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Imperial Armour 7: The Siege of Vraks, part 3 (2009), p9-13 — Closing the Ring

"But to wrestle with the Daemon and emerge from the battle unscathed, we must maintain Purity of Purpose. We must each conquer ourselves in order to win a thousand battles."
— Brother Captain Stern of the Grey Knights, prior to the Cleansing of Vraks

At 101827.M41 the fast strike cruiser Honour-Amentum arrived in the Vraks system, speeding into orbit directly from its home base on Titan. Amongst the swiftest vessels in the Imperium's fleet, heavily armed for its size and equipped with enough powerful teleportation chambers to allow multiple squads to teleport to the surface at once, the Grey Knights striek cruiser was the cutting edge of the Imperium's fleet, and only available to the Ordo Malleus' elite Chapter. Each ship's navigator was the best the Navis Nobilis houses could provide, tied to the Grey Knights by ancient pacts signed when the Chapter was founded. These strange mutants could find their way through the Warp by instinct and make longer warp-jumps than any other, guiding vessels safely through the unpredictable currents of the Immaterium. With their aid a Grey Knights strike force could speed to any location in the galaxy faster than any other forces available to the Imperium. Now the first of the Daemon Hunters had arrived in Vraks system under the command of Brother Captain Stern.

The first major tactical problem the Inquisitor Lord and his newly emplaced staff had to tackle was no different from that which Marshall Kagori had already been wrestling with. One look at the strategic holo-map would show even a first year student of an officer cadet training academy that the siege could not be completed while the eastern flank remained wide open. The encirclement of the citadel was incomplete and whilst it remained so the enemy would have an escape route. Even the capture of the Citadel might not see the war end if the enemy could withdraw to fight again another day. Also, the current position meant that 30th line korps was tied down having to act as a rear guard to the 1st line korps against attack from behind. Useful regiments and guns were being tied down on the defensive.

Inquisitor Lord Rex gave orders that the ring was to be sealed. The four regiments of the 30th line korps would be ordered to go on the offensive and attack in echelon, with the northern 263rd regiment first, followed in turn by the 262nd, 269th and finally the 261st regiment in the south. They were to swing round, pushing southward then south-westward to close the ring about the Citadel by meeting up with the 308th regiment in sector 57-44, where they were the southern-most unit in the front currently held by the 34th line korps. The offensive should swing like a door hinged upon the 1st line korps' positions. From the north this offensive would have only sixty kilometres to cover, and from the reports of Death Rider patrols, Nurgle warbands and their allies were still infesting the entire area. In order to hasten the attack, the 7th and 11th tank regiments were ordered to attach themselves to the 30th line korps, becoming the armoured fist that would conduct the left hook and smash through the enemy.

It would take time to get organised for the offensive, but for the time being it was to be the priority for 88th army's staff. The other regiments were told to hold their positions and conduct nothing but nuisance raids and patrolling whilst the Citadel was sealed within a ring of guns. Expecting fierce fighting and counter-attacks by the Nurgle followers, Inquisitors would be assigned to support the offensive, and the Grey Knights strike force under Brother Captain Stern would act as a rapid reserve, awaiting in their strike cruiser Honour-Amentum, ready to intervene wherever the enemy seemed strongest or daemonic activity was encountered. The time set for the opening of battle was 273827.M41.

In the wake of a successful offensive, two more major operations were also in the pipeline. The first would see the 1st line korps' three regiments push to the curtain wall, tightening the noose around the Citadel and hemming the defenders in. The second would see the 48th line korps, the least experiences of the army's major units (its three regiements had seen a mere six years of service on Vraks so far), push down from the north, to take the high ground and hills and the vantage point at point 202. With these two operations complete, the ring around the Citadel would have closed up to the curtain wall and the enemy would be sealed in an ever-shrinking pocket.

A Green Hell

Only a faint glow of sunlight glimmered through the grey clouds hanging low over the 30th line korps' positions. Soon one of Vraks' regular rainstorms would break and turn the battlefield into another sodden quagmire, but the Krieg guardsmen had become well adapted to the conditions. This time their offensive would not be attacking any fixed enemy positions, there was no constant enemy defence line to break, instead ahead lay a battlefield littered with the remains of previous fighting. The old rusting hulks of tanks and guns lay half buried in the mud or abandoned in shell craters alongside the smashed remains of old trenches and fortifications and seemingly random sprouting of rusted razorwire, which had once protected something, but now were abandoned to the elements. It was ground that had been fought over, to and fro, for years. Worst of all, under the surface might lie long forgotten mines and unexploded shells that could detonate with massive force without warning after years lying dormant in the mud.

It was 273827.M41 when the guns opened fire, a rolling barrage of shells from the guns of 30th line korps, mixed with smoke shells to obscure the 263rd regiment's first lunge forwards. With terrific force the barrage slammed down, battering the already tortured landscape as the leading infantry companies clambered up the ladders and out of their trenches. The tanks were close behind, tank companies combining with the infantry to form armoured battle groups. In the wake of the artillery, the steady, well-ordered advance began.

At first progress was good, but then the enemy counter-barrage began to land. Wherever a rolling barrage was falling, then an attack would not be far behind. First mortar shells were impacting, soon followed by heavier artillery rounds. They were exploding all around, but mingling with the grey smoke plumes was a green-tinged fog - chemical shells releasing their lethal payload of TP-III. The acidic gas clouds were soon billowing across the 263rd regiment's front. Casualties were high, throwing the attack into confusion. Units became lost in the thick smoke and chemical smog. Squads that blundered into a concentration of gas were quickly wiped out; nothing remained, they simply vanished as the acid ate away their flesh and bone.

Through it all the tanks rumbled on. Within their sealed hulls the crews were safe from the gas, and they now formed the point of the attack. It had become a hellish battlefield. Visibility was reduced to just a few metres by the acid clouds, tanks were becoming bogged down as they blundered into large shell craters or long forgotten tank traps. Several Leman Russ hit mines. Then, through the green haze, the enemy counter-attacked. The resulting battle was a series of messy skirmishes fought inside gas clouds. Enemy armoured vehicles fired blindly, or closed in to point balnk range. Unable to co-ordinate tanks, infantry and artillery, the enemy scored quick victories, blasting tank squadrons into burning hulks before withdrawing again. But, despite their successes, the enemy lacked the numbers to halt the advance. The local counter-attacks might stall the offensive for a while and cost men and machines, but by its sheer weight the offensive was still pushing forward. Where the gas cleared the Krieg guardsmen pushed ever onwards against sporadic enemy resistance. By the end of the first day they had made ten kilometres of ground. Tomorrow would see the 263rd lunge forwards again. To the south the 262nd regiment would also join the battle.

For the first few days the offensive continued with the enemy throwing their forces in piecemeal to hold up the attack wherever they could and with the Krieg armoured battle groups thrusting forwards. On the fourth day enemy resistance stiffened. They had now had time to organise a more effective defence. The warbands of the Plague Marines had moved into place, with their own armoured vehicles in support. Worst still, all manner of hideous mutants and slimy, plague-ridden creatures were now unleashed upon the battlefield. Amongst the chemical smog these beasts howled and wailed in pain and fury. Ogryns, now barely recognisable as such. Chaos spawn in all shapes and sizes. Unnamed, tormented creatures that oozed acidic slime. All were thrown into the fighting.

As it joined the battle, the 269th regiment reported encounters with plague zombies. These were hordes of creatures of ragged flesh and bone which shambled through the mud and smoke armed only with teeth and nails, but hungry for the taste of warm flesh and blood. They were the remains of the long dead, risen from their graves to fight again by some blasphemous art unknown to the soldiers of Krieg. The dead of both sides now fought for the enemy, mindless and unarmed they were cut down by the Krieg guardsmen in their hundreds, but still they came on, heedless of losses. Some died once, only to rise again, and were cut down time and again until nothing was left of their once human forms. Inquisitor Thor Malkin came to the 269th regiment's aid. Here was some blasphemous witchcraft that must be punished but if the dead fought for the enemy, then their manpower was all but inexhaustible - you could not fight a war of attrition against an enemy that would not stay dead! Soon the 262nd regiment, then the 263rd regiment were also reporting encounters with plague zomebies. The old battlefield had come back to life below their very feet.

After eight days of fighting, the 34th line korps' offensive had become embroiled in a green hell. Progress had now stalled. The initial gains were being held, but the 263rd regiment's long attack had only reached midway towards its objective. The number of enemies facing them was now almost a match for the Krieg forces. The offensive was at deadlock. To break the stalemate the Inquisitors leading the battle authorised th counter use of chemical weapons, adding to the poisonous landscape with chemical shells, and in the process coating sectors 59-45 and 60-45 in a toxic soup that would make them uninhabitable for hundreds of years.

Warp Rift

Nurgle was delighted with the poisoning of Vraks; more of the landscape was becoming the deadly infectious quagmire that his children most loved. At 298827.M41 he released his children to play.

The first warp rift on Vraks opened in sector 59-44, detected by the Honour-Amentum's warp-augurs, at the summoning of Nurgle sorcerers of the Lords of Decay and the Apostles of Contagion. Their long poisoning ritual was complete, and now they brought forth Nurgle's own daemonic servants.

The Daemons they summoned came from the Blighted Pit - the legions of Scabeiathrax the Bloated. Swarms of cyclopean Plague Bearers and mischevious Nurglings. Amongst them came cavorting Beasts of Nurgle, running amock like playful puppies, spreading disease wherever they touched. In the midst of them all came Scabeiathrax himself, Papa G'aap, a great corpulent mass of virulent decay, his body rank with every disease known to Mankind, and many others as yet unknown. Where his feet fell the ground turned black beneath them. Nurglings sprouted from his leprous skin as large pus filled boils exploded, birthing the many mites of Nurgle that followed in his wake, constantly fighting amongst themselves for the scraps of rancid flesh that shed from their master. Scabeiathrax hummed his happy tunes to himself and his children, pausing on occasion to belch a stream of blood, bile and vomit to fill a shell crater so his children might have a pool to bathe in. His daemonic legions seemed endless, thousands upon thousands of Plague Bearers now wandered Vraks seeking fresh victims to infect.

For Captain Stern and his battle brothers the true enemy had arrived. The Honour-Amentum quickly manoeuvred into position as Captain Stern's squads assembled for the final rituals of warding before entering the teleport chambers.

The Battle for Armoury 59-44

Armoury 59-44 was the last of the great underground storage facilities still in enemy hands, except for that beneath the Citadel itself, and for the 30th line korps it was the key to their offensive. The korps' commanders believed it was this armoury that the enemy were using as their main base for the battles now being fought. The offensive drive had stalled, but the attack upon the armoury would be the battle that would decide this offensive's fate.

Already subjected to repeated heavy artillery bombardments, the fire now intensified with the addition of three of the independent companies, which would pound the area night and day. A fresh armoured force, composed of units from the 61st tank regiment and attached heavy tanks units, alongside infantry of the 262nd regiment, all led by Inquisitor Elias Vokes, had been given the task of attacking and overrunning the armoury. They would have additional air support and anything else that Inquisitor Vokes felt was necessary. It was here that the backbone of the enemy would be broken.

The battle began at 311827.M41, with Inquisitor Vokes and his retinue leading the way in his personal Rhino, whilst the Leman Russ and Macharius heavy tanks fanned out. They were climbing up the slopes towards the armoury just three kms ahead. The remains of a strongpoint, once one of Vraks' many defence laser silos, was the first objective to clear. The ruined silo was infested with enemy soldiers, no longer the simple human renegades of the earlier war, but now a host of mutants and degenerate sub-humans, backed by Plague Marines of the Traitor warbands - and now also by Daemons.

As the artillery shells fell, the Krieg armoured vehicles moved into battle, a cluster of brown-clad guardsmen gathered behind each tank for cover as they advanced. The enemy counter-attacked, pouring out from the armoury came a tide of possessed and daemonically-powered war machines that lumbered and pewed filth from their weapon barrels, havoc launchers firing more shells filled with chemical and biological agents. With them came the Plague Bearers, chanting a name from drooling lips. "G'aap! G'aap! G'aap!" they called upon their leader as the stinking host of Nurgle attacked. The fighting was ferocious as the battle cannons roared back and forth. Inquisitor Vokes was in the very centre, fighting alongside his accompanying Storm Troopers, directing fire and issuing orders, his own bodyguard around him.

Then the Great Unclean One came. A four storey high bloated sack of filth, his rusted Blade of Decay dripping poisons. The enemy cheered his coming, Plague Bearers called his name and danced with glee. Scabeiathrax pushed a Leman Russ onto its side, flipping the sixty tonnes tank as if it were a child's toy. He spewed out the wind of Nurgle, and before him guardsmen died, screaming in its lethal noxious stink or fled. Inquisitor Vokes raced to meet the beast, leaping from his still moving Rhino, his bodyguard behind him. Even the Ordo Malleus Inquisitor stood no chance in the face of the Greater Daemon. Beset by swarms of leaping Nurglings that gnawed at his armour, Vokes waded towards his foe. Scabeiathrax smiled warmly to this new enemy and waved him come closer, so that he might inspect the little 'man-being' who sought to challenge him.

A swipe of the Blade of Decay saw most of Voke's bodyguard die, men withering into dust before the Inquisitor's eyes. In return he emptied his bolt gun into the beast's belly, each bolt psychically charged. Where the shells exploded, offal and bile spilled forth from the wounds, which the Nurglings lapped up at the daemon lord's feet. Scabeiathrax gave a hearty laugh and paused to pat his little pets fondly, then as Vokes reloaded, smashed down his iron blade with unnatural swiftness and power. On impact the Inquisitor's armour rusted and crumbled. Inside, his flesh wrinkled with age then began to shed from his bones. Scabeiathrax watched amused as the Inquisitor quickly decayed into nothing before his eyes then, still chuckling to himself, moved on again to find his next plaything.

In a flash the Grey Knights arrived. A patina of blue lightning energy playing about them as the squads teleported into the thick of the fighting. With psycannon bolts flailing the daemons and nemesis force weapons flickering with psychic energy, they cast the foe back into the Immaterium. Squad after squad of the silver-armoured Space Marines appeared, raking the enemy ranks with fire, and then plunging into the foe to cut them down. Brother Captain Stern was at their head, his own force halberd glowing white hot with energy as he exerted his carefully honed mental powers through the weapona nd into the daemons, who vanished shrieking.

The Grey Knights teleporter attack slashed a swathe into the enemy ranks. None were spared the holy wrath of the Grey Knights as the Honour-Amentum began to bombard the area with searing lance battery impacts and barrage bombs. Scabeiathrax saw the massacre of his children and was no longer so amused. His mood suddenly changed from contented happiness as he wandered the battefield, killing on a whim, to one of wrath. He bellowed out in anger and lurched towards the Grey Knights. Who were these little men that were hurting his children and interrupting their play? He charged like an angry guardian whose wards had been unfairly attacked.

But the Grey Knights stood their ground and fired their weapons into the corpulent beast's body. Several brothers died, swept away in a tide of vomited bile. The Blade of Decay cut more down. Then Captain Stern charged, his brow furrowed with the power now being directed into his nemesis force halberd. With a cry he unleashed its power in a blast of light that flickered and burned across the beast's body. The Great Unclean One writhed in pain, and staggered backwards, its sorcerous blade snatched from its grip. All around Scabeiathrax, Nurglings suddenly exploded, popping like ripe fruit in a shower of slime. Scabeiathrax roared in anger and lurched forward, trying to break Stern's psychic grip, but the Captain's will was too great. He redoubled his efforts, pouring every particle of his soul's energy into the attack, which had grown into a swirling vortex of power now lashing everything it touched. Unable to escape and feeling his power draining, Scabeiathrax began to laugh, a loud booming sound that reverberated across the battlefield, but it could not break Stern's iron-concentration. A few more seconds and the Great Unclean One was gone, his laughter still booming but his physical form disintegrated. The holocaust of power unleashed about Stern and his victim died with the daemon. Where once the Great Unclean One had stood, now there was just black scorched earth.

The defeat of Scabeiathrax by the Grey Knights turned the battle. The enemy saw their master vanquished and fled the field. The daemons that remained were soon exorcised by the Grey Knights, with their reinforcements now arriving from orbit in Thunderhawk gunships. Captain Stern was spent, his duel having exhausted even his formidable powers, but his surviving battle brothers continued the advance.

By nightfall the Grey Knights were leading the Krieg units against Armoury 59-44 itself. Without pausing for respite, the Adeptus Astartes squads plunged into the armoury's subterranean chambers and galleries, clearing room-by-room, corridor-by-corridor. What they found down below was a nightmare of twisted creatures and men driven insane by possession. With psycannon and incinerator the Grey Knights cleansed the armoury of their taint in a to day operation. Meanwhile, above ground the Krieg troops, now reinforced, established a perimeter and hunted down the survivors.

Following the battle, the enemy would fight on, but there was now no stopping 30th line korps from completing its mission and linking up with the 34th line korps in sector 57-44. This they achieved at 366827.M41 when the 269th regiment made contact with 308th regiment. The ring had been closed, and the enemy were again trapped inside. Those that escaped the trap's closure would have to be hunted down, and this task was given to the Korps' Death Rider companies. These fast moving troops would continue to sweep the surrounding sectors for miles around, seeking enemy stragglers and destroying them, but for now any organised and effective enemy resistance was at an end.