The Tau advance on Malati was a 40-day military campaign that occurred in the early stages of the Tau invasion of Dar Sai in 735.M41. The compaign, fought in the western half of the moon’s largest continent, Kadavu, was notable for four small military engagements between the advancing xenos and small Imperial detachments seeking to delay the Tau advance.
Tau forces began their advance on 3 285 735.M41, but the undeveloped forests to the west of the Hanui Valley, along with the region’s primitive transportation network, forced the xenos to leave behind their heavy armor and rely on infantry and armored battle suits. Kroot auxiliary troops also played a pivotal role during the advance in a scouting role.
The xeno advance did not go unnoticed. While orbital Imperial surveillance satellites revealed the western movement of Tau troops from the Hanui Valley, the thick forest canopies of this undeveloped region masked the specific direction of the xenos. Several major cities and countless smaller communities were potentially under threat.
To this end, the senior ranking officer of the Astra Militarum, Captain Stevrous Stark of the 728th Cadian Regiment, ordered scouts deployed throughout the western forests of Kadavu to determine the Tau’s movements. By 3 293 735.M41, a better sense of the Tau intentions were made clear when a PDF officer voxed a report of the Tau vanguard’s position just before launching an ambush that would lead to his death.
1. Failed Ambush
On 293 735.M41, a small detachment of PDF scouts detected the xeno advance along the Alata Trail, a centuries-old pathway used by hunters and merchants to cross the western forests. After reporting the xeno’s position to Command Central, the commander of this small scouting force, Lt. Oriel Drustan of the 23nd Pradeep Militia, set up an ambush position on a rocky outcropping that dominated the forest trail being used by the xenos.
Two squads of PDF troops, along with a command squad of five, were spread out in a skirmish line, bolstered with a plasma gun and two grenade launchers ready to target any vehicles that approached.
Unknown to Lt. Drustan, the rough terrain had convinced the Tau military command to leave its heavy armor to defend the Hanui Valley and rely on infantry, bolstered by heavily armored battle suits and a handful of light skimmers (Imperial code name: Piranhas). Thus, when the xeno vanguard reached his position, Lt. Drustan’s command faced Kroot auxiliary troops and a small number of larger battle suits (code name: Crisis Suits) armed with burst cannon.
According to reports from the sole survivor of the battle, the initial burst of fire killed several Kroot warriors but failed to damage any of the Crisis Suits. The Kroot, being natural forest creatures, advanced quickly through the woods to the Imperial position, while the Tau Crisis Suits rose up on jetpacks and landed amidst the terrified PDF troops.
What followed was a slaughter. Although Lt. Drustan had intended to conduct a fighting withdrawal after his initial weapons volley, the landing of four-meter-tall armored warriors into his position, each firing multi-barrelled plasma weapons in all directions, destroyed any sense of military discipline. The PDF broke and fled, with the valiant Lt. Drustan ripped apart by plasma charges striking him at near-light speed.
The fast-moving Kroot quickly chased down the routing PDF. Only one man, Private Tomas Bradan, survived to report the disaster–and the disturbing news that many Kroot stopped their chase to feed on the wounded and dead. This information was quickly used by commissars to create a sense of outrage among the troops and solidify the militia’s resolve in meeting the xeno invasion. Word quickly spread through the ranks that no quarter would be given any filthy xenos.
To bolster PDF morale, Lt. Drustan was named a Hero of Dar Sai. For abandoning his comrades in the face of the enemy, Private Bradan was executed by firing squad.
Tau Casualties: 7 Kroot
PDF Casulaties: 23 infantry, 1 officer (1 survivor subsequently executed)
2. Defense of Saalon
With a clearer understanding of the xeno intentions, Captain Stark began redeploying elements of the 728th Regiment, along with armored support, to the the cities of Malati and Pradeep. To buy time for these defenses to be strengthened, however, the Tau advance needed to be slowed.
To that end, two small military contingents were sent forward to guard the main trails that led west and north. As it turned out, the Tau moved west to Malati, which left the task of slowing down the xenos to a task force of Sentinels, supported by a squadron of Valkyries, deployed near Saalon.
This task force, under the command of Lt. Anton Delmara of the 728th, set up a defensive position at a small plantation outside of town, marked by open cropland and the occasional primitive farm house. It was hoped that the open ground would be advantageous to the long-range fire of the Sentinels, create bombing opportunities for the Valkyries, and deny Kroot troops the advantages that a more wooded battlefield would provide.
The initial fighting, on 305 735.M41, went well for the Imperium. The Tau Crisis Suits, supported by both Tau fire warriors and Kroot, suffered severe casualties as the Sentinels sprayed the xeno advance with auto cannons and missile fire. A bombing run by Valkyries also managed to wound the Tau commander. A second attack launched by the Tau also failed.
This resistance by the Imperium stalled the Tau advance for three days, as the vanguard took up a defensive position until the main Tau forces arrived on the scene and prepared an attack with overwhelming force. Before this attack was launched, however, Lt. Delmara ordered a night assault that disrupted the Tau line.
This attack also resulted in severe losses among the Sentinels, and after two hours of confused fighting, Lt. Delmara ordered a withdrawal. When dawn arrived, the Tau found the Imperial forces gone.
While the battle gave the Tau a bloody nose, the real significance of this military action was strategic. The Tau devoted two days to caring for their wounded and repairing damaged vehicles, thus slowing the Tau advance by a total of five days–time that Captain Stark used to mobilize the Malati populace and set them to work digging trench lines along the perimeter of the city.
Tau Casualties: 23 Fire Warriors, 52 Kroot, 5 Crisis Suits
Human Casualties: 7 Sentinels (7 crewmen dead)
3. Ambush of Tau vanguard
The Tau advance resumed on 311 735.M41, and by 321 735.M41, the xeno vanguard had reached what local citizens called The Great Fork, an intersection of two major trails that led, respectively, to Malati and the Tokai Plantation. At this point, the Tau sent its Kroot auxiliaries northwest to Tokai, as these troops were best suited to advancing through the heavy forests of the region.
Meanwhile, the main Tau force turned toward Malati and its surrounding agricultural region, where the open farmland was more conducive to Tau military operations.
Without their Kroot scouts, however, the Tau were forced to rely more heavily on fast-moving Piranhas to provide reconnaissance for the xeno advance. The Imperial High Command determined that an aggressive move against this reconnaissance force might slow the Tau advance, and to that end, a detachment of infantry, supported by armor from the 2nd Armored Co., was deployed to the rolling hills southwest of The Great Fork.
The Imperial plan was simple. The detachment of infantry would maneuver across the open ground to draw the Piranhas’ attention–and hopefully encourage a hit-and-run attack because of the infantry’s apparent vulnerability. Once the Tau committed to the attack, however, a detachment of Lemon Russ tanks and Sentinels–carefully camouflaged–would appear behind the advancing Tau and cut them off.
This trap was partially successful. The aggressive Tau proved eager to attack the seemingly vulnerable infantry, and on the northern flank of the battle, the Imperial armor managed to cause severe damage to the Tau skimmers. On the southern flank, however, an observant Tau crew spotted the hidden armor and this segment of the xeno force hastily withdrew.
While xeno casualties were not as great as hoped, it was observed that Tau recon units were more cautious in the days that followed, considerably slowing the Tau army’s advance and buying more time for the Imperium to prepare Malati’s defenses.
Tau Losses: Eight piranhas destroyed (12 confirmed Tau crewmen killed, 3 captured)
Human Losses: 30 Imperial Guard infantry, 1 Chimera with two-man crew, and minor damage to two Lemon Russ Demolishers
4. Massacre at Tokai
One of the more infamous incidents of the Tau invasion of Dar Sai–and actually condemned by the Tau high command itself–the Massacre at Tokai (321 735 M.41) involved the slaughter of civilian non-combatants by Kroot auxiliaries. A vox recording of Kroot feeding on wounded civilians in the streets of Tokai was widely disseminated across the moon before authorities censored the video as too gruesome for public viewing (and because some commissars feared it would fuel panic).
The Kroot attack on Tokai–a sizable plantation owned by the Tokai noble family–was a secondary objective of the Tau advance, designed to solidify the xeno flank, and thus it had no direct bearing on the subsequent battle for Malati. But the engagement was still notable for the ferocity of fighting, as word spread throughout the military forces and civilian population about the depraved nature of the barbaric Kroot.
With almost all Imperial Guard troops deployed in Malati and Pradeep, there were only two platoons of PDF available in Tokai as the Kroot approached, and the commanding officer, PDF Colonel Andre Paulo, had no intention of holding onto the plantation. His plan was simply to slow down the xeno advance while the civilian populace withdrew to the coast and was rescued by fishing boats recruited from Pradeep.
The PDF deployed forward of the plantation in seemingly daunting fortifications, but that was a deception: Impressive looking from a distance, much of the defensive line consisted of hastily constructed ditches and makeshift entrenchments of overturned wagons and logs. Much of the line was manned by straw-filled uniforms propped up with fence posts. Long lines of barbed wire did exist, but many were reused field wire strung on flimsy poles hastily dug into the ground. None of it offered a significant military obstacle.
Still, what Col. Paulo wanted–and largely achieved–was time. Uncertain of the strength of the defenses, the Kroot halted their advance and spend precious time deploying for an assault. By the time their attack was launched, the civilian evacuation was largely completed, and the PDF were ready to withdraw. Over the course of the next few hours, a confused battle raged, as the PDF would hold a position until it was unsustainable and then withdraw to a new defensive line. This fighting withdrawal continued all day.
Twice, the Kroot made the mistake of assuming the PDF’s withdrawal signaled a rout, only to realize their mistake when they were thrown back with heavy losses. By the end of the day, the Kroot appeared content to advance at the pace of the PDF’s withdrawal, perhaps not realizing that thousands of unarmed civilians were only a few kilometers behind the thin human defensive line.
Indeed, many Kroot gave up the chase to feed on civilians too slow or weak to escape the fighting–one likely reason for the scope of the massacre. One group of 50 civilians, who chose to hide out in the forests near their village, were discovered by the xenos and massacred to the last man, woman, and child.
Although it suffered 50 percent casualties, the two platoons of Col. Paulo’s command held off the Kroot until all civilians were evacuated–and then embarked on Valkyries at a pre-arranged landing zone and returned to Malati to a hero’s welcome.
Tau Casualties: 31 Kroot
Human Casualties: 28 PDF infantry (212 civilians – missing, presumed dead)
Tau Arrival at Malati
By 332 735.M41, the Tau vanguard finally reached the outskirts of Malati–but the Tau did not attempt an immediate assault given the strong defensive perimeter of the city, along with the presence of Imperial heavy armor.
The next two days saw Imperial and Tau forces watch each other from across a 2-kilometer-wide dead-man’s zone, while Tau consolidated their troops on the march and deployed them for battle.
Finally, on 335 735.M41, the Tau launched their initial attack on the city–and the Forest Campaign, as it was eventually named–officially came to an end.
Only 91 military casualties were reported during this short campaign, an insignificant number given losses over the entire war. Still, the 40 days of the campaign proved strategically important, as slowing the Tau forces provided invaluable time to redeploy Imperial forces for the defense of Malati–and deprive the xenos from maintaining the military initiative that temporarily gave them an opportunity to seize s sizable portion of the moon.
By that measure, the Imperium scored a significant victory, despite the Tau’s occupation of thousands of kilometers of Imperial soil.
FromGM: This “history” originally began as a whimsical writing project–a humble attempt to flesh out the Dar Sai campaign and add color to the Corvus Cluster. But, as is so often the case, this blog is a constant source of inspiration.
Thus, in the near future, I hope to develop scenarios for the four military engagements described above, play them out for fun (perhaps at a convention), and then write a small campaign (with scenarios) that others could use for some small-action or solo gaming. When this project is complete, I’ll add a hyperlink to this title: Scenario: March on Malati.