Battle of Phall
|The Battle of Phall|
|Iron Warriors||Imperial Fists|
|Commanders and Leaders|
|The Primarch Perturabo||Captain Alexis Polux|
|The bulk of the Legion and 400 starships||~20,000 Legionaries and 363 starships (Initially 30,000 Legionaries and 561 vessels)|
|Heavy Losses||Approx 2/3rds of remaining forces.|
|Imperial Fists retreat; they may have won if they stayed.|
The Battle of Phall is one of the biggest space battles of the entire Horus Heresy; given that the war took place over an entire galaxy that's saying something. It and the lead-up was detailed in the Horus Heresy novella, The Crimson Fist and the wider build-up from both sides was further covered in Horus Heresy III - Extermination
On team Emperor we have the Retribution fleet, a full third of the VIIth legion fleet; initially under command of Captain Yonnad, who was dead, and command fell to Alexis Polux. The vessels of the VIIth were well equipped from the armouries of Terra, having some weapons and hull designs not available to any other legion. The Retribution fleet also contained a wide variety of ship classes giving the overall fleet the edge in adaptability and maneuverability.
On team Horus we have Perturabo, Primarch of the Iron Warriors and his entire legion's war fleet, which outnumbered the Imperial Fists following their losses in the warp; they also had the advantage of surprise as well as a massive grudge against the Imperial Fists that they could finally act on. The Iron Warriors fleet had the advantage of being some of the biggest and most well armoured starships that had ever been built. Although that advantage in pure tonnage meant their ships were slower and better suited to planetary actions rather than void combat, which would be a decisive factor in this battle.
The Battle of Phall
Following the flight of the Eisenstein, Lord Rogal Dorn heard about Horus' plan to crash the Imperium with no survivors and dispatched a third of his Legion and a bigger part of his war fleet to take Horus to task. This Retribution fleet was sent ahead of the Raven Guard, Iron Hands and Salamanders who followed shortly after. Unfortunately, the Retribution Fleet was marooned in the Phall system since the Chaos Gods thought that odds of 8:3 weren't stacked enough in their favour.
Yonnad unfortunately died during the warpstorms and command was thrust on one Alexis Polux. Polux was suspicious of the calm around the Phall system when everywhere else was fucked as far as the third eye could see and began rigorously drilling and training the men under his command, which turned out to be a very good thing when the fleet of the traitor IVth turn up.
Maintaining a defensive position near a planet, the Imperial Fists ship groups began looping around a point in space to form a sphere of guns. Polux was right about the suspicious nature of the system, and sure enough after months of waiting the main Iron Warriors fleet showed up to kill them.
Unfortunately for the Iron Warriors, Perturabo thought that Sigismund would be in command of the Retribution Fleet. Sigismund was expected to do two things: land on the planet and build a fortress and charge at the Iron Warriors fleet guns blazing with the remaining ships. However, Sigismund decided to listen to a witch instead of his Primarch and was disowned and stripped of command. Polux's fleet maneuverability and powers of narrative favoritism evened the odds and gave the Iron Warriors a much harder time than they were expecting.
As the conflict moved past the initial surprise stages and into a more pitched battle, Polux was able to note a vulnerability in the Iron Warriors' defenses. Exploiting the opportunity was going to be costly, but considered worth the risks. An Imperial Fists boarding party of Terminators boarded the Iron Warriors's flagship, with successive waves of warships supporting the assault preventing the traitors from rallying their forces and supporting their Primarch. The assault force fought through the flagship searching for Perturabo and some survived just long enough to reach his quarters only to be told to bend over. One of them survived, a plot hook which was wasted in Angel Exterminatus as the character was a detail of a subplot and overshadowed by another Fist introduced at the start of that book. Because of this attempt on his life, Perturabo became rather paranoid and constructed a group of Legio Cybernetica bodyguards called the Iron Circle.
In the middle of the battle, Pollux recieved a call with orders to withdraw ASAP. Since the Dropsite Massacre Rogal Dorn had been calling to all available Imperial forces to return to Terra.
It should also be pointed out that ALL sources on the battle stress how the Imperial Fists had no information other than the Iron Warriors had joined Horus' rebellion. Given that the Retribution Fleet was supposed to have been in the Isstvan system and had instead spent months floating in the void, the message could have been sent much earlier and the Imperial Fists had the unfortunate timing of recieving it when so close to victory.
Polux was faced with a dilemma only a soldier could face - follow orders and turn your back on the enemy, or disobey orders and potentially emerge victorious. Bear in mind that real life soldiers do not have the luxury of choosing when to follow orders just because they are busy with something else nor do they have the option of disobeying them when they disagree with the tactical wisdom; to do otherwise opens a soldier up to charges of insubordination or dereliction by failing to perform their duties and following orders. In this case, the Imperial Fists were hamstrung by their own discipline and obedience. Polux ordered his ships to break away and run for it. In the end, the Imperial Fists paid for showing their backs, leaving the battle a strategic draw.
Post Match Analysis
Because GW doesn't like traitor marines to have too many nice things, Pert's own postmortem analysis showed that he would have lost if the battle continued despite the fact he had the larger fleet, the biggest and mostest guns, and more tactical assets. The Imperial Fists were better equipped (being in the same system as Mars after all and having shit like vortex missiles) and could punch above their weight, and Polux's stratagem enabled the Fists to adapt quickly to the Iron Warriors' attack (Perturabo had the Iron Warriors charge into the Imperial Fists in a jagged cone formation, which was apparently less effective at countering the Imperial Fists revolving sphere formation; also, the slower Battleships drew fire and the faster ships pulled off hit and run attacks.)
No wonder Pert is pissed off all the time.
A lot can be said about the fate of the Retribution Fleet:
For starters, if they had arrived at Isstvan as intended then the better part of an additional legion and one of the largest fleets ever seen might have tipped the scales at the Dropsite Massacre and changed the whole course of history. Indeed, when put into context with the short story The Board is Set, there was an early opportunity for the "Invincible Bastion" - assumed to be Rogal Dorn due to being held in reserve on the Emperor's home space - to outflank and defeat the Lord of Hearts immediately before the Anvil is defeated and resurrected for the first time, which one assumes must be at or around Isstvan, though this move causes the blue Twin to switch sides and be wide open for Terra. This avenue is never explored, but certainly goes to show how different things could have been if the Retribution Fleet had arrived or if their Primarch had been anywhere other than Terra.
Instead the retreat from Phall was a shambles and cost the Imperial Forces ships and men that might have been put to better use elsewhere. Furthermore, while some of the Imperial Fist ships got back to Terra, Polux himself and some other of the retreating forces never made it back to Terra at all and instead arrived in Imperium Secundus - further compounding the failure of the retreat by not even achieving their purpose for departing.
While it seems unlikely they would have killed Perturabo himself (fate tends to favour Primarchs) if they had fought on to victory, they might have taken the bulk of the Iron Warriors out of the war and could have potentially have changed the outcome of the entire Horus Heresy, especially if fewer sons of Perturabo were laying siege to the walls of the Imperial palace.
It's worth reiterating that as much as Polux had no idea what was going on in the larger galaxy, Rogal Dorn similarly had no idea of the fate of the Retribution Fleet and had been calling out for months for their return to base. It is posited in HH3 that the timing of the astropathic message was not by chance, but by the will of Horus and his allies, possibly in response to the imminent loss of the battle, using the Imperial Fists own nature against them and turn the tide of battle at the last moment.
An interesting note is that in real-life the US military trains it's soldiers that they can take the initiative and attack target's of opportunity even if it violates orders to pull back or hold position from a superior officer. The fact that the Imperial Fists haven't figured this out in the 31st milleniu despite being led by a gifted primarch is extreme fail and derp