"I walked the broken battlefields until my boots were wet with blood. I am not ashamed to say that I cried salt tears onto the earth as the scale of the devastation crushed my spirit. All around me were the pitiful moans of those who fell in that titanic confrontation. Helsreach was my baptism. I walked from it a changed man."
- —General Brost Jagg of the VII Armageddon Hive Rats
The Battle of Helsreach was an Imperial effort to defend the vital industrial port hive city of Helsreach on the Hive World of Armageddon from a massive Ork assault that was a part of the great Ork WAAAGH! of the Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka during the Third War for Armageddon in 999.M41. Hive Helsreach was one of the largest and most populous hive cities on the continent of Armageddon Secundus and an important strategic and industrial asset to the forces of the Imperium of Man.
Hive Helsreach was the only notable port facility and refinery complex on the shores of the Tempest Ocean. Helsreach specialised in processing raw materials and crude petroleum brought in by ship and pipeline from the drilling platforms located off the coast of the subcontinent of Armageddon Secundus and the frigid Deadlands in the south.
Helsreach also produced promethium fuel for half of the hive cities on Armageddon Secundus -- without it, the planet's capacity to provide fuel for its own defence would be severely hindered.
The Orks unleashed a great assault on Helsreach at the very beginning of the war. Although the Greenskins' attack left the hive city virtually demolished, they did not succeed in dislodging the Imperial defenders before the dawn of the planet's Season of Fire, which forced both sides to abandon combat operations.
Like many other cities on Armageddon Prime and Secundus, Helsreach was not spared from the wrath of the Ork hordes during the Second War for Armageddon. At the time, the xenos were drawn to the hive from the jungle where they had landed by its importance as an industrial port, as well as by the prospect of a good fight. Helsreach was devastated by the battle, but it was eventually rebuilt, and when the Ork Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka launched his second, far larger invasion of the world exactly fifty-seven years later, Helsreach once again came to the Orks' attention, thanks to these same qualities.
Helsreach was a formidable fortress in itself, surrounded by vast walls as tall as a Titan, reinforced with artillery positions and dotted with anti-air battery emplacements that could strike all but the largest of targets from the sky. In addition to these fortifications, it also enjoyed the protection offered by the waters of the Tempest Ocean. One particularly notable feature of the city was Hel's Highway -- a colossal roadway linking the city to Hive Infernus, leading into Helsreach and splintering into lesser ways throughout the entire city. Whoever controlled the Highway could move armour and Titans twice as fast as if they had to stalk through the hive towers and city blocks. For all intents and purposes, Hel's Highway was Helsreach's chief artery, its lifeline. If it was lost, the city would be overrun.
Imperial authorities were aware of the inevitable attack, and used what little time and resources they had to reinforce the city. Helsreach was garrisonned by the 121st Armageddon Steel Legion under the command of colonel Insan. Sadly, however, the colonel died several weeks before the beginning of the war as a result of augmentic heart infusers failure, only six months after he had received them. His second in command requested to his superiors that colonel Sarren of the 101st Steel Legion take command of the city's defence. The 101st was stationed at Hades Hive, the place where Ghazghkull Thraka was stopped during his first attempt to conquer the world, the city being a shadow of its former self, still ruined after the last war. Commissar Yarrick believed that because Ghazghkull was defeated there, and since the hive city could not offer the Orks a good fight, the Ork Warlord would order the hive obliterated from orbit -- an assumption that later proved to be correct. Thus, Yarrick ordered the forces from Hades Hive to be relocated, and as such, General Vladimir Nikita Kurov, the overall commander of the Armageddon Steel Legion forces on the world, agreed to relocate Sarren and his forces to Helsreach. In addition to these and other Imperial Guard regiments, the city's defence force was bolstered with militia regiments formed from the hive's inhabitants, both volunteers and conscripts. The Imperial Navy contributed to the city's defence as well, sending several squadrons under commander Korten Barasath to battle Ork Fighta-bommerz in the skies over Helsreach.
The city was further bolstered by the arrival of the Space Marines of the Black Templars Helsreach Crusade. The Black Templars came in great force to Armageddon, sending three crusades on the surface, and partipating in the naval battle the purpose of which was to thin out Ork forces prior to their landing on the planet proper, totalling nine hundred Astartes. A hundred of those were sent to Helsreach under the command of Reclusiarch Grimaldus. The Space Marines, although expert warriors, proved to be problematic due to their outright contempt for lesser humans, and due to their seeming inability to cooperate with other forces in the city to any reliable degree -- this largely due to their commanding Reclusiarch's humours. Grimaldus had been only recently promoted to the rank of Reclusiarch following his master's death, as the last will of his tutor was that Grimaldus take his mantle as Reclusiarch of the Eternal Crusade. The leaders of the Chapter conveyed on the matter and decided to comply. Grimaldus himself was beset by doubt as he thought of himself as unprepared to assume and perform his master's duties as a leader of the Chapter. As Reclusiarch he sought to emulate his predecessor, and lived in his former mentor's shadow. In addition to this, he was deeply dissatisfied with his crusade to Helsreach, which he perceived to be nothing more than exile. He believed that he would die fruitlessly on this world -- which was to be, in his opinion, the High Marshal's intention when he sent him there. All of this contributed to his disposition and influenced his conduct and the decisions he took during the Battle of Helsreach.
The last of the Imperial forces to arrive in Helsreach was the Legio Invigilata. A third of the Titan Legion under the command of Princeps Majoris Zarha Mancion was stationed a short distance north from the Hive city and was preparing to move out -- although the Princeps had not yet decided whether the battlegroup would defend Helsreach, or if it would be joining its kin in the Hemlock region. When Grimaldus learned of this, he contacted Valian Carsomir, Moderati Primus of the Imperator-class Titan Stormherald and Zarha Mancion's representative to Helsreach, and demanded to speak with the Princeps Majoris. The xenos would inevitably bring their own Gargants into the fray, and without Mechanicus Titans Helsreach would be doomed. As such, when he was refused, he decided to venture to the Legio Invigilata staging ground accompanied by several of his knights, and enforce an audience. When he arrived there, no-one sought to stop them until they reached the feet of the Stormherald, where a dozen Skitarii denied them entry. Grimaldus and the Astartes were furious at such treatment of the Emperor's finest, and were prepared to destroy the Tech Guard, but in the last moment, the Princeps Majoris remotely ordered the Skitarii to stand down and grant the Reclusiarch entry. When Grimaldus arrived in Mancion's command chamber, she bade him plainly state his request. The Reclusiarch asked if she would fight for Helsreach and, for reasons known only to her, she agreed. Three days later the hive shook with the steps of God Machines as the battlegroup entered through the northern gates. The city was finally sealed and braced itself for the coming onslaught.
And as night fell, the sky caught fire.
As the preparations for the hive city's defence were carried out, the Ork fleet, the largest assembly of Greenskin warships to have ever beset the Imperium of Man translated out of the Warp near Armageddon and engaged the combined forces of the Battlefleet Armageddon and the fleets of the Astartes Chapters engaged in the world's defence. The High Command's worst estimates expected that fleet would be able to deny the enemy landing for four days, with the best presuming nine. But as the space battle developed and the sheer size of xeno forces was realised, this estimate was quickly abandoned. Despite the Imperial fleet's best efforts, thirty seven Ork vessels breached the blockade, six of which have made it through orbital defence arrays and struck the surface. During the third night of the naval battle in orbit, one of these vessels crashed near Helsreach.
The ship registered itself on Imperial auspex readers as The Purest Intent, a Strike Cruiser of the Shadow Wolves Chapter, created on the minor forge world of Shevilar. It had been captured by the Ork raiders thirty-two years before the beginning of the Third War for Armageddon and appropriated by the xenos as their own vessel. Imperial Navy Lightnings under Korten Barasath intercepted the ship but it was apparent that their light armament was of no use against it. The Strike Cruiser burned through the skies over Helsreach and tore into the ground outside the city walls.
Colonel Sarren proposed that the Orks that may have survived that landing be left alone, as in the end it mattered little if they were to add their strenght to the, infinitely larger, incoming onslaught. However, the city's attached Commissar, Falkov, recommended that a Titan was sent to obliterate the wreck to give the men a feeling of overwhelming victory even before battle was joined, in order to boost morale which he described as being "mediocre at best". The Shadow Wolves were known to Grimaldus, as he had fought alongside them eleven years prior against the Tyranid menace on their homeworld of Varadon. There, the Chapter was destroyed, as the last battle-brothers stood against the xenos onslaught. The Black Templars there were not able to break through the aliens to aid them, and Grimaldus could only watch as the last Shadow Wolf died, kneeling and holding his Chapter's banner high even as the xenos tore through him. Grimaldus had been greatly inspired by such a death that he could describe only as "beautiful", and it is perhaps for this reason that he offered of himself and his knights --all hundred of them -- to cleanse the ship as a display of Imperial power.
The Black Templars of the Helsreach Crusade were asked to stand at attention at the city's gates to allow for a live pict feed to be broadcast across the city. After this has been done, the Astartes sallied out of the city's walls -- the majority of them aboard their Rhinos and Land Raiders in order to hunt down any escaping xenos. Only fifteen Space Marines ventured into the wreck, led by the Reclusiarch. The Astartes did not consider the Orks to be of any significant threat and divided their forces to scour the ship in search and destroy pattern. One of the Black Templars, an individual considered vainglorious by his peers, strode ahead on his own and recklessly charged into a group of Greenskins -- unfortunately for him, however, one of the xenos possessed a weapon that could interact with an Astartes' Power Armour neural interface and overcharge it, causing the armour to power down and inflicting overwhelming suffering unto its user. The Knight might have very well met his end at that moment, but the Orks' inherent savagery and primitiveness. Once they brought the Space Marine down, they seemingly had no further idea as to what to do with the knight, and were instead searching his belongings for items fitting for a trophy, giving the Reclusiarch enough time to come to the warrior's aid -- rather fortunately, as the death of one of the vaunted Black Knights in this display of overwhelming Imperial power would have done little to invigorate the hive's defenders. Notwithstanding this occurence, the purging of the wreck was carried out with little trouble.
As the Astartes emerged from the strike cruiser, colonel Sarren voxed Grimaldus with newest tidings from the naval forces in orbit -- the Battlefleet Armageddon and the Astartes fleet were in full retreat, and the bulk of the Ork Roks were already breaking through the orbital defence arrays. These news forced the astartes to hurry back into the city and take positions amongst other forces present in the hive.
Imperial Forces were distributed across the hive, and the Astartes took up positions amongst the soldiers of the Steel Legions and militia regiments. Colonel Sarren's own 101st did not take up posts on the walls, and instead garrisoned the central command spire and spread out in platoons to guard key areas. During the first phase of the siege the defenders would stand on the city walls and be ready to repel a disorganised attack. The Reclusiarch and fifteen of his Knights found themselves on the northern walls, amidst the men of 273rd Armageddon Steel Legion, The Desert Vultures.
As the Ork planetfall began, hulks and troop landers streaked with fire from atmospheric entry came through the morning coulds and struck into the ground near Helsreach. Those that took a course too close to the city itself and in range of its guns were quickly obliterated by the Hive's fury, raining down in flames into the city below. Commander Barasath's fighters took to the skies, and although their armament could do little to harm the hulks, they were more than able to engage smaller alien craft that descended from their motherships. Several bold drop-ships sought to land inside the city itself. These were engaged and obliterated by the spiretop weapon platforms and gun emplacements. A few lucky Ork vessels that had realised their mistake managed to climb to a sufficient altitude to crash in the plains outside the city. Units of the Imperial Guard positioned throughout the city and selected for this very duty moved in on the downed hulks, slaughtering any xeno survivors that they found. Across the city, fire containment teams laboured to extinguish fires that spread from the crashed vessels. Some of the last pict scans sent from satellites prior their destruction showed that during the planetfall, a portion of the Ork forces landed in the Deadlands, the frozen south pole of Armageddon. This puzzled Imperial tacticians, as there was virtually nothing of value there and it was impossible to reach Helsreach with bombers. It was ultimately decided that the Orks must be wishing to create settlements there, and little further thought was given to their presence there.
The grounded hulks disgorged hordes of Greenskin warriors who mustered in the wastelands outside of the city. Tens of thousands xenos were arraying before the hive, while many more were still arriving in landing craft. Such was the number of Ork vessels that they darkened the sky. Grimaldus had correctly anticipated that after long voyage the Orks would be blood-crazed and would not even wait for their Gargants to make fall, and would instead attempt to scale the walls in other ways -- using Jetpacks and ladders to ascend the fortifications, utilising artillery to blow holes in the walls, or even climbing up by themselves.
As the Orks began their mad charge, the Reclusiarch requested Barasath's planes to perform bombing runs on enemy heavy guns and turned to the soldiers around him. Even though they were veterans, a mere human could not have stood unmoved in the face of such a tide of fury advancing upon them. Grimaldus delivered a firebrand speech to rouse the soldiers, calling them to stand against the contemptible xeno scum, and to cast away the wretches away from their city -- to great effect, as the Guardsmen were invigorated and ready to face the coming onslaught.
As the greenskins came into range, the city's powerful guns unleashed their fury, each of their strikes accurate, as with the sheer numbers of xenos in the filed missing would be nigh on impossible. Thousands died in the barrage, and thousands more came on, ignoring the dead and trampling the wounded. The batteries reloaded and fired again and again, inflicting terrible devastation on the advancing army. Any other army would have been shattered by such casualties and fled the field, and it is perhaps a fitting example of the Orks' resolve -- and bloodlust -- that they continued their attack entirely unabated, and soon reached the city walls.
The battle was joined as the Greenskins futilely attempted to scale the battlements, only to be cast down by deadly volleys of lasfire delivered in perfect unison by the Guardsmen above. All of this continued ceaselessly as the minutes became hours, and news came that the other sections of the city walls were now subjected to similar assaults. All throughout the battle, more and more bulk landers made planetfall in the wastelands, unloading masses of troops and legions of tanks. A portion of these fresh forces joined the attack already in progress, while many more remained away from the city, preparing camps, clearing landing zones and organising for a much more coordinated assault in the future.
The xenos continued their attack until night threatened to fall, at which point they finally fled. Perhaps the great mounds of their corpses made them consider the futility of this attack, or perhaps some sudden realisation came over them that there will be greater battles to be joined later. Horns blared across the wastelands, signalling a retreat that, apart from this sole signal, was completely chaotic and akin more to a rout. They were pounded by artillery even as they fell back, but soon even the stragglers escaped the mighty ordnances' range, running back to their landing sites. Ork ships now covered the entire wastelands, some of them being as tall as the Hive towers. The largest of these vessels disgorged the Gargants, the Ork scrap-Titans created in the visage of the xeno gods Gork and Mork. These would be the weapons that would bring down the walls, and these were the targets that the Legio Invigilata had to engage.
The city was safe for the time being, however, and Grimaldus turned to pursue a different agenda. During his briefings when he arrived in Helsreach, the Reclusiarch learned of a large number of garrisoned ammunition depots and stations out in the wilderness -- these were envisioned to be used when the hive cities fell and needed to be reclaimed. During his time amongst the Desert Vultures, however, he learned of a legend concerning the world's past. The Guardsmen told him of an ancient, powerful weapon buried beneath the sands. These news gave Grimaldus hope, for the first time since he arrived on Armageddon, and decided to consult Master of the Forge Jurisian of the Helsreach Crusade on the matter.
Grimaldus had learned that one of the stations manned by the Armageddon Steel Legion in the wastelands surrounding Helsreach was a sealed Adeptus Mechanicus facility. The Guardsmen were only positioned around the facility and had no access to its interior, as it was considered to be sovereign Mechanicus territory. Grimaldus was told that a deactivated relic from the First War for Armageddon was stored therein, but the exact nature of the device was kept secret by the Tech-priests of Mars, and not even Armageddon's High Command had any knowledge of it. Grimaldus, as all of the Black Templars sent to Armageddon, had been schooled in the history of the world and its past battles, and possessed knowledge similar to the Armageddon Steel Legion officers. Unlike his human allies, however, Grimaldus believed that the device impounded by the Adeptus Mechanicus was a powerful weapon, first constructed and deployed on Armageddon six centuries prior -- the Ordinatus Armageddon.
Grimaldus had not cared for what caused the Adeptus Mechanicus to hibernate the weapon and, more importantly, to not deploy it to the world's defence. His only concern was winning the war and he believed that with this artefact Helsreach might stand a chance against the Greenskin onslaught. To this end, Grimaldus, alongside Master of the Forge Jurisian and Adjutant Quintus Cyria Tyro -- Armageddon High Command liaison to Helsreach who was brought along to deal with the Imperial Guard personnel around the instalation -- boarded one of the Black Templar Thunderhawks and made way to the station, leaving the Knights of Dorn in Helsreach under the command of the Emperor's Champion, Bayard. The three of them descended into the vast subterranean complex which streched several kilometres downwards and seemed to be completely vacant, with not a single guardian left to protect the facility. The Templars and the human accompanying them went forward, stopping only at massive doorways blocking their path, and allowing Jurisian to work on opening them. Each of these gateways was four metres thick and it would be implausible to try to open them with force especially so since, as Jurisian noticed, such an action would be likely to activate the dungeon's manifold defensive mechanisms -- this being the reason why no biological or augmentic guards were required. The Master of the Forge succeeded in cracking the code safeguarding each consecutive barrier and forcing them to open, taking more and more time on each occassion as the code's sophistication grew progressively more complex the closer to the facility's heart they were placed. The penultimate barrier was opened a full nine hours after they had entered the facility, but then their efforts were rewarded. On the final doorway, inscribed in letters as high as a Templar was a single word -- Oberon -- the name of the hallowed Ordinatus Armageddon.
This discovery, however, was of little immediate use, as the inner vault in which Oberon had lain slumbering was designed and built to withstand a direct orbital bombardment and to even endure the world being condemned to an Exterminatus, while the door was sealed with at least a billion individual codes. Jurisiad had declared that it would take him no less than nine days to overcome this safeguard, and requested for his Servitors to be sent to him to assist in the task. Unable to help the Techmarine in any other way, Grimaldus and Tyro returned to the surface, and on their way back to the city they had received the news of Ghazghkull's most recent move -- true to Yarrick's predictions, the Beast ordered Hades Hive to be obliterated from orbit.
Zarha Mancion, the Crone of Invigilata, soon learned about the Reclusiarch's exploits and demanded his presence on the Stormherald. The Ordinatus Armageddon is a relic sacred to the Cult Mechanicus, and could only be awakened by the Lord of the Centurio Ordinatus -- for its tomb to be infiltrated by outsiders, let alone for Oberon to be attempted to be reactivated without proper ministrations was grave blasphemy to all followers of the Machine God. Mancion had received orders from her superiors to either make the Reclusiarch abandon this course of action or to see him terminated. Despite her wrath, she attempted to convince Grimaldus to cease this, as it would tear Mechanicus forces on the world apart, but to no avail. When the final threat had to be spoken, the Chaplain instead retorted with his own -- he called four of his Thunderhawk gunships which he had ordered to prepare for this action beforehand to fly towards the Titan and acquire target locks on the bridge, allowing them to obliterate it long before Void Shields could be raised if such an order was given. In the end bloodshed was averted, both sides reaching a tense compromise, for the good of Helsreach -- the Lord of the Centurio Ordinatus was en route to Armageddon, and were he to arrive in time the entire matter would be far less grave. In case he were not to, however, Jurisian would continue his labours unabated, even though he would likely be unable to activate the Ordinatus. Although fragile, such an agreement allowed both sides to participate in the battle as allies, especially so since Jurisian's intial estimates appeared to be too optimistic, for the code changed and evolved like a living being, and the Master of the Forge deemed it might take him months or even years.
Soon afterwards, the Orks, with their newest reinforcements arrayed and their massive Gargants readied, were prepared to bring down the city's walls. Guardsmen vacated the battlements before the inevitable shelling and took up positions in the streets and buildings. Soon, the walls fell under the fury of the Gargants, and the first xeno Titans walked into the city only to be blasted by Imperial God Machines. The first charge of the Greenskins was broken by the Templars under their Reclusiarch's command, but eventually the Astartes had to return behind Guard lines and let the true attrition war to begin. Every road was barricaded and manned by Steel Legion troopers. Snipers would provide deadly support from rooftops. Battle tanks of every type drove through the streets, gunning down the xenos as they poured into the hive. During the preparations for the battle the populace was removed from the outlying sectors to allow the soldiers the room to manouvre and withdraw. In the beginning of the siege proper, the Guardsmen were to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible, before withdrawing to the next position, letting the xenos purchase these worthless outskirts with their blood.
During this time Commander Barasath carried out his proposed plan to strike against the Orks' aerial capabilities. Earlier, he attempted to convince colonel Sarren to allow him to execute what was in essence a suicidal attack -- he planned to engage in dogfights above the bulk of Ork forces and allow bombers to break through and perform bombing runs on enemy airstrips. Not only would this deprive the Greenskins of any meaningful air power in the beginning stages of the battle, but also any aircraft to be shot down -- likely all committed to the action -- would fall down upon enemy forces and contribute to increasing their casualties rather than allied if they were to fight over the city. Sarren was initially reluctant to agree, however, upon hearing Barasath's (false) assurance that Grimaldus had endorsed this manouvre, he allowed for this action to take place. Soon after, Barasath's wings were flying over the plains before Helsreach and although his forces succeeded in their endeavour, they were predictably overcome.
At this point, one thing should be noted of Princeps Majoris Zarha Mancion -- the Stormherald 's Machine Spirit was resentful at being bound to its Princeps, and for the long years of their enforced cooperation it had patiently weakened Mancion's mental resolve, seeking to finally drown her in its mindscape -- an effort only made easier as she aged. The Titan's efforts caused Mancion to lack complete control of her thoughts, the flood of the Titan's mental gestalt making her undertake brazen actions. The first such occurrence took place when one of the Legio Invigilata 's God Machines fell. The Reaver-class Titan Draconian fell to a crude Ork trap which brought the great war engine down and allowed the Greenskins to butcher its crew. The Titan's death cry rang through the Manifold and, through the medium that was the Stormherald 's Machine Spirit, cast Mancion into a vengeful sorrow. While still partly under the control of the Titan's Machine Spirit, Mancion's war engine strode ahead of her screening force and Skitarii escort in an attempt to avenge the Draconian and its crew -- only to fall to a similar Ork trap moments later. The damage inflicted by the Greenskins and the shame of defeat caused her to loosen her grip on the recalcitrant Titan's Machine Spirit -- and be very nearly overwhelmed by it. The Titan and its Princeps would have been lost had it not been for the intervention of a Black Templars strike force under the command of Reclusiarch Grimaldus. The Astartes cleansed the God Machine of xenos taint and their Chaplain helped Zarha Mancion emerge from the psychic maelstrom that is a Titan's mental landscape. The Princeps, however, was by no means unscathed by the experience.
The city's defence carried on, and throughout the following days Imperial forces retreated steadily according to plan, withering down the advancing tide of Greenskins, setting up ambushes, performing pincer manouvres against salients, encircling those Ork elements that proved too brazen and destroying them -- but retreated nonetheless. The city stood against impossible odds, and having it endure siege warfare for as long as it did was no small feat in itself. Colonel Sarren had all the right to colour his bitterness with a sense of pride when, on the eighteenth day of the battle, he voxed the last command to be issued from the central command spire before it was abandoned: All units in Omega Sector, Subsector Nine, the location where the line was breached for the first time, were to abandon fallback orders and retreat to contingency positions.
The enemy had reached Hel's Highway.
Such a development was grave news for the Imperial forces. The Orks possessed a great advantage in numbers, and with the access to Hel's Highway, they were able to bring this might to bear much more quickly and efficiently than they ever would be. To this, sadly, the defenders had no answer, and were only capable of delaying advancing forces, holding a junction or a chokepoint for several days before it was finally lost and the forces had to retreat, the falling back all the quicker than ever before. As the original plans predicted, once the Highway was lost, it was only a matter of time before the Hive fell. In just over two weeks after the Highway was reached for the first time by the Greenskins, the city and its defenders were devastated. The Orks had ravaged full half of the Hive, the Guard and militia regiments were reduced to a fraction of their original sizes, and of the hundred Black Templars that comprised the Helsreach Crusade twenty-five lay dead -- and of this number, gene-seed from only thirteen was able to be recovered. Even the mighty God Machines of the Legio Invigilata suffered losses of their own.
On the thirty-sixth day of the battle the situation the city found itself in proved to be far worse than expected. All of a sudden, contact with the Valdez Oil Platforms became erratic, as if there was a storm raging over the Tempest Ocean -- but there was none. Initially, Imperial authorities in Helsreach believed that transmissions were being jammed, but they did not know by what -- according o their expectations, the Orks should be unable to reach the Valdez Oil Platforms even with their air forces. Communications were only made worse by the fact that the stations were understaffed. Platforms Jahannam and Sheol collapsed into the dark waters, their crews never realising what truly caused their demise. The third, largest and fully staffed platform, Lucifius, was able to identify the threat and relay the information to Helsreach, but could do little to save itself. The new force bearing down on the Hive was a fleet of at least three hundred Submersibles, carrying tens of thousands of new Ork warriors, due to arrive in two hours time.
This was the exact reason why the Greenskins touched down in the Deadlands in the first place. They spent over a month tearing down their landing craft and constructing a mighty fleet to deal an entirely unexpected blow against the coastal Hives. Helsreach was not their only target, for a detachment of nearly the same size as the one despatched there was sent to Hive Tempestus. Tempestus was a city half the size of Helsreach, with half of its defensive capabilities, and these news spelt its inevitable doom.
Helsreach itself was not in a much better position. Areas under Imperial control were centred around the very middle of the city and the docks, the latter being a vital part of infrastructure still in Imperial hands, and an important command centre after the abandonment of the HQ spire. More than that, Helsreach docks housed the majority of the coty's civilian shelters, located within the quarter or underneath it. These shelters housed a total 60% of the hive's population during wartime, and losing them to the xeno savages would result in a staggering loss of life and manpower. A successful seaborne strike against the docks would break the back of Imperial resistance and cause the city to fall within hours.
Imperial commanders were desperate to not let that happen, and quickly considered their options -- the docks were crowded with menials and cramped with supplies, as such it would be impossible to transfer troops in time. The workers would also obstruct the Guardsmen in their actions in any way, and there was no possibility to evacuate the menials, let alone the population housed in the shelters. It was proposed to use the main highway route to send the troops into the central docks, and evacuate the workers through secondary veins, but even this would be folly, as moving any forces from the battered front immediately would see the city fall either way. At that point, Helsreach dockmaster, Tomaz Maghernus, requested that he and his workers -- nearly forty thousand men in total -- be armed using the city's excessive small arms stockpile, and that they be used to buy the time necessary to reorganise defensive lines across the city. The Guard officers were reluctant to allow it, as the menials would be likely butchered within minutes, and if the city were to ever survive the war it would need qualified workforce to continue to exist. Seeing no other way, however, colonel Sarren agreed for this plan to commence.
The newly-formed dockmen militia would be organised into fifty man platoons, each commanded by a Steel Legion veteran Storm Trooper who were airdropped into the docks, thereby ensuring that the untrained civilians perform to the best of their ability. To provide some degree of support for the militia, insurgency Sentinels and Hellhounds were moved to the docks. In addition, a force of Black Templars under their Reclusiarch's command was transferred via Thunderhawks to the docks in order to reinforce the front in critical points, and to inspire the militiamen in the face of the coming onslaught.
Soon enough, the first Ork Submersibles crashed into the docks and the Greenskins they disgorged advanced, only to be met by las-fire from the hastily-occupied Imperial defensive positions. After this initial surprise, however, the Orks assaulted with full force, and Imperial defenders, even with the Astartes' support, had no choice but to engage in the same fighting retreat as the one occurring throughout the city. Although Imperial defenders were on the brink, the point of the entire action stood - on the thirty seventh day of the siege, the sun rose over a still unconquered city.
In the meantime, Master of the Forge Jurisian succeeded in breaking the code defences of Oberon 's inner sanctum and gained entry into the tomb. Therein, he was met by a being akin in appearance to a Mechanicus Tech-guardian, albeit an ancient one, who denied Jurisian access to the relic stored within. The Techmarine was not about to ignore his previous orders, and opted to destroy the guardian, trusting in his martial skills as an Astartes - in an almost fatal misjudgement. The guardian was a perfectly crafted and augmented Mechanicus sentinel, being a match for any intruder, human or otherwise. However, due to being enclosed within the vault for centuries, and starved for the supplies needed to fully maintain its biological and augmentic components, the sentinel was a mere shadow of what it used to be. Jurisian was able to overcome the guardian, even though a different outcome was not too unlikely. Had the Master of the Forge faced a fully operational sentinel, future events may have had an entirely different outcome. Regardless of this, however, Jurisian broke all defences and stood before the relic he sought -- the holy lance of the Machine God. An Ordinatus, however, is a very sophisticated machine, requiring the staffing of dozens of Skitarii and Tech-priests specially raised for this task since birth. Jurisian, as he was alone, was only able to restore basic and slow locomotion of gravitational suspesor generators, and was only able to make the great cannon fire once every twenty minutes. All other systems, including the machine's Void Shield generators, were inactive. Nevertheless, Jurisian proceeded to move the Ordinatus towards Helsreach.
Arrival of the Fireborn
While the war raged on the surface of Armageddon, the war in orbit never truly and completely ceased. Although the space battle was lost in the first days of the invasion and the combined Imperial Navy and Astartes fleet elements were forced to retreat, they did not abandon the world. Every few days, the fleet under either Admiral Parol's or High Marshal Helbrecht's command would translate out of the Warp in close vincinity to the besieged planet, strike at the weakest point of the xeno Armada and bleed the Greenskins however possible before escaping once again. Imperial naval assets could not face the Ork fleet in outright battle or send reinforcements to the world with any certainty that they would reach the ground, and instead had to resort to such attritional warfare.
However, Chapter Master Tu'Shan of the Salamanders Chapter, whilst battling along the river Hemlock on the planet, heard of Helsreach's plight and of the Black Templars' valour in defending the populace of the city. He demanded that the risk be taken and that reinforcements be sent down into the hive, and his Astartes carried out his will. During one of the aforementioned naval attacks, a single Strike Cruiser of the Chapter requested from Helsreach command the cessation of anti-air fire in the docks district and ran the gauntlet of enemy fire to release Drop Pods and Thunderhawk gunships from a safe distance.
The Salamander's under the command of Sergeant V'reth arrived in Helsreach, seventy in number, to aid the defenders. However, the majority of their Chapter fought in the Hemlock region alongside the Legio 's Ignatum and Invigilata. The Salamander's fight was there, and they would not stay in the city indefinitely. They were called down to help secure the docks quarter and help protect the civilian populace. Although their stay was temporary, their aid proved to be vital. Over the following days Imperial forces battled against the seaborne invaders, and with the help of nearly an entire Company of Astartes, they succeeded in breaking the assault and in dispersing the xenos. Without the Salamander's valour, many more lives would have been lost and perhaps even the city would have fallen, however, although the docks were not lost, for all intents and purposes they were gone. In addition to losing fourty thousand soldiers in four days, almost all of the city's industry was ground into the bedrock. And once the fighting for the docks finished, the Salamanders left the city and ventured forth to Hemlock, as per their Master's request.
Although the hive survived the seaborne assault and the battle up to this point, the high command simply did not possess enough forces to hold large swathes of territory and maintain a broad front. In accordance with Commissar Yarrick's orders, units in Helsreach were to follow the same pattern used in other hives. Whatever forces remained were to converge on population centres and strategically important locations such as the Azal Spaceport or the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant, defending them until the end finally came to tie up as much of the Orks' strength as possible. The city was declared dead, and the only thing left to protect was its population.
Fall of Titans
During the final days of the battle, the bulk of the Legio Invigilata battlegroup present in Helsreach was fighting alongside Steel Legion elements in the burning Rostorik Ironworks district. The titans were embattled in the area for four days, having lost seven war engines over the past week. The Titan crews and the God Machines themselves were exhausted from fighting and required rearming and retrofitting. This took its toll on the war engines' performance, particularly the Stormherald 's, which was already acting unreliably under the shaky guidance of its Princeps. The Titans sought to retreat to their bulk landers for maintenance, but Princeps Majoris Mancion agreed to only do so after identifying an unusually large heat signature appearing in the inferno consuming the city. She sent forward two of her Warhound-class Titans to investigate it. When the Princeps of these machines closed in on the target, the first of them was obliterated without even realising what caused its demise. The same fate befell its colleague soon after, but the latter caught a glimpse of the monstrosity -- an enormous Mega Gargant known as the Godbreaker, a giant machine easily dwarfing the Stormherald.
The Godbreaker had been initially constructed on the surface of Armageddon, to the north of Helsreach nearby the smaller industrial hive of Stygia. Stygia possessed only its own Steel Legion and militia forces, with no Mechanicus or Astartes support. Despite this, Stygia held out for over a month against the Ork force besieging it -- until the Godbreaker 's construction finished, and the metal beast was unleashed upon the defenders. From its birth, it took only five and a half hours to flatten the city and to decimate all Imperial forces within. From there, the Godbreaker strode towards the nearest centre of Imperial control -- Hive Helsreach.
The Stormherald soon faced the mechanical monstrosity, as the Gargant's crew wished nothing else but to challenge the greatest opponent in their path. It destroyed the smaller God Machines comprising the Stormherald 's screen with ease, and was advancing upon the weakened Imperator-class Titan to end its existence with melee weapons. Mancion, because of the damage inflicted upon the Titan and the resulting psychosomatic pain and wounds, was nearly completely useless, and the war engine was operated by her Moderati, Lonn and Valian Carsomir. Their only chance was to finish the Gargant with a single, last shot of the Plasma Annihilator. Carsomir decided to fire the Plasma Annihilator as soon as it recharged against Moderatus Lonn's advice, without waiting for the Titan's Tech-adepts to bring the weapon's stabilisers back on line. Because of this, the barrel trailed off-target under the force of its shot, and the searing projectile it spewed out missed the giant xenos walker -- thus sealing the Stormherald 's fate.
Princeps Mancion's resolve was the only factor that pledged the Legio Invigilata battlegroup to Helsreach's defence, and when she was destroyed along with her Titan, the new acting commander -- Princeps Amasat -- had ordered the God Machines to withdraw from the city and rejoin the bulk of the Legion along the river Hemlock.
Temple of the Emperor Ascendant
The remnants of the Black Templars Helsreach Crusade -- thirty-five Astartes in total -- chose the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant in the Ecclesiarchy district as their final stand. The temple was the first place of worship erected by the original colonists in Helsreach, and housed a number of sacred relics, including the colonists' charter. The Space Marines met with the Sisters of Battle of the Order of the Argent Shroud whose priory was located in the temple, and with Steel Legion units that retreated to the location. In addition, using the temple's short-range Vox systems, Grimaldus ordered any Helsreach forces receiving the message to fall back to the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant.
Ork forces massed and assaulted the temple not long after, carefully approaching the walls that surrounded the cathedral and the massive graveyards surrounding it, only to discover that the bulk of Imperial defenders took up positions throughout the cemetery. As they had for over a month, Guardsmen began mowing down the advancing horde with las-fire, the Astartes fighting amongst them engaged in vicious melee. The human defenders had little chances against the numerically superior Greenskins, and as minutes passed they fell back closer to the temple. The Sororitas did not participate in the battle taking place in the graveyards, their task was to guard the cathedral and delay the xenos when they finally reached the doorway. During the fight, however, the Black Templars Emperor's Champion fell, leaving his sacred wargear in the hands of the Orks. such sacrilege could not be stomached by the Space Marines, and they fought ever more fiercely to recover it -- with Grimaldus appointing another of the knights as the new Champion.
During this time, the Godbreaker, which after felling the Stormherald had roamed the city and lent its might in obliterating any remnants of Imperial forces, took course for the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant. Such firepower would obliterate Imperial defenders in minutes as they had no answer to a construct of this size. The only weapon capable of countering the Mega Gargant was the Ordinatus Armageddon, piloted by Jurisian. The Techmarine was encountered by the Legio Invigilata Titans commanded by Princeps Amasat as they retreated from Helsreach. The Titan crews were shocked by such blasphemy against the Machine God, but faced with the choice of either dislodging the offender and risking that the relic would be damaged in the process, or escorting him to the hive city, they chose the latter. As mentioned before, the Ordinatus had been awakened improperly by the Space Marine, and because of this most of its systems were inactive, and the Nova Cannon that constituted its main armament could only be made to fire once every twenty minutes. Grimaldus ordered Jurisian to not endanger the Ordinatus, and bade him take only one shot with its great weapon once he reached Helsreach, to be aimed at the Godbreaker. Amasat took his God Machine and two Warhound-class Titans to protect the blessed weapon, and set forth to Helsreach once more. When they arrived, Amasat decided that the best way to protect the Ordinatus was to offer it a clear shot at the Ork Gargant. To this end, Amasat ordered the two smaller Titans to protect the weapon and moved to lure the lumbering xeno war machine out. Amasat succeeded in drawing the colossal Gargant to him, although he died in the process. His sacrifice, however, allowed the Ordinatus Armageddon to obliterate the Godbreaker. Their task complete, the Ordinatus and the Titans finally retreated from Helsreach.
This however was merely a boon, not a deliverance, and before long the Templars and their Guard allies found themselves pressed against the gates of the temple, and the Sororitas joining them in the struggle. What remained of the little force defending the holy place was butchered as it was pushed inside the temple. One by one, the Guardsmen, the Sororitas and the Astartes were hacked down by the Orks. Grimaldus was the last surviving Black Templar, and shortly before his final demise, he witnessed the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant collapsing under the stress it had been subjected to during the fighting, thus crushing all xenos who dared defile the holy ground.
Although the Orks made enormous progress against the Imperium in Helsreach and had the city at their mercy, ultimately they did not succeed in conquering it. Two months after the battle had begun, the fighting was interrupted by the dawning of Armageddon's Season of Fire -- a climactic phenomenon during which the planet witnesses the fury of its many volcanoes and the surface is showered with noxious ash. These conditions made virtually all combat operations impossible to carry out, and forced both sides to seek shelter. The Orks remained in portions of the city, but the rest retreated to their footholds or scurried away into underground openings. This allowed the Imperium to regain control around the vital areas of the city that they held.
Several people survived the collapse of the Temple of the Emperor Ascendant, notably amongst them Reclusiarch Grimaldus -- the only surviving Black Templar -- who thanks to his Power Armour, and apparently sheer willpower, raised himself from the rubble carrying the relics housed within the now-destroyed temple. He was taken aboard the Eternal Crusader, the Black Templars flagship, to be examined by the Chapter's Apothecaries, and gifted with the relics he recovered to carry Helsreach's memory and honour in the Eternal Crusade. Shortly thereafter, Grimaldus came back to the city and returned the relics to the citizens. For his service to the people of the city, he was declared the "Hero of Helsreach"
Imperial commanders hailed the Battle of Helsreach as a victory, but in point of fact it was far from it. Although the Imperium retains control of the Hive for the time being, large areas of the city still bear the stain of Ork presence. Armour units have been despatched to destroy Ork Roks to the northeast of the city, but the Orks within the Hive remain a constant threat, in particular those who have scurried into the Maze -- a system of tunnels and pipelines located underneath Hel's Highway. Entrances to the Maze were opened by the falling spacecraft in the beginning of the war, and the Orks took advantage of these rents in the ground to find shelter for the season. The majority of the Maze's workforce is dead, and Imperial authorities do not know if the xenos are capable of using the underground tunnels to relocate throughout the city. In order to diminish threat of Ork attacks, the Imperium has begun utilising a new chemical agent, a neurotoxin crafted to be used as a weapon against the Greenskins -- to some effect. Entire groups of Orks have been found dead after the release of this weapon. How stable the compound is has yet to ascertained. Tests on the recovered carcasses reveal a 7% range of genetic mutation in the DNA structure of afflicted cells -- which translates into an acceptable 1% chance of the toxin mutating to human-lethal levels.
In addition to its still-contested status, the city took staggering damage. As it is now, its population, in particular qualified worker cadres, is decimated, its industry is essentially non-existent -- currently Helsreach possesses an estimated 5% of original industrial capacity -- and with both the docks and Hel's Highway inoperable, the only reliable connection the city has with the rest of the world is through air transports. Helsreach was an important city of Armageddon, due its production of Promethium fuel and due to it being the only major port on the coast of the Tempest Ocean. As an industrial and city it is now utterly worthless. Cirmustances are similar in other cities of the planet, which is a bad omen for the world. Armageddon is regarded as one of the most important worlds of the Imperium, due to its large industrial production and vast manpower to feed the Armageddon Steel Legions. Armageddon gives much to the Imperium, and as such enjoys a privileged position. If it could not offer anything now, the Imperium would turn away, and the planet would remain a blasted ruin.
- The Battle for Armageddon (Background Book), pp. 5, 14
- Helsreach (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Third War for Armageddon Worldwide Campaign - Ork Forces