activity or build-up. The main effort was to be concentrated northwards, the direction the eventual advance would come. As well as reporting enemy sightings, the patrols would also provide useful information about the terrain the regiments faced and routes of advance.
Meanwhile, behind the 17th’s frontlines, the landing zone was a hive of activity. Landing craft were continually touching down or taking off. Sentinel Power-Lifters were stomping to and fro carrying ammunition crates and fuel drums. Trojans were dragging fuel and water bowsers between the ships and the supply dumps. Through all this marched columns of men, mostly Tallarn infantry or Storm Trooper platoons heavily laden with their own fighting kit, or wretched Departmento labour squads dressed in rags and carrying shovels and picks. Tanks and Chimera squadrons rumbled through the desert in neat lines. De Stael’s build-up was now in full flow.
On day four, the first of the Munitorum labour corps was landed and immediately set to work constructing an aircraft landing field. The first of the Imperial Navy fight squadrons, the 286th, was awaiting aboard the Hammer of Thrace for an airbase and supplies to be put in place before they could transfer to the surface. This was a priority task. The addition of an Imperial Navy fighter squadron would add greatly to the invasion force’s reconnaissance assets. Able to range far and wide over the desert they could seek out enemy forces at far greater ranges than the Sentinels or Armoured Fist squadrons already operating in the surrounding desert.
For De Stael, the landing was a triumph of organisation. The feared Tau counter-attack had never come. The force build-up was going well. Of course, there were problems to be solved. Congestion in the landing zone, men or landing craft becoming lost or arriving in the wrong location, already water supplies were a problem, but the tanker Empress of Svedeg was now in orbit and unloading 1000 tonnes of water a day. At this rate it would still take twenty days to fully unload. The men on the ground needed more, and transporting water was taking up more space in the landing craft than expected, slowing the whole landing process down. There was a shortage of Power-Lifters for unloading, and De Stael requisitioned many from the Tallarn regiments on the perimeter to aid at the landing zone. The knock-on effect of this was that the Tallarn regiments had to use their own manpower to move supplies to the front. Guardsmen were used as pack animals to carry shells to the artillery guns or water cans to the trenches. Platoons given supply duty laboured in the hot sun carrying crate after crate. In the first week it became the most hated of duties, but whilst the enemy didn’t attack, this inefficient use of combat manpower was not a problem for the 4621st Army.
Supplies of all kinds were now pouring onto Taros. Fuel, food, medical supplies, communications equipment, sandbags (by the thousand), replacement vehicles, feed for the Rough Rider squadrons, tents (small, medium and large), power cells of all kinds, spare track links, spades, pickaxes, jerry cans by the pallet load, razor wire by the mile, mines, fuses, right down to boxes of shiny new medals. The supply depots grew and grew, everything being carefully recorded, logged and stored. Despite valiant attempts to impose order, the landing zone was in chaos. One Storm Trooper company requested new vox-casters, but upon opening the crates, found they had been delivered brand new horse saddles!
The landing operation was vast, but even with his first three regiments in position De Stael was in no hurry to start offensive operations on the ground. The more men and supplies he got in place, the better his ultimate chance of success was. In all, it took nearly two weeks to move everything down to the planet surface. It was two weeks of intense unloading activity; two weeks in which the enemy made no sign of attacking. For the men on the frontline, it was two weeks of waiting. The men started referring to the Taros invasion as ‘the Clerk’s War’, both a comment on De Stael’s nickname and the fact that the supply clerks were the busiest men in the army.
After being on standby for three days, the Raptors Space Marines were withdrawn back to their Battle Barge. They had completed their mission, and enough Imperial Guard forces were now in place to resist any attack long enough for the Raptors to redeploy if needed. The only Space Marine unit to remain on the planet surface was a long Scout squad, which was there to assist in the pre-offensive intelligence gathering. The Imperium’s forces were now securely on Taros and, amazingly, barely a shot had been fired. Reconnaissance reports indicated some enemy activity in the deserts. Traces of Tau movement or occupation were found, but as yet there were no sightings. If the Tau were out there in the desert, then they were playing a patient waiting game. It was De Stael’s next task to find them and bring them to battle.
The Desert War
De Stael’s Plan for the Ground War
Once the Imperial Guard forces had established a secure landing zone, they did not move immediately. Instead, they set up a strong defensive perimeter around the landing zone and began to reinforce and stockpile supplies. This process lasted two weeks. In the meantime, the Tallarn regiments launched Sentinels and long-range infantry patrols into the desert to reconnoitre along expected routes of advance. The patrols encountered very little, the enemy continued to husband their strength and refused to commit to battle. Sightings of the enemy were zero. Where were the Tau?
The second week’s build-up saw other lmperial Guard regiments and more Departmento Munitorum units land. Airbases were rapidly constructed by the labour corps, simple strips of flattened earth, before Imperial Navy aircraft deployed from their carriers in orbit. The 23rd Elysian Drop Troop regiment arrived and started the long process of transferring their three thousand men and one hundred and eight aircraft to the surface. Only once everything was in order, X Corp was in place, and the supply stockpiles were large enough, would Lord Marshal De Stael move from his defensive posture to an offensive one. The agreed objective of the ground offensive was to capture Tarokeen and the starport, secondary objectives were to find and kill the Planetary Governor, and destroy all Tau forces on Taros.
The city of Tarokeen was situated on the Iracunda Isthmus, a strip of land between Taros' two major seas. Its location gave De Stael's planners a problem. The city was only approachable by ground forces from the west or east. The eastern end of the Iracunda Isthmus was very narrow (less than 15 kilometres) and represented a dangerous bottleneck for the Imperial Guard. Tau forces could easily block this route of advance and force a stalemate. With no room to manoeuvre, only costly direct assaults would break through to the city beyond, and De Stael did not believe he had the men required for such brutal, attritional warfare. He decided to concentrate his forces on the western end of the Isthmus, which was wider and should allow the Imperial Guard's numbers and firepower to tell.
Before the offensive could begin there was a High Command staff meeting on board the Righteous Power. Lord Commander Gustavus arrived in person. He was concerned that not threatening the eastern end of the Isthmus would allow the defenders to mass their forces at the western end and make any breakthrough far harder to achieve. Gustavus believed a diversion was required to draw any enemy forces away from the Isthmus and put them down, if not by action, then at least by the threat of imminent action. After a long discussion it was agreed that a second attack was needed, and De Stael adjusted his plans accordingly. For this new task the Lord Marshal requested Captain Orelius attend his next planning council. Orelius’ Raptors would be required again, this time to launch a powerful armoured strike from the landzone eastwards, circling around the south of the southern sea. The Space Marines' objective would be to draw Tau forces to themselves, and defend the eastern end of the Iracunda Isthmus. The Space Marines needed not seek to engage the enemy in a decisive battle, but the threat of the Space Marines' presence, if only for a little while, would help the main northwards advance by drawing away resistance.
Captain Orelius and his fellow officers strongly disagreed. His battle brothers were not being usefully employed if they were to act as a mere diversion force! Unhappy with the plan for his forces, Captain Orelius declined the mission, but did offer to include his forces alongside the main advance, even to form the spearhead of the first armoured thrust, rather than be “underemployed in a sideshow to the main campaign”, as he called it. Irritated by Captain Orelius’ refusal to sanction De Stael’s plan, but unwilling to risk the complete loss of his valuable Space Marine allies, Gustavus insisted De Stael revise his offensive plan.
Instead of the Space Marines making the diversionary eastward thrust, it would fall to the raw 331st Tallarn regiment, their first action since being founded. As unblooded troops, the 331st were best given an easier introduction to war against a cunning alien foe than be thrown into the crucible on the front line. The objective would remain the same as for the Space Marines, but the advance, being mostly on foot, would be somewhat slower. Still, the whole of the regiment’s men and tanks marching through the desert should draw Tau forces to them and out of the path of the main advance. Colonel Usfal Hamid, the commanding officer of the 331st, was summoned and given his orders by De Stael. Advance eastwards for thirty days and then establish a new defensive blocking position anchored against the south coast of the Em-sai. The 331st regiment’s advance would begin on the same day as the main offensive and should be pushed forwards with vigour and aggression; the diversion had to look like the real thing.
With the issue of the diversionary spearhead out of the way, De Stael turned to planning his main northward offensive across. It would advance on a wide front, driving north across the desert and then swinging east onto the lracunda Isthmus. Rather than concentrate all his combat power, De Stael elected to spread it out. This would seem to go against the teachings of the Tactica lmperialis, but so far all De Stael’s intelligence reports suggested the Tau forces would not be numerous enough to stop him everywhere. If one sector of the advance was halted by Tau action, then another would be advancing unimpeded. Overall, the offensive would keep moving forwards. A broad advance with the Tallarn regiments side-by-side would make for steady gains. De Stael’s offensive timetable called tor the Tallarn regiments to make an ambitious twenty kilometres a day, but he expected that in some sectors along the front the Tau would stand and fight, and movement in those sectors would naturally be slowed down or halted by combat. If the Tau committed their forces to battle in one sector, then others would be able to move faster. De Stael's staff believed an average of twenty kilometres a day should be sustainable, especially as the Tallarn units would be operating in a familiar environment. At this rate, it would take sixty days of advancing to reach the outskirts of Tarokeen.
With his offensive timetable complete De Stael turned to his supply officers. He ordered that sixty days of supplies would be required. Enough ammunition, food and, most importantly, water must be stockpiled. Reports showed that available stockpiles were currently at approximately half this, enough for thirty days, but supplies continued to flow from orbit unimpeded. De Stael decided that thirty days of supplies was enough to begin his offensive, the rest would follow as the offensive progressed. It was a fateful moment.
De Stael’s offensive strategy would see X Corp of the 4621st Army take the lead role. It would involve the Tallarn infantry regiments advancing, using their own Armoured companies and artillery to support the lead infantry platoons. The 12th Tallarn Armoured regiment would be on the right flank and the 3rd Armoured regiment would be kept behind the front line as Corp reserves, for deployment only if the offensive started to stall. Arrayed from west to east, the X Corp formation would be: 17th Tallarn regiment on the left, 89th Tallarn regiment in the centre, 12th Armoured regiment on the right. Behind would follow the 3rd Armoured regiment. Striking eastwards would be the 331st Tallarn regiment. The other Imperial Guard regiments of the XI Corp, once they had been landed, would be held as the strategic reserve. Should this offensive fail to reach Tarokeen, then De Stael would turn to these units and a new plan.
The difficult attack on the eastern end of the Iracunda Isthmus would be spearheaded by the Raptors Space Marines, with the Warhound Titans of Legion Ignatum (when they arrived) and Tallarn tanks as support. The weight of this attack should carry the offensive through the bottleneck and onto the outskirts of Tarokeen itself. Once in position around the city, De Stael would besiege the enemy, cutting off water supplies before the final assault with the fresh regiments form XI Corp. The detailed planning of the assault on Tarokeen would have to wait until the offensive got well under way.
For the thousands of men from Tallarn, it would be a long, hard march in hot, harsh conditions, but they would have tank support, and their artillery would constantly move up to keep the front lines in range. The Imperial Navy would be flying combat air patrols and bombing raids from their newly established airbases. The Tau might slow them down and even gain local successes, but the offensive would press on, grinding ever forward by its weight of numbers.
The First Offensive – Sixty Days to Tarokeen. Day One
At 514998.M41 De Stael ordered his regimental commanders to begin the long drive towards Tarokeen. The offensive began with a sustained rolling artillery bombardment all along the front line. Mortars, battle cannons, Earthshaker Cannons and Griffons began an intense barrage. It was as if the gods themselves were hurling thunderbolts across Taros. The noise, concussion and great belches of fire from each muzzle made a huge din. Thunderous explosions rolled across the desert, followed by geysers of sand and flame, one here, another there, the blasts coming so thick and fast that they merged into a single roar. Pillows of smoke and flame shot skywards in a wall of high-explosive, which crept, metre by metre, across the desert. The rolling barrage crept forwards for thirty minutes before the infantry began their advance. Every gun in the Corp was blazing away. It was a barrage designed to soften up any enemy forces lying immediately ahead of the first advance. As the infantry rose from their dug-in positions they could feel the ground shaking and hear the out-going artillery shells whine and scream overhead. If the enemy was out there, they were taking a pounding, and that gave the Guardsmen great heart. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the barrage ended. A strange calm descended after the storm. Ahead of them, the infantry could see a thick pall of dust rising, into which the first platoons advanced.
Strung out in line abreast, the lead infantry squad began to move forwards at a steady rate. Alongside or just behind them followed the tanks. Leman Russ ground the desert sand into dust, engines revving and belching thick black fumes into the air. Each platoon began to find its own way forwards. The screen of reconnaissance troops in front still reported no enemy contact. Eventually, the frontline reached the barrage area. It was a landscape scarred by still smoking shell craters. The sand had been scorched black, boulders had been shattered into pebbles, but there was no evidence that the opening bombardment had hit anything other than empty desert.
The advance moved deeper into the desert, a steady march that continued all day, and still no sign of any resistance. Some started to think that perhaps the Tau had given up Taros, and the campaign would be a walk over. By nightfall on the first day the forward units had covered the required twenty kilometres. As darkness fell, the artillery pieces hooked up their Trojan tows and began to move forwards into new firing positions. Already the advance had outstripped the guns’ ranges; even the long Earthshaker Cannons were at the extreme edge of their range. It was a night-long task to drive or drag the weapons forwards, dig new firing positions, and prepare for tomorrow with fresh ammunition supplies from the stockpiles.
The night was as bitterly cold as the day was stiflingly hot. Ice had formed on many of the Imperial Guardsmen's weapons during the short hours of darkness, but it soon melted with the dawn sun. Day two was to be a repeat of day one, but without the pre-planned rolling barrage. Such a high ammunition expenditure could not be maintained every day. Instead, the guns would target those locations the Tau might be occupying for brief harassing fire missions, before standing by to assist any units that came under attack. As the artillery and mortars opened fire again, the infantry began their advance. Morale was high, and so far there had been no resistance. By mid-morning all that had changed.
The Tau had been waiting for the advance since the landings on Taros. Their Pathfinder squads and Stealthsuit teams had already scored significant successes before a shot had been fired, by observing the locations of Imperial Guard units and alerting the Hunter Cadre commanders as to the most likely routes of advance for the Imperial Guard’s armour. The Hunter Cadre commanders, following Shas'O R'myr’s instructions, were well-hidden in the desert and waiting to move forward and counter the advance. The Hunter Cadres were formidably equipped for mobile desert warfare with its wide open battlefields and engagements which commonly took place at long ranges, most notably with Railguns and Seeker Missiles. Twenty four hours before the offensive was set in motion, crack Stealthsuit teams, operating in darkness and evading Imperial Guard patrols, had noted the build-up of equipment and stores, and forecast that the Imperium’s forces were readying for an attack. The Tau had left no formations within artillery range, but as their mechanized Hunter Cadres were well-supplied with Devilfish transports, they could move forwards and react quickly and decisively when the time came.
It was finally judged that the time had come on the second day of the Imperial offensive. The Imperial Guard infantry and tanks had left their perimeter defences of sand bags, razor and minefield behind, and were now in the open. Attacks would be swift, keeping the enemy at a distance. The Tau needed to inflict casualties before withdrawing back into the desert. Hopefully the Imperial Guard would pursue. The next day they would be hit again.
Tau forces engaged in brief long-range firefights all along the front on that second day. The 17th Tallarn regiment suffered the strongest counter-attack at midday. Approaching an abandoned mining facility, called Tungusta Station, the Tau struck in force with Hammerheads and Seeker Missiles.
The Battle of Tungusta Station
At first light on the second day, the Tallarn 17th regiment resumed its advance along its entire front. On the command of their officers the men rose from their quickly dug foxholes, whilst tanks gunned their engines and began to grind slowly forwards. Behind them the artillery opened fire from new firing positions, hitting selected targets all along the front. The regiment's three Armoured companies formed the cutting edge of the advance, with squadrons of Leman Russ tanks stretched out across the desert sands. Lacking Chimeras, the advance would be at walking pace. It would be another day of slow, steady gains. As the combined force of Armoured companies and Tallarn infantry moved across the desert they encountered their first enemy. A Hunter Cadre had moved forwards into engagement range. These forces had sped to intercept the Imperium's tank spearheads, guided by Pathfinder teams which were already observing the Imperial Guard's advance from a distance. The faster-moving Tau grav-tanks had arrived in the vicinity of Tungusta Station only minutes before the Imperial advance.
Tungusta Station was a small collection of buildings; lean-tos and old mining equipment, abandoned by its operators after the Imperial forces arrived. It had already been scouted and then shelled by the artillery as part of the preparation for the days advance. The surrounding area was pockmarked with Basilisk shell craters.
The battle started as the lead tank encountered a hidden Tau Pathfinder unit. The Leman Russ Tank opened fire with its Battle Cannon. Using their Marker Lights and Seeker Missiles, the Tau's return fire immediately knocked out the Leman Russ, which started to burn fiercely as the crew tumbled out of the hatches to the desert floor. Their position compromised, the Pathfinders quickly withdrew on foot. In the distance, on the edge of the Tungusta Station, Hammerhead gunships appeared and opened fire with their Railguns. The whip-crack sound of Railguns soon filled the air. The surviving Leman Russ tanks sought cover, firing off Smoke Launchers and returning fire. Vanquisher and Battle Cannon matched against Railguns in a deadly long-range duel. With the armoured vehicles pre-occupied in their own private battle, the Imperial Guard infantry, led from the front by their commanding officer Lieutenant Kavir, pressed forward towards the buildings.
The men of the 1st platoon, 2nd Company, advanced towards the outskirts of Tungusta Station only to encounter Fire Warriors supported by Devilfish troop carriers. A fierce fire-fight ensued. Lieutenant Kavir was killed during the attack as his command section was overrun and annihilated by counter-attacking XV8 Crisis Battlesuits, probably the Cadre’s Shas’el in person. Without close armoured support, the Tallarn platoon was heavily outgunned. They urgently called for reinforcements, and a Storm Trooper squad was ordered forwards to their location. A Thunderbolt fighter was also scrambled to intercept the Tau forces. The arrival of more Tau reinforcements and a low-flying Barracuda strafing the battlefield decisively swung the fight in the Tau’s favour. Outmatched, the 1st platoon fell back with heavy losses, despite the timely arrival of the Storm Trooper reinforcements, speeding to the fight in their Chimeras. The Thunderbolt air support raced low overhead to bomb Tungusta Station. Already three Leman Russes were burning in the desert. In this sector the advance had been stalled for a day.
As the Imperial Guardsmen withdrew from Tungusta Station, destructive artillery fire was directed onto the buildings. For several hours Basilisk shells pounded the entire area once more. In the darkness, a patrol was ordered to investigate the ruins of Tungusta Station. They found little remaining. The enemy had already withdrawn to regroup, leaving only the wrecks of a single Hammerhead and a Devilfish troop carrier behind. Next morning, the advance resumed, with 2nd company’s 5th platoon being ordered into the frontline to replace the battle-weary survivors of 1st platoon. Later that morning, 5th platoon’s cautious advance captured the remains of Tungusta Station without further resistance from Tau forces.
Tungusta Station was just the first of many such attacks throughout the following days, designed to weaken the frontline units and temporarily stall them. Sudden sharp attacks all along the X Corp’s frontline became a daily hazard.
12th Armoured Regiment’s Advance
On the right flank, the 12th Armoured regiment was experiencing similar problems. The Hammerheads and XV88 Broadside Battlesuits, with their Rail Weapons and mobility, excelled in these conditions. Unbroken fields of fire allowed them to target the Leman Russ first, before manoeuvring to avoid return fire. Once the tanks were destroyed, the Chimeras carrying infantry support were powerless to respond. Crews had to rely upon the weight of the Leman Russ armour for survival, but against the fearsome Railguns it was not always enough. The ominous whip-crack of Railguns became a sound each Imperial Guardsman learned to hate and fear. The Tau's weaponry seemed to slice through armour at any range. The magnetically-driven hyper-sonic passage of each round heated the air so that it seemed to fizz and crackle. The speed was such that infantry men who stood too close would find the air sucked from their lungs as it passed overhead. The slipstream of each round would raise the sand, forming a speeding, swirling trail of dust which cut across the desert faster than the eye could track. Without cover to hide from the Railguns, the desert war was costly in equipment. After five days advancing, the 12th Armoured regiment had lost 50% of its tank strength amongst the forward deployed companies. They had inflicted some damage on the enemy, but it was an uneven exchange. Replacement tanks could be found, but not enough to compensate for the losses. The regimental commander, Colonel Ahsa-Bilad, recognising that his tank companies needed the extra support, deployed the Basilisks of his first Artillery regiment forward, to act as assault guns rather than conventional artillery. His artillery was proving ineffective against a very mobile enemy, and it was a shrewd move. By utilising their Earthshaker Cannons’ longer range, the artillery helped level the playing field. But the regiment was already falling behind its twenty kilometres a day timetable, and Basilisks, like Leman Russes, were vulnerable.
In those first days of the desert war, a typical tank engagement would run something like this: the lead infantry platoons would be advancing in line abreast, directly supported by a Leman Russ. Lying in wait for them would a single small Tau Pathfinder team, well hidden amongst the rocks. They would target the Leman Russ with their Marker Lights, and far to their rear a volley of Seeker Missiles would be launched, locking onto the target tank. The first the Imperial Guard would know about the attack would be the sudden destruction of the tank under multiple missile impacts. Other tanks would move to reinforce, only to come under long-range fire from Railguns as Hammerheads skimmed forwards into range. A long-range exchange of fire would then take place between the armoured vehicles whilst the Imperial Guard infantry pressed forwards. The infantry would be counter-attacked by Fire Warrior units racing forwards in Devilfish transports, dismounting and again engaging at long range with their Pulse Rifles. The Imperial Guardsmen would be outgunned in the infantry firefight, although their squad snipers would achieve some kills with their longer ranged weapons. As the Guardsmen pressed forwards, casualties mounting, they might be able to bring their Heavy Weapon Squads, Mortar batteries or, if a forward observer was present, their heavy artillery to bear. As the Tallarn fire built, the Tau would board their transport vehicles and withdraw rapidly, followed by their Hammerheads. The battlefield would be left in the Imperial Guard’s possession, but at a large cost in tanks and men.
Move and Counter-Move
Lord Marshal De Stael’s staff began to analyse and understand the tactics the Tau had adopted, and looked to counter them. First of all, the Pathfinder teams needed to be hunted down more vigorously. Reconnaissance squads were reinforced with more Sentinel units to aid them in this new mission. Neutralise the Tau scouts and long-range ambushes would be harder to achieve. This had some success, with scout units regularly clashing in small skirmishes. The light Sentinels still proved to be vulnerable to the Tau's weaponry, and many were lost during these engagements. But each clash of scout patrols meant the frontline behind would be free from the Seeker Missile ambushes. The losses in Sentinels were compensated for by the saving in tanks and men behind them.
Next, De Stael looked to his own mobility to counter Tau speed. As a response force he turned to the Imperial Navy. The Thunderbolts and Lightnings of the lmperial Navy fighter wings would be the solution. If the tanks could not bring the Tau decisively to battle, then the aircraft could. Air patrols over the front line would be increased, with pilots given license to roam, locate and engage targets of opportunity. Squadrons were put on standby to scramble should a front line unit report contact with the enemy. These would race to the front line and deliver devastating volleys of Hellstrike Missiles. The Tau might outrun De Stael’s artillery, but they could not outrun the Imperial Navy.
As De Stael's operational tactics evolved, naturally so must have the Tau's. For the commanders, the war was a to-ing and fro-ing of move and counter-move, plan and counterplan. The Imperial Navy was heavily active for several days over the front line, the sky criss-crossed with vapour trails and filled with the roar of jet engines. The Thunderbolts of the Imperial Navy began to find ground targets, scoring notable successes and inflicting heavier losses on the Tau than the ground forces had managed. The Tau's response was to commit its own air forces in increasing numbers. Barracudas began to be seen over the battlefield, not in a ground attack role, but diving from high altitude to intercept the Imperium's aircraft. From distant bases on the Iracunda Isthmus the Barracudas kept up patrols to defend their ground forces. The air war over Taros had begun. Dogfights became common between the two evenly matched forces. This drew the Imperial Navy's resources away from its ground attack role, and once again the Hunter Cadres were freed up for their probing counter-attacks. Despite the losses and the escalation of the ground war into the skies, the offensive continued to grind forwards through the desert. After ten days it had made up to one hundred and fifty kilometres: it was behind schedule by between 30 and 50 kilometres, but the broad front was still moving northwards daily.
Storming the Phyyra Heights
The established pattern of the campaign continued as the Imperial Guard moved northwards, but within the first weeks the pace of the advance started to slacken. After twenty days they had covered approximately three hundred kms. All regiments were reporting problems with their supply lines. Convoys were not making it to the front line. Days passed whilst there was not enough fuel for all the vehicles. Only when they arrived could the regiment push on and attempt to make up for lost time. Water rationing was having to be strictly enforced by Commissars. This made offensive operations increasingly difficult and slow. On the left flank of the broad front, the Tallarn 17th was approaching an upland area known as the Phyyra Heights. These rugged escarpments scarred the distant horizon with their steep slopes. Orders from De Stael's headquarters were for the regiment to swing slightly westwards and capture the high ground, hopefully outflanking the majority of the Tau defenders and opening a clearer path to the lracunda Isthmus.
For seven days the 17th Tallarn regiment’s advance towards the Phyyra Heights had gone without incident. The Tau had left the regiment to its slow flank march, and twenty five days since the offensive began the lead platoons found themselves at the foot of a steep, rocky climb into the highlands. The regiment's reconnaissance squads had arrived several days before the main body, moving on foot up the slopes at night. The scouts had begun to seek the best routes through the rocky terrain. Several prospective routes had been identified, and the first probe by Sentinel units had not been attacked. The versatile walkers fared well on the steep hillsides, but it was terrain the regiment's supporting tanks would find highly restricting. Since arriving, the recon squads had spotted a few enemy tracks, but in the process several men had been injured by rockfalls (at the time, these were put down to unfortunate accidents). Amongst the lower slopes they had no confirmed sightings of the enemy, and had not found any indication of an enemy force present in large enough strength to threaten the continued advance.
Meanwhile, unknown to the Imperial forces below, the Tau’s savage allies, the Kroot, were hiding and waiting on the high ground. A few Kroot trackers had ventured out to keep an eye on the humans and set rockslide booby traps, but the main forces kept to the high ground, never exposing themselves to the human scouts. If they were spotted, then it would bring heavy artillery on their heads. The Master Shaper was clever enough to know that in the dense and rocky terrain his ferocious kindreds and Kroot Hounds would be at an advantage. Once spotted, his forces would become the targets of heavy shelling and this might force him to withdraw. Out of the hills in the open desert, his forces would stand little chance against the enemy’s firepower. If the Tallarn advance was to be stopped, it would have to be here.
General Barim-Abas issued his orders to capture the high ground. In scorching heat, the lead companies and platoons set off on the arduous climb. Scout squads and Sentinels showed them the way. From their caves and rocky hiding places the Kroot emerged, hungry and ready to fight. They scurried downhill to hide behind the first ridgeline. On each Shaper’s command, the warbands rose as one, suddenly appearing on the ridgeline above the Guardsmen as a long howling line. With Hounds baying and Knarlocs shrieking the Kroot charged headlong downhill. Leaping from rock to rock, their momentum carried them into the Imperial Guardsmen below. Suddenly, it was a desperate fight. Some Tallarn units fled rather than face the bloodthirsty savages. Other squads sought cover, stood, fought, and died on the Kroot’s blades or savaged by wild alien beasts.
With his vanguard platoons under sudden and heavy enemy counter-attacks, General Barim-Abas ordered his artillery to open fire on the first ridgeline. Directed by forwards observer teams on the hillside, Mortars and Earthshaker Cannons launched repeated barrages up the hillside. Fire, smoke and dust engulfed the ridge. The heavy fire gave the lead platoons enough time to withdraw, and mercifully the Kroot did not follow, preferring to remain amongst the dense cover on the high ground. Bloodied and weary the Tallarn Guardsmen had been repulsed, but the fighting to climb the Phyyra Heights was just beginning. Over the next ten days, three more attempts to storm the treacherous slopes each ended with the regiment being thrown back with heavy losses. A fourth attack, led personally by General Barim-Abas, did capture the first ridgeline. However, the 17th regiment’s offensive had stalled. The only reserve force available to lend them aid was the Tallarn 3rd Armoured regiment, but their Leman Russes and Chimeras could not operate effectively in the highlands. De Stael wisely refused to commit them. He would seek a breakthrough elsewhere whilst the 17th skirmished with the Kroot for possession of a barren rocky wilderness of little use to either side. For the 17th, it was the higher water mark of their advance on Tarokeen. They had captured three hundred and fifty kilometres of desert.
With the 17th Tallarn regiment now involved in a protracted battle against Kroot warbands to capture the Phyyra Heights, Lord Marshal De Stael turned to his other three regiments to carry his stalling offensive to the mouth of the Iracunda Isthmus. He ordered his reserve regiment, the 3rd Tallarn Armoured, to reinforce the 89th and 12th Armoured regiments, adding fresh firepower to the frontline. The 3rd regiment, under Colonel Hasso Ras-Aziz, was divided into three battlegroups titled A, B and C. Battlegroup A moved to reinforce the 12th Armoured, B moved to reinforce the 89th regiment, and C remained as a reserve. The new tanks added new impetus to the offensive, and for a while the pace began to increase again.
At 596998.M41, Battlegroup A spearheaded a fresh attack. Amidst the heavy diesel stink and creaking tracks of armoured vehicles, the combined weight of the regiment’s first and second tank companies struck northwards with renewed vigour. A cloud of dust hung over the desert as tanks passed by, followed close behind by Chimeras and Basilisks. As ever, the Tau were waiting, picking off tanks with Railguns before falling back again. The attrition continued, the first day alone cost the 3rd regiment six vehicles.
On the third day, the lead elements of Battlegroup A came into sight of a large mining operation at Gaidamak, where the land was scarred by deep quarries in the earth and surrounded by towering soil heaps. Surveying the area through his magnoculars, General Ras-Aziz made plans to attack and capture the mine
Battle of Giadamak
Giadamak was a huge strip mine where the ground had been torn up over centuries, its deep quarries leaving dramatic rends in the earth and huge strangely regular mounds of waste rock piled high. It was a desolate and dusty place, home to several thousand miners until the approaching tank columns forced most to flee to safety. Some hardy work-gangs vowed to stay and fight. The scattered quarries, buildings, workings and equipment hid the defenders, whereas the deserts provided little cover for the attacks. Where once there was the clanking and grinding of heavy machinery rumbling across the desert, all was now silent. Fire Warriors scanned the southern horizon for the tell-tale dust columns of approaching tanks.
Lord Marshal De Stael suggested that General Ras-Aziz ignore the tricky mining complex and move around it, striking for the bigger prize of the Iracunda Isthmus and leaving the defenders isolated. The General disagreed, for he could not allow a strong Tau force to remain behind his frontline. His lead units might reach the Iracunda Isthmus, but the Giadamak defenders could then launch a potentially catastrophic counter-attack from their strong point, rolling through the regiment’s vulnerable rear areas. In his opinion, the mine had to be seized and the defenders killed, captured or forced to withdraw. An attack would then clear the way for the continued advance northwards. The veteran Tallarn General made this clear during a briefing onboard De Stael’s Leviathan. The Lord Marshal concurred with his frontline commander, and the attack would begin at first light the next day. With the briefing complete, General Raz-Aziz climbed aboard an Aquila shuttle and flew back to his forward command post to oversee the battle.
As the first rays of light crept over the dark horizon, the rumble of heavy artillery fire once again rolled out across the desert. In the dawn light, Earthshaker and Mortar explosions blossomed all around Giadamak. The men gathered ammunition, ration supplies, and filled canteens before climbing aboard their vehicles and slowly moving to the frontlines. The regiment's attack plan was simple. Two tank companies would envelop the mines, circling to the west and east. When the tank vanguards had met, the mine would be surrounded and cut off from reinforcements. Then the infantry would move in, racing forwards in Chimeras behind a rolling barrage of artillery fire, before dismounting and closing the last few hundred yards on foot. It would be the dismounted infantry that would roust the Tau from their hidden positions in close quarters fighting, under the covering fire of their transports.
The attack started well with the tanks moving out to the left and right unmolested by Tau fire. With the crack of artillery shells resounding, the Leman Russ columns bounded forwards in two wide arcs. In the centre, the Chimeras advanced in line abreast behind a wall of Earthshaker fire. With two hundred yards left, the artillery screen lifted and men dismounted to dash forwards and seize the objective. As the infantry closed in, the Tau opened fire, flaying the dismounted Tallarns with Pulse Rifle fire. The Tau had created a killing zone in front of their position with interlocking fields of fire. The leading Tallarn infantry were now caught in it, and men started to fall one after the other. As they attempted to advance, the men of Tallarn were dusty tan shapes running, falling, crawling, firing, rising again and falling again, wounded and writhing. The heavy pulse fire was punishing. Soon the flat ground was littered with the small hummocks of dead and wounded men. Second company, the first to attack, was repulsed with heavy loses. They retreated in disarray, leaving a hundred dead behind.
His first assault defeated, General Ras-Aziz ordered a fresh Armoured Fist company forwards. This time it would be the Third company’s turn. Again muzzle flashes erupted from the defenders’ lines, scouring the desert with pulse rounds. Chimeras moved forwards to lend their fire, Multi-Lasers whining and Heavy Bolters chattering return fire. Leading the attack was Captain Hadid. His own Chimera was hit thirty five times by pulse rounds, eventually penetrating the front armour and killing his driver. Dismounted, the captain rallied his men and led the way, closing in on the objective. The weight of the Chimera fire and the platoon’s supporting Mortars were having an effect, suppressing the defenders as the first Tallarn platoons reached the edge of Giadamak. Now the fighting would become close and personal. With knives and grenades in hands, squads were stalking through the billowing smoke and rusting machinery, hunting down the entrenched defenders.
Meanwhile, the encircling tanks had completed their envelopment against only light resistance. They took up positions to repel any attempted Tau breakthrough to help the force now surrounded amongst the deep quarries of Giadamak. There was little the commanders could do though as, in mid-afternoon, the Tau launched an aerial evacuation. From the east a formation of four Orcas, surrounded by a defensive shield of Barracudas, raced overhead, banked steeply towards the mine and came in to land. The Tau were withdrawing again.
Fighting amongst the quarries was more like street fighting than desert warfare. The artillery could no longer fall as the forces were too close and intermingled. For three hours the battle was a brawl fought with grenades, knives and sometimes bare fists. The Tau had little stomach for such combat. The Hunter Cadre commander had called for an evacuation. He had inflicted his damage here, and it was now time to cut-and-run before his force was annihilated. The Orcas swooped in, Burst Cannons raking the sand, and the Fire Warrior teams withdrew under the covering fire of their sacrificial rearguard. Scurrying away, they loaded up and quickly took to the air. From his command post, General Ras-Aziz watched with magnoculars as one by one the Orcas lifted off and banked away northwards, chased by sporadic Hydra flak fire, whilst Barracuda circled above.
The survivors of Giadamak moved to mop up the Tau rearguard, quickly rounding up the haggard, wounded and battle-weary alien prisoners. In all, sixty three prisoners were taken. The 3rd Tallarn regiment’s losses stood at 322 killed or wounded, and eleven vehicles destroyed. That evening, sixty-eight Tau bodies were piled into a mass grave and bulldozed over. After a day of heavy fighting, Giadamak was now a fire of scoured wilderness, dotted with artillery impact craters, littered with spent power cells, bloody bandages, smouldering wreckage and the dead of both sides.
After another fourteen days of advancing after the battle, faced by daily Tau sniping on the frontline, Battlegroup A had closed to within fifty kilometres of its objective; but they were now running out of tanks, fuel and water. As the front line pushed forwards the lengthening supply lines felt the pressure. The second phase of Shas’O R’myr’s campaign plan was starting to reap its rewards. With so many units committed to the rear echelon raids, the Tau Commander might no longer have enough Hunter Cadres to stop the offensive; but the Imperial Guard was slowly running out of momentum due to its own logistical needs.
Whilst the 17th regiment fought for the Phyyra Heights and De Stael committed the 3rd Armoured to give his offensive new momentum, the Tau had started to infiltrate deep into enemy territory. The second phase of their campaign plan had begun. Operating mainly at night, Tau Fire Warrior, Pathfinder and Stealthsuit teams dropped via Orca into the desert and fanned out in search of targets. Night after night, Orcas flew secret transport missions to drop more teams, seeding the Imperial Guard's rear area with raiding parties, under orders to identify supply routes and dumps, headquarters and airfields. Once located, action would then be planned. Teams were only sanctioned to conduct ambushes on supply routes. Other Pathfinder teams were dropped with Tetra speeders, allowing them to move with great speed to reach new targets.
Pathfinder and Stealth teams operated in unison to attack Imperial Guard supply columns of Trojans towing trailers full of water, fuel and ammunition. Rear area security was mainly being conducted by Sentinel and Rough Rider squadrons, and these proved ineffective against the small, well-armed Tau teams. Day after day, convoy after convoy was ambushed, the Pathfinders inflicting rapid losses before withdrawing back into the desert. Soon, supply routes were marked by the blackened hulks of destroyed Trojans and trailers, or the slowly bleaching bones of horses killed in ambushes. Security was increased. Armoured Fist squads were withdrawn from frontline duty to help defend the vulnerable convoys, but the Tau attacks continued.
One large supply dump was destroyed in a night-time raid without a shot being fired. Pathfinder teams had infiltrated past the dump sentries to stealthily set charges amongst the fuel cans and ammunition crates. Just before dawn, a huge orange fireball rose out of the desert, waking even Lord Marshal De Stael on board his Leviathan command vehicle. At dawn there was a tall mushroom cloud of dust and smoke marking the supply dump's location, still rising high into the sky for all to see for miles around.
By 640998.M41 the offensive towards Tarokeen had ground to a halt, lacking replacements and supplies. The 12th Armoured, spearheaded by Battlegroup A of 3rd Armoured, had almost reached the mouth of the Iracunda Isthmus; the other two Infantry regiments on their left hadn't made it so far. The 17th regiment was stuck in the Phyyra Heights, and although they had made some small gains, no breakthrough seemed imminent. The 89th regiment thinly filled the gap between the two flanks. Far to the south, the 331st regiment had advanced to the southern shores of the Em-sai and was now digging in, but the Tau had not fallen for the feint. Up until now the air war over Taros had continued daily, an evenly matched duel with both sides struggling to gain superiority. The Tau had the edge in numbers, but the Imperium had the edge in experience. It was a battle neither side could afford to lose. Unless the Tau dominated the skies, their defensive strategy would be facing a major problem. If their Barracudas could no longer protect the Hunter Cadres, then the Imperial forces would have an advantage in the ground war. Hunter Cadres would be exposed to repeated air attacks and forced to rely on their Sky Rays for defence, which were proving themselves a potent weapon against ground targets when used in conjunction with small Pathfinder teams. Also, Barracudas and Tiger Sharks were playing a big part in the second phase of the campaign, strafing supply convoys. The Imperial Navy was still putting up an alarming fight, and at this time it was the main threat to Shas'o R'myr's campaign plan. Urgent action was needed to help swing the balance of the air war in their favour, and the Tau launched a daring raid to destroy Imperial Navy aircraft whilst still on the ground.
Small Stealthsuit teams had already infiltrated the Imperial Guard rear lines. Operating only at night, their mission had been to find and report the location of Imperial supply dumps and convoy routes. They were under strict orders not to engage the enemy, just to find potential targets for other strike forces to attack. With O’R’myr’s realisation, they received new instructions: their mission was now to find Imperial airbases, for these were now the highest priority targets for the Tau. When a patrolling Stealth team reported the location of a forward airbase, Shas'el K'irri responded quickly. Utilising only his best Fire Warrior teams he gathered together an elite strike force. His plan was simple but very dangerous. In a daring night-time raid, a single Orca loaded with troops would fly low over the desert and pass directly over the airstrip. The Fire Warrior teams and their support units would then jump out, and under the covering fire of Tau Drones and XV8 Crisis Battlesuits, destroy all the grounded aircraft with EMP Grenades. Shas'el K’irri would lead the attack himself. After the drop, the Orca would circle around and return to land directly on the airfield. Once the enemy aircraft were destroyed and the Orca had landed, the raiding teams would fall back to the Orca and make a rapid escape, covered by a flight of Barracudas scrambled to intercept any Imperial pursuit. Surprise would be on their side, but once the airbase realised it was under attack it would respond quickly and in force. Ki’irri warned all his chosen Shas'la that the chances of survival were low. They would be deep in enemy territory and should anything go wrong, they would be cut-off; but should they succeed, then it could have dramatic effects on the frontline. It was a risk worth taking for the Greater Good.
To start with the attack went as planned. The Orca, equipped with Blacksun Filters and a Disruption Pod, approached the airfield skimming fast and low over the desert surface. On its final approach to the target the Orca attracted the attention of the airbase’s anti-aircraft defences and sustained several hits as the Hydra flak guns opened fire. Once over the airfield, the rear ramp lowered and the troops jumped out, hitting the ground and immediately going into action. As tracers from the Hydra’s Autocannons lit up the night sky, the Fire Warrior teams raced towards nearby parked aircraft. The Shas’el’s Crisis Battlesuits leapt towards the Hydra platforms, silencing them with multiple hits from Plasma Rifles and Missile Pods. Illuminated by the fires of the burning Hydra turret, an emplaced Multi-Laser guarding the perimeter fence found its range, causing a Battlesuit to explode in a shower of sparks.
Pinned in their command post by fire from Gun Drones, the guard command section called for urgent help. Other security squads were already rushing to their aid. First to arrive was a squadron of Sentinels, attached to the airbase for rear area security. The confused night fight escalated, pulse rounds and Lasgun blasts criss-crossing the airfield, until, with sudden bright explosions, one after another aircraft began to explode. In all, six explosions in quick succession lit the darkness, fountaining flames and sparks from the cockpits of the grounded Thunderbolts. The destruction of the aircraft did not see the end of the fighting. The Orca had circled the base and returned to land on the runway. Such a large target attracted a lot of fire from the defenders. The dropship attempted to return fire with its own Burst Cannons, only to be rocked by repeated impacts. One engine started to burn, crippling the aircraft and preventing it from taking off; gradually the flames engulfed the Orca, forcing the crew to abandon ship. The mission had achieved its objective, but for the attacking Tau teams, there was no longer any escape. Deep in enemy territory they fought on throughout the night until they were overwhelmed by the defenders. Every raider was either killed, wounded or captured in the attack, including Shas'el K'irri. As dawn broke, it revealed the results of the intense fighting. Six aircraft lay as smouldering wrecks, along with the Hydra turrets, Battlesuits and the gutted Orca, flames still flickering from inside the stricken dropship. The airbase was shrouded in acrid smoke and littered with the dead and wounded of both sides. It was a scene of devastation. The cost had been heavy on both sides. The Imperial Navy had suffered the loss of its aircraft and the airbase was out of action until the debris could be cleared. The Tau had lost their entire raiding force in the strike. What the overall effect on the campaign would be, it was too early to tell.
The attack on the airbase was not the end of the raids. More supply dumps would be located and then targeted by Pathfinders. Convoys continued to be ambushed by stealth teams or strafed by Barracudas. It was a plan designed to cripple the frontline regiments by reducing their supplies to a trickle, and it was working.
Air War Over Taros
Worrying for De Stael was the Tau's growing air superiority. The Tau had obviously established a network of good airfields on Taros, with smaller forward bases hidden in the deserts and larger facilities closer to Tarokeen. The Tau had assembled an unknown quantity of aircraft, but Air Marshal Denvelt was estimating at least ten squadron-sized groups, maybe 120 Barracudas and 40 Tiger Sharks. Despite losses inflicted by Imperial Navy Fighter squadrons, the Tau were airborne relentlessly. The situation had not been helped by the Tau raid against one of Denvelt's forward airbases and the loss of six fighter aircraft in one night. In all, the Imperial Navy had four Fighter wings, two Bomber wings and one Tactical wing committed to the Taros campaign. At the peak of its strength (the start of the campaign), Air Marshal Denvelt commanded 78 fighters, of which the vast majority were Thunderbolts, 24 Marauder bombers and 18 Valkyrie transports (not including those of the 23rd Elysian Drop Troop regiment). Since the campaign had started, he had received exactly zero replacements, despite repeated requests.
The squadrons were starting to feel the strain of prolonged combat. As well as aircraft and aircrew losses, the fuel situation was not good, and air dropped munitions were running low. Imperial airbases were mostly situated far to the rear, close to the original landing zone, where Departmento Munitorum Engineer and Labour Corp had been instructed to construct them. As the front advanced, this left Imperial aircraft further and further behind, with longer mission times, and hence less time in the air over the battlefield. An original plan to move fighter bases forwards had been cancelled. Since the Tau raid, it was considered too risky to expose grounded aircraft to roving Stealth teams. As it was, all airbase security had been increased, with forces being drawn back from the forward Imperial Guard regiments.
The Bomber squadrons had hammered Tarokeen and the lracunda Isthmus with repeated air raids, pounding the city and suspected Tau bases. It seemed to be having little effect on the Tau. Attempts to hit Tau Hunter Cadres in the deserts seemed to expend a disproportionate amount of munitions for slim results, and bomber losses to the ever present Barracudas had been alarming: five in the first two days. In summary, the air war was (much like the ground war), slowly slipping away from the Emperor's forces. Because of this, the Imperial Guardsmen on the ground faced the ever-present danger of low-level Barracuda attacks. The Tau aircraft would slip along low over the desert, hugging valleys and ridge lines, only to rise suddenly in a with a whirl of Ion Cannon fire, Missile Pods and Burst Cannons that raked the sand and sent everybody diving for the nearest cover. Supply convoys were a priority target and suffered heavy losses. Without reinforcements the Imperial Navy was struggling to defend them. By the time Operation Comet was launched, Air Marshal Denvelt commanded just thirty-seven fighters, twelve bombers and thirteen Valkyries. Still no replacements had reached him, and none ever would.
Battle for Taros System
At 537998.M41 the Tau fleet, coordinating their operation with the ground forces, arrived in the Taros system to begin their part in the campaign plan. Since their arrival in-system, Imperial Admiral Kotto's invasion fleet had busied themselves with protecting the unloading operation and the supply convoys, now to-ing and fro-ing from the Taros system like worker bees collecting pollen. The Righteous Power remained in geostationary orbit over the landing zone, whilst the three cruisers were stationed in the outer reaches, positioned to provide a secure perimeter with maximum sensor coverage and the fastest reaction time for a cruiser to respond to any surprise Tau moves. The two light cruisers and most of the escorts provided close convoy protection for the important cargo vessels which now formed the 4621st Army's lifeline. With the Space Marines not currently engaged on the surface, the War Talon had withdrawn and began patrolling the system as a rapid reaction force, ready to speed to wherever she was needed, or back to orbit should a fresh planetfall operation be called for. Novem squadron's Firestorm frigates provided the outer piquet line, patrolling deep space as an early warning against Tau raiders.
The Tau fleet slipped into the Taros system unnoticed at first, disengaging Ether Drives in deep space and creeping in system on the tail of the Imperial convoys. Running slowly and silently, the Tau fleet was about to begin a long game of the hide-and-seek with the more powerful Imperial vessels. The Tau fleet was centred around its latest vessels, a Custodian class carrier A'Rho, and the twin Protector-class starships Io'Tar and Io'Phi supported by four squadrons of Castellans and Wardens. In all, it was a fleet of twenty-six vessels, but in a straight engagement it could not hope to match the entire Imperial fleet arrayed against it. Instead, the Tau would hit and run, targeting the convoys and trying to split the Imperial fleet into smaller forces they could engage and defeat separately. Upon arrival the Tau fleet divided into four groups and set different courses. The main group, led by the A'Rho, would strike deepest, acting as a decoy to draw Imperial vessels in pursuit of it. Meanwhile, the two Protector-led attack groups would strike at the supply convoys. The fourth group, consisting of a single squadron of five Castellans would be given free reign; their role was to create confusion, operating independently of the other squadrons with free reign to harass convoys or draw Imperial pursuit on a wild goose chase.
Firestorm-class Frigate Novem 22 was the first Imperial vessel to identify part of the Tau fleet. Stationed on a patrol route through deep space, the frigate's sensors picked up an unidentified signal and moved closer to investigate. Closing cautiously, she was soon tracking four unknown vessels of escort size, moving in formation. Novem 22 did not wait around to find any larger ships, she was already heavily outmatched. Instead she turned around and heading back in-system at full speed to report her finding to Admiral Kotto. On board the Righteous Power Kotto listened to the crackling, static-shrouded voice of Captain Renard commanding Novem 22. The Tau had finally arrived. In what numbers and on what vessels he did not yet know, but the threat must be countered. Kotto passed the report to the closest cruiser to Novem 22's location, the Lunar-class Cruiser Hammer of Thrace. The Hammer of Thrace responded immediately to the first contact, and upon receiving orders from Admiral Kotto moved to rendezvous with the regrouping Novem squadron and then intercept the raiders and engage. He didn't know it, but Admiral Kotto had swallowed the bait. Free from the threat of the closest cruiser, the first Protector-led Tau attack group sped towards troop convoy Alpha-four, a small line astern of four transports currently inbound for Taros. The Imperius Javalin, Anvil and Gauntlet and the Prince Maud were well guarded by their convoy leader, the Dauntless-class Light Cruiser Cerebus, and Errant squadron, consisting of four Sword-class Frigates. Convoy Alpha-four was transporting part of XI Corp, the entire 8th Brimlock Dragoons regiment and their supplies, and was making its first return journey since taking part in the initial invasion. With no contact from the Tau so far the convoy was expecting an easy return trip. It was now in grave peril. With the Hammer of Thrace and Novem squadron already committed in pursuit of the Tau escort vessels, the convoy was dangerously exposed.
Troop Convoy Alpha-Four
The first Captain Nomura on the bridge of the Cerebus knew of the Tau presence was the arrival of the Io'Tar and her escorting vessels in sensor range, racing towards the convoy. The Tau attack came as a total surprise on the bridge of the light cruiser, which reacted by immediately sounding battle-stations and requesting assistance from the Hammer of Thrace. Too late, the Lunar-class Cruiser was already under orders and moving away at flank speed. She could not help.
The Io'Tar opened the battle of convoy Alpha-four with a volley from her Gravitic Launchers, firing Drone missiles which scattered the convoy and escorts as they swung hard to evade the guided lock-ons. The five Castellans followed close behind, closing with their forward Railgun batteries lashing the frigates of Errant squadron. Taken off-guard, the escorts responded as best they could, weapons batteries booming out huge cannon shells and trying to find their range on the closing Tau vessels. In those first fusillades the Cerebus was hit in the engines as she swung hard to starboard. A Drone missile had locked on and could not be shaken; it found its mark. The explosion as the missile penetrated the Cerebus’ stern flashed through the engine decks, incinerating engineers, Servitors and ratings. Seriously damaged by the impact, the Cerebus' main plasma core began to dangerously overheat, running out of control and threatening to detonate the entire ship. Captain Nomura ordered the core shut down, but that left his vessel a drifting cripple at the mercy of the Tau gunners. The Tau gunners showed little mercy that day. As Cerebus was lashed by fire, Captain Nomura ordered all to abandon ship, but refused all advice to leave the bridge himself. With their convoy leader disabled, the transports fled for safety. The cruiser Black Duke had been ordered to their aid, but was still too far away to intervene in the battle. The transports changed course to meet the incoming Dictator-class Cruiser, but their small engines where unable to outrun the pursuing Castellans, which now swarmed around them, Ion Cannons and Railgun batteries blazing, overwhelming shield generators, buckling armour plates and puncturing hulls.
In the holds of their transports the Guardsmen of the 8th Brimlock Dragoons were powerless to aid in their own defence. They felt their ships roll and vibrate with each enemy near miss. They heard the engines straining at flank speed and the distant thunder of the transports’ own small cannons returning fire. The Imperius Anvil was hit amidst ships as one Castellan swept over her, a gravitic launched missile smashed through the thin side armour and into the packed holds. The massive explosion inside the cramped interior tore men apart, tossing bodies about and setting fires raging through the lower decks. In that first impact hundreds died, the fires would claims hundreds more. Fatally wounded, the stricken transport fell behind the others, stranding a third of the Brimlock regiment. Next the Prince Maud was critically hit, shields stripped away by the Tau fire, a Railgun battery volley tore through the bridge and super-structure, killing the bridge crew to a man. Unknown to the Imperial Guardsmen in the holds below, their vessel was now drifting with no captain and no one to man the helm. She was easy pickings for the Tau.
To the rear Errant squadron was fighting bravely, but was now heavily outgunned by the Io'Tar. They traded bombardments, retaining the slim hope that the Black Duke would arrive to rescue them. The Lunar-class cruiser was straining every engine and reactor, racing to the rescue, but too late. Convoy Alpha-four was being annihilated by the surprise attack, and with it the 8th Brimlock Dragoons. The last of the transports were hunted down and destroyed before the Tau vessels turned about and fled back the way they had come. The Black Duke was still some hours away, and would only arrive in time to begin rescue operations. There was little to salvage except the few lucky survivors. Like wolves falling on the fold the Tau had torn the convoy apart. It is probable that they never realised that trapped within the transports thousands of guardsmen had perished as the bulkheads collapsed and hulls tore open, spilling silently screaming men out in the hard vacuum of space. The 8th Brimlock Dragoons were no more.
Before being destroyed the Cerebus had launched its lifeboats, and many of these were picked up by the Black Duke. The survivors told the tale of the sudden surprise attack which had overwhelmed them. It was the first ambush of many. The grim news of the destruction of Convoy Alpha-four and the loss of an entire Imperial Guard regiment reached Admiral Kotto on the Righteous Power and Lord Marshal De Stael on Taros. It was a heavy blow for both, and Admiral Kotto set about making new plans and issuing new orders for increased protection of the convoys. The Hammer of Thrace was to continue her pursuit of the Custodian, a request was sent to the War Talon to aid the hunt. They were not to stop until the dangerous Tau vessel was destroyed. The Star of Cassiopeia and Black Duke would now be diverted to convoy close protection along with Invincis and Omna squadrons. The Tau would not find any more soft targets to ambush. The Righteous Power would remain on standby, acting as the Admiral's reserve, ready to leave orbit if required.
News of the destruction of the entire 8th Brimlock Dragoons caused Lord Commander Gustavus even greater concern. He immediately ordered the transportation of any other Imperial Guard regiments to Taros to cease, much to Marshal De Stael's displeasure. Whilst the Tau fleet threatened to reap such wanton destruction it was a risk Gustavus could not run. The 19th Krieg Armoured regiment had just begun embarking for Taros, and that operation was halted. The regiment received orders to stand-down until further notice. Admiral Kotto was instructed to secure the supply lines before any more regiments would be risked in transit. Gustavus' order to the 19th Krieg regiment was never rescinded and the regiment never made it to Taros. De Stael's XI Corp was left with only three regiments: the Sarennians, the Elysians and the Cadians.
The Tau's first attack had been a great success, but now they would need to attack a second convoy. The A'Rho was on the run, leading two Imperial capital ships on a long chase across the solar system. It was not until reaching the inner flare zone that she would be finally brought to battle. In subsequent weeks the lo'Tar and lo'Phi continued to harass the supply convoys, risking the bigger Imperial vessels to pick off transports. During the attack on convoy Epsilon-six, the super-heavy tanker Empress of Svedeg was crippled by Drone missiles, along with her valuable cargo of water and fuel. It was a blow that would cost the 4621st Army very dearly when the water supplies started to run out. Every convoy now ran the gauntlet; some made it through, others arrived after being damaged, some transports were destroyed altogether. Each time a ship was lost more vital supplies were lost as well.
Hunt for the A’Rho
Demand for the Raptors' assistance in the ground war on Taros meant the War Talon was forced abandon her hunt, and Admiral Kotto had to commit the Righteous Power to the A'Rho's pursuit. Lord Commander Gustavus' decision was that the ground forces would get priority use of the Space Marine allies. The War Talon withdrew from the hunt and returned to orbit above Taros, ready for the Raptors' deployment during Operation Comet. She was immediately replaced by the Righteous Power. The flagship's great engines slowly pushed the venerable battlecruiser out of Taros' gravity well and Admiral Kotto instructed Captain Rymus to set course to rendezvous with the Hammer of Thrace and Novem squadron. Like hounds on the scent, the Imperial Navy would relentlessly pursue their quarry.
After a long pursuit and several skirmishes, the Custodian-class carrier A'Rho and her Castellan escorts where finally run to ground. She had led her pursuers on a fourteen-day dance around the system. Eventually, the renegade Tau starship and her escorts pressed in close to the system's dazzling yellow sun, through the mercurial zone and deeper into the thickening radiation clouds. For the Imperium's ships tracking their target here would be difficult, and although out-classed by two Imperial capital ships, the big Tau vessel would have her best fighting chance in here. The fleet action around Taros was approaching its climax amidst the thick, irradiated dust clouds and coruscating solar flares which shimmered pink, yellow and purple in dense skeins throughout the inner flare zone. It was an eerie place for a battle. Navy rating and deck hands have many old superstitions about flying so close to the sun. After three days of relentless pursuit directly into the inner flare zone temperatures soared and scanner equipment was burning out. Officers in shirt sleeve order and topless men sweated on every deck as the sun loomed ever larger and larger in the view screens. Eventually it filled the screens with a blinding glare that the reactive photo-chromatic view ports struggled to keep out. The vessels were all bathed in a bright light as they rumbled deeper and deeper into the gas clouds. Only now did the A'Rho chose to turned and fight.
The A'Rho powered up her forward deflectors and launched her Wardens, Mantas and Barracudas. The Tau escorts formed into line abreast and opened fire with a salvo of Railgun rounds. Despite having the advantage in firepower, this would be no easy victory for the Imperial Navy. With the sun's huge glare directly in their faces their scanner equipment was malfunctioning, the Tau vessels became ghostly images dancing upon the sensor screens. Shooting at the small escorts and bombers would be like trying to hit a flying sparrow with a boulder. The Imperial vessels returned fire, lance turrets firing furiously as the ships manoeuvred to bring their broadside guns to bear. The Hammer of Thrace narrowly threaded a spread of Tau missiles, close defence turrets blazing in all directions as flights of Mantas and Barracudas swarmed close to her, bombing and strafing. The Castellan escorts tore into battle like a pack of rabid dogs unleashed. They tangled with Novem squadron, guns booming left and right. Quickly two of each side's vessels became drifting wrecks.
Shells from the Righteous Power's big port batteries impacted against the A'Rho's prow, the Deflector Shields absorbing the energy. Return fire buckled the battlecruiser's armoured apron. One Ion Cannon blast burrowed into the forward lance turret, destroying it in a blossoming explosion and killing all the gun crew inside. The Hammer of Thrace followed her flagship in, shells and plasma bolts flying thick and fast from her broadside guns. The A'Rho was taking damage, hits on the port launch bay disabling it. Wounded but unswerving the Tau vessel gave as good as she got, hammering out Railgun and Ion Cannon rounds which punctured great rents in the Lunar-class cruiser’s starboard side. Deep inside the decks of the Imperial cruiser started to burn. After that pass, the first engagement of the battle was over and both sides limped apart to assess the damage and lick their wounds.
Every ship was now damaged in some way, the Hammer of Thrace worst of all. Attacks by the Mantas had silenced her lance batteries, Ion Cannon hits had set fires in the lower decks and she was listing heavily, 80% of her manoeuvring thrusters had been shot away. For two hours the great starships eyed each other warily and drifted on through the thickening radiation clouds. On board each vessel the crews worked feverishly to repair battle damage and contain fires. The second engagement of the battle began only when the Righteous Power’s damage control teams had completed their work. Satisfied that his battlecruiser was still battle-worthy, Admiral Kotto ordered Captain Rymus to go directly at the A'Rho. The A'Rho responded to the aggression with new, if reduced, waves of Mantas and Barracudas. The Righteous Power’s first spread of torpedoes was intercepted and destroyed in detail. Without their own fighter protection, the Imperial ships were exposed to the Tau's return fire. Drone missiles swooped in, followed closely by the smaller Tau escorts. No longer able to avoid the incoming missiles, the Hammer of Thrace was hit again, this time several missiles piling through her starboard flank before exploding within. Multiple explosions broke the back of the already weakened cruiser. She fell silent, crippled, drifting and out of the battle.
The survivors of Novem squadron accompanied their flagship, and again tangled with the Wardens and Castellans. More escorts died in a great conflagration. By now the Righteous Power had fallen upon her foe, closing to point blank range and swinging hard to starboard to expose her broadside batteries. At short range the firepower was awesome, tearing into the A'Rho, round after round pummelling her flanks. The Tau's return fire could not match the battlecruiser's big guns, and the A'Rho attempted to disengage and flee. But Admiral Kotto was driven by vengeance for his lost ships, and would not let his prey go now when he had them firmly in his sights. The battlecruiser came round in her tightest arch and raked the Tau vessel with a second broadside. The damage inflicted was terrible. The starboard wing of the Custodian was torn clean off, slowly drifting away from the hull in a cloud of debris. The bridge was destroyed. Fires burned along her length. The A'Rho was racked by internal explosions and helplessly drifting. She was dead, there would be no survivors. The remaining Tau escorts, just two Castellans and a single Warden, fled.
The battle was over and both sides had paid a heavy price. The Hammer of Thrace and three Firestorm-class Frigates of Novem squadron had been destroyed, leaving just the battle scarred Righteous Power and a single escort to return victorious to Taros. The threat of the A'Rho might have been eliminated, but meanwhile the other Tau vessels had continued their convoy raiding.
By 639998.M41 the war on Taros had been going on for forty two days. The deserts were littered with the debris of many battles, and De Stael's men were now starting to feel the effects of the Tau strategy biting. They were weary and morale was low after weeks of daily raids, ambushes, strafing runs and counter-attacks. The Tallarn regiments were drained of men and equipment, and there were no longer any secure supply lines. The stockpiles of food, fuel, and most importantly water, were now low, with no prospect of quickly building them up again due to the Tau fleet's blockading actions. A lack of fuel supplies had stalled the offensive. The Leman Russes and Chimeras were now strictly rationed, with each regiment trying to husband its dwindling supplies. The tanks may be immobile, but worse still was the lack of water. In the cruel heat of the day the men could not operate without water, and whilst the men of Tallarn had greater tolerance for dehydration than most, and knew how best to conserve their water supplies, even they could not go for days in such high temperatures with empty canteens. Under the burning sun, men started to drop from the effects of dehydration. Growing numbers of casualties were further affecting the fighting strength or all regiments. For the commanders, it was an ominous sign of the worse yet to come. The situation was bad now, but it would only get worse unless a secure supply of water could be found. Soon the Guardsmen would be faced with the prospect of dying of thirst in the desert, or surrendering to the Tau and relying on their mercy. Such a prospect could not even be considered, especially within earshot of a Commissar, but unless drastic action was taken soon, De Stael's X Corp would have no regiments left. A critical logistical crisis was engulfing the staff of the 4621st Army.
On 640998.M41 a staff meeting was held on board De Stael's Leviathan command vehicle. Present were all the regimental commanders of the army, along with representatives from Lord Commander Gustavus' High Command. Up for discussion was how to best continue the war given the supply restrictions. Amongst heated debate, it was General Syckava of the 23rd Elysian Drop Troop regiment that proposed the initial idea for Operation Comet (as it was later to be christened). His idea was to seize Taros' means of producing water and turn it to their own use. Syckava argued that the 4621st Army should change its objective and target the hydro-processing plants that existed on the world. The coastal areas of the Aestus region were the location of the planet's largest hydro-processing plants, which drew the highly alkaline sea water and converted it into clean water before pumping it down pipelines to Tarokeen. The largest processing facility on Taros was Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, situated towards the northern end of the Iracunda Isthmus, and capturing this plant intact would give the Imperial army enough water to press on to Tarokeen itself.
The task was of massive importance to the continuation of the war, and was entrusted to General Syckava’s men. The long-idle drop troops were impatient for action. De Stael had already turned down three separate requests from Syckava for drops to aid the advance, but the deteriorating situation at the front now demanded the Lord Marshall commit his carefully husbanded reserves. The Elysian Drop Troops were an elite, highly-trained and well-equipped regiment, and General Syckava was keen to see them get involved. Operation Comet would be his chance. He was given a three-day deadline to plan and prepare the attack, which would see his entire regiment dropped to capture the hydro-processing plant. The 23rd regiment would then hold the facility whilst a new offensive would push through onto the Iracunda Isthmus to link-up with the Elysians.
This new ground offensive breakthrough onto the Isthmus would force De Stael to turn to the last fresh forces he had. Firstly, there were the Raptors Space Marines. From orbit they could directly aid the Elysians, but, being independent and separate from the 4621st Army's supply problems they would be better deployed on the ground, as an armoured breakthrough force to lead the attack. Neither the 3rd or 12th Tallarn Armoured regiments currently in the field were judged to still have the required combat power for the breakthrough. In support of the Space Marines would be the Warhound Titans of Legio Ignatum. They had arrived late and as yet not been committed, but now these great war machines would lend their considerable weight to the attack. Their firepower and speed would drive them through the defenders and allow a fast-moving relief column to reach Hydro-plant 23- 30 quickly. It was unlikely the Tau had anything capable of stopping the Warhounds.
The obvious choice for the relief column itself was the 114th Cadian regiment, an entirely mechanised unit. As yet, the Cadians had seen no combat on Taros, but the Chimera-borne infantry would be well suited to a rapid advance. Colonel Stranski, the regiment’s commanding officer, was given his orders. The Cadians were the last of De Stael’s reserves from XI Corp, but if he did not commit his remaining forces to battle now, then he would surely lose the war. For the operation, De Stael ordered that the 114th be given top priority for fuel supplies, and Tallarn regiments should turn over remaining stockpiles as well, leaving them with only emergency fuel. This order effectively ended the five Tallarn regiments’ capabilities to conduct offensive operations; the Desert Raiders were now a static defensive force.
For the 23rd Elysian Drop Troops and General Syckava, three days was a very tight deadline to plan an operation, but his regiment had planned and executed many such attacks before and relied on that experience to get Operation Comet off the ground quickly. The objective was to seize Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30 by a lightning assault with pinpoint precision, largely intact with collateral damage restricted to a minimum. After all, the plant would be of no use to the war effort if, in capturing it, it was reduced to scrap metal. After the attack, the regiment had to hold the facility until relieving ground forces reached them to take over. To carry his forces to the objective, Syckava’s staff quickly developed an air-plan with three distinct operations: transportation, protection and re-supply. This process started by assessing the available aircraft. The regiment had approximately enough Valkyrie airborne assault carriers to commit half the regiment in a single lift, but now all the carriers could be dedicated to the transport mission. Some would be needed for the resupply mission, whilst the regiment's own Vultures and the support of an Imperial Navy Fighter wing would provide the protection. The attack would have to split into separate lifts. Essential heavy equipment, such as heavy weapons and Sentinels, would be included only on a strict priority basis. A loading schedule was quickly compiled, including everything from the initial assault platoons and their supporting heavy equipment to extra ammunition, fuel and enough food and water for the men for an estimated three days of combat.
General Syckava was anxious that the second lift should take place as quickly behind the first as it could. He knew that with less than half his regiment deployed and lacking much of their heavier equipment, his men would be vulnerable to a swift Tau counter-attack. Once the operation commenced it was assumed that the Tau would quickly move to eliminate the new threat. The General was well aware that the Tau could move their Manta-borne Hunter Cadres very quickly, but it was not possible for his second wave to be loaded and launched on the same day. The distance from the Elysian airbase to the target was 1500kms and the round trip would take three to four hours. All the Valkyrie transports would require external fuel tanks to get them to the target and back again. Once back, the aircraft would need to undergo maintenance, battle damage repairs would have to be carried out, refuelling and a new loading schedule executed. Inevitably, the loading schedule would be confused by the loss of aircraft and crews during the first lift Two lifts in one day would not be possible - instead the second lift would have to follow on day two.
General Syckava's next decision was whether this should be a daytime or night-time attack. Night would help preserve surprise but would create extra problems for his men and pilots. Only a few aircraft were fitted with night vision equipment, and given the accuracy needed he could not allow his aircrews to attack the hydro-plant without night vision targeters; their bombs and rockets would cause too much damage to the facility. Also, dropping into the area at night on Grav-Chutes would endanger the Assault platoons. The plant was a large industrial complex, not an easy place to land even in daylight. With restricted vision at night, he would lose men as they hit obstacles on landing. By attacking in daylight his forces could do so with more accuracy. Night or day, losses in men and equipment were inevitable, but the advantages of daylight outweighed the advantages of a surprise night-time attack.
Amongst three days of hectic planning every task was urgent for the staff of the Drop Troop Regiment, but one important preparation for the attack was target reconnaissance. General Syckava's men needed to know what they would be facing when they hit the ground. Given the surprise nature of the operation, the General could not afford to compromise the attack by dropping Reconnaissance squads close to the target. Should the squads be spotted or captured, he might lose his advantage of surprise. There was no time to infiltrate squads on the ground. The only option was orbital surveillance and high-altitude aerial reconnaissance by a specially equipped Marauder bomber of 2424th Bomber wing. Neither of these risked alerting the defenders to the imminent attack. They could provide images of the target area, which could then be turned into maps, but they could not give details of any garrison force. Enemy strength would remain a mystery until the battle started. General Syckava believed that his entire regiment and their support would be enough to overwhelm any garrison.
Detailed planning for the attack was also hurried through and the officers to lead the assault were briefed. The priority targets of the first lift would be the central control complex, the lifting station, pumping stations 1, 2 and 3 and the holding tanks, which should already contain huge quantities of pure water. If the site was destroyed in the fighting, the holding tanks would still be a valuable consolation prize. Secondary targets would be the chlorination works, both the main and reserve pumping stations, and the generator house. All were to be captured by the first attack wave. The second wave would reinforce the first wave and throw a defensive perimeter around the entire complex to meet the expected Tau counter-attack. Upon landing with the second wave, regimental Headquarters would be established in the administration block.
The deadline for launching Operation Comet had arrived. It was a daring plan, and fraught with dangers. Within the High Command many considered it was being conducted with too much haste and running too many risks. Was it hamstrung by a lack of aircraft? Did the two-lift plan compromise the attack? Worse still, did it leave the first lift too vulnerable to a Tau counter-attack? Comet also lacked good reconnaissance or intelligence information. There was also the risk of the relief forces' breakthrough to the lracunda Isthmus being delayed or seriously repelled. Even bad weather could affect the Drop Troops' ability to resupply• The 23rd Elysian regiment could easily be heading for a disaster, and, given the stakes, a botched operation would cost the Imperium's forces the war and the planet.
Despite the strong objections, General Syckava felt his mission was accomplishable with the forces at his disposal. He was confident he could grab Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30 and hold it for three days against whatever the Tau threw at him. It was running no more risks than any drop operation ever faced. With a water supply firmly in their hands, the 4021st Army's main supply headache would be solved. The advance to Tarokeen could then continue. Operation Comet was to be the turning point of the campaign.
At their barren desert airbase, surrounded by small camouflaged shelter-tents that had been home to the 23rd Elysian Drop Troop regiment for the past four weeks, the aircraft and men of the first lift were preparing for take-off. The Assault companies waited in neat rows, each man weighed down with his combat kit and grav-chute pack. Alongside them stood squads of burly Storm Troopers; these men would be first to hit the ground. Meanwhile, pilots, co-pilots and door gunners were mounting their Valkyrie carriers and Vulture gunships and running final pre-flight checks. Once this was complete, squad by squad, platoon by platoon, company by company, the Drop Troops marched into their transports, up the ramps and into their seating positions. Once each squad was in and secure, the sergeant hit the ramp close button, sealing the Guardsmen inside until the order to jump came. The atmosphere was tense, but this was it; after weeks of waiting in the deserts the Elysians were finally going to get into the war and fight the Tau.
For the men assigned to the second lift, the take-off was an awesome spectacle. 160 Valkyries and 30 Vultures simultaneously powered up their engines, creating a deafening roar that shook the ground and rolled out for miles across the flat desert sands. One after another, the aircraft began to slowly rise, kicking up swirling sand and dust as they lifted clear. To the observers it was an unstoppable airborne armada. Wave after wave of aircraft climbed slowly to altitude and began to circle, awaiting aircraft of their formations, before synchronising speeds and racing away northwards. Flying in platoon formations, one behind the other in a single stream of aircraft, the carriers and gunships made for a marshalling point north of the airbase. There they would rendezvous with their air cover, fighters from 1002nd Fighter wing whose job was to protect the vulnerable air convoy from enemy fighter attacks. Flying alongside and above the Valkyries fifteen Thunderbolts formed a shield around the Drop Troops.
Keeping low for maximum concealment from prying eyes, the entire armada swept over the desert floor at just 500 feet. On the ground the rumble of so many approaching engines soon became a roar that filled the sky with thunder. In the deserts below, Tallarn Imperial Guardsmen looked up to see the stream of aircraft race overhead, formation after formation. The Tallarn Guardsmen were not the only ones to see the Drop Troops heading north. From their hiding places, scattered Tau Pathfinder and Stealthsuit units also witnessed the air armada, and quickly reported the sighting to their commanders. A major attack was imminent, but as yet the Tau did not know where the blow would fall.
For the Storm Trooper squads in the vanguard of the air-train, the flight to target lasted two hours. The journey was not without incident. An accidental mid-air collision destroyed two aircraft. One Valkyrie carrier suffered engine failure and was forced to make an emergency landing in the desert. Twice during the journey aircraft were targeted by Seeker Missiles, locked-on by Marker Lights from the ground. Both times the missiles impacted, destroying a Vulture and forcing another Valkyrie (this one carrying Captain Lohgan, the commander of second company), to crash land. Escort fighters peeled away to seek out the ground targets. General Syckava had warned that losses were to be expected.
Ten minutes out from the target, the Valkyrie carriers transporting the Elysian squads began to climb to jump altitude. Meanwhile, the Storm Troopers skimmed on low, as they would deploy via fast ropes directly onto the ground and into battle, supported by Vulture gunships. As the Valkyrie formations climbed higher, squad sergeants raised their men and readied them to jump. Each man checked that his Grav-Chute was working. Then each man secured his respirator and helmet visor in place. With a last prayer to the Emperor mumbled over the whine of hydraulic pistons as the rear ramps open, they were now over the target. Jump lights turned green and the assault squads shuffled forwards and plunged out into the sky.
As the Drop Troops jumped, the vanguard of the attack was already arriving over Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30 . The approaching aircraft had been met by ground fire as the garrison; alerted by the rising thunder of approaching jet engines, had streamed out to meet the airborne attackers. Lasgun rounds and Heavy Bolter tracers were snaking up to meet the low flying Valkyrie and Vultures. Shots bounced off nose cones and engine cowling as the Valkyries slowed to hover over their objectives. From the wing, winch ropes descended, followed by the Storm Troopers sliding down directly into battle. Above them the Vultures were strafing targets, returning Heavy Bolter fire with their own heavy weapons. Because the Vulture gunners were under strict orders to minimise collateral damage they could not unleash their full firepower. It was mid-morning and the ordeal of battle had begun.
The hydro-processing plant's lifting station and first pumping station were the objectives of the 23rd regiment's third company, under the command of Captain Malik. Malik's orders were to capture both intact and hold them until relieved by troops from the second lift. His action to capture the objectives was typical of the battles fought throughout Hydro-plant 23-30 during the first assault. Two Storm Trooper squads would be the first wave, deployed directly onto the target from hovering Valkyries, with a Vulture gunship in close support. The elite squads would set up homing beacons and take the brunt of the initial fighting as the rest of Malik's company grav-chuted into the target area, guided by the beacons. Once those squads regrouped, the captain would lead his first platoon against the pumping station, whilst his second and third platoons attacked the lifting station. Fourth platoon would be held in reserve, waiting on the ground to reinforce the defences once both were captured. The company's Heavy Weapons platoon was split between the Infantry platoons, a Fire Support squad with second and third platoons, the Mortars with the reserve squads, the anti-tank teams with the captain for direct support during his main assault. As soon as they landed the two Storm Troopers squads came under heavy fire from Drone Sentry Turrets. The turrets, equipped with disruption-field generators, had not been detected by the aerial reconnaissance. Taking heavy fire, and with casualties mounting, the Storm Troopers deployed the beacons but were quickly pinned down. The turrets were only silenced by strikes from the supporting Vulture gunship, but already they had extracted a heavy toll on the elite troops. This left the pumping station still strongly held by a garrison force of human auxiliaries.
As the Storm Troopers were engaging the enemy, Malik's men were hitting the ground, shaking off their Grav-Chute packs and reorganising into their squads. Each squad rallied on their sergeant. The hydro-plant was already echoing to sounds of gunfire, explosions and the roar of jet engines. Quickly regrouping, it was up to first platoon to clear the defenders. Leading from the front, with Commissar Graal alongside him, Malik closed on the pumping station. Engaging in a firelight he found the defenders were well entrenched and fought tenaciously. Exchanging heavy fire the Captain looked to break the deadlock and led first platoon's assault. Yelling the regiment's motto, Malik rushed in. As fragmentation grenades exploded all around, his assaulting squads set about clearing the pumping station in an intense close quarters fight, only to find the pumping station was also occupied by Kroot mercenaries. The assault had overrun the human defenders but the bloodthirsty Kroot were a different proposition. With the captain fighting desperately in hand-to-hand combat, first platoon's squads were repelled, falling back before the savage aliens under the covering fire of frag and krak missiles. Captain Malik was killed during the confused withdrawal, his mutilated and half-eaten body was later found hanging from the pipe works.
With their first assault bloodily repulsed and their commanding officer dead, Commissar Graal now took command of the Elysian attack. He set about rallying the forces, including the surviving Storm Troopers. Reports were arriving that the first Tau response to the attack, a flight of Tiger Shark bombers, was closing rapidly. The battle was intensifying and damage was mounting. The flight of Tiger Sharks over-flew the plant, streaking low and scattering clouds of Gun Drones in their wake. It seemed the Tau were deploying any forces they had available to defend the site. Reinforced by the Drones, the Kroot defenders continued to fire from cover. It would take another assault to clear them. To prepare for the second assault, Commissar Graal sent a runner back to the Mortar squad. He needed the defenders softened up with a bombardment before attacking. Crouching in cover amongst the pipes, storage tanks and detritus the Elysian Guardsmen waited for the mortar barrage to do its work before, driven forwards by their Commissar, rushing the pumping station a second time. It was hard fighting again, but the accurate mortar barrage had shaken the Kroot. The surviving guardsmen swept in and overwhelmed the remaining defenders, capturing the pumping station. Graal immediately called forwards the fourth platoon to reinforce his hold. The Kroot rallied and tried to charge back, but too many Guardsmen were now waiting for them. Most of the aliens were cut down by Lasgun fire. The battle for pumping station had been costly. Over half of first platoon and the Storm Troopers were dead or injured. The objective itself had taken severe damage in the attack and mortar shelling.
By dusk, after a day of combat, Hydro-Processing Plant 23- 30 was captured. All the primary and secondary objectives were in the hands of the Elysian Drop Troops. There were still some enemy stragglers and snipers hiding out amongst the industrial debris, and Drop Trooper squads were cautiously patrolling through the holding tanks and pipelines hunting them down. The fighting had been fierce and the garrison had given a surprisingly strong account of themselves. Outnumbered and outgunned by the Elysian airmobile firepower the garrison could have easily broken and run, but instead they, along with their Kroot allies, had fought hard all day. Many locations had been badly damaged because of their strong defence.
Day Two – The Crisis of the Second Lift
The entire lift process was repeated again on the second morning, with the second wave being loaded and lifting-off to reinforce the first lift. Overnight the hydro-plant had been secured, stragglers had been rounded up and a perimeter established around the base. The men of the second lift would now jump into that perimeter and move to reinforce it. Unlike the first morning, the element of surprise had been lost, and the Tau were now waiting. They were also mobilising to re-take Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, their Mantas loading up fresh Hunter Cadres. The first lift had bypassed the Tau defences relatively unscathed, but the second lift had a far harder task. The Tau diverted their available Barracudas to intercept the air train. The Valkyries and Vultures, although potent weapons in their own right, were no match for the high-performance jet fighters in a dogfight. Flying in formation, they were vulnerable. The Imperial Navy continued to provide fighter protection, and as the second lift approached the target they encountered the incoming Barracudas. Thunderbolts and Barracudas twisted and turned, strafing with Autocannons and Burst Cannons as they wrestled for air superiority. By now, the two sets of pilots were old foes, many having learnt the others’ tricks. As dogfights raged around them, the transports raced on towards the target, but those Barracudas that broke through created havoc amongst the formations. Scattered like sheep before wolves the Valkyries tried to escape the Barracudas, but seven were quickly shot down. The scattering of the formations would also cause problems over the target. Many units were expecting to be reinforced, but confusion now reigned as squads became lost and intermingled. Despite the unexpected losses, the remaining Valkyries bravely flew on.
On the ground, dawn had seen the start of the Tau counter-attack. Weary from yesterday’s combat and with many units low on ammunition, the Elysian platoons now dug-in around the hydro-plant saw the great winged shadows of the dreaded Mantas approaching over the desert. Shimmering in the morning heat hazy the Mantas began to deploy their cargoes. The Tau attack would come soon. All around the perimeter - from buildings turned into heavy weapon strong points, on walkways, behind barricades of steel piping, from slit trenches dug in the sand or behind sandbagged positions - tense, dusty, hollow-eyed Drop Troopers awaited the inevitable Tau attack. Isolated in their small airhead, they were now surrounded on three sides, with their backs to the sea. When it came, the Tau attack could come from any direction. As they checked their weapons or sharpened knives one last time, the men were heartened by the thought of the second lift winging its way closer by the minute. Following that drop would be the Imperial Guard relief column, even now rumbling across the desert towards them. The Elysian Guardsmen had to fight hard and hang on until the reinforcements arrived. The morning's battle started with a wave of Tiger Shark bombers. Just as yesterday the Tau bombers raced in low. This time rather than dropping more Drones, they unleashed missiles and Ion Cannons, blasting the hydro processing plant with massed fire. Regardless of the damage they were inflicting on the facility, the Tau pounded the Elysians, preparing for their ground attack. As explosions mushroomed about them, all the Guardsmen could do was hug their cover closely and wait for the ordeal to end. As the noise of the aerial bombardment faded, the whine of approaching jet engines grew. From all directions came Devilfish transports and Hammerhead tanks. Fire Warriors with their distinctive long Pulse Rifles could be seen scurrying forwards into range, with them came the Battlesuits. The Tau attacked with a calm, ruthless ferocity, blasting the Elysians with heavy weapons and massed pulse fire in a long-range firefight. The Tau outgunned the Guardsmen, but the Elysians were not powerless to respond. Their own heavy weapons, Mortars and Sentinels returned fire. Rounds slashed across the no-man's land between the two forces, but the Drop Troops held their positions as the firefight intensified. Well dug-in and concealed, the Elysians could not be moved by firepower alone. They would have to be rooted out with grenades and in bloody hand-to-hand combat. Their attackers were reluctant to use such methods - yet.
With the firefight still raging around the perimeter, the Valkyries and escorting gunships of the second lift came into view over the southern horizon. Climbing to jump altitude the men inside were already waiting to deploy directly into the battle. Reinforcements had arrived to even-up the odds. The second lift jumped directly into the battle, but was exposed to the Tau's heaviest fire as they fell. Looking down from the rear ramp of his Valkyrie, General Syckava could see the panorama of battle laid out beneath him. He could see the Tau armoured vehicles and infantry and hear the hail of fire that now waited to greet his men. A few moments later he was out of the door and falling through the weaving curtain of fire thrown up by the Tau forces. As he fell he saw one Valkyrie, both engines gushing flames, plunge towards the ground and impact in an orange fireball in the desert. Another was hit by a missile and nose-dived into the sea. In their attempts to avoid the Tau’s anti-aircraft fire, the pilots of the Valkyries took emergency evasive action, but as the transports manoeuvred, the carefully planned formations of the Drop Troops were being scattered across the desert surrounding the target. Some fell within the perimeter; others plunged into the toxic sea and died screaming. Others fell amongst the surrounding Tau forces, shot down as they fell. The second lift had jumped into a storm of fire, and already it was scattered and taking heavy losses. On the ground, the firefight had paused whilst the Tau turned every gun they had on the second lift. Defenceless men were being killed in mid-air, bodies tumbling down to hit the ground dead. For the men of the first lift, it was a respite from the heavy fire, but a heart-breaking disaster for the operation’s chances of success. Hammered in the air, the men of the second lift now had to try and regroup, and find their way to defensive positions before getting into the fight.
Once the drop had been completed, the surviving Valkyries sped away, many peppered with holes or limping on single engines. The Vultures had tried to respond to the Tau, swooping in to unleash rockets and Autocannon rounds, but their fuel tanks would only allow them to linger for so long before having to return to refuel. The pilots did what they could for the defenders before following the Valkyries back to base.
General Syckava was injured by a stray pulse round during the drop, and the regiment’s second-in-command, Colonel Balach, was informed to take charge of all ground forces. From his position on top of the administration block, the Colonel realised that air support was the key to keeping the Tau at bay and surviving the cauldron of fire that the regiment was now trapped in. He needed more air support quickly, and so sent a priority communication to General De Stael’s headquarters making such a request. The message was heard loud and clear by both the Lord Marshal and Tau commanders, who were listening in from within their Manta. As the Imperial Navy scrambled a fighter wing to join the fray, so the Barracudas were vectoring in to intercept them.
Now the effects of the Tau's earlier daring raid on the airbase were felt. Already most of the Navy's fighters were in the air supporting the relief column and protecting the surviving air train returning to base. This third request stretched the Imperial Navy's remaining resources. They had received no replacement aircraft since the campaign had started, and fuel supplies were starting to run low. In all, only six air-worthy Thunderbolts could be found for the new mission. It wasn't enough. The six Thunderbolts encountered twelve Barracudas as they approached the target, and after four aircraft were shot down, the surviving Thunderbolts found themselves fleeing back to base. Colonel Balach did not get his air support, he was on his own.
At Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, sporadic firefights continued for the rest of the day and throughout the night. The Tau were happy to sit back and besiege the defenders, wearing them down with their long-ranged fire. The Tau were husbanding their forces for a final assault to clear the Drop Troopers from the plant.
Day Three – The End at 23-30
With the Imperial Navy unable to assist, the 23rd Elysians had to rely on their own Vultures. After returning to base, the gunships re-armed and refuelled to set off again back to the battle. The gunships would provide constant rolling air cover for the men on ground, but the distance between their base and the battle meant they could never stay for long. Still, throughout the day and night the Vulture gunships skimmed in and unleashed their firepower before returning to base. The night was illuminated by the fiery streaks of missile launchers and the distant crump of warhead impacts.
After two days and nights of fighting, Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30 had been pounded into a shambles. Tau heavy weapons and Elysian counter-fire was reducing the area into a growing pile of junk metal. It was a ravished landscape, pitted by mortar craters, covered with the wreckage of twisted and charred pipes, littered with splintered steel, ash and the bodies of the dead. Tracks were barricaded with the husks of burned-out Sentinels. Half-demolished water and chemical storage tanks, their contents long since spilled into the sand, stood sentry over the battlefield. Within this steel jungle crawled the survivors, crouching in cover, their uniforms ragged, dirty and bloody. They were all tired, exhausted from two days and nights of constant fighting. The skirmishing and threat of a renewed Tau attack in the night had kept them all awake. There had been little rest for anyone.
After Day Two's long-range bombardment, the surrounding Tau forces now closed in to finish the job. Well aware of the relief column closing in, the Tau set about reducing the perimeter quickly. When dawn broke, the Tau mercilessly unleashed their biggest weapon. A Manta swooped in over the hydro-plant, casting a shadow over the Guardsmen beneath like a great bird of prey. The Elysians had no answer to the Manta's firepower. Its Drone controlled Burst Cannon turrets raked the site in a cascade of fire. With the Guardsmen pinned down by such heavy fire, the Battlesuits moved in, followed by Fire Warrior teams. It was a confused third day of fighting in the ruins of Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30. Under the wings of their Manta support, the Tau finally closed in and used their heaviest weapons at point blank range. The Elysians fought back hard, but even with their Vulture air support attacking the Manta they could not hope to win such an uneven battle. Slowly the Tau cleared the ruins, section by section. The Elysians fought bravely, then fell back or died, until only small pockets of resistance remained around the control complex and holding the causeway to the primary treatment centre. In mid-afternoon, the Tau commander requested a ceasefire and asked that the remaining defenders surrender. He informed Colonel Balach that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the pointless slaughter. The battle was lost, his relief was not coming - to die now was to die in vain. Colonel Balach, now wounded himself, refused to surrender and vowed to fight on. By nightfall he was dead and the 23rd Elysian regiment was all but annihilated.
The Tau Fire Warriors rounded up the survivors and wounded, including General Syckava, disarmed them, and loaded them into the holds of their Mantas. More of the huge transports landed and began to collect the Hunter Cadres for redeployment. They left behind a twisted, smoke-enshrouded battlefield, littered with wreckage and the dead. Operation Comet was over - it had been defeated.
Breakthrough on the Iracunda Isthmus
Since the offensive towards Tarokeen had stalled there had been little fighting between the Tallarn regiments and the Tau. The Tallarns had made small, local advances and continued harassing artillery fire but, short on supplies and critically short on water they had started to dig in to conserve what supplies they had left. Whilst the Imperial Guard were not advancing the Tau did not counter-attack. With the Imperial Guard marooned in the desert, the Hunter Cadres conserved their own strength for the battles still to come.
It was critical to the success of Operation Comet, and maybe the outcome of the whole war, that a relief force reached the Drop Troops at Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30 in three days. Before any relief force could make its advance, a breakthrough had to be made through the western end of the lracunda Isthmus. The ground forces would have to break into the lracunda Isthmus, using the narrow strips of land between the small seas and Jakes in the area. Channelled by the terrain, any attack would have to be directly into the teeth of the waiting Hunter Cadres' firepower. The Tallarn regiments were no longer fit for the offensive. They had lost many men and most of their tanks in the long drive north. The war was entering a critical phase; much rested on Operation Comet succeeding. De Stael turned to the best troops he still had. Firstly, the Raptors Space Marines. Captain Orelius' battle brothers had seen little ground action; it was time to commit them again. The Space Marines would be the spearhead of the thrust, supported by the Titans of Legio Ignatum. The Warhounds were the Imperium's largest war machines on Taros, and it was unlikely the Tau had any answer to them. Between these two forces, they would smash through the narrow terrain, sweeping aside any resistance and clearing the way for the mechanized 114th Cadian regiment to strike north and reach the hydro-plant. The breakthrough operation would begin on the same day as the Elysians launched Operation Comet.
Captains Orelius and Kaedes oversaw the Space Marines' preparations for the attack, and the battle brothers of 2nd and 6th companies mustered for an armoured engagement. Thunderhawk Transporters plunged from orbit to land at the assigned assembly area, just west of the northern end of the Isthmus entrance. On board the transporters were Land Raiders, Predators, Whirlwinds and Rhinos, all carrying the squads of 3rd company. The attack would come swiftly, giving the Tau minimal time to respond, and it would come in overwhelming force. It would be spearheaded by the armour of the Raptors Chapter supported by the firepower of the Warhound Titans, with the 114th Regiment awaiting the breakthrough to begin their own mission - the relief of Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30. While the Space Marines assembled, the Warhound Titans of Legio Ignatum were stalking north to join them, striding through the deserts accompanied by the sprawling Chimera formations of the Cadian regiment. For the first time in the campaign, the Tau would experience a true army of the Imperium, the combined weight of the Imperium's fighting forces committed as one. Eight hundred kilometres to the south, the Valkyries and Vultures of the Elysian Drop Troop Regiment were just taking off as the Space Marines and Warhounds went into battle. Their target area was at the northern end of the entrance to the Isthmus. Their objective was to clear all Tau forces, punching a gap for the Imperial Guard to race through.
The Tau's Pathfinder forward observers must have seen the Warhound Titans, standing fourteen metres tall above the desert, as they stalked forwards. The Tau were prepared for an attack and, as ever, their Hunter Cadres responded quickly to the call from their forward scouts. In earlier engagements, the Tau had always been able to make the most of their long-ranged weaponry to pick off Leman Russ Tanks and Chimeras. Now they faced Titans, equipped with huge weaponry and protective Void Shields; the advantage lay with the Imperium. This would be a different battle. The Warhounds engaged the Hammerheads at maximum range, blazing away with massive Turbo-Laser Destructors. The Space Marines sped forwards, Land Raiders leading the way, Whirlwinds in close support, Predators on the flanks. Hoping to halt the assault, the Tau could no longer simply give ground before the attack, they had to stand and fight. This was to the Space Marines' advantage. The Raptors strike force could close the distance and start to engage with their highly accurate Lascannons. Conducted with speed, accuracy and their trademark aggression, the Space Marines tore into the Tau defenders, deploying Devastator squads from Rhinos to lend their fire support. Suddenly the Tau were suffering heavy losses. With Void Shields flaring against Railgun hits, the Warhounds strode forwards, obliterating entire vehicles with a single hit from their weaponry, and stomping on the wreckage as they advanced. For the first time on Taros the Tau fell back having had the worst of an engagement. The desert was marked by tell-tale columns of smoke rising from the burning hulks of Tau vehicles.
The Warhounds continually stalked forwards, obliterating anything in their path. Along with the Space Marines now advancing about their feet, the combined force thrust a sword clean through the Tau defences and opened the way onto the lracunda Isthmus. The Tau rallied, and the arrival of fresh Hunter Cadres saw the fighting intensify again. This time the Tau would deploy a new weapon. No Imperial commander had ever encountered this new mark of Tiger Shark before. The aircraft came in fast, skimming the desert so low it kicked up a dust cloud, before climbing over a shallow rise to open fire. Missiles rippled from the aircraft's wings, flaring bright against Warhound Advensis Primaris’ Void Shields. The explosions overpowered the generators, which cut out. The following shots from the Tiger Shark AX-1-0’s twin Heavy Railguns struck the Warhound squarely in the hull. With devastating power two hyper-sonic shots tore through the thick armour plate in an explosion that showered the surrounding desert in molten shrapnel. Critically wounded, the Warhound staggered backwards under the impacts, tottered and, to the astonishment of all, fell.
Where once Imperial Commanders had thought the Titans untouchable to all but a Manta's firepower, suddenly the Tau had a new tactical weapon capable of killing the mighty war machines . The wreckage of Advensis Primaris lay billowing oily smoke as the sand settled over her. Inside the crew lay dead at the controls, including High Princeps Jernay, killed by the agonised screams of pain that led directly into his brain from the Titan's mind-impulse controls. It was a bitter and unexpected loss. The remaining three Titans withdrew rather than face another strafing run. Their mission was already complete; the 114th Cadians were now able to begin their strike northwards, and further Titan losses would be for no further gains.
The Space Marines and Warhounds had advanced the required fifty kilometres in just a day of fighting. Skirmishing continued in the area all day, with Space Marine patrols hunting down any alien stragglers or Pathfinder teams bold enough to return to the battlefield. Behind them the 114th Cadians roared their engines into life. Despite the victory, the loss of Advensis Primaris was a worrying development. The Tau had learned from their previous experiences fighting the Imperium's greatest war machines. In the past, Hunter Cadres had been roughly handled by Titans, but now the Tau had developed a weapon capable of fighting back. The new Tiger Shark had been upgraded to carry two Heavy Railguns, sacrificing its standard payload and Ion Cannons for the kind of firepower usually only mounted on Mantas or spacecraft.
114th Relief Column
The completion of the Raptors' attack was the signal for the 114th Cadian regiment to begin its part of the operation. The regiment's mission was to relieve the Elysian Drop Troops who were already fighting to secure the hydro-plant. The Chimera-borne mechanised regiment was to dash to link up with them. They had two days to cover 150 kilometres of hostile desert.
The Space Marines and Warhounds had cleared the way, now the Imperial Guard, under the direction of Colonel Stranski raced forwards. Leading the way were reconnaissance troops, squadrons of Salamander scout vehicles. Behind them came the bulk of the regiment, infantry platoons advancing in formation in their own Chimera armoured carriers. Lastly was the regiment's artillery support, Griffon mortar carriers replacing the far slower Basilisks. Colonel Stranski had already decided that the Basilisks should not take part in the operation. The artillery pieces could not keep up with the pace of the advance, indirect firepower would have to be provided by the mortars and the Imperial Navy, whose aircraft were again overhead protecting the Chimera columns. The Elysians could not afford for the Cadians to be delayed by anything. This mission was a race against time.
The grinding tracks and rumbling engines of the Chimeras raised tall dust columns as the armoured infantry formations sped northwards - tall dust columns that the Tau could easily spot and track. The Tau had suffered their heaviest losses yet fighting the breakthrough, and had already started to load Hunter Cadres into Mantas to move against the Elysian drop zone. The Chimera columns now driving deep into their territory could not be stopped. The Tau faced a difficult tactical problem: where to commit their available troops? Should it be into stopping the column or overwhelming the Drop Troops? If the column was attacked, then the Elysians might hold out. If the Elysians were destroyed, then the Chimera columns would arrive to find nothing to relieve. So the Tau let the Cadians advance. They would not seek to halt or destroy the 114th's armoured columns, only to delay it long enough for the battle at the hydro-plant to be won. For delaying actions they would use light forces of Pathfinders supported by Piranhas and Devilfish-mounted Fire Warriors. These would harass the column with ambushes and sniping, but were not to engage in open battle. As the flying column of Chimeras roared across the desert flats, Pathfinder squads on Tetra speeders raced into the area ahead of the advance to observe the troop movement and prepare the ground with Orca-dropped Remote Sensor Towers. Meanwhile, the main Hunter Cadres moved their full force against Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, with instructions to overwhelm the defenders in a maximum of two days.
Aiding in the cupola of his command Chimera, Colonel 'Snake' Stranski could watch his regiments advance, arrayed company behind company, with a reconnaissance screen in front. It was a majestic sight, Chimera after Chimera gunning its engines and pounding headlong across the sands. Overhead the contrails of Imperial Navy Thunderbolts criss-crossed the sky. His advance had started well. For the first day, his men saw little of the enemy. On the second day, that changed. His scouts and vanguard platoons came under surprise attack from well-hidden Tau forces. For the first time, Imperial Guardsmen encountered distinctive tall and thin observation towers, which seemed to contain sensor equipment. Following the sightings, several Chimeras were destroyed by Seeker Missile strikes, seemingly launched out of nowhere. Each time the Tau attacked, it caused the threatened units to halt, disembark troops and begin to hunt down the foe. It caused delays, and the Colonel ordered only units that came under direct attack to engage the enemy. Following units should bypass them and move forwards. The regiment would become strung out but it would keep the advance going. On that second morning alone, there were six separate ambushes, each one causing losses and a delay. What had been a glorious headlong charge yesterday was now a stop-start running battle, and the 114th was being stalled. For Colonel Stranski it was a frustrating day. The delays caused the 114th regiment to fall behind schedule; by nightfall they were still thirty kilometres short of their destination. News from the hydro-plant was not encouraging. That evening, communications with Colonel Balach and his beleaguered defenders had been lost. The 4621st Army Command no longer had any idea what was happening on the ground at Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30.
That night, in desperation, Stranski organised a long-range patrol to strike out ahead of his main units. Under cover of darkness they must reach Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, regardless of the cost. Using only his fastest vehicles, the Salamanders, he would personally lead the mission. The eight Salamander patrols reached the hydro-plant before dawn, speeding across the desert on their overpowered engines. In the end, the lead units of the 114th were only four hours late, but it was four hours too late. As first light broke, Colonel Stranski and his Cadian reconnaissance crews were the first to witness the battlefield. The hydro-plant was a smouldering, blackened ruin of pipes and storage tanks. Thick smoke and dust hung in the air over the shattered detritus of battle. Crunching through the rubble they found burnt-out Sentinels, Valkyrie crash sites, destroyed heavy weapons, wrecked Tau Devilfish and Battlesuits, and the dead of both sides. Fires still burnt, but it was eerily quiet.
The main body of the 114th began arriving a few hours after dawn, and the Cadian Guardsmen searched the ruins for survivors. None were found. The Tau had already done the job thoroughly. By mid-afternoon Colonel Stranski ordered his regiment to mount-up and withdraw back to the Tallarn lines. There was no point in holding the shattered ruins; no water could be supplied from here. His men had fought over 150 kilometres for nothing. The mission had failed.
The defeat of Operation Comet sent Lord Commander Gustavus' High Command into a fury of distressed action. The war on Taros had taken a turn for the worse, perhaps a fatal tum. The failure of the airborne operation had wide-reaching effects, most immediately within the command structure of the 4621st Army. On board the Righteous Power, Commissar-General Mordred Van Horcic arrived to see Gustavus, interrupting a Navy briefing meeting with his insistent demands to be allowed to see the Lord Commander immediately. The sentries on the door tried to bar his path, but the Commissar would not be delayed. Threatening to have any man who got in his way arrested, Van Horcic barged in. The briefing was suspended. Imperial Navy officers scurried from the room to avoid the Commissar-General's wrath. Gustavus sat impassively whilst the Commissar-General delivered instructions for the removal of the staff of the 4621st army. They had failed in their duty to the Emperor, and whilst losses were acceptable, failure was not. The surface campaign had become a shambles and Taros was slipping from the Emperor's grasp. Lord Marshal De Stael was to be replaced, by the Commissar-General himself. Unknown to the Commissar-General, Gustavus had been well aware of the situation long before Van Horcic made his dramatic entrance. One of Colonel Scheja's informers had leaked the news of Van Horcic's intentions, and the Lord Commander was prepared. Gustavus knew that Commissar Van Horcic was well within his rights to take command of the failing operation, but Marshal De Stael had been a loyal and dutiful servant of the Imperial Guard and deserved better than the summary execution that now awaited him at the hands of Van Horcic.
That morning, Colonel Scheja had been dispatched to the surface with secret orders for De Stael. It informed the Lord Marshal that he faced two stark choices. Turn himself over as a prisoner to Colonel Scheja, who would accompany him to the brig aboard the Righteous Power to await trial, or take command of a frontline platoon and lead an immediate counter-attack against the Tau, from which he should not return. Exhausted from his work and stung by the defeat of Operation Comet, De Stael removed his spectacles and asked Colonel Scheja to await his decision outside. In the cramped corridor of the Leviathan command vehicle Scheja waited patiently. The dim hum of the Leviathan’s generators was broken by the sudden discharge of a Laspistol from within the office. Rather than face execution or be disgraced and condemned to a Penal Regiment, Lord Marshal De Stael had found his own solution and taken the only way out which kept his martial honour intact.
The arrival of Commissar-General Van Horcic and his aides saw much of the other top brass of the 4621st Army arrested. In a day of turmoil and confusion, six officers were executed after resisting arrest. 62 other officers and aides would be given a chance to die well in the service of the Emperor, after being transported to a Penal regiment. After his purge, Commissar-General Van Horcic was now in supreme command of all Imperial Guard and Departmento Munitorum operations on Taros. It was his task to salvage something from the faltering campaign, if only as many men and as much material as possible.
The turmoil amongst the High Command did little to help the fighting men on the ground. The supply situation was critical. Losses to dehydration were now far exceeding those in combat. Without new water supplies fast, the remaining regiments would soon disintegrate. When Van Horcic oversaw his first briefing, reports form all regimental commanders stressed that without new supplies their regiments could not last more than another week, ten days at the most. Any sudden Tau attack might shatter them completely. As a result of this, Van Horcic's first order was to shorten the over-stretched supply lines. It would mean a retreat, but better that than total destruction. At the moment it was taking a Trojan and its fuel trailer three days on average to reach the frontline, all the time risking a gauntlet of roving Stealth teams and strafing Barracudas. The trails worn through the desert that passed as supply routes were now lined with the burnt-out and rusting hulks of Trojans and trailers: evidence of the Tau’s strategy of attacking the support elements.
All regimental commanders were given licence to withdraw back towards the landing zone. Equipment that could not be moved must be abandoned or destroyed. Rough Rider squadrons were ordered to slaughter their animals to conserve water. Next, Van Horcic summoned Fleet Admiral Kotto and informed him that his fleet would be required to find new transports and escort a new series of convoys into the Taros system, carrying more water, fuel and new replacement equipment; especially aircraft for the fighter squadrons. Should these fail to arrive, the Admiral would also be replaced. The ultimatum was simple: break the Tau blockade or face a firing squad.
Seriously wounded and then taken prisoner by the Tau, General Syckava of the 23rd Elysian Drop Troop regiment was the highest ranking Imperial officer captured during the Taros Campaign. His regiment had been all but annihilated at Hydro-Processing Plant 23-30, but he survived. Because of his rank, the General was singled out from the other prisoners, given medical treatment on his shattered arm, and transported under guard to the headquarters of the Tau supreme commander on Taros, Shas'O R'myr. Tau operations were being conducted from a compact command complex situated in old mine workings underneath a nondescript cluster of old mine buildings just west of Tarokeen. The bloodied and dusty General was led down to meet his nemesis. Within waited the Shas'o, alongside him stood his advisor in long priestly robes. Another civilian, a diplomat or negotiator, was also present to act as an interpreter, as were three wary bodyguards eyeing the human General closely. The Shas'o commended Syckava on his regiment's courage and bravery, but impressed upon him that the war on Taros was lost. He assured the General that Taros would soon be part of the Tau Empire. After questioning the General about the Imperial Guard's remaining strength, and their future intentions (all questions which the General stoically refused to answer), the Ethereal asked if the General if would act as an emissary to his superiors. The Ethereal had an ultimatum for the Gue'la, a ceasefire offer to end the bloodshed and allow the humans to withdraw unmolested if they disarmed. The Tau would allow transport ships free access to Taros to evacuate their soldiers and personnel under the ceasefire agreement, as long as the largest war ships withdrew from the system. The Ethereal also offered to turn over the renegade Planetary Governor Aulis, whom they had under close guard, in a prisoner swap for all the Tau captives the Emperor's forces were holding. In return for his assistance the General would be assured a new position commanding the human auxiliaries now under the Tau's control on Taros. With the Emperor's forces defeated, the post of 'Commander of the Taros Garrison' would be his for life: an honoured position with all the attendant wealth and status human commanders seemed to crave - if he helped the Tau now. General Syckava flatly refused the Ethereal’s offer. To act as an emissary and offer terms to his higher commanders would turn him into a traitor to his Emperor. He would not be a messenger and broker a ceasefire, even if it bought him a future life of luxury. If the Tau wanted the Emperor's forces off Taros, they would have to eject them.
Rebuffed, the Shas'o sent the General back to re-join the other prisoners. There would be no swift end to the war. It was a lapse in security that would cost the Tau dearly. The other prisoners were divided up and sent as new labour to distant mines. Despite his severe wound, all the time he had been prisoner General Syckava had been observing, taking in details. As a high-ranking officer, he had had access to maps and secret information about Taros and the overall campaign plan that the other prisoners had not. He would put that knowledge to good use. From his observations he had a good estimate of the location of the Tau command post, and from his transport's flight path a good idea of which mine he was en-route to. General Syckava had been a loyal servant of the Imperium all his life, he was still one, and he would not lie down whilst the Tau completed their ultimate victory. He planned to escape, or die in the attempt. Gathering a small group of Elysian prisoners about him, men who were still loyal to their former commander, Syckava made a plan to escape from the mine and strike out for the nearest Imperial Guard lines.
He did not wait long to act. On the first night at the mine, Syckava and five men overwhelmed three human guards, stole weapons and water canteens, and struck out into the desert. The escapees split up to confuse pursuit. Using his inside knowledge, Syckava headed westwards to where he believed the 331st Tallarn regiment's lines were positioned. The guards did not bother to organise any pursuit. There was nowhere to run, and without supplies nobody could survive in the deserts for long. The escapees were dead men. They were almost right about this, for after three days under the merciless sun Syckava was on his last legs. Stumbling westwards, down to the last dregs of water, face and hands blistered by the heat, he finally collapsed. By a last desperate act of willpower, rather than lie down and die he scraped a vague outline of a large Imperial eagle into the sand, and prayed to the Emperor that somehow somebody would see it. Fate intervened, or perhaps the Emperor heard his prayers, because a Thunderbolt fighter on a reconnaissance sweep over the desert noticed the strange shape and swooped in for a closer look. There were no friendly forces operating in this sector. After his pass the pilot reported his sighting and a long-range infantry patrol from the 331st Tallarn regiment was diverted to take a close look. The Desert Raiders squad found the unconscious General lying face down not far from his improvised sign, close to death. The squad called for a Valkyrie to evacuate the mysterious stranger and themselves. General Syckava had made it back to his own side. None of the other five escapees were ever found.
Recovering on an Ordo Hospitaller field hospice pallet, the General reported his tale in full. By a combination of bravery, faith and blind luck he had survived. Now he reported everything that had happened, including the location of the Tau headquarters he had visited. When Commissar-General Van Horcic received the new intelligence, he realised it was an opportunity too good to miss. Here was information that could change the momentum of the war. General Syckava later recalled the entire escapade, including his meeting with the Shas'o and Ethereal and his subsequent escape to Ordo Xenos interrogators, before undergoing psycho-corrective surgery and being placed in the hands of the Adeptus Mechanicus for cybernetic enhancement. After his re-education, General Syckava entered service with Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Varius.
By a miracle the Emperor had delivered the location of the Tau supreme headquarters into Van Horcic's hands. Now he planned to launch a strike that might change the outcome of the war in one blow. For the mission he would need the aid of Lord Commander Gustavus, Colonel Scheja and the Officio Assassinorum, a servant of the Eversor Temple. The attack would a suicidal assault. The agent was not expected to survive, neither were the Tau.
Armed with the location of the headquarters, Scheja planned his mission. It would involve two strike teams. Red team would be the assassin dropped into the desert and then moving to the location on foot, before breaking in and destroying anything or anybody inside the headquarters. Blue team would be a hand-picked platoon of Storm Troopers from the 2378th Storm Trooper Company. They would be flown in Valkyries to launch a diversionary attack. Under the cover of the attack, Red team would get close to its targets. The Storm Troopers would all be volunteers, because deep in enemy territory and attacking such a sensitive target was likely to be a one-way trip. Colonel Scheja asked to lead the Blue team himself. Even the aircraft crewmen from the 71st Tactical Wing would be volunteers, because to reach the target area meant there would not be enough fuel for a return trip. Instead, the Valkyries would have to be ditched in the desert. The crews would destroy their aircraft before striking out on foot. Each crewman would be issued a survival kit to get them back to Imperial lines, but it was still likely that Tau patrols would find them and pick them up. Operation Deathblow would begin as soon as Red team arrived and could be prepared, programmed with target information and then deployed. Meanwhile, Scheja visited the 2378th Storm Trooper Company and gathered thirty volunteers.
At 684998.M41, as part of a fresh supply convoy, the transport Son of Jucha successfully avoided the Tau blockade and delivered its cargo of war materiel, fuel, and a special container, attended by four Adeptus Mechanicus Tech-priests, to the Righteous Power. It was a bio-stasis tank inside which, suspended in amniotic fluids, was one of the most dangerous weapons in the Imperium’s massive arsenal: an Eversor Assassin – a psychopathic, one-man killing machine. Once awoke, the drug-induced killer would hunt its target remorselessly. Preparations began immediately. The Eversor was programmed via hypno-suggestion, detailing its mission, the location and its targets. Once programming was complete, the still-slumbering Eversor was equipped with its weaponry: a Power Sword, Neuro Gauntlet and an Executioner Pistol with its poisonous needles. A new poison had been developed by the Eversor temple specifically to affect the Tau’s nervous system; it killed in seconds. Finally, the self-destruct mechanism surgically implanted into the assassin’s chest was armed. Should the assassin’s bio-readouts drop below a certain level, then it would detonate, killing the assassin and anybody close by. Even in death the Eversor was lethal. All systems checked out, and with a final litany from the Tech-priest attendants the bio-stasis tank was carefully inserted into a Drop Pod and launched into the deserts of Taros.
The Drop Pod made secret planetfall about 60 kms from the target. Whilst still in mid-air unseen lights inside the stasis pod winked into life. The life-support systems began to breathe life into the Eversor trapped within. Slowly a neuro-gauntleted hand flexed into a fist. Crashing undetected into the desert sands the Drop Pod cracked open. Fluids drained from the bio-tank, which then opened with a sudden hiss as remote restraining bolts exploded. Umbilical cords and sensor needles retracted from the figure within. As if animated from death, the assassin carefully stepped out into the sunlight. Pausing only to survey the surroundings for threats, the Eversor set off across the sand, moving lithely at a cautious trot, keeping low to the ground with his pistol always at the ready. Red team was closing on the target as planned, and by nightfall he would have arrived.
That night, Colonel Scheja's Storm Troopers were winging their way over the dark deserts, three Valkyries flying low, all lights blacked out. The men within had orders to attack the target with everything they could, and keep pressing the attack for as long as possible. They were unaware that the real assault would be coming in the dark form of the Eversor assassin. Skimming over the desert in darkness, the Valkyries had escaped notice, until a Drone controlled early warning sounded in the Tau headquarters. The surprised security teams rushed to man the defences. The three Valkyries swooped down, flared and hovered briefly as Storm Trooper squads leapt clear, one trooper after another falling three or four metres before hitting the sand and rolling clear. Spotting their attackers in the darkness the Tau opened fire. Storm Troopers returned fire. The darkness was illuminated by the vivid flashes of pulse rounds and tracers. Crouching low and pressing forwards, the Storm Troopers braved the bullet-whipped ground, faced by searing fire from Pulse Rifles as the defenders fought desperately to protect their leaders. The Valkyries blasted away, circled and swooped back down, multi-lasers blazing a trail of lights across the darkness, soaring overhead, engines roaring. Colonel Scheja led his squad towards the buildings, dodging through Pulse Rifle fire to find cover behind the first one. There he pulled a grenade from his harness, armed it, and flung it through an open window. He followed up the explosion with a burst of Plasma Pistol fire. His men surged in through the doors, capturing the building. Outside confusion, noise and a black-clad terror reigned in the night.
Passing like a black shadow, an unseen figure slipped quietly towards the compound, dispatching any defenders in its way as it made for the target’s entrance. As the battle raged about it, the Eversor placed a melta-charge on the doorway, set the timer and stepped back. As the charge detonated, the assassin burst into a sudden sprint, slamming through the flaming, ruined doorway and springing down the ladder within. Inside, the Tau were taken completely unawares. A sustained burst of Needle Pistol fire stitched two of the surprised aliens against the far wall, where they slumped dead in an instant from the toxins coursing through their blood. The assassin rolled forwards, under the hasty return shots, and rose firing again. A third and fourth Tau crashed to the ground dead. Its magazine now empty, the Eversor discarded his pistol. Moving along the low corridors two desperate defenders rushed the black-clad figure, who ducked low under their fire to sweep the first off his feet. It lunged forwards to impale the sixth through the stomach with its gleaming power-blade which had suddenly appeared in its hand as if by teleportation. The Eversor’s attack was an orgy of swift destruction. Leaving its slaughtered victims gurgling wetly on the floor, the Eversor stepped through the next door into the Tau command centre. Within stood the slim-robed figure of the Ethereal and his two bodyguards. The Eversor sprang forwards, and for the Tau there was nowhere to run and no chance to escape. Without hesitating the assassin struck. Whip-fast the neuro-gauntlet slashed forwards and then back, cutting the bodyguards down in dreadful pain. Just the Ethereal remained, he backed away from his gore-splattered assailant.
At that instant more bodyguards burst into the control centre to rescue their revered leader. In a blaze of pulse fire the Eversor was hit, and knocked sprawling sideways by the impact. But the assassin only had eyes for his target. It reached out its deadly gloved hand to grab the Ethereal as he tried to dodge away. Tripped by the attack, the Ethereal cried out and fell. The wounded Eversor sprang onto him, pinning the Ethereal to the floor like a great cat going for the jugular. The bodyguards rushed in and fired again, striking the Eversor square through the chest and spraying blood across the walls and floor. The deathly skull mask gave a howl of pain and anguish as the Eversor’s lifeblood pumped away, but with grim, hate-filled determination it hung onto the shrieking Ethereal. With its last rattling breath the Eversor almost seemed to be laughing.
The compound was rocked by a sudden explosion from within the control centre. From his position outside Colonel Scheja felt the heat of the fireball rising from the door, then he ducked into cover as debris rained down about his men. The Tau paused the look back in horror and dismay. The command centre was an inferno of gouting flames and smoke; everybody inside had to be dead.
Colonel Scheja and his Storm Troopers fought on, but Tau reinforcements were on the way and the fight did not last until dawn. Fighting hard to the last, the Colonel and his men were all killed – this time the attackers were offered no mercy by the vengeful Tau. Operation Deathblow had been a suicide mission, and it had almost worked. The Ethereal, Aun’Vre, was dead, but Shas'O R'myr had survived. When the Eversor struck, he had already been outside personally leading his bodyguard squad against the Storm Troopers. Commander ‘Longknife’ had been wounded in the fighting, but he had not been inside the control room when the Eversor self-destructed. For the Tau this was only a small mercy in a night of terrible horror. The loss of their precious Ethereal sent the entire Taros Coalition force into shock and grief. For many days Hunter Cadres were stunned into inactivity by their loss. After the grief came a growing feeling of rage against the men who had plotted the heinous attack. It was an anger that swelled inside each Tau warrior into a vengeful wrath that the humans would soon fell the full weight of. There was to be no mercy now, only vengeance. The new Tau battle cry was not “For the Greater Good”, it was “For Aun’Vre”
After a week of stunned inactivity and grief the Tau turned their anger against the Imperial Guard regiments now falling back through the desert. Their defensive operations were replaced by a new offensive, aimed at shattering the Imperial Guard and ending the war swiftly. Shas’O R’myr set about reorganising his surviving Hunter Cadres for the offensive. The Imperial forces had been severely weakened but they were not defeated yet. With the Imperial Guard force in no shape to fight back, the evacuation of all the Emperor's forces on Taros was ordered at 718998.M41 by Lord Commander Gustavus. The campaign had lasted just ninety days since the first ships arrived in-system, but it had failed. Commissar-General Van Horcic was outraged by Gustavus' decision, but recognized that he had no hope of victory. The order stood. All that was left for him to do was quickly salvage what forces he could before they lost everything.
With the Tau now on the offensive, the withdrawal of the Tallarn regiments soon became a rout. With the threat of Tau and Kroot forces now breathing down their neck, whether imagined or real, the Imperial Guardsmen fell back pell-mell towards the landing zones. What had been an army was in danger of becoming a disorganised rabble. The desert became a dumping ground as Guardsmen abandoned their vehicles and equipment. Hundreds of Chimera and Leman Russ Tank hulls littered the desert. Officers tried to impose order and keep their squads, platoons and companies together. Commissars warned that any man who had thrown away his weapon would be treated as a deserter and shot. Such rigid discipline helped, but still Guardsmen tossed away heavy weapons, mortar tubes, spare ammunition and grenades, anything that slowed them down. Long columns of marching men tramped south through the dry desert, as there were very few vehicles still running now. Rations and water canteens were the only prized items. Men rooted through the hulks of tanks and Chimeras in search of forgotten water cans and loaded canteen from the dead of previous battles. Tormented by thirst, the entire X Corp streamed south over ground it had fought to win. It was a broken army no longer capable of making a stand.
With their enemy in full retreat the Tau could now extract the revenge they so desired. The Imperial Guard were easy pickings, and Barracudas and Tiger Sharks took off to further torment the retreating Guardsmen. Orcas landed combat teams who mercilessly ambushed the retreating Tallarn, slaughtering them and rounding up the survivors as prisoners. With the Tau now attacking and words of ambushes spreading, the retreat soon became a rout. After four days it was a shambles. Some officers tried to organise rearguards to fight the Tau and buy the escapees time. It was a hopeless gesture, and these ad-hoc rearguard units were wiped out in futile firefights. In the wake of the evacuation order, the Tau simply mopped up by taking thousands of men prisoner and marching them away to captivity. For many, capture was better than death under the merciless sun. Some stragglers made it through - most did not. To all intents and purposes four Tallarn regiments had ceased to exist. Of X Corp only the 331st Regiment had managed to make their withdrawal in good order, and thousands of them would be evacuated over the following days. The 114th Cadian regiment also fared well, with their Chimeras piled high with men as they raced southwards as far as their fuel would carry them, before abandoning their vehicles and marching the rest of the way. Most of the regiment made it, if not many of their Chimeras. The remaining Titans of Legio Ignatum also returned intact and, on Tech Magus Volta direct orders, were quickly whisked away to safety.
A lucky few retreating units were quickly rescued. The surviving Valkyries of 23rd Elysian regiment were put to good use ferrying units back the landing zone. High-ranking officers, command units and Storm Trooper squads were given preference, but after these had all been rescued Tallarn infantry started to pile aboard the airborne carriers for a fast trip back to the landing zone. On arrival they joined the growing queues awaiting a chance to board a landing craft for the trip into orbit. The first stragglers on foot started to arrive at the landing zones at 752998.M41. The evacuation had been ongoing for eleven days, and much of the most important equipment and personnel had already been moved into orbit. The end was in sight, but the Tau had one last concerted attack to make.
The Last Battle
If the retreat had been a shambles, the evacuation was chaos. Disorder ruled the landing grounds as crowds of desperate men, fearful of being left to the mercy of the Tau, clamoured to get aboard transports. Commissars and Storm Troopers fought a losing battle to keep order, threatening the crowds with loaded weapons and shooting those who broke through their cordon. High-ranking officers were the first to board, along with important Administratum officials. Much space was taken up by equipment, which would be harder to replace than manpower. In order to protect the landing zone, the Raptors had been called upon again. Captain Orelius' Space Marines had deployed back onto Taros and thrown a defensive perimeter around the landing grounds. In many places, they occupied the defences erected by the Tallarn regiments when they landed. At 769998.M41 dawn broke as a yellow molten orb rose over the mountains, forewarning of another blistering day. Soon the heat haze was shimmering across the desert as the Raptors sentries looked out across the sand. With the yellow dawn came the distinctive swept-wing shapes of Tau Mantas, approaching low like great birds to hover in the dusty heat haze and disembark their Hunter Cadres. The Emperor's forces were beaten, but the Tau's thirst for revenge was so great that Shas'O R'myr ordered one last attack, directly against the landing grounds. Any who did not escape now would be stranded here forever. Standing between the Tau and the landing zone were the Space Marines. As the Tau ferried in their forces and mustered for the attack the Space Marines reinforced their defences with what reserves Captains Orelius and Kaedes had, and braced themselves for one last battle. Their job was to buy time for the evacuating troops. If the Space Marines' defences broke then the landing grounds would soon be overrun as well. The longer the Raptors could hold, the more men would escape Taros to fight another day.
The first thrust came from the east, supported by long ranged fire from Mantas hovering on the distant horizon. Huge Railgun rounds started to impact about the defensive positions, tossing rock and earth skywards. Following close behind, Hammerheads and XV88 Broadside Battlesuits joined the fusillade, rounds slamming into the Space Marine positions. Fire Warriors and Battlesuits led by Shas'O R'myr himself, closed in and the pressure grew. Space Marine heavy weapons and Whirlwinds responded. The Tau closed to within 200 metres of the dug-in Space Marines, but there the attack faltered. Hammerheads and Battlesuits were burning, and Tau corpses littered the sand as they retreated. A second assault came from the west, in greater force. Again the Railgun rounds slammed home, again the Raptors stood firm, fighting hard to hold back the tide. A Manta closed in, raking the entrenchments with volleys of missiles. Captain Kaedes committed his last reserves and a sally of Sixth Company Land Speeders swooped overhead, racing out to attack the Manta at close range. The little skimmers dodged and weaved as Heavy Bolters rattled and Multi-Meltas roared. Three were destroyed in the battle, but the Manta withdrew rather than risk further damage. As his losses built, Captain Kaedes strode from dug-out to dug-out, directing counter fire and urging his hard-pressed battle brothers on, until a plasma blast which immolated a Predator tank also critically wounded him, peppering him in molten shrapnel. Kaedes was dragged to safety, his upper torso and right arm horribly mutilated by the intense heat. The Apothecary stabilized his valiant captain, whose super-human physique barely kept him alive. He would not fight again, but upon returning to the Chapter fortress his valour would earn him the honour of being interred in an armoured Dreadnought. By mid-afternoon the Tau forces were spent. They had battered at the Space Marine positions, but failed to break them. Meanwhile the last of the landing craft had been hurriedly loading their cargoes. With the sound of the battle reverberating all around them hordes of Guardsmen crowded into the holds. Once full the ramps were raised and the great loading doors rolled shut. Anybody not aboard now would be left behind on Taros for good. The lift-off of the last landing ship freed Captain Orelius to order the evacuation of his own forces. They had stood as the shield between the Tau and the evacuation all day at great cost, but as night fell the Thunderhawks deployed to lift the battle brothers clear. The War Talon awaited their return. By the time the Raptors' evacuation operation was complete, the remaining transports and their escorts were already retreating out of the system. The Raptors' battle barge would be the last ship to leave, bringing up the rear as the fleet made the Warp-jump out of the Taros system. The Tau fleet did not pursue. New orders now stayed their hand. The prize was the Tau's, they had won Taros and expanded their empire. The campaign was over.
Campaign Analysis of the Tau Defensive Strategy on Taros
Subsequent analysis of the campaign on Taros through a study of events, interrogation of captured combatants, signals intercept data and other (classified) sources has revealed much of how the Tau planned to defend Taros. This information was collected and collated by Colonel Scheja and was submitted to the Administratum and the Office of the lord Commander Militant during the campaign, until the Colonel was killed in action.
For the Tau Shas’ar’tol (High Command), their fundamental problem on Taros was simple. After being invited to help defend Taros, their subsequent swift conquest meant they had more new territory than they could effectively defend. The entire planet was at their mercy, but it also meant they would be hard-pressed to react and counter-attack if the Imperium assaulted. The Tau could not occupy every inch of the planet, and therefore the Imperium could land just about anywhere and get a strong foothold on the surface. The size of an expected attack was also a concern. To alleviate their manpower problems, it has been ascertained that the Tau arranged to induct as many of the old Planetary Defence Force as they could. The Tau were already well used to using such ‘foreign’ troops, and rather than waste them as cannon fodder, actually respected their fighting qualities and treated them fairly and well. After some time in Tau service, many such traitor units became keen to aid the so-called Greater Good and fought well for their new alien commanders. This was contrary to initial expectations of poor morale amongst indentured troops.
It can be surmised that long discussions took place on T'au about the situation on Taros. Many councillors argued that in order for the conquest of Taros to be successful any Imperial invasion must be immediately hurled back, causing maximum damage. Such a heavy defeat would persuade the Imperium of Man never to try and invade again. On the ground, and in space, the Tau should match force with force. These commanders also argued that by the time the Imperium could organise another invasion attempt, the situation on the Empire's frontier would have moved on. The next planet would already have been targeted, and the Imperium's focus would have to shift to its defence; Taros would be forgotten. In their opinion, what the situation on Taros needed was a rapid build-up of more Hunter Cadres and more Kroot mercenaries. Militarise the system, build defence stations in orbit and make a show of strength that the Imperium might baulk at.
But the commander of the Tau's military forces already on Taros, identified as Shas'O R'myr, [codenamed: Commander 'Longknife'], guided by the Ethereal identified as Aun'Vre, was already planning a different strategy to defeat any attack. Rather than rely on more troops and a large fleet presence in system, O'R'myr was more conservative in his plan. He already had lots of experience fighting against Imperial Guard forces, and had learned something of their strengths and weaknesses. Shas'O R'myr believed that to try and defeat the Imperium in open battle was a mistake. He had little doubt his forces could achieve a victory this way, but only at a heavy cost: perhaps greater than the Empire should pay for the conquest of Taros. If it came to a pitched battle, the Imperium would send more forces and the battle would escalate. More ships, more men and more tanks would follow the first wave, and the Tau might destroy them, but victory would not be quick and the cost in lives would be great. Worse still, O’R’myr was concerned that the Tau fleet was not capable of inflicting a decisive defeat on the Imperium's ships if it came to a fleet engagement. The vast firepower of Imperial ships would always give them the advantage in a straight fight. To his mind the Tau fleet was not a war fleet but a colonisation fleet. To stand and fight in space would be a mistake, and cost the Tau fleet heavily. Instead, they should offer minimal resistance and allow the Imperium to gain orbit and land its troops. In O’R’myr’s plan, the war for Taros could be won on the ground in the scorching deserts, not in the cold depths of space.
For his strategy, Shas’O R’myr was using the Tau doctrine of Kauyon – the patient hunter. This time the hunter’s lure would be the absence of Tau forces. They should allow the Imperium onto Taros, draw them deeper into the deserts before striking and cutting off the Imperium’s lifeline of supplies. This was the Imperium’s ultimate weakness. Their soldiers would need food, ammunition and water to fight, and if his forces could target these supplies, he believed it would bring rapid success. Once battle was joined on the surface, O’R’myr would turn to the Tau doctrine of Mont'ka – the killing blow. The Tau’s ground war would have two separate but linked missions.
First, having used the absence of troops as a lure to draw the Imperial forces into the open out of their defensive positions and into the deserts, O’R’myr would strike, targeting the forward Imperial units with the long-range firepower of his Hammerheads and XV88 Broadside Battlesuits. Rapid strikes by mobile armoured Hunter Cadres hitting the Imperial forces hard and then quickly withdrawing and dispersing should slow any advance and sap Imperial manpower and morale. In the open desert he would be maximising his advantage in range and avoiding expensive close quarters battle. He would give ground before the advance, never standing to fight for more than a localised counter-attack. This way he would be stretching Imperial supply lines whilst making them pay daily in manpower and fighting machines. When the Imperium’s attack was over-extended and weary from weeks of combat the second phase would commence. Next, using Mantas and Orcas, O’R’myr would launch a series of stealthy, fast Hunter Cadres deep behind enemy lines to attack rear installations and supply columns. He would put his most vigorous Shas’el commanders in charge of this operation. Making wide use of Stealthsuits, Pathfinders and aircraft, the teams would locate and attack supply dumps and convoys, airbases and headquarters, sowing confusion and denying the frontline security for its supply lines. Combined with the new fleet operations in the system specifically targeting the Imperial transport vessels, he hoped to cut off the Imperial Guard’s lifeline of supplies, support and reinforcements, leaving them stranded in the desert. The Imperium’s weakness was its huge logistical tail, and that would be place for his forces to concentrate their efforts.
From interrogations, it is now known that many Tau Hunter Cadre commanders in the Shas’ar’tol through the plan was overly defensive and too easily handed the initiative to the Imperium. The Imperium would be at its weakest during its planetary landings; smash them with a large counter-attack and the war would be over before it started. They did not want to give the Imperium's war machine a chance to start moving, because with their seemingly endless resources it might become unstoppable. This theory was sound enough, but in practice, given the planet’s size and the Imperium’s perceived dominance of the space lanes, how could O’R’myr stop an invasion? Try to anticipate the possible landing site, or sites? Once in low orbit the Imperium would have the entire planet to choose from. Certain areas could be ignored, like the inhospitable deserts and mountains, but the area to be defended was still vast. Only by spreading their forces thinly would there be any likelihood of forces being available for an immediate counter-attack, and thinly spread forces would mean not enough firepower to overrun the landing zones. They could concentrate forces and take a guess at the most likely landing site, but it would only be a guess. Concentrating forces too early would also present the Imperium with a good target for its heaviest weapons: orbital bombardment. This would be a huge risk as a sustained orbital bombardment might tear Tau forces before battle even started. Finally, O’R’myr reminded his fellow Shas’el commanders that “He who defends everything, defends nothing!”. The argument was one; Shas’O R’myr got his way. The Tau Commanders on Taros would play the patient hunter and wait, before striking their two killing blows. The effectiveness of this strategy can be seen in the result of the campaign.
The war on Taros had cost the Imperial Guard in excess of five complete regiments. The 3rd and 12th Tallarn Armoured regiments had lost all their combat vehicles and much of their equipment. The survivors would be pooled together to reform an under-strength 3rd regiment, which could then be rebuilt. The 17th and 89th Tallarn regiments had ceased to exist as coherent forces during the retreat, most of their men were now Tau captives, condemned to labour in Taros' mines for the Greater Good. The remnants were given over to the 331st regiment, which had survived the campaign remarkably well. Now the 331st had its first campaign honour and a new core of veterans. It would go on to serve in other warzones. The 23rd Elysian Drop Troops had been all but annihilated during Operation Comet, although the regiment still retained over one hundred aircraft. The regiment would be reformed with a new recruitment of men from their homeworld, to rise and fight again. The 114th Cadian regiment had lost only several hundred men, but over 90% of its vehicles. It could be quickly re-equipped with new Chimeras mothballed as war reserves. It would soon be ready for redeployment to the Cadian Gate. Legio Ignatum lost one of its four Warhound Titans.
For the Imperium the death toll was large, and precise figures are not known. It was estimated that ten thousand were killed in action and fifteen thousand wounded. As many as twenty thousand may have been captured by the Tau. Approximately three hundred and fifty tanks had been lost, over seven hundred Chimeras and two hundred artillery pieces. Aircraft losses totalled sixty eight out of seventy eight. Fleet Admiral Kotto's Taros Invasion Fleet had lost the cruiser Hammer of Thrace, the light cruiser Cerebus, and eight escorts. The battlecruiser Righteous Power was damaged, as was the Black Duke. Both would require work at Kar Duniash shipyards before returning to duty.
It was estimated that Shas'O R'myr commanded a Tau Coalition consisting of at least one hundred Hunter Cadres, a grand total of between eight and nine thousand Fire Warriors and maybe as many as five thousand Kroot allies. Added to this were in excess of eight thousand human traitors who fought in the Tau cause. Actual Tau numbers and losses remain unknown, but must have also numbered in the thousands. The Imperial fleet could confirm kills on one Custodian-class carrier, the A'rho, and eight escort vessels.
Following their victory, the planet and its mineral resources were now firmly in Tau hands. Over the following years the Tau would increase their grip on T'ros. Their young empire had been expanded, and ships from T'au and Dal'yth would soon be in orbit, loaded with alien colonists. Meanwhile the Imperium was powerless to strike back. Another invasion would require a far greater force than that sent to Taros under Lord Commander Gustavus, and it was just not possible at this time. There would be no second invasion for the foreseeable future. With T'ros secure, the Ethereal councillors on T'au shifted their gaze to the new borders of their empire and the next world for conquest...
Imperial Order of Battle
First Taros Intervention (Imperial Forces)
- 2nd Company, Avenging Sons Chapter
- Proxima Justus, Strike Cruiser
4621st Imperial Army (Taros Campaign)
- X Corps
- 17th Tallarn Desert Raiders Regiment commanded by General Barim-Abas
- 89th Tallarn Desert Raiders Regiment commanded by General Izra Omdurman
- 331st Tallarn Desert Raiders Regiment commanded by Colonel Hamid
- 3rd Tallarn Armoured Regiment commanded by General Hasso Raz-Aziz
- 12th Tallarn Armoured Regiment commanded by Colonel Ahsa Bilad
- 2356th Storm Troopers Company
- 2378th Storm Troopers Company
- XI Corps
- 23rd Elysian Drop Troops Regiment commanded by General Syckava
- 11th Sareinnian Assault Engineers commanded by Colonel Horul
- 114th Cadian Shock Troops Regiment - Mechanised commanded by Colonel Stranski
- 19th Krieg Armoured Regiment commanded by Colonel Weidemark
- 8th Brimlock Dragoons Regiment commanded by Colonel Fouks
Legio Titanica Support
- Legio Ignatum Warhound-class Scout Titan Battlegroup
Adeptus Astartes Support
- 3rd Company, Raptors Chapter
- 6th Company, Raptors Chapter
- War-Talon, Battle-Barge
- Escort vessel, Gladius-class Escort
- Ordo Hospitallers Field Hospice
- Ordo Dialogus Interpreter Teams (Tau Lexicon)
- Mortuary Teams
- Adeptus Archivists
- Statisticians Teams
- Agents (Classified)
- Labour Corp (2)
- Engineer Corp (1)
- Supply Columns (78)
- Enginseer Teams (224)
- Ordnance Teams (12)
- Ships of the Line
- Imperius Javelin, Armed Transport
- Imperius Gauntlet, Armed Transport
- Imperius Anvil, Armed Transport
- Graf Derzki, Armed Transport
- Prince Maud, Transport
- Marcouf, Transport
- Saint Machree, Transport
- Isolde, Transport
- Son of Jucha, Transport
- Colossia, Heavy Transport
- Piety, Heavy Transport
- Kagul, Heavy Transport
- Empress of Svedeg, Heavy Tanker
- Honorus Rex, Behemoth-class Freighter
- Fighter Wings (4)
- 83rd Fighter Wing
- 386th Fighter Wing
- 1002nd Fighter Wing
- 2774th Fighter Wing
- Bomber Wings (2)
- 501st Bomber Wing
- 2424th Bomber Wing
- Tactical Wings (1)
- 71st Tactical Wing
- Lord High Commander Otto Van Gustavus – A large, barrel-chested, walrus of a man, originally hailing from the world of Valhalla, Gustavus was granted supreme command of the Taros invasion after his successful command during the Vaust Schism. He has had along and in his rise through the upper ranks of the Imperial Guard. In his youth, Gustavus first served as a Lieutenant commanding an armoured fist platoon, eventually rising to command his own regiment, and then being promoted beyond field command into the ranks of the High Command Staff. Wounded in action several times, and still proudly bearing his scars, his personal experience and bravery is undoubted. Gustavus was the head of the entire Taros Campaign operation, and though he commands no actual forces, he has the power to sanction or veto any plans his staff members make. Gustavus' rotund appearance and loud, bellicose manner hides a razor-keen political mind. These were the skills he would have to draw upon heavily in a combined operation such as this invasion. With a full entourage of aide-de-camps, staff officers, Commissars, Adeptus Mechanicus advisors, bureaucrats, etc., he would have to juggle their competing demands for supplies and favour, as well as make strategic decisions that will send thousands of men into battle.
- Venerated High Magos Zadakine Volta – Venerated High Magos Volta sits upon the ruling council of Stygies VIII and was the highest ranking Adeptus Mechanicus representative on Gustavus' staff. He was the supreme commander of all the technical support for the invasion. Volta was the staff's main liaison between its commander and the rulers of the Stygies VIII Forge World, and had his own large entourage of Logis, Rune Priests, Lexmechanics and Servitors.
- Fleet Admiral Kotto - Fleet Admiral Kotto was the overall commander of the Imperial Invasion Fleet for the duration of the Taros Campaign. He had sanction over any operations that take place outside of Taros' atmosphere. Kotto was a product of the Ultima Segmentum naval academy on Kar Dunlash. Noble-born and groomed for command since birth, he has risen steady through the Navy ranks, commanding Escorts, Light Cruisers and Cruisers before being promoted to Fleet Admiral. He is a veteran of campaigns against Ork pirates, Tyranids in the Eastern Rim, and Chaos raiders. The Taros Campaign was his first command against the Tau. As well as overall commander of the fleet in action, Kotto and his staff were charged with organising, mustering and supplying the invasion fleet ships for the duration of the campaign. A major problem for Kotto's was the number of assault transports and landing craft available to him to get Lord Marshal De Stael s forces from orbit to the planet surface. During the planning stage Kotto and his Staff struggled to get enough landing craft to simultaneously transport three Imperial Guard regiments, the minimum required by De Stael’s invasion plan. Confident that his fleet, aided by Space Marine vessels, had enough firepower to fight their way into orbit against any defences that Taros or the Tau can muster, the landings and subsequent flow of supplies were Kotto’s primary concerns when he was planning fleet operations. Once Imperial Guard troops were on the ground, reinforcing them and keeping all the forces supplied, especially with water, became Kotto's top priority.
- Lord Marshal De Stael, Chief of Arms, Commander of 4621st Imperial Guard Army - The overall commander of all Imperial Guard ground forces on Taros, all the Generals and Colonel of the Imperial Guard regiments report to De Stael and his staff. Although small in stature, De Stael had a keen strategic mind, born of past experience and detailed study of the Tactica Imperialis. A quiet, studious man, with an eye for detail, De Stael liked to plan carefully before committing any troops. His meticulous (some would say cautious), approach to campaigns and battles had caused frustration with more aggressive commanders in the past. De Stael realised that it is far easier to commit troops to battle than it is to disengage them. Behind his back other commanders have nicknamed him 'the Clerk', but De Stael's studious manner hides an inner ruthless streak and iron resolve. He is devoted to serving the Emperor. De Stael was responsible for putting Gustavus' war plan into action on the ground, and was in overall command of the 4621st Imperial Guard Army, constituting all of the Imperial Guard ground forces for the invasion of Taros. Space Marine Chapters and the Legio Ignatum forces were not part of De Stael's command and did not report to him, although it was his overall plan that other fighting arms would be aiding his forces.
- Captain Orelius, 3rd Company of the Raptors Chapter - The highest ranking Space Marine officer in the invasion force, Orelius was a long-time servant of his Chapter, having fought in wars and crusades for the past 100 years. His entire company, and support units had been committed to the invasion by his Chapter Master. Although Gustavus was the supreme commander, in actuality he had little control over the actions of Orelius and his men. Still, Orelius' experience and the reputation of the Adeptus Astartes made him a valued member of the Command staff when planning operations. His forces were not to be involved in a protracted ground campaign. Once their mission was complete, the Space Marines would be withdrawn to their Battle Barge to prepare for their next deployment. As commander of 3rd Company and the more experienced man, Orelius held seniority over Captain Kaedes, although they shared the same rank. As befits his Chapter's heritage, Orelius was an aggressive commander, who always sought to take the battle to the enemy and lead from the front.
- Captain Kaedes, 6th Company of the Raptors Chapter - Kaedes role was to provide support and battlefield replacements to Orelius' 3rd Company. As such he was subordinate to Orelius. Should Orelius had become a casualty, Kaedes was fully able to step in and lead his Raptors battle brothers on the battlefield. Whilst not as experienced as Orelius, he was still a Space Marine Captain, and had all the respect that rank demands within Gustavus' staff.
- Staff Colonel Scheja, Director of Intelligence - The brilliant Colonel Scheja had been seconded from his regiment, the Valhallan 28th, to act as the top intelligence officer in Gustavus’ High Command staff. His own staff officers studied and collated information from all sources: Imperial Guard regiments in the field, Imperial Navy reports, scouting Titans, any and every source the Imperium had. He had an overview of the wider strategic situation, not just the fighting on the ground on Taros. He was Gustavus' spy-master, a secretive individual operating in the shadows with a greater degree of independence than other commanders. Scheja had previously worked with Inquisitor Hector Rex as part of his personal retinue during the Judgement of Hellanus, an operation which made the Colonel's reputation and catapulted him from a ‘mere' prospect as the regimental commander of the Valhallan 28th into the upper ranks of the Imperial Guards command structure, despite still being only a Colonel.
- Provisioner Prime Nymus Dree, Master of Victuals - A high-ranking bureaucrat from the Departmento Munitorum, Dree's job was to supply the invasion force with everything it needs, from replacement men, tanks and shells to water, food, tents etc. He had a small army of Departmento functionaries, clerks and prefects to assist him, and was granted his position on the staff after he requested it, following his investigation into events of Taros which had led up to the war. Although he commanded no fighting forces, Dree was a vital member of Gustavus' staff.
- Cardinal Astra Velas - It was Cardinal Astral Velas' whose diocese Taros lied in, along with many other scattered planets and systems on the Eastern Fringe. Although 'His Worshipfulness' could have, by rights, commanded a place on the High Command staff, after the first staff meeting he returned to his Cardinal World and left a representative to deal with his responsibilities for the coming war. The Cardinal's envoy on the Command staff was Deacon Gotz, who was the highest ranking Adeptus Ministorum official involved in the campaign. Confessors and Ministorum Priests attached to Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy units reported to their Cardinal via Deacon Gotz.
- Air Marshal Denvelt - Supreme Commander of all the Imperial Navy Fighter, Bomber and Tactical squadrons and their operations inside Taros' atmosphere. He was in charge of planning fighter cover, bomber strikes, transport missions, and maintaining the Imperial Navy’s logistical situation.
- Princeps Jernay – Adeptus Mechanicus Divisio Militaris commander in the field, a servant of Legio Ignatum and commander of the Warhound Titan Advensis Primaris. Reporting to Magos Volta, Jernay was actually a servant of the Lords of Mars, and as such would have been under their orders in any clash of interest, creating problems in the command structure as the Titans were not actually being directly controlled by the High Command staff.
- Curator Adept Skel – A high-ranking Administratum official, Skel was the Command staff's link to the Administratum's extensive archives and their entire ancient records about Taros.
- General Wassily – Quartermaster General of the 4621st Army
- Staff Colonel Nafir – Chief of Operations, X Corp
- Staff Colonel Mawhri – Chief of Operations, XI Corp
Tau Order of Battle
- Tau Fire Caste Taros Army
- Kroot mercenary units
- Taros Planetary Defence Force
- Taros Mining Work Gangs (Irregulars)
- Tau Invasion Fleet
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign