The Tribune was a variant of the Victory-class Battleship, specially constructed in the orbital shipyards of Primarch Rogal Dorn's adopted homeworld of Inwit. This warship would most famously serve as the flagship of Captain Alexis Polux as a part of the Imperial Fists Legion's Retribution Fleet sent to Istvaan III to help bolster the beleaguered Loyalists. But due to the vagaries of the Warp, the fleet became trapped and was instead drawn into a vicious void battle, later known as the Battle of Phall, which took place following the start of the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium between the Imperial Fists Retribution Fleet and their bitter rivals, the Iron Warriors.
The Tribune was born in the orbital yards of Inwit in the years after the coming of the Emperor when the Inwit Techwrights built ten Battle Barges as tribute to the Emperor and in honour of Rogal Dorn's command of the VII Legion. The Tribune and its nine sisters were variants of the Victory-class and all displayed the hand of Inwit's weapon-craft and mentality woven into their fabric. Heavily armed and armoured, it was a ship made to give and take damage in the thick of a battle line, its design and precise configuration honed by decades of the Legion's experience in void combat, and communication and command systems woven into its structure that showed the intent that the Tribune and its sisters would lead the Imperial Fists in their later conquests.
During the opening days of the terrible conflict that would become known as the Horus Heresy in later years, the Warmaster Horus launched his treacherous attack on the world of Istvaan III against the Loyalist elements within four of the Space Marine Legions that turned to Chaos, including the Sons of Horus, the Emperor's Children, the World Eaters and the Death Guard. It is believed by Imperial savants that the Loyalists made up approximately one-third of the combatants at Istvaan III. This devastating and tragic campaign came to be known by Imperial historians as the Istvaan III Atrocity. During the initial orbital bombardment of Istvaan III, 70 Loyalists of the Death Guard Legion and the Imperial Saint Euphrati Keeler led by Battle-Captain Nathaniel Garro had commandeered the Imperial frigate Eisenstein and, evading the Traitor forces of Horus, were able to escape from the Istvaan System into the Immaterium, after being told what was happening on the planet.
The Eisenstein was badly damaged by the Death Guard Battleship Terminus Est during its escape from Istvaan III and it was assaulted by undead minions, including the first known Plague Marines of Nurgle while it was within the Immaterium. This assault by Warp entities forced the ship to make an emergency blind-jump and emergence from the Warp. The repeated traumas left all of the frigate's astropaths dead, and its lone Navigator was mortally wounded. However, Garro managed to attract the attention of passing Loyalist starships by setting the vessel's Warp-Drives to self-destruct and ejecting them from the starship. The Imperial Fists Legion's massive mobile fortress-monastery Phalanx and the Legion's fleet had been becalmed in the Warp for some time due to the waxing power of the Ruinous Powers as the Heresy began, and his Navigators sensed the detonation of the Eisenstein's Warp-Drives. Charting an immediate course for the location of the detonation, Dorn met with Garro, who explained to him all that had happened with the Traitor Legions. Dorn was reluctant to believe Garro's tale, but overwhelming proof from a Remembrancer (journalist) named Mersadie Oliton who had escaped from Horus' flagship, the Vengeful Spirit, and Garro's dogged insistence finally convinced the Primarch of Horus' perfidy.
When Rogal Dorn had seen the evidence of his brother’s treachery in the Istvaan System, he had wanted to go and confront Horus himself, to hear the Traitor’s confession and bring retribution with his own hands. But duty had held him back: duty to the Emperor and the Imperium that Horus now sought to destroy. He and his First Captain Sigismund set course and returned to Terra, but not before Dorn had sent his sons as emissaries of his anger. He had named it a Retribution Fleet; 30,000 Imperial Fists Legionaries comprised of 300 companies and over 500 warships had struck out towards Istvaan III, a third of the VII Legion, a force great enough to subdue a hundred worlds, bearing a brother’s wrath. Captain Alexis Polux of the 405th Company was attached to this Retribution Fleet under the command of veteran Captain Yonnad, Master of the Retribution Fleet.
When the fleet had translated back into reality on the edge of the Istvaan System, the power of the Warp Storm caused Geller Fields to fail as hulls sheared into fragments and burned in the fires of their own reactors. Some ships had reached safety, but many had died, their corpses spat out of the Warp to freeze in the void. Two hundred warships lost, their remains left spinning in the light of a forgotten star. The Imperial Fists had found Captain Polux in the remains of one of those broken wrecks. He was one of the few survivors. Nearly 10,000 Imperials Fists were gone, a staggering loss that was difficult to grasp. Now only 363 warships remained - a force that was still one-fifth of the VII Legion’s full strength. Yonnad had not survived, and since Polux had been designated as his successor, the right of command of the remaining Retribution Fleet fell to him. Though he felt deeply honoured he also felt completely alone. The truth was that he did not fear the responsibility of such a heavy burden for Yonnad was the Legion’s finest fleet master and Captain Polux his best pupil. But the new Fleet Master had doubts that he was the best choice, for there were other men that had survived the wreck of the fleet that were more worthy: commanders with more campaign experience, higher in the rolls of honour, and more skilled at arms. But the Imperial Fists followed form and order to the letter, something not so easily set aside.
The Imperial Fists’ warfleet established a base of operations in the Phall System. The two habitable planets of Phall were unremarkable agrarian worlds, lightly populated and of no great strategic importance. For reasons they could not ascertain, the Warp was calm in this region and the Imperial Fists found that they could navigate to and from the system with some surety. With their Astropaths blind and as time wore on, the Legion’s commanders had grown increasingly frustrated. Though a few amongst the senior captains and battlegroup commanders might chafe at Polux's orders, the majority of the fleet’s commanders could not fault the young fleet master. The fleet was vulnerable, and an attack was likely.
Wrath of Iron
The Primarch Perturabo and his warfleet sat waiting patiently in the Istvaan System, awaiting new orders from the Warmaster. Their patience paid off, as they soon received word from the Warmaster that over 300 Loyalist warships were caught in a backwater system like fish in a whirlpool. A fleet of ships pinned in place and waiting for extermination, and here were all of those ships' dispositions and characteristics, listed and laid out for him. Though he knew that this was a fleet of one of the mighty Legiones Astartes, this wasn't just any ordinary fleet. This was a fleet composed of the Iron Warriors' most hated rivals, that of the Sons of Dorn. The information had been gathered first-hand by scout elements in the system. But in the Lord of Iron's mind, he knew that the intel that he had received from the Warmaster was too perfect..too neat. How could the Warmaster have achieved such a thing? It was daunting in its implication. Perturabo realised that this was no random event, this had been planned before the Iron Warriors had come to kill the weakling Legions of Istvaan V. But then what else would he expect from the Waramster? Perturabo thought of the massacre they had just committed, of the the Legions they had butchered. They were weak and destroying them had been nothing more than another task to be completed. But the Imperial Fists were rivals of old, arrogant pretenders to honours and reputations they had bought with lies. The possibility of breaking Dorn's sons was a prospect so rich the Primarch could almost taste it. This was obviously a part of the price of their allegiance to Horus. The chance to break one enemy bought by the deaths of others.
The Iron Warriors' Captains questioned the Lord of Iron of how they would be able to engage the Imperial Fists through the tumult of the raging Warp Storm. Perturabo responded that their passage would be possible, for the Warmaster had guaranteed it. That anyone could make such a guarantee staggered the Primarch's subordinate commanders. Warsmith Forrix, one of Perturabo's vaunted Triarchs, cautioned the Lord of Iron that if the Imperial Fists suspected the possibility of an attack that they would be prepared. But Warmsith Berrosus, the 2nd Grand Company commander interjected that if it was First Captain Sigismund who commanded the Imperial Fists Fleet, than he would not sit patiently in his cage. Sigismund would make attempts to break through the storms, making them less prepared, and more vulnerable. Perturabo believed that without a doubt, Sigismund commanded this fleet, for his brother Primarch would not have trusted this fleet to another. Berossus offered to to take his fleet, an equal number of ships, to launch an immediate attack to break the Loyalist fleet. The Lord of Iron struck down the Warsmith's request, informing his subordinate commanders that the Imperial Fists must not simply be broken, they must be ground to nothing. Dorn did not deign to come himself, therefore his favoured pup would bleed for him. All of the ships currently under Warsmith Berossus' command would go, but it would be the Lord of Iron who commanded the attack himself.
The Battle of Phall
The attack led by Perturabo was sudden and overwhelming. From his flag ship the Iron Blood, the Iron Warriors Primarch commanded the first one hundred ships burst into reality at the same moment. The Iron Warriors vessels brought their weapons to bear, firing as one and destroying many of the Imperial Fists' vessels. Initially, the Imperial Fists' fleet fragmented under the attack. Flame-wreathed battle-barges pulled back, trying to outpace the guns of the Iron Warriors. Heavy cruisers staggered their flight, first one taking fire then the next, while faster strike cruisers tried to cover the heavier warships as they pulled away. As the golden fleet broke into pieces the Iron Warriors continued to press forwards. Smaller ships crippled targets, and then larger ships delivered the killing blows. It was methodical and merciless, like a siege drill eating through rock. Plunging his fleet into the midst of the Loyalist fleet, Pertuabo’s strategy was to scattering the Imperial Fists' fleet formation and then to destroy it piecemeal. His plan was dependent upon the loyal ships not being able to fight back quickly enough to break the momentum of his thrust. However, Captain Polux and his fleet commanders quickly recovered from the shock and suddenness of Perturabo's attack and fought back.
Despite their long sojourn at Phall, they had been kept in a state of constant battle-readiness. This policy paid off for the Imperial Fists as they began to concentrate their fire at the leading ships of Perturabo’s fleet. It was what the months of planning had been for, the hundreds of hours of training. The Retribution Fleet was ready to resist an attack, but they faced an enemy far greater than Captain Polux had ever planned for. The Iron Warriors had taken losses, but their strength remained. If the Imperial Fists had broken in the first moments they would have died. If they attempted to fight the Iron Warriors head on they would have been slaughtered. The Iron Warriors knew their weaknesses, the Imperial Fists theirs. The Iron Warriors had hoped to find the Loyalists unprepared, but they had not cracked after the first attack. The Imperial Fists defence had snapped back into place like the cogs of a clockwork mechanism.
As the lead ships were battered the following ships of Perturabo's fleet broke off their attack to regroup. This gave the Loyalists the chance to go on the offensive but before they did so, the fleet's Astropaths relayed a critical message to the loyal commanders. Finally, they had succeeded in making contact with Terra and the Imperial Fists had urgent orders to return there, by the will of their Primarch Rogal Dorn. These orders came with the highest priority. They Imperial Fists were not to let anything delay them. Coincidentally, a passage seemed to have somehow opened up in the storms, though the Imperial Fists were not sure how long it would last. If they were to obey their Primarch's orders, they had to withdraw while there was a chance of making it through the storms. Embattled against the Traitors of Perturabo and his Iron Warriors Legion the Loyalists had an opportunity to force the issue and launch a counterattack against Perturabo’s fleet, perhaps dealing a wound to the enemy so severe that the Iron Warriors might never recover. But they had their orders; it was the will of Rogal Dorn that they return post-haste.
The battle had become a slaughter. The Imperial Fists were running. Squadrons of ships tried to keep the Iron Warriors at bay while the others made for clear space and the possibility of escape. Freed of the pressure of attacks, the Iron Warriors fell on them. The Contrador and Polux's command ship, the Tribune, met in an embrace of fire and punctured metal. The Tribune fired every remaining weapon at the closing Iron Warriors ship. Macro-shells, lance beams and plasma jets flicked across the narrowing distance and broke over the Contrador's shields. The return fire blew out the Tribune's gun decks and gouged a long wound in its side. The Contrador closed until it was drifting alongside the Tribune’s wounded flank. Assault pods and boarding torpedoes slid across the gap. A weak flurry of turret fire reached out to meet the swarm of assault craft and hammered a handful into wreckage. The rest came on, unconcerned and undeterred. They hit in a wave, punching through gold-plated armour and disgorging their cargo into the guts of the Tribune.
Though Polux knew that the Tribune was as good as dead, he would claim its death price. With the Tribune lost, Polux ordered the remaining units aboard to withdraw and jump to Terra as ordered. On the external hull of the Tribune a hundred assault craft boosted into the void like a cloud of fireflies; the Tribune's contingent of Imperial Fists left their fortress for the last time. The 30 members of Polux's personal strike force were still with him, waiting. Before he departed he nodded to the enginseers. There was a flash of light and the Tribune's teleport chamber vanished from around us. Precisely five seconds later the enginseers performed their last duty. They never questioned the Fleet Master's order, never showed the slightest doubt or emotion at what was asked of them. The Tribune's plasma reactors overloaded. For a second the Tribune held its form, a golden fortress floating in black night, then it detonated. The Imperial Fists still on board were vaporised and their Iron Warriors enemies with them. Tongues of plasma licked out from the sun-hot core. Vast lumps of armour plating rode on the growing sphere of hot gases. The blast wave hit the Contrador, and broke fields and burnt out its sensors and range finders. Imperial Fists attack craft descended upon it a moment later like the vengeful spirits of the dead.
The killing began to slow. The Retribution Fleet was no more; only the crippled and dead remained. The Iron Warriors ships had stopped firing on their victims, as if the overwhelming firepower of the earlier battle had left them spent. Surrounded Imperial Fists remnants fired all they had into the face of their enemies. Some managed to strip the void shields off an Iron Warriors ship; some even put wounds into their hulls. But the Iron Warriors came on, shrugging off damage like a bull grox trampling a dog into the dirt. They swarmed their remaining enemies, their boarding pods clustering on golden hulls like ticks feeding on cattle. Their boarding parties struck plasma reactors, shutting them down and letting the ships choke to death without power. Life support systems, artificial gravity, and weapon systems went silent. Then the Iron Warriors left and the cold of the void reached into the lightless hulls to do its slow and silent work. A few Imperial Fists ships remained, fighting to the last, a shrinking cluster of resistance that became smaller by the second. They fought to the death, firing on enemies with undimmed fury, covering limping comrades even as the Iron Warriors brought them down. When the Tribune exploded amongst the last Imperial Fists ships few of the Iron Warriors took note. The Contrador had their kill, and the Primarch had the head of the Imperial Fist who had dared to stand against him. That the Contrador lingered at the site of its victory drew no suspicion. And so, sustaining horrific losses, the Imperial Fists Retribution Fleet withdrew from the massive void conflict and made good their escape.
- The Horus Heresy - Book Three: Extermination by Alan Bligh, pp. 52, 47-49, 54-55, 62
- Shadows of Treachery (Anthology) edited by Christian Dunn and Nick Kyme, "The Crimson Fist" by John French