For more than half a year, the Tau expeditionary force was stymied in its efforts to break out of its initial landing zone on Al’gel II. Eventually, at great cost, Tau forces managed to double the perimeter of their occupied territory, but no one believed the war was going well. We were trapped in a war of attrition that ran counter to every military concept of Tau warfare.
It wasn’t just the casualty reports that were dismaying. Every day the war continued, the pressure grew on the Tau Navy to maintain a blockade around the other planets of the Al’gel System. The be’gel love war, and there was a continuing and growing effort by the other ork worlds to launch warships into orbit and join the fight. It was only a matter of time before the be’gel’s love of war grew to an unstoppable pitch.—”The Complete History of the Al’gel Campaign” by Aun’el Mor’kan Tal’is’ta, ethereal caste, Dal’yth Sept, (689-776.M41).
His troops had been under constant onslaught for the past six months, with more than a million orks throwing themselves mindlessly at the Tau invasion site and threatening to overwhelm its defensive perimeter through sheer numbers and ferocity.
Only the formidable firepower of the Tau forces, along with the judicious use of orbital bombardments, had staved off defeat.
Several major ground operations were undertaken to break out of the perimeter, so that troops could engage in the more maneuverable style of warfare that maximized the Tau military strengths. But the orks, while poorly led, proved as fierce on the defensive as on the attack. Tau casualties mounted.
Solving the Puzzle
After the third major breakout attempt left 10,000 Tau dead and dozens of armored units devastated, Bloodsword finally acknowledged that his earlier tactics had failed. His choice was simple: Evacuate the invasion site, risking massive casualties in the attempt, or find some stratagem to return to the more mobile warfare that had been successful in the early days of the invasion.
It was not a difficult decision to make. Planning began immediately on a combined air-land assault that would put Tau forces behind enemy lines, so that ork forces could be attacked from both front and rear.
Two months went into the planning. Depleted cadres of Crisis and Sentinel Suits were merged to provide fewer, but full-strength, units, and these newly combined units engaged in rigorous training so that they would function as a cohesive, mutually supportive force.
Deep Strike at Orktown
On the morning of 6 201 736.M41, three squadrons of Manta Missile Destroyers and six squadrons of Sun Shark bombers appeared over the ork settlement code-named “Orktown” and conducted the largest bombing run of the war. Nearly 20 square miles of shanty buildings, stored equipment and industrial capacity were laid flat.
Tens of thousands of orks died within minutes, and those that still lived-—blood-soaked and barely capable of standing—soon looked up to see hundreds of contrails of smoke and flame falling towards them. It was descent of a regimental-strength force of Stealth Suits, Crisis Suits, and prototype Riptides that, even before they landed, opened up on the xenos with fusion blasters, burst cannons, and railguns.
The shantytown’s survivors were quickly eliminated, and Tau forces began advancing outward. This naturally drew the attention of the ork forces that still surrounded the Tau ‘s original perimeter, and the xeno lines quickly thinned as the orks rushed to face the new threat behind them.
But that was exactly what Bloodsword was expecting and, as soon as gaps appeared in the ork lines, the Tau commander sent forward armored columns that broke through the previously impenetrable xeno defensive line. Soon, Hammerhead tanks and Devilfish transports were skimming across the countryside, destroying logistical centers and isolated ork forces, while Skyray missile gunships cleared the skies of ork aircraft.
The orks fought as ferociously as ever, but their efforts were uncoordinated. Time after time, masses of orks would be drawn into a deadly crossfire, or a mechanized assault would sweep around the ork flank and pulverize a column of ork trukks or battlewagons. Sun Sharks pounded ork concentrations from the sky, and fire warrior teams set up volley lines that poured plasma fire into the vast but confused ork hordes, killing hundreds every minute.
The greatest slaughter of the day occurred to the southeast of the Tau beachhead. In a 10-kilometer strip of land hemmed in by heavily wooded ridges, ork reinforcements were gathering under the banner of a local warlord—a nearly 3-meter-tall hulk who also commanded a regimental-sized force of trukks, battlewagons, and war buggies.
A Tau barracuda squadron reported the concentration of troops, estimating that the ork horde numbered as many as 50,000 warriors. Bloodsword quickly coordinated an orbital strike by overhead naval craft. Within minutes, one of the heaviest bombardments of the war fell upon this confined area—and when it was over, the entire valley was molten rock and plasma-swept ash.
By the end of the day, the Tau perimeter had expanded fifteen-fold, with battle lines extending 20 to 40 kilometers in every direction and the orks withdrawing on all fronts. At nightfall, Tau forces dropped where they stood—to sleep as best they could, knowing that the next day they would need to continue the attack with all effort to maintain the military initiative and keep the orks from recovering.
Strategic Situation: 6 206 736.M41
Commander Bloodsword surveyed the Ty’rene Valley from a low hill only 10 kilometers from the bombardment zone. Six hours later, the area still was wreathed in smoke and ash, with only the flicker of raging fires offering any clue to the devastation within.
“Initial estimates place be’gel casualties for the day at nearly 120,000,” said an aide standing behind him. “There are significant be’gel warriors farther out, but the targeted elimination of identifiable warlords has left many of their forces unorganized. Some are withdrawing. Others are spreading out to avoid aerial bombardment.”
Bloodsword nodded. If his opponent had been anyone other than be’gel, he knew he’d be facing a reprimand for the callous bloodshed of his tactics today. But the Ethereals had long since given up on trying to bring the green-skinned xenos into the Greater Good. They were an infestation to be eliminated, and he knew he had a free hand in dealing with them.
And now he had the chance. Not only had he finally broken out of his bridgehead and regained the initiative, the massive bombardment this afteroon would serve as a deterrence to the be’gel gathering in a concentrated formation. That would limit the effectiveness of their troops and suited the Tau’s maneuver-oriented fighting.
The initiative was back in his hands, he thought, and he wasn’t going to lose it again.
But, of course, that would depend on whether the navy could maintain control in orbit…
Final paragraphs, Chapter 2
”The Complete History of the Al’gel Campaign”
Aun’el Mor’kan Tal’is’ta,
Ethereal caste, Dal’yth Sept
The orbital bombardment of the Tyrene Valley capped a major victory for Commander Bloodsword and provided the Tau expeditionary force with an opportunity to keep the be’gel off balance and unable to organize an effective defense.
That opportunity was well exploited. Bloodsword ruthlessly pushed his forces forward until, three months later, they were in control of a quarter of the planet. Ork casualties soared to more than 10 million.
Such dedication to the Greater Good was admirable, but it came at a price. The pace of the war left Broadsword’s fire warriors exhausted, and his vehicles began to break down with increasing frequency as they remained in almost continuous use, with only the most rudimentary, on-the-battlefield maintenance.
By 6 315 736.M41, nearly half of all Devilfish and a third of all Hammerheads were out of action. The momentum of the Tau advance finally halted, and the orks sensed the Tau’s exhaustion instinctively. As this highly successful military campaign ended, a new—and dangerous—phase of the war was about to begin.
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