Damocles Crusade

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The Damocles Crusade (also known as the Damocles Gulf Crusade) was a major campaign against the Tau Empire by the Imperium of Man.

It began as a response to first contact between humanity and the Tau, during what the Tau called their Second Sphere Expansion. The Tau's colonization efforts brought them across the Damocles Gulf, and they encountered human worlds on the other side. These frontier planets were easy to subvert, as they felt little attachment to the Imperium, and even when there were loyalist factions, they were in the minority.

The Imperium was not happy to be losing worlds to Tau rule, so they sent a Crusade to toss them out, and eventually crush them all the way back to their home. They were so serious about this Crusade that they printed a special edition of the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer just for Imperial Guard Regiments going to the Damocles Gulf. The Crusade Fleet was a pretty serious one too, with hundreds of ships, thousands of regiments, an Ultramarine company led by Cato Sicarius, and even a titan Legion. The Imperial Command (rightly so) believed that this would be enough to kill every last blue skinned xeno in the Tau empire. Unfortunately, Warp Storms came and smashed the Crusade Fleet into splinters, and then split the Tau empire from the Imperium meaning that reinforcements would be a long time coming.

Left with a handful of ships, and nearly every heavy hitter (including the Space Marines) gone, the remaining Imperial Commanders came to a decision; Go ahead with the invasion anyway despite having nothing but tanks, line infantry, and some artillery. Meeting little resistance in the border worlds, the crusade started strong with the Imperium leaping from world to world with very little stopping them. After a while, the warp storms began to weaken letting Imperial reinforcements trickle in, and Cato Sicarius came leading the first (and possibly only) mixed Space Marine force made up of nearly a hundred marines from some forty odd chapters, just in time for the final push. Emboldened, the Imperium made a beeline for the core of the Tau empire.

They were initially successful, but as the Tau brought more of their armies to the front, the Imperial advance slowed and eventually halted on the planet of Dal'yth Prime; mostly because they underestimated the Tau, who up until that point had only offered token resistance as they tried to evacuate worlds in front of the human advance and buy themselves time to recall their fleets to regroup at Dal'yth where they would make their stand.

Mind you, Dal'yth was a sept-world of First Sphere, meaning it was heavily fortified and there were shit-tons of fire warriors and auxiliaries garrisoned on it. Imperial fleet sustained heavy casualties even when approaching the planet, and while they managed to destroy or repel all Tau and Kroot spacecraft, nearly every battleship of the crusade was damaged rendering the fleet useless for anything but guarding Munitorum transport ships till the end of campaign. Regardless, Imperial forces successfully made planetfall, and on the first day they crushed the garrison forces on their landing zones with relative ease. This was the only thing they got easy on Dal'yth. As war progressed, Imperial forces found themselves constantly harassed by Tau night raids, carpet bombed by thousands of Barracudas and Tiger Sharks, and ambushed by Kroot kindreds. Even with their overwhelming numbers and orbital bombardment support, Imperial forces were tied up by maneuverable Tau forces and unable to move far away from landing zones due to the supply lines being torn apart by stealth-teams. Thousands of Imperial Guardsmen clashed with Kroot and Fire Warriors, while Space Marines were engaged in firefights with Tau battlesuits. Imperial titans found themselves in fights with Manta destroyers, which weren't favorable engagements for them at all, considering most Titan weapons aren't suited against fast flying targets. And yet humans advanced against all odds. Despite the heavy losses, the Imperium simply had the numbers to take the casualties and keep going. Imperial tanks rolled towards Tau positions in the hundreds, outnumbering Tau battlesuits and tanks by dozens to one. The Kroot began to take costly losses as the Guard learned how Kroot launched their ambushes, and there simply were not enough Kroot to keep up the ambushes. The lightning assaults of the Space Marines proved difficult to defend against, for Tau doctrine did not favor the heavy defense needed to stop them. All in all, the Imperium was advancing slowly, and the Tau began to fear that defeat was inevitable as there seemed to be no end to the humans.

Then Tau brought in reinforcements, led by the now (in)famous commanders Shadowsun and Farsight, and Imperial reinforcements got lost in the Warp only to appear one hundred years later (ironically to help Tau destroy Hive Fleet Gorgon), and the conflict went to stalemate. Stalemated because, now that the crusade's supply line was who-knows-how-many years away, the rest of the Tau military had arrived. Not enough to stop the Imperium, of course, but enough to slow them until their lack of supplies eventually removed everything but lasguns and swords from play.

The Imperium probably would have kept throwing regiments and Titans at the Damocles Gulf, but that was when Hive Fleet Behemoth showed up and they needed every ship and guardsman they had to repel the invasion of Macragge, so they negotiated a cease-fire with the Tau and withdrew. The Tau Empire, shaken by the show of force from a power they thought weak and distant, tried to reassure the people and regain their expansion's momentum by re-taking all the worlds they had lost to the Imperium, and later launched the Third Phase Expansion to take further advantage of the Imperium's retreat.

At the end Tau learned valuable lessons about the Imperium's strengths and weaknesses, and their own blind spots (such as shitty merchant fleet), which they then patched ASAP. Imperium, being Imperium, learned nothing, making the same damn mistakes with overstretched supply lines and frontal assaults through killing grounds during Nimbosa, Taros and Zeits campaigns, and ultimately losing all of them, despite initial success. However, it is strongly hinted that, despite all their advanced technology and everything they have learned, the only reason the Tau have been largely successful with their Third Phase of Expansion is that the majority of the Imperium's military might has been diverted to defend against Tyranid hive-fleets, WAAAGH Ghazkhull and the Chaos assault on the Cadian Gate along thousands and thousands of other conflicts with a threat level far above those of the Tau Empire. Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade alone has tied up hundreds of guard regiments and dozens of space marine chapters, including almost two full battlefleets; leaving only token forces along with Ultramarines in the Ultima Segmentum.

The Name[edit]

Damocles, who the campaign and region was named after, was a man in Ancient Sicillia, who was stern fan of the local tyrant called Dionysios and considered him to be very fortunate. Dionysios wondered why Damocles liked his job and his kingdom so much, and went to teach him a lesson. He invited Damocles for a party at his residence, which Damocles of course was super-excited about - there was only one thing that Dionysios hadn't told Damocles, and that was that, while eating, Damocles would be laying under a hanging sword, attached to the ceiling by a single hair from a horse' mane.

After a very strained and unhappy dinner, Dionysios explained the act to Damocles - He wanted Damocles to feel like he does, like a tyrant. A tyrant always has a sword over him, that can fall down and strike him down at any moment. He is never at peace and can never relax, but can't do anything about it, either: That would just result in him killing innocents and doing heinous, but ultimately useless acts. Damocles was scarred for life, but had learnt a lesson. Never again did he talk to Dionysios' praise.

What has that to do with the Damocles Crusade? Well, the Imperium did attack the Tau Empire, a faction notorious for being unassailable by your usual means, and ultimately ended up being humbled by their futile act, while the Tau Empire only grew stronger from the experience...

My god, have they got no clue.


250 years later, after dealing with Ork and Tyranid invasions into their territory while fighting small local wars against the Imperium, Tau eventually launched a full scale expansion into Damocles sector. So the tides had turned and it's their crusade now.

It started with a series of lightning strike attacks against Zeist sector, to which Imperium responded by sending almost all available guard from nearby sectors and a chapter-sized space marine force from dozens of Ultramarines successor chapters led by Cato Sicarius. It appeared to be a great Imperial victory, as the space marines were able to rout local guardsmen and drove Tau raiding parties out of the sector. In fact, it was just a distraction to bleed the Damocles sector of reinforcements and the stationed Tau forces (which Sicarius mistakenly estimated as million-sized) masquerading as entire Third Sphere army was really but a minor fraction of what the Tau Empire actually prepared for war. Way to go being Shadowsun’s unwitting puppet, golden boy! To add an insult to an injury Tau learned that little trick from the Ultramarines, when Ageman and his first company pulled something very similar on a much smaller scale about 50 years before that against small Tau colony.

And then Tau came in force all guns blazing with a goal to take over entire Damocles sector, conquering poorly garrisoned planets in dozens, while Imperial forces were scrambling to retreat and regroup. The first real battle happened on a hive-world of Agrellan, which was a major logistics node instrumental to taking control over the Gilded Worlds (a tightly packed group of mineral-rich planets in the center of the sector).

Despite Air caste overwhelming orbital victory humans still managed deploy reinforcements of White Scars, Imperial Knights of house Terryn and Catachan Jungle Fighters to aid local defenders. Initial phases of planet assault didn't go well for defenders, as Shassera laid siege on the Prime hive-sity from the blind zones of it's artillery and forced imperials to sally out only for them to fall into a textbook Kauyon trap, surrounded and forced back with massive casualties, although given both Knights and biker marines were something Tau never encountered before and thus weren't properly prepared for the baiting force also suffered greatly. Following this Knighs and Catachans wisely decided to refrain from further counter-attacks, but not the Scars, who mounted a second sally-out with a goal to hunt down Shadowsun and cut off her head. Against an opponent who's infamous for her cunning bait-and-ambush tactics it went about as smoothly as you would expect. Marine strike force lost all of it's aircraft, roughly 30% of manpower and only managed to break encirclement and retreat back to the Hive due to gue'la mind-science psychic storm summoned by Scar Stormseer and unexpected help from the Raven Guard who manged to out-sneak and out-ambush Tau ambushers before they locked White Scar hunt completely. This set an overall tone for all White Scar engagements for the rest of crusade.

At this point both forces received new orders from their high command - Tau to take Agrellan quickly with a swift blow rather than a series of patient, cost-effective but time-consuming engagements, and Imperials - to evacuate the world and join combined sector forces gathered to stop Tau invasion. While Tau are generally uncomfortable with sieges and city-fighting, preferring to lure their enemies to more favorable positions, there were simply no alternatives to taking down Agrellan if they wanted to conquer the Damocles Gulf in time, so Shadowsun took a page out of Farsight's book and planned and executed a MULTIPLE, SIMULTANEOUS, AND DEVASTATING DEFENSIVE DEEP STRIKES on Imperial defenses, using all the cheese she could get, namely spamming the new Riptide suits humans weren't familiar with. Even though they were outnumbered six-to one (before you call bullshit this is including PDF that made the bulk of imperial forces), Tau scored a decisive victory and took down Agrellan Hive Prime* in a single day, thanks in no small part to Riptides serving as Distraction Carnifexes, Shadowsun's infiltration force killing Imperial Command HQ with perfectly placed shots, resulting with guardsmen running around like headless chickens, and one of the new Tau experimental weapons accidentally blowing up a fucking moon. Even while White Scars, Raven Guard and some Knights of House Terryn put some spot-on resistance, the rape train gained too much momentum and it had no brakes – the only thing the marines and knights manged to do was to pierce the encirclement to allow a few survivors to evacuate and barely secure LZs to let that evacuation happen, and it costed them. Agrellan was taken over by the Tau Empire and renamed to Mu'Gulath Bay - The Gate of New Hope - meant to become a new sept world and the base of operations for entire Third Sphere Army.

*Later they realized that taking a whole fucking planet "in a single day" bit was really fucking stupid (and physically impossible) and retconned it; Agrellan was home to seven hive cities, and each one needed to be besieged individually. This took several weeks all told.

In an uncharacteristic display of hot-headedness (likely coaxed by daemonic whispers of the Agrellan wastes), Shadowsun lead a pursuit of the retreating imperials to a Voltoris - a knight world of house Terryn - the last piece of meaningful Imperial resistance in the sector (intending to stomp them for good instead of evading them like she had done the entire campaign), but it was a trap, the pursuit force gets decimated and Kor'sarro Khan wounds her (i.e.: the cover of Damocles), though she managed to escape with her head still on her shoulders. This was the only true defeat the Tau had through the whole campaign, though, and it caused her to regain her cool and return to her regular cold-hearted calculative bitch behavior, mainly because Aun'Va decided to show up in person at this point.

Following their advance towards the Gilded Worlds, Tau attacked a fortress world of Perfectia, but their old friends of Raven Guard, White Scars and Knights were already there and with reinforcements, with the Raven Guard bringing almost their entire chapter. The war turned into a a contest of cunning traps and escaping them with Raven Guard captains and Fire Caste commanders trying to outsmart each other with a limited success for both sides, and while the Raven Guard was familiar with that kind of war, the White Scars ended up completely out of their field of expertise and in a hilarious chain of fake retreats and ambushes, Shasera out-tricked Kor'Sarro so hard Tzeentch himself took a moment to admire the amount of Just As Planned involved. The resulting clusterfuck ended with a massive battle where Shadowsun proved herself a superior trap mistress and even pulled an Alpharius gambit on the Raven Guard chapter master, blowing him to bits with her new Ghostkeel suit while giving her own XV-22 to a sitting duck volunteer. White Scars retaliated with FOUL SORCERY psychic storms, conjured by their Stormseer conclave (turns out the librarian survived the melta shot from the previous book), but once again it was while effective, not effective enough to do anything but buy more time. When the war turned into a meat grinder despite Shasera's best effort to end it quickly and decisively, the deployment of the new Stormsurge suits proved instrumental to fighting off imperial Knights, and when surviving Knights begun their retreat and evacuation, the rest of the Imperials broke and retreated too. While the marines continued to resist, and Shrike even lead a successful counter-attack to retake Severax's gene-seed, the war was pretty much over. It wasn't as curb-stompy as the Mu'Gulath victory, but despite suffering heavy losses (like it was an IA book), the Tau conquered Perfectia and renamed it Vas'Talos ("Boundless Scope", but "Talos" was a greek giant treasure guardian, kinda like this sept guarding the advance on the Guilded worlds).

While Tau propaganda hailed it as a brilliant victory, it took too much time and too many bodies, and the Imperium launched a counter-invasion on Mu'Gulath Agrellan, and this time - following their dogma of "throwing bodies at it until it's fixed" - arrived with a shit-ton of guardsmen and Leman Russes (but they kinda forget to send anything else), who are only good at "proper", frontal fights, being easy prey for the Kauyon tactics the Tau had been using the entire campaign. Imperium, being Imperium, merely orders them to march forward nonetheless, expect to be ambushed and hope for the best.

This in turn allowed the badly outnumbered and besieged Tau to inflict much more casualties a force their size had any right to, but Imperium being Imperium just threw yet MOAR men at them AND tanks, which turned the second Agrellan campaign into a shameless tank porn fest, mainly because most of the battle zones were almost featureless irradiated deserts with a few ruins and dunes here and there (Agrellan's a re-settled virus-bombed planet after all), with Pask and Longstrike covering the hulls of their vehicles with kill marks, and rows of Leman Russes getting outranged by rows of Hammerheads (somehow, even though they have the same effective range) while silly infantrymen get mowed to red or blue paste in between them and air support was mostly unavailable because of the pollution/sand-storms of the planet (which were actually controlled by the Tau). The Imperium actually manages to tank through their initial losses, cut off Tau retreat, and start pounding them into the dust through sheer belligerence and pinpoint shooting from Knight-Commander Pask. The battle continues to escalate as Imperial forces press onward to stop the Tau from retreating and regrouping to their ambush tactics forcing Shadowsun out of her Kauyon element, and requiring her to commit more and more of her limited reserves into a standup fight that the Tau forces couldn't possibly win. Complicating matters further, the danger to Aun'va's life clouded Shadowsun's judgement and prevented her from committing all of her forces at a critical moment, which allowed Imperial forces to deflect a key counterattack and begin turning what had grown into one of the largest battles of the campaign into a rout in the Imperium's favor.

Then Farsight drops into the fray at the critical moment, Manta striking out of orbit from ships that seemed to appear quite literally out of thin air (presumably he's been spying on the Tau Empire and intercepted the distress call). Despite having declared Farsight a outcast and a rebel, the Tau are emboldened and manage to rally to his Enclaves, slowing the Imperial invasion down to a crawl with a violent stalemate over the world. Despite their victories, because the Tau are still severely outnumbered they cannot hold their ground and end up falling back to the final shielded fortress, 'shielded against orbital attacks (because that makes sense on a frontier world that had very recently faced war), built over the ruins of the former capital hive.

Rather than do the sensible thing that would have ended the war then and there, like have Terminators teleport next to the shield generator to destroy it, or have Assault Marines drop in to destroy it (like they were doing earlier in the exact same fucking book), the Imperium decides to engage in a proper static fight (their specialty), in this case an offensive siege. However, Farsight, master of Mont'Ka, in a book called Mont'Ka performs a, you guessed it... Kauyon while Shadowsun... also performs a Kauyon that the book calls a Mont'ka. This trap was meant to trick the Space Marines into attacking what looked to be a bunch of Tau training, and despite being nowhere near the important battle, offering no strategic value to the Imperium, and being in an area that could've been leveled with ordnance or orbital strikes, they take the bait and attack, having learned no lessons from their earlier engagements and forgetting to bring vital equipment like scanners so that the trap would work. They end up caught in it and do not contribute to the final battle in any way. Shrike and two full companies aren't fooled by the trap though, and manage to massacre the Tau in a melee ambush, though 200 (give or take a few) Space Marines running rampant behind Tau lines amounts to absolutely nothing and the book very quickly forgets that they're even around. Luckily for the Tau, the author liked them and so the Imperium was more than happy to send all of their Imperial Guard walking (what, you expected them to have chimeras?) in easy to pick off formations directly towards the guns that were specialized in picking them off (sending vehicles right in front of the stormsurge suits for example), rather than going around to a part of the city that wasn't as heavily defended and attacking there (in case you're curious, yes the there was more than one way into the city, no the Tau should not have the numbers to cover all fronts), and since the Mechanicus forgot that they're supposed to hate the Tau, they don't attack either even though attacking through ruined cities is something the Skitarii excel at. Because of this, and since the Imperial Guard cannot achieve anything without Space Marine assistance, and due to the fact that the stormsurge suits are invincible whenever they want to be, the Tau (masters guerilla warfare) actually manage to utterly defeat the imperials on a frontal fight across the entire city, even without Farsight's assistance despite him having a vital role to play, and without Shadowsun to organize and direct them properly for a good portion of the fight and despite the fact that they did not have the numbers needed to hold the Imperium back in earlier static fights.

While this was going on, the Imperium decides to employ the Officio Assassinorum Execution Force, using the final battle as a cover, on four of the top Tau Leaders: Shadowsun, Farsight, Farsight again (because they knew who the Deus Ex Machina was), and Aun'Va. While the first three end in some degree of failure or another due to plot armour (ie Tau's perfect reactions), the Callidus manages to kill one random Ethereal (this has no impact, even though it's supposed to traumatize all the Tau who hear of it), and the Culexus sent to kill Aun'Va succeeds by using his pariah abilities to literally hitch a ride into Aun'va's complex, murder his guards, and then brutally dispatching the Ethereal Supreme, leading to the actual death of a named character with a model for the first time in....fuck, FOREVER. In order to keep everyone calm, they replace the xeno-pope with a perfect hologram as they decided to fall back. You'd think they themselves would despair over losing at least two Ethereals, but luckily Shadowsun's mind is plot armoured too, (and Farsight no longer cares). And to put in a final insult, the Adeptus Mechanicus decide to drop the Exterminatus on Agrellan and erect a massive firewall around the Damocles sector, cutting any Tau colonies off from supplies from the empire proper. Luckily the main Tau building was outfitted with plot armour generators and the firestorm killed anyone outside of it (including millions of Tau and imperial leftovers) without cooking the people inside (think bread in an oven). Agrellan is lost, the Tau evacuate safely (though how they leave the planet and how Farsight returns to his Enclaves is left up to your imagination) and decide to learn how to build firewall immune ships. This causes massive casualties in the process, but failure is the mother of innovation, and EVERYTHING causes massive casualties in 40k anyway.

In the end, Shrike now has to take on bigger roles, Kor'sarro's still salty about getting owned, and Shadowsun and Farsight decide to agree to disagree, if only because they don't have the taupower to waste on killing each other. And speaking of that red bastard, he has to leave because his Enclaves are being eaten by Tyranids.

Some reflections:

  • Aun'Va has been replaced by some holos and some other ethereal may be doing the speech writing job.
  • Farsight enclaves are getting NOM NOMned by the tyranids...AGAIN.
  • The Imperium manages to lose yet another huge battleforce (mostly off-screen). Do notice the Raven Guard get Boreale'd (also off-screen), and while GW will be talking about some rubbish like honour in sacrifice and keeping the spirit in dark times this pretty much confirms they are becoming just another punching bag fallen to the level of the Astra Militarum *BLA-* BURST CANNON FIRE! PEWPEWPEW! Yeah, pretty much what happened. (As if they weren't before).
    • The battles could be resumed as "BUT THEN RESERVES ARRIVED". Everyone tries to out-Alpharius each other, too bad the imperials had to work with whatever was at hand and Tau brought a full crusade with them. And, because this is a Tau book, when the Imperial reinforcements do arrive the Tau get yet more unexpected reinforcements in the form of Farsight popping out of the blue red and the Imperium forget to send in the proper gear to the proper warzones.
  • The Mechanicus decided to show how it's done and set fire to the nebulae, as it seems they are the only human force which took everlasting measures in the wake of the battlegroup's failure. If you were expecting much AdMech involvement, sorry, they just snatch xeno-tech (Heresy!) and return to orbit, completely forgetting that they're supposed to hate the Tau to the point that they want them all dead. Not content with merely abandoning their IG allies, they keep to watching the many ways they die (mainly to see if there was anything else to steal). There was, so they send an entire Skitarii battleforce to try and abduct some stormsurge suits, which catches the Tau in an ambush...only to cut to Pask doing what he always does, the Skitarii forgotten for the rest of the book. If anyone even remotely won, it was them.
  • Are you starting to see a pattern here? Most of these campaign books seem to be ending with Exterminatus, just thrown in such an unorthodox and complicated way we are starting to wonder where the traditional methods went.
  • IRL Tau gundams sell extremely well, expect next-gen battlesuits to conquer the entire Eastern Fringe FOR THE GREATER anime show (No, seriously, their holos are used as propaganda among the Tau kids)! And then got NOMNOMed by the Tyranids to boost their sales.
Timeline of Warhammer 40,000
The Times of Old Wars of Secession - War in Heaven (60.000.000 BC) - Fall of the Eldar (M30)
Pre-Heresy Age of Terra (M1-M15) - Dark Age of Technology (M15-M25) - Age of Strife (M25-M30)
Great Crusade (M31) The Last Church - Interex - Faash - Council of Nikaea
Horus Heresy (M31) Battle of Isstvan III - The Burning of Prospero - Drop Site Massacre - Thramas Crusade
The Battle of Phall - Battle of Calth - Signus Campaign - Imperium Secundus - Siege of Terra
Time of Rebirth (M31-M32) The Great Scouring (M31) - Start of The Long War (M31) - The Legion Wars (M31)
The Battle of Skalathrax (M31) - Creation of the Codex Astartes (M31) - Second Founding (021.M31)
The Forging (M32-M34) The War of The Beast (544.M32-546.M32) - The Beheading (546.M32)
Nova Terra Interregnum (M34-M36) 21st Founding (M36)
Age of Apostasy (M36-37) Plague of Unbelief (310.M36)
Age of Redemption (M37-M38) Abyssal Crusade (321.M37-121.M38)
The Waning (M40-M41) Gothic War (143-151.M41) - The Macharian Crusade (392-399.M41) - The Macharian Heresy (400-470.M41)
Wars for Armageddon (444.M41, 941.M41 and 991.M41) - Damocles Crusade (742.M41)
Time of Ending (M41) The Vaxi Atrocity (731.M41) - First Tyrannic War (745-746.M41) - Siege of Vraks (813.M41-830.M41)
Massacre at Sanctuary 101 (897.M41) - Badab War (901-912.M41) - The Vaxhallian Genocide (926.M41)
Second Tyrannic War (990.M41-993.M41) - Third Tyrannic War (997.M41-999.M41) - Octarius War (999.M41)
13th Black Crusade (999.M41-ongoing)
Age of the Dark Imperium (M42-ongoing) Indomitus Crusade (M42) - Ultima Founding (M42) - Plague Wars (M42)