The Battle of the Sea of Dust took place on 3 413 735.M41 on Hegira, the fourth moon of Sculptor II.
The battle, involving more than 15,000 orks and 10,000 Imperial Guard and Hegira PDF, was the second largest military action in the first two years of the xeno invasion that began in 733.M41.
After a series of battles along the Iron Spires (3 027-043.M41) that saw the ork invaders win a toehold in Hegira’s northern continent, an uneasy calm settled over the barren, war-torn landscape of the Mars-like world. Although there were numerous small feints and raids, no major military action was reported for more than four Terran months.
Desperate for accurate intelligence on xeno troop movements, Gen. Tiberius Vectrix, commander of the Hegria PDF, convinced Adeptus Mechanicus Forgemaster Xander Degallio to accept the risk of diverting scarce resources from ammo production at the Topac Manufactorum to construct and launch scores of surveillance satellites into orbit.
Within days of their launch, this investment paid dividends, as massive dust clouds and troop movements were observed near the xeno-occupied Herak Manufactorum of the southern continent.
With no signs of military activity along the Byrgius Sea, the Imperial High Command determined the most likely focus of attack for this ork force was the Sea of Dust, a 50,000-square-mile open plain of dust that’s notorious for “lightning dust,” a form of “dry” quicksand that quickly drag men and vehicles beneath the surface.
Although a spoiling attack against the ork buildup was considered, the repeated poor performance of the PDF over the past two years discouraged this more aggressive stance, and Gen. Vectrix decided on a defensive strategy. Every available man was rushed to the area and put to work building massive minefields and nearly 200 miles of trenches and strongholds.
Only half of the Imperial defensive works were completed when the ork hordes began to move north on 3 382 735.M41. Satellite surveillance had no difficulty tracking the xeno movements, as their fleet of ramshackle vehicles churned up a cloud of dust that could be seen rising thousands of feet into Hegira’s thin atmosphere.
THE ORK ADVANCE
Ork forces reached Imperial lines on the evening of 3 412 735.M41, and the xeno attack began at 05:30 the next morning, as the first hint of dawn appeared on the reddish-orange horizon. Two dozen Trukks charged forward, supported by a second wave of Killer Kan walkers, Slugga Boyz, and Gretchen.
The initial assault of the orks fared poorly, as the defensive line of PDF troops poured massive volleys of lasgun, las cannon, and missile fire into the xeno vanguard. At the same time, a squadron of Valkyrie gunships struck at the ork rear, causing massive casualties against the xeno’s reserve forces.
For a time, it appeared that Imperial forces had stopped the ork attack dead in its tracks. The first wave of orks was wiped out to the last beast, but ultimately the sheer number of battle-maddened xenos proved too many. The second wave of orks smashed into the PDF line and tore it asunder. Despite a fierce counterattack by the 728th Cadian Regiment’s Alpha Special Weapons Co., the Imperial line was mauled.
But it was not broken. While ground commanders were unable to maintain a coherent defensive line, PDF troops still at their positions stubbornly held the few strongholds they controlled. Orks that might have broken through the Imperial line were, instead, drawn to the carnage surrounding these strongholds. The battle degenerated into a number of confused and bitter small-unit actions, often at close quarters.
By evening, it was clear the fight was a stalemate. Many PDF units had suffered more than 50 percent losses, but the orks were exhausted and suffering from equally appalling casualties. The remaining orks began to fall back to their own lines.
The next morning, PDF commanders waited for dawn with a gnawing fear that another attack was imminent, and they were uncertain where their devastated troops would stand and fire. But their fears were groundless. As the sun rose, the orks were gone, having withdrawn back across to their launch-point at the captured manufactorum.
The Battle of the Seat of Dust was to have major consequences in the campaign for Hegira. Despite major losses, Imperial forces had stopped the xeno advance and bought more time for Imperial reinforcements—and for the resupply of manufactorum-produced ammo and weaponry—to bolster the defensive line.
An ork victory over the moon looked slightly less likely than earlier in the year.
Imperial losses amounted to 1,578 dead and 2,628 wounded, along with the loss of 20 Sentinels, 5 Lemon Russ tanks, and 5 Chimera transports.
Ork casualties were less well documented, although at least 5,000 ork corpses were piled on funeral pyres and burned to prevent ork spore from contaminating the soil and giving rise to another generation of xenos. Ork losses also included 15 Trukks and 6 Killa Kans.
TheGM: The first four battles on Hegira revealed that the Gaffer (supreme Warboss) was the superior general, winning three out of our previous four fights. But the Gaffer has been nice enough to coach, and in this fight, I took his lessons to heart. In fact, I actually controlled the battle for most of the game.
What cost me a victory was, firstly, some atrocious die rolls. I crushed the first wave of orks, but the dice turned against me—horrifically— as the second wave struck home. just as the orks charged.
But I cannot just blame the dice. I had a special weapons squad on a Valkyrie, and I did not deploy the unit on the table early enough—thus wasting its firepower. Also, I got distracted by the Gretchin. I tried to shoot them out of terrain with a 5+ cover save. Dumb. I should have dropped off my squad to deal with the diminutive xenos and turned the Valkyrie on the orks.