At this point of the battle, both fleets were firing at point-blank range–with weapons batteries, lances, railgun batteries, ion cannons, and torpedoes blazing away.
Not suited to close-in fighting, The Emperor’s Fist, launched another wave of Starhawk bombers and then turned to starboard to avoid the close-in fighting. Divine Retribution, however, maintained its course, leveling another broadside at the Tau flagship, The Greater Good.
Meanwhile, both Tau cruisers targeted Divine Retribution in a desperate attempt to even up the fight by taking out the Imperial fleet’s most powerful vessel. To the dismay of the Tau, their capital ships continued to have problems reloading their torpoedo bays.
The exchange of fire was devastating for both sides. The Greater Good took several critical hits from Imperial fire and the Starhawk bombing run–and the vessel and was crippled. Meanwhile, Divine Retribution also was severely damaged, with a raging fire consuming the engine room and quickly spreading throughout the ship. Unless repair crews stopped the fire soon, the ship was lost.
On the flanks, the battle swung heavily in favor of the Imperium. The Imperial destroyer squadron took on the Tau frigates head-to-head, destroying both xeno vessels and taking only minor damage. Closer to Dar Sai, two Imperial frigates quickly surrounded the fleeing Tau gunships and destroyed them.
One Imperial frigate, poorly positioned to join the attack on the gunships, opted to leave the squadron, turn to port, and join the main cruiser fight. Using the planetoid’s gravity well to slingshot to high velocity, the frigate quickly swung around.
The battle was swinging heavily in favor of the Imperium, despite the increasingly dire situation aboard Divine Retribution.
The Tau flagship, The Greater Good, turned away from the battle and attempted to flee, but by this point, the destroyer squadron had turned and given chase. Eventually, even the frigates managed to join the chase, and even the modest weaponry of these small vessels was sufficient to leave the Tau vessel a drifting hulk, and its commander, Kor’el Dal’ta’ai, as dead as his ship.
Alas, Divine Rtribution also was doomed. Still largely untouched, the second Tau cruiser, The Protector, swung behind the Imperial cruiser and fired railgun batteries and ion cannon rounds into cruiser’s engines, adding to the blaze that threatened to engulf the vessel.
At this point, Commodore Hennard reluctantly bowed to the wishes of his bridge crew, who insisted he transfer his flagship to The Emperor’s Fist and continue the fight. Recognizing the vessel would soon be lost, the commodore ordered subordinates to take command and oversee the ship’s evacuation.
He left the ship only minutes before the vessel was consumed in a massive fireball.
The only remaining drama of this stage of the battle was being experienced by The Emperor’s Fist. In its attempt to avoid the close-in fighting, it had unintentionally angled itself into a collision course with the asteroid field. Failing to “burn retros,” the ship plowed headlong into the rocky debris.
With the Tau fleet all but destroyed, the single surviving xeno ship, The Protector, gave the order “all ahead full” and fled the battle. In its wake were the remains of seven of its brethren ships–lost with all life aboard.
Although the smaller Imperial ships gave chase, the battle was over. The Emperor’s Fist survived its high-speed crossing of the asteroid field, its massive void shields protecting it from severe damage before it re-entered open space on the far side.
The captain of the cruiser was removed from command for his poor handling of his cruiser–as Commodore Hennard put it: “Space is big, and no self-respecting ship’s captain runs into a sun, planet, or asteroid field.”
Of course, the commodore may not have been in the best mood at that moment. After evacuating his flagship, Commodore Hennard spent the next 15 hours aboard an uncomfortably tiny escape shuttle while waiting for The Emperor’s Fist to swing back around the asteroid field and pick up the irascible senor officer.
The defeat of the Tau was decisive and was a crucial victory for the Imperium. A loss at Dar Sai would have left every Imperial-held world in the Sculptor System vulnerable to xeno incursions.
Instead, however, the Tau naval threat is negated, and the Imperial Navy appears to have sufficient forces remaining to deal with the presence of the ork vessel, Da Butcha, that is somewhere near Hegira. Commodore Hennard, for all his faults, revealed astute tactical and strategic thinking with this battle.
TheGM: This battle pitted a player with one battle under his belt (Steve) against a newbie (Kon). So the deck was stacked in favor of the Imperium. Still, the battle was actually a lot closer than the final result. What clinched the Imperial victory was the slight miscalculation of distance–by just millimeters–as the Tau advanced on the Imperial cruisers for a first fire. That lost round of fire gave the Imperial forces a decided edge.
Well, good for Commodore Hennard. He may have finally added some luster to an otherwise unremarkable career, and he even managed to survive. (When the Divine Retribution was down to two hull points, and before the Imperial player rolled for repairs from a burning fire, I had a premonition and jokingly said, “I think the Commodore will head to his shuttle now.” When the roll failed to stop the fire–and the Tau were coming in for the kill–I figured a guy like Hennard would decide it prudent to move his flag to a new vessel.)
So, when the Divine Retribution finally met its fate, I ruled the commodore had already left the ship. Lucky guy.