The Battle for Black Reach was an Imperial military campaign undertaken in 855.M41 by the Ultramarines 2nd Company under the command of Captain Cato Sicarius against the WAAAGH! Zanzag unleashed by a horde of Goff Clan Orks under the control of the Greenskin Warboss Zanzag.
This campaign was fought upon the Hive World of Black Reach located in the system of the same name in the Imperium's Ultima Segmentum. This campaign is considered a textbook example of how the Adeptus Astartes serve as a potent force multiplier whose planetary assault tactics and skill at mobile combat can turn the tide of battle against a much more numerous foe.
Opening of the Campaign
In 855.M41, the Hive World of Black Reach, and to a lesser extent, its neighbouring planets of Jede'ogh and Voldermach in the Black Reach System, were overcome by a surging Ork WAAAGH! primarily composed of the warriors of the Goff Clan under the control of the Greenskin Warlord Zanzag. Black Reach, though ostensibly valueless, was of great tactical import to the Ultramarines Chapter's Realm of Ultramar. The planet is surrounded by a series of asteroid belts so dense that should Black Reach and its vast array of orbital debris ever become infested by xenos, it would take centuries to exterminate them all.
Furthermore, the magnetic elements of the Black Reach asteroid belt made it extremely difficult to contact Black Reach from out-system, let alone augur the whereabouts of individual armies and their war leaders within the system. An alien invasion of the Imperium could be mustered there, right under the nose of Ultramar, and remain undetected until it was time to strike against the Ultramarines' home region.
All three planets in the Black Reach System were overcome by a surging Ork WAAAGH! which burst into realspace through Jorgund's Eye, a wormhole thought to be connected to the Aeldari Webway in the Vidar Sector. How the primitive Ork fleet pulled off such a feat of interstellar bravado is unknown, but the Greenskin forces descended upon the Black Reach System so quickly that such disturbing questions were put aside by the Ultramarines high command on Macragge in favour of readying for the coming battle.
When the fleet's long-range Auspex arrays confirmed their Astropaths' claims that the system of Black Reach was under attack, the warriors of Ultramar were left with no choice. Without any real knowledge of the size or disposition of the enemy forces, the Adeptus Astartes would have to engage the invaders upon Black Reach itself and, bereft of any real support, destroy every last one of them before the system became choked with Greenskin spores. Due to multiple encroaching Tyranid Hive Fleets penetrating the eastern sector of the Ultramarran pocket empire, only the Ultramarines 2nd Company could be spared to stem the Ork menace.
Captain Cato Sicarius, an inspiring leader and exceptional warrior whose star was in the ascendant in his Chapter, was tasked with taking a detachment of Ultramarines planetside, ascertaining the disposition of the Ork forces and reinforcing the embattled Imperial Guard garrison native to Black Reach. The Captain also had a mission of his own, to bring back the head of the Ork war leader behind the invading horde. Sicarius vowed that his men were equal to the task, provided they were afforded full planetstrike support from the Imperial Navy. Sicarius' plan was for the fleet to unleash a punishing orbital bombardment of Melta and Plasma warheads prior to the Ultramarines' main attack, whilst heading planetside within his personal Thunderhawk gunship, the Gladius.
Sicarius would seek out the sections of the battezones where the Ork forces still maintained a disciplined formation even in the terrifying midst of the bombardment, reasoning that this would be the location of the Ork Warboss. He would then land and personally execute the Warboss at the heart of this new invasion. It was a plan so audacious that even Sicarius' sergeants had their doubts as to its feasability, but the Ultramarines were ever courageous, some might even say foolhardy, in the face of extreme danger. Battle-hymns were sung, weapons were primed, and before long the strike was launched.
Eye of the Storm
"Battle brothers, prepare to engage! This day we see glory or we see death!"
- — Captain Sicarius before the assault outside Ghospora Hive
Upon the embattled world of Black Reach, a punishing orbital bombardment from the Strike Cruiser Valin's Revenge hammered into the ranks of the Greenskin invaders. Seeking to confirm the ever-resourceful Warboss Zanzag's death by killing him personally outside the walls of Ghospora Hive, Captain Sicarius lead a Thunderhawk assault upon the position of the Ork leader. Sicarius had under his command a a full Tactical Squad, the legendary Terminators of Squad Helios under the command of Brother Agnathio, a mighty force indeed.
Sicarius prayed it would be force enough. The ochre sands outside Ghospora Hive were soon turned green with the sick, alien blood of the Ork. Explosive warheads detonated in the midst of the horde as the Orks ran for cover, but a tight group of Greenskins still advanced upon the Imperial Guard bastions as if the bombardment were nothing more than light rain. Sicarius' tactical acumen quickly located Warboss Zanzag and his retinue; and the captain issued orders to land the Thunderhawk and attack. As the surrounding areas was consumed by the wrath of the orbital bombardments, Sicarius and Zanzag met blade to blade in the eye of the storm.
Forced to withdraw, Zanzag escaped the battle at the walls of Gospora Hive, and both factions recovered swiftly from their earlier encounter. With Sicarius and the bulk of his strike force elsewhere, the Orks renewed their attack on Ghospora Hive. However, Sicarius had foreseen this possibility and took the appropriate precautions, deploying several Thunderfire Cannons in defensive positions around the beleagured hive city. These formidable weapons mowed down the incoming Orks in droves.
As Sicarius continued his search for the Ork war leader, he received a distress call from the desperate Black Reach Planetary Defence Forces (PDF) defending Sulphora Hive. Torn between his sworn oath to seek out and kill Zanzag and to defend the Imperial citizens of the hive city, Sicarius temporarily abandoned his hunt for Zanzag to help bolster the beleaguered PDF garrison. Unable to trace Zanzag's retreat, Sicarius instead tasked Scout Sergeant Torias Telion and two squads of Scout Marines with finding the Warboss' hidden lair.
Telion did this by waiting patiently for Zanzag's Lootas to appear and, when they surfaced, placing a tracer beacon upon their ramshackle submersible before it returned to base. Armed with the coordinates of the Ork base, the Ultramarines readied their forces and prepared to mount a full-scale raid upon Zanzag's position. The first the Orks knew of the Space Marine attack was when the Thunderhawk Gladius burst through the waterfall at the mouth of Zanzag's lair, guns blazing. The havoc that ensued was utter chaos and it took a good while before Zanzag could restore order.
The Beast at Bay
"Beast! Come out and fight, beast! I have your death here at the point of my sword!"
- — Captain Sicarius bellowing a challenge to Warboss Zanzag
Having inflicted terrible casualties upon Zanzag's forces, Captain Sicarius would settle for nothing less than killing Zanzag once and for all. As they fought their way clear of Zanzag's underground hideout, the Ultramarines found that Zanzag had fled through the tunnels at the rear of the cavern. They plunged into the tunnels in hot pursuit. Though they were initially separated, the Ultramarines commander and his squad caught up with the Terminators of Squad Helios, and Sicarius strode confidently forward into the vanguard of his force.
As they exited the minehead, Sicarius saw Zanzag and his retinue loping towards his strike force's position. Just as the Warboss tasted the sweet air of freedom, the remaining Ultramarines emerged from the minehead and brought him to bay. There could only be one victor, as the maddened Orks prepared to sell their lives dearly. After hours of bloody fighting, Zanzag was finally killed. However, the cost had been high for the 2nd Company: a dozen Space Marines plus one Terminator were lost in the fighting.
Following the defeat of the Ork Warboss, Sicarius led a series of lightning strike that broke the back of the Ork WAAAGH!, effectively eliminating the Greenskins' continued ability to wage war. Inevitably, there was much infighting amongst the Orks' ranks following Zanzag's death as other Nobz sought to assume control of the WAAAGH! but ultimately, order could not be maintained within the Orks' ranks following the death of such a powerful Warboss.
The Orks were left effectively leaderless and highly disorganised. Having achieved their primary objective, Captain Sicarius and his Ultramarines departed Black Reach, leaving the local Imperial Guard and Planetary Defence Force to secure the planet and to hunt down and mop up any remaining pockets of Greenskins.
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pp. 36-37, 40
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition)
- White Dwarf 345 (UK), "The Battle for Black Reach," by Phil Kelly, pp. 52-79
- Assault on Black Reach (Novel) by Nick Kyme