Siege of Vervunhive
The Siege of Vervunhive took place during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, when the fugitive Chaos warlord Heritor Asphodel took control of the Hive city of Ferrozoica on the world of Verghast and mobilized its entire population against Vervunhive, a vitally important manufacturing hub for the rest of the subsector, and the Crusade's war effort.
Approximately 90 years prior to the Siege, Vervunhive and Ferrozoica had fought a bitter war over trade issues, in which Vervunhive was victorious. Relations between the two cities had been peaceful since then.[1b]
In the aftermath of Warmaster Slaydo's crushing defeat of the Chaos forces on Balhaut, several of Archon Nadzybar's Magisters escaped the Imperial forces and several remained unaccounted for. Asphodel, one of the most notorious, infiltrated Ferrozoica and gradually corrupted its entire population to the service of Chaos.[1x]
Communications between Ferrozoica and Vervunhive shut down for several months, and there were reports of disturbing activity in the former city, but Vervunhive's High Master, Salvador Sondar, ignored them, believing that Ferrozoica was their ally. When the assault was launched, Vervunhive was taken completely by surprise.[1b]
Zoican forces began by massing armoured vehicles and artillery outside the city's southern wall and commencing bombardment. Thousands of civilians were killed, but Vervunhive's army, the Vervun Primary, was hamstrung by Sondar's refusal to either activate the city's Void shield or authorize the wall batteries to return fire. Sondar was a recluse, and intensely suspicious of his rivals in the Vervunhive Legislature; he refused to believe the reports of an attack, instead suspecting a conspiracy to unseat him. Only after several hours of one-sided bombardment did Sondar relent and activate the Shield.[1b]
Commissar Pius Kowle, the Imperial Guard's liaison with the Vervun Primary, seized command of an armoured formation and led a hasty counterattack from the city walls, which was quickly routed in the face of the overwhelming Zoican numbers. His few remaining tanks rushed back into the city before the last gates were closed, deliberately crushing the mass of refugees trying to get through. Despite this, Kowle was quickly feted as a hero by the city, for being one of the few people seen to be striking back while the rest of the VP was inert.[1c]
The Shield effectively protected the city from the continuous Zoican bombardment, but it was only effective as long as the walls remained intact.
Apart from the river at the city's back, the one vulnerable point in the city's defenses was the Spoil, a mountainous heap of industrial refuse that had grown so large that it was not thought worthwhile to clear away to complete the city wall in that sector. Throughout the Siege, this area was the site of fierce guerrilla fighting between the Zoican forces and the so-called "Spoilers," a Scratch Company composed of orphaned VP troopers, civilian refugees, and mining workers from the outer habs.
While the Legislature debated their response to the Siege, the local Administratum sent an urgent call for help to Warmaster Macaroth. By good fortune, a troop transport from Monthax was close enough to be diverted away from the Crusade effort. The arriving reinforcements included the Tanith First, the Narmenian Armoured division under General Coron Grizmund, and the Royal Volpone under General Noches Sturm. Additional reinforcements arrived from Vervunhive's allies in the Northern Collectives.
Shortly after the Guard forces arrived, Vervunhive's other ally, Vannick Hive, was completely destroyed by Zoican atomic weapons. This confirmed that Ferrozoica was not re-igniting the old Trade War between the two cities, but had been corrupted by Chaos and was seeking to exterminate Vervunhive.
From the beginning of the Siege, the Imperial forces were handicapped by poor organization and disagreements at the command level. The appointments to the Vervun Primary's general staff represented a compromise between the frequently bickering noble houses of Vervunhive, and their Commissariat, the Vervunhive Primary Commissariat, was a law unto itself, frequently described as a secret police organization by the Vervunhive citizenry. The Vervun Primary was well-trained and equipped, but few of its troops or officers had actual battle experience, and the city's logistical structure was ill-prepared to coordinate battle on such a scale.
This situation was not improved by the arrival of the Guard forces. No one general officer had been placed in overall command, but Sturm presumed this authority, and was treated as such by the VP commanders. This would prove to be a terrible miscalculation. Sturm, an ambitious man, continuously sought to placate the Vervunhive authorities and maneuvered to marginalise the other officers and reject their tactical suggestions. Likewise, Commissar Kowle, anxious for a transfer back to the main Crusade force, played up his role as the "People's Hero" to the maximum, and often sought to score political credit with the Vervunhive authorities, at the expense of his fellow Guard officers. Finally, the Vervunhive Primary, especially the Commissariat, secretly resented the arrival of the "off-world" Guardsmen and the exposure of their own lack of competence in fighting such a war.
After an initial survey of the enemy lines, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, along with Generals Grizmund and Nash, advocated making an armoured sortie from the city to delay and wound the Chaos forces, but Sturm vetoed the idea, preferring to rely on the city's static defenses.
The First Storm
The Imperial Forces fortified the city and dug in at the Veyveyr, Croe, Hieronymo Sondar Gates and the Spoil.
On the twenty-fourth day of the Siege, the Zoican artillery fell silent, and remained so for the next five days. The tension of waiting for the inevitable assault severely damaged the VP's morale, and the VHPC had to carry out several executions of soldiers who cracked under the strain.
The first Zoican assault fell on the twenty-ninth day of the Siege, with thousands of infantry troops marching on the gates, accompanied by bizarre and destructive war machines. The assault was repelled, albeit with heavy losses to both the VP and the Guard. More than anything, the VP troops were shaken by their first glimpse of the overwhelming numbers and seemingly implacable resolve of the Chaos soldiers.
The Second Storm
The second Zoican assault was launched on the thirty-fifth day. Where the first storm was a probe of the entire city wall, the second concentrated on three vulnerable points, including the Veyveyr Gate, which had been wedged open by the hulk of a downed war machine. Held primarily by soldiers from the Tanith First under Colonel Colm Corbec, the assault on the Veyveyr Gate was also resisted, but with even worse casualties.
During the second assault, the Tanith's master sniper, Hlaine Larkin, grappled with a Zoican shock trooper and inadvertently tore off the trooper's mask, revealing the full horror of Asphodel's army: the Heritor had co-opted the entirety of Ferrozoica's thirteen million people through hypnotic suggestion, including women, the elderly, and barely adolescent children.[1y][1z]
The second storm also painfully exposed the VP's inefficiencies: reinforcements from other parts of the city were held up by congested highways, vox frequencies became hopelessly cluttered, and the Wall's overall commander, Colonel Modile, simply shut down his vox-link, unable to handle the confusion and the frantic calls for help from every quarter. Modile was later executed by Colonel-Commissar Gaunt.
The VHPC, eager to shift blame onto someone else and re-assert their authority, arrested General Grizmund for disobeying orders - i.e., trying to avoid the gridlocked highway by steering his tanks down an alternate route.
After the second assault, the Zoican forces had drawn close to the city in sufficient strength to camp on the ground outside the walls, and were close enough for the Imperial forces to pick up the vox chatter circulating among the Chaos troops, repeating Asphodel's name over and over again.
The Third Storm
At first, General Sturm and Commissar Kowle clung to the hope that it was a scare-tactic by the Chaos forces, but Gaunt pointed out that the Zoicans' tactics were perfectly characteristic of the Heritor, whose forces Gaunt had encountered on Balhaut. During this debate, Gaunt repeated his pleas for the VHPC to release Grizmund, but was ignored.[1x]
The third Zoican assault was preceded by a force of sappers infiltrating the city through a promethium pipeline leading across the river from the now-destroyed Vannick Hive. After Vannick's destruction, the VP had ordered all the pipelines sealed, but one Guilder, Amchanduste Worlin, had kept his operating in secret, anticipating huge profits from a monopoly on promethium supplies. The sappers and armoured vehicles that entered the city flanked the Guard forces and mined the wall at the Eastern Gate, collapsing it entirely. At the same time, the Zoican forces on the outside renewed their assault, including massive laser beams that sliced great chunks out of the wall, incinerating the defenders immediately. General Nash, at the Southern Gate, spotted a gigantic Zoican armour column advancing and sent a frantic call for armoured reinforcement.
At hearing this news, General Sturm's nerve failed, and he began to think of ordering evacuation. Marshal Edric Croe, the VP's commander, promised to kill him if he even suggested it. Instead, he ordered Sturm to release Grizmund and reinstate him immediately, while Croe left to take personal command of the VP reinforcements tasked to the south wall.
Just as Croe was preparing to ride out, Salvador Sondar, harassed by the psychic chatter coming from Ferrozoica since the start of the Siege, finally gave in and and shut down the Shield. Croe's first impulse was to rush back to the center of the city and force Sondar to reactivate it, but he was painfully aware that his men's fragile morale would evaporate if he left as quickly as he had arrived. Instead, he handed the Sword of Heironymo Sondar — the traditional symbol of command of the city's defenses - to his adjutant, to pass on to the next commander.
Moments after the Shield collapsed, Zoican rockets and artillery devastated the city. One of the rockets destroyed the VP's central command center, wiping out the majority of the general staff (which in a way was just as well, since Croe's deputy, Heskith Anko, had cracked under the strain and gone on a shooting spree inside the command center, moments before the rocket hit).
A desperate effort by Gaunt and the Royal Volpone troopers killed Sondar and reactivated the Shield, although Commissar Kowle was killed and Sturm fled Sondar's chambers in terror.
The Zoicans were close to overrunning the city, when the Narmenian Armoured tanks roared back into the fight, led by General Grizmund in person. The Narmenians were one of the crack Armoured Regiments in the Imperial Guard, and under Grizmund they had perfected a maneuver called "The Scissors," during which two lines of armour would envelop an enemy formation and then drive toward each other, pincering the enemy tanks between them. For an untrained regiment, this maneuver carried a suicidal risk of confusion and friendly fire losses, but the Narmenians used it repeatedly, destroying over a hundred enemy tanks in less than an hour, at the cost of only two of their own.
At the same time, a VP armour column began to drive the Zoican forces out from under the Western Wall, though without the Narmenians' skills they could do little more than hold the enemy at bay.
The Last Ditch
With Marshal Croe dead, and Sturm absent, command of the city fell to Gaunt, as the next senior infantry officer. Gaunt spent the rest of the night coordinating the defense, carefully re-establishing contact with the Imperial units scattered around the city and stitching them into a defense plan that gradually succeeded in driving the invading Zoicans back out from under the Shield. Though Gaunt was a mere Colonel in rank, his tactical mastery of the battlefield quickly shamed the meager contributions of General Sturm and Commissar Kowle.
Sturm was later caught trying to flee the city across the river. Gaunt charged him with desertion, stripped the General of his rank and placed him in custody to await trial.
Gaunt's leadership succeeded in keeping the Zoican forces at bay, but he could see no way of achieving victory, since the Zoican forces still outnumbered them. Sensing this, Asphodel's command vehicle (nicknamed "the Spike" by the Imperial forces) appeared across the battlefield, so the Heritor could witness his victory in person. On being told that the Spike was the source of the vox signal that was keeping the Zoican forces hypnotized, Gaunt came up with a radical plan.
Gaunt personally led a commando team into the Spike, including elements from the Ghosts, the Royal Volpone, and the VP Scratch Company known as the "Spoilers", led by Gol Kolea. He was armed with a device created by Vervunhive's previous High Master, Heironymo Sondar, capable of disabling the entire city's systems. On the bridge of the Spike, the commandos fought past Asphodel's elite bodyguards and Gaunt plugged the device into a data port, shutting down the Spike and the vox signal. The Heritor attacked Gaunt, who impaled him with Sondar's power sword, though Gaunt suffered a near-fatal wound from the Heritor's bolt pistol.
With the Heritor's death, the Ferrozoican forces fell into confusion; some were slaughtered easily by the defenders, while others wandered away from the city in a daze, as if woken from a dream.
Two months after the start of the siege, Warmaster Macaroth arrived with massive reinforcements, having learned from Gaunt of Asphodel's presence on Vervunhive. Ferrozoica was destroyed by orbital bombardment, and the Spike - along with Asphodel's body - was incinerated by the Imperial Fists Space Marines.
Aftermath and Consequences
The Tanith First received its first influx of new recruits since their Founding. These Verghastites became a distinct subculture within the Tanith regiment, though they felt a strong kinship with the Tanith, as both had lost their homes to the war.
Guilder Worlin was charged with treason, but anticipated his own arrest by trying to kill two Guard medics to cover up other crimes he had committed, only to be shot dead in a field hospital.
Despite Macaroth's denial, a modest Imperial relief effort was committed to rebuilding Vervunhive, though it was years before the city could be considered even partly recovered. One of the largest problems it had to deal with was the arrival of refugees from the countryside, either displaced citizens of Vannick Hive or, in some rare cases, survivors of the Zoican army, who might have carried the taint of Chaos into the city.
- 1: Necropolis (Novel) — Gaunt's Ghosts: The Founding (Omnibus)
- 2: The Sabbat Worlds Crusade (Background Book), pg. 66
- 3: A Good Man (Short Story)
- 4: Inferno! 30 [Needs Citation]