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Imperial Armour: The Siege of Vraks (2015), p94-97 — Last Stand of the 19th

The planned new supplies and reinforcements could do nothing to assist the plight of the 19th Siege Regiment. It was cut off, surrounded and with its back to the unbridgeable Demus Trench. It had been a necessary sacrifice to save the other regiments of 1st Line Korps, but that was little consolation for the Krieg Guardsmen now trapped and facing certain death.

The instrument of that destruction would be the warbands of the Plague Father - the dreaded Lords of Decay and the Apostles of Contagion. The blighted followers of the Chaos god Nurgle had also come to Vraks and it was a battlefield to their liking. Already devastated by the ceaseless artillery duel, where the dead lay unburied and the ground had become infectious with disease from the decaying corpses of the slain, it would be a fertile ground for Nurgle's followers and his favoured weapons. With the 19th Siege Regiment trapped, they would become the subjects of the Lord of Decay's special attention and pleasure.

Since the beginning of the war, the Imperium's commanders had suspected that the Apostate Cardinal's forces were in possession of proscribed weaponry. Vraks had once been used as a safe storage dump for chem-weapons that had been forbidden thousands of years before, and it was one of the reasons Krieg regiments had been chosen to conduct the siege. They were troops hardened enough to face such weapons of mass destruction without breaking. Chief amongst the chemical weapon stores was the toxin Trimethyline-Phthaloxyic-Tertius, known as TP-III, and utterly lethal combination of highly acidic and corrosive heavy gases. Greenish in colour, it was deadly if breathed in, killing in less than 30 seconds due to massive damage to the victim's respiratory system. Even if not inhaled, concentrations of TP-III caused acidic burning and rapid corrosion, melting skin from bone in minutes. In strong enough concentrations, it could even corrode through metal and armour. So far, the Apostate Cardinal had held his captured stocks in reserve as a weapon of last resort.

The arrival of the Chaos Space Marine reinforcements on Vraks, whilst strengthening the war on the ground, had in truth weakened the Apostate Cardinal's position as the ruler of Vraks. Amongst his new allies were men who had no intention of following his orders. The warbands had come for their own purposes and where they did not correspond to those of the Apostate Cardinal's, he was simply ignored. Even Arkos, the Warmaster of the Alpha Legion on Vraks, could exercise little influence and was not inclined to. Xaphan had now handed this world to his masters. What was this petty mortal's little uprising to him?

Upon arrival the Nurgle warbands had not plunged directly into battle as the bloodthirsty followers of Khorne had. Instead they had gathered their full strength and carefully selected their first victim. The 19th Siege Regiment would be that target. This would not be warfare for any strategic gain, but an unholy ritual with the aim of turning Vraks' already blighted environment into a toxic nightmare of disease and pestilence. To this end, the commanders of the traitorous warbands forcibly seized the supplies of TP-III from Xaphan's stores and prepared to put them to use. They would show all who fought on Vraks that the true nature of the universe was decay and the only way to survive was to embrace it.

At 711823.M41 the first attacks began, not with an artillery barrage or bombing raid, but in the eerily cold of dawn a strange light could be seen, staining the horizon with a verdant haze. Steadily, the light grew stronger as thickening, bilious clouds rolled towards the trenches. Krieg sentries issued warnings as the unnatural fog approached. Thick and heavy it clung to the ground, tumbling into every shell hole and crater. Then it reached the trenches...

The clouds of TP-III had a hideous effect upon all they touched. All Krieg Guardsmen had been trained to meet chemical attacks and fight on regardless. They were well equipped for just such situations, but against the acid-soaked clouds, respirators provided scant protection. Skin blistered and burned as clothes decayed, exposing the Death Korps to the full horrors of the unearthly environment. A respirator failure resulted in an agonising death for its wearer, the toxic gas quickly burning the respiratory system and melting lungs so that blood bubbled up from within, foaming from the mouth and nose of its victims even as flesh melted away to expose the bones beneath. In places, the chemical mercifully dissipated quickly and the Krieg Guardsmen's protective equipment coped better, but where the toxic gas was at its most dense, it destroyed everything it came into contact with. Entire platoons were wiped out in a few nightmarish minutes, and as the front line became enveloped in turmoil, the first attack began.

The roar of engines reverberated through the poisonous cloud as the Plague Marines approached, their corrupted vehicles charging across no-man's land with abandon. Rhinos, Predators and Land Raiders all emerged from the green-hued mist and opened fire, whilst all along the front, the followers of Nurgle attacked, quickly taking advantage of the turmoil their heinous chemical attack had caused. They crossed no-man's land against little resistance.

The adamantium and ceramite doors of rusted and boil-infected Rhinos and Land Raiders sprang open and out poured the bloated and foul enemy. It was difficult to believe these abominations had once been Space Marines, loyal followers of the Emperor. Now they were a disgusting parody of their former selves. Putrefying flesh hung limply from their pitted and pox-marked power armour. Maggots crawled upon their bodies feasting, and fat flies buzzed around them in swarms. For all their grotesque appearance, they were still superbly disciplined troops and none of their battle skills had been lost with their decay.

Just as against the Khornate Berserkers, even the training and morale of the Krieg Guardsmen were no match for the supernatural power that drove the Death Guard into battle. With their massive strength, the Traitor Space Marines cleaved through armour and helmets, hacking and slashing their way through the Guardsmen as they fought desperately to defend each trench. The men of Krieg fought well, standing and fighting to the last. No other Astra Militarum regiment could have withstood the onslaught of acidic gas and bolter fire so ably, but they could not hold for long. In desperation, platoon commanders called down supporting artillery fire on their own trench lines, and Earthshaker shells were soon screaming in, exploding indiscriminately amongst both sides.

The gas cloud soon dispersed. The fog lifted from the battlefield to reveal more enemy forces approaching. Across no-man's land came a second wave of men, a ragged horde this time of militiamen and mutants, following in the Traitor Marines' wake. They too were soon in amongst the Krieg ranks, forcing the survivors back along the communication trenches and overrunning the second trench lines.

No aid could be sent to save the 19th Regiment from the assault. It was too late for them and they had no option but to fight their last stand. The few remaining tanks the regiment could field fought from their dug-in positions, hull down, engaging the enemy vehicles as they rolled forwards. The massive weight of the corrupted Land Raiders collapsed the trench walls as they passed over them, crushing anybody left inside.

Night fell, but saw no let-up in the fighting. Colonel Keled, commander of 19th, reported that he would hold for another day, after that his ammunition would be spent, his last artillery overrun and his regiment scattereed and annihilated. His men served their Emperor well and the 19th Regiment somehow managed to battle on for a further three days as the frontline shrunk ever backwards.

All communication with the 19th Siege Regiment ceased at 735823.M41. Sectors 61-44 and 62-44 had been turned into a playground for the children of Nurgle. Strange beasts could be seen stalking the trenches and dug-outs, creatures from nightmares that crawled and oozed, and spider-like machines stalked the mists. Here was a land fit for Nurgle's servants. Their master was pleased.