Among the roll of victories accomplished by the Void Eagles, one will quickly note a harshness equal to the vacuum of space. The Void Eagles, with few exceptions, cared little for how they prosecuted the Great Crusade so long as their enemies were broken. Although the battles and campaigns of the early Great Fleets are well recorded, the latter Great Fleets, especially those founded after Yucahu's discovery, lack a more thorough comprehension, eclisped as they are by their Primarch. Yet, given how new Great Fleets would be founded, they provide helpful markers and windows into the closing era of the Great Crusade.
The Zatoc Hegemony was a collection of human planetary governments on the border of Segmentums Tempestus and Pacificus united by a common culture. Zatoc culture featured an unusual obsession with stability that centered on an elaborate blend of superstition and astronomy. As such, the Zatoc Hegemony maintained several large-scale fleets who possessed a dual responsibility of defending the Hegemony and providing an unending observation of the universe. Log files recovered post-compliance revealed that the Hegemony maintained complete records of every type of astrological event.
Given their significant void combat assets and the failure to secure a diplomatic solution, the Liberators were charged with ensuring compliance. Arriving at the borders of the Hegemony, Admiral Maloran repeated an earlier offer: the Zatocs would be allowed to maintain their fleets and their on-going observations if they simply adopted the Imperial Truth and removed any trappings of superstition and religion. The Zatoc Hegemony once again refused. Admiral Maloran promptly ordered the Liberators to attack.
Although they were many and in various classes, Zatoc warships suffered from several weaknesses. To begin with, the Zatoc warships did not possess the means for Warp travel, severely limiting their ability to react to the Liberators fleet. Of the four systems of the Hegemony, each possessed a fleet of well over a thousand warships, but it would take weeks for each fleet to move from one system to another. Furthermore, even the largest Zatoc battleship was equal to no more than an Imperial light cruiser. This disadvantage was aggravated by Zatoc ship designs. Despite every ship capable of defense, Zatoc warships contained structural weaknesses due to abundant sensor bays and possessed no shielding technology.
Thus, when the Liberators moved to engage the fleet defending the Olec system, it mattered not that they were outnumbered 2-to-1. Admiral Maloran simply positioned the Liberators within the maximum range of his lance batteries and fired. By targeting the ship's center, a single lance shot destroyed an entire Zatoc warship. So surprised was the Olec Fleet that they didn't move from position until a third volley; by which point a dozen Zatoc ships were burning in the void.
Closing the distance did not improve the odds for the Olec fleet. Finally entering range of their own weapons only opened them to the first batteries of plasma and macro cannons. In the first volley alone, eighteen Olec vessels were crippled. Less than five minute after the Olec Fleet had properly engaged, the first Olec ship routed. The one-sided battle rapidly devolved into a massacre as the Liberators scoured the Olec Fleet from the system.
With one severely-damaged frigate as the lone casaulty, Admiral Maloran was pleased with the results. However, when Maloran demanded a surrender from the kings of the Olec system, they refused. With a quick victory no longer feasible, the Liberators considered various options to break the Olecs' spirit. It was estimated that the Liberators had forty-one days before the remaining Zatoc systems would send a response. Negotiation could not succeed with the Olecs possessing hope of relief from their confederates. Orbital bombardment was of limited utility since they could only target the few major cities. Simulations consistently predicted that after the initial bombardment, the Olec people would simply hide within their own jungles. The last tactical option was planetary invasion. Unfortunately, as a Void Eagles Great Fleet, the Liberators did not possess the necessary number of ground units to eliminate the Olec resistance.
It was after the first plague-associated death that Maloran initiated communication to the six kings of Olec. In clinical terms, Maloran described his actions before ending with an offer. Any Zatoc who accepted compliance would be recognized as an Imperial citizen and promptly provided with the antidote. Several of the kings raged at Maloran for his tactics, but two kings surrendered. Landing zones were established before the first Liberators arrived on Olec. These early detachments played host to entire squads of apothecaries who guarded caches of antidotes. Thousands of natives would crowd these landing zones, desperate for salvation, but the Liberators ensured that the landing zones remained uncompromised. In addition to policing the new Imperial citizens, the Liberators would see combat as armies commanded by the defiant kings would attempt to storm the landing zones in force to acquire the antidotes. However, each landing zone was surrounded by open terrain for a minimum of three hundred metres. All Olec assaults were repulsed by the bolters of the ground forces as they were bombarded by close air support. In a single day, the 19th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Valdivia, repulsed four such assaults at landing zone "Montaña", killing well over one hundred thousand native soldiers. With so many corpses, it had been necessary to create grand pyres to prevent other diseases from rampaging.
These fruitless attacks lasted a week before the native armies succumbed to the same Red Plague that had stricken their homes. More kings accepted compliance and were dutifully rewarded. Only a fragment of the Olec army continued to resist the Liberators, limited to guerrilla warfare. Unable to kill the Liberators directly, these rebels targeted their own people for accepting compliance in a vain hope to draw the Liberators into jungle ambushes. Instead, the Liberators were content to let the Red Plague run its course.
Twenty-nine days after the destruction of the Olec Fleet, the final traces of resistance died away as the last of the rebels succumbed to the Red Plague. As Admiral Maloran formalized Imperial control, he sent scout ships to ascertain the status of the three remaining Zatoc fleets. Long range scans revealed that all three were en route to the Olec system. Armed with their locations, Maloran assigned a small garrison force to ensure compliance before the 7th Great Fleet moved to intercept. Due to the Liberators' superior speed, the Void Eagles were able to ambush each fleet before they could arrive in-system to pool into a single, large-scale armada.
With the last of the Zatoc's ships burning in the void, Maloran was able to act without any interference. In each of the remaining systems, the Liberators merely repeated their strategy at Olec. Resistance varied as some systems were more willing to surrender after the total loss of their fleets, while others seemed to only harden before overwhelming force. Regardless, once the Red Plague was deployed, victory was inevitable. In the span of four months, the Liberators had achieved compliance over the entire Zatoc civilisation.
Purgation of Sub-Sector Betulaceae
The 8th Great Fleet would be the last Great Fleet to be founded during the Emperor's supreme command of the Crusade. Established a few short years before the turn of the millennium, the Ash Walkers, as they would come to be known, prosecuted the Great Crusade primarily during the Warmaster's tenure. Jarnieu would win the honour of being the 8th's first admiral. The majority of the Void Eagles who formed the Ash Walkers had previously been assigned to either the 5th, Sons of Nothingness, or the 6th, Blood-beaks, Great Fleets. As such, the Ash Walkers would already had a foundation that favoured tactics of an indiscriminatory nature.
This eventually manifested itself through heavy employment of saturation bombing. The Ash Walkers developed a combat philosophy that dictated the annihilation of enemy ground forces and civilisations through concentrated and overwhelming ordnance. Nor were these tendencies curbed when enacting compliance against lost human colonies. The Ash Walkers claimed that compliance was only possible through overwhelming destruction. It would be on these fields of ash that new life and loyalty could be cultured toward the Imperium.
It was a sentiment not shared by the new Warmaster. Although hesitant in his first years of command, one of Alexandros' first decisions that would reveal his growing willingness to redirect units to targets that better suited his martial philosophies would be ordering the Ash Walkers to engage in a xenos purgation campaign in the Veribon system instead of a planned compliance against a recalcitrant human colony. While the Ash Walkers cared little for the change in campaign, the Warmaster's critics would only begin a new wave of criticisms on this use of authority.
The Veribon system had been held by the brutish Orks for thousands of years and would require extreme firepower to root them out. Admiral Jarnieu, caring little for the politics of the Great Crusade, immediately developed battle plans as the 8th Great Fleet set course. While most of the Ork settlements lay unprotected on open terrain and therefore easy targets, one target would require special attention. On Veribon Secundus were three continents divided by a vast ocean. Given Orks' penchant for clan warfare, one clan had gradually developed and built a colossal submarine to house the entire waterborne Ork clan. Possessing long-range missiles and a myriad of defence systems, it could proved to be a stubborn foe if it could dive outside the range of the Ash Walkers' guns.
Despite difficulties, the Ash Walkers were eager to display the power of their ordnance. The Ork submarine was deemed priority number one and would be the fleet's first target upon arriving in system. In order to catch the vessel unaware, the Ash Walkers would translate in system before advancing to a day's journey to Veribon Secundus. Once there, measures would be taken to eliminate Ork void elements to limit the greenskins detection ability on the surface. With that objective accomplished, the majority of the fleet would depart, while a few ships would power down into stealth mode. A single ship would maintain its systems and provide a target for the submarine's anti-warship weapons. As soon as the submarine surfaced, it would be destroyed.
Once the Ash Walkers reached the Veribon system, initial events proceeded bettern than Jarnieu had envisioned. Although alerted to a potential incursion, the Ork scrap-fleet was a pitiful thing since the Veribon Orks had preferred to pursue their wars on the surface. So few were the Ork warships, that the Ash Walkers outright ignored them and began early their bombardment campaign. Reaching the fifth and outermost planet infested with greenskins, the Ash Walkers advanced toward the few orbital yards that orbited the gas giant. Scans revealed a meagre enemy presence, given the Orks' disdain for the void. While other commanders may have launched boarding torpedoes to secure the stations as outposts or simply avoid them, Admiral Jarnieu would brook no such thing as he ordered his ships to target the stations' stabilizers. While the Orks aboard activated the few, working batteries, the defense fire was too weak to puncture through the Imperial void ships. In minutes, all four stations were sinking toward the massive planet beneath them where they would eventually be crushed by its atmosphere.
The threat eliminated, the Ash Walkers journeyed to the fourth planet, Veribon Secundus. While the Ork submersible indeed had dived long before the Ash Walkers entered into orbit, there remained a plethora of other, suitable targets. Unlike the brief, half-hour the destruction of the Ork stations had required, the purge of Secundus would take place over the next few days. The Ash Walkers scoured Ork settlements with mixtures of promethium and explosive shells. The few Ork void-capable bombers and fighters never left atmosphere as they were ruthlessly targeted by long-range point defence systems. Mobs of Orks were tracked and systematically eliminated with barrages of lances. Any fortification proved only a temporary relief. Any greenskins who dispersed into heavy, local terrain, such as forests or swamps, were washed away with saturation bombing.
It would be during this bombardment that would see an end to the local Ork fleet. Up until this point, the Kaptin Snekfire had kept his ships far from danger, looking for a potential window of opportunity to attack the Ash Walkers. Fortunately for the Imperium, this patient strategy went over poorly with his subordinates. The greenskin commander was challenged by Snagbitz, who promptly killed his superior. Taking control, the newly titled Kaptin immediately launched an assault against the 8th Great Fleet. With only five vessels moving to attack, Admiral Jarnieu decided not to end the bombardment campaign.
Instead, he instructed Rear Admiral Ardery to take his flotilla to counter the oncoming Ork warships. Commanding the 45th Flotilla, Ardery reportedly resented the assignment. Not only did he consider it a distraction from the actual battle, the Ash Walkers, given their preferences, possessed few escort ships and light cruisers. Thus, while the greenskins would be unable to do overwhelming damage, their lighter ships combined with their superior speed would render them as frustrating opponents. Unwilling to endure a long fight of cat and mouse, Ardery's solution would become infamous.
After placing his flotilla between the rest of the Ash Walkers and the incoming Ork warships, Ardery advanced his battle cruiser, alone and unsupported. At a signal, the rest of the flotilla opened fire on his flagship, the Fireball's Wrath. With a series of simulated explosions, the Fireball's Wrath appeared to have lost power and began to drift through the void as the rest of the flotilla now gave chase.
With the Fireball's Wrath drifting closer to the Ork squadron, Snagbitz couldn't resist the opportunity. The Ork kaptin ordered his ships to attack and loot the Imperial warship before the rest of the flotilla reached it. Eight Ork ships blazed toward their quarry, all the while Ardery waited patiently. It was only when the Ork ships surrounded the Wrath did Ardery unleash his trap. Inducing an emergency power charge that strained the ship's reactor, the Fireball's Wrath came alive and opened fire on the surprised Orks. Plasma cannons battered at the smaller vessels, until they ruptured beneath the volley. Snagbitz cursed his foe as half of his fleet detonated in the void before he ordered an immediate retreat. However, Ardery still had no intention of engaging in a lengthy chase. Against the four remaining scrap-ships, including Snagfitz's heavy kroozer, the Fireball's Wrath arrested their escape with Ursus claws.
While the Ork ships would soon be able to overpower the Wrath's engines, Ardery didn't need to win the tugging match. He only needed to hold the Ork ships long enough for the rest of 45th to enter into weapons range, which would occur in a matter of minutes. In a moment of foresight, Snagbitz realized this after his ships attempted to escape at full speed. With escape impossible and the Fireballdestroying the remaining ships, Snagbitz ordered his mob to once again board the Imperial battlecruiser. The kaptin fully intended to choke the life out of the human who had destroyed him. The remainder of the battle shifted to the Wrath's decks as the greenskins attempted to swarm the Ash Walkers to little avail.
Although not as proficient as other Void Eagles, the Ash Walkers contemptuously defeated the rabble assaulting their ship before taking the initiative to launch a counter-assault against Snagbitz's kroozer. Kaptin Snagbitz would never see his ship succumb to the Ash Walkers as he was killed shortly before the first Ash Walker squad breached the Ork warship. Within the hour, the 45th now had an additional ship in their ranks that they had no intention of keeping. Yet, as Ardery survived the Ork bridge, inspiration struck him. After confirming the Ork equipment could be manipulated by humanity, the rear admiral presented his plan to Admiral Jarnieu. Instead of risking an Imperial ship to the Ork super-submarine's missiles, servitors would be installed in the Ork warship which would replace the Imperial ship. With an outside signal, the servitors would target the submarine as it surfaced. The admiral agreed.
Once Veribon Secundus was cleansed, the Ash Walkers moved onto Verbion Primus. A day after they left, Ardery's captured Ork ship assumed orbit above Secundus. Servitors scanned the surface and located the Ork submarine, which had surfaced. While the captured vessel might possess the firepower necessary to destroy the submarine from orbit, Jarnieu preferred a more assured method. Once the ship was above the submarine, Jarnieu sent a pre-planned order. The servitors pointed the ship's prow directly at the submarine and diverted all power to the engines. Thus, the kroozer began a meteoric descent into Secundus' atmosphere.
Since the servitors were constantly transmitting data to the 8th Great Fleet, we know that the Ork submarine attempted to contact the falling warship. When no answer was given, the Orks hurriedly tried to dive into the deeps. The effort was too little, too late. The detonation of the kroozer would destroy the Ork submarine and cause a tsunami that would strike the nearby continents three miles inland. The rest of the campaign proceeded without difficulty and would conclude three weeks later.
The Taslob Massacre
The 9th Great Fleet would be the last great fleet ever founded, in light of the stipulations in the recent treaty. It would be an unusual great fleet for two reasons. First would involve the infamous Nemoan oath. Before the 9th Great Fleet, this was a relatively rare oath taken. Void Eagles who swear the Nemoan Oath have forsaken all contact with land. These Void Eagles will not commit to planetfall operations, will not walk upon an earthern surface, and the most extreme of them will not consent to aerial warfare. The stars will forever more be their battlefield and their home. Unusually, a majority of the 9th Great Fleet, upon induction, would swear this oath in mass. As such, this is the only great fleet to not possess any terrestrial vehicles or units.
The second distinguishing factor would be Admiral Qualie himself. Although out-ranked by others, no other Void Eagle Admiral was as similar as Yucahu than Qualie. As pragmatic and brutal as his Primarch, the 9th Great Fleet mirrored Yucahu's 1st in same manner and organization with the sole exception of the lack of ground units. To this great fleet, Qualie deemed them simply The Hawks.
Although the youngest Great Fleet, The Hawks would earn their place in the Great Crusade and attract the attention of darker interests. By request, the 9th Great Fleet would join forces with the 9thExpeditionary Fleet commanded by Sentinel Shuten of the Lightning Bearers. A number of scout ships and rogue traders had disappeared in the outer edges of the Halo Zone. Reliable travel was only then possible with the construction of the Scarus Beacon. In addition to investigating the disappearances of the earlier explorers, the 9th Great Fleet was also charged with finding evidence for the missing Sons of Nothingness.
The first few weeks of the operation passed by without incident as the two fleets searched the region. Throughout this time, Sentinel Shuten repeatedly conferred with his Void Eagles counterpart and made personal overtures throughout the operation. From personal logs, we know that Admiral Qualie was more than willing to coordinate their military resources. However, the Admiral was blasé about the attempts at friendship, but humored the Sentiel who possessed a veterancy well over a century in relation to Qualie's own service.
As the days passed and more of the edge of the Halo Zone revealed, the Lightning Bearers' diviners were able to narrow the search, swiftly bringing the two fleets closer and closer to their objective. A mere eight days after entry into the Halo Zone, the Hawks and the Lightning Bearers approached an uncharted dark nebula of great size. Of greater confusion were readings of a second nebula behind the dark nebula. Scans indicated that it was the remnant of a supernova that had exploded a mere million years ago. The existence of binary stars is well recorded, but binary nebulae as a phenomena had yet to be encountered until this event.
Outside of the dark nebula were two wrecks of missing scout ships, the frigates The New Light and The Coming of Order. Both ships were in pieces with no life signs aboard. Of peculiar note was the nature of the damage. Neither ship were marked with traditional scars of explosives, lance weapons, or the like. Instead, it appeared that the ships had broken beneath tremendous outside pressure but only in certain areas of their ships. Scan sweeps of the dark nebula returned readings hinting at other lost ships. Both Qualie and Shuten ordered full combat readiness before cautiously advancing their ships toward the nebula.
The high concentration of the stellar dust within the dark nebula would immediately undermine auspex readings. In moments, the fleets became blind, only dimly aware of each other's location. At a command from the Admiral, the Hawks and the Lighting Bearers reduced their interval distance as they closed ranks. As the ships gradually came together, a panicked vox report reached Qualie's flagship, the Aquila Rex.
The Prime Meridian was a frigate at the very forefront of the fleets. Captain Caftan Neoden, in the few moments he was able to, reported that his ship was under attack, claiming his ship was being crushed by an outside force. Before he could describe what was attacking his ship, contact was lost as the nearest ship recorded the Prime Meridian destroyed on their sensors.
With the Prime Meridian lost, Admiral Qualie immediately ordered a wave of augur probes before contacting the Sentinel for additional information. To the shock of the Hawks, Shuten replied that the famed diviners of the Ist Legion could only see a future as dark as the nebula. Soon enough, the probes began to transmit information back to the fleet. Massive objects were directly ahead of the fleet and were rapidly approaching. To the confusion of the officers, the objects moved like no other recorded stellar object or any known type of vessel. The objects seemed to slide forward, one side moving ahead of the other.
Despite the strange information, the two Lords of the Imperium had more than enough evidence of hostile intent and ordered their fleets to fire. Lance batteries blazed away into the darkness as lesser warships came about to deliver volleys of cannonade. Of the the three enemy signatures, two received most of the weight of fire directed at them. Yet, before the augur probes sped away from the battlefield, they recorded two of the enemy objects to abruptly pull back with speed that would tear any Imperium ship apart beneath its own gravitational forces.
Then Captain Berard of the Raptor of Solar, on the outer edge of the 9th's left flank, demanded aid as it was attacked. With the fleets consolidated, several ships near the Raptor were able to see the vessel and confirmed that it was under the assault. However, there was a note of disbelief in every report delivered to Admiral Qualie. For it was an enormous tentacle that was wrapping itself around the cruiser. Void Eagle captains hesitated to open fire, lest they destroy one of their own. It was only after Admiral Qualie gave the order to open fire did the Hawks respond. By which point, the Raptor'sfate had been sealed as the tentacle squeezed. Beneath the incredible pressure, the Raptor died as it broke into four pieces.
The Hawks replied in similar violence as they unleashed their salvos against their foe. Concentrated fire blazed across the gigantic tentacle before it receded into the darkness. No respite followed as more tentacles grasped other ships. With the Lightning Bearer fleet coming around to aid their cousins, the battle intensified as the Hawks struggled to find a means to destroy their enemy. Although questions burned of how such a creature could exist in the vacuum of the void, Admiral Qualie ignored such inquiries, focusing all of his effort into preventing the complete destruction of his fleet.
As the battle continued, data was collected and analyzed. It was soon confirmed that only eight of the mammoth limbs existed. As cogitators began to successfully predict their movements, Admiral Qualie designated new targeting orders. All ships would concentrate their firepower in a single line against the limbs. The Hawks, aided by their Lightning Bearer cousins, proved their skill when the next tentacle attacked. Although it swung wide and fast for a void ship, the barrage it suffered was thorough and well-aimed. The massive limb was shredded into two, with the detached limb continuing to spin through the void.
With the first, real victory against their opponent, the battle shifted to their favor as more of the enormous tentacles were similarly slashed apart through brute force. Unfortunately, after the fifth such victory, the main body of the attack revealed itself. Eyewitness reports that it resembled a cephalopod from ancient Terra's oceans, easily three times the largest warship than a Gloriana. With extreme aggression, the Void Beast charged, smashing through Void Eagle and Lightning Bearer ships.
Despite the horrific casualties, Admiral Qualie remained unfazed and issued new priority targets. The remaining tentacles were to be ignored with all firepower being directed at the main body. Additionally, the full range of Imperial weapons were to be used without regard for collateral damage. Nuclear fire would soon blaze within the dark nebula as the fleets followed suit, the Lightning Bearers more reluctant than their Void Eagle counterparts. Ships who had the misfortune of being too close to the Void Beast when these detonations loomed were lost as the conflagration consumed them and the beast.
As costly as Qualie's tactics were, their effectiveness were beyond doubt. Despite its fantastical size, the Void Beast was not invincible. During its fourth pass, luck was with the Imperium as Qualie and Shunten were able to coordinate the few nova cannons under their command to fire on a single point that had already been struck twice before. One final surprise remained as the Void Beast, shortly after struck with this lethal blow, exploded from within, destroying two more ships in its death throes.
In the aftermath of the battle, a full account was pursued of both losses, the nature of the Void Beast, and of their original mission. Throughout the battle, ships had attempted to nimble out of the way of danger. Even though Void Eagles and Lightning Bearers are famed for their naval expertises, a full half of both fleets had been destroyed in combat, crushed in some manner. This added up to several dozen ships of various classes permanently lost to the void, Marine losses climbing into the thousands, and mortals being reaped into the tens of thousands.
Although Qualie had ensured that pieces of the Void Beast were recovered for investigation, this would end up creating more mysteries than solving ones. As hinted by its death, the Void Beast was ultimately an artificial creation, a melding of the biological and the mechanical into a seamless whole. Dating processes estimated the creation to be several billion years old. To this day, no Mechanicum tech-priest has managed to offer a convincing reason as to why such a construct had survived entire eons without losing any functionality or how such a thing could even be created in the first place. Among the detritus, a damaged data core, as we understand it, was found. The only whole piece of information found was a name: Taslob. Whether this referred to the creature or to something else is unknown, but it was the name that came to define this battle.
Of greater mystery was the Void Beast's ability to evade the Lightning Bearer's divination. Sentinel Shuten was greatly embarrassed by the incident though it would not be the worst casualties seen by the Lightning Bearers during the Great Crusade. Once this information was disseminated among the Imperium, a fierce debate broke out over what to do with the surviving pieces of the Void Beast. Traditional Mechanicum elements along with Icarion argued for the destruction of such technology. Pionus and a few other more daring leaders wanted to study and unlock the secrets of such technology. In the end, the Warmaster was persuaded by Icarion to order the remains destroyed.
Finally, the remains of the missing ships were discovered within and beyond the dark nebula. All had been destroyed by the Void Beast without mercy. The few beings who had reached the saviour pods had long since died of exposure, dehydration, or hunger. No sign of the missing Sons of Nothingness could be found, and the Hawks were recalled to repair and heal from their losses. A last meeting occurred between the Sentinel and the Admiral, but it was only much later would we learn that Shuten had been reaching out to Qualie to judge his willingness to side with the future Stormlord. Shuten's report ended on a bitter note that Qualie would not forsake his oath and marked the Admiral for death.