McAuliffe Ambush - 2634
|Part of the Terran-Kilrathi War|
|Terran Confederation||Empire of Kilrah|
|Commanders and leaders|
At least four Battleships
More than eighty other vessels (Cruisers, Destroyers, Frigates, etc)
|Second Fleet of the Claw|
Twelve Heavy and Medium Cruisers
|Casualties and losses|
At least four Battleships
Eighty plus Cruisers, Destroyers, Frigates and other ship types destroyed
Major battle that took place from 2634.235-.239 between the Terran Confederation and the Empire of Kilrah, the first large-scale engagement of the Terran-Kilrathi War. Sometimes known as the Battle of McAuliffe.
Ever since the Kilrathi discovery of the Confederation in 2629, Kilrathi leaders had argued over what course to take over this newly discovered empire on their rimward flank. The war faction, led by Crown Prince Gilkarg, argued for an immediate, debilitating strike on the Confederation ― a classic "jak-tu" that would drive the Terrans to surrender and leave the Empire free to focus on the threat corewards. Primary opposition to this plan came from Vakka of the Ki'ra bloodline, who argued for an entrenchment along the Empire's coreward border. His primary failing seems to have been his inability to offer a compelling alternative to the threat posed by the Confederation; nevertheless, his objections delayed the final decision until early 2634.
In the meantime, the Kiranka Emperor had issued a rare Imperial edict to the Confederation, forbidding travel to Kilrathi territories and establishing an unofficial border zone. This did not prevent raids and border clashes from taking place along the demilitarized zone, the most famous possibly being the Anna Magdalena incident. Rear Admiral Joshua Speedwell, director of Confederation Fleet Intelligence, suspected a major Kilrathi offensive was imminent, but was unable to supply much in the way of solid data, and furthermore was convinced the agency as well as civilian intelligence was compromised. Admiral of the Fleet "Skip" Banbridge dispatched a deep infiltration mission into the border zone, commanded by close personal friend Commander Winston Turner and reporting to Banbridge alone.
Kilrathi attack plan
Crown Prince Gilkarg selected McAuliffe naval base in Vega Sector, home port of the Confederation's Seventh Fleet, as the primary target of the Imperial assault. While the Sixth and Fifth Fleets of the Claw were dispatched to demonstrate against the Confederation flanks at Landreich and Etruria, the Second Fleet was to be led by Gilkarg himself in a direct assault against the planet and its orbital base, Alexandria.
The Crown Prince's plan depended above all on speed and surprise, to smash the Seventh Fleet in a "knock-out blow" before they could react, and then drive on to Earth. In a radical reversal of doctrine, he placed his five carriers in the vanguard of the strike force, with Second Fleet's eight battleships in support. This drew criticism from Second Fleet's commander, Admiral Nargth, as well as the Emperor himself. Finally, as a compromise, Gilkarg agreed to shift three carriers to the second wave.
Part of the surprise was to be delivered by carrier-borne strike craft armed with phase shield-penetrating torpedoes. This second innovation was the development of Kilrathi slave laborers, and would prove to be the most troublesome; it was still undergoing final testing on 2634.155, eighty days before the planned attack. Carrier doctrine and co-ordination were being hastily modified to accommodate the new weapons, but despite the simulator exercises and fleet maneuvers prepared for the attack, the Imperial pilots who would fly the assault would have little field experience with the weapons.
The other surprise was chronological. The Crown Prince moved the timetable for the attack forward to 2654.235―Confederation Day, the anniversary of the Confederation's founding and the one holiday observed throughout the entire Confederation. Gilkarg planned that using carrier-launched fighters, with their greater speed, would help tip ConFleet further off balance.
Crown Prince Gilkarg pushed hard to stick to his timetable. By 2634.195, X-Day minus 50, he could claim preparedness to his father, the Emperor, though torpedo reliability reports were dismal.
Nine days earlier, the Confederation had finally declared war in response to pressure from the border worlds, though the offensive was limited in scope in accordance with Plan Orange Five, amounting to a single task force raid across the demilitarized zone into the Facin sector.
Admiral Banbridge, in discussions with Rear Admiral Speedwell of ConFleet Intelligence, had agreed on the likelihood of a Kilrathi attack on McAuliffe. The base was the most obvious target, being situated only two jumps from the Empire's frontier and one jump from the demilitarized zone. In private instructions to Admiral Frederick Long, Seventh Fleet commander, he ordered that the fleet be dispersed from McAuliffe and cycled one system inwards. Banbridge insisted that the instructions be carried by hand across the four jumps to McAuliffe, due to both its sensitive nature and the fact that McAuliffe's burst relay transmitter was off-line from solar flare activity. This delay would prove fatal, and the message would not reach Long until the attack was well under way.
Confederation warning and response
On 2634.228, Fleet cryptographer Lieutenant Ches M. Penney stationed at Listening Post Epsilon intercepted part of a Kilrathi burst transmission directed towards Kilrah. Penney was able to partially decode the fragment, which had used part of an older, partially cracked Imperial Fleet coding system. Though only bits of the message were legible, Penney was able to extract the codename Vikyah, along with a report that said target's trans-light burst transmitter was off-line due to intense solar flare activity. McAuliffe was the only Confederation base that fit those conditions. Twelve hours later, the same signal was repeated back towards Admiral Nargth, whose codename Fleet Intelligence had decrypted earlier.
Unable to raise McAuliffe directly, and drawing on typical known Kilrathi fleet sizes, Admiral Banbridge dispatched Task Force 21 from Tangier, under the command of Rear Admiral Naomi Dayan. Though possessing only one carrier, Ark Royal, TF 21 could boast double the strength in capital ships compared to normal Imperial fleet compositions.
By .234, Turner's infiltration mission had resurfaced on McAuliffe, after tracking the Imperial Sixth Fleet from its assembly point near the Landreich, to find the base in a state of gross lack of preparation. Banbridge's message had not arrived, and the base was in the throes of Confederation Day Eve revelry. While attempting to sort out the situation, he sent an urgent signal to Banbridge, correctly deducing that the assault on the Landreich was a feint and that the main Imperial body would strike at McAuliffe. Banbridge took Turner's signal directly to the President, who eventually authorized ConFleet mobilization to Defense Level Two in anticipation of the Kilrathi assault.
Initial Kilrathi attack
In the early hours of Confederation Day, 2634.235, a Kilrathi Zulu-class battleship jumped through at Point X-Ray in McAuliffe, followed shortly by the rest of the Second Fleet of the Claw. The lone Confederation picket, Java, was immediately destroyed. Despite the general chaos on the ground at McAuliffe and the near-complete surprise achieved, the Crown Prince's plan had already gone awry at this point. KIS Kathuga, Second Fleet's fifth carrier, had been destroyed on jump point exit, apparently from a misaligned jump entry vector. Gilkarg thus lost a fifth of his strike force before the attack had even begun.
Commander Turner, having been unable to resolve the situation at the base, commandeered the carrier Concordia in accordance with Fleet Regulation Seventeen. An earlier signal by Turner to Concordia several hours prior to the attack had begun her engine start-up sequence, giving Concordia a head start over the other capital ships in the Seventh Fleet.
At roughly the same time, the first Kilrathi strike wave hit McAuliffe, destroying the base reactors under Highcroft that provided shielding to Alexandria. With the phase shielding down, Imperial bombers hit the skyhook connecting the planet to the orbital station overhead, shearing off the top of the tower and dooming the station and any ships still docked to it. Coral Sea, the heaviest carrier in ConFleet, managed to escape her berth, but was set upon by multiple Kilrathi strike craft and exploded before clearing the base.
Concordia by this point had managed to get under way. Task Force 21 had arrived at Jump Point Delta, in-system and heading for rendezvous but too far away to be of assistance. A strike group of approximately thirty fighters and bombers, led personally by the Crown Prince's son Ratha, made a torpedo strike on Concordia. Fighters from the carrier downed one torpedo, a lucky shot by then-Ensign Geoffrey Tolwyn, and another was destroyed by a Terran kamikaze, but a third hit the ship, causing severe damage to the port hull and killing or wounding at least a hundred of her crew. Another torpedo struck immediately after, but failed to explode. The remaining attackers peeled off and returned to their carriers.
This would be the last major fleet action in system for roughly twenty-four hours, with Concordia running at full speed to link up with Dayan and Ark Royal, and the Kilrathi carriers tied up planet-side, at Admiral Nargth's request, running space-to-surface support. Third Marine Division, defending McAuliffe, had been badly mauled during the opening strike but put up a savage defense, wiping out an entire legion of Imperial assault troops. Crown Prince Gilkarg was reportedly furious with this, wanting to finish off Concordia and attack Ark Royal, but the orders had come down directly from the Emperor.
In a council of war, Turner and Dayan agreed that coming about and striking the Kilrathi invasion force would deal a severe blow to Kilrathi morale and Imperial prestige, and just possibly delay the Second Fleet of the Claw enough to mount a coherent defense of the Core Worlds. Bombers from Ark Royal and three frigates from Task Force 21 would mount a diversionary attack on the nearest Kilrathi carrier, while fighters from Concordia would hit the Imperial landing craft. TF 21's two battlewagons, Yorkshire and North Carolina, and their cruiser squadrons would provide fire support. The most desperate part of the plan was a kamikaze strike by the frigates Masada and Hermes.
The leading screen of Concordia and Ark Royal fighters covered Hermes and Masada's suicide run in, peeling off at the last moment for McAuliffe. Hermes was destroyed early on; Masada slowed from several severe hits. Imperial bombers slipped through TF 21's escort screen and sent two torpedoes into Ark Royal, crippling the carrier's flight deck and causing massive casualties, while North Carolina and Yorkshire engaged in a private duel with four Kilrathi battleships.
As Masada closed, Crown Prince Gilkarg appears to have finally grasped her intentions. His flagship signalled the carrier Tukgah to take "full evasive" seconds before Masada hit, utterly destroying the Imperial ship. Admiral Nargth is said to have slumped as he watched Tukgah explode, quietly remarking to his staff that "I fear we have underestimated these foes. These humans have Zaga, the warrior spirit, as well."
Ark Royal and Concordia's fighters arrived at McAuliffe just as the Imperial landing craft entered atmosphere. Without slowing to maneuver, they opened up with full guns and missiles, and then slingshot around the planet back to Concordia, taking down multiple landing craft and an assault transport. Imperial Legion casualties from this strike alone ran close to fifty percent.
As the fighters came about, Ark Royal withdrew from action, leaving recovery to Concordia. Yorkshire slowed from engine damage, unable to keep up with the rest of the task force. The Yorkshire reported its status to the Concordia and transmitted its famous final call: "This is Yorkshire. Long Live the Confederation."
Admiral Nargth led his flagship with two other battleships in for the kill on the Yorkshire, against the Crown Prince's wishes. Running a parallel course at a range of fifty kilometers, they savaged the Confederation battleship. Within minutes Yorkshire was critically damaged, blowing up shortly thereafter. One of the pursuing Kilrathi battleships exploded, apparently from a freak shot by Yorkshire in her final moments. Nargth's flagship suffered similar damage, fuel ruptures and explosions, but held together.
Concordia and North Carolina continued on course for the jump point, trailed by thirty fighters, five bombers and a Kilrathi destroyer group. The returning McAuliffe strike group found itself involved in a last-minute rearguard, shooting down one of the bombers before it could launch torpedoes. Two other Kilrathi bombers broke off to hit North Carolina. The fourth bomber's torpedo hit Concordia amidships, the carrier barely holding together. As the last Imperial bomber slowed to fire, Concordia's Wing Commander, Hawkins, plowed into it at full speed, killing both the bomber and himself. Concordia recovered the remaining fighters, then jumped out-system, following North Carolina.
As Crown Prince Gilkarg prepared to pursue, he was stunned by a sudden communiqué from the capital. The Emperor had ordered a withdrawal, apparently shaken by Admiral Nargth's reports of the casualties taken by the Imperial Legionnaires, kili of the Emperor's own hrai, and by the heavy damage taken by Second Fleet during the Terran counter-attack. His grandson Ratha, Gilkarg's only son and heir, had died too, committing suicide after ejecting from his fighter during the final strike on Concordia.
The destruction of Alexandria killed two hundred thousand Fleet personnel and eighty ConFleet ships, including five of the Fleet's nine carriers. The Seventh Fleet was effectively annihilated as a fighting force. Ark Royal was so badly savaged her refit took half a year, while the critically damaged Concordia was abandoned and scuttled. McAuliffe base commander Admiral Nagomo was killed directing the defense of the planet, while Admiral Long went missing during a botched attempt to board Concordia during the battle. Seventy percent of the Third Marine Division was killed. In the thirty days after the McAuliffe Ambush, the Kilrathi would occupy one hundred fifty-three star systems and capture twenty-eight billion Confederation citizens.
Yet it can be seen that, while a clear Imperial tactical victory and an overwhelming operational one, on a strategic level the McAuliffe Ambush was nothing short of a catastrophe for the Kilrathi. The McAuliffe Campaign had been devised as the ultimate jak-tu, the overwhelming, debilitating strike, yet it left its target remaining in Confederation possession and the rest of ConFleet intact. After McAuliffe, the front lines would shift remarkably little for two decades, each offensive and counter-offensive bleeding the Empire, each defeat threatening the fragile hold the Kiranka hrai held on the Imperial throne.