Playing EPIC in 28mm.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Battle of Chobi (Part 1)

Thick Smoke had begun to obscure the battlefield.  Visibility was down to 10s of meters in places.  Burning tanks made a phenomenal amount of choking black smoke.  Aside from the small arms, tank weapons and artillery actually being fired at real or perceived targets, ammunition cooked off in the burning vehicles as well.  Charred crewmen hung off of vehicles, either failing to make it out in time or being shot by infantry who prowled the field of glory shooting tank crews and picking off stricken tanks with their hand held missile launchers, whether one shot wonders or more sophisticated ATGWs.  Occasionally rival groups of infanteers would find and engage each other, a nasty series of separate swirling battles were fought in between brawling tank units.  Additionally, there was a group of four baneblades who manoeuvred through the battle like a quartet of battleships, using each other as bait, cover and killing blow as they worked together to defeat the highly individualistic Paladin and Warden class knights sent against them.

Having been slogging it out with the PDF for three days, the remaining elements of 905 Division were being withdrawn.  Pitifully few vehicles in the distinctive dark colour scheme of the Mordian 7th could be seen amongst the mid-green of the Palladian vehicles.  The men coming back off of the field were collected at impromptu nexus which formed where commissars re-brigaded men to either send them back to the fight or to carry the more severely wounded to established casualty clearing stations.   Now, with the change of lead formation, all of the Iron Guard, Palladian and Mordian, were being rouled back out of the fight. 

Three days earlier, the lead elements of the Mordian 6th Independent Motor Cycle Battalion, 905 Division’s dedicated recce, had begun to encounter the anti-personnel minefields laid by the PDF to protect their defensive positions in front of what the Imperial Guard knew as The Chobi Bunker, having largely passed over the antitank minefields and been allowed to penetrate the outer layer of the PDF’s temporary positions.

Having lost a proportion of men and steeds to the mines the Mordians were fired on by the PDF from their bunkers.  The remainder scattered and the fast moving lightweight recce troops extracted themselves from the killing zones, leaving scattered pockets in situ, unable to move for whatever reason.  Brevet Colonel Sonaff launched the 3rd and 6th Mechanised Infantry Battalions of the 7th into a deliberate attack, supported by the Palladian 880th SPaG Bn, part of the 55th Aux Regt. 

The PDF’s pre ranged artillery struck at likely forming up areas[1].  The unexpected blizzard of artillery fire caused two hours of delay and assured everyone on both sides of what was about to happen.  905 Div HQ, which was a Leviathan that the Mordians had brought to Devos IV, was withdrawn to the back edge of the impact zone.

The Mordians and Palladians fought their way through the first layer of minefields and emplacements only to run out of moving vehicles once they had punched their hole in the first layer of defences.  Infantry passing over open ground were subjected to continual mortar bombardment and sustained small arms fire from dug in PDF soldiers. Attempts to use dead ground or chaparral for cover resulted in casualties from liberally sown anti-personnel mines.  Losses mounted steeply as the first Imperial Guardsmen reached the PDF positions to find them so well dug in that artillery and direct fire support had little effect, bitter hand to hand fighting ensued as trenches, dug outs and machine gun nests were cleared. 

Other parts of the Palladian 4th Legionary Regt passed through and took over the assault, with the 11th Legionary Regt deploying in support.  Despite dogged resistance from the PDF[2], the Palladians, with the dismounted Mordians holding the flanks, made steady headway into the defensive positions.

The PDF also challenged the Imperial Navy for local air superiority over the battlefield[3].  As Lightening’s rose to engage the Imperial Thunderbolts in the ‘cab rank’ and hunted down any Vendettas they could find, T-65 strike fighters made low passes, launching ‘snakehound’ HK missiles and laser cannon strafes at Palladian armoured units.

It now appears likely that one of the field bunkers three kloms in was a trigger for a counter attack, thirty eight LRMBT attacked the Palladians from the North, causing large numbers of casualties amongst the Mordians covering the northern flank.  Such was the shock and speed of the counter attack that the forward elements of the Palladian force were in danger of being cut off.   It was only the steadfast actions of 55th Aux Regt’s two light AT battalions[4] and fearsome defensive fire from the 11th Legionary Regt’s Artillery that prevented the Iron Guard from being overrun. 

To the South, 901 Div were ordered to begin their advance into the battle in order to relive the pressure on 905 Div.  The Cadian 127th moved on with close to two hundred LRMBT and three superheavies.  Almost immediately they ran into the anti-tank minefields and many vehicles were immobilised.  Others also became mine casualties trying to extricate those already struck.  Thirty six LRMBT lay paralysed in front of the defences.  The PDF brought down a heavy artillery barrage on the stricken tanks and the engineers attempting recovery.  In the meantime, like the Iron Guard to the north, the Cadian Shock Troopers made slow headway against the prepared defences.

The Cadians only began to make progress again when very close air support was provided by a constant stream of Avenger Strike aircraft, the Imperial Navy’s closest thing to a T-65, allowed 901 Div to intimately support its engineer units with its superheavies.  This unprecedented amount of combat power eventually allowed a beach and the Cadians took the forward command posts of both 1/92 Volunteer Bn and 1/93 Volunteer Bn of the 1st Civil Defence Bde by nightfall.

The early evening of the first day saw the combined Palladian and Mordian tank forces, with the remaining uncommitted infantry battalions, committed to a deliberate attack to dislodge the PDF tanks now interposed between the main body of the Division and its forward elements.  With no cover available, it is certain that the PDF commanders could see the black and solid green tanks assemble into a characteristic arrowhead formation for an advance, making use of the LRMBTs heavy armour and multiplying its effectiveness with closely overlapping fields of supporting fire. Audible even above the cacophony of artillery fire now sweeping the battlefield was the distinctive thud of the Palladian quad launchers whose launch was accompanied by gouts of flame and huge smoke plumes which described inky black arcs high over the battlefield before plunging onto PDF positions.  Salvo after salvo thudded out as the PDF defences were comprehensively swept ahead of the advancing tanks.

The PDF reply was to launch an equally massive barrage of rockets from its pit-hidden manticores at the infantry formed up behind the tanks.  Still the Iron Guard came on.  It was now that the design of the PDF’s defences would be properly tested.   Penned into specific zones by minefields, topography and dragons teeth, Imperial armour fell prey to dug in overlapping laser cannon positions, ATGW sites, AT armed tarantulas and infantry with RPGs and krak grenades who emerged from their hiding places once the tanks had passed in order to assault them from behind. 

The following infantry were mown down by machine gun nests and heavy bolters as well as small arms fire.  Mortars took their toll as well.  Whole units just melted away in the inferno.  By dwn of day two, 905 Division’s reports to Korps HQ have resulted in a detachment of six knights from one of the houses allied to the Legio Astorum being sent forward in support.  From their elevated position above the battlefield, they would have a better view of the PDF defences and be able to direct allied fire as well as adding their own destructive power to the assault.

The PDF did not appear to have a specific plan for the knights, defended as they were by their shields.  However, laser cannon and missile hits on legs and AT mine damage to their feet meant that four of them were experiencing reduced mobility by dusk.  3 Div’s evening counter attack included two Grenadier Battalions, two Volunteer Battalions, three battalions of auto cannon armed ‘Ridgeback’ armoured cars,  three more LRMBT Battalions and the Division’s four Baneblades.

The Baneblades systematically hunted down the knights, using their longer range and superior firepower to prevent them from linking up and rendering them hors de combat all within three hours.  The counter attack tore through the centre of 905 Division and, to quote one Palladian Officer, ‘shot the crap out of the Leviathan.’  Its shields over whelmed, the Divisional HQ was caught in a deluge of effective AT fire, immobilised and finally assaulted by 1/67 SF Regt, one of the PDF Grenadier battalions. 

At this point, rather than over extend, the PDF counter attack withdrew back to its hide positions.  It had certainly taken casualties, especially when passing close to earthshakers[5] deployed in the direct fire role as they withdrew.  But significantly, the ten formations which conducted the counter attack all withdrew in good order according to their rehearsed plan and would still be there to oppose 72AG the next day. 

[1] PDF 3 Div included three Fd Arty Battalions of Griffons, Wyverns and Manticores.  Additionally deployed were another two Fd Arty Battalions of remnants from other Divisions.  The PDF Corps Artillery and other assets also included five Bombardment Battalions of Basiliks.  There were also six Air Defence Regiments armed with Hyrdae, Manticore and static (wheeled) earthshakers. 
[2] The outer layers of the defensive grid were manned by the PDF 3 Div 1st Bde Combat Team: 1/10 and 2/10 Militia Regt, 8 (res) Fd Arty, 1/11 Cbt Cadre Regt and 1/23 Bde Support Bn were also thrown into the line.  The tanks which attacked from the north were 1/77 (res) Cav Regt.  Whilst it would appear from their unit designations that these are second and third line units, they have been at war for four years and are fighting battles which they have rehearsed for many times in the preceding centauries.
[3] The skies above the battlefield saw the biggest air battle of the war.  Above the levels observable from the ground, the skies churned and darkened as flights of Hell Talons appeared to engage the Imperial Navy, giving literal top cover for the PDF air assets waging their own fight closer to the ground.  Purple rain fell for the first time.  Across all strata, at its peak over eight days of continuous combat, there were nearly five hundred airframes involved in the melee.
[4] The Palladian formations within 905 Div were not symmetrical; 4th Legionary Regt included 55th Aux Regt plus a number of SPaG, Lt AT, AAA and other battalions.  11th Legionary Regt included 72nd Aux Regt as well as massed Artillery Battalions and a Penal Battalion.
[5] Batteries from the 295th and 296th Heavy Artillery Battalions, attached to the Palladian 11th Legionary Regiments. 

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