Battle of Calth
The Battle of Calth was a major battle of the Horus Heresy, in which the Word Bearers Traitor Legion attempted to exterminate the Ultramarines Legion, on the orders of Warmaster Horus, who anticipated that Guilliman, the Ultramarines' Primarch, would not join his rebellion against the Emperor.
During the Great Crusade, approximately forty years before the Heresy, the Emperor of Mankind rebuked the Word Bearers and their primarch, Lorgar Aurelian, for fostering idolatrous worship of the Emperor, and for violent atrocities against those who were slow to adopt their beliefs[5d]. As an object lesson, the Emperor ordered Guilliman and the Ultramarines to raze the city of Monarchia, the Word Bearers' proudest achievement, to the ground. He then forced Lorgar and his entire Legion to kneel in the city's ashes before him, Guilliman, and Malcador the Sigillite[4a].
These events sent Lorgar down a dark path that would eventually lead him to swear allegiance to Warmaster Horus Lupercal and the Gods of Chaos, and set the entire Word Bearers Legion in a vendetta against the Ultramarines[4x].
After the massacres of loyalist forces at Isstvan III and V, and having gained the allegiance of Lorgar and the other Traitor Primarchs, Horus believed that the Ultramarines - the largest of all the Space Marine Legions - were the last and only significant obstacle to his total victory over the Emperor[2k].
Horus ordered Guilliman to gather the majority of his Legion at Calth, one of the many planets in the Ultramar Coalition. The ostensible reason for this order was an anticipated incursion by Orks in the Veridian system[5a]. As if the muster of the Ultramarines was not enough, Horus ordered that the Word Bearers would go into battle alongside the Ultramarines[2c].
Some of the more cynical Ultramarines, including Guilliman himself, guessed that the operation was more a political exercise than a real war: Horus, the newly-appointed Warmaster, wanted to demonstrate his authority by issuing an order to the largest of all the Space Marine Legions, and give the recently-disfavored Word Bearers a chance to gain some reflected glory by fighting alongside the Ultramarines[2c].
Later analyses of the Battle would criticize that there were plenty of signs warning of the Word Bearers' intentions, but the Ultramarines, for all their martial prowess, failed to notice them. The Ultramarines were simply unprepared for the novelty of fighting against a brother Legion, especially one that based its strategy on manipulating the forces of the Empyrean. Lorgar took full advantage of this blindness[2c].
Approximately one hundred thirty-six hours before Mark Zero, (the official start of the Battle, by the Ultramarines' reckoning)[2b], the Word Bearers boarded the fleet tender Campanile and massacred its crew in the outlying reaches of the Veridian system[2a].
The Word Bearers began to arrive in-system at around Mark -1.24.00, docking their fleet with Calth's orbital shipyards and deploying ground forces – including Legionnaires, human auxiliaries, and Titans – to the surface of Calth, presumably to await embarkation alongside the Ultramarines[2a].
Sixty hours before Mark Zero, the Word Bearers and their cultist soldiers commenced the first of their Chaos rituals, which would cause havoc across the planet. The Ultramarines picked up the sounds of chanting over the vox, but dismissed them as solar flare distortion. Likewise, nearly all of the Ultramarines' lapsed psykers, who had been redeployed to ordinary tactical places after the Emperor's Decree at the Council of Nikaea, began experiencing headaches. Since the Emperor had forbidden the use of their psychic abilities, they dismissed the sensations as fatigue, and did not mention them to their superiors, or even to each other[2c].
At around Mark -16.44.00, Magos Uhl Kehal Hesst noticed a foreign scrapcode infesting the cogitators controlling Calth's orbital defence network. The source of this scrapcode was a Chaos ritual being conducted in secret at the camp of the Word Bearers' auxiliaries, The Brotherhood of the Knife[2d]. This ritually-produced scrapcode, known as the Octed, was finally implanted at Mark -7.55.09[2e]. Approximately one hour before Mark Zero, First Chaplain Erebus arrived by teleport on the Satric Plateau, north of Numinus City, to commence a dark ritual[2f].
Twenty minutes before Mark Zero, the Campanile, which had bypassed Calth's outer defence grid, accelerated to full sub-light velocity. At the same time, Sorot Tchure, a Captain of the Word Bearers who had boarded the Ultramarines' cruiser Samothrace, opened fire on Captain Honorius Luciel and his entourage, killing them outright[2f]. Luciel and his seventeen men were regarded by many as the first "official" casualties of the Battle of Calth[2a].
The Campanile streaked into Calth's primary shipyard like an enormous missile, annihilating numerous warships and killing thousands in less than two seconds. The impact unleashed a massive electromagnetic pulse that disabled the majority of the remaining ships and, in conjunction with the scrapcode attack, also disabled Calth's weapons grid[2g].
Ten seconds after the Campanile's murderous journey, the Word Bearers' fleet opened fire on the Ultramarines' disabled ships, destroying them at will[2h]. Enormous pieces of the destroyed ships and space stations fell to Calth's surface, causing devastating explosions and tsunamis[2h][2i].
The Ultramarines and their Army auxiliaries naturally sought to link up with their counterparts from the Word Bearers, and were massacred as their once-brothers opened fire on them. The Ultramarines of the 111th and 112th Companies were among the first to be slaughtered[2i].
From the bridge of the disabled flagship Macragge's Honour, Guilliman swiftly deduced that the Word Bearers were opening fire on them, but attributed it to mistake on Lorgar's part. He transmitted urgent pleas for cease-fire, but when Lorgar refused to stop after a direct lithocast communication, Guilliman reluctantly authorized his forces to defend themselves, officially commencing the Battle of Calth at Mark Zero[2i].
Tchure and his elite warriors slaughtered the remainder of the Samothrace crew, and, at their signal, Kor Phaeron teleported onto the ship, which they then docked with Calth's primary orbital defence platform[2j].
The Word Bearers' fleet, unchallenged, moved into low orbit above Calth's southern hemisphere, and began bombarding it, causing millions of casualties, both Ultramarine and civilian alike[2j].
At approximately Mark 1.38.00, Guilliman, who was sifting innumerable pieces of data in an attempt to understand the reasons for the Word Bearers' actions, received notice of the Campanile boarding. Concluding that Lorgar had planned the whole attack, Guilliman rescinded his appeals for cease-fire and instead transmitted his vow to kill his former brother and his entire Legion. Where Guilliman's prior hails had been ignored, it amused Lorgar to respond to this one, explaining with relish that his Legion and others had joined the banner of Warmaster Horus Lupercal in rebellion against the Emperor, already massacred Loyalist forces at Isstvan III and V, and, with the Ultramarines destroyed, there would be no force left that could stop Horus from overthrowing the Emperor. Guilliman barely had time to absorb this shock before Lorgar spoke an incantation, summoning a swarm of daemons that smashed into the Honour bridge, venting it to space[2k]. After this, Lorgar left command of the Calth operation to Kor Phaeron, and took the rest of the Word Bearers' force deeper into Ultramar.
At Mark 4.55.00, Kor Phaeron and his men had completed the taking over of Calth's weapons grid, and opened fire on the surrounding planets and planetoids in the Veridian system, beginning with the manufactoria asteroid Veridia Forge[2l].
The Word Bearers had achieved complete surprise, and managed to slaughter half or more of the loyalist muster before the latter could begin to react, but had reckoned without the intractable fighting spirit of the Ultramarines.
Captain Remus Ventanus of the 4th Company had escaped the Word Bearers' surprise attack on the Northern Continent by the slimmest of margins, and, while escaping the pursuing Word Bearers, linked up with a group of Skitarii who had been guarding Numinus City's defence cogitators. By good fortune, they were equipped with back-up vox-casters on a separate network, that allowed Ventanus to establish contact with another Captain of the 4th, Lyros Sydance. They coordinated a rendezvous at Leptius Numinus, a former Governor's palace on the Plains of Dera[2l][2m].
Entrenching themselves at the palace, Ventanus and his men came under attack by the Word Bearers; when informed, Kor Phaeron at first considered it a diversion from the force's primary mission, but the ferocity of the Ultramarines' resistance led him to reconsider and re-task the force's commander, Morpal Cxir, to exterminate them. Fortunately, the palace was equipped with a functioning data-engine, which Magos Hesst's deputy, Meer Edv Tawren was able to activate and use to re-establish auspexes and communications. The Word Bearers attacked in overwhelming numbers, but were held back, until they were ambushed from behind and defeated by the approach of Captain Sydance's force[2n][2o][2p][2q].
At Mark 11.06.00, vox contact between the disparate units of Ultramarines all over the planet was finally restored[2r].
Aboard the Macragge's Honour, First Master Marius Gage was maimed and nearly killed by the daemons overrunning the ship, but was saved by Sergeant Aeonid Thiel, leading an ad hoc party of Ultramarines to cleanse the ship. Thiel had been marked for censure for preparing theoretical combat scenarios that involved Space Marines fighting other Space Marines; this, ironically, made him most able to adapt to the bizarre tactical situation now confronting the Ultramarines. With Gage's approval, he led his party to eliminate the remaining daemons from the ship[2n]. At Mark 11:40.00, Thiel and his men cleared the way to the Honour auxiliary bridge, allowing Gage to re-take control of the ship, just in time to communicate with Ventanus on the surface[2r].
By the time Gage was able to see a near-complete picture, the odds were grim: half or more of the Ultramarines' muster had been destroyed (as many as one hundred thousand Legionnaires or more)[2m], the fleet had been reduced to a fifth of its original strength[2t], and the survivors planetside had been reduced to roughly thirty thousand Legionnaires and two hundred thousand Army regulars and Mechanicum soldiers, split into roughly seventy disparate groups around the planet; in every respect, they were grossly outnumbered by the Word Bearers. As Magos Tawren reflected, any other force than the Ultramarines would have conceded defeat already[2s][2v].
The fleet's only saving grace was that the Word Bearers were refraining from destroying the largest capital ships, instead using boarding parties to capture them intact. Gage mobilised void-parties to repel these boarders, led by Thiel. It was during this desperate fight, when the Ultramarines were outnumbered eight to one, that Guilliman reappeared. He had been missing for hours after the destruction of the Honour's bridge, but his enhanced physiology allowed him to survive the near-vacuum outside the ship. Guilliman slew several Word Bearers with his bare hands before Thiel persuaded him to re-board the ship[2t].
On the surface, havoc entered Leptius Numinus in the form of the daemon Samus, who had "entered" the compound in the body of the captured Commander Cxir. Ventanus only managed to slay it by the slimmest of margins[2s][2t].
In coordination with Erebus on the surface, who had nearly completed his ritual, Kor Phaeron turned the orbital platform's weapons onto the Veridian sun itself[2u].
Magos Tawren discovered that, during the last moments of his life, Magos Hesst had formulated a code which would allow her to purge the Word Bearers' scrapcode. However, the data-engine at Leptius Numinus was not powerful enough to re-take control of Calth's defence grid. That task was left to the Ultramarines in orbit[2v].
Guilliman assembled a force of fifty Ultramarines to teleport aboard the platform. While they were assaulting the main control center, Kor Phaeron was able to stun Guilliman with powers granted by the Warp. While Guilliman was temporarily helpless, Phaeron bent over him with a ritual knife. He could have killed the primarch, but was intoxicated with the idea of converting Guilliman to Chaos, just as Erebus had converted Horus. This was a fatal mistake; although his flesh was pierced, Guilliman was resistant to the dark influence of Phaeron's blade, and tore Phaeron's primary heart from his chest with his massive armour claw. This was not enough to kill Phaeron, but was enough to drive him and his elite guard from the platform. Sergeant Thiel swiftly destroyed the platform's data systems, breaking the Word Bearers' control of the defence grid[2w][2y][2z].
While part of his force stayed behind to guard the vital data-engine, Ventanus led the majority to link up with an armoured element from the 4th Company to lead a counter-attack on the Word Bearers, led by Hol Beloth and Foedral Fell[2w][2x][2y]. Grossly outnumbered, they received unexpected support from the remnants of the 111th and 112th Companies under Sergeant Anchise, the 19th Company under Captain Aethon, Titans under Tetrarch Tauro Nicodemus, and another relief force led by Tetrarch Eikos Lamiad and the Dreadnought, Telemechrus[2z]. Under normal circumstances, this would have merely delayed the Ultramarines' ultimate defeat, but the actions aboard the orbital platform allowed Magos Tawren to input the code and re-take control of the orbital weapons systems. She immediately opened fire on the Word Bearers on the ground, and their fleet in orbit, exacting a swift revenge on both. The Macragge's Honour likewise joined the fray, opening fire on the suddenly wrong-footed Word Bearer vessels[2z].
Phaeron and the survivors of his party teleported to the Word Bearers' flagship Infidus Imperator, which began to retreat out of system. Guilliman furiously ordered Gage to pursue in the Macragge's Honour, leading to one of the most infamous naval duels in Imperial history[2z].
Although the Ultramarines had prevented the Veridian sun from going nova, the star was irreversibly poisoned and changed, and began to bombard Calth with lethal radiation. Guilliman was forced to order as complete an evacuation of the system as was possible, in the short time they had left, while Ventanus led the surviving ground forces into Calth's gargantuan cavern system, knowing it would be months, or years, before the fleet could return to extract them[2z][2aa]. At Mark 23:43.00, the remnants of the Ultramarines' fleet translated out of system, signaling the end of that phase of the Battle of Calth, and, as the surviving Word Bearers followed the loyalist survivors into the caverns, began the phase known as the Underworld War[2aa][2cc].
On the Satric Plateau, Erebus had completed his dark ritual, and, believing the Ultramarines finished as a threat to Horus, cut a hole in the materium and escaped the planet's death with the host of daemons he had summoned[2z]. He was, however, followed in short order by Oll Persson, a retired soldier of the Imperial Army who had, guided by John Grammaticus, led a small force of human survivors to the Plateau. The outcome of his actions is as yet unknown[2bb].
A Secret Mission
While the remnants of the Ultramarines and the Imperial Army were making their exodus to the caves, to escape the poisoning of Calth's atmosphere, the 21st Company, under Captain Erikon Gaius, were dug in at one of the railway tunnels leading to Numinus City[5b]. In the midst of their defence from the attacking Word Bearers, Nathaniel Garro, former Battle-Captain of the now-Traitor Death Guard, arrived on a secret mission from Malcador the Sigillite, to recruit Tylos Rubio, a former Codicier of the Legion. At first, Rubio refused to abandon his brothers, but was left with no choice when, in the face of the Word Bearers' next, overwhelming assault, he unleashed his dormant psyker abilities, saving his company but making him an outcast for disobeying the Decree of Nikaea. He and Garro left the planet in Garro's Stormbird[5c][5d][5e].
The Battle for Ithraca
The city of Ithraca was the staging point for two Titan Legions assigned to the Veridian undertaking, the Legio Praesagius (the "True Messengers") and the Fire Masters. As the Titans were boarding their ships, the Fire Masters turned on their allies and opened fire, at the same time that the Word Bearers fleet in orbit launched orbital bombardment.[8a] Many of the Messengers' Titans were destroyed in the surprise attack, but quick thinking by the remaining commanders pulled the survivors into the streets of Ithraca, forcing the Fire Masters to extend their line and pursue.[8b]
The center of the battle soon revolved around the wreck of the heavy transport ship Arutan, which had crashed in the middle of the city after being struck by orbital fire. The Arutan had the majority of the True Messengers' Titans aboard, and loyalist forces fought to open her cargo doors and unleash them into the fight, while the traitor forces fought just as ferociously to prevent this.[8b] The loyalist cordon protecting the ship was close to collapsing, when the doors were finally opened, bolstering their line and allowing them to counterattack the Fire Masters. The ultimate outcome of the battle is not known.[8c]
The Destruction of the Furious Abyss
At the same time that Lorgar had concentrated his Legion's offensive on Calth, a separate assault on the Ultramarines' homeworld of Macragge had been prepared, using a massive battleship known as the Furious Abyss. Had it succeeded in reaching Macragge, it would likely have annihilated the planet, the remaining two Chapters of the Ultramarines, and the stores of gene-seed in the Legion's fortress-monastery. Fortunately, however, it was intercepted in space by an ad hoc force led by Ultramarines Captain Lysimachus Cestus and destroyed, though at the cost of their own lives.
More than one-half of the Ultramarines' muster (at least one hundred thousand Ultramarines, and thousands more soldiers) died during the Battle of Calth, and many more likely perished during the Underground War. However, the Word Bearers ultimately failed to eradicate the XIII Legion, and Guilliman lost little time in embarking his remaining forces to Terra, to intervene in Horus's planned overthrow of the Emperor. This was to prove decisive to the outcome of the Horus Heresy; although the Ultramarines were unable to reach Terra in time to take part in the battle, word of their approach reached Horus, forcing him to gamble by allowing the Emperor to teleport aboard Horus's ship[Needs Citation].
Erebus cared little for the military objectives of the Battle; he and his acolytes intended the destruction of Calth to be an offering to their dark gods, and, even as the Ultramarines regained the initiative, reckoned that the ritual had been a complete success. At the climax of the ritual, Erebus had summoned several of the most powerful daemons which would take part in the Traitor Legions' assault on the Imperial Palace[2g][2u][2aa].
Lorgar himself remarked that seeing the stoic Guilliman lose his temper made the whole undertaking worthwhile for him[2k].
At some point during or after the Battle of Calth Argel Tal would remark to Khârn that there was another purpose to Calth. Lorgar and Argel Tal chose each Word Bearer that was sent to Calth based on their competence, specifically those who allowed their hatred of the Ultramarines to cloud their judgements and became unreliable. They were judged to be expendable to the Legion and sent on a mission it was expected very few, if any, would return from. Thus Calth served as a third purge for the ranks of the Word Bearers, removing those that were loyal but incompetent and ultimately a detriment to the Legion.
Millions of civilians died in the Word Bearers' cataclysmic attack, which permanently stripped away Calth's atmosphere and poisoned the Veridian sun's radiation, making it impossible for any life to survive aboveground without shelter. Thereafter, Calth's entire population occupied the vast cavern cities, with the exception of a few heavily shielded starports and surface cities[6a].
In 999.M41, ten thousand years after the Heresy, Hol Beloth's Dark Apostle, Maloq Kartho, would revisit Ultramar as the Daemon Prince M'kar, though he was unable to set foot on Calth, declaring the world "anathema" to him[6a][6b].
According to the official Ultramarines reckoning, the Battle of Calth has not yet ended; the Mark of Calth continued running after Guilliman's withdrawal from the system, and will continue to run as long as Lorgar or a single member of his Legion lives[2dd].
- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Chapters totaling 185,923 Astartes
- Legio Praesagius and elements of the Legio Oberon Titan Legions containing around 118 Titans
- The Knight House of Vornherr
- 1 Million Imperial Army and Ultramar militia soldiers
- 35,000 Mechanicum Personnel and Automata
- Word Bearers
- The Exalted Gate, Unspeaking, Twisting Rune, Third Hand, Black Comet, Osseous Throne, Graven Star, Asps of the Sacred Sands, Flayed Hand, Inscribed, and Tri-fold Crowns Chapters totaling roughly 50,000 Astartes
- Roughly 500,000 Cultists from the Recursive Kin and the Ring, Brotherhood of the Knife, and Mandari
- Legio Suturvora with roughly 130 Titans.
According to Know No Fear (Novel), the Battle of Calth concludes just short of twenty-four hours after Mark Zero, while the ground forces are evacuating the surface to escape the poisoned sun's radiation[2aa]; however, according to Garro: Oath of Moment (Audio Book), the 21st Company has been dug in "for days" following the initial Word Bearer Assault[5b].
- 1: Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pgs. 13-14
- 2: Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- 2a: Target//Acquisition, Chapter One, pg. 17-21
- 2b: Target//Acquisition, Chapter Two, pgs. 27-28
- 2c: Target//Acquisition, Chapter Three, pgs. 39-46
- 2d: Target//Acquisition, Chapter Six, pgs. 67-77
- 2e: Target//Acquisition, Chapter Seven, pg. 92
- 2f: Target//Acquisition, Chapter Eight, pgs. 98-106
- 2g: Absolute//Overwhelm, Chapter One, pgs. 109-119, 120-121
- 2h: Absolute//Overwhelm, Chapter Two, pgs. 124-125, 136-141
- 2i: Absolute//Overwhelm, Chapter Three, pgs. 143-155, 160-163
- 2j: System//Kill, Chapter Two, pgs. 173-183
- 2k: System//Kill, Chapter Three, pgs. 185-201
- 2l: Target//Engagement, Chapter Two, pgs. 223-225
- 2m: Target//Engagement, Chapter Three, pgs. 227-238
- 2n: Target//Engagement, Chapter Four, pgs. 239-248, 251-256
- 2o: Target//Engagement, Chapter Five, pgs. 264-268
- 2p: Target//Engagement, Chapter Six, pgs. 273-278
- 2q: Target//Engagement, Chapter Seven, pgs. 281-294
- 2r: Target//Engagement, Chapter Nine, pgs. 295-302, 307-310
- 2s: Target//Engagement, Chapter Ten, pgs. 312-319
- 2t: Ushkul//Thu, Chapter One, pgs. 324-325, 329-335, 339-342, 342-344
- 2u: Ushkul//Thu, Chapter Two, pgs. 345-347
- 2v: Ushkul//Thu, Chapter Three, pgs. 353-360
- 2w: Ruin//Storm, Chapter One, pgs. 365-370
- 2x: Ruin//Storm, Chapter Two, pgs. 376
- 2y: Ruin//Storm, Chapter Three, pgs. 377-385
- 2z: Ruin//Storm, Chapter Four, pgs. 387-399
- 2aa: Ruin//Storm, Chapter Five, pgs. 401-403
- 2bb: Ruin//Storm, Chapter Six, pgs. 405-408
- 2cc: Un//Doing (frontspiece), pg. 409
- 2dd: Un//Doing, Epilogue, pgs. 411-412
- 3: Battle for the Abyss (Novel) by Ben Counter, [Needs Citation]
- 4: The First Heretic (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- 5: Garro: Oath of Moment (Audio Book) by James Swallow
- 6: The Chapter's Due (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- 7: Betrayer (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, [Needs Citation]
- 8: Honour to the Dead (Audio Drama) by Gav Thorpe
- 9: The Horus Heresy Book Five pg.39