"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 sub-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 the sub-contients of 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 city 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 standard 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 solar weeks before the beginning of the war as a result of augmetic heart infusers failure, only six solar months after he had received them.
His second in command requested to his superiors that Colonel Sarren of the 101st Armageddon Steel Legion take command of the hive 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 Astra Militarum 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 Aeronautica Imperialis 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 participating in the orbital 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, "mortal" 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 parlayed 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 Grimaldus 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 his 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 solar days later the hive city shook with the steps of god-engines as the Titan 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 solar days, with the best presuming nine. But as the space battle developed and the sheer size of the xenos 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 made it through the 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 standard 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 be sent to obliterate the wreck to give the troops 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 standard 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 himself and his knights -- all one 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 hive 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 for 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.
This news forced the Astartes to hurry back into the hive city and take positions amongst other forces present in the hive.
Imperial forces were distributed across the hive city, and the Astartes took up positions amongst the soldiers of the Armageddon Steel Legion regiments 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 troops of the 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 Aeronautica Imperialis 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 Astra Militarum positioned throughout the city and selected for this very duty moved in on the downed hulks, slaughtering any xenos survivors that they found.
Across the hive 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 of 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 xenos 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 field 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 Titans of the Legio Invigilata had to engage.
The hive 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.
This news gave Grimaldus hope, for the first time since he arrived on Armageddon, and he 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, like 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 standard 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 the Master of the Forge Jurisian and Adjutant Quintus Cyria Tyro -- Armageddon High Command liaison to Helsreach who was brought along to deal with the Astra Militarum personnel around the instalation -- boarded one of the Black Templar Thunderhawks and made their 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 stretched several kilometres downwards and seemed to be completely vacant, with not a single guardian left to protect the facility. The Black 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 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 solar hours after they had entered the facility, but then their efforts were rewarded. On the final doorway, inscribed in letters as high as a Black 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 solar 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 hive city they had received the news of Ghazghkull's most recent move -- true to Yarrick's predictions, the Ork had ordered Hades Hive to be obliterated from orbit.
Zarha Mancion, the Crone of the Legio Invigilata, soon learned about the Reclusiarch's exploits and demanded his presence on the Stormherald. The Ordinatus Armageddon was 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 quest, 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 its 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, as both sides reached 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 protecting the artefact changed and evolved like a living being, and the Master of the Forge deemed it might take him solar months or even standard 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 xenos Titans walked into the city only to be blasted by Imperial god-engines.
The first charge of the Greenskins was broken by the Black Templars under their Reclusiarch's command, but eventually the Astartes had to return behind Astra Militarum lines and let the true war of attrition begin.
Every road was barricaded and manned by Armageddon 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 city.
During the preparations for the battle the populace was removed from the outlying sectors of the city 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-engines 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 MIU 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 [rinceps 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-engine 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, whittling 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 solar 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 otherwise would be.
To this, sadly, the defenders had no answer, and were only capable of delaying the advancing Greenskin forces, holding a junction or a chokepoint for several solar days before it was finally lost and the forces had to retreat, falling back all the quicker than ever before.
As the original plans predicted, once Hel's Highway was lost, it was only a matter of time before the hive fell. In just over two solar 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 city's territory, the Astra Militarum 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-engines of the Legio Invigilata suffered losses of their own.
On the thirty-sixth solar 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, the Imperial authorities in Helsreach believed that vox transmissions were being jammed, but they did not know by what -- according to 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 turned out to be a fleet of at least three hundred Ork Submersibles, carrying tens of thousands of new Ork warriors, due to arrive in two solar hours' time.
This was the exact reason why the Greenskins had touched down in the Deadlands of Armageddon in the first place. They spent over a solar month tearing down their landing craft and constructing a mighty fleet to deal an entirely unexpected blow against the coastal hive cities.
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 hive city half the size of Helsreach, with only half of its defensive capabilities, and this 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 headquarters spire.
More than that, Helsreach docks housed the majority of the hive city's civilian shelters, located within the quarter or underneath it. These shelters housed a total 60% of the hive city's population during wartime, and losing them to the xenos savages would result in a staggering loss of life and manpower.
A successful Ork seaborne strike against the docks would break the back of Imperial resistance and cause the hive city to fall within solar 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 hive city fall either way. At that point, the Helsreach dockmaster, Tomaz Maghernus, requested that he and his workers -- nearly forty thousand labourers 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 Astra Militarum officers were reluctant to allow it, as the menials would likely be butchered within minutes, and if the hive city were to ever survive the war it would need a qualified workforce to continue to exist. Seeing no other way, however, Colonel Sarren agreed for this plan to commence.
The newly-formed dockmen militia was organised into fifty-trooper platoons, each commanded by an Armageddon Steel Legion veteran Storm Trooper who was airdropped onto the docks, thereby ensuring that the untrained civilians performed to the best of their ability.
To provide some degree of support for the militia, 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 with the presence of the Emperor's Angels of Death.
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 the 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 solar 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 an Adeptus 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 many centuries, and starved for the supplies needed to fully maintain its biological and augmetic 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, the fight might have gone another way. Yet Jurisian finally broke all the remaining defences and stood before the relic he sought -- the holy lance of the Machine God.
Jurisian, as he was alone, was only able to restore basic and slow locomotion of the relic weapon's gravitational suspensor generators, and was only able to make the great cannon fire once every twenty minutes.
All of the 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 ceased. Although the space battle was lost in the first days of the invasion and the combined Imperial Navy and Adeptus Astartes fleet elements were forced to retreat, they did not abandon the world.
Every few solar days, the fleet under either Admiral Parol's or High Marshal Helbrecht's command would translate out of the Warp in close vicinity to the besieged planet, strike at the weakest point of the xenos 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 city, 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 Salamanders 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 Ignatum and Legio Invigilata. The Salamanders fight was there, and they would not stay in the city indefinitely. They were called down only to help secure the docks quarter and protect the civilian populace.
Although their stay was temporary, the Salamanders' 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 Salamanders' 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 solar 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 returned to the Hemlock region, as per their master's request.
Although the hive city had 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 hive cities. Whatever forces remained were to converge on the main 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 hive city was declared lost, 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 Armageddon Steel Legion elements in the burning Rostorik Ironworks district. The Titans were embattled in the area for four solar days, having lost seven war engines over the course of a solar week.
The Titan crews and the god-engines 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 war 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 near the smaller industrial hive city of Stygia. Stygia possessed only its own Armageddon Steel Legion and militia forces, with no Mechanicus or Astartes support.
Despite this, Stygia held out for over a solar 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 solar hours to flatten the hive 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-engines 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 her Titan and the resulting psychosomatic pain and wounds she suffered in the MIU, was nearly completely useless, and the war engine was operated by its moderati, Lonn and Valian Carsomir. Their only chance was to finish the Mega-Gargant with a single, final shot of the Imperator Titan's 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 Maximus Mancion's resolve was the only factor that had pledged the Legio Invigilata battlegroup to Helsreach's defence, and when she was destroyed along with her Imperator Titan, the new acting commander of the Legio's forces on Armageddon -- Princeps Amasat -- had ordered the god-engines to withdraw from the hive city and rejoin the bulk of the Legio along the River Hemlock.
Temple of the Emperor Ascendant
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 surviving Armageddon 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 to make their final stand against the Orks.
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 solar 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 solar 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 his knights as the new Champion.
During this time, the Mega-Gargant 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 the Imperial defenders in solar minutes as they had no answer to defend against an Ork construct of that 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 the blasphemy against the Machine God that had been perpetrated by the Astartes, but faced with the choice of either dislodging the offender and risking that the sacred relic 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 solar 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-engine and two 'Warhound-class Titans to protect the blessed weapon, and set forth for 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 Mega-Gargant.
To this end, Amasat ordered the two smaller Titans to protect the weapon and moved to lure the lumbering xenos war machine out. Amasat succeeded in drawing the colossal Mega-Gargant to him, although he died in the process.
His sacrifice, however, allowed the Ordinatus Armageddon to fire and 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 Black Templars and their Astra Militarum allies found themselves pressed against the gates of the temple, and the Sororitas joined 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 the xenos who dared defile its holy ground.
Although the Orks made enormous progress against the Imperial defenders at Hive Helsreach and had the city at their mercy, ultimately they did not succeed in conquering it. Two solar 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 hive 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 hive 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 Imperial relics housed within the 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 hive city and returned the relics to its surviving 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 city 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 xenos 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 the 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 Ork carcasses reveal a 7% range of genetic mutation in the DNA structure of afflicted Greenskin cells -- which translates into an acceptable 1% chance of the toxin mutating to Human-lethal levels.
In addition to its still-contested status, the hive city took staggering damage. As it is now, its population, in particular qualified worker cadres, is decimated, its industry is essentially non-existent -- currently Hive Helsreach possesses an estimated 5% of its original industrial capacity -- and with both the docks and Hel's Highway inoperable, the only reliable connection the hive city has with the rest of the world is through air transport.
Helsreach was an important hive 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 production centre it is now utterly worthless.
Cirmustances are similar in the other hive 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 Legion regiments.
Armageddon gives much to the Imperium, and as such enjoys a privileged position. If it can no longer offer much, the Imperium may turn away, and the planet will remain a blasted ruin fought over by the remaining Imperial and Ork forces.
- The Battle for Armageddon (Background Book), pp. 5, 14
- Helsreach (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Third War for Armageddon Worldwide Campaign - Ork Forces