“For the Tau, retreat in the face of a rapidly advancing enemy was a new—and unsettling—experience. Our fire warriors would undergo an exhausting march, turn to engage the orks in a ferocious firefight, and when the enemy was repulsed, begin to march in retreat again. Yet always the greenskins followed, bellowing threats and challenges.” — “The Complete History of the Al’gel Campaign” by Aun’el Mor’kan Tal’is’ta, ethereal caste, Dal’yth Sept, (689-776.M41).
The breakthrough by Greenclaw’s forces threatened to unravel the entire Tau line. Elements of Hunter Cadre IV and V engaged in a series of rearguard actions, attempting to delay the ork advance and buy time for reinforcements to arrive.
It was a period of horror, heroism, self-sacrifice, and exhaustion. Entire cadres disappeared beneath iron-shod boots of the advancing orks, who raced forward to literally run down firing lines of Tau warriors. Some retreating fire warriors simply collapsed from exhaustion days without sleep, and with no working transportation to carry them, they were left to their fate.
The momentum of the battle rested with Greenclaw. But, in addition to putting the Tau on the tactical defensive, this warlord’s success was having strategical implications. It was enhancing his reputation among the greenskins and drawing new supporters to his banner, including a cadre-sized force of armored walkers [later identified as Killa Kans and Deff Dreads].
By battle’s end, more than 50 walkers and 20,000 additional boyz would rally to the warlord’s side.
Bolstered by these additional forces, Greeclaw pushed aggressively to the east and southeast, smashing again at the operational line between Cadre IV and V. The two Tau subcommanders struggled to ensure that there were no gaps in the line—but they failed. An attack by nine armored walkers pierced a force of fire warriors with no significant anti-armor weaponry, and Greenclaw quickly reinforced this breakthrough.
With orks once again driving into undefended rear areas, both Tau cadres continued to retreat with heavy losses.
Battle of Juegan Hills
For two more days, the ork advance was so rapid that the Tau could not reform a coherent defensive line. Yet, while Tau commanders were frustrated by the continued disruption to their communications, isolated groups of fire warriors fought aggressively to slow the greenskin advance.
Trees were cut down to block roads. Bridges were demolished. Several Tau attacks struck at the ork flanks, drawing the orks into tactically insignificant skirmishes that slowed and weakened Greenclaw’s main advance. Tau casualties, however, were high.
Yet salvation was at hand. On the morning of 6 349 737.M41, there was a sudden end to the electrical storms, and Tau aircraft returned to the skies. Soon a squadron of Mantas headed to the spearhead of the ork advance with 18 teams of Crisis Suits, four teams of Broadside Suits, and a team of Riptides. This attack force was code named Force Or’es (Force Powerful), led by the 17th Retaliation Cadre.
Within eight hours, one of the largest battles fought to date was under way just northwest of the Juegan Hills. This region of low and gently sloped hills were of no particular strategic importance, but this was where the Tau drew a firm line: no ork would pass.
The orks certainly tried. A spearhead of more than 10,000 ork warriors and nearly 200 vehicles and walkers clashed with the newly arrived 12nd Armored Cadre, supported by the 14th and 86th Cadres.
The battle raged for 10 hours but the orks were unable to break through the powerful Tau firing line. As the ork attack began to falter, the Tau launched their counterattack, with Force Or’es dropping behind the ork lines.
The first signs of this attack were the fiery contrails of the armored suits falling from the skies. Ork anti-air fire proved ineffective, and soon Crisis Suits were rampaging through the ork rear, supported by the rail rifles of Broadside Suits with high-yield missile pods and the massive Riptides with heavy burst cannon.
By battle’s end, more than 120 ork vehicles were burning, and ork bodies were piled high, forming a grisly carpet of torn and shredded corpses over a charred landscape.
The orks fell back, clearly demoralized, and the Tau continued to hammer the greenskins, using infrared sensors to communicate targets to supporting artillery and aircraft. The next morning, the exhausted but exuberant 12nd Armored Cadre launched a limited but successful counterattack.
Exhausted fire warriors gained little ground with this attack, but as ork losses mounted, the greenskins finally seemed to lose heart. By midday, they began to retreat, harassed continually by Tau troops who were noticeably sluggish in their pursuit.
Over the next dozen days, the orks withdrew back to their original line, hiding from Tau aircraft in the forests where their attack began. The Tau had regained their lost territory, but the casualties of Commander Bloodsword were as severe as those suffered by Greenclaw.
There was an additional cost to this fight. Although the orks had failed to break through the Tau line, their attack had forced Bloodsword to commit troops originally set aside for the new offensive planned later that month. The deployment of these troops on the front line, coupled with the expenditure of significant amounts of Tau munitions, meant that the offensive had to be delayed.
It also meant that a new race had begun—to see which army could rebuild and seize the military initiative in the weeks ahead.
Several weaknesses in the Tau’s response to the ork offensive prompted Bloodsword to make a number of changes to his command. One was the immediate removal of two cadre officers, including Shas’El Ko’vash, commander of Hunter Cadre IV. This was a controversial dismissal, as some argued that Ko’vash had fought well under difficult conditions.
Another key change was in tactical doctrine: Bloodsword determined that his headquarters needed to be closer to the front in future operations, and he gave greater discretion to his subcommanders to react to future enemy threats without seeking guidance from higher headquarters.
Finally, the Tau earth caste was ordered to find a means to maintain the operational function of sensors and communications during severe electrical storms.
As a result of theses changes, when Tau troops returned to action in the latter half of 737.M41, they were significantly better prepared to face the enemy.
TheGM—Nothing is going to be easy for the Tau on Al’gel II. Although The Gaffer and I have managed only a small skirmish on this war-torn world, I’m certain we’ll see more action in the years ahead.
Although I give it little detail in this account, the fate of Ko’vash has a backstory. I was inspired by stories of officers being removed during the Battle of the Bulge—in one case, most unfairly in my view, as the officer in question fought quit bravely. It wasn’t his fault that an entire army descended on his regiment.
So I decided to cashier Ko’vash. He’s not going to disappear (I hope). But, for a bit of fun, I’m shipping him off to the Yaisdra Campaign. My buddy Chris may have no use for this character. But I think it’s kind of funny to suddenly dump him over there. Maybe he can goose the Tau forward in their invasion of Yaisdra IX.
Featured artwork courtesy of Russell Ng (artofrussell) of the DeviantArt website. Click here to see more of his great artwork.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog that documents our adventures in the sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.