Task Force Serpent

(Redirected from Operation Serpent)
Task Force Serpent
Start Date 1 May 3059 - 9 April 3060
Location Huntress

Task Force Serpent was a multi-national task force charged with executing a secret military operation commissioned by the newly formed Second Star League Defense Force under the aegis of Marshal Morgan Hasek-Davion. Their objective was to reach the Clan Smoke Jaguar homeworld of Huntress and capture it, with the goal of destroying the Smoke Jaguars as an entity. The mission ran concurrent to Operation BULLDOG - an operation whose goal was to drive the Smoke Jaguars from the worlds they occupied in the Inner Sphere. Although Morgan Hasek-Davion died en route by assassination, General Ariana Winston of the Eridani Light Horse succeeded him and completed the mission, successfully invading Huntress and destroying the Smoke Jaguar's ability to make war.

Their homeworld occupied, the Smoke Jaguars counter-invaded with reinforcements driven out of the Inner Sphere by Operation Bulldog and units under the personal command of ilKhan Lincoln Osis. General Winston was killed in the final battle of Huntress, on 30th March, 3060 whilst piloting her Cyclops against a Smoke Jaguar Summoner, just ten days before Prince Victor Steiner-Davion and Task Force Bulldog arrived to relieve them. Command of Operation Serpent fell to General Winston's second-in-command, General Andrew Redburn, until Bulldog arrived planet-side and finished off the remaining Smoke Jaguar warriors. Some of the survivors of Task Force Serpent would accompany the Bulldog fleet to Strana Mechty, where the Great Refusal was fought to put a permanent end to the threat of a renewed Clan Invasion.

Task Force Serpent emblem

Crucis March to Clan Homeworlds[edit]

On November 14th 3058, during a military planning session at the first Whitting Conference for the first wave of Operation Bulldog, Precentor Martial Anastasius Focht presented new intelligence about Clan Smoke Jaguar that had been delivered to him by the Smoke Jaguar defector, Trent. Among this information was the Exodus Road and the location of Huntress, the Smoke Jaguar homeworld. Morgan Hasek-Davion saw potential for the Inner Sphere forces to deal a devastating blow to the Smoke Jaguars by attacking their homeworld while also expelling them from the Inner Sphere. After convincing the others of the plan's viability, Hasek-Davion was named the Task Force Commander. His initial request for forces to make up the Task Force consisted of: the First Kathil Uhlans, the Eridani Light Horse, the Northwind Highlanders, the ComStar Invader Galaxy, the 11th Lyran Guards, the Second Sword of Light, one yet-to-be-determined regiment of McCarron's Armored Cavalry, the 1st St. Ives Lancers and the Knights of the Inner Sphere.[1]

Many of the units Marshal Hasek-Davion asked for were able to take part in the operation, with some exceptions. As so many of their units would be needed for Operation Bulldog, the Draconis Combine could not spare any 'Mech units, instead contributing WarShip and special forces support. Likewise it was deemed that the First Lancers, commanded by the highly visible Kai Allard-Liao, needed to stay in the Inner Sphere to avoid any suspicions, so the 2nd St. Ives Lancers were attached instead. Instead of the Invader Galaxy, ComStar provided the veteran 2nd Division, while the Free Rasalhague Republic offered the 4th Drakøns. Lastly, claiming that his more elite troops were too busy in the Chaos March, Sun-Tzu Liao provided Task Force Serpent with Kingston's Legionnaires, a regiment of questionable honor.[2]

Into the Periphery[edit]

Task Force Serpent assembled on Fort Defiance, a barren planet deep in the Crucis March of the Federated Commonwealth, which had mostly been used for military training maneuvers. Morgan Hasek-Davion and his command staff were the first to arrive, reaching the world less than a week after the Whitting Conference via command circuit, to begin the initial planning. Colonel Paul Masters and the Knights were the first unit to arrive on 27 January 3059, followed shortly thereafter by the rest of the assigned units.[3] For the next several months the various units trained fighting alongside each other and against each other. While not taking part in the actual operation, ComStar's Invader Galaxy served as an OpFor for their training, though each unit also took on the role of simulating the Smoke Jaguars. Simultaneously, the DEST and MI6 teams trained for spacecraft boarding actions, and while initially leery of each other were eventually able to form a close bond.[4] Additionally, ComStar (at great expense) provided a limited number of MechWarrior Combat Suits, which were distributed among the regimental commanders and other important personnel.[5]

The leaders of the Task Force held a final planning session on 25 April, with the operation on track to make its official launch in five days. Here also it was revealed that ComStar would supply the entire task force with new uniforms, as befitting their membership in the new SLDF, and paint the Star League crest on all war machines.[6] Later that same day the Northwind Highlanders revealed to Marshal Hasek-Davion the existence of the Royal Black Watch, a secret Highlander company which traced it's origins to the original Black Watch regiment, and sworn to the new Star League.[7]

Task Force Serpent launched on 1 May 3059, following a route through Weldon, Vicente, Tsamma and Palmyra on its way through the Federated Commonwealth. Along the way the force had to exchange several 'Mechs damaged from their training for new ones from the Tsamma CMM but otherwise maintained their operational secrecy.[8] By 29 June the task force had reached Pajarito and made the jump into the Outworlds Alliance.[9] For the next three weeks they traveled across the small Periphery state; being careful to stay to uninhabited or lightly-populated systems to avoid detection, whether by any Alliance citizens or potential Watch agents. Finally on 19 July, after recharging their jump drives at Alpheratz, Task Force Serpent took the plunge into the Deep Periphery and began their journey along the Exodus Road to Huntress.[10]

By 16 November, Task Force Serpent arrived in the Meribah system, which had a habitable planet. Morgan Hasek Davion ordered a pair of Mule-class DropShips specially outfitted to obtain fresh drinking water deployed to replenish the fleet's supplies. The 21st Striker Regiment's 5th Striker Battalion was detailed to serve as the security element for this mission. In the course of their duties, the Eridani unit encountered and defeated several 'Mech-equipped bandits. While initially fearing them to be Clan forces, they were discovered to be a group of pirates using the planet as a base of operations. Luckily, the pirates' main force was absent on a raid. Marshal Hasek-Davion ordered that the pirate base be wiped out in order to maintain the secrecy of the task force, though both Ariana Winston and Andrew Redburn objected based on ethical grounds.[11]

The next day, a combined Eridani-MI6 strike team destroyed the pirate base and released the slaves found there. The captured pirates were given a swift court-martial by Marshal Hasek-Davion and a select number of Task Force commanders, with those found guilty executed by being thrown out the airlock. Having not been informed until after the fact, both Ariana Winston and Paul Masters raised heated objections with the marshal for his conduct in keeping them out of the loop. Morgan Hasek-Davion exercised his right as overall commander to have the final say, but the damage to his personal relationship with some of the officers, in particular Ariana Winston, took some time to heal.[12]

The Battle of Trafalgar[edit]

Task Force Serpent's JumpShip fleet with Invisible Truth leading it.
"Attention, Clan WarShips, I am Marshal Morgan Hasek-Davion, commander of the Star League Task Force Serpent. Let this be my batchall. I call upon you to prepare to defend your fleet and yourselves. We will be attacking you with all but one of our WarShips. I name as isorla any ship that is rendered unable to fight or maneuver, and claim its passengers and crew as bondsmen. What forces do you bid in your defense?"

"I am Star Colonel Alonso Gilmour, of Clan Ghost Bear. I do not recognize your claim to the Star League. I accept your batchall. I will defend my fleet with every asset at my disposal.

  — Battle of Trafalgar

On 15 December, Task Force Serpent stumbled unexpectedly across a small Clan Ghost Bear fleet, consisting of one Congress-class firgate, two Whirlwind-class destroyers and an Invader-class JumpShip. When Marshal Hasek-Davion hailed them and declared a Trial of Possession for the entire Clan fleet, his challenge was accepted by the Ghost Bear commander. Though the fighting was fierce, the Task Force was victorious in what became known as the Battle of Trafalgar.

With the Clan flotilla defeated, the Task Force was faced with several pressing issues in the aftermath of the engagement. First was the repair of their own ships. While luckily most of their ships had not taken structural damage, they had lost one assault dropship, the Starlight had lost some of her weapons, and many ships had taken armor damage that would compromise their protection in the event of another engagement. In exchange however, they had captured or destroyed all the Clan starships. Although the damage done in the process rendered most of them crippled beyond any possible field repair, one of the destroyers, the Fire Fang, was able to be both repaired and put into service as the eighth warship of the fleet. They also captured an undamaged Clan Broadsword-class dropship, the Ice Dart (renamed the Stiletto), a couple of damaged Union-C-class DropShips, a dozen OmniFighters and a Star of OmniMechs which were divided up among the units.

The biggest headache for Task Force Serpent however was that the Clan flotilla had been engaged in Clan Ghost Bear's relocation of its civilian population to the Inner Sphere and as such not only carried its normal crew but over a thousand civilians. Without the resources to take them along and more than one of the mission's senior officers either uneasy or downright hostile to the idea of accepting Clan bondsmen as allies, Morgan quickly stepped in to lay down the law: any Clansmen who willingly gave their bond oath would be accepted by the task force - even if he had to assign every one of them as a member of his personal staff. The others who did not would be taken with the fleet until such time as they could find a habitable world they could be left behind on. Although distrust was great towards many of these so-called 'Clan Serpent' bondsmen, tensions were eased somewhat when a Clan technician, Lennox, at great personal risk saved the life of an Inner Sphere technician during a zero-G salvage operations. He was rewarded by Morgan Hasek-Davion with his freedom and reassigned to his personal staff. The other bondsmen considered most trustworthy also helped to form a skeleton crew for the Fire Fang.[13]

The repair and salvage operations took several days, with some unit commanders very uneasy about spending so long at a system clearly used by at least some Clans. Nonetheless the operations were completed successfully and after doing their best to remove any evidence of the battle, the task force jumped out on 25 December. Just as it left the system however one of the sensor technicians aboard the Invisible Truth detected an abnormal jump signature, possibly indicating an inbound starship, which was noted, but not investigated - as to do so would require returning to the system. On 30 December, the task force had identified a suitable world and marooned on it those Ghost Bears who had not taken the bond-oath, leaving them with some supplies and the promise that someone would come back for them.[13]

Death of Morgan Hasek-Davion[edit]

"He was the last of the old order of things. We'll never see his like again."
  — General Ariana Winston

During the night of the 2 January 3060, Marshal Morgan Hasek-Davion was poisoned with a rare venom introduced into his whiskey.[14] When he was found the next morning, his death was initially reported to the rest of the command staff as a natural occurrence, the result of a sudden heart failure. When they were alone Andrew Redburn at once voiced suspicions to Ariana Winston, Morgan's deputy and now the acting Task Force commander, that he had been murdered. He cited the fact that Prince Victor had insisted on Morgan undertaking a full physical before going on the mission, which he had passed with flying colors. General Winston immediately brought in MI6 officer Captain Roger Montjar to conduct a forensic examination of Morgan's office and for the chief medical officer of the Invisible Truth Captain Joel Donati to conduct a careful autopsy of Morgan's body. To avoid tipping off the assassin as to their intentions, the investigation was to be kept secret for the time being.[15]

Later that day both Captains independently confirmed that Morgan Hasek-Davion had indeed been poisoned. Dr. Donati's toxicology report showed that the Marshal had suffered a lethal dose of variform tetrodontoxin, likely derived from the Bregan's toadfish. The toadfish, found only on Yorii, Rigil Kentarus and Altair, is similar to the Fugu of Terra but it's toxins are five times as powerful and faster acting. Captain Montjar also confirmed finding the toxin in the zero-g drinking apparatus Morgan used for his whiskey. Though having already started the investigation, and despite the seeming Combine origin of the toxin, Captain Montjar insisted that Sho-sa Michael Ryan from the DEST teams be brought in to take the lead, arguing that the DEST commandos were given much more extensive investigative training by the ISF which would be useful in this situation. It was an ironic indicator of the state of bonding between the two special forces teams (who otherwise would have been the most mortal of enemies) that the MI6 unit was willing to step aside and let Combine personnel investigate the death of the Marshal of the Armies of the Federated Commonwealth, but the DEST leader took to the task with a will.[16]

On 10 January, General Winston made a fleet-wide announcement that Morgan's death was officially under investigation and formally assumed command of Task Force Serpent. With the fleet less than 200 light-years from Huntress, she ordered her personal effects be transferred from the Gettysberg to the Invisible Truth and began to go through the orders and reports Morgan had left behind in the event of his death. One of these, a taped message, revealed a startling truth to Ariana: in addition to units officially assigned to the Task Force, Coordinator Theodore Kurita had "gifted" a team of four Nekakami, highly trained assassins who trace their lineage to the ninja of Ancient Japan. Explaining his original intention of using them to hunt down high-ranking Smoke Jaguar officers, Morgan advised Ariana on ways of contacting them and advised she keep their presence a secret, particularly from the more ethically-minded senior officers.[17]

A formal funeral was held for Morgan Hasek-Davion on 11 January, at the conclusion of which the ships of Task Force Serpent received a broadband transmission sent by Aleksandr Kerensky himself. It was a declaration explaining why the General had taken the original SLDF from the Inner Sphere and the hopes that one day their descendants would return to restore the Star League. It was considered an eerie coincidence regarding not only the message's timing, but that the Task Force would have missed it completely had Morgan not died. As the message was traveling at light-speed, it would not reach the Inner Sphere for another eight hundred or so years. However, the Voice confirmed that they were nearing the Clan Homeworlds, now only a few hundred light years away.[18] Rumors regarding the Marshal's death spread throughout the fleet, while on 15 January the Task Force took an opportunity to practice conducting orbital fire support on an uninhabitable world.[19]

As the investigation continued, it was concluded that it had to be the work of a professional assassin, not only because of the nature and high toxicity of the poison but also because it was determined the assassin used an extremely rare electronic code-cracking device to gain entry to Morgan's cabin. On 19 January Sho-sa Ryan recommend a top-to-bottom search of all crew quarters on the Invisible Truth to find the device. General Winston agreed despite the objections of Commodore Beresick, who insisted he accompany the DEST search teams personally.[20] Extensive searches through the Invisible Truth after three days failed to find either a trace of the assassin, poison, or electronics, but record cross-checks of the ship's crew turned up five red flags. On board were five ComStar crew members who simply did not exist before they had joined ComStar.[21]

On 23 January the first of these five, going by the name "Julia Davis" per records, was interrogated by General Winston, Captain Montjar and Sho-sa Ryan and subjected to a voice stress test, but the results were unclear. Major Ryan's feeling was that she had something to hide, but she was not the assassin. The next candidate, a Lucas Penrose, was summoned for the next interrogation. However en route he killed the two ComStar marines escorting him with a hidden hold-out pistol, stole their weapons and barricaded himself in a recreation room on Deck Four. In the process of investigating the disturbance, Major Ryan was shot as the suspect fled, though fortunately the DEST commando's body army - worn as a matter of habit even on the ship - kept him alive. More marines arrived quickly in response but Penrose warned them that he had planted a bomb in the number three magazine, which contained a sizable amount of Naval Autocannon shells, and would detonate it if he was not given a JumpShip to take him back to the Inner Sphere and if Winston didn't surrender herself to him at once.[22]

Ludicrous as the demands were, Winston complied to buy time to investigate the threat. Conversing with the man at gunpoint, she eventually realized that the hand he was holding behind his back, meant to suggest he was holding the trigger for a detonator, was in fact empty. With this knowledge she risked jumping Penrose, and while the zero-G wrestling match over his gun spilled out into the corridor the marines had no clear target. Just as it seemed Penrose was about to shoot her, he was suddenly hit with a poisoned shuriken, an event seen only briefly by Winston before she seized Lucas' gun and shot him. As guards and MedTechs stormed in, the shuriken mysteriously vanished, leaving no clear evidence it had been there.[22]

Both General Winston and Major Ryan were taken to the cruiser's sick bay, Winston for minor injuries while Ryan had several broken ribs. Ordnance crews and DEST EOD experts could find no evidence of explosives in the number three magazine or anywhere else on the ship, suggesting that Lucas Penrose had been bluffing. Meeting with Dr. Donati and Commodore Beresick, Winston insisted she had see a shuriken sticking out of the assassin's back, convincing Beresick and Donati to look into it.[23] The next day, the trio met in Major Ryan's ward to discuss what they had discovered. Dr. Donati confirmed discovering a small wound in Penrose's back, of a size and shape congruent with a shuriken, and that the surrounding tissue tested positive for high concentrations of venom from the Eniffrian gremlin viper, a nerotoxin deadly enough to kill in seconds. Commodore Beresick confirmed that tracking of Lucas' movements left him unaccounted for during the suspected time when the assassin would have broken into Morgan's office; additionally he was observed entering one of the ship's galleys during a suspicious time between shifts, presumably to destroy evidence down one of the galley trash chutes (which dump directly into the ship's drive plum). While unable to fully explain his motives or some of his actions, Lucas Penrose by all appearances was Morgan's assassin. Returning to her office, General Winston was contacted via secret audio-only communication from one of the Nekekami agents. According to them, "Lucas Penrose" had been a Loki agent which they had come into contact with before, first as an assassin for the Federated Commonwealth and then the Lyran Alliance. They confirmed having helped save her with the shuriken and asked that "Julia Davis" be released from her custody, to which the general agreed. [24]

Final Preparations[edit]

During the investigation into the death of Morgan Hasek-Davion, the task force had continued its jumps towards the Clan Homeworlds. After so many months of travel, the fleet was finally at Waypoint Mulberry, a point in deep space just a couple of jumps away from Huntress. General Winston held a final command staff briefing aboard the Invisible Truth to go over the coming invasion.[25]

The primary threat to the invasion, based on information from the Smoke Jaguar defector Trent, was an active Clan Space Defense System at Huntress, control of which was built into the planet's primary command and operations center located beneath Mount Szabo, near the planetary capital Lootera. Additionally, according to Trent the planet was defended by a small security fleet, consisting of a cruise and two corvettes. On the ground the planet was garrisoned by two Galaxies of troops, the Iron Guard and Watchmen, plus various training cadres and sibkos.[25]

Accordingly, a plan had been worked up to covertly insert the DEST teams with the objective of destroying the SDS command center and opening the way for the assault force. The DCS Haruna would jump into the Huntress system broadcasting an IFF signal provided by Trent identifying her as the York-class Queen Lynx. Aboard would be the Stiletto, recently captured from the Ghost Bears at Trafalgar, which carried the DEST teams and would pose as Smoke Jaguar DropShip on a regular supply run to Huntress (originally the Bisan was to transport the DEST teams, but the acquisition of a real Clan DropShip proved fortuitous). If their cover was blown though, the Haruna would use her Lithium-Fusion Batteries to return to the fleet, warning them that surprise had been lost and the invasion would have to commence immediately.[25]

If all went according to plan, the Stiletto would arrive over Huntress in ten days, whereupon the DEST teams would perform a HALO drop into the Jaguar's Fangs, the mountain range bordering Lootera, while the Stiletto would fake a crash landing into the Dhuan Swamp. Once on the ground, the DEST teams were to infiltrate the Mount Szabo command center, destroy it's C3 capabilities and the SDS control system, and await the fleet's arrival. With no way of contacting each other, timing was imperative for both the commandos and the invasion force.[25]

At the appointed time, the invasion fleet's WarShip contingent would jump in first to engage the security fleet, followed quickly by the transports carrying the invasion force. While the rest of the WarShips guarded the jump point, the Fire Fang and Ranger would accompany the transport DropShips as they made their approach to Huntress and provide orbital fire support if needed. Each unit of the Task Force had its own assigned objectives: the Knights and the Kingston Legionaries were assigned the training bases at New Andery; the Kathil Uhlans would hit the manufacturing centers at Myer; the Lyran Guards would target the training facility at Bagera; the Northwind Highlanders would hit the factory complex north-west of Pahn City; and both the St. Ives and Drakøns were assigned the training camp on Abysmal, while the Com Guards were held in reserve. The MI6 teams were assigned to observe the Falcon Eyire, a Clan Jade Falcon facility on Huntress which had been gifted to them by the Smoke Jaguars, and report if they came to the Jaguar's aid. Meanwhile, the Eridani Light Horse would land north-west of Lootera herself, with the 21st and 151st targeting the training facility while the 71st siezed the Smoke Jaguar Genetic Repository. All told, it was expected to take less than a week to secure the planet.[25]

Raid on Mount Szabo[edit]

"All commands, this is Dancer. The word is given. Commence Operation Serpent."
  — General Ariana Winston

On 19 February 3060, the DCS Haruna became the first Inner Sphere warship to invade Clan Space when she materialized at the zenith point above Huntress. No challenge was received upon her arrival, with the only other Clan ship in the area a Merchant-class JumpShip. While it was giving off a slightly different IFF than the Haruna it seemed to raise no alarms, and no evidence of any reaction from the planet's defenders could be found. Thirty minutes later the Stiletto, repainted in Smoke Jaguar colors, undocked and commenced a standard 1-g burn for Huntress. The Haruna deployed her jump sail and, after a standard recharge cycle, jumped out-system on 26 February. Three days later, on 1 March, the Stiletto reached orbital space around Huntress. Her transponder was briefly interrogated by an automated ground-based system, apparently logging her false identity as the Tracker and fabricated orders to deliver parts and technical personnel to the industrial complex at Pahn City, before shutting off, evidently losing interest in the inbound ship.[26]

The crew of the Stiletto and DEST commandos were somewhat put out at the incredibly lax security for a Clan homeworld, compared to the layers of flight control and security around such Inner Sphere worlds, without so much as even a verbal challenge being directed at them as yet. Trent however had correctly predicted that his former Clan considered an Inner Sphere attack against the Clan Homeworlds completely impossible. And as no Clan attacker would ever try to sneak in using such subterfuge, there was simply no need for any kind of elaborate security in the view of the Smoke Jaguars, who simply took the transponder data at face value.[26]

As such, the insertion went off without a hitch. Using stealth drop-cocoons, including an automated cocoon holding each team's equipment, the thirty DEST Commandos under Sho-Sa Ryan made a successful HALO drop into the mountains west of Lootera at 0300 local. The Stiletto then faked a steep descent, broadcasting a very weak distress signal and appearing to the local flight control to have had some kind of catastrophic failure, its track apparently vanishing somewhere in the vast Dhuan Swamp. Galaxy Commander Russou Howell, the senior officer on-planet, had been woken with the news of the unexpected arrival of the Tracker (although he was far from pleased to have been woken for such a minor lower-caste issue) but had not even arrived at his command center before the news that she had apparently crashed was received. Slightly perturbed by the odd series of events, the Galaxy Commander nevertheless simply ordered a search to be made for the crashed ship and went back to bed. Meanwhile, having flown out of radar coverage, the Stiletto grounded in the Lunar Range on the continent of Abysmal, far from where any search would be looking for her.[26]

It took the DEST teams three nights to make their way to their objective, as surprise was essential and maximum stealth was necessary, limiting their movements to only a few kilometers every night. On 5 March, only hours before the task force was due to jump in, the DEST teams arrived at Mount Szabo and reconnoitered the entrance to the facility, finding the main gate guarded by a three meter-high wall topped with razor wiring and a pair of armored Elementals. Hijacking a hovertruck and eliminating both Elementals with well-placed Tsunami sniper shots, the teams gained entry to the facility covertly and secured the door behind them. Inside, the teams split to hit three discrete objectives: Team Four towards the main planetary sensor network control station, Team Five to take out the main Command and Control room, and finally Team Six, led by Major Ryan, was tasked with taking the SDS control center. The teams initially ran into no problems, storming each room quickly, but at the SDS command center one technician managed to trigger an alarm before being gunned down. With surprise lost, the DEST teams swiftly planted their charges and executed the remaining technicians before starting their exfiltration. A rapid response team of two Elemental Points summoned by the alarm complicated matters however, arriving as Team Four attempted egress. A brief but vicious firefight broke out that cost the DEST teams six men before the rest of their commandos arrived and eliminated the enemy reinforcements.[27]

The remaining twenty-four commandos left the area before further reinforcements arrived and the charges detonated on schedule, achieving the primary objectives of the mission. However, by necessity, the DEST commandos were forced to leave their dead behind. And while a mysterious explosion may have been put down to bandit caste activity or a catastrophic accident, not even the most hidebound Smoke Jaguar officer could ignore the evidence of six dead Inner Sphere commandos - and what their attack on the planet's primary command center meant.[27]

Fortunately, the fleet jumped into the Huntress System mere hours later and the question of surprise became academic.

The Fleet Arrives[edit]

"Send to all commands. Clear for battle, launch all Combat Air Patrol fighters. Message to Starlight. Starlight is to remain with and protect the transports. We're here, and no Clan buggers are going to make us leave!"
  — Commodore Beresick

At 06:30 local, 5 March 3060, Task Force Serpent entered the Huntress system at the zenith point. Immediately the fleet detected contacts at 700 kilometers, initially unknown but soon identified as a flotilla of Smoke Jaguar warships: a Sovetskii Soyuz-class Cruiser and two Vincent-class Corvettes. The Invisible Truth squared off against the enemy cruiser, moving to within 400 kilometers before firing a pair of Kraken-Ts which hit but failed to penetrate. The Soyuz responded with its own Killer Whale missiles, which punched through the Truth's electronic jamming but could not penetrate her armor either. Exchanging weapons fire and closing to within 200 kilometers, Commodore Beresick set the Invisible Truth on a collision course with the enemy - correctly anticipating that his maneuvering would be taken as a personal challenge to the Clan Captain, who reciprocated. When she reached optimal range, Beresick unleashed a full salvo from his ships bow guns and broke hard to port, bringing his broadside guns into play. The rolling salvo of firepower shattered the bow armor of the enemy cruiser while the Truth shrugged off the return fire.[28]

As the Truth attempted to reverse its turn and come about to reengage the enemy, Rostock dove in from above to attack the enemy cruiser, though causing no great damage. Either incensed at their interference in what had been a personal duel or seeing an easy kill, the cruiser promptly rolled to bring her massive array of broadside naval weapons to bear and in a furious salvo, tore deeply into the FedCom warship's vulnerable belly. With Captain Floriano reporting most of the crew dead or wounded and their port side weapons disabled, the Rostock attempted to withdraw as the Truth tried to maneuver to come between the two ships, but the Clan WarShip refused to back down. With another salvo from its broadside weapons the Rostock was blown to pieces; a single Lifeboat with just five crew members managed to escape in time before the explosion. Unfortunately for the Clan WarShip, in turning to follow the Rostock she had left herself open for the Invisible Truth to cross her bow. Seeking to avenge the destruction of the Rostock, a furious Commodore Beresick maneuvered the Truth to unleash several punishing broadside salvos that tore deep into the Clan ship, leaving her effectively destroyed.[28]

The two Vincent-class ships meanwhile had run around the heavyweight fight to find their own ends. The first was intercepted by the Emerald and destroyed in exchange for modest damage to the Essex-class WarShip; damage to the bridge and sensor systems were repaired in a matter of hours, though damage to the solar sail would need a few days more. The second Vincent evaded the remaining warships in an attempt to try and attack the fleet of JumpShips carrying the invasion force. She did minor damage to several vessels but was destroyed by the Starlight. Already damaged from the previous engagement at Trafalgar, the new damage stripped the Starlight of most of her port weapons bays and her Grav-deck, damage that would bode ill for her several weeks later.[28]

Quickly regrouping, the JumpShips launched their DropShips which, escorted by the Fire Fang and Ranger, proceeded in-system towards Huntress.[28] At a standard 1-g burn, they would arrive in seven and a half days.[5]

The Jaguars Prepare[edit]

"Sound the alert. Not one of those freebirth vermin will leave Huntress alive!"
  — Galaxy Commander Russou Howell

Although initially disbelieving of the idea that the Inner Sphere were attacking the very den of Clan Smoke Jaguar, Galaxy Commander Roussou Howell soon snapped out of his shock and for the first time in a long time started to act like a Smoke Jaguar officer. On paper, he had very few tools to try and face the incoming attacks, the Huntress garrison for some time having been drained of any really useful military assets to help make up for the shocking losses at Luthien and Tukayyid. Meaning that he had little more than solahma light infantry and scant few regular troops other than newly blooded warriors waiting for a ship to take them to the Inner Sphere, something ilKhan Lincoln Osis had been quite careful to keep secret lest he risk a Trial of Possession by the Homeworld Clans.

His predecessor Benjamin Howell had however, with unusual foresight, anticipated that eventually the Inner Sphere would seek to strike back at the Clans by attacking their Homeworlds. Accordingly, he had worked to 'creatively' acquire equipment for his warriors by having Inner Sphere salvage shipped back to Huntress. Officially for 'analysis' by Smoke Jaguar scientists, it was in fact refurbished and used to equip a sizable number of his solahma warriors with BattleMechs. Along with some ancient Star League 'Mechs pulled from storage and cast off prototypes re-purposed, the two paper Galaxies garrisoning Huntress (the Watchmen Galaxy and Iron Guard Galaxy) had been transformed into a genuine fighting force. Although Benjamin Howell had later been executed for his gross violations of regulations, his actions had given the Smoke Jaguars tools to have at least a fighting chance of holding their homeworld and they mobilized accordingly. Although there was a general sense of outrage at the presumption of the Inner Sphere at daring to strike at their homeworld, among the solahma there was also an odd sense of gratitude to their attackers; that they would have their opportunity to die in glorious battle rather than waste away in old age.

HPG messages were sent to the ilKhan (and still nominally senior Smoke Jaguar Khan) Lincoln Osis as well as to Khan Marthe Pryde by the Jade Falcons from their small landholding of Falcon Eyrie. For various political reasons, neither Khan chose to inform the Grand Council immediately of the disaster.

The Assault on Huntress[edit]

The Inner Sphere regiments were split into seven major operational commands for the invasion, hitting specific targets around the planet at the same time, to prevent the Smoke Jaguars being able to concentrate a defense in any one place. In addition, several special forces deployments would hit other objectives. As they arrived in orbit on 12 March, the invasion force met some resistance from Clan fighters - which served only to cause damage to one of the Kathil Uhlan's DropShips - before deploying to attack their assigned objectives.[5]

The Eridani Light Horse[edit]

General Winston and her headquarters unit accompanied the 21st and 151st Regiments, commanded by Colonels Edwin Amis and Charles Antonescu respectively, as they made a combat drop three kilometers north-west of Mount Szabo. Their target was a large MechWarrior training facility several kilometers west of the landing zone.[5] Defending the facility was the Galaxy Command Trinary and 12th Solahma Cluster of the Iron Guard Galaxy, along with the 44th Solahma Cluster and a Fighter Trinary of the Watchmen Galaxy.[29] Reaching the LZ in their Drop Pods with no issue, the two ELH regiments pressed on with their attack. Although they had been briefed on intelligence that the Smoke Jaguars were shipping Inner Sphere 'Mechs back to their homeworld, the Horsemen were taken aback by the sheer number of 'Spheroid' designs their Smoke Jaguar opponents fielded. Regardless, the Light Horse regiments pressed on and succeeded in capturing the facility after taking only light casualties. The DEST teams, as per the operational plan, rendevouzed with General Winston, having evaded all search efforts in the preceding week.[5]

The 71st Regiment under Colonel Sandra Barclay made their drop just north of the capital Lootera, with the objective of seizing the Field of Heroes and the Smoke Jaguar genetic repository. Unfortunately their combat drop was more rough and much of the unit was spread out all across the norther edge of Lootera, with some even landing within the city limits. Determined not to attack piece-meal, Colonel Barclay order the 71st to regroup and attack in force.[5] Defending the city against them was the 44th Solahma Cluster and Galaxy Command Trinary of the Watchmen Galaxy.[29] The 71st succeeded in their objective with relatively light casualties, sweeping aside the Jaguars in their second-line and Inner Sphere 'Mechs, with the 17th Recon Battalion capturing the repository in tact per Winston's orders.[5][30] Unfortunately, before being driven off, the Smoke Jaguar 'Mechs defending the repository had bought enough time for the Elemental guards within the facility to barricade themselves, forcing the Horsemen's infantry units to clear them out room by room.[31]

All told the Eridani Light Horse regiments had suffered light casualties by the end of the first day, securing the training facility, Lootera and its spaceport. General Winston established the Field of Heroes as the site of her army headquarters.[5] The 21st took the heaviest equipment casualties with thirteen 'Mechs destroyed or damaged beyond repair, fifty-four 'Mechs serviceable but requiring repair, eighteen dead and thirty-nine critically wounded, mostly among the infantry. The 151st lost nine 'Mechs destroyed or beyond repair and forty-one requiring repairs, with just five dead and thirty-six wounded. The 71st took relatively light casualties among its 'Mech force - two dead and eleven wounded, with seven 'Mechs lost and fifteen requiring repairs - but lost 28% of its mechanized infantry units in the close-quarters battle with the Elementals, suffering thirty-one dead and forty-eight critically wounded.[31]

The Kathil Uhlans[edit]

The Kathil Uhlans attacked the industrial complex near the city of Myers, which was defended by the 63rd Solahma Cluster of the Watchmen Galaxy.[32] Although the enemy put up stiff resistance, the Uhlans captured their objective with only light casualties.[33]

The Northwind Highlanders[edit]

The Northwind Highlanders' MacLeod Regiment was slated to attack the major industrial center near Pahn City, which was defended by the 48th Battle Cluster of the Watchmen Galaxy.[29]. Among the information that Trent had provided were the radio frequencies used by the local garrison units. Taking advantage of the intelligence, Colonel William MacLeod instructed the pipers of the Highlanders on board their DropShips to start playing a constant stream of bagpipe music, specifically "Sound the Pibroch" and "The Killiecrankie," on their approach to the target. For a full hour before their arrival, the Highlanders flooded the Smoke Jaguar's frequencies with what the Clan defenders could only perceive as some kind of horrid jamming signal. Effectively for the battle, all radio communication between the defenders was cut off, limiting the Clanners to line-of-sight laser communications and hand signals only, thereby crippling their coordination.[34]

Rather than perform a combat drop the Highlander's DropShips grounded not far from the industrial center. Forward elements of the Cluster, equipped with OmniMechs and second-line units, attacked the landing zone, only to be stunned and then enraged when they saw the Highlanders units proudly bore the markings of the Star League and the Star League Defense Force. Already on-edge from the bagpipes, the temper of Star Colonel Cara snapped and she ordered her Cluster to advance and engage the Highlanders. Her troops' rage only spiked however when they noticed that many of the Highlander BattleMechs were wearing the colors and insignia of no less a unit than the Royal Black Watch. Enraged beyond reason at the Inner Spheres' apparent mocking of the Clans' most sacred beliefs, the Smoke Jaguars all but threw themselves at the Royal Black Watch, with the Star Colonel herself battering one to destruction with her 'Mech's fists.[34][35]

This of course was exactly what Colonel MacLeod had anticipated, purposefully deploying the Black Watch Company to bait the defenders so that his main force could flank around and attack the industrial center directly. Her units out of formation and so focused on coming to grips with the enemy, and with communications heavily disrupted, it proved easy for the bulk of the Highlanders to simply bypass the defenders and march on the factory complex. A chagrined Star Colonel Cara soon realized the trap she had fallen into, but struggled to try and pull her unit back, hampered by the communications jamming and most warriors being utterly fixated on the Royal Black Watch.[34][35] The Star Colonel did finally manage to make contact with her second-in-command, who informed her that the Technicians at the factory wished to aid in its defense, but a furious Cara rebuked such a requested, determined that the Smoke Jaguars would win or lose only through the efforts of true warriors.[34]

Advancing on the factory, the bulk of the Highlanders were taken aback when, in their combat debut, a unit of ProtoMechs swarmed out of the facility to engage the lead Highlanders at close range. The attack stalled as the Inner Sphere MechWarriors struggled to deal with the unknown threat, before retreating as the hurriedly returning Smoke Jaguar 'Mechs rushed to save the complex. The fighting degenerated into a free-for-all, raging for several hours in and around Pahn City, before the Highlanders allowed themselves to be pushed back. Colonel MacLeod reformed his unit and launched a fresh attack on the factory, seizing it intact and eliminating the mixed BattleMech/ProtoMech force.[34][35]

The victory cost the Highlanders heavily however. Thirty of their MechWarriors were killed in action and the damage to the surviving forces was considerable. Taking advantage of the 'Mech factories present, the Highlanders quickly started to make repairs on their units and salvaged what they could, with particular attention placed to the ProtoMech factory and the lethal new weapons platform.[34] Unfortunately, while able to salvage a number of ProtoMechs, they quickly discovered the factory equipment used to make it had been smashed and the computer databanks erased. They also soon realized, through inspection of the machines and interrogation of some captured pilots, that these new units required the use of Enhanced Imaging Neural Implants in order to operate.[33]

The 2nd St. Ives Lancers & 4th Drakøns[edit]

The Second St. Ives Lancers and the Fourth Rasalhague Drakøns attacked the small training camp located on the continent Abysmal. They quickly discovered that it was not a permanent base, instead being used to house cadets temporarily for desert warfare training, and only the training staff was present. While the instructors gave a good account of themselves, they were swiftly eliminated and the base secured. The attackers suffered the fewest casualties of any other force on that first day, with four four Lancer and one Drakøn 'Mech destroyed.[33]

The Knights of the Inner Sphere and Kingston's Legionnaires[edit]

One of the toughest fights during the invasion, the Knights and Legionnaires were assigned to strike a large training camp east of the the city of New Andery. Harried only by a pair of Avar fighters that were quickly destroyed, Colonel Masters as overall commander decided to forgo a combat drop, ordering the DropShips to ground a few kilometers east of the camp. Advancing swiftly from their landing zone, the combined force rolled over the mixed Star of BattleMechs, a pair of Galahads with lighter 'Mechs, standing sentry over the base without loss. It did not take long however for the Jaguar cadets stationed there to power up their second-line 'Mechs and launch a counter-attack. All fifteen were eliminated, in exchange for nine 'Mechs knocked out beyond repair and five more forced to return to the DropShips for repairs.[36]

The easy victory was short-lived though as the 33rd Assault Cluster of the Iron Guard Galaxy had been assigned to defend New Andry.[29] Barely half an hour after securing the training facility, a strong Clan force was detected moving in from the west towards the Legionnaires by infantry pickets. Acting quickly, Colonel Masters ordered the Legionnaires to pull back to easily defensible positions in front of the training base, while the Knights would shift into a flanking attack through jungle so as to encircle them. The Jaguars launched their attack on the Legionnaires, using a mixed force of light OmniMechs and Elementals.[36][37]

However the elegant plan ran into a major snag when a second, larger force attacked the Knight's Third Battalion defending their right flank, consisting of two Trinaries of heavy and assault-weight second-line 'Mechs. Worse, the force attacking the Capellans revealed itself to consist of front-line OmniMechs which attacked all along the Legionaries' front and pressed them hard. Detaching a company from each of his other battalions to reinforce the Third, Colonel Masters led the rest of the Knights to come to the rescue of the Capellans. As they started to emerge from the jungle, they were met by a line of ProtoMechs, a far larger deployment than the unit that had faced the Highlanders at Pahn City. Fighting their way through the new enemy, the Knights managed a linkup with the Legionnaires and fought hard, but the combination of the mobility of the ProtoMechs and harder hitting OmniMechs slowly pushed the combined force back. After four hours of fighting, the Jaguars retook the training base, but continued to push the Inner Sphere troops until they had been driven to the outskirts of New Andery itself. Both sides were exhausted by the fighting however and by unspoken mutual consent, pulled back for a time. The Knights' Third Battalion had held its ground quite successfully against the flanking force, but was pulled back to rejoin the main body lest it be cut off.[36][37]

The Inner Sphere troops were in a poor tactical position. The Legionnaires had taken staggering casualties, with 68% of their force out of the fight. The Knights had fared better but not by much, with only half of their force still combat capable. A hurried discussion was undertaken as to how to deal with the unfolding disaster. Naval fire support was ruled out due to the difficulty in being able to call in accurate fire through the thick jungle conditions. The Knights flatly ruled out falling back into the city as too great a risk to non-combatants, despite Colonel Kingston's enthusiastic support for such a move, and a hot extraction via DropShips risked the Clanners overrunning them while trying to load up. In the end, the decision was made to hold their ground and call for backup. General Winston was contacted and swiftly confirmed the deployment of the the Task Forces' strategic reserve: two Level III Com Guard units from the 2nd Division.[36]

An hour later with the Com Guard forces still en-route, the Jaguars renewed their attack before the Inner Sphere forces had been able to even reload ammunition on many of their 'Mechs, let alone make more substantive repairs. Colonel Masters, his Anvil already heavily damaged, was knocked out early in the engagement when a Hunchback IIC severed his machine's leg. The colonel survived and was making his run back to the command post when the Com Guards finally arrived. The reinforcements made a direct low-altitude combat drop on the enemy's flank or, in the case of the Second Battalion, directly on top of the enemy by mistake, resulting in savage fighting at point-blank and hand-to-hand ranges. Within forty-five minutes of the Com Guards' arrival, combined with the Knights and Legionaries's renewed attack, the Smoke Jaguars were flanked on both sides and collapsed, retreating to the south under close pursuit. Barely a Trinary of forces managed to escape the kill zone and break contact.[36]

The ComGuards only suffered light casualties in the engagement, mostly to their infantry and tank support, and were at 80% strength after the fighting was over.[38] However both the Knights and Legionnaires had suffered the highest casualties that day of any other Inner Sphere contingent. The Knights stood at 50% effective strength while the Legionnaires were under 30% nominal strength, although with time to repair and recuperate it would be brought up slightly to 35% strength.[37][33] Hence-force, they would be shifted into a strategic reserve role.

The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Division of the ComGuards[edit]

While the first two battalions of the ComGuards 2nd division were held in reserve and eventually committed to relieving The Knights of the Inner Sphere and Kingston's Legionnaires, the Third Battalion was assigned to attack and seize the Mount Szabo facility. This operation went off without incident, mostly due to the fact that the DEST attack had already damaged it extensively, allowing them to seize the location without much trouble.[33]

The 11th Lyran Guards[edit]

The Eleventh Lyran Guard experience heavy aerospace resistance on their approach to Bagera, losing an Overlord-class DropShip after it took damage and crash-landed short of the landing zone (though only with the loss of two light 'Mechs aboard). After finally grounding at the LZ, the Eleventh barely unloaded their last 'Mech before a Supernova Trinary consisting of second-line and Inner Sphere 'Mechs mixed with Elementals appeared on the edge of the LZ and attacked. The sheer number of Sphereoid 'Mechs the Jaguars were using, including many relatively new designs, caused some confusion among the Lyrans as the Jaguars were able to quickly close the distance and mix in among their ranks. The attack was eventually pushed back, but only at the staggering loss of fifty-one of the Lyrans' one hundred and twenty 'Mechs.[39]

Worse was to come, however. Ostensibly, Bagera was garrisoned by only the 77th Solahma Cluster of the Iron Guard Galaxy.[29] Unknown to SLDF intelligence though, the Smoke Jaguars had recently moved a powerful unit into Bagera: freshly-blooded warriors and their instructors, all equipped with front-line OmniMechs. When the Eleventh's reconnaissance company detected a force of nearly thirty modern heavy and assault-weight OmniMechs approaching from two kilometers west of the LZ, Marshal Sharon Byres ordered her First Battalion and command company to try and hold the line. In the ensuring fight the Marshal herself was shot out of her Banshee after a heated engagement with a Cauldron Born, leaving her second-in-command, Colonel Timothy Prices, to take charge temporarily. Though ejecting safely, the Marshal broke her arm and was caught up in her parachute's straps. Marshal Byres was soon rescued by a Fulcrum hovertank and, quickly determining that the Eleventh Guards were in serious danger of being routed by the furious Smoke Jaguar attack, called General Winston to request naval fire support.[39]

In low orbit over Bagera, the Fire Fang shifted position and opened fire, launching a single gauss round and a volley from her naval PPC battery. Although the fire mission fell a hundred meters west of the aim point, the effect was nonetheless horrific. Clan BattleMechs were instantly blown to pieces and Elementals simply vaporized under the force of the strike. The few surviving Clan 'Mechs were, in the opinion of Colonel Price, looking to be not even worth use as spare parts. The shockingly brutal attack broke the back of Jaguars and the Eleventh Guards were able to mop up the remaining Clanners with little trouble.[39]

The Eleventh, however, had taken quite a beating, suffering the highest casualties of any unit that day. A full 25% of its MechWarriors were either dead or unfit for further duty; losses were even higher among the supporting infantry and tank battalions. Half of the surviving forces were also wounded, although they were expected to recover into fighting shape. Forty of the unit's 'Mechs were also deemed non-recoverable. It would take support and repair crews some time to bring the Guards back up to about half their fighting strength.[33]

The Rabid Foxes[edit]

The MI6 teams, the Rabid Foxes, were deployed with orders to keep an eye on the only non Smoke-Jaguar Clan presence on the planet, a small Jade Falcon base known as the Falcon Eyrie located in the Eastern Mountains. Although logic suggested that the Falcons would hold themselves aloof from an attack on the Jaguars, the Davion commandos were being sent to watch over the Falcons to make sure this would stay the case. And if the Falcons did look about to step into the fight, the Rabid Foxes would either directly engage them, or, pass the word for reserve BattleMech units to come in and deal with the situation.

The mission plan involved, much like the DEST teams, a HALO jump into the vicinity of Falcon Eyrie, then a rapid move to the base and maintain eyes on it from several well-positioned observation posts. However the infamously bad weather of Huntress intervened and a storm in the target area made a HALO jump completely impossible. The alternative LZ for a HALO jump, due to the extremely rocky and mountainous terrain, was far enough away that by the time the commandos reached the objective, the initial assaults would be winding down, and the Falcons could have very well chosen to move out without anyone being the wiser. As such, Captain Roger Montjar decided that he had no choice but to risk a low altitude jump under the storm clouds, accepting the far greater risk of detection to get his troops into place quickly.[40]

Coming in at three hundred meters above the deck, the Claymore-class DropShip Marcinko deployed the twenty-strong commando force, wearing the latest in stealth battle armor, via parafoil along with twelve drop pods stuffed with their gear: remote sensors, surveillance equipment, and the best Inner Sphere weaponry available. The commando force itself survived the drop with only one sprained ankle, but unfortunately several of their equipment canisters were smashed or simply lost, in particular the one carrying their rations. After failing to discover the missing pod, the commandos proceed on with their mission and divided into four Teams. Team Two would position themselves in an observation post directly above the Eyrie itself, with Teams One, Three and Four spreading out to form a picket line several kilometers long along the ridgeline overlooking the facility.[40]

As it so happened, the low altitude jump was detected, both by the Jade Falcons and the Smoke Jaguars. Within the Eyrie, the approach of the Claymore had been spotted by the base's sensors, along with what was determined to be a drop-off of armored infantry. Star Captain Nikolai Icanza, who had replaced the previous commander and brought along two Stars of Elementals, had done much to bring the Eyrie into shape after the events of the previous year. He correctly surmised the purpose of the troops and determined to leave them alone so long as they reciprocated, instead choosing to alert Khan Marthe Pryde as to the evolving situation on Huntress.[40] A pair of Smoke Jaguar scientists who had been searching for new ore veins in the mountains were less magnanimous when they stumbled upon an MI6 observation point. One of them, a Warrior caste dropout, correctly recognized that no Clan unit would be sneaking around in this fashion spying on the Falcons and that no band of bandits could possibly have access to stealth-capable battle armor. Returning to Lootera, the two contacted Elemental Star Captain Tullain to report their findings. Determining to attack the Inner Sphere commandos from behind, the Star Captain lead two Points of Elementals into the mountains.[39]

The two Points were detected approaching Team Two's position, under the command of Sergeant Henry Kramer. Coming up from the south-east and clearly on a direct approach to their location, the Sergeant decided to abandon the position and try to lead the Elementals away from the other commandos. Sending one of his men to alert Captain Montjar, as he did not want to risk a radio transmission and had no line of sight for a laser transmission, he destroyed the surveillance equipment and led his three remaining commandos away from the area, being careful to leave a distinct enough trail for the Elementals to follow.[39]

Several hours of distance later the Elementals were in close pursuit. Although not able to detect the stealth armor directly, the Smoke Jaguars proved surprisingly adept at following the trail, closing the distance steadily. Having only limited heavy weapons and outnumbered, the Commandos decided to try and fight it out. Mining a small defile with the last of their anti-personal directional mines, they set down and waited. The Elementals soon enough entered the prepared kill zone and, when a full Point of the Clan troops were in position, the commandos launched their ambush. Using his Thunderstroke Gauss Rifle Sergeant Kramer killed the Point Commander, while the rest of the unit was taken out with a mixture of gauss and SRM rounds, though at the loss of Privates Santone and Mitts. The second Point had the rather more horrific fate of being hit by a number of Inferno warheads and slowly burned to death in their suits. Sergeant Krammer and Private Daltezza continued to head west, away from the Eyrie, with a plan to link up with friendly forces once they were clear and could be sure any pursuit was being drawn away from the remaining commandos.[39]

The Spirit Cats[edit]

The nekakami assigned to the task force, answering directly and only to General Winston after the death of Morgan, had been assigned to hit the Smoke Jaguars backup command center to the Mount Szabo facility, in Lootera. Per her wishes to minimize the destructive impact on the generally civilian area, the Spirt Cats were highly selective in their destruction, destroying key equipment to render the facility useless rather than simply obliterating the entire facility.[41] The attack would raise some eyebrows in the task force, as no known Inner Sphere units had been tasked with the attack or were operating in that area. No trace of the attackers or hint at who might have done it would be found by scouts sent in to investigate.[33]

General Order 01051[edit]

"Pursuant to General Order, number TFS oh-one-oh-five-one, upon completion of the initial assault on the planet Huntress, the units comprising Task Force Serpent are to take every measure possible to eliminate the war-making ability of Clan Smoke Jaguar. To this end, the units of Task Force Serpent are to destroy all barracks, 'Mech hangars, fighter bays, command, communication, and control centers, and military repair facilities. Likewise, all factories, warehouses, armories, shipyards, and any other facility or installation that may be used for the construction of war materiel, or the storage, or transport of the same, must be destroyed or rendered unusable by Clan Smoke Jaguar. Such stores of weapons, ammunition, spare parts, food, and other military supplies, as well as those military assets that can be captured intact and transferred off planet by the units of Task Force Serpent should be secured by the units of Task Force Serpent and protected from deliberate sabotage by the forces of Clan Smoke Jaguar. The commander of Task Force Serpent is charged with the initial disposition of all captured materiel. All combat losses not provided for by a unit's Table of Organization and Equipment will be made up out of captured materiel wherever possible. All other captured materiel will be shipped for transport back to the Inner Sphere, where it will be disposed of by Star League Defense Force command. Such captured materiel that cannot be used by the units of Task Force Serpent and that cannot be shipped for transport back to the Inner Sphere is to be likewise destroyed".
  — Ariana Winston

Initial planning had been based around an expected one-week time-frame to engage and destroy the garrison forces. In actual fact the Inner Sphere had done what had been considered previously unthinkable; seizing a Clan homeworld in less then a day. With the planet relatively secure, on the morning of 13 March, General Winston called all the unit commanders (minus Captain Montjar still watching over the Falcons) for a conference to give the most contentious order of the task force. General Order 01051 was key to the entire purpose of Serpent; to help bring home the horrors of war, that it was no game or 'trial', to the Clans. And that they would not respect the artificial box the Clans had developed to let their warrior caste 'play' at war if they continued their invasion. To that end, all military equipment and all military-industrial facilities, right down to the monuments glorifying the warrior caste, were to be destroyed, removed as if they had never existed, leaving the planet unable to support any Clan war machine.[42]

It was a contentious order, to put it mildly. Centuries of cultural inertia after the horrors of the First and Second Succession Wars had ensured a strict series of campaign rules were followed by all parties in the Inner Sphere. Known colloquially as the Honors of War and loosely based on the ancient Ares Conventions, it ensured that soldiers generally fought soldiers and at least tried to avoid damaging both civilian and military-industrial infrastructure - especially Lostech such as key factories or JumpShips. The direct orders to do the exact opposite did not sit at all well with some of the sub-unit commanders. After reading out the order, Colonel Sir Paul Masters almost at once formally asked General Winston to reconsider issuing the order, citing his fear that they would lose control of their troops in the massive destruction that would be needed to accomplish it, resulting in major civilian casualties. Or, if the troops followed their orders under protest, that they would become resentful of doing so and discipline and order would start to break down.[42]

Almost at once, a shouting match broke out between two camps both for and against the orders. Rapidly exhausting her patience, General Winston drew her sidearm and fired a single shot into the air, bringing an abrupt end to the dispute and forcefully laying down the law. She pointed out that every House Lord in the Inner Sphere, plus ComStar, had signed off on Task Force Serpent, agreeing on its purpose and mission well before it had left the Inner Sphere and the time for debating them was long past. She also asserted forcefully that this order would be directed at things; facilities and equipment, not at people. Irrespective of caste, be it warrior of otherwise, no-one would be harmed, but that her orders would be carried out or they would be relieved.[42]

Obeying with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Colonel Masters dire predictions thankfully did not come to pass. The professional soldiers followed their orders without taking any retribution against the civilians and, indeed, going out of their way to allow the Clan lower castes (who saw themselves as effectively isorla) to assist with logistical and salvage efforts. The sheer scale of destruction needed quickly exhausted most supplies of demolitions gear and those salvaged from the Clan stockpiles, so soon enough BattleMechs mounting energy weapons, and infantrymen wielding sledgehammers and cutting torches, were ordered to assist in the destructive work. Although many MechWarriors protested these orders, it was less over having moral objections to the work and more that they saw it as below their station to be used as 'wrecking balls'. Nonetheless, the demolition work proceeded relatively smoothly. It was hoped that the Inner Sphere troops could finish up their work in a matter of weeks, then evacuate the planet and return to the Inner Sphere.[31][43]

Guerrilla Warfare[edit]

Though Task Force Serpent had succeeded in taking the planet and begun the operation of stripping Huntress, it was not the end of combat, as a significant number of Smoke Jaguar officers could not be accounted for after the first day of fighting. Highest on this list was Galaxy Commander Howell, who was able to rally roughly three Trinaries of BattleMech and Elemental Points and fade into the vast wilderness of the Black Shikari Jungle, with which the Jaguars were much more familiar. However, with food and supplies running low, the Smoke Jaguars launched a raid on the Northwind Highlanders' base at the Pahn City factory complex in the early hours of 15 March. In a highly un-Clan-like fashion, the Smoke Jaguars launched a diversionary attack on the Highlanders' DropShip landing zone, using one Trinary with orders to act as though they were a larger force. Reacting to conventional military wisdom to protect the transports at all costs, Colonel MacLeod ordered nearly the entire regiment to their defense, leaving a single company behind to defend the factory complex. Its defenses denuded, the rest of the Smoke Jaguar force attacked the factory complex, pushing back the defenders whilst Elementals, dismounted MechWarriors and others seized loaded hovertrucks and grabbed as much as they could before retreating back into the jungle. The attack on the factory a success, the diversionary force retreated as well.[44][45]

Few loses had been suffered by either side, but the Jaguar's success in taking enough supplies to last them a month was an embarrassing defeat for Colonel MacLeod. When informed about the raid, the change in Smoke Jaguar tactics deeply concerned General Winston: the Inner Sphere was so used to the Clans fighting in straight-up, set piece battles under the terms of zellbrigen that for them to adopt such unconventional methods bespoke future problems. She ordered all units to tighten security around their bases of operation and add additional combat patrols to their current operations to locate and neutralize remaining Smoke Jaguar forces.[44][45]

However, the operation was about to take a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse.

Smoke Jaguar Reinforcements[edit]

The Jaguar flees the Bulldog[edit]

"You make light of this threat, Vlad!"
"I do not, ilKhan, but I do not see the Smoke Jaguars as being the soul of the Clans. The Inner Sphere may destroy the Smoke Jaguars, but the Clans are eternal. We shall survive your misjudgment and malfeasance whether or not you do. Your only hope of survival is if your plan to repel this attack works. If it does not, a new ilKhan will go back into your invasion corridor and do things right this time."
  — ilKhan Lincon Osis and Khan Vlad Ward

Concurrent to Operation Serpent, Operation Bulldog had run wild through the Clan Occupation zone. Strategic modeling had predicted, conservatively, that it would take several years to acheive their goals; the recapture of all Jaguar held worlds and elimination of all Jaguar forces. The strategic modeling however had underestimated or missed several key factors. Primarily that the Jaguars were blindly convinced the Inner Sphere simply didn't have the capacity to launch a massive counter attack on one hand and could (and would) be caught asleep. And the extreme enthusiasm of the DCMS to, as Khan Phelen Kell put it, 'Kick the Jaguars in the teeth'. Much as in the Fourth Succession War where the AFFS simply smothered the CCAF with staggered waves of crack troops, the Star League swarmed into the Smoke Jaguar Occupation Zone and in the first two waves, seized an incredible thirty-two worlds from both the Smoke Jaguars and Clan Nova Cat, the latter of whom had secretly decided to switch sides and defect to the Star League.

Initially reluctant to go to the Grand Council, as the sheer size of the offensive became clear ilKhan Lincoln Osis was eventually forced to do so. He attempted to use the power of his office to 'invite' the Home Clans into the Inner Sphere, planning to have them strike into the Combine's rimward border and take pressure off his Clan, but quite rapidly Khans Vlad Ward and Marthe Pryde shut down this possibility. Having planned to depose the current ilKhan for some time, they were perfectly happy to take the opportunity to politically discredit him; pointing out that despite being the Khan of Khans, he still was acting like a Smoke Jaguar Khan and placing their interests ahead of the Clans as a whole. That he had failed to report on the attacks for over six weeks, then only reported in an attempt to use other Clans as reserve troops to solve a problem of his Clan. In no uncertain terms, Osis was told to either resign as ilKhan, or go and solve the problem on his own, because it clearly was not a problem that warranted other Clans getting involved. The Inner Sphere was attacking the Smoke Jaguars, this was their problem and theirs alone.

Furious, but without any other recourse, Osis had little choice but to try to fight the war with what he had. A counter-offensive was launched against five Combine border worlds, bypassing worlds just taken by the SLDF in the hope of blasting deep into the Combine, forcing the Inner Sphere to break off the attack and chase after them. Unfortunately for the Smoke Jaguars, this was not 3050 and the worlds had been preparing for Clan invasion for the best part of a decade. Almost immediately the counter-offensive bogged down on highly defended worlds, then was slammed by Bulldogs strategic reserve landing on them. Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta herself barely escaped Matamoras as a fleet of Inner Sphere warships chased her forces right to the jump point.

At this point, the ilKhan swallowed his pride and gave the order in August 3059 for all Jaguar forces in the Inner Sphere to retreat to Huntress, where they could consolidate and rebuild. The commanders of Operation Bulldog, Precentor-Martial Anastasius Focht and Prince Victor Steiner-Davion, were stunned at the Jaguars' unexpected retreat, having anticipated them to fight to the last to hold their conquests. However they soon realized the bigger danger: Task Force Serpent had left the edge of the Inner Sphere months earlier and was out of communications range. Meaning they would arrive at Huntress shortly before or shortly after the Clan's Inner Sphere forces did. And, instead of a lightly defended world, they would face all that was left of the Smoke Jaguars.

Pulling together a crack team of SLDF units from the entire SLDF, a second task force started to pursue the Jaguars up the Exodus Road, but despite all efforts the Jaguars would reach their homeworld first.

The ilKhan asks for aid[edit]

Now is the time to act in concert. If we do not destroy this blight, this outrage, it will turn to devour more of the homeworlds when it has finished with Huntress. You must lend me your strength. Give me whatever military assets you can spare. Your personal guards, your training cadres — it matters not to me. Only lend me your strength, and I will crash these barbarians into dust. Then, there will be honor to spare for all of the Clans.
  — ilKhan Lincoln Osis
This seems to be a matter between the Inner Sphere and the Smoke Jaguars, and only the Smoke Jaguars. Let the rest of the Clans not insert ourselves in this matter, but allow the Smoke Jaguars the honor of defending their own homeworld. If they triumph, as I am certain they will,then all the more honor to them. If the unthinkable happens, if Huntress falls to the forces of the Inner Sphere, then perhaps Lincoln Osis is not fit to be the ilKhan of the Clans after all.
  — Khan Bjorn Jorgensson

While being forced to withdraw from Inner Sphere was humiliating enough, far worse news arrived for the Khan later in 3060. For the second time, Lincon Osis was forced to go before the Grand Council, to report the unprecedented and seemingly impossible news that Clan Space had been invaded by the Inner Sphere, a fact confirmed by Marthe Pryde with her own report from Huntress. Again the ilKhan asked for aid from the other Clans, feeling sure that the far more immediate threat would surely gain him support, but again he was thwarted. The smaller, less powerful Clans suddenly became very aware with the reality of the Inner Sphere invasion right on their doorstep, that any assistance to the Smoke Jaguars might make them the next target. Other Clans, not realizing just how weak the Huntress garrison was as a result of deliberate efforts by the Smoke Jaguars to obfuscate that fact, were contemptuous of the idea that the Jaguars even needed help to defend their holdings. And yet others saw the Inner Sphere's total focus on the Smoke Jaguars defining this as a matter purely between them and the Jaguars, making it a 'trial' between them and of no consequence to the other Clans.

A vote was called by Loremaster Kael Pershaw on if the Clans should send aid to Huntress; as the Clan in question, the Smoke Jaguars did not vote. One by one, the votes were cast. One by one, thirty death knells were sounded for Clan Smoke Jaguar. The entire Grand Council, every Khan of the Clans, had voted against sending any aid to Huntress.

Storming out, Lincoln Osis determined that thus, the Jaguars would save their own homeworld. However he found that he had very few remaining assets uncommitted. He knew that a Galaxy-sized unit made up of his Inner Sphere forces were close, but otherwise had only the Streaking Mist, his command ship, as well as the personal Keshiks of himself and his saKhan, Brandon Howell, albeit the very best warriors he had with the finest equipment. He was also able to scrap together a few other forces; on Strana Mechty were a number of older (but not yet solahma) Smoke Jaguar warriors serving as liaison officers, support officers and so on. Twenty-three of them jumped at the chance to get back into a 'Mech and fight off the barbarian invasion. For their courage the ilKhan named their ad-hoc unit The Jaguar's Heart. All told, Lincoln Osis was able to pull together roughly two short Clusters to lead into battle. This constituted, when combined with the refugees racing to Huntress from the Inner Sphere, the totality of the remaining touman of the Smoke Jaguar Clan.

The Jaguars Inner Sphere troops arrive[edit]

"Very well, Star Colonel. You are given command of the counter invasion. Plan it well, Paul Moon. You are to attack the enemy wherever he gathers. You are to destroy the invaders to the last man and the last machine. Not one of those cursed freebirth vermin who have dared to foul the soil of Huntress is to survive. I want them all dead! I want their leaders' heads brought to me on pikes! I want their bodies burned and their ashes scattered to the four winds! I want them and their seed wiped out of the universe forever!"
  — Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta to Star Colonel Paul Moon

During the nine-month journey back to Clan Space, Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta, the senior surviving officer from the Inner Sphere, managed to pull her troops together into a single, coherent combat-ready weapon. A mixture of front-line, second-line and Provisional Garrison troops from many different units, with some effort they were nevertheless reorganized into a new Provisional Galaxy with Trials of Position held during recharge stops to appoint new officers. Though classified as a Galaxy, the provisional formation was closer in strength to two Galaxies with nearly 340 'Mech and Elemental Points (though with less than fifty fighters for aerospace support). When the journey was over, Galaxy Commander Mehta believed them ready to return to the Inner Sphere and mete out just revenge on the false Star League. But barely had she started to report in to the ilKhan upon arriving in Clan Space when she was given curt news of the arrival of Task Force Serpent and ordered to proceed to Huntress with all speed to liberate their homeworld.[46]

Hang Mehta obeyed despite not believing the possibility that the Inner Sphere barbarians could have taken Huntress. To her shock, when her fleet jumped into the Huntress system on the 19 March 3060, she was confronted with a fleet of Inner Sphere starships holding station at the zenith point, and intercepted communications between them and Huntress confirmed Inner Sphere forces on the planet's surface. Her homeworld had indeed been taken.[46]

Furious, Hang Mehta ordered all DropShips carrying her Provisional Galaxy to detach at once and make a high-g burn for Huntress, while ordering the three warships in her fleet, the Liberator-class cruiser Korat and two Vincent-class corvettes, the Ripper and Azov, to destroy the Inner Sphere fleet.[46] She remained with her fleet long enough to see the initial start of the naval action, and give orders to the Ripper to capture if possible the enemy's Kyushu-class frigate for later study, then launched with her remaining ground forces for Huntress, leaving Star Commodore Clarinda Stiles in command of the fleet.[47] Though still in command, her previous injuries precluded her participation in the expected fighting once they reached Huntress, and so as the next most experienced commander Star Colonel Paul Moon would be given the honor of leading the ground assault.[46]

On board the Invisible Truth, Commodore Alain Beresick swung into action and issued what orders he could to get the fleet ready for this surprise attack. The fleet's fighter CAP was quickly augmented by the "ready-fives" aboard the Truth, Antrim and Ranger launching; just fifteen minutes after the Smoke Jaguar's arrival leading elements of both forces' fighters were already engaged with each other. All Task Force JumpShips along with their DropShip escorts were ordered to retreat to a predetermined deep-space rally point, there to await further communication from Commodore Beresick or, following a seventy-two hour period, proceed under the command of the senior naval officer. The Invisible Truth, Starlight, Emerald and Fire Fang would engage the enemy's WarShips while the Antrim, Ranger and Haruna were to hang back and wait until they could detect a way to slip past and directly engage the enemy's five JumpShips. The Smoke Jaguar transports were to be crippled and boarded, leaving the option of destroying them a last resort only if it looked like they might flee through hyperspace.[47]

Soon the battle was joined, with the Truth moving to intercept the Korat while the accompanying escorts engaged each other. Though they had been blessed with good fortune thus far during the operation, luck soon ran out for the Task Force WarShips. The cumulative damage of the successive engagements at Trafalgar and their initial invasion of the Huntress system had left several ships with little more than hull patches where armor plating used to be, while the Jaguar ships were fresh and burning with an almost suicidal rage. The lead corvette, the Azov, got into a close range slugging match with the Starlight and Emerald. Maneuvering hard despite being brutally handled and receiving punishing fire from the two larger WarShips, the Azov managed to slip between the two and encouraged the Emerald to turn in pursuit, exposing her port side to the Ripper closing in on the engagement. A flurry of Naval Autocannon fire from the Ripper tore through the already badly damaged arc and caused massive damage to the Essex-class destroyer, putting her out of the fight.[47]

In revenge, the Starlight, still engaged with Azov, poured a full salvo of fire into the smaller ship's damaged stern and punched through to her magazines, the internal explosions tearing the smaller ship to pieces. The remaining two WarShips then rounded on each other, but in a tragic set of circumstances, the Starlight destroyed the Ripper's engines at the same time the Ripper's return fire punched through a weakened section of the destroyer to knock out helm and engine control on the larger ship. Helpless victims of their inertia, the two ships slammed into each other. His ship's prow embedded in the enemy corvette, Captain Stan O'Malley aboard the Starlight tried to save his crew by ordering them to abandon ship, but before it could be sent out both vessels were obliterated in a massive explosion.[47]

While the attention of the Invisible Truth crew was locked on the horrific spectacle of the collision, the Korat closed range and threw a running broadside across the her bow, the battlecruiser's thick armor barely holding against the salvo. Quickly, Beresick turned in pursuit. For fifteen minutes the two ships had been locked in a close-range slugging match as they struggled to bring their broadside guns into play, spiraling around each other at point blank range. The Invisible Truth had managed only two broadsides to the Korat's three, but its heavier armor still held. After another round of brutal maneuvering that strained the ship's ancient engines and bled off enough inertial gravity to make the crew "float", the Truth gave its starboard broadside a clear shot on the Korat and unleashed punishing fire that smashed its aft starboard quarter. The Korat as well was able to unleash its own broadside that damaged the Truth but could not match it in sheer firepower.[47]

Both ships had suffered extensive damage to their starboard sides, and the damage control officer aboard the Truth recommended to Commodore Beresick that they break off to make repairs, but when the Korat rolled to present its undamaged port side he ordered the Truth to match their maneuver, looking set to start the engagement all over again. Seeking to gain an edge, the Korat made a desperate turn to try and slide under the ComStar ship's stern, slipping past the WarShip with only a few kilometers to spare and unleashing another broadside on the vessel. Star Commodore Stiles believed one more broadside would finish her off, but at that point the Fire Fang suddenly cut into their dance. Having maneuvered to have a clean shot at the Korat's wrecked starboard side, the former Ghost Bear WarShip mercilessly tore into the Clan cruiser, causing massive internal damage. Backhanding a bridge officer who begged her to surrender, Star Commodore Stiles insisted on taking at least one enemy ship with her and tried to continue the fight. In response, the Invisible Truth and Fire Fang fired a concentrated salvo that gutted her from bow to stern, leaving her a burning hulk.[47]

Across the rest of the battlespace, Antrim was detailed to run down the Clan DropShips burning for Huntress but failed to stop them, in the process taking heavy damage which could not be repaired in the field. Ranger had also suffered damage but was still battle-worthy. The Invisible Truth however had taken a fearsome beating that left her armor in tatters and her starboard side heavily damaged. The Starlight was lost with all hands and the Emerald, afire and with 95% hull integrity lost, would need two months in a drydock to be repaired. The Invisible Truth's DropShips Honor and Integrity was dispatched to recover the ship's survivors. Of the five Clan Jumpships, Ranger reported two captured and one destroyed, but the other two, presumably equipped with Lithium-Fusion Batteries, jumped out before they could be taken, apparently to go and get help.[47]

Tracking the DropShips burning for Huntress, Commodore Beresick sent a warning to General Winston that a great many furious Smoke Jaguar warriors were on their way.

Counter-Invasion[edit]

This is no batchall. I am Trueborn of the Smoke Jaguars. You are nothing but an Inner Sphere freebirth. Between us there can be no batchall. You and your filthy lucrewarriors would never bargain honestly, nor honor the batchall once it was done. No, General, this is merely a challenge. Come and meet me strength to strength on the plain west of Lootera. It is fitting, do you not think, that you will die fighting on the very soil you have dared profane with your presence? At least you will have the cold comfort of knowing that your bones will be buried in a place far too good for them. I, on the other hand, will have the glory of destroying you and your surats in the shadow of Mount Szabo and the great stone Jaguar of my Clan.
  — Star Colonel Paul Moon challenging General Winston

General Winston received Beresick's warning, along with information regarding the size of the incoming invasion force thanks to interrogated Clan survivors of the fleet battle. Unfortunately, the DEST team had done too good of a job destroying Mount Szabo's C3 capabilities. Despite the technicians' best efforts, Huntress' sensor net was too damaged to track the incoming DropShips - being limited to detecting only the tachyon burst generated by a hyperspace jump or objects fighter-sized and larger entering the planet's atmosphere - and so incapable of targeting them with the SDS' weaponry. The renewed battle for control of Huntress would have to take place on the ground.[38]

While the Smoke Jaguar reinforcements were on the way to the planet, Ariana Winston regrouped and consolidated her troops into two main field armies. The Eridani Light Horse, the Com Guards and the St. Ives Lancers were concentrated at Lootera, and dubbed the 'North-Group'. General Redburn was given command of the 'South-Group' stationed at Osis Lake at the southwest corner of the continent. This group consisted of the First Kathil Uhlans, the Knights of the Inner Sphere and the Northwind Highlanders. The damaged Lyran Guard and Kingston's Legionnaires along with the Drakøn were hidden in the Lunar mountains on the continent Abysmal as a reserve force, with their DropShips able to reinforce either army if needed. Ariana also recalled the nekakami team to Lootera, where she made contact in person with Kasugai Hatsumi, the team's leader.[38]

On 26 March, two weeks after the SLDF invasion force had landed, the Smoke Jaguars' Provisional Galaxy reached Huntress. After their DropShips were detected entering the atmosphere, General Winston ordered the Eridani Light Horse's aerospace fighters to engage, though units with a ground-attack role were held in reserve. Having come through the initial invasion relatively unscathed, the Horsemen's fighters put up stiff resistance and managed to shoot down a few DropShips, but most were able to bull their way through the blockade.[38] Unfortunately for the Provisional Galaxy, their aerospace fighters were practically destroyed on the approach to the planet, weakening their ability to conduct air strikes or reconnaissance later in the battle.[48] The Horsemen fighters would themselves withdraw to the continent Abysmal to await further orders.[49] As the rest of the Clan DropShips approached, General Winson was contacted by Star Colonel Paul Moon, who challenged her to meet him on the plains west of Lootera, a challenge she was all too happy to accept. Meanwhile the other part of the arriving Smoke Jaguar force would engage the southern group in the Dhuan Mountains.[38]

Suddenly at 1328 hours the Invisible Truth detected a large energy signature in at a Pirate Point practically on top on Huntress and determined it to be a large Clan WarShip. However, despite the time they had spent in system mapping the region, the Invisible Truth did not itself have enough data to make use of the same pirate point, forcing Commodore Beresick to send a radio warning to General Winston and order the ship make haste towards the planet under normal propulsion.[50]

The ship in question was none other than the Streaking Mist, carrying ilKhan Lincoln Osis and his personal bodyguards, along with the Jaguar's Den and Shroud Keshik command Trinaries, and the ad hoc Jaguar's Heart. Though in perfect position to raze the planet with his WarShip in orbit, ilKhan Osis had no desire to reduce the Smoke Jaguar's homeworld to ash the same way the Smoke Jaguars had done to Turtle Bay. Instead the Inner Sphere forces polluting its soil would have to be rooted out the hard way, and the Streaking Mist would only provide supporting fire as needed. From orbit the Steaking Mist detected fighting between the Smoke Jaguars and the southern group still ongoing, while in the north the initial attack had run its course. The ilKhan ordered the Shroud Keshik and Jaguar's Heart to reinforce the fight in the south, while the Jaguar's Den would help secure Lootera.[50] The Eridani Light Horse fighters again attempted to prevent the landing of these reinforcements, but to no effect, being beaten off by the savagery of the Smoke Jaguar's fighter escorts.[49]

Northern Army Group[edit]

The designated battlefield, a few kilometers west of the city sandwiched between it and Jaguar Fang mountains, consisted of a scattering of low rolling hills and clumps of scrubby trees. Fully expecting an enraged charge by the Smoke Jaguars, General Winston deployed her forces accordingly. On the main battle-line running west to east, the Com Guards held the center with the 21st Striker and St. Ives Lancers on their right and left flanks respectively. The Horsemen's other two regiment were put in reserve a kilometer behind them, the 151st on the eastern and the 71st on the western flank, ready to either reinforce the main battle line or swing past and envelop the enemy's flanks. Between the two reserve units was the key to the engagement: the Horsemen's extensive artillery assets. In the event of a worst-case scenario, the DEST teams were ordered to occupy the Mount Szabo facility and prevent its recapture at all costs, and all wounded personnel were moved into the Smoke Jaguar genetic repository.[38]

Star Colonel Paul Moon landed south of the battlefield along with Alpha and Bravo Clusters, in all 96 'Mechs with supporting Elementals. Highly contemptuous of most of the troops facing him - with the exception of the Com Guards whom he had learned to treat with respect on Maldonado - he elected to take the Inner Sphere forces head on. Alpha Cluster, made up of survivors from front-line Clusters, would smash directly into the center line of the enemy, while Bravo then would follow up to engage the reserves. Paul Moon placed his trust in his force's fury and firepower to carry the day.[51]

As soon as visual contact was made, the attack order was given, and both Clusters began their charge across the open ground towards the SLDF. With the Smoke Jaguars closing in, the artillery opened up. Their initial two salvos were not heavy ordnance, but a type of advanced Smoke Shell, each shell releasing a mixture of traditional white phosphorous with six artillery-dispersed jamming pods that served to cloud both the Jaguar's vision and their advanced sensor systems, denying them the advantage of their extended weapons ranges. The next salvos however were not smoke rounds, but Improved Conventional Munitions that saturated the Jaguar formation with airbursts of armor-piercing bomblets. Their effect on the Jaguar 'Mechs varied, with some knocked out or disabled while others' armor better weathered the storm, but they proved to be incredibly deadly to the Elementals riding them. Paul Moon himself was struck on the back of his right shoulder by a sub-munition, which punched straight through his body and blew him clear of the 'Mech he was riding.[51]

Enraged by such a 'cowardly' attack, the Jaguar MechWarriors charged straight into the main SLDF battleline, in many cases quite literally running over Inner Sphere 'Mechs, and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. In the course of this close-range brawl the Jaguars managed to partially breach the line at several points, but these were quickly closed up. General Winston, herself engaged in heavy fighting, soon realized a second wave of attack was being formed by the Jaguars, but was too close to her own forces for the artillery to safely attack. Ordered by General Winston into the fight, the 71st and 151st succeeded in flanking and breaking up the second wave before it could attack, forcing the Smoke Jaguars to retreat from the battle. His battlesuit's medical systems nearly depleted keeping him alive, a badly wounded yet still defiant Paul Moon was captured by mop-up forces searching the battlefield for wounded.[51]

Although the enemy had been driven from the field, General Winston's forces had also taken a heavy beating and were nearly at half-strength.[50] With the enemy in retreat and having suffered nearly 50% casualties, the St. Ives Lancers and 6th Recon Battalion pursued them south in hopes of scoring easy kills. However at the Black Shakiri River a competent rear-guard action allowed the Smoke Jaguars to disengage in order and retreat across the river. With night settled in, General Winston ordered her surviving units to pull back to defensive positions around Lootera, leaving the previous day's battlefield to be illuminated by burning wreckage and unchecked wildfires.[52]

With Paul Moon gone, Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta had recovered enough to retake command of the northern Smoke Jaguar force and chose to attack the Inner Sphere position again, this time without any grandiose challenges. In the early hours of 27 March, Hang Mehta led her forces towards Lootera, eliminating in passing a number of scout hovertanks that had detected their approach. General Winston immediately deployed the Eridani Light Horse to form a battle line south of the city in expectation of the Smoke Jaguars. The Com Guards were ordered to garrison the spaceport and raze it to the ground if it looked like the city might fall. Lastly the St. Ives Lancers, reduced to just twenty-four 'Mechs and a handful of infantry, took up position in the Field of Heroes to defend the wounded and support personnel and act as a tactical reserve.[52]

However, the expected attack never came, and all contact was lost with the Smoke Jaguars. Rather than continue in a head-on attack, Hang Mehta made the unClanlike decision to swing back south and cross the river, make a forced march in a swooping arc and cross the river again east of the city. Rather than charging into the teeth of the waiting Horsemen, the Smoke Jaguars slammed into the Com Guards. At the same time, Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta had also detached a Trinary of her fastest light and medium 'Mechs to attack the Field of Heroes en route to seizing the Mount Szabo command center and the genetic repository, the figurative heart of the Clan.[52]

Caught off-guard by the Smoke Jaguar maneuver, General Winston ordered the 151st to reinforce the Com Guards while the 21st wheeled right to strike the enemy's flanks, leaving the 71st overextended to cover the main battle line. A hard battle in the dark was fought, with the sheer weight of the attack steadily pushing the Com Guards out of the spaceport into the area between it and the southwest corner of Looter. The Com Guards dug in their heels and, reinforced by the 151st, halted the Smoke Jaguar attack; when the 71st hit them in the flanks, the Jaguar's main force was driven northwards out of the spaceport.[52]

The Trinary which had been detached to take the Field of Heroes were engaged with the St. Ives Lancers, who were succeeding in keeping the Field out of enemy hands. But through sheer happenstance, the retreating Smoke Jaguars slammed right into the Lancer's flank. Suddenly finding themselves outflanked by the Smoke Jaguar Galaxy, the Lancers broke and ran in a panic, triggering a general rout of the entire army. The Com Guards made an attempt at an orderly withdrawal, but being driven back into the city by the Jaguars the urban streets prevented any sort of formation coherence, eventually breaking their morale and causing them to flee as well.[52]

The Jaguars started what would have amounted to a full scale pursuit, eager to chase the enemy through the night and kill them all, but the Galaxy Commander hesitated. Ironically, having been burned so many times by Inner Sphere troops luring Smoke Jaguar troops into ambushes or traps, she could not be confident that this retreat was genuine and not simply bait to lure her troops into a trap. Reluctantly, she made the decision to safeguard the victory they had earned and allowed the Inner Sphere troops to retire as they set about restoring Smoke Jaguar control of the city.[52]

An hour after the attack had begun, the Eridani Light Horse arrived at the designated rally point northwest of Lootera relatively intact, though the Com Guards were still streaming in and the Lancers, being scattered to the winds, would take some time to regroup. However, many of the badly wounded - both Inner Sphere and Clan - along with the medical teams looking after them were still at the makeshift hospital inside the Jaguars' Genetic Repository. General Winston led her command company hurriedly back towards the city, running along the western edge to reach the Field of Heroes and evacuate the wounded before the Jaguars reached them. To her surprise, she found the DEST teams still in position, defending the hospital as per her last orders, the only unit who had not retreated in the face of the chaotic situation. Ordering them to at once bug out, she then tried to evacuate all wounded. However she was convinced (against her better judgement) by the Horsemen's chief surgeon Dr.Fuehle to leave the worst wounded behind, as moving them would simply kill them, along with a minimal medical staff. The brigade's chaplain Captain D.C. Stockdale also wished to stay behind to provide comfort. Lastly it was decided to leave the Clan wounded behind as well, since the Jaguars would be better able to care for their own.[53]

The general and her command company escorted the medical convoy out of the capital, the last unit to leave. Throughout the rest of the day, the SLDF northern force moved steadily westwards until, just after nightfall, they set up a new bivouac in the foothills of the Jaguar's Fangs mountain range. Surprisingly during the long, spirit-crushing retreat, they had seen no sign of the Jaguars. That ended at 0300 hours of 28 March, when the Jaguars launched a fresh attack on their defensive position which was repelled, with relatively even losses on both sides, after which again the Jaguars seemed to withdraw. Sending out what scout hovercraft remained to her in the afternoon, Winston eventually located the Jaguar army only eleven kilometers away to the northeast, settling in for the night in an old abandoned mining facility.[54]

The scouts delivered the grim unit count of 150 'Mechs and over a hundred Elementals by their estimates, as well as the warbook confirmation of known insignias that the ilKhan's personal unit was present. Not all the news was bad however; the scouts also reported that many of the 'Mechs were damaged and clearly being junked and stripped for parts to repair others, coming in at a rough estimate of two Clusters of forces in total. Taking advantage of their flexible nature, OmniMechs were being quickly reconfigured with energy weapons where possible, a sure indicator that supplies were running low for the Clan force as was the fact that some 'Mechs seemed to be having sheet metal bolted on to replace damaged armor plating.[54]

Her own forces down to 60% of their pre-invasion strength, General Winston decided to take a gamble in the face of her subordinates pressing to go on the attack and ordered a quick raid in force. With the 151st deployed as a screening force to the south, the 21st and Com Guards would lead the attack on the Smoke Jaguars. The 71st would be deployed in the rear to act as a tactical reserve or rearguard as needed, while the St. Ives Lancers defended the encampment. With the sun still not risen on 28 March, the northern SLDF force began their attack.[54]

Unfortunately, the ilKhan had anticipated the possibility of a night raid and placed scout units to ensure that any attack would be detected at a distance. These scouts picked up the incoming SLDF forces still a kilometer away from the facility, sounding the alarm and providing plenty of time for the Jaguars to launch a counter-attack. In a straight-up slugging match where the Jaguars took full advantage of their weapons' superior ranges, they easily repelled the attempted raid with stiff losses to the SLDF units.[54] It also resulted in the capture of Colonel Edwin Amis, commander of the 21st, who had impressed the Elemental Point that cornered him after ejecting by trying to fight his way out with nothing more than a sidearm and his courage.[55] While the SLDF attempted a fighting withdrawal, they were set upon by an unexpected foe: Galaxy Commander Russou Howell and the survivors of the original garrison, having kept up their raiding from the shadows through the previous weeks, appeared from out of the Shakiri Jungle and hit their flank, turning the retreat into a rout back to the bivouac.[41]

Proud of his troops' performance, on 29 March the ilKhan gave Galaxy Commander Mehta her mission orders: to hunt down the remaining freebirths and kill them. In the meantime he would return to the secondary C3 facility in Lootera, which had been repaired by the technician caste to functionality.[48]

Southern Army Group[edit]

In the Dhuan Mountains, Andrew Redburn was in a battle just as fierce, if not even fiercer, then the northern group. With the Highlanders holding the center of the battle line and the Uhlans and Knights on their left and right flank respectively, the Smoke Jaguars attacked the SLDF troops three times and three times they were pushed back, but the sheer intensity of the combat and near suicidal aggression of the Smoke Jaguars left even the elite of the Inner Sphere shaken. After the third attack was repulsed, the three SLDF regiments were at half-strength, with most light 'Mechs and light-weight medium 'Mechs destroyed. Having just driven off the initial attack on Lootera, General Winston's own forces were too damaged to come to his aid. Instead she advised that the 4th Drakøns could reinforce their position, but as they were not rated for combat drops, the southern group would need to break off from combat to secure a landing zone for them. A break the Jaguars simply refused to give them.[50]

More bad news came from the forward scouts who detected another attack forming up, but this one composed of what appeared to be forty fresh OmniMechs and fifty Elementals, the former all Heavy- and Assault-weight classes, with brand-new insignia. While the first one did not register in the warbook, the second was identified as belonging to the Shroud Keshik, the personal guard of saKhan Brandon Howell. The unit was eight kilometers northeast of their position and at their current heading would run into the Kathil Uhlans first. Realizing the gravity of the situation, General Redburn informed Colonels MacLeod and Masters and made hasty preparations for this fresh attack. Any remaining Vibrabombs were to be planted one kilometer in front of their lines, 'Mechs were to create revetments and power their reactors down to minimum operating levels to lessen the chance of detection, and all personnel made ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. If needed a fighting withdrawal was to be made to the first and second rally points, and lastly into the Dhuan Swamps if all else failed.[50]

They did not have to wait for long, as within thirty minutes of sighting the reinforcements the attack began. The fresh Clan troops stormed forward, linking up with the other Jaguar units and pressing an all-out attack against the entire SLDF position. Ignoring losses to the minefields, they charged forward, zellbrigen long thrown out the window. After holding off three previous attacks, the forth charge was too much and General Redburn ordered a fighting retreat. The general himself had to blast his way free of the attacking Jaguars, piloting the captured Dire Wolf that had belong to Morgan Hasek-Davion like a gunslinger from the Old West, eventually making it to the rally point on the edge of the swamp.[50]

As the survivors began to stagger in, the cost paid became clear. The Northwind Highlanders, who had managed to suffer the fewest casualties, were down to 65 Battlemechs. The Knights of the Inner Sphere also had 65 remaining Battlemechs, but with all of their light and half of their medium 'Mechs gone. The Ulhans however had taken the focus of the Jaguars' attention and had been brutalized, with just 46 'Mechs still standing. Not knowing how many troops Brandon Howell had brought with him, but presuming a worst case scenario of a full Galaxy, General Redburn decided that they would have to retreat into the stinking fens of the Dhuan Swamp if they were to hold out any longer.[50]

With little choice, the Inner Sphere army started a withdraw into the swamp. With the worst possible timing however, the Jaguars chose to renew their attack. Damaged, low on ammunition and exhausted from the furious attacks, the Jaguars pressed hard, and when two stars of OmniFighters suddenly hit the buckling Inner Sphere lines in a strafing run, the professional retreat turned into a rout and the three units ran flat out for the swamp, despite the best efforts of their leaders and officers to control the situation.[56]

Notably, the Royal Black Watch Company of the Northwind Highlanders - joined by a few Knights of the Inner Sphere - was the single coherent unit to refuse to run. Stepping forward as a rearguard unasked, they engaged the Jaguars on their own for an extended period of time in an effort to allow the army to rally and regroup. By the time that they were cleared to retreat, only three of the add-hoc rear guard remained, but they had brought the time needed for the Inner Sphere army to vanish into the swamp.[56]

The situation for the southern army was grim. The wild, uncoordinated retreat scattered the army throughout the swamp, the terrain of which made any kind of unit coherency difficult and rendered command 'Mech tactical computers almost useless in generating a picture of the battlespace. By the next day, the regiments had managed to regroup sufficiently that they could start moving with purpose again and continued south into the swamp, though nearly half the army had been killed, captured or gone missing in the rout. SaKhan Brandon Howell meanwhile had ordered the Jaguars Heart to lead the pursuit while he and his Keshik remained on solid ground 'overseeing' the situation - to the annoyance of the Jaguar officers forced to march into the swamp.[56]

Though they had initially lost track of them, on the 28th of March the pursuing Jaguars finally made contact with the SLDF forces, running first into the Northwind Highlanders' rearguard some two kilometers behind the main force, then engaging the Kathil Uhlans as well. General Redburn ordered the Colonel Masters and his Knights, three kilometers south of the battle, to move west into position to support either the Highlanders or his regiment. Unfortunately the going was slow, and as the Jaguars continued to pour more forces into the fight the Uhlan's left flank was in danger of being turned. General Redburn and his command lance threw themselves into the fight, arriving just in time to prevent the left flank from being overrun and meeting up with the arriving Knights.[56] Further help arrived when the Horsemen's fighter contingent provided close air support, blunting the Jaguar's pursuit.[49]

At some point in this engagement, Kommandant David McCarthy, commander of the Uhlan's 2nd Battalion, would lead what remained of his unit in a rearguard action to hold the Jaguar attack off while the rest of the regiment regrouped. His 16 mixed 'Mechs of mostly medium and lighter units would face off against a full Binary of mostly Heavy and Assault OmniMechs - all of whom were so determined for victory or death that they had disabled their BattleMechs' ejection systems. Only three of the Uhlan 'Mechs would survive the battle, with four other pilots recovered, but they managed to hold the line and buy time for the army to regroup, defeating all the enemy 'Mechs. For this action, upon return to the Inner Sphere, Kommandant McCarthy would be awarded the Star League Medal of Honor by First Lord Theodore Kurita in 3062.[57]

The next day, the Eridani aerospace assets came again to provide support for the beleaguered southern army. Air strikes using a mixture of strafing and bombing runs, combined with TAG-directed Arrow-IV strikes, hammered the Jaguar pursuit force to the point that they pulled back almost to the edge of the swamp, calling for additional troops that simply weren't available.[49]

Incident at Falcon Eyre[edit]

On 26 March, in the midst of the initial Jaguar counter-invasion, the MI6 teams were still maintaining their watch over the Falcon Eyre. Due to strict radio silence orders, they were only partially aware of what was going on at Lootera and the Dhuan Mountains, and had not made contact with Sergeant Kramer since he'd led his team away to draw off the Smoke Jaguars. One hour before sundown though movement was detected at the facility: ten armored Elementals and fifty unarmored infantry had arrayed themselves in parade formation just inside the high chainlink fence surrounding the Eyre. Given the development, Captain Montjar radioed General Winston the news, who responded to confirm that both army groups were presently engaged with the enemy and no support was available. Her orders to Captain Montjar were to proceed at his own discretion but continue only monitoring the facility and not attack unless fired upon first.[58]

Suddenly one of the commandos opens fire on the Jade Falcons, launching an inferno SRM missile which envelops one of the Elementals and several infantry in flame. A fierce shootout ensued until unexpectedly the Jade Falcon commander orders a ceasefire. Cracking open her battlesuit, Star Captain Gythia requests to speak with the Inner Sphere commander, to which Montjar accepts, removing the helmet from his own suit and approaching the Star Captain to talk in person. Both confirmed that their standing orders were to not fire unless fire upon, with Captain Montjar assuring her that the trooper responsible would be disciplined. Star Captain Gythia warned him that, though she'd called off the fight because the Jade Falcon's honor had been "satisfied", any further attacks would formally bring Clan Jade Falcon into the battle for Huntress.[58]

Returning to his own lines, Captain Montjar learned that Private LeBelle had fired the first shot. However no further discipline would be needed as he was dead, leaving the captain to wonder if that is what Gythia had meant about honor being satisfied.[58]

Retreat[edit]

After their disastrous attempt at a night raid, the northern army group was much reduced, nominally at half-strength though a more accurate measure would be one-third strength. The Eridani Light Horse was down to 96 'Mechs, barely a regiment's worth. The 2nd Com Guard Division was down to 53 'Mechs and the 2nd St. Ives Lancers down to 21 'Mechs. Their attached scout, conventional infantry and armored units had also suffered heavy losses. Worse, despite the reduced numbers of units, supplies were rapidly running out, meaning that repairs were increasingly becoming difficult, ammunition scarce and medical supplies near non-existent. The DEST teams had also taken heavy casualties, leaving them with 5 effectives and 8 walking wounded.[48]

Still operating under the assumption that she was facing a multi-Galaxy force, discussions were held on 29 March on what options they had. Calling in their DropShips from the continent Abysmal and evacuating the planet was considered, but rejected as too risky given the forces they thought they were up against; the risk of the Jaguars simply charging the LZ as they tried to load up was considered too high. Naval fire support was considered with the Invisible Truth and Fire Fang inbound, but the trained naval spotter teams qualified to precisely call in such strikes had been lost during the chaos in Lootera and the possibility of bringing fire down on themselves was considered unacceptably high short of the most desperate situations. Communications interceptions also confirmed that the Jaguars had managed to get their secondary C3 facility in Lootera operational and that the ilKhan was using it to oversee the campaign. Secretly, General Winston called upon her team of nekakami to 'deal' with the situation, though under no circumstances was the ilKhan to be assassinated.[48]

In the end the decision was made to fall back further into the mountains, to find a secure location and bring in 4th Drakøns and Kingston's Legionnaires to support the northern group, while the Lyran Guards would be deployed to reinforce the southern army. The WarShips would be called in to provided limited saturated bombardment if needed, though whether they could arrive in time to provide any support was doubted.[48] However before any further action could be taken, the Smoke Jaguars attacked again around mid-day. In a pattern that would soon become depressing familiar, the Jaguars used their far superior knowledge of the local terrain to appear almost without warning, hitting the camp of the 71st Light Horse even as Mechwarriors struggled to power up their Mechs. In a raging thunderstorm, the Jaguars pressed in, forcing the Horsemen to give ground. The Eridani artillery fired the last of their smoke rounds in the hope of covering a withdraw, but the rain rendered the smokescreens ineffective. The Light Horse retreated and much of the units' artillery, baggage train and wounded fell into Smoke Jaguar hands before the SLDF rallied and threw back the Clan attack. Both sides lost twenty 'Mechs in the fight, among those Colonel Sandra Barclay's, commander of the 71st, who did manage to eject and make her way to the rear.[59][41]

Nekakami Attack[edit]

In Lootera, the ilKhan found himself called by both Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta and his saKhan, asking for additional troops to finish off the enemy, while sensors reported a group of DropShips emerging from hiding from the continent Abysmal were en route to the enemy's locations. Angrily pointing out that he had no more troops to give them, he ordered them to attack regardless and either win or die, while he would leave for Strata Mechty once more to try and seek aid with his firsthand testimony of the battle. At the same time, the four nekakami had silently entered the building, eliminating guards and other personnel in their way. Having been cautious in the previous attempt per the general's orders, this time they would not use half measures: each carried ten one-kilogram blocks of Pentaglycerine charges and planted them at key structural weak points to completely demolish the building. Their task completed and timer set for five minutes, the quartet started to leave, but through sheer luck stumbled onto Lincoln Osis and his four bodyguards emerging from the main elevator. A volley of poisoned shuriken eliminated the ilKhan's bodyguards in moments, but Kasugai stopped Rumiko Fox from killing the ilKhan. General Winston had given strict instructions that while killing the ilKhan in battle was one thing, assassination was utterly off-limits. Happily obeying his orders in full, the Spirt Cat challenged Osis to a Trial of Grievance over his actions against the Draconis Combine. Mocking Kasugai initially at the very idea of meeting an assassin in a Circle of Equals, several sneered insults naming him a coward rapidly changed the Elemental's mind. Sending his team out, Kasugai ordered Honda Tan to pass the ilKhan his shinobigatana and drew his own. The two began their duel as the timers on the charges steadily counted down.[41]

Although trained in the use of swords and perhaps one of the greatest Elementals to have ever come out of the Clan breeding program, Kasugai was a Spirit Cat and a master of swordplay. Patiently he waited for the ilKhan to make a mistake and when he overextend, Kasugai struck, slicing brutally into the other's leg, cutting through the femur and nearly severing it completely. With the ilKhan collapsing to the floor in agony and dropping his sword, Kasugai closed in for the kill, but made a fatal mistake in underestimating a Jaguar trapped by a hunter. Raising his sword for a final decapitating strike, the ilKhan twisted away at the last second, seizing his dropped sword and stabbing it straight through the Spirit Cat's chest, twisting it to cut into Kasugai's heart and killing him.[41]

Bleeding out on the floor, the ilKhan was confronted with the very real possibility that this would be his end, along with the end of his Clan, but through pure luck an Elemental security patrol stumbled onto the scene. Hurriedly, they evacuated to rush him to a hospital, leaving the building only moments before the charges went off.[41] Galaxy Commander Russou Howell, who had also been in the building, was last seen by witnesses also leaving it just before it exploded.[60] The ilKhan himself would soon be evacuated onto the Streaking Mist, which would make the jump to Strana Mechty on 30 March.[55]

Fight to the End[edit]

Pushed back once again, the northern army group retreated yet deeper into the mountains, traveling along narrow mountain routes as they sought a location to bring in their final reinforcements. Unfortunately the SLDF, while having accurate maps of the main areas of operation, was less knowledgeable of the surrounding wilderness of Huntress. This forced them to rely on preliminary maps created by earlier orbital imagine which, while better than civilian-quality map, were not as precise as needed. Thus on 29 March the army was stymied when they came upon a deep chasm unawares, spanned by a wood-and-steel truss-type bridge of dubious quality. After some inspection the Eridani engineers determined that it could hold the weight of their tanks crossing one at a time, but that the heavier 'Mechs might be too much. General Winston ordered all jump-capable 'Mechs to cross to the other side and provide overwatch, while the rest of the 'Mechs formed a defensive perimeter on their side as the rest of the army crossed. Slowly but surely they did, first the wounded and support personnel, followed by the infantry and combat vehicles, and lastly the 'Mechs, with the heaviest just managing to cross without issue. The engineers used the last of their demolition charges to rig the bridge to blow up if a crossing 'Mech was detected by the seismic and trip sensors. The distant sound of the explosives going off confirmed the success of the trap, though the SLDF would soon realize the Jaguars knew of an alternate way to get across.[61]

The SLDF regrouped and set up a new bivouac at a shallow arc of the mountain road. Of their starting strength, the Eridani Light Horse had been reduced to just sixty 'Mechs; the Com Guards had thirty-one 'Mechs still operational, but given the lack of ammunition only nineteen were considered fit for combat; and the St. Ives Lancers had been reduced to two Lances.[61] Major Ryan, somewhat frustrated at being kept out of the fighting while the other units of the Task Force fought for their lives, proposed that he set up an observation post five kilometers out from the main SLDF's location to keep an eye on their back trail while they tried to get some rest and repair. Taking with them a pair of Man-portable TAG designators, the five commandos would be in a position to spot for the half a dozen remaining units equipped with Arrow-IV missiles should the Jaguars show up. Everyone being aware that the DEST team would not survive if the Jaguars detected them and charged, Winston gave a green light reluctantly. Later that day, a reconnaissance star of OmniMechs indeed appeared in the mountain pass they were watching. Ordered to let them go without revealing his position, Ryan and his men waited patiently until half an hour later, when two Trianies of 'Mechs with many Elementals in support arrived and the commandos went into action.[62]

Three Clan Mechs were destroyed by the guided missile attack and a forth heavily damaged. Unfortunately the Clanners quickly located the hidden DEST team and engaged. Major Ryan personally made an anti-'Mech attack on a fifth 'Mech, blowing off the leg of the Timber Wolf with a demolition charge, but in exchange the DEST team was destroyed. Severely wounded with a broken leg, the advancing Smoke Jaguars ignored him as he transmitted his last report to General Winston.[62] Although General Winston feared they'd been wiped out, Major Ryan and one other survivor would manage to break contact and eventually rejoin the northern army the next day.[63]

The effective loss of a Star of 'Mechs did not dissuade the Jaguars. Three hours after the DEST team was overrun, 5th Recon reported Smoke Jaguar 'Mechs engaging their position half a kilometer from the main force before falling back. The Eridani 'Mechs and combat-ready Com Guards advanced ahead to engage the Jaguars away from their bivouac, while the rest remained behind to guard the baggage train. While they were hard-pressed by the attack, the SLDF noticed that curiously there were no Elementals among the attacking Jaguars.[61]

The answer to where they were would come shortly, when again using their superior knowledge of the local terrain, Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta led a smaller force along a hidden mountain pass to strike directly at the bivouac. The Galaxy Commander had noticed that Inner Sphere forces fought fiercely to protect their wounded and non-combatants. While in her mind, a warrior willing to sell his own blood in exchange for one who had neither breeding, nor skill, nor the inclination to fight was foolishness, she was perfectly willing to take advantage of it to deliver a shattering blown to her enemies' morale. Charging without warning into the rear area, her 'Mechs and Elementals quickly overwhelmed the Lancers and Com Guards who had been left behind.[64] Major Marcus Polling, commander of the 2nd St. Ives Lancers, was murdered in mid-air by an Elemental after having ejected from his 'Mech and parachuting towards the ground.[63] Hang Mehta ordered destroyed any supplies and equipment, such as the Eridani Mobile HQ which could not be carried off, and any prisoners who would not be useful as bondsmen executed. Their task done, the raiding force left and the main Clan force broke off its diversionary attack.[64]

The Inner Sphere forces returned to a horrific scene that plunged their morale to a new low. Their combat losses had also been grim: the Eridani had just thirty 'Mechs left, and with Amiss missing and Sandra Barclay disabled with a sprained back, Colonel Antonescu was the last regimental commander still standing. This palled in comparison to the St. Ives Lancers, who were now reduced to a single, battered Victor and a handful of dismounted-turned-infantry MechWarriors. Nevertheless they continued their retreat, traveling for sixteen hours until finally, on 30 March, they came through a narrow mountain pass onto a flat plateau where they could rest. By this point the northern force had nearly traveled the length and breadth of the Jaguar's Fangs: a few score kilometers south lay the Liberation Sea, around which Ariana Winston hoped to skirt and so escape into the Shakiri Jungle, where it would be harder for the Jaguars to find them.[63]

Luckily the plateau provided enough landing space for the 11th Lyran Guards to arrive, brining additional forces and fresh suppliers with their DropShips. Nowhere near enough to supply the northern army at full strength, they were enough for the sadly depleted army to begin reloading and repairing, as well as provide medical relief for the wounded, firming up improving morale. The 4th Drakøns and Kingston's Legionaries meanwhile had succeeded in landing on the edge of the Dhuan Swamp and linking up with General Redburn.[63]

The sense of relief did not last however. Finally making radio contact with Commodore Beresick, General Winston was given the bleakest news yet. The Invisible Truth had detected at least twenty jump signatures at the system's zenith point, indicating a major fleet had just arrived. Unable to raise any of the Serpent warships on station (who had been given strict orders to jump out and join their JumpShips in deep space should an overwhelming enemy force arrive), Beresick prepared to intercept the inbound reinforcements in orbit, in the opening act of what was anticipated to be Serpents last stand. Almost at the same time, the Smoke Jaguars launched a final attack against the northern army.[63]

The End of a Clan[edit]

Colonel, this is Beresick. The inbounds are Task Force Bulldog. I am in contact with Prince Victor Steiner-Davion and the Precentor Martial. They said to tell you, 'Well done and prepare to stand down.' They'll take over from here
  — Commodore Beresick

The northern army marched out to face the Smoke Jaguars in a narrow defile of the mountain pass. For once, the terrain did not allow the Jaguars to simply outflank the defenders, resulting in something of a stalemate as both sides waged back and forth through the pass that only allowed a few units at a time to engage. Fanatically, almost suicidal, the Jaguars pressed in and General Winston, seeing her men dying, suddenly stepped forward into the pass to personally to challenge a Summoner belonging to the Jaguar's Den. The two traded devastating fire until a backhand by the enraged Clan MechWarrior sent General Winston and her 'Mech falling to the ground. With her foe pointing their PPC directly at her cockpit, General Ariana Winston was surprised at how calm she felt as the Summoner fired its weapon, killing her instantly.[55]

She was avenged at once by Colonel Charles Antonescu, who in a fit of raged destroyed the Summoner and reduced it to burning scrap. Taking control of himself once more, Antonescu announced the general's over the radio and assumed command of the northern group. Moments later, the unbelievable news through from Commodore Beresick that the new fleet was not a Clan reinforcement fleet. It was, in fact, a unit of Task Force Bulldog who had chased the Clan from the Inner Sphere, up the Exodus Road and now to the Huntress system. The fresh SLDF ground forces would arrive in ten days to reinforce the beleaguered Task Force Serpent. Colonel Antonescu marveled at the timing of this announcement, as though straight from an adventure holovid...though of course, he noted, this was no story, and the cavalry had not arrived in time to save Ariana Winston.[55]

When the fleet arrived ten days later, the battle for Huntress was finally ended. Confronted by fresh troops, most Smoke Jaguars refused to surrender and fought on until death, inflicting only light casualties on the enemy.[55] In one of these actions, the 10th Lyran Guards saved the Northwind Highlanders by performing a combat drop, with Archer Christifori among those who came to the Highlander's rescue.[citation needed] Galaxy Commander Hang Mehta chose to commit bondsref rather than be taken alive, a choice many other senior officers also picked, though once again no trace could be found of Russou Howell. As for ilKhan Lincoln Osis, the SLDF learned from prisoner interrogations about the nekakami attack and his escape aboard the Streaking Mist, which left the system mere hours before Task Force Bulldog's arrival. Of the surviving Spirit Cats none of them reported in to General Redburn, who assumed overall command of Task Force Serpent.[55]

On 9 April, General Redburn was greeted by Victor Steiner-Davion, Anastasius Focht and Hohiro Kurita in the ruins of Lootera, where he informed Victor as to the nature of his friend Morgan's assassination. They were shortly joined by the other surviving regimental commander, with Victor thanking them each for the tremendous sacrifice they had endured.[55]

That same day, Star Colonel Paul Moon, captured in the initial counter invasion, woke from his coma to find his Clan dead. Informing him of this fact was no less a person than Trent, who told the Star Colonel that he had been the one to give the Exodus Road to the Inner Sphere and made all of this possible, and that he had done it in part because of the single-minded persecution Moon had inflicted upon him while under his command. Denying him Bondsref, Trent left Moon to live with his shame as he would have to live with his own.[65]

Aftermath[edit]

On April 9th, Victor Steiner-Davion addressed the assembled survivors of Task Force Serpent. He thanked them for the sacrifices they had made in ensuring the safety of the Inner Sphere. There was, however, one last sign of Clan Smoke Jaguar on Lootera, indicating the gigantic fresco depicting a jumping jaguar on Mount Szabo. Victor then handed a remote-control detonator to General Redburn, who activated it, triggering the demolition charges buried within the monument and blasting it to pieces.[66]

Out of an original force equal to ten regiments, Task Force Serpent had been reduced to two. To help them with rebuilding their losses, each unit was given salvage rights to enough equipment to restore them to their original strength plus ten percent; the rest would be pooled and sold to form a fund for survivors and families of the deceased. When it was decided that Task Force Bulldog would have to travel to Strana Mechty and confront the Clans on their own terms, General Redburn insisted that he and a company of the Kathil Uhlans come with and take part. Colonel Paul Masters would remain in charge of Task Force Serpent and oversee the rest and refitting process.[67]

In the Great Refusal on Strana Mechty, ilKhan Lincoln Osis and the last of the Smoke Jaguars would die in battle against Victor Steiner-Davion. The Star League's victory in the contest would put an end to the threat of a renewed Clan Invasion. One 'Mech company from the Kathil Uhlans joined Victor Steiner-Davion's forces for the battle on Strana Metchty.

Eventually, Task Force Serpent was dissolved. All remaining WarShips and the Eridani Light Horse were declared part of the new Star League Defense Forces.[68] The First Kathil Uhlans were dissolved and most of its members were integrated in the newly formed 1st Royal BattleMech Regiment, which included members from some of the other units as well.[69] While the Northwind Highlanders returned to their mercenary life, the Black Watch formally joined the Star League Defense Force as well, returning to their rightful place as bodyguards of the First Lord.[70] The 4th Drakøns, having been shattered as a unit on Huntress, was disbanded and its survivors spread among the rest of the KungsArmé.[71]

Participating Units[edit]

Star League Defense Force[edit]

Task Force Serpent has been regarded as one of the largest military operations conducted by the Inner Sphere since the fall of the original Star League. In total, it consisted of 55,000 personnel; over a thousand BattleMechs, Aerospace Fighters and Combat Vehicles; ninety-eight DropShips and twenty-seven JumpShips and WarShips.[72][73]

Ground units[edit]

Special Operations Forces[edit]

  • DEST - Teams Four, Five and Six; ten Operatives each; Kage Battle Armor
  • MI6 - two teams; ten Operatives each; battle armor
  • ROM - one agent

Additionally, Theodore Kurita deployed a team of four Nekakami, which revealed themselves only to the present head of Task Force Serpent. They were Kasugai Hatsumi (head of this group), Honda Tan, Rumiko Fox (specialty: venom and sniper rifle) and Kieji Sendai (specialty: explosives).

An unknown political faction (purportedly Word of Blake) also infiltrated the Task Force with an an assassin to kill Morgan Hasek-Davion. Kasugai Hatsumi claimed that he was a former Loki-agent, but it is unknown if that is correct. This agent used the name Lucas Penrose.

Fleet[edit]

Among the fleet's JumpShip roster were several Monolith-, Star Lord- and Invader-class vessels; many came with their parent units, while ComStar was able to provide additional starships for the rest.[74] Among the DropShips in the fleet, two were specialy modified Mules designed to collect, purify and store drinking water.[75] After the Battle of Trafalgar, the task force was able to add the CGBS Fire Fang, a Whirlwind-class WarShip, captured from Clan Ghost Bear, along with several captured Clan DropShips.[13]

Clan Smoke Jaguar[edit]

Huntress Garrison Forces[edit]

Smoke Jaguar Reinforcements[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Grave Covenant, ch. 14
  2. Twilight of the Clans, p. 8-9, "Task Force Serpent"
  3. The Hunters, ch. 7
  4. The Hunters, ch. 8-11
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Sword and Fire, ch. 17
  6. The Hunters, ch. 12
  7. The Hunters, ch. 13
  8. The Hunters, ch. 14
  9. The Hunters, ch. 15
  10. The Hunters, ch. 15
  11. The Hunters, ch. 18-20
  12. The Hunters, ch. 21-22
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 The Hunters, ch. 28
  14. The Hunters, ch. 30
  15. The Hunters, ch. 31
  16. Sword and Fire, ch. 1-2
  17. Sword and Fire, ch. 3
  18. Sword and Fire, ch. 4
  19. Sword and Fire, ch. 5
  20. Sword and Fire, ch. 6
  21. Sword and Fire, ch. 7
  22. 22.0 22.1 Sword and Fire, ch. 8
  23. Sword and Fire, ch. 9
  24. Sword and Fire, ch. 10
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Sword and Fire, ch. 11
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Sword and Fire, ch. 14
  27. 27.0 27.1 Sword and Fire, ch. 15
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Sword and Fire, ch. 16
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 Twilight of the Clans, p. 42
  30. Twilight of the Clans, p. 22
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Sword and Fire, ch. 24
  32. Twilight of the Clans, p. 44
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 33.4 33.5 33.6 Sword and Fire, ch. 22
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 34.5 Sword and Fire, ch. 20
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Twilight of the Clans, p. 26
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 Sword and Fire, ch. 19
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Twilight of the Clans, p. 25
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 38.5 Shadows of War, ch. 8
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 Sword and Fire, ch. 21
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Sword and Fire, ch. 18
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 41.5 Shadows of War, ch. 19
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 Sword and Fire, ch. 23
  43. Shadows of War, ch. 2
  44. 44.0 44.1 Shadows of War, Ch 3
  45. 45.0 45.1 Twilight of the Clans, p. 12
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 Shadows of War, ch. 5
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 47.4 47.5 47.6 Shadows of War, Ch. 6
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3 48.4 Shadows of War, ch. 17
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 Shadows of War, ch. 16
  50. 50.0 50.1 50.2 50.3 50.4 50.5 50.6 Shadows of War, ch. 10
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Shadows of War, ch. 9
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 52.4 52.5 Shadows of War, ch. 12
  53. Shadows of War, ch. 13
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 54.3 Shadows of War, ch. 15
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 55.3 55.4 55.5 55.6 Shadows of War, ch. 24
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 56.3 Shadows of War, ch. 14
  57. Flashpoint, p.??[citation needed]
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 Shadows of War, ch. 11
  59. Shadows of War, ch. 18
  60. Twilight of the Clans (sourcebook), p. 16
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 Shadows of War, ch. 21
  62. 62.0 62.1 Shadows of War, ch. 20
  63. 63.0 63.1 63.2 63.3 63.4 Shadows of War, ch. 23
  64. 64.0 64.1 Shadows of War, ch. 22
  65. Shadows of War, Epilogue
  66. Prince of Havoc, ch. 1
  67. Prince of Havoc, ch. 2
  68. Field Manual: ComStar, p. 89
  69. Field Manual: ComStar, p. 101
  70. Field Manual: ComStar, p. 98
  71. Field Manual: ComStar, p. 98
  72. The Hunters, Ch. 14
  73. 73.0 73.1 73.2 73.3 73.4 73.5 73.6 73.7 Twilight of the Clans, p. 8, "Task Force Serpent Composition"
  74. The Hunters, ch. 12
  75. The Hunters, ch. 18

Bibliography[edit]