The Furens Atrocity
Few sources concerning the battle for the Furens System survived beyond the great literary purges of the post-war era. The underhand nature of the short but brutal conflict itself did little to foster the preservation of reliable first-hand accounts, and access to relevant documents held by the martial elements concerned is, unsurprisingly, almost impossible to obtain.
What little information is known of the engagement is recorded in Ivas Thull’s comprehensive, albeit dry, compendium concerning the wider War of the False Primarch, published in 736.M34, and later heavily redacted before republication in a considerably slighter form. In its original 5th volume, titled Blood and Ash, Thull briefly outlines the key events of the engagement in his much larger discussion of the later fighting around Artex:
The Furens System lay at the heart of the Abraxas subsector, to the Galactic West of Artex. For the better part of three years, during a relative lull in the wider war [the period more broadly dubbed The Sorrowful Years], had been occupied by elements of the Charnel Guard’s 7th Ostire under the command of Captain Leistryg Diantos.
The Furens System itself was centred around the planet of Furens Majoris, a primarily industrial world orbited by two moons; the largest of which, Furens Secundus, was a Forge World, upon which the raw materials mined on both Majoris and the enveloping asteroid field referred to as The Wreath were processed and utilised. The smaller, Furens Tertius, functioned primarily as a defence base, bristling with anti-starship laser batteries, and acted as home port for the systems’ own naval fleet.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.83+]
|[//The Furens system+]|
Across all three worlds, the Charnel Guard's 7th Ostire was re-equipped and brought back to full strength, following the slow attrition of multiple years of consistent front-line fighting in Sector Morqub. Few records remain which detail the activity of the Orthodox Astartes during this period, but it can be confidently speculated that the production of the Forge World would most likely have been of great interest to Diantos.
Secundus, utilising the raw materials mined from both the ore rich mountain ranges of Majoris and the surrounding asteroid field, produced large quantities of both ground and air-based armour, notably the Astartes pattern Predator and Spartan battle tanks and the highly-sought Thunderhawk gunship, which no doubt would have been welcomed into the ranks of the Charnel Guard. Alongside Astartes machines of war, Secundus was also the principal supplier of aircraft to the Furensian Air Force which operated across the system.
It was because of this immense industrial output that the eye of the Partisans turned towards the Furens System, coveting it as a valuable engine to further power their war effort. Partisan military build-up on the edge of Abraxas heavily implied an impending attack, and Orthodox forces in the area began the process of reinforcing the subsector.
After the initial successes of Volnoscere’s 'New Crusade' – Operation: Gauntlet – and its deep penetration into Orthodox territory, it came as a shock to both attacking and defending forces when Diantos’ 7th Ostire began preparation to depart the Furens System with haste, leaving to all intents and purposes undefended a system of substantial material importance. Barring the presence of PDF forces and the system’s own small naval fleet, the Furens System was seemingly forfeit to the False Primarch.
|[//Captain Diantos of the Charnel Guard’s 7th Ostire pictured prior to the Atrocity+]|
This unexpected withdrawal of Orthodox Astartes forces from the system further bolstered the resolve of Partisan senior officers, specifically Commander-in-Chief Delvin Altoris of the 21st Delphurnean Expeditionary Force, who held overall command of the operation. Altoris elected to bring the invasion of the system forward by at least two weeks. The 21st, 23rd, and 45th DEF would attack alongside elements of the Silver Stars and Red Fish Astartes Chapters in what was dubbed Operation Shortsword. The Operation's intent was to capture the system for use as both a valuable material gain and as a launching pad for future attacks towards Artex.
|[//Delvin Altoris, Commander-in-Chief of the DEF forces during Operation: Shortsword+]|
|[//Stylised campaign badge for the 21st Delphurnean Expeditionary Force, worn by troops during Operation Shortsword+]|
The Delphurnean Expeditionary Forces were vast combined-arms military outfits, consisting of ground, air, and naval elements. This combination of both planetary and void elements meant each DEF was capable of independent campaigning, although this was rare, with three or more separate DEF formations being deployed in tandem most commonly.
As the name suggests, a DEF comprised mainly of displaced citizens of the Delphurnean League systems recruited into military service at a young age. The germ of the idea was supposedly conceived by the False Primarch himself, who hoped to capitalise on the anti-Orthodox sentiment generated by the bloody invasion of their home-worlds by Pentarchy forces decades prior.
Some formations, such as the 21st DEF’s VI Wing, were made up of displaced citizens of singular worlds. In this instance the agri-world of Onaera, which had been razed during the first decade of the conflict, producing an immense diaspora of refugees across the sector.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.89+]
|[//Initial attack on the Forgeworld (moon) of Furens Secundus by Partisan forces. The white symbols represent Partisan forces, and the orange Orthodox.+]|
Furens Secundus was captured by Partisan forces in a relatively bloodless affair shortly after the Expeditionary Forces had translated in-system, with the Forge World’s Mechanicus custodians more than willing to avoid violence if the safeguarding of their precious technological stock was guaranteed. The defence base stationed on Tertius, however, was defended tenaciously by the few remaining units stationed there. The depletion of Tertius' defenders was owing to the majority of the native Furensian forces having been pulled back to Majoris to reinforce the system’s capital.
|[//Void warfare centred around the defence base situated on Furens Tertius, the smaller of the two moons+]|
After brief skirmishes with the system’s naval contingent, which was ultimately swept aside by the ships of the Partisan force, the main bulk of the ground forces of the 23rd DEF made planetfall on Tertius with the intention of capturing its anti-starship laser batteries intact. This heavily-defended moon was a much harder nut to crack than the Forgeworld. Orthodox forces, consisting of some eight regiments of Imperial Guard forces entrenched around key strategic positions, held the Partisans for just over two days before a spear-tip strike carried out by a demi-company of Silver Stars Astartes brought their swift capitulation. The devastating arsenal of batteries on the moon were subsequently neutralised, but not before they had managed to destroy the Dictator-class Cruiser Fury of Ishim in orbit, in what proved to be an embarrassing miscalculation for General Polis Bard, commander of the 23rd DEF. Bard was subsequently dismissed by Altoris.
The Invasion of Furens Majoris
With the departure of the Astartes garrison, Partisan generals had naively, or perhaps arrogantly, assumed the invasion of the Furens System would be a complete walkover, and many had already turned their thoughts beyond this minor incursion towards future glories deep into Abraxas. After the unexpected carnage on Tertius, however, Partisan officials had to radically reconsider their plans for the invasion of Majoris to account for the almost fanatical defence being mounted by the PDF forces.
Their solution was to strike hard and fast, focusing their initial efforts against the Furensian atmospheric air fleet based in the Alt Maine mountain range, before moving North towards the planetary capital of Hive Jerichus. Astartes forces initially stationed in reserve were hurried to the frontlines in an attempt to execute a swift end to an already bloated campaign.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.101+]
|[//The final attack on the planet Furens Majoris.+]|
The main objectives for the invasion of Furens Majoris consisted of two primary strategic positions: the industrial sites at the base of the Alt Maine mountain range, and Hive Jerichus, located to the North-East of the planet’s single continent. Other, smaller inhabited zones would be dealt with after the capitulation of these two key sites. Before the deployment of infantry and the commencement of the ground war, however, the daunting task of defeating the Furensian Air Force, who dominated the skies of the industrial continent lay ahead of the Partisan invaders.
A natural barrier to any advances on the ground, the towering Alt Maine mountain range provided the backdrop for some of the most ferocious fighting of the entire campaign, as air elements from both sides clashed in a bid to assert aerial dominance. For any Partisan beachhead to be established, then the innumerable aeries situated in the mountains, along with their vast air fleet, had to be neutralised and captured intact. Altoris pressed to his generals that an orbital bombardment was not a viable solution, as the Alt Maine was also the site of much of the planet’s mining facilities where raw materials were gathered for subsequent transportation off world to Secundus, damage to which the Commander-in-Chief was keen to minimise.
The task of capturing the Alt Maine fell to the elite air wings of the 21st DEF, supported by elements from the 23rd and 45th held in reserve. Wings of the initial invasion were deployed from carrier-craft stationed in orbit, outside of the planet’s atmosphere. Air wings of the 21st made headway for southern tip of the Alt Maine with the intent of capturing multiple aeries as rapidly as possible, to establish a planetary beachhead from which the assault on Hive Jerichus could be launched.
The few surviving documents available suggest that the initial air war lasted approximately nine days, with the DEF air wings eventually claiming victory through their skill and, ultimately, sheer weight of numbers. Some sources even indicate that Astartes aircraft, possibly of the Red Fish Chapter, were deployed directly from orbit on more than one occasion where resistance was most fierce.
Air Marshall Fenn Haraz, commander of Orthodox aerial forces on Majoris, ordered a full withdrawal from the Alt Maine, with the remnants of the Furensian Air Force falling back to the lesser mountain ranges of Alt Konig and Alt Jungen situated to the North of the continent. Here, Haraz hoped his forces would become instrumental in the defence of Hive Jerichus, but ultimately the damage inflicted during the fighting over Alt Maine meant the Orthodox involvement in the air war was all but over, able to present only token resistance before the full might of the DEF aerial forces. Following the fall of the Alt Maine, all but a few of the lesser inhabited zones outside of Jerichus’ walls were ceded to the Partisan invaders. Both the vital mountainside aeries and industrial sites of the wider continent were now firmly in Partisan hands, allowing total air and materiel dominance in anticipation of a massive combined arms push North.
The Siege of Hive Jerichus
Having slogged through several outer trench networks and the vast walls of the hive itself, Partisan ground forces fought tooth and nail for the streets and hab-blocks of Jerichus, paying for each metre of ground in blood. By the end of the first week of the siege around one million deaths had been recorded between both attacker and defender. By the end of the siege’s 13th day, around 2.5 million military personnel and civilians lay dead in the streets of the once prosperous hive city.
Once the hive’s shields generators were destroyed, the collapse of the defence network was rapid, as the DEF’s air wings swept in and began the bombing of key points of resistance. After 17 days of savage fighting, only few minor pockets of resistance remained, and both the strategically and symbolically significant site of the governor’s palace was captured, heralding the end of the siege and Orthodox capitulation on Majoris.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.124+]
|[//Pict-capture of Infantryman Bhien of the 23rd DEF’s ground forces during the opening phases of the Siege of Hive Jerichus – missing, presumed dead after the hive’s later destruction+]|
The fall of Hive Jerichus saw Partisan commanders, believing Operation Shortsword had now concluded, begin to implement their plans for the subduing of final pockets of resistance across the system’s capital planet. In a somewhat arrogant and ill-conceived move, Altoris and key members of his general staff, along with commanders of both the 23rd and 45th DEF, made planetfall once assurances had been made regarding the security of the hive’s main civic district. Here, accompanied by an honour guard of Astartes from both Silver Stars and Red Fish contingents, the elites paraded to the central government building of Furens, met by crowds of elated Partisan soldiers. Here Altoris addressed his forces, declaring victory and preparing his troops for the next phase of the push towards Artex.
Basking in the glory of his first operational victory since assuming DEF command, historians of The War of the False Primarch have criticised the hubris of Altoris. Despite the difficulty of subduing the Furens System, which took far longer than initially conceived, and involving the expenditure of more manpower and materiel than expected, the Commander-in-Chief was adamant that he greeted the ground forces stationed on Majoris in person to commemorate their hard-won struggle against the Orthodox tyrants.
The excesses of Altoris would ultimately prove to be his downfall, and the success of Shortsword was to be both his first and final operational victory.
|[//Gôrrek-Sol – present during the warfare on Tertius, the Contemptor would later witness the False Primarch himself.+]|
The Trap is Sprung
It is said that the victory speech of Altoris himself was interrupted by the deafening wail of raid sirens across Jerichus, as fire erupted in orbit miles above. Soldiers of the DEF, held frozen in place by confusion and fear, eventually began to scatter as orbital batteries, whose origins were invisible to the naked eye, rained incendiary missiles down into the hive. With the main shields having been destroyed during the Partisan siege there proved no real shelter from the intense bombardment, and massive fires began to break out throughout the densely packed habitation districts, quickly exploded into towering infernos.
Unknown to the invaders, the Charnel Guard’s 7th Ostire had in fact remained in-system; rather than retreating deeper into Orthodox territory, Diantos had ordered his fleet into the vast hellscape of The Wreath. Within the asteroid belt, the Astartes Captain enforced a strict fleet-wide comms silence, with vessels reduced to minimal power function; some reports even indicated that large numbers of the Astartes retired to their stasis crypts.
Alongside this enforced comms silence, the presence of a significant amount of raw dysprosium, a rare-earth element with magnetic properties within The Wreath, proved capable of shielding the Astartes fleet from Partisan long-range scanners, while the density of the asteroid belt itself deterred any Partisan ships from entering unless entirely necessary.
Like a great beast from the myths of Old-Terra, the Charnel Guard fleet emerged from its slumber, bloated and thirsting for slaughter.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.136+]
Panic and terror spread throughout Hive Jerichus among both Partisan and the remaining Orthodox forces as Diantos’ machinations became apparent. With the hive shield’s irreparably damaged during the Partisan siege, Diantos ordered orbital fire be concentrated on the North-East region of Majoris’ single continent, determined to level Jerichus and all within, both Partisan and Orthodox alike.
|[//Charnel Guard Storm Eagle+]|
Streams of survivors, civilian, military, Orthodox, and Partisan, poured through the hive’s streets towards the perimeter gates, desperate to escape the escalating fire storm inside the city. Cries of panic and screams of pain were drowned out by the incessant wailing of raid klaxons and the whine of jet thrusters storming overhead. What few transport craft remained functional cut through black clouds of smoke, hovering over flaming buildings and civic squares, searching for a safe space to land and collect whoever remained living on the streets of Jerichus.
Altoris himself is reported to have boarded an Arvus Lighter cargo shuttle, after his Astartes bodyguards had fought off crowds of panicked Partisans soldiers attempting to board alongside him. The craft was shot down shortly after by an unidentified Astartes fighter, most likely of the Charnel Guard’s I Wing, which had been deployed from orbit with the intention of harrying ships attempting to evacuate elite Partisan personnel off world from within Jerichus.
Within the hour the incendiary missiles of the 7th Ostire had succeeded in reducing Hive Jerichus into a blackened husk, its only survivors those who had been able to retreat deep enough underground during the opening moments of the initial bombardment. Above, in orbit, Diantos initiated the secondary phase of their attack on the doomed world, ordering further attacks across Furens’ single continent, focusing further fire bombings on key industrial sites and larger areas of habitation.
The planet of Furens Majoris was to become an altar of sacrifice, symbolic of the Pentarchy’s willingness to commit to a scorched earth policy, salting the once fertile land in the face of the encroaching New Crusade. Historians have often debated the utility of such a strategy, citing the likelihood of neighbouring systems ceding to the Partisan Imperial cause when faced with the brutal and uncaring nature of Orthodox Imperial forces. The opposite was in fact true, as Furens demonstrated the sheer materiel weight and dogged conviction that lay behind the Orthodox warmachine, proving to both ally and enemy alike that war against the Imperium was unwinnable in the long term.
The issue of outright enactment of Exterminatus on Majoris may seem more efficient than the sporadic firebombing of specific zones proved to be, but scholars of the conflict believe the destabilisation of the system’s industrial balance, as well as considerable displacement of civilians, was a deliberate act on the part of the Imperial forces, seeking to lumber the Partisans with further administrative and logistical obstacles that the total destruction of Majoris’ population would have avoided.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.139+]
|[//Charnel Guard infiltrators emerge from stasis on Furens Tertius+]|
As Partisan forces in orbit rushed to meet the oncoming Orthodox fleet, scrambled messages of panic began to filter in from the small garrison on Furens Tertius. A force of Charnel Guard Astartes proven to be lying in wait, entombed within a vast network of catacombs beneath the moon’s surface, since prior to the system’s invasion. Later confirmed to have lain undetected due to a combination of sus-an membrane use and poor reconnaissance on the Partisans' parts, the Charnel Guard had stormed the defence base’s command centres and were now redirecting surface-to-orbital fire towards the Partisan fleet.
In a twist of fate, the senior officer aboard the reeling Partisan fleet was the recently demoted Polis Bard. Seizing control, Bard rallied the stunned DEF forces, and ordered the deployment of Silver Stars and Red Fish Astartes upon Tertius in an attempt to subdue the punishing laser batteries cutting apart the floundering Partisan ships.
Conflict on Tertius
Frustratingly vague and patchy in detail, the resulting conflict can be sounded out only through inference and tertiary sources. Quite beyond the usual redaction, part of the reason for this is that the conflict was short-lived but colossally damaging.
Drop pod deployment was reportedly led by the Silver Stars, in one of the first Company-scale deployments of the Pseudolegion in Heliopolis – though the Red Fish are also named as 'vanguard' in an off-hand comment in one of the earliest extant reports, later attributed to Dionysius Maro. Whoever led the force, that the deployment of the Partisan Astartes was held back has been attributed to Altoris wanting to demonstrate that his forces were capable of success without support. A compelling argument, however, suggests that the Pseudolegion and their allies were already thinly-spread at this stage of the broader war.
No records remain of the initial landing, but it is likely that it was highly contested – not by remaining Orthodox Guard forces, but by a substantial sacrificial deployment of the Charnel Guard's distinctively non-standard Naluca units. Given the time-period in which Furens came under attack, it is possible that this represents the Charnel Guard being forced to deploy their reserves – but given that more than four thousand warriors were even then being inducted into Coldforge-pattern plate elsewhere in the Sector, it seems more likely that the use of these horrifying creatures was intentional.
Captain Diantos made full use of the Naluca, though other pict-captures suggest that their demented and irresistible charge was supplemented and augmented (perhaps directed) with additional Charnel Guard forces. How these came to be on the surface is unclear. Whether they were likewise embedded in sus-an stasis and later revived is possible – though that would imply a severe oversight on the part of Partisan scouts – and it is possible that Diantos made a counter-assault through the use of conventional void-atmosphere capable aircraft, taking advantage of the confusion.
|[//Warfare on Furens Tertius. The atmospheric disturbance is apparent in this shot. +]|
Confusingly, it appears that the initial small Charnel Guard force on Tertius was cut off within hours by the infamous Silver Stars formation the Orthodoxy called 'Bismuth Company' – but later reappeared. Contributing to the confusion was the detonation of several industrial stacks across the region. The damage inflicted to the manufacturing capabilities of the world was catastrophic – and it seems inconceivable that the Silver Stars and Red Fish forces were not heavily impacted by the macro-scale explosions, leaving the way open for Diantos to encircle and decimate isolated formations.
|[//unattributed pict-capture, apparently showing Charnel Guard engaging Silver Stars on the surface. +]|
Bard himself is reported to have been killed when the strike cruiser he was stationed aboard, The Indomitable Will, was destroyed by The Exaltoris, flagship of the 7th Ostire’s fleet, but not before overseeing the evacuation of a number of high-profile Partisan elites from the surface of Majoris, and ordering a full-scale retreat towards Secundus.
After desperate fighting in the rear guard, where Silver Stars and Red Fish forces led suicidal boarding actions against the enemy, those ships left to the Partisan fleet began to regroup outside the orbit of Secundus and consolidated their defensive position, expecting further assaults from the Charnel Guard.
In actuality, except for a small number of minor vessels continuing to harry stragglers entering the DEF picket around Secundus, Diantos and the 7th Ostire, having reduced Majoris to ash, turned and headed silently towards the Furens System’s Mandeville Point, to the Galactic East of the capital planet.
|[//A depleted squad of Silver Stars pseudolegionaries cautiously search the area+]|
A substantial number of Silver Stars and Red Fish were left stranded on Furens Tertius for more than three weeks, during which the remaining feral Naluca abandoned on the world continued to harry them.
Within hours of their ambush having been launched, the last of the Charnel Guard fleet had translated out of system, leaving behind them a battered and broken enemy, and a scorched, silent rock suspended in the cold void.
[//Ivas Thull, The War of the False Primarch: Vol. V - Blood and Ash, (736.M34), p.141+]
The damage done was to the world was, to all intents and purposes, irreparable. The Partisans had been relying upon taking the system cleanly, hoping to use it as a strategic base for resupply and also to provide much needed provender and support to the still-smouldering Deplhurnean League.Rather than inheriting a populous and effective resupply point, The False Primarch's scions were saddled with little more than a white elephant: a damaged region in a position too valuable to cede, and too demanding to act as a useful stepping stone from Morqub.
The sheer scale of the conflict – and the swollen size of the Pentarchy Chapters and Partisan alliance alike – often draws attention from the sheer scale of damage and disruption that a small group of Astartes can inflict upon a region. The concentration of force applied at a critical point by what is reckoned to have initially been little more than a score of Charnel Guard warriors led inexorably to Partisan humiliation.
[//extr. Tacticae Mundanis, M35 [VERBOTEN]+]