Playing EPIC in 28mm.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Cadian Hill

With the kind permission of Messers Hollyoak and Drax:

The Nolag Heights is not a continuous ridgeline.  It is a homogenous collection of hills and valleys stretching from the coast just north of the Port of Randstadt back into the hinterland.  In geological terms, it may well be the backbone of the Randstadt Peninsular, however, in terms of military planning it is a critical feature, with potential to control the port itself as well as providing either a defensive chain or route for infiltration stretching almost 100 kloms into mainland Benq.
The Valhallans of 903 Div were the first 17 Korps unit to go into the heights, with the full and fearsome weight of the Korps artillery to call upon.   Following Operation Lockheart (including the Battle of Freeman’s Square the major engagement in taking Randstadt from the rebels) the Cadians of 901 Div were rested for a month before moving north into the Heights to relieve the Valhallans in place. 
In the last six months the Heights have not been uncontested.  Whilst Operation Ewblhien was testing 17 Korps to the south, elements of the Preatorian 5th assaulted Cadian positions[1].  The hard scrabble hills with their low scrub were notoriously hard to dig into, having very little in the way of top soil.  Positions were swapped on a daily basis; the Cadians would sweep the Preatorians off the hillsides with artillery and air support for their attacks, only to lose the positions again in the hours of darkness to massed attacks by multiple waves of closely co-ordinated infantry[2]
Where positions on a feature could be stabilised for long enough for spikewire and minefields to be placed, the positions were easier for the Cadians to retain.  The issue being that these defences took time to place.  Planning was difficult because whether or not the hill in front of you would be contested or not seemed to the Higher Echelons of 901 Div to be without rhyme or reason.   A series of hills would be undefended, leaving the Cadians to treat halts as forming up points or lager areas.  A battalion could wait for six to eight hours before the units either side and the supporting arms were all in place and ready.  If then the Preatorians were defending the objective in greater numbers than anticipated, the assault would stall or be called off before it stalled and the units would then be in the situation where they did not have enough time to back off to their previous position[3] and so were forced to go firm where they were, with in adequate time to prepare their new positions before darkness and no resources[4].

Cadians of 127th Regt

The hills were often not especially big; altitude differences were rarely more than +/- 400m.  But the steepness consigned all of their vehicles to the valleys.  Main battle tanks like the Leman Russ usually struggled to elevate their main armament to enable effective engagement.  However,  the steep hillsides channelled units and protected the flanks, meaning that a well sited dug in ‘Russ with sponsons and supporting infantry heavy weapon teams could hold a re-entrant unless the attackers could gain the heights above and fire down on the tank(s) from above.
The Cadian 127th developed a new technique for using tanks in these close hills; relying on their heavy weapons teams to hold the ground, the tanks would find a place some two to three hundred meters to the rear.  The tanks would then drive uphill as far as it was safe to do so, maintaining stability.  These extra inches of elevation would enable them, firing at the top of the register, to support the infantry in front that they could not see.  This process relied on the professional skills and ability to improvise of the 127th’s mortar fire controllers (who became tank fire controllers) and the tank crews who had to deal with the uncertainties of what they were doing and massive increase in maintenance on the tank’s drive train and risk of losing the tanks, deliberately stranded in order to be useful.  Fortunately, this novel approach paid off more often than it failed.
901 Inf Div (Cadia)[5] had been charged by 17 Korps with keeping the northern flank secure.  General Ardatter’s concept of operations was to secure the Heights and fortify their positions, allowing the on call artillery and air support to do the hard work, once the positions were secure.
In the event, 901 Div’s campaign was subdivided into three; Operation Birdseye, to secure the area immediately overlooking Randstad.  Operation Drooks Bonnet, to secure the area from there east towards the shoulder of the peninsular and then Operation Bishops Crown to secure and harden positions where the Heights thrust into the mainland. As well as providing a defensive line to protect their port of entry to continental Benq, success would sever the main routes for rebels to move in and out of the Peninsula.
Operation Birdseye went well, building on the positions previously occupied by the Valhallans and very close to the supporting elements based around the city.    The Valhallans, contrary to anything the Cadians would have done, had used all of their melta charges to blast defensive positions into the rock.  And then jury rigged other forms of explosive, including artillery and mortar blinds and captured munitions to expand and improve their positions.
The support from the XXIII Labour Corps and guidance of the 4890th Independent Engineer Co, the positions above the port were hardened with bunkers, wire and minefields.  As the Cadians continued eastwards on Operation Drooks Bonnet, the underground barracks, armouries and storehouses continued to expand with kitchens, hospitals and mortar and field gun pits. 
Drooks Bonnet produced the see saw actions with which the Nolag Heights Campaign is associated.  The Cadians would occupy a feature only to be pushed off it at night.  A suitably scaled assault would be mounted to recover the feature only to discover either that the Preatorians had already abandoned it themselves, or had reinforced it beyond the capacity of the Cadian assault to shift; at which point the Cadians would regroup and organise a bigger assault, again to find that either the enemy had gone or again reinforced.  This process was endlessly repeated at all levels; Platoon, Company, Battalion, Brigade and even one occasion, the Preatorians succeeded in causing 901 Div to commit itself to a Divisional attack, with all Battalions and supporting arms; in this instance the rebels had left only a screen behind to give the illusion of resistance to the first phase of the assault.
The effect of these actions was not outright military success or failure for either side.  Both sides squandered resources on these actions, as neither side could afford to leave an enemy occupied hill in or behind their lines, the chances of it being resupplied and becoming an asset to their foes were too great.  Casualties were significant on both sides and the Cadians would have lost heart with the dull repetitive monotony of this type of warfare[6], but for the fact that seemed, ever so slowly to be winning.
Cadian gains during Drooks Bonnet averaged 23 Kloms in a twenty four period (although it must be noted that there were good days and bad days).  Cadian losses during Drooks Bonnet averaged 18 Kloms in a twenty four hour period.  It was a slow relentless crawl eastwards to the demarcation line where the Cadians dug in and rested, battalions taking turns ‘in the line’ whilst their supply chain, including the XXIII Labour Corps, caught up. 

Cadians of 24th Regt.

The timetable for Drooks Bonnet suffered accordingly.  The two month operation took seven months to reach it’s demarcation line.  Companies in the front line would often find themselves cut off from the rest of 901 Div and relied on the Arcomet 887th to resupply them by air whilst using their armour to force the adjacent re-entrants and re-establish contact.   Well sited and dug in Preatorian ATGM teams made this slow progress. 
Drooks Bonnet was followed by a one month hiatus during which reinforcements arrived[7], bunkers were constructed and 901 Division made itself ready to repeat the whole sorry business in Operation Bishop’s Crown.  It was anticipated that the enemy would be doing a similar sort of thing.  However, 17 Korps Int & Sy believed that the losses suffered by the Preatorians would not be replaced from within the PLA (the only possible source available to them) and that the benefits of resting the Cadians and demonstrating control of the area of operations (by construction of another line of bunkers) would damage the enemy’s morale.
Operation Bishops Crown was conducted, as had the other two before, under conditions of air space and artillery superiority.  The Preatorians would go to ground during the day, offering only squad or platoon positions that according to the Vostroyan Doctrine of 72AG, did not warrant the commitment of significant bombardment assets in order to be taken.   Invariably the desultory bombardments that took place were avoided by the Preatorians simply taking shelter deeper in the positions that they already had. 
It was widely appreciated that there were hidden catacombs and bunker complexes throughout the Heights; the Cadians had been finding them, almost always abandoned, stripped even of things like lightbulbs, plumbing and wiring, for the entire time that they been advancing.  The rebels were careful not to use these as fighting positions – they were not designed as fighting positions and were much more useful (lasting much longer) if kept secret from the Cadians.  Knowing that there were tunnels like these, used by the enemy to move comparatively large bodies of men around, added to the overall feeling of insecurity and fear of being surrounded and overrun for the Cadians.
The first tactical bound of Bishop’s Crown was to a ford across a modest (non-navigable) river known locally as the Chunny.  The overlooking hills along this part of the Heights were marked on locally produced maps as the Chun Downs.    The river ran from the South East to the North West through the hills.  At the point at which the ford crossed it, it ran south to north.
The ford was important as it was a historic crossing point; there were the remains of previous roads and bridges in the bed of the ford, reinforcing the crossing point and making it suitable for 901 Div’s vehicles.
3/127th commanded by Col Raffe and 1/24th commanded by Lt Col Anddej were to take the twin summit ridge to the west of the river and 2/24th commanded by Lt Col Mahler would take the triple pointed feature to the east.  
The 2/24th Cadian Lt Infantry had borne the brunt of the fighting in Operation Lockheart – being light infantry they had been airlifted straight into the heart of the city.  And they had been back in the line with all of the other battalions of 24th and 127th Regiments.  Now at a fighting strength of three rifle companies, with most platoons commanded by SNCOs, they viewed themselves as battle hardened and as a tougher, slicker, deadlier fighting force than the one that had landed on Devos IV almost a year previously. 
Gen Ardatter kept ‘one foot on the ground’.  The 2/24th would go into action first with 3/127th in support, ‘just in case’.  901 also had two companies of 9 Bn, Vostroyan 158th Fire Support Regt.  These he deployed, in tried and tested fashion, behind the Cadians, near to his HQ. 1/24th would be his reserve.  There was not really enough room at the forming up point to fit in another battalion anyway.
With the support of their Armageddon Forward Observation Officers, 2/24 advanced on the heels of a rolling barrage; A Coy took the first peak without a fight.  B & C Coys advanced on the next peak and encountered some resistance, but the barrage had done its job and the peak was cleared with grenade and bayonet. 
At this point Gen Ardatter’s HQ issued the instruction that the attached FOOs were to be withdrawn; their services were needed by 905 (Palladia) Div to the south, where attrition had robbed them of this vital resource.  The resource was just as vital to the Cadians, however, Col Commandant Welbhann (Commanding 17 Korps) promised air support in Lieu.  The FOOs were required elsewhere.   So pressing was this commitment that Arcomet air assets were tasked by 17 Korps to transport them.
Lt Col Mahler was not best pleased, however his assault had momentum.   Without hesitation he ordered B&C companies to continue to the last peak, whilst his mortars supported the assault the best they could.  Decisive action stole the day and the last peak was taken with only three casualties, capturing two heavy stubbers and a quantity of ammunition.
At this point (1730hrs) Gen Ardatter halted operations for the night.  3/127th were warned off for a dawn assault on their objective and so settled in as best they could for a night of hard lying[8].  Staff from 901 Div HQ still had to go out and enforce the ‘no lights’ policy on the Vostroyan position.
3/127th, like 2/14th, was by this time effectively down to three rifle companies.  Rising before dawn, they began their advance on their objectives.  Like all of the other low scrubby hills of the Heights, they found it hard going up steep trackless shale in the darkness. 
3 Plt of A Coy was the first subunit to make the eastern summit, the lower of the two objectives.  Lt Ledde and his men were surprised to encounter nearly fifty Preatorians, sat around camouflaged tea turns, drinking tea, as dawn was breaking.  Swift to act, Lt Ledde yelled the order for rapid fire and after a few bursts, the order to charge.  Most of the fifty Preatorians were mown down and others bayoneted.  The rest scattered.  Three Cadians were wounded by return fire.
A Coy surged onto the position and took stock.   As Captain Tobury was ordering his defence, the bugles were already sounding.  Preatorians on the second objective began to fire down on them with mortars and heavy stubbers.  A heavy bolter joined in and A Coy were forced to go to ground.  They could hear the incoming infantry wave scrambling up the defiles on the other side of the hill (where the Vostroyan gunners were hard pressed to land any shells as the terrain was so steep).  One sergeant reminded Lt Ledde that he had lead by example and that he couldn’t direct the platoon’s fire from the bottom of a slit trench.  Lt Ledde rose and moved position to get a view of the incoming attack.  Another sergeant told him to get down again.
The Preatorian infantry wave broke over the position and there was intense fighting with grenade and bayonet.  B Coy surged onto the position to reinforce their brothers in arms.  Fierce fighting that left many wounded and dying from both sides on the hill top.  After what might have been twenty minutes (it was now full daylight, but still before the Vostroyan Officer’s breakfast), the attack was repulsed; however the support weapons on the overlooking peak along the ridge were then able to fire with impunity on the Cadians once more.
With the Vostroyans heavy mortars still out of range and their Steel Legion artillery ineffective, 901 Div requested air support.  The request was quickly granted and a flight of Imperial Navy Thunderbolts despatched.   For an hour the men of C Coy, who could see the Vostroyans eating their breakfast in the valley, sat just under the curtain of fire coming over the top of the hill, aware that A and B Coy were in that fire storm, in shallow positions and unable to effectively retaliate.   Aware that air support had been called, but unable to communicate with them[9], B Coy HQ deployed their air recognition panels; large squares of bright and distinctively coloured material that was changed (both colour and pattern of the three panels) daily.
The four thunderbolts, in pairs, flew down and made a circuit of the ridge, banking hard to get a good view of the ground.  They then flew off some distance and lined themselves up.  They made their first pass as two pairs.  At a height of about 25m, each fighter bomber dropped two plastic barrels; the optimum height for projel[10].  But to the distress of 3/217th, these were dropped on the Cadians, not on the Preatorians.
Conventional munitions tend to explode and be done.  Projel burns at 800oC and flows downhill, seeking out those who may escape by ducking or hunkering down.  It sticks to most things, especially people, where it burns through to the bone, scarring anyone it may touch.  The firestorm uses up all of the available oxygen in the area and often suffocates those it then goes on to burn.  It is a true terror weapon. 
The rest of the Cadians in the area, HQ 3/127th, C Coy and the 2/24th on the adjacent hill watched as the eight projel bombs were dropped on A and B Coy.  For good measure, the two flights of thunderbolts passed over a last time, straffing the position with their autocannon.  As they flew off over the 2/24th the flight leader wagged his wings to indicate ‘job done’.
C Coy quickly gained the summit and began evacuating the wounded.  The hill was not good terrain for anything, the ground was boot meltingly hot.  It would take an hour for a fit soldier to assist in the evacuation and then regain the hill.  Commissar Peet left 3/127th HQ and rounded up some of the cooks and bottle washers; men from the Vostroyan support Battalion and from the 2/24th also ran up the hill to assist.  The 2/24th RAP was quickly relocated to a position on the western side of the River Chunny. 
At the top of the hill Commissar Peet found that all but one of the officers were either killed or incapacitated by their wounds.  With the survivors and the unwounded men of C Coy who were still there, he made to defend the hill against the next wave.  Cadian and Vostroyan mortars began duelling with their Preatorian opponents.   Lt Ledde, now armed with a captured autogun, was burned and blasted, being now deaf in one ear and shot through one hand.  He was clearly no longer able to effectively command the remnants.  Commissar Peet, asking how he was, got the answer ‘Hungry.’  It was now noon, Peet gave Ledde his ration pack (Ledde’s was charred beyond recognition).  Fortified, the two of them organised their thirty two combatant soldiers into defensive positions around the charred remains of those killed in the air strike and the previous wave assault. 
It became obvious that the enemy was trying to infiltrate around them and cut them off.  Platoons of Preatorians attacked the supporting positions in the valley.  For the first time in living memory the Cadians of 3/127th mortar platoon could see the men they were shooting at.  On minimum charge they were lobbing bombs out to 300m and could see the effect on the advancing Preatorians.  Col Raffe was by now, with all available hands on the hill with Commissar Peet, aiming one of the mortars himself, whilst it was being loaded by his Intelligence Officer and the ammunition prepared by one Guardsman Banniop, a member of the mortar platoon who shouted instructions to his CO and the next two mortar teams, composed of members of the XXIII Labour Corps[11].  Col Raffe distinctly remembers seeing one bomb arc up and tip down towards the target, watched by one Preatorian, who instinctively tried to catch the bomb and was blown to smithereens.
The Heavy Bolter armed fire support Platoons of the Vostroyans, although unsited[12] when the Preatorians first appeared, soon got their weapons into action and put paid to the attackers who survived the mortar barrages.  All the while the wounded flooded into the overwhelmed RAP of the Cadians.  The Vostroyans did not open their RAP to the casualties until ordered to do so by Gen Ardatter and Commissar Dansingh[13]
Commissar Peet proved to be an inspirational figure in the defence of the hill.  He was everywhere with a good word, a mouthful of water from a canteen from somewhere, a lasgun power pack when one was needed.  He fought off attacks with his shrinking detachment for the rest of the day.  Other men came back up the hill only to swap the supplies they carried for fresh casualties.  Commissar Peet’s power sword had discharged so many times that the power pack died (they normally last for months).  His bolt pistol emptied and he found a las pistol from somewhere.  Then a carbine and lastly he ended up with Ledde’s autogun when the Lt was evacuated with fresh wounds.
Throughout the day, as the original thirty two defenders were worn down, they were replaced by others, men from the 1/24th, form the mortar and fire support platoons, the occasional Vostroyan from the support battalion, even one brave citizen from the XXIII Labour Corps.  Many more formed a constant stream of men carrying grenades, water and trauma kits up the hill, mostly under fire.  There were many killed and wounded, all to maintain what amounted to an understrength platoon on the hill.  By 1700, only Guardsman Kattan, a member of Lt Ledde’s Platoon, had been on the hill all day.  There were no men unwounded amongst the defenders.
As dusk fell, Col Raffe, unable to support Commissar Peet’s efforts any further, ordered the position abandoned.  Another battalion would have to assault it at first light.  Gen Ardatter had already brought up his reserve, 1/24th who had dismounted and lagered their chimerae safely behind the lines and were marching up to the front.  Commissar Peet is alleged to have exclaimed something about being unwilling to relinquish the position to the enemy or the Imperial Navy.  These were his last words as he was then hit by a burst of Heavy Stubber fire and fell dead. 
As dusk fell, Commissar Dansingh found the Tactical Air Controller in the Vostroyan Officer’s Mess tent, just finishing his soup.  Commissar Dansingh shot him and then saluted the CO, who returned his salute.  Commissar Dansingh then went about the rest of his duties whilst the Vostroyans finished their dinner.
1/24th found that the area was covered in Preatorian dead and wounded.  Some of those who had charged the mortar positions in the valley had done so with empty rifles (las and autogun).  There was no food and very little in the way of fuel and water left in the Preatorian positions.  It seemed as if 901 Div had finally fought the Preatorian 5th Regiment to a standstill, to the point where it was combat ineffective.   The progress of the rest of Operation Bishop’s Crown would bear witness to all of the hard fighting that had gone before.
In honour of the great military effort and heroic sacrifice made by 3/127th, the hill was re-designated ‘Cadian Hill’ on all Imperial mapping.  Once the front line had passed through, the XXIII Labour corps cast a concrete obelisk on the hill, dedicated to Commissar Peet and all of the other men killed or wounded in the battle.  3/127th was officially retired and its remaining platoons re-assigned to the 144th Recce Regt (also down to two companies by now) which also required a new commanding officer.  Col Raffe took over from Major Budget[14] later that week.

[1] When the Devos IV campaign was initially planned, it was anticipated that the Preatorian 5th would actually be a part of 903 Div, not fighting against it.
[2] It swiftly came to a point where the Cadians abandoned the idea of leaving a formation (Platoon or Company) in isolation on a hilltop that it would comfortably defend during daylight.  Knowing that positions had been overrun before, sub units witnessing nearby engagements in the darkness would quickly convince themselves that they were surrounded and abandon positions as untenable, not knowing that they were secure, occasionally moving from a position of safety to ground that favoured the enemy.  There were not enough commissars on the TO&E and 17 Korps was not keen on the commissariat removing experienced officers in situations that were not critical to entire campaigns.
[3] The Vostroyan elements in the higher commands above, both in theatre (17 Korps) and on Acre (72AG) could not comprehend the idea of giving up ground merely because it was indefensible.  The commanders of 903 Div fought tooth and nail to preserve the fighting power of their formations.
[4] Comptroller Bellormus competence and energy had ensured that there was enough wire and mines on hand, however, the assaulting Cadians could not carry the defensive stores and the items they needed for the planned assaults.
[5] At this point, the Cadian General Ardatter has the Cadian 24th (3 Bn of Inf and 1 of Armour) , the Cadian 127th (4 Bn of Inf and 2 of Armour) and the Arcomet 887th (1 AirCav Bn) plus assorted supporting arms.
[6] Foxtrot Co of 3/127 fought over the same hill (Arty Tgt # 987-K) six times in a one month period; each time they were reinforced to take it, they did.  Each time they were left to hold it on their own, they were forced off.  This extreme example was repeated to a lesser extent countless times during the long months of Drooks Bonnet.
[7] Imperial Guard regiments are not normally reinforced at all.  However, with the influx of resources from Agripinna came the remnants of other Shock Troop regiments that had been taken out of active service elsewhere.  Comptroller Bellormous was able to sequester these along with other resources and these partial formations were used to make good the war losses of 24th and 127th Regiments
[8] A matter of course for professional soldiers; no cooking, no smoking, no lights, no unnecessary vocalisations – all orders and instructions to be whispered or signed. Sleeping to be in positions of all round defence, weapons pointing at your designated arc of fire, boots on.  The Vostroyans, somewhat perversely, took a somewhat ‘Preatorian’ attitude to living in the field; they were loath to forego their large tents, preferred cooking on open fires and singing (and sipping grappa until it ran out) their folk songs late into the night.  Their officers invariably dined at a table with a table cloth; four courses with wines.  But their gunnery was slick and responsive, which they would remind 901 Div, is what they were there for.  
[9] The qualified TAC (Tactical Air Controller) was one of the Vostroyan Officers.  When the Thunderbolts arrived, satisfied that the air recognition panels had been deployed, he tucked into his devilled kidney and Cognac breakfast.
[10] The name is a contraction of the two major ingredients of Promenthium Jelly.  A substance originally developed by the Death Guard during the great crusade as a public order/crowd control tool.
[11] Many of the Mortar Crewmen had gone up the hill with Commissar Peet, carrying food and ammunition up and bringing casualties from the rifle companies down.
[12] Ie still packed up in marching order.
[13] Commissar Dansingh was on his first assignment as a commissioned commissar, as such he was attached to 3/127th to learn under Commissar Peet’s watchful eye.  Such arrangements for new commissars were normal within Lord Commissar Harris’ purview.
[14] Major Budget had been Ops Officer when the 144th landed on Devos IV.  By the time 72AG began to arrive, he was the senior remaining Imperial Guard Officer in theatre. 

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