The Cabal Salient was the fourth major phase of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, from 765–773.M41.[1a] Following immediately from the Imperials' crushing victory at the Battle of Balhaut, it was the first action of the Crusade by Warmaster Slaydo's successor, Macaroth.
Macaroth's objective was the capture of the Cabal Systems, a parcel of worlds that lay a considerable distance to spinward from the Crusade's front. By choosing this objective, Macaroth was, like Slaydo, committing the Crusade force to a prolonged and complex campaign, however, as Kerondys wrote in Systematic Warfare In The Khan Group, "what in Slaydo had seemed bold, in Macaroth seemed reckless, what in Slaydo had seemed genius, in Macaroth seemed insanity." While Slaydo fixated on a single objective world, Balhaut, Macaroth's planned course would involve not only taking a whole parcel of worlds, but would first require the Crusade to pacify a wide swath of the remaining worlds in the Newfound Trailing Group, as well as the well-defended Khan Group.[1a]
This decision, issued at the start of Macaroth's Warmastery, drew immediate criticism, and often outright scorn, from the rest of the high command. Lord Militant Cybon, for instance, wrote in 766 that the decision displayed Macaroth's arrogance and incompetence in equal measure: "he simply does not understand what is out there, or what it will take to vanquish it." Chapter Master Veegum of the Silver Guard Space Marine Chapter was equally scathing, sarcastically describing Macaroth's strategy as "the Rebus gambit," referencing the most distant planet of the Sabbat Worlds, and implying that Macaroth might just as feasibly order the Crusade to take the entire sector in one move.[1a]
Further criticism was leveled at Macaroth for his failure to consolidate the Imperial forces after Balhaut. In the wake of Slaydo's victory, the Chaos forces in the subsector scattered, some in retreat from Balhaut and others diverted from their planned course to reinforce Archon Nadzybar, now dead. In Macaroth's determination to drive the Crusade on, he left several gaps in the Crusade line and many Imperial worlds were easy pickings for these scattered enemy fleets. Slaydo, the new Warmaster's critics said, would never have made such a mistake, and many worlds, such as Carthage Major and Tanith, might have been spared destruction or reoccupation.[1a][1b][1c]
Likewise, many scattered Archenemy elements who escaped or avoided the cataclysmic defeat at Balhaut would "seed" other Imperial worlds, only to reappear and wreak havoc behind the Crusade's lines. The most infamous examples of this trend included Sapiencia, where Magister Sholen Skara and his Kith army occupied the capital city; Verghast, where Heritor Asphodel resurfaced after a long absence; along with Aexe Cardinal, Lamicia, Erasmus, Unida, and Urdesh. This post-Balhaut phase of the Crusade also saw the Archenemy's first of two re-invasions of Cociaminus, which would prove to be just as bloody a prize to keep for Macaroth as it had been for Slaydo.[1c]
Yet Macaroth defended his decision, writing "I will aim my stroke to the head, not the limbs." Macaroth knew that the Chaos forces were reeling after the defeat on Balhaut, and it was vitally important to press forward and keep them on the defensive. To him it was especially important to keep the initiative before a new Archon ascended to replace Nadzybar.[1b]
He also did not underestimate the challenges of taking the Cabal Systems, especially the Fortress Worlds guarding them, and knew that doing so would cross the line from difficult to impossible if the Archenemy forces were allowed to reinforce them.[1b]
Finally, Macaroth displayed Slaydo's characteristic flair for doing the unexpected; none of his own general officers expected him to order an advance through two complex systems toward the Cabal group, so neither would the Archenemy.[1b]
The Cabal Salient was an enormous gamble, and the eight years following Balhaut saw some of the most desperate fighting of the Crusade.
Forging On: 765-769.M41
Macaroth began with a vigorous four-year offensive into the central belt of the Newfound Trailing Group, while simultaneous actions struck out on both the rimward and coreward flanks.
Successful captures of this period included Nonimax, Grimoyr, Presarius, Sapiencia, Fortis Binary, Monthax, Prince Obermid, Voltemand, and Albrecht.[1d][1e] At the same time, an offensive into the Menazoid Clasp succeeded with the capture of Menazoid Epsilon, although the theatre commander, Lord Militant Dravere, was killed in action.[1d]
However, the Imperial offensives on Oscillia IX and Karkariad, though ultimately successful, were both prolonged and bloody, largely due to the incompetence of the "New Minted" generals placed in charge by Macaroth - one of the new Warmaster's few blind spots was to place the same confidence in his own cadre of handpicked officers that his predecessor Slaydo had placed in him, and expected them to demonstrate the same natural ability for high command.[1e]
Chasing the Horizon
In his journals, Macaroth described the first five years of his Warmastery as the "time I spent chasing the horizon." The advance of the Crusade in the immediate aftermath of Balhaut gives the impression of a mad rush forward, heedless of the overall strategic picture or the actual goals of the Crusade. However, this is deceptive.
Macaroth's two closest advisors, Imperial Tactician Wilbar Maessen and High Senior Claudator both wrote in later years that the Warmaster amazed them by showing how his short-term tactical plan for advancing through the Newfound Trailing Group and the Khan Group meshed perfectly with his long-term concept for a multi-point assault on the Cabal Systems, an operation that was, at that time, purely hypothetical and years away.
The Warmaster was also keenly aware of the three major risks attendant upon his ambitious scheme:
- Overstretch: the danger of the Crusade's front line extending too far forward, exposing its flanks and lengthening its supply lines too far;
- A new Archon: the Imperial forces realized it was inevitable that any infighting among the Chaos forces would eventually end with a successor to Nadzybar taking power, and worse still, the risk that this new Archon would be a gifted strategist (by 769, Imperial intelligence indicated that the frontrunner in the Chaos power struggles was Magister Anakwanar Sek);
- Counteroffensive: as a direct result of the first two factors, the Chaos forces might launch a counterattack and catch the Crusade force on its exposed flanks.
All three of these fears would come to pass by the end of 773.M41, when the Chaos armies, rallied under Urlock Gaur, would make a concerted effort to cut off the Crusade's head in the Khan Group.
- 1: The Sabbat Worlds Crusade (Background Book) by Dan Abnett
- 2: First and Only (Novel) by Dan Abnett, [Needs Citation]
- 3: Ghostmaker (Novel) by Dan Abnett, [Needs Citation]