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Battle of Balhaut

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Battle of Balhaut
Conflict Sabbat Worlds Crusade
Date 765.M41
Location Balhaut, Sabbat Worlds, Segmentum Pacificus
Outcome Imperial victory
Imperial Guard, Imperial Navy, Adeptus Titanicus, Adeptus Astartes Chaos
Warmaster Slaydo(d)
Admiral Kristor
Chapter Master Veegum
Lord Militant Cybon
Lord Militant Hechtor Dravere
Lord Militant Delayni
Marshal Blackwood
Marshal Kyter
Marshal Bazer
Marshal Bernz(d)
Marshal Fylesa
Marshal Macaroth
General Korshen(d)
General Oliphant
General Scalia
General Curell(d)
General Saulton
Archon Nadzybar(d)
Magister Allikarn
Magister Asphodel
Magister Khul Kholesh(d)
Magister Sholen Skara
Magister Qull(d)
Unknown Unknown
Heavy losses Heavy losses

The Battle of Balhaut was a major engagement of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade in 765.M41. The culmination of nearly a decade's worth of campaigning by Warmaster Slaydo, it resulted in the capture of Balhaut by the Imperial forces, and a crushing blow, in both strategic and morale terms, to the Chaos forces occupying the Sabbat Worlds. It also saw the personal confrontation between Slaydo and his opposite number in the Chaos forces, Archon Nadzybar, resulting in the death of both, and Slaydo's succession by then-Marshal Macaroth.[Needs Citation]

Background: The Bloody Path to Balhaut: 756-764

Warmaster Slaydo at the outset of the Crusade.

From the beginning of the Crusade, Balhaut was Slaydo's ultimate goal.[1a] The initial phase of the Crusade, Operation Redrake, accomplished its goals - four objective worlds - in little over a year, by 756.M41, and Slaydo was optimistic that the next phase would lead him to Balhaut with the same alacrity, but he was to be disappointed. The more ambitious goals of Operation Newfound took much longer than expected, especially with protracted, grinding conflicts on Sverren and Cociaminus. Then, by 760, just as Slaydo began to hope the Crusade force could advance to Balhaut, Archon Nadzybar led a counter-offensive across the Imperial midline.[1c]

Between 756 and 761, Slaydo was forced to revise his estimated liberation date for Balhaut 37 times.[1b]

Several of Slaydo's staff officers became discouraged and urged him to reconsider his strategic approach. Lord Militants Cybon and Dravere both advocated a rimward advance, skirting through the lightly-defended Nubila Reach and the Belt of Uristes, allowing the Crusade a quick route to the vital industrial worlds of the Newfound Trailing Group. Others, including Lord Generals Curell and Demanth, actually recommended that the Crusade halt its advance for a year or two and consolidate its gains.[1d]

Both of these approaches had merit, but Slaydo was immovable: "It has always been Balhaut. It will always be Balhaut. These worlds turn upon that axis."[1d] In a lesser man, this would have been stubbornness, but Slaydo had several sound reasons for his decision:

Balhaut was a vital objective, in both strategic and moral terms, standing aside most lateral shipping routes, and very much considered a "seat of power" by the Archon, meaning its loss would be devastating to the Archenemy's morale. Moreover, Slaydo guessed, Cybon and Dravere's proposed rimward advance, if undertaken without first neutralizing Balhaut, would leave the Crusade force vulnerable to a flanking attack. Finally, Slaydo's decisions were often ruled by his reverence for Saint Sabbat, and her leading military advisor, Faltornus, both of whom had regarded Balhaut as a vital step in the Beati's own campaign to reclaim the sector from Chaos.[1d]

The Fabian Ruse

Ironically, Sladyo and Nadzybar both shared the same dream of a single, decisive engagement in which one could completely destroy the other. In addition to providing a route of advance to Balhaut, Slaydo had intended Operation Newfound to corral the Archenemy forces into accepting battle at a place of Slaydo's choosing.[1e]

In 764, Nadzybar, still in retreat from the Second Battle of Sverren, ordered his Magisters to assemble their armies, intending to draw the Imperials into a trap on Fabia. Slaydo was able to discern this intent from the enemy's movements, and craftily orchestrated a masterful subterfuge campaign to make it seem as if he had taken the bait. Disguised troop movements, deliberately leaked communiqués, and Slaydo's semi-public announcement that he was beginning to favor Cybon's rimward approach, with Fabia as an axis, all served to gull Nadzybar into thinking his trap was working.[1e]

In 765, Nadzybar brought the bulk of his armies to Balhaut for a brief pause to resupply, in preparation for the climactic strike at Fabia, when the Imperials took them completely by surprise.[1e]

The Battle

Slaydo's assault plan was code-named Hell Storm, and centered around five major tactical and strategic goals[1f]:

  1. To achieve orbital superiority and inflict as much damage on enemy shipping as possible;
  2. Sustained orbital bombardment of key surface targets;
  3. Rapid and well-covered deployment to ground troops;
  4. The initial ground forces' assault and seizure of primary objectives; and
  5. Phased reinforcement and seizure of secondary objectives.

Slaydo divided his invasion force and his commanders, among nine major regions[1f]:

Objective Commanding Officer
The Tark Islands General Oliphant
Zaebes City Marshal Blackwood
The Western Plains Lord Militant Cybon
Bal Prime Marshal Kyter
Boruna Hive General Scalia
Balopolis General Curell
Southern regions Marshals Bazer and Fylesa
Gatteria General Saulton
The Oligarchy Slaydo in person

Lord Militant Dravere, rather than being given a theatre command, was ordered to supervise the reinforcement phases. Although Slaydo disliked both Dravere and Cybon, he at least seemed willing to acknowledge some genuine military quality in Cybon.[1f]

The Fleet Assault

The naval contingent of the assault force arrived in four waves[1g]:

  1. The first, commanded by Admiral Kristor, consisted of fast attack warships and arrived in-system 16 hours before the assault was launched, hiding in the radiation of the local star;
  2. The second, commanded by Vice Admiral Gharnhorst, consisted of troopships and mass carriers, and arrived 5 hours after Kristor, likewise hiding on the outskirts of the system;
  3. The third, commanded by Admiral Shaever, was actually the first to commence attack, translating directly into the inner system, opening fire on the Archenemy's orbital posts, and signaling the first and second waves that it was clear to advance and assume orbit to deploy the ground forces;
  4. Finally, the fourth, commanded by Vice Admiral Sanloque, arrived in the outer system with the reinforcements.

Fighting in the early hours was intense, but overwhelmingly favored the attacking forces. The Imperials lost an estimated nine percent of their craft and personnel (a disproportionately high number of them from the fighter and light attack craft engaging the enemy's orbital batteries), while fifty-two percent of the Chaos ships were destroyed before they even had the chance to weigh anchor, and a further twelve percent in combat.[1g]

By the end of Hour 21, Slaydo's first objective, orbital superiority, had been achieved, though sporadic void combat would continue throughout the entire battle. Without delay, the Imperial Navy commenced a crushing orbital bombardment over much of the planet.[1g]

By Hour 33, the ground forces began to deploy in earnest.[1g]

Hell Storm

The scale of the ground forces deployed to Balhaut would not be rivaled until the assault on Morlond, which deployed similar numbers, but over a much smaller area than Balhaut.[1g] Roughly thirty-two percent of the Imperial invasion force was lost in transit to the planet, and this percentage was even greater in the most heavily contested-areas.[1h]

By Hour 44, the Imperials were fully engaged on the Western Plains, and Balopolis. In the latter theatre, General Curell's force contended directly with the Kith, commanded by Magister Sholen Skara, and Curell was incapacitated by Hour 48. His place was taken first by General Korshen, who was killed five hours later, and then by Marshal Bernz, killed a further five hours later. The next senior officer was Lord Militant Delayni, but, as he was unable to reach Balopolis, command fell to Curell's most senior deputy, Macaroth.[1h]

Slaydo, on hearing of this, immediately issued a battlefield promotion to Macaroth, elevating him to the rank of Marshal, in the hopes that he could command sufficient respect from his subordinates and soldiers to win through such a desperate fight.[1h]

By Hour 65, the overall picture was grim: while Marshal Blackwood had secured Zaebes City, and Bal Prime and Gatteria were reported as close to falling, the Imperial Guard had taken horrendous casualties at the Tark Islands, Boruna Hive, by Cybon's force on the Western Plains, and especially at the Oligarchy, where the invasion force commanded by Slaydo in person was opposed by the combined armies of the Archon, and four of his most notorious Magisters, including Asphodel.[1h]

The Oligarchy

The assault on the Oligarchy raged for ten days. Nadzybar's forces were well-entrenched, and supported by Asphodel's hellish "woe machines." In addition, heavy storms, possibly caused by the clouds of smoke raised by the orbital bombardment, turned the approach terrain to a sea of mud, polluted with toxic gases. Thousands of Guardsmen died here, either sucked down into the bog pits or easy prey for enemy fire when they became stuck.[1i]

On Day 5 of the assault, the White Scars Space Marines broke through the enemy defences at the Hallow Wall and routed the forces of Magister Khul Kolesh, who himself died in the halls of the Sirene Palace.[1i]

Two days later, the Silver Guard chapter, led by Master Veegum in person, broke through the outer line of the Emancipatory, but their assault was halted by masses of enemy armour, including Chaos Dreadnoughts and woe machines. Their position was not relieved until armoured reinforcements arrived in the form of the Pardus 12th, the Ketzok 18th, 21st and 22nd, the Mariner 18th, and the 2nd Vitrian Mobile. With their aid, Veegum captured the Emancipatory in two hours, and stormed the Monastery of St Kiodrus, aided by the Volpone 50th, the Pragar 10th and the Kolstec 477th Light Support.[1i]

At the same time, the Jantine Patricians and elements of the Mordian Iron Guard 11th took the precinct of the Oligarchy, though they were briefly driven back and had to re-capture it on Day 8.[1i]

Nevertheless, the enemy's inner citadel could not be breached, until the afternoon of Day 9, when Slaydo drove the left flank of his forces at the Oligarchy Gate, which had resisted assault for all nine days. The leader of the spearhead was Captain Allentis of the Silver Guard, but his Space Marines were devastated by a counterattack from Asphodel's woe machines. The first unit to reach the Gate was the Hyrkan 8th, who managed to blow it wide open. Swiftly backed up by the Silver Guard, the Kolstec "Hammers" and four armoured divisions, the Imperial forces moved on and captured the Tower of the Plutocrat.[1i]

By Day 10, Slaydo himself approached the High Palace at the head of eight elite regiments, to attack Nadzybar's last refuge.[1i]

The Tark Islands and Gatteria

General Oliphant's conquest of the Tark Islands took nineteen days, the longest single phase of the battle, and the theatre became a bloodbath for the Imperial forces, both due to high initial casualties - nearly 10,000 men were killed when three bulk landers crashed as a result of a navigational error during the initial landing - and the drawn-out fighting of the following days, as the Imperials were forced to root out pockets of heavily dug-in enemy resistance, isle by isle.[1i][1j]

Oliphant's primary objective was to capture the gas mines and refineries that provided Balhaut with much of its energy. Before the area was pacified, two of the largest mines caught fire and exploded, probably ignited by the Archenemy. The fires burned for five straight years, and, as late as 775.M41, pockets of gas beneath the sea floor were still combusting. General Oliphant committed suicide in 768, in shame over his failure to prevent this disaster.[1j]

Gatteria was an objective of the invasion force for similar reasons, but, unlike the Islands, was taken with relatively little damage.[1j] Nevertheless, after the fighting ceased, so much dust and smoke had been released into the atmosphere that the entire region, even the equatorial zones, experienced a prolonged nuclear winter.[1k]

The Battle of Ascension Valley

The Battle of Ascension Valley constituted the acme and the end of the battle for the Western Plains. On Day 9 of the fighting, Lord Militant Cybon received the message that Boruna Hive had been conquered by Imperial troops. Stimulated by this news, and reinforced by troops from the fourth wave, he directed his armoured platoon to the estuary of the Luminar and managed to close ranks with the mechanised formations of Magister Qull in Ascension Valley, that he had been combating since the beginning of the operation.[1j]

A monumental fight started, the biggest one of the entire battle. Intermittently, Cybon got aid from the Titan Legions of the Adeptus Mechanicus and therefore was able to storm the highlands of the valley after sixteen hours of continuous fighting. Afterwards he was able to declare the Western Continent as pacified.[1j]


By Day 8, the Imperial force commanded by Brevet-Marshal Macaroth had succeeded, against all odds, in rallying together and pushing back the Chaos forces. It was a baptism by fire, since the fighting was so intense that even those present on the scene, including Macaroth himself, were unable to gain a clear picture of what was happening. The fact that Macaroth was able to produce a cogent tactical plan was likely the result of his faith in his own instincts; in his later career as Warmaster of the Crusade, he often demonstrated this surety, even in the face of contrary information.[1k]

By Day 9, the battle at Balopolis had turned from a near-certain Imperial defeat into an unequivocal victory. Slaydo himself, on hearing the news, was reportedly "struck mute with great admiration."[1k] It was likely this one achievement, more than any previous one, through which Macaroth impressed on Slaydo that he had the right qualities to succeed him as Warmaster.

The High Palace

By Day 10, Warmaster Slaydo's seemingly limitless energy had begun to flag. Those around him were alarmed to see him appear "weary and fatalistic."[1k]

Although victory was at hand, the casualties of taking Balhaut had exceeded his most pessimistic estimates. Slaydo remarked that the name "Hell Storm" had become a literal truth, as if he blamed himself for consigning his men to such an ordeal (Lord Militant Dravere, who never missed an opportunity to sneer behind the Warmaster's back, even after the latter's death, was said to have sniped that Slaydo might have gone to his death happier had he named the invasion Operation "Walk in the park" or Operation "Tea on the terrace").[1f]

Yet Slaydo's characteristic "fire" returned when Colonel Helmud of the Pragar Regiments assured the Warmaster that "the palace will be ours, sir, but for a few thousand lives." Slaydo replied, "start with mine!" and before anyone could dissuade him, drew Liberatus and vacated his command Chimera to lead the first assault in person.[1k][4]

Eighteen hours of brutal fighting followed, including one exchange in the Water Garden that lasted four hours. When Slaydo's body was later examined by the medics, it was determined that he had taken a severe wound to the stomach during this phase, yet at the time gave no sign of it whatsoever.[1k][1l]

It was at Hour 18, with the Hyrkan Regiments securing his flank, and the Silver Guard, Kolstec infantry and Elitor Heavy Support holding the line at the College of Archives, that Slaydo and his bodyguard unit encountered Nadzybar and his escort on the Western Palisade of the High Palace.[1l]

Later Imperial accounts were tempted to imbue the confrontation between Slaydo and Nadzybar with mythic significance, as if it had been ordained by fate. The truth was more prosaic: knowing that Balhaut was lost and escape was impossible, the Archon was likely searching for Slaydo as furiously as Slaydo was searching for him, each equally determined to destroy the other.[1l]

Depending on which witness accounts are believed, the personal combat between Slaydo and Nadzybar raged for between six and eleven minutes, with such ferocity that most onlookers were driven out of the chamber. Nadzybar inflicted two mortal wounds on the Warmaster, who nevertheless rallied and struck a fatal blow to the Archon.[1l][4]

As Nadyzbar fell back, his cultist followers swarmed him in an attempt to carry him to safety, but were stymied by the immediate re-assault of the Imperial Guard, equally determined to safeguard the Warmaster. In addition, many cultists simply collapsed with grief at seeing the Archon struck down, and allowed themselves to be slaughtered.[1l]

Slaydo was recovered, though near death, on the marble floor of the West Atrium. The Archon's corpse was later found amidst a heap of bodies on the Plutocrat Steps. In their mad charge forward, Slaydo's bodyguard unit had massacred every cultist within range, realizing only later that they had cut down the group attempting to carry Nadzybar's remains away.[1l]


The Death of Slaydo, a painting commemorating the Warmaster's passing, now hanging in Slaydo's mausoleum, The Honorarium, on Balhaut. The presence of Macaroth at his side is almost certainly an invention of the artist, since, at the time of the Warmaster's death, Macaroth was hundreds of kilometres away at Balopolis.[1m]

On his deathbed, Slaydo named then-Marshal Macaroth as his successor, to the lasting consternation of his more senior officers, most notably Cybon and Dravere.[1o][1p] The Warmaster then died, reportedly content and resigned. Many attributed this to Macaroth's eleventh-hour success at Balopolis, which presented Slaydo with a successor he could rely on to capitalize on the victory at Balhaut, something he had previously lacked.[1n]

The majority of Nadzybar's armies and lieutenants who accompanied him to Balhaut died with him, with some unfortunate exceptions. Magisters Allikarn, Asphodel, and Skara managed to escape, though Allikarn was killed in a void battle nine days later.[1n]

After the liberation of Balhaut, the Imperial forces discovered the abandoned remnants of Asphodel's hellish experiments on thousands of human test subjects, and the "murder camps" overseen by Skara, who, before Nadzybar's arrival, had been acting as governor of the planet, and had slaughtered nearly a billion Imperial citizens in various "inventive" ways, seemingly for no better reason than his own amusement. The discovery drove many Guardsmen insane, while many more swore to pursue these monsters to the end of the galaxy and destroy them.[1n][2]

Macaroth, as depicted in the official portrait to mark his accession.

Balhaut was one of the great turning points of the Imperial Crusade. In one single campaign, both the Imperial and Chaos forces had lost their supreme commander, though the Chaos forces lacked any obvious candidate to immediately take Nadzybar's place, as Macaroth did Slaydo's.

Many Imperial histories are content to describe Balhaut as a textbook Imperial victory, not only for its overall success but also for the fact that all five of Slaydo's tactical and strategic objectives were achieved. However, the reality was more complicated, and each of these objectives was achieved at great cost.[1f]

It was also painfully obvious to the entire Imperial high command, including Macaroth, that ultimate victory in the Crusade could only be won at much greater cost, and well into the future. The Crusade would now have to advance without the leadership of Slaydo, who had been Sabbat's most fervent admirer, and thus the Crusade's driving force. It was therefore still very much in doubt whether victory could be achieved.

Balhaut also marked the Crusade force's first encounter with the Blood Pact, members of which captured Slaydo's bodyguard commander, Sergeant Commodus Ryland, after the battle, though Ryland managed to escape and report back to the new Warmaster. This brief encounter was the first any Imperial officer or soldier had ever heard of the Blood Pact, which would prove to be the most formidable element of the Chaos forces opposing the Crusade in later years.[4]

By 775.M41, the restoration of Balhaut's devastated cities was barely underway, despite the vast resources devoted to it by the Imperium.[1n]

Commissar Ibram Gaunt would later recall the Hyrkan 8th's encounter with Asphodel's forces to a gathering of Imperial officers on Verghast, while urging the defense forces of Vervunhive not to underestimate their opponent.[3a]

Commissar Pius Kowle, who had been demoted by Slaydo shortly before the Balhaut campaign, fought on the southwestern continent, and was jealous of Gaunt for the rest of his life, for the opportunity to share in Slaydo's victory.[3a][3b]