As the two naval forces closed, every ship prepared for the next round of torpedo fire. At 20:51, the Tau launched its first wave of torpedoes, trusting that the weapons’ AI systems would ensure high accuracy despite the still-formidable distance between fleets.
The orks returned fire at 20:54 with their second wave of torpedoes. Again, Tau defensive batteries destroyed the majority of enemy torpedoes, but three managed to strike home.
The first struck the Kaara Mont and damaged its gravitic launcher, effectively shutting down its torpedo fire. The other ork missiles struck the Mor’gan, one torpedo apparently penetrating the port engine nacelle and shattering its main plasma chamber. Within seconds, a catastrophic explosion consumed the gunship.
The Tau’s response demonstrated the superior weapons of their navy, which waited until the ork ships approached to within 100,000 kilometers before firing their full array of railgun and ion cannon batteries. This weapons fire hit the ork ships’ front shields at the same moment that the Tau’s previously launched torpedoes struck home.
This attack was highly successful. Both Da Pounda and Sharptooth took severe damage, and the ram ship Fangclaw was destroyed.
At this point, the Tau gunships had completed their mission as screens for the Dau He and heavy escorts, absorbing the initial fire of the enemy at great cost. Too vulnerable to stand up to close-in fighting, Commander Dorir ordered them to withdraw to a safe distance and engage the enemy with long-range fire.
The orks had other plans. At 21:01, the two naval forced engaged at close range. The accuracy of ork fire improved considerably up close, and the Dau He lost its prow ion cannon, and the Yr’Ku suffered several hull breaches on its starboard side.
The Tau, however, replied in kind. The Dou He‘s railgun batteries tore a long gash in the hull of the Da Pounda, while the Yr’ku and Lor’cal targeted Gruck’s Shootaship, causing the ork gunship to lose all power.
As the two fleets crossed paths, a new threat was revealed to the Tau. The ork ram ships had been largely ignored by Dorir, as he had mistakenly identified them as small gunships with little ability to harm the larger Tau vessels.
The true nature of these small but maneuverable ships were soon revealed, however, when they suddenly turned on intercept courses with the Yr’ku and Kaara Mont.
At 21:28, the Yr’ku broadcast a distress call, reporting that an ork ship had rammed its hull, the ork ship’s armored bow pounding deep into the Tau heavy escort. At least six decks of Yr’ku were exposed to vacuum, and hundreds of crewmen died. Orks were boarding.
A minute later, the Karra Mont reported that they, too, were being boarded.
There was little Commander Dorir could do to help the beleaguered ships. Both Da Pounda and Sharptooth were focusing their fire on the Dau He, while the Lor’cal was taking advantage of the power loss on Gruck’s Shootaship. With only a few thousand kilometers separating the dueling vessels, all five ships were taking heavy damage.
Nothing matched the carnage, however, that was occurring on the two boarded Tau ships. The air caste crews were no match for the brutish violence of the ork boarders, and as the greenskins ran amok, the narrow corridors of the Tau vessels soon were soon awash with blood and gore. Within minutes of the first ork stepping foot about the Yr’ku, more than 200 crewmen were slaughtered.
With small-arms fire proving useless against the orks, the Yr’ku captain took the unorthodox measure of shutting down the ship’s gravitic system. Air caste crew members quickly adapted to the subsequent zero gravity, but the ork attack stalled as the greenskins flailed mid-air in mindless fury
Assuming the orks would eventually adapt, the Tau crew withdrew to critical—and sealed—stations of the ship and opened automated hatches across the beleaguered vessel. The sudden decompression sucked hundreds of orks out into the vacuum of space, while those greenskins that grabbed a handhold suffocated within seconds.
The vessel then applied full power to its maneuver thrusters, threatening to rip the ship in two but finally pulling free of the ork ram ship.
It can only be assumed that the situation on the Kaara Mont was equally appalling. But the details of this vessel’s internal fight are unknown. Approximately 10 rai’kor [minutes] after orks boarded the gunship, a series of explosions tore through the hulls of both the Karra Mont and Ubaga’s Smasha. Both ships were left lifeless hulks.
At 21:53, as the two enemy forces finally passed one another, the Lor’cal managed to destroy Gruck’s Shootaship, and the Kir’topra targeted the Sharptooth with its railgun battery, destroying the ram ship.
Meanwhile, the Dau He and Da Pounda ended their lengthy exchange as both ships passed outside the arc of their opponent’s weapons.
At 22:01, with the surviving ork ships accelerating away from Al’gel V, Commander Dorir turned to recover any Tau survivors on the drifting ships left behind—and target the remains of the damaged ork vessels abandoned and adrift. The battle was over.
Damage to the Dau He was repairable in-system, and the cruiser continued its deployment in the Al’gel System.
The severity of damage to the Yr’ko, along with catastrophic crew losses from the ork boarding action, forced the vessel’s withdrawal to Dal’yth for six months at an orbital repair facility.
The Kaara Mont was scuttled, its damage too extensive to be salvaged.
Tau casualties were 9,678 (85 percent of these casualties were the result of the boarding of the Yr’ko and the destruction of the Kaara Mont and Mor’gan).
The orks lost two Savage-class gunships and two Brute-class ram ships. Casualties were estimated at approximately 25,000 to 30,000.
The ambush prompted the Tau command to initiate several measures to constrain the orks’ ability to maneuver unseen in the Al’gel System—or launch future ambushes.
More than 300 sensor satellites, with stealth capability, were deployed among the outer worlds and the system’s central asteroid belt. This greatly expanded Tau intelligence gathering and aided in the tracking of ork naval vessels in regions previously overlooked.
Operational protocols for future Tau patrols also were changed. Ships were to keep their distance from asteroids, moons, and other celestial bodies, and naval reconnaissance drones were reprogrammed to identify potential ambush sites.
Yet, as would happen several times during the Al’gel campaign, complacency once again reasserted itself in the naval command. Naval leaders took for granted that the casualties suffered by Doomacka’s attack were the result of surprise—and luck—and the orks’ tactical capabilities were discounted.
What’s more, Tau patrols became increasingly cautious, keeping their distance from asteroids, moons, and other celestial bodies, and naval officers began to rely too heavily on sensors—rather than patrols—to track enemy activity in the system.
The result that Doomacka, revealing a dangerous cunning often unseen among the orks, soon found ways to avoid Tau surveillance. This would prove costly to the Tau in the future.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog that documents our adventures in the sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.